Month: June 2018
…Prepare for this blessing.
They haven’t done anything particularly new recently. You just need to know about them.
The Avett Brothers are a part of the very vague music genre Americana, which is essentially what the U.S. describes itself as, a total melting pot. It’s an amalgam of folk, country, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, soul, bluegrass, and gospel music. So… lots of wiggle room in what gets to be defined as Americana.
If you ask ThoughtCo, it’s the music of the moment for hipsters but don’t let that stop you from checking out The Avett Brothers. They share the genre with musicians like, Lucinda Williams and Johnny Cash with contemporaries like, The Lumineers and The Civil Wars.
With my self-declared, impeccable musical taste and critical expertise, I can officially inform any and all that they are amazing.
Seth and Scott Avett, brothers and front runners of the band, have an incredible relationship, which you can get a peek at in Judd Apatow’s documentary about the band May It Last on HBO and Amazon. They seem to spread the love they have for each other around and bring their family and band members in to share it. It’s beautiful and I ugly cried over it while watching their documentary.
Their music is possibly just as diverse as the genre it’s attached to. Though their music always seems to feel exactly like them, which is hard to explain. They have an ability to make music that feels like something you want to giddily scream-sing in your car to something that leaves you wanting to spend the day crying though your apartment, with so much in between. If you listen to their song “Through My Prayers,” a song about losing a loved one, and do not want to spend the rest of the day crying through your apartment, we may not relate.
From what I can tell, The Avett Brothers use their music to explore everything and do so with incredible energy and emotion. In fact, the album that launched them into recognition is entitled Emotionalism, which is exactly the word I would want to use when describing what kind of music they make.
The music they make seems to always be involved in their personal exploration and search for truth, which they can tell you about themselves in their song “Salvation Song.”
Maybe it’s the comfort and security given from the bond the two have as brothers or maybe it’s something they simply happen to both have within themselves, but The Avett Brothers are comfortable with deep vulnerability and vast expression. From songs like, “Pretty Girl at the Airport,” expressing what sounds like the pain of losing a relationship before it’s had a chance to really start, to songs like, “Living of Love,” vouching for a life lived through hope and sharing your heart, they seem to be uniquely capable of articulating human emotion and experience.
I could go on but their music says it better than me.
Have you been searching for a comedian that is the embodiment of the dad joke to no avail? Let me end that arduous search for you.
Pete Holmes is the delightful, barbecue dad of comedy. With a deep love of the silly, Pete embraces and utilizes his dad-li-ness(?) to make for goofy and fun performances. Starting near the beginning last year, he landed his own HBO show called “Crashing” loosely based on his experience of trying to be a comedian in New York. Before that, he briefly had his own talk show that aired right after Conan on TBS. I was a fan and super disappointed when it got canceled.
Out of all the things Pete does as a professional comedian, my favorite thing is his podcast You Made It Weird. He’s been doing it since 2011 and it has gotten better every year.
Seeing how Pete is a comedian and a lot of his interviews are with other comedians, comedy tends to come up a lot. However, if defining what the podcast is about, comedy isn’t what I would say.
Growing up a devout Christian, losing some of his faith as his comedy career burgeoned, Pete incorporates his personal fascination with what he often refers to as “god stuff.” There’s no religious pandering in his podcast, but a genuine curiosity for how the universe works and what others make of it. Expect Ram Dass quotes.
With his guests, Pete explores passions, comedy, art, and what there is to be made out of the mess that human existence can often be. With Pete’s pension for getting philosophical, the podcast can be very silly but often travels into asking deeper questions about what motivates people and what the heck we’re all doing here.
Pete’s mission within the podcast seems to be exploring human spirituality and the things that bring us joy. Each episode, Pete manages to make some sort of connection with the person he chats with. He usually starts the podcast by talking about his guest’s career, naturally progressing into their childhood, and ends with a brief round of specific questions like: When was the time you laughed the hardest? What’s some advice you have for others? What do you think the purpose of life is?
Even with trying to ask and explore really big picture questions with people, Pete never manages to not be goofy.
One of my favorites that he’s done recently was with Mark Duplass, his second appearance on the podcast. In the episode, they talk about how they totally became best friends after the first interview they did and the wonderful book, Like Brothers, Mark wrote with his brother Jay.
Give it a listen and, as Pete would say, keep it crispy.
The skyscraper model of culture is an illustrative idea of the way media forms are valued. At the top of the skyscraper, in the penthouse, is what is considered high culture, things like ballet and classical music. At the bottom of the skyscraper, in the basement, is what is considered low culture, things like reality TV and and maybe something like monster truck rallies.
This model is strong in the way it organizes media. It gives classifications and with attributed value judgments given to individual forms of media, it provides a clear sense of what the media landscape is and allows for selective viewing. It encourages consumers to steer towards media that is likely to have concepts and involve intellectual ideas.
On the other hand, this model is limited by its use of value judgments. Rigid categorization of media limits the viewer base of things like television shows, giving low-brow media a poor reputation. It can keep media that some consumers may unwittingly enjoy out of their viewing circle. It also prevents people from truly understanding the scope of the media landscape.
Though the skyscraper model provides almost a kind of guide for navigating the vast amount of media content available, it also hides or shames consumers into not experiencing or understanding all of the media that is available to them.
The 5 step media process is the formulated way of breaking down the message a piece of media is conveying. Obviously important if you want to think critically about the content you take in, particularly in an era like ours where content is constant.
One of my favorite movies, The Babadook, is perfect for making an example. The film has a lot of elements in play throughout and requires you to do a little processing if you want see beyond its being a horror movie.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, um, change that.
The Babadook is a 2014 Australian horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent. The movie follows Amelia, a single mother, and Samuel, her six-year-old son. Amelia’s husband, Oskar, died in a car accident on the way to the hospital while she was going into labor. The movie starts with Samuel telling his mother he had a bad dream and the two search his room, assumedly for a monster. The first half the movie focuses on Samuel’s erratic behavior and nightmares, causing his mother to lose sleep and believe him to be an insomniac. After reading a mysterious book called Mister Babadook, the situation escalates into Samuel becoming conviced the Babadook is real and causing an incident with his cousin. He has a seizure afterward and Amelia obtains a sedative prescription for him to get him to sleep.
Strange things occur in the home and eventually the focus and erratic behavior shifts to Amelia. She begins to hallucinate and grows violent. She eventually sees the Babadook directly and is stalked by it throughout the house. She has a hallucination of Oskar telling her he will come back to her if she brings him the boy. The hallucination dissipates, and she is possessed by the Babadook. She grows incredibly violent, killing their dog, and chasing Samuel through the house. Samuel restrains her and she vomits a dark liquid.
Amelia has a direct confrontation with the Babadook and it backs down, hiding itself in the basement. The film ends with Amelia brining the Babadook, now residing in the basement, worms gathered by Samuel. When asked by Samuel how the visit went, Amelia says it was a quiet day. They hug.
This film has several patterns. There are repeated time lapses shots where the light changes until it illuminates the scene. Figures created by empty, hanging clothes show up frequently. Irrational behavior is central and constant throughout the entire film, starting in Samuel and then in Amelia. Mood swings become a large part of Amelia’s character and sleep deprivation is a struggle for each of the characters for most of the film. Samuel also frequently claims his behavior and weapon building is for his mother’s sake, part of his effort to protect her. Amelia frequently rubs the side of her face, seeming to face a toothache. In fact, she rips out a tooth with her hand after being possessed by the Babadook. There are several shots of empty, darkened closets being stared at by the characters. There are also several shots of bare or nearly bare tree branches. Knocking and distant sounds seem to be a tool utilized by the Babadook. The phrase and concept of a monster being “let in” is mentioned frequently. Samuel seizure and Amelia’s own episode both occur in their car. Amelia also seems to be wary of the basement from the beginning to the very end of the film. There are descriptions of the Babadook that all center around a disguise and the threat of it being unable to be escaped.
The time lapses are a device used to highlight sleep in the film, particularly the frequent lack of sleep the characters get. The sleep deprivation lends itself to the erratic behavior both of the characters exhibit, perhaps being a contributing cause. Sleep deprivation, in extremes, is known to cause hallucinations which also lends itself to their shared but differing experience with monsters. Samuel claims to be aware of this monster before his mother and later seems to be more level-headed than she is, implying the possibility that the events of the film are a repeat. Amelia’s increasing toothache seems to line up with the rate of her mental decline, where she rips the tooth out at the lowest point of her behavior. The shots of closets and trees echo the features of the Babadook, a monster characterized by its large clothing and long talon-like fingers. The repletion of it wanting to be let in and unable to be fended off, foreshadow Amelia’s later possession and its residence in their basement. The focus on the car and the basement are both linked to Oskar and his death. Many of Oskar’s things remain in the closet and it, as well as the car, are symbols of sorrow for Amelia, likely Samuel, too.
Based on the patterns and symbolism in the film, The Babadook appears to be a metaphor for grief and mental illness. Tackling the topic in a horror film is a very interesting method and could have potentially been difficult to digest or even indelicate, but Kent’s writing and direction make for an effective film. The Babadook acts as the symbol for the unhealthy way Amelia has faced her grief over the death of her husband and the way her son reminds her of it. Samuel is haunted, effected, and hurt by the monster by not as directly or severely as his mother. Just as the Babadook cannot truly be gotten rid of, often times neither can grief, remorse, or depression. The ending of the film lends itself to this idea. Amelia keeps the monster locked in her basement, caring for it and trying to soothe and keep it at bay. It becomes something that she lets Samuel be aware of but that she keeps him distant from. In the case of mental illness, the process is similar. It is not something that can be ignored. When ignored, it can only become more of a problem. The Babadook and mental illness can both be horrific and isolating but when cared for properly, are manageable.
I’m actually going to skip engagement for this, not that it isn’t important. Engagement can involve taking some sort of action in response to a piece of media or looking into what action has already been taken. Writing this post about the movie is a form of engagement. What engagement looks like can vary greatly. The importance of this step is the role it plays in ensuring that media is serving and promoting democracy.
That is the question that motivates my interest in media, in the many forms and mediums that it takes. Media’s own vastness and diversity makes it uniquely capable as a platform to be used as a space to explore and understand the also vast array of human experiences. Though my personal interest in media lies in more specific areas like, film and television, that capability for exploration that can be seen in film and television is a part of most, if not all, forms of media. Journalism chronicles human experience and advertisement analyzes and utilizes it.
Within the context of that question there are myriad more questions about media itself that can be explored:
How can media subvert expectations in form without disappointing viewers? (A recent example of media subverting expectations while being disappointing could be The Boy.) To what extent does media influence people’s decisions? (Are Coca-Cola’s uber cheerful ads really convincing people their soda is essential to every party?) What does the future of media look like? (Especially with television networks and the financing of journalism.) How does longform creative media avoid cliché?
Clearly, there is a lot about media and in media that can be dissected and explored. My fingers are crossed for my getting to spend my time doing just that.