Category: Popular Culture

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Derren Brown’s “Sacrifice”

The British mentalist, magician and showman Derren Brown has long created television specials of enduring power and controversy. Much of his work concerns psychological manipulation and social coercion. In our view, shows like “Russian Roulette” (filmed live on a 15-minute delay) and “The Push” (in which an average member of the public is convinced to...

The Fable of the One-Handed Pianist

Every person with an email inbox and an enthusiastic mother has seen the video by now. No doubt your mom sent it to you, subject line: This Is SOOOO Inspiring!!! Thanks to mothers like ours, it didn’t take long for the clip, a five-minute segment from “America’s Got Talent,” to go viral, amassing more than...

Experimental Documentary: “True Hallucinations”

Based on the autobiographical memoir by the groundbreaking author, lecturer and psychonaut Terence McKenna, the experimental documentary “True Hallucinations,” by filmmaker Peter Bergmann, knits together nearly three hours of consciousness-raising McKenna audio recordings with psychedelic imagery and music. The movie itself becomes a kind of trip, a journey to the subconscious and the edges of...

Mad Respect to Dave Chappelle

Last week we attended a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Ms. Lauryn Hill was celebrating the 20-year anniversary of her seminal album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” and she had De La Soul opening, followed by her special guest Dave Chappelle. Before the event, we received several emails from the concert promoter reminding audience members...

Notes on Attending a Phish Concert for the First Time

Beautiful Weirdos. The ethos at a Phish concert is “come as you are.” Before the show, the parking lot of The Forum, in Inglewood, where the Lakers used to play, resembles the set of a Fellini movie grafted onto an ancient Grateful Dead memory. All clothing and barbering choices are acceptable. Smiling at strangers allowed. Dancing...

Remembering “The Swan”

Satire Alert: This is not a satire. At a dinner party we attended recently, some friends were imagining outlandish premises for so-called “reality TV.” One young man proposed a “Hunger Games”-type show, in which attractive people wearing few clothes would be set loose in an unfamiliar woods, where “hunters” would track and “kill” them with...

A More Exceptionally Perfect America

Experts on matters patriotic, including members of Congress and the corporate oligarchs for whom they toil, believe that those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the greatest country on Earth benefit from a magical phenomenon known as American Exceptionalism. According to those who have made a kind of casual study of our glorious history,...

Farewell, Meltdown. We’ll Miss You.

For 25 years, Meltdown Comics has been a part of our Sunset Square neighborhood. At the end of this week, they’ll close shop, another brick-and-mortar casualty of online commerce. As the largest tenant on the block, Meltdown was the area’s commercial anchor. Its closure will help the landlord, Jack Ilulian, demolish the low-slung retail building(s) consistent...

It Is What It Is

More than “you know what I mean?” and starting sentences with either “Honestly?” or “So…,” the locution on everyone’s lips of late is the quasi-philosophical, quasi-nonsensical phrase “It is what it is.” What do people mean when they say this? Everything is what it is. In rare cases, something isn’t what it seems or appears...

Denying the Dastardly Duopoly

When your country’s government seems to be controlled by characters from professional wrestling competing in a “loser retires” bout, it’s easy to ascertain villainy in every unfair maneuver. The people in the Trump Administration: bad guys. Heels. They cheat. They lie. They’ll do anything to win. Who are the (baby) faces in this charade? Democrats,...