Scott Timberg

'La La Land' and the Oscars: Why the Movie Attracts Haters

The seven-awards sweep at the Golden Globes has been followed by a 14-nomination sweep at the Academy Awards. A modest, low-budget sorta-musical about jazz and disappointment has now tied “All About Eve” and “Titanic” for receiving the most Oscar nominations ever.

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Don't Bet That Donald Trump Will 'Make Punk Rock Great Again'

For more than a decade now, the musician and writer Amanda Palmer has been one of the brightest talents and one of the most frustrating figures in pop culture. For every great Dresden Dolls song or rousing speech about art in the 21st century, there is some shallow if well-meaning nonsense about how the Internet has set culture-makers free. 

The election of an extremist, Palmer said, is not a great development. But it will galvanize artists and writers to think about what their values are, and to take action against the oppressive regime. As she said in Queensland:

There is this part of me – especially having studied Weimar Germany extensively – I’m like, “This is our moment.” Donald Trump is going to make punk rock great again. We’re all going to crawl down staircases into basements and speakeasies and make amazing satirically political art.

If the political climate keeps getting uglier, the art will have to answer. We will have to fight. It’s already happening – the artists in my tribes have been like, “Alright. This is not good.” We are sharpening our knives for a large buffet.

Well, like a lot of what Palmer says, this is smart and witty and rousing. Sounds good, right? Soon after the press event, she wrote that “dark times inspire, inflame and focus us as writers, artists and advocates. i am not just speaking for myself here…all the artists i know are sharpening their wits, tongues and pens for the fight ahead.”

Is she right? Certainly, strange times have led to powerful art, and Weimar (mostly liberal but also unstable) is not a bad example. The 1920s — a decade that saw some of the nastiest income inequality and weak Republicans presidents like Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover — also gave birth to “the jazz age,” the early novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and crucial early blues recordings.

But a lot of the best art and culture has come during periods of cultural liberalism, left-of-center leadership, and a prosperous middle class. The British ‘60s — with The Beatles and Stones and Hendrix and maturing of British cinema — coincided with Harold Wilson’s Labour government, which reigned from 1964 to 1970. In the States, culturally liberal Democrats JFK and LBJ ruled from early 1961 to early 1969, a period that saw, after all, The Byrds, Love, the flowering of Motown and Stax/Volt, Bob Dylan’s best years, and so on. And the great rebel energies of punk came in ’76 and ‘77 — not great years for the British Isles, but Labour years that were generally more open than the Thatcher era that began in 1979.

So generally, the historical patterns and cause-effect are a bit tricky to map here.

Her sense of art in the age of the Internet, though, is a kind of digital prosperity gospel in which this progressive, Wesleyan-educated artist begins to sound a bit like Friedrich von Hayek or Ayn Rand. Her argument, in numerous speeches and essays and her book “The Art of Asking,” is that artists just need to step up, show some skin, and the benevolent online republic will provide. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

And here’s where we’re reminded that Palmer, as talented and inspiring as she is in some ways, is being naively optimistic. Of course some people will do important, rage-driven political work. (As others will do ephemeral, rage-driven political work.)

But artists — like everyone else — have trouble fighting the power when they are struggling to put food on the table and pay their escalating urban rents. They are not so good at manning the barricades when they have lost their medical coverage.

Let’s hope Palmer is right that we are entering a golden age of provocative and engaged punk rock and poetry and painting and theater and independent film and opera and everything else.

But history shows us that most artists are just like most people. They might write incredible novels or perform powerful songs. When the political system and the economic infrastructure crumble and fall, though, they feel it too.

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Don't Be Like Billy Bush: The Way Men Allow Each Other to Talk About Women Matters

For much of the campaign, Donald Trump has been dismissing Hillary Clinton’s descriptions of policy, her governing philosophy, and just about anything else as mere deceptive language. The more eloquently Clinton spoke at the first presidential debate, the more likely Trump was to knock her as just a wordy, blarney-spouting politician. There’s a long populist tradition of Americans not trusting high-blown political rhetoric, but not since the heyday of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction has language itself been so suspect.

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Promise of 'Westworld': HBO Could Have Its Next Great Show on Its Hands

Not long ago, HBO was considered the most prestigious, most intelligent, most risk-taking network on television. But recent trouble—the low ratings and bad reviews for the $100 million series “Vinyl,” the presumed demise of the once-promising “True Detective” anthology, the likely implosion of two David Fincher productions, delays on a project by Steve McQueen—alongside the indomitable rise of Amazon and Netflix, has HBO in an awkward place. What the network really needs, after all this, is another “Game of Thrones.”

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Steve Earle - Backing Bernie Until He Is Out: Dems Have to Deal with Bernie and Warren at Convention

Nashville songwriter, Townes Van Zandt disciple, and onetime actor on “The Wire” Steve Earle is one of the great ornery figures in alt-country. His latest album,“Colvin and Earle,” is a collaboration with the folkie Shawn Colvin — a short, winning album with a fair bit of rootsy twang. (“Colvin and Earle” also includes four covers, among them songs by Emmylou Harris and the Rolling Stones.)

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Good Riddance to The 'Devil Wears Prada' Economy: It's Not Just Exploitative, It's a Diversity Killer

Is the “Devil Wears Prada” economy coming to a close? Will the sort-of-abusive, round-the-clock, sadistic-boss culture of entry-level jobs in Hollywood, book publishing, fashion magazines, and Washington politics find itself done in by the new overtime rules?

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I Don't Miss Jon Stewart Now: Samantha Bee's Hard-Hitting Political Comedy Just Keeps Getting Better

As viewers continue to voice disappointment about Trevor Noah’s not-terribly political stance on “The Daily Show,” and as unsteady ratings for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” could be leading CBS to take the show in a more conventional direction, political commentary on late-night television is at a strange point. Will Seth Meyers become a great voice on political issues? Can Larry Wilmore keep his ratings from sliding?

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Father of Scientology Leader Goes After Inhumanity of the 'Church' as Controversy Builds Around His Tell-All Book

What’s it like to have a son drift away from you? What’s it like to be virtually imprisoned in an abusive facility? And what’s it like to see a religion you believed in turn into what you feel has become a nasty cult? Those all are things Ron Miscavige describes in his new book, “Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me.” His tale is one of the most extreme examples of “disconnection” – the absolute breaking of ties between a Scientologist and a friend or family member — made even more extreme because the leader of Scientology is the son he raised in the church.

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Why Robert De Niro Is in Over His Head in Controversy Over Anti-Vaxxer Film

It must be hard to run a film festival and have to decide which films to screen. It’s probably a lot of fun as well, but imagine the carping and second-guessing when a certain film is let in, another one isn’t, and people disagree with your judgements. If you’re a celebrity, you become even more of a target.

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Are We Really Supposed to Believe That Apple's Spat Against the Govt Is a Fight to Protect the Freedom of American Citizens?

Over the last few days, a debate has raged about the responsibility of a corporation to national security: Should Apple concede to a federal court order and unlock the phone of San Bernardino mass shooter Syed Farook, which might reveal useful information about the massacre and the Farook’s network?

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Why the Media Refuses to Call the White Supremacists Who Shot Black Lives Matter Protesters 'Terrorists'

The script has gotten familiar by now: Ideologically driven Muslim or foreigner does something violent and awful, and they are dubbed a terrorist. Ideologically driven white person does something violent and awful, and the term rarely comes up.

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The Fascinating Reason We Feel Stress, Anxiety and Fear

As if we weren’t already feeling stressed out enough – today is National Stress Awareness Day – a new report by the Pew Research Center just came out, describing the levels of stress that otherwise privileged American families are under. “The data are the latest to show that while family structure seems to have permanently changed,” a New York Times story reports, “public policy, workplace structure and mores have not seemed to adjust to a norm in which both parents work.” (The piece is headlined “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.”)

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I Read Donald Trump’s Favorite Book (His Own) So You Don't Have To

What’s the appeal of Donald Trump, who continues to be immensely popular among Republican voters despite longstanding predictions that his support would fade?

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We Don’t Need More Optimists: Unchecked Positive Thinking Is More Dangerous than It Sounds

Depending on how you look at it, the mood in the United States of late has been either an overdue stock-taking — as we reckon with issues like racism, rape culture, runaway law enforcement and out-of-control income inequality — or relentlessly grim. Surely, unrelieved despair — either personally or more broadly, socially — can lead to paralysis. But despite a big Sunday Review cover piece in the New York Times, “We Need Optimists,” extolling the virtues of positive thinking, that habit without reflection can be just as dangerous, especially in our leadership.

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The Donald Trump Silver Lining: He's the Best Thing to Happen to Comedy Since Sarah Palin

When Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president in the middle of June, it was greeted by political observers as an oddball declaration that would have little effect on anything but the real-estate mogul’s speaking fees and, perhaps, eventual book advance.

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“Why Grow Up?” Is a Political Question: Our Cult Of Youth Is No Accident - And It Has Dire Consequences

Whether you look at superhero-besotted Hollywood, the clothes alleged grownups wear in public, or the spread of video games out of the suburban family room, it’s hard to miss noticing that much of contemporary culture is caught in childhood.

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As Plutocrats Take Over Movie Funding, Movies Will Not Reflect the Truth About Inequality

What happens when you defund the arts? You get a culture bought and paid for by the very rich, arts halls named the David H. Koch Theater, and “public” television stations that get overly skittish when a rich donor might not like a documentary. What happens when the country punts on campaign finance and politics becomes all about big money? Worms like Sheldon Adelson become kingmakers and the Kochs (them, again) exert as much political influence as either of the major parties. We’re already talking about “the billionaire’s primary” taking place in the GOP right now.

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Taylor Swift is Not an 'Underdog': The Real Story About Her 1 Percent Upbringing That the New York Times Won’t Tell You

Over the last few years, Taylor Swift has become one of the two or three biggest pop stars in the world. She has accumulated no fewer than four homes (including a $3.5 million place in Beverly Hills and a $20 million Tribeca penthouse) and drawn enormous press and media attention. She’s still on the cover of lots of magazines and we’ll probably see her there far into the future.

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How the 1 Percent Always Wins: “We Live in a Faux Democracy, Which Is Why Everyone’s So Cynical and Nobody Votes”

Why aren’t we getting angry about the steady shifting of treasure from the middle class to the very richest? Why haven’t the few who are vocal and visibly frustrated coalesced into a real movement? Has there ever been a time when Americans made noise about this kind of thing? These questions are at the heart of “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” (Little, Brown), a new book by labor historian Steve Fraser.

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Astra Taylor’s Radical Internet Critique: “I Don’t Want to Give in to the Libertarian Logic of Our Time”

Astra Taylor, a Canadian-born documentary filmmaker who was involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, has just released “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.” Harder-edged politically than many Internet books, “The People’s Platform” looks at questions around gender, indie rock, copyright, the media, the environment and advertising. “The digital economy exhibits a surprising tendency toward monopoly,” she writes in her preface. “Networked technologies do not resolve the contradictions between art and commerce, but rather make commercialism less visible and more pervasive.”

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The Internet Is Slaying the Middle Class

Jaron Lanier is a computer science pioneer who has grown gradually disenchanted with the online world since his early days popularizing the idea of virtual reality. “Lanier is often described as ‘visionary,’ ” Jennifer Kahn wrote in a 2011 New Yorker profile, “a word that manages to convey both a capacity for mercurial insight and a lack of practical job skills.”

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Can Unions Save the Arts and Other 'Creative' Professions?

This article originally appeared on Salon.

Being a musician is a good job, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go broke doing it. –David Byrne

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How Raw Capitalism Is Devouring American Culture

Around the same time a devastating hurricane smashed and flooded its way up the East Coast, leaving millions homeless or without power, another storm collided into a professional subculture based in New York City. While the second storm is only metaphoric, the transformation of publishing could have far-reaching consequences not only for those who work on Union Square, but for readers and writers across the English-speaking world.

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