Being an artist these days

It’s a shame to see series 2 of Grayson’s Art Club over so soon. The shows are in response to our being in these lockdowns so, however much we may enjoy them, let’s hope there’s not a third series.

Grayson’s Art ClubWikipedia
I believe that art can help get us through this crisis. It can help us explore our creativity, inspire and console us, and tell us some truths about who we really are. […] Our Art Club exhibition will be a lasting artistic record of how we’ve all felt about these strange times we’ve been through together.

He’s an interesting guy, to be sure. (An alternate universe’s Tony Hart?)

Defying the norm: An interview with Grayson Perry on what it means to be an artistIt’s Nice That
That’s great that there are people using [Instagram] in that way but there was something about the blessed ignorance when I was younger. I can remember, quite a long time ago now, when the internet was first really taking off, a student came up to me and asked how I decide what to make work about. And I said, well I didn’t have one of those, pointing at her iPhone. You’ve got every image in the world in your hand, I had a tiny library and three television channels! So we made choices much more easily because the choices were limited, it forced you to get on and make your own. There’s something about the bewildering choice and the fact is that, if you have an idea now, you can Google it and someone’s done it already.

Can’t get Adam Curtis out of my head

Heads up! A new documentary series from the BBC by the often parodied but never bettered Adam Curtis. Here’s the synopsis and creepy teaser trailer.

New six-film series from Adam CurtisBBC Media Centre
We are living through strange days. Across Britain, Europe and America societies have become split and polarised not just in politics but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and the ever growing corruption – and a widespread distrust of the elites. And into this has come the pandemic that has brutally dramatised those divisions. But despite the chaos there is a paralysis – a sense that no one knows how to escape from this. This new series of films by Adam Curtis tell the story of how we got to this place. And why both those in power – and we – find it so difficult to move on.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head review – Adam Curtis’s ‘emotional history’ is dazzlingThe Guardian
Carefully curated and obliquely but impeccably soundtracked archive footage is attended by a narrative that stops every few minutes to probe further an idea, a moment, a movement or perhaps a figure who habitually flies slightly under the radar of History-with-a-capital-H. Curtis swiftly anatomises the effects of said thing or person, before returning to the main thrust – the warp across which these many many wefts are skilfully woven – so we end up with a full, rich tapestry.

The reverse Marxism of Adam Curtis’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ArtReview
Adam Curtis, the poet of the Wikipedia binge: skimming over the surface of the superstructure, sparking sudden, otherwise hidden connections into perfect, blinding clarity. Sculpting the detritus of every news cycle he’s ever been subjected to, the whole of his adult life, into a sprawling rhizomatic narrative, endlessly exploding everywhere, of how and why It’s All Gone Wrong. […]

The narrative that Curtis presents spans the whole of the globe – although it is especially focused on America, the UK, China, and Russia. Its structure often feels like that of an epic postmodern novel: to tell his story, Curtis picks out certain strange, conflicted (anti-)heroes – individuals whose successes, failures, contradictions and ambiguities mirror the more general, global forces they exist within. Among the most prominent of these, whose stories run over several episodes, are Michael de Freitas, aka Michael X – slum landlord, gangster, radical black rights activist, and murderer; Jiang Qing – wife of Chairman Mao, architect of the Cultural Revolution, and fiercely ambitious radical individualist; and Eduard Limonov – trendy Soviet émigré novelist, punkish enemy of global financial capitalism, and fascist. Along the way, Curtis introduces us to a whole host of other histories and individuals – taking in everything from the rise of conspiratorialism, the collapse of the coal mining industry, the life story of Tupac Shakur’s mother Afeni, the West German student movement, the Voynich Manuscript, and trans rights.

The poet of the Wikipedia binge, indeed.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head (TV series)Wikipedia
Like many of Curtis’s previous documentaries, it explores and links together various topics such as individualism, collectivism, conspiracy theories, national myths, American imperialism, the history of China, artificial intelligence, and the failure of technology to liberate society in the way that technological utopians once hoped it might.

Adam Curtis knows why we all keep falling for conspiracy theoriesWIRED UK
“There’s a way of thinking that the internet has pushed in people’s minds,” Curtis says. “If you notice how people now think and behave, and you could also argue, how people like me make films, it’s through a great collage of patterns of images and stories, which is very much like the way what machine learning works. You’re not looking for meaning for logical meaning any longer. You’re looking for patterns, connections, which is how conspiracy theories work.” […]

While researching the film, Curtis interviewed conspiracy theorists in Birmingham, people who believed in “one of the great dream worlds of our time,” the idea that the CIA, Walt Disney and the Illuminati brainwash and control all the major stars. He soon learned that, when pressed, these people didn’t really believe the story. They just loved its epic magical dimensions – an alternative to this “dull, desiccated, grim, utilitarian world.”

Adam Curtis interviewed by Simon Mayo and Mark KermodeYouTube
Simon Mayo & Mark Kermode talk to director Adam Curtis about his new series of documentary films, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World.

As well as being on BBC iPlayer, this new series is also on YouTube, together with many of his other films, if you want to jump further down this rabbit hole.

Will it Stand up?

Stephen King, author of 70+ novels and short story collections, is almost as famous for the 30+ adaptations of his stories as for the books themselves.

America’s dark Disney: How Stephen King conquered the screenThe Independent
“There are conventions and stylistic choices that he makes in his work that tap into a very core sense of the human psyche,” Apicella explains. “You’re willing to go into this crazy paranormal stuff, because at the heart of it is something we’ve all experienced, whether it’s coming of age, or financial hardship. He’s brave enough to unpack what frightens us in the most extensive and imaginative way.”

Back in 2017, I set myself the task of reading Stephen King’s It again, after a 30 year gap, before I saw the latest version with Bill Skarsgård and co. In fact, the original driver was to re-read the book before I read this wonderfully cutting/draining book review/reading journal, before I saw the film.

Reading Stephen King’s It is an exhausting way to spend a summerThe Verge
Now is probably a good time to point out that Stephen King is out of control. There is no way an editor even glanced at this book before it was published. It took 350 pages for the seven main characters (too many!) to individually meet the central monster and then collectively acknowledge its existence, and we frequently took extended breaks to talk about architecture.

But by the time I finished the book, I had had my fill of it and didn’t bother watching the film. And still haven’t. I might get round to it.

Anyway, I only mention this now as it’s just happened again.

Wanting something hefty to read during the first coronavirus lockdown this summer I turned to King’s The Stand, that cheery tale of survival in a post-pandemic world that I first waded through in the late 80s. It seemed to be the right thing to do.

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary historyThe Conversation
Literature has a vital role to play in framing our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth turning to some of these texts to better understand our reactions and how we might mitigate racism, xenophobia and ableism (discrimination against anyone with disabilities) in the narratives that surround the spread of this coronavirus. Ranging from the classics to contemporary novels, this reading list of pandemic literature offers something in the way of an uncertain comfort, and a guide for what happens next.

I’ve finally got to the end of its 1,152 pages and have learnt that, after having had my fill of it all, a new adaptation is on its way, one that I’m — yet again — in no rush to see.

The 5 most challenging parts of adapting The StandPolygon
In a case of what could be considered great or terrible timing, depending on how you look at it, CBS All Access’ The Stand will arrive smack dab in the middle of an actual global pandemic. Will people flock to a show dramatizing a similar (albeit far more deadly) pandemic story when a real one has kept them locked in their homes for nine months?

‘The Stand’ doesn’t play by the bookRolling Stone
This new version has its inspired moments, like the way Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” somehow turns out to be the perfect theme song for Flagg, but the structure keeps sucking the life out of things, from major characters to more minor ones. The unhinged pyromaniac who calls himself Trashcan Man appears in a parallel narrative throughout the book before playing a huge role in its climax; here (played in suitably off-kilter fashion by Ezra Miller), he doesn’t turn up until the season is more than halfway done. Without the connective tissue, presented in the proper order, little of what we see feels like it matters.

Will this be something to watch if/when it works its way onto a channel I can access? Perhaps I need to wait 30 years again.

And now for something completely different

OK, never mind all that, here are some little videos, courtesy of Laughing Squid and Futility Closet, to take your mind of it all for a while. We’ve just had Halloween, so let’s start with this from our favourite melancholic.

Edward Gorey talks about when he designed sets and costumes for ‘Dracula’ in a brilliantly animated shortLaughing Squid
The artist explains that he didn’t consider it to be his best work at all. Several years later both the set and costumes were brought out again for a production in Boston, were Gorey won two Tony Awards in 1978 for both costumes and scenic design.

Let’s keep the spooky vibe going with this. Reminds me a little of Chris Eckert’s work.

Disney uses an animatronic bust with cameras in its eyes to create realistic interactive humanlike gazesLaughing Squid
A team at DisneyResearch in Los Angeles used a proprietary Audio-Animatronics humanoid bust that had responsive cameras in its eyes and subjected it to interactive situations. The goal of this experiment was to learn how to create highly realistic gaze engagement for true character believability in films.

Speaking of films, here’s a trailer for a new documentary from Alex Winter, one half of Bill and Ted, about the incredible Frank Zappa. Apparently, the Kickstarter campaign for this project was the highest funded documentary in crowdfunding history.

The exceptional musical genius of Frank Zappa explored in a definitive biographical documentaryLaughing Squid
To tell the whole story, Winter makes use of previously unreleased tapes, video clips, film footage, and other items that Zappa kept in a private archive, along with in-person interviews with those who knew him best, in order to provide a comprehensive inside look Zappa’s multi-faceted life.

An incredible musician. What would he have made of this, I wonder.

A reflective electric guitar built with infinity mirrorsLaughing Squid
Burl, the creative luthier of Burls Art appeared to be feeling rather reflective and decided to build an incredibly sleek Infinity Mirror Guitar. Like his other guitars, Burl first formed a mold that would give the initial shape. he then built a special frame that would hold the mirrors in place. He then added the custom neck, bolted the bridge in, and polished the whole thing up before playing a short riff.

And I would love to hear him bring these clever and surprisingly musical tunes to life.

World musicFutility Closet

I thought this one was very catchy — a new EU anthem?

Here’s something sillier than a piano-playing map, a fluffy fluffball fluffing his lines.

Hilarious blooper footage from an Elmo and Robin Williams sketch for a 1991 Sesame Street specialLaughing Squid
During the 1991 Sesame Street special “Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake”, the late, greatly missed Robin Williams hilariously showed a curious Elmo the many fun things one can do with a stick.

What’s that? You want something fluffier? Ok then.

Animated Tetris with fuzzy softbody stacking piecesLaughing Squid
In his ongoing quest to create the perfect softbody game of Tetris, German computer animator Chris of C4D4U has released his 19th iteration of the game. Rather than the gummy shapes of his previous games, this version features very soft looking, fuzzy animated tiles that appear snuggly enough to hug.

So, farewell then, John

So sad to ponder what could have been.

John Sessions: Stephen Fry leads tributes to ‘lovable’ comedianBBC News
“When I left Rada, my plan was to try and do two careers at once – to be a comedian and an actor,” he told The Guardian in 2014. “For some years, I managed to juggle the two, but I never felt I joined either club.”

He went on to star in a string of his own BBC TV shows, such as a self-titled solo improvisation series in the late 1980s, followed by John Sessions’s Tall Tales and John Sessions’s Likely Stories. But he never quite achieved the stardom of his friends Branagh and Stephen Fry. He said he “ran out of steam” when he turned 40. “As I was getting older, I wasn’t getting more confident, I was getting less confident,” he told The Guardian. “I lost my way.”

John Sessions: a brilliantly unhinged, self-effacing geniusThe Guardian
Stella Street is a metaphor for Sessions’ career – comic genius, too often sidelined or ignored. It was the fate of many of the Whose Line Is It Anyway? crew – Tony Slattery notably but even Stephen Fry, whose generous talents have been loosely strewn. It is the Peter Cook syndrome: the imagination is so great, the possibilities so enticing, that they cannot easily be fitted into a conventional commercial box.

Top score

You’ve heard of 8 Bit Cinema, retelling movies as old school arcade games? Well, there was this competition to compose a soundtrack to accompany a scene from Westworld …

Westworld scoring competitionSpitfire Audio
We teamed up with HBO’s Westworld to bring you an exclusive competition: to download and score a scene from Westworld Season 3 for your chance to win some amazing prizes – as well as the opportunity to showcase your work to the best in the business. What happened next was extraordinary. We received 11,000 entries, in a variety of styles and re-imaginings.

The announcement of the eventual winner left many people either scratching their heads or picking up their jaws off the floor. Listen for yourself. It starts conventionally enough, but then—

It stands out, at least, which is more than could be said for the indistinguishable runners-up. But it seems not everyone appreciates this ‘dares to be different’ approach.

Why are some people upset about this ‘Westworld’ scoring contest?No Film School
Responses to the winning entry have been mixed. For instance, on Twitter, game composer Austin Wintory called Kuddell’s work “out-of-the-box” and a “bold move.” But many other composers who entered the competition commented that they were confused about how the winning score met the brief.

The controversy has prompted one composer to revisit that pompous Hans Zimmer Masterclass YouTube advert.

That Hans Zimmer ad, but it’s chiptuneCDM
“In music, you’re basically having a conversation…” Sometimes that conversation is best expressed in 8 bits. … Hans Zimmer’s ad for Masterclass already felt like self parody; this just goes next level.

But wait, there’s more. Much more.

Everything’s okay.

What a little gem of an exhibition. Everything is Going to be OK is an installation by US conceptual artist Allan McCollum, currently on show at the Thomas Schulte gallery in Berlin.

Allan McCollum at Thomas SchulteContemporary Art Daily
From his image archive An Ongoing Collection of Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles with currently 1.200 screenshots from American TV series and movies with subtitles such as “It will be ok” or “Don’t worry, Babe,” McCollum has chosen 400 motifs to be printed on canvas, each framed simply in black wood and measuring 26.3 x 43.8 x 4 cm (10.4 x 17.2 x 1.6 in). […]

Allan McCollum began his collection of screenshots in 2015 as a visual essay about the meaning of closeness and comfort in our society. He wants his project to serve as a reminder that it is through the telling and sharing of stories that we perceive the world. It is also a critique of Hollywood and populist rhetoric which both instrumentalize our emotions by promoting the narrative of a hero coming to the rescue, while in reality we depend on being part of a community of family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Playing with themselves

Remember that young guy with four saxophones playing the Wii theme tune? It seems the lockdown has provided an opportunity for others to have a go at similar recordings.

Bassoonist pulls off one-man “Thomas The Tank Engine” quartetInspireMore
Everyone deals with quarantine boredom differently. Maybe you deep cleaned your house, built a swing set for the kids, or finally beat that video game you’ve been working on forever. Michael Elderkin took a more musical approach.

You can join in, if you like, though I think I’d rather play along to this one.

Knight Rider for 8 cellosKottke
You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not.

Things are looking up #3

Find yourself staring blankly into space more often these days? Here’s how to do that properly.

The secrets to stargazing from your backyardThe Guardian
How to search the sky and what to see, from moon and stars to planets and the International Space Station. Go on a journey of billions of miles … from your garden.

This is something you won’t see, though.

New image captures ‘impossible’ view of the moon’s surfaceLive Science
McCarthy trained his camera on the craters closest to the lunar terminator every night for two weeks as the moon waxed toward complete illumination. By the time the moon was full, McCarthy had a series of high-contrast, high-definition photos of every crater on the moon’s Earth-facing side. Blending them into a single composite image was “exhausting,” he wrote, but ultimately resulted in the gorgeously detailed shot seen above — an image that McCarthy calls the “all terminator” moon.

looking-up

Whenever I look at a full moon I find it hard to remember it’s spherical. It’s just a flat white circle an inch or two across that someone’s pinned up there, surely, not a solid ball of rock, the size of the United States, that’s slowly drifting away from us. This image, whilst being incredibly detailed, doesn’t help—for all its deep shadows and highlights, the lack of a ‘proper’ lunar terminator still makes it look more disk-like than globe-like, I think. (I wonder if there’s a Flat Moon Society I could join.)

If the moon is a fundamentally strange and other-worldly object, what to make of black holes? This film, like the composite photograph above, might be bending the truth, but is nevertheless equally impactful.

An unnerving new film by Paul Trillo imagines Earth moments before it’s sucked into a black holeColossal
“Until There Was Nothing” considers how Earth’s natural landscapes and city life would look just moments before being consumed by a black hole. The surreal work shows massive waves suddenly crawling up the left side of the frame, the tops of taxi cabs shooting into the air, and an entire forest of trees ascending in an amorphous mass.

If contemplating our cosmic oblivion is all too much, let’s lighten the mood with this lockdown-inspired blast from the starry past.

Nebula-75, a new puppet lockdown drama from the folks that brought us Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball-XL5Boing Boing
Nebula-75 is a new “puppet lockdown drama” being made by some of the folks at Century 21, the Gerry Anderson studio that was responsible for “Supermarionation” programming in the 60s (and beyond), with such shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Supercar, and Fireball-XL5. Nebula-75 is also being filmed in “SuperIsolation” and Lo-Budget! […]

Nebula-75 feels so much like the show I wanted to make myself, with cardboard boxes, kitchen implements, and household junk, after watching these programs when I was a wee one. That was one of the things that made them so seductive to a young and over-active imagination — they seemed so doable. And here, lo these many years later, folks associated with the legacy of these shows are doing it. At home. With cardboard boxes and junk. I’m inspired all over again.

Thunderbirds! Captain Scarlet! They don’t make ’em like that anymore. It turns out, they do.

Trailer From The Loop

Two years after I first saw his work, it’s finally hitting our screens.

‘Tales From the Loop’, a wondrous Amazon Prime series based upon the artwork of Simon StålenhagLaughing Squid
The series takes its title from a pair of books written by Stålenhag about “paintings from a childhood that never was and a future that could have been.” The series focuses on a machine that unlocks such a future for those who enter.

Tales From the Loop enlivens the gravity-defying dystopia of Simon Stålenhag’s illustrationsColossal
Launching April 3, the television series is based on the understanding that “not everything in life makes sense” as it chronicles the lives of those residing in the Loop, a machine built to uncover answers to the world’s mysteries. It features a gravity-defying universe that sees floating objects, snow ascending from a pile on the floor, and pieces of a house ripped upward. Retro robots even foster relationships with the families and children immersed in the explorative environment.

trailer-from-the-loop-1

trailer-from-the-loop-2

Next month, then, for Amazon Prime customers. Let’s hope it’ll spill out wider for those of us who aren’t primers. Meanwhile, here’s an interview with the man behind those melancholic images.

Simon Stålenhag: meet the artist behind Amazon Prime’s mysterious new TV showDigital Arts
Tales from the Loop is based on the books and artworks of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, so to coincide we’ve looked backed to when we interviewed him about how he conceives and paints his sci-fi worlds – and what the hell is really going on.

trailer-from-the-loop-1

Fangs out after dark

Seeming to lift a page from Kumi Yamashita’s sketchbook, the BBC have brought Dracula to life in this spooky 3D poster for their gripping new series.

BBC’s ‘Dracula’ gets push with clever marketing campaignMy Modern Met
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well-known tale, which is why ad executives in the UK needed to get creative when coming up with a campaign for the BBC’s new series. Dracula premiered on New Year’s Day and in the lead-up to the event, BBC Creative dreamed up an eye-catching billboard that gets spookier as the sun goes down.

Just as vampires only appear at night, there’s no trace of Dracula as the sun shines. Instead, once night falls, his sinister shadow emerges across the billboard. Mouth open wide and fangs out, there’s no mistaking the silhouette of the show’s lead character.

fangs-out-after-dark

The executives at BBC Creative were looking for a fresh take on the classic tale as a way to get viewers engaged in the new series. Located in Birmingham and London, the two billboards are an exciting, out-of-the-box vision that pairs well with the series’ dark humor.

A clever poster for a clever, gripping, rejuvenated series. With this and A Christmas Carol, the BBC really raised the bar this Christmas. (Via Colossal)

Time to take Media Studies seriously

There’s nothing new about fake news and misinformation, now. These topics are part of our landscape, unfortunately, and we must do our best to deal with them. A thorough understanding of the media is needed now more than ever.

Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in SchoolsNational Literacy Trust
[T]he final report from the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools, published on 13 June 2018, found that only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake. It also found that almost two-thirds of teachers believe fake news is harming children’s well-being by increasing levels of anxiety, damaging their self-esteem and skewing their world view.

Only 2%? That’s shocking.

Why media education in schools needs to be about much more than ‘fake news’The Conversation
A growing number of educators, policy makers and third-sector groups are calling for news and critical digital literacy to be taught in schools, with over half of teachers reporting that the current national curriculum does not equip pupils with the literacy skills they need to tackle fake news.

In its final report on Fake News, published in February 2019, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reiterated its calls for digital literacy to be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths. But thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s not just our young people that need upskilling in this area, of course. Remember that photo of the boy lying on the floor of the LGI during the election campaign?

‘Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night’ – An open letter from our editor to youYorkshire Post
Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with. Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop up on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

Open for (more) business

News that Chernobyl is expanding its tourist offer.

Chernobyl control room now open to visitors — but only wearing a hazmat suit
The move is part of a government drive to encourage tourism in the area after President Volydymyr Zelensky signed a July decree designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

“We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,” Zelensky said at the time. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.” […]

“Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show,” says Victor Korol, director of SoloEast. “It’s almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over.”

Chernobyl’s infamous Reactor 4 control room is now open to tourists
As for what to expect, in 2011 the Guardian reported that the room had largely been stripped of its plastic instrumentation switches by “souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff,” though some things such as diagrams on the behavior of the reactor and aged wiring remained. […]

Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast tours, told Reuters in June that his bookings for tours had risen 30 percent in May 2019 (when the HBO miniseries was released) compared to years prior, while bookings for the summer months had risen some 40 percent.

Take a look inside radioactive ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4

Interestingly, YouTube has added the line “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government” underneath that video, with a link to RT’s Wikipedia page. Make of that what you will.

So, farewell then, CEEFAX

Teletext was slow but it paved the way for the super-fast world of the internet
The BBC has announced that 2020 will mark the end of the Red Button text service – the final incarnation of what was originally known as CEEFAX and Oracle. Those old text-based TV services would seem ridiculously clunky and old-fashioned to an internet generation used to instant streaming and apps for everything. But – as slow and frustrating as that old text system was – it paved the way for the World Wide Web and helped prepare us for the world of social media.

A kind of internet but without social media — what could be better? It wasn’t quick though, was it?

When you fetch a web page, your browser sends a request to the server and the server sends the requested data back to you. CEEFAX, on the other hand, sent each page in turn, on a sort of endless loop. So you would put in the page number you wanted to see using your remote control, but it could take some time before that page came around again. It was a bit like waiting for your favourite sushi dish at one of those Japanese restaurants which use a conveyor belt to deliver the food, or your suitcase at an airport baggage claim.

Those were the days.

Televising the climate crisis

Those articles earlier in the week about climate science misconceptions were published by The Conversation as part of the Covering Climate Now initiative.

A new commitment to covering the climate story
Co-founded by The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review, in partnership with The Guardian, Covering Climate Now aims to convene and inform a conversation among journalists about how all news outlets—big and small, digital and print, TV and radio, US-based and abroad—can do justice to the defining story of our time.

This issue is not going to go away, however intangible it may still feel.

Nature documentaries need to get real about climate change
Climate change is often visualised in the same way, says Thomas-Walters, with the image of a polar bear on melting ice being a classic example. “Having things which show the impact on humans tend to be more effective.” This could include the depiction of severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods as they affect both humans and wildlife.

And now the weather.

How TV weathercasters became the unsung heroes of the climate crisis
Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

And the reports are having an impact.

Elisa Raffa: ‘I love learning about how weather and climate impact everything we do’

The armchair traveller’s hero

Yay, Richard Ayoade’s made it into the New Yorker!

“Travel Man,” Richard Ayoade’s travel show for people who hate travel
His persona is warmly amused, broadly skeptical, and gently astringent—i.e., British. He’s not a joiner. His intros conclude with him saying, in that episode’s particular city and with that episode’s particular guest, “We’re here, but should we have come?” It’s a refreshing tone for a travel series—somewhere between jumping in with both feet and looking askance at everything on earth, including the notion of fun on a weekend getaway. Where Rick Steves adopts an attitude of agreeable derring-do—in Siena, while wearing a Drago contrada neckerchief at a Drago contrada feast before the inter-contrada horse race, Steves says, “Even if I don’t fully understand what’s happening, the excitement is contagious and the wine is delightful!”—Ayoade does things like approach a toboggan on a snowy Norwegian hillside while muttering, “Generally, anything that requires a helmet, I avoid.”

The thrill of seeing

We take so much for granted these days, screens are everywhere, moving images are all around us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like before this deluge.

Our ideas about what early movies looked like are all wrong
During the first film screenings in the 1890s, viewers marvelled at moving images that had an unprecedented power to transport them to faraway places in an instant. At first, these shorts – which included glimpses of everything from Niagara Falls to elephants in India – had no narrative structure. Audiences flocked to theatres simply for the novel experience of seeing people and places, some familiar and others deeply strange, rendered lifelike and immediate before their eyes. And, as the film curator Dave Kehr explains in this video from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the images were hardly the grainy and frantically paced footage that has become synonymous with ‘old film’ today. Rather, viewed in their original form on large screens and prior to decades of degradation, these movies were vivid and realistic. In particular, early 68mm film, which was less practical than 35mm film and thus used less frequently, delivered startlingly lifelike impressions of distant realities to early moviegoers.

The IMAX of the 1890s – how to see the first movies

It’s quite arrogant of us to dismiss those early films as merely a stepping stone to our superior technologies today. You could argue that, given the quality of these new versions and the freshness of those first audiences, these movies made more of an impact than what we see today.

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And perhaps the same can apply to television a few decades later.

I love the idea of fake aerials. Of course, you can take a love of television too far.

Someone left old TVs outside 50 homes in Virginia while wearing a TV on his head. No one knows why.
“Everyone started coming out of their houses, walking around the neighborhood looking at the TVs there on the doorstep,” said Jeanne Brooksbank, one of the recipients, who lives in the Hampshire neighborhood. “It was very ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

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Magnetic Chernobyl

Before 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was the name of a city in Ukraine. It was also the name of a nuclear power plant close by, near the city of Pripyat (population 49,000). I can’t imagine many people in the West would have heard of it. After 26 April 1986, that all changed, of course.

In 2014, Danny Cooke and a documentary crew spent some time there, and showed us around.

Eerie drone footage shows Chernobyl from above
“We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Its radioactive magnetism keeps pulling us back.

Chernobyl’s horrifying realism merits its place as TV’s top show
It’s this combination of forensic attention to detail and chilling terror that has made Chernobyl, now IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time, so compelling. Creator Craig Mazin has captured why, 33 years after it occurred, Chernobyl continues to grip the public’s imagination, and why the event has become a metonym for grand-scale, human-induced suffering: the prospect of nuclear disaster still makes for the ultimate horror story.

HBO’s Chernobyl vs Reality – Footage Comparison

Pripyat may be a ghost town, but it’s not empty.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community
After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone. […]

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

‘Visitors’. They’re not to be called tourists, that would be too- … crass?

As seen on TV: Fans of HBO series flock to Chernobyl, Geiger counters in hand
Fallout zones don’t usually make popular tourism attractions, but tour agencies are reporting as much as a 40 percent jump in daytrip bookings to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the debut of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, according to Reuters. More than six million people watched the series finale last Monday, so there’s every reason to expect the tourism boomlet will continue. […]

Scientists have estimated that it will not be safe for humans to live in the 770-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for up to several hundred years, given that contamination levels are not consistent in the surrounding area. Still, the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011 and about 60,000 tourists visited Chernobyl last year, noted local tourism official Anton Taranenko at a recent press conference.

Milka Ivanova, from Bulgaria, and Dorina-Maria Buda, from Romania, were five years old in 1986. They’re now academics at Leeds Beckett University. Here, they share their perspective.

Chernobyl: we lived through its consequences – holidays in the fallout zone shouldn’t be a picnic
As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct, trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots.

Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists.