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Go Set an Apple Watch, Man


Connects is something we editors at Mediander, this one especially, spend a lot of time using. My favorite part of any given workday is, well, lunch. But my second favorite part is when I delve into a topic and discover how it relates to something I never knew existed. I’ll give you an example: The Apple Watch comes out today. Now, I don’t own any Apple products, and I’m not interested in buying one. Still, I’m excited about their smartwatch because I think it could be the device that makes wearable technology a thing. It could leap right over Glassholes and people who spend way too much money on Kickstarters, taking us one step closer to cybernetic enhancement and the idealistic, connected future Star Trek promised us. That or the dark, twisted cyberpunk future 1980s sci-fi novels promised us. Either way, it’s gonna be rad! So, I’d like to know more about the Apple Watch and how it relates to wearable technology in general. After a brief glance at the description (just general information, nothing too special), I scroll through the connections. Just looking at the photos, it’s clear why earlier smartwatches never caught on. They’re big and clunky, not something I’d wear in public. I have my beefs with Apple’s computers and pricing, but I have to give them credit on product design. Even if I have no use for an Apple Watch, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear one. AppleWatchesInset Apple hotness. Photo courtesy of プらチナ/Flickr But I’d never even heard of the Moto 360. Clicking into that I see it came out last year and works with Android phones. Here’s where Connects is cool: Below the basic description, we get a list of exactly how the Moto 360 relates to the Apple Watch. According to a PC Magazine writer, Apple’s smartwatch doesn’t offer anything new over the 360 except for customizable vibration notifications—whatever those are. That’s actually useful information. Having an Android phone, I can get something with all the same functionality as an Apple Watch right now! Well, as long as I don’t mind sporting that massive circle on my wrist. Yeah, pass. AppleWatch_connects_sideContinuing to scroll down, I find a connection to “Electronic viewfinder.” Clicking in, I learn that the Apple Watch can be used as a viewfinder for the iPhone camera. That sounds really cool, but then it dawns on me: Why would that be better than using the phone’s screen? Is it just for taking higher-quality selfies? You’d have to bend your wrist a weird way to line up…whatever, moving on. Backing up a bit, I find the connection I’m much more interested in: Smartwatch. If I click into that and make it the main topic, I’m on a completely new page. Scrolling through the new list of connections, all the expected smartwatch competitors are there: Apple Watch, Galaxy Gear, Pebble, Moto 360 and—wait, what the crap is that? Fossil Wrist PDA? Pfaaaahahahaha, look at the size of that thing! Connection: Yeah, “tiny.” Okay, buddy. And doesn’t it look like a joy to use? I mean, remember those Palm Pilots that would delete your data whenever the battery ran out? Well, how about one that straps to your wrist and makes calculator watches sexy by comparison? That right there is what makes Connects fun to use. You start with something you’re vaguely curious about and you wind up with something you didn’t even know existed. For a tech geek like me, finding out about an old, hilariously impractical-looking piece of legacy tech is the best case scenario. Buy hey, you might not be into technology. That’s cool, too—just search for something you’re interested in and start clicking around. You may end up somewhere surprising. Let us know what you find. Feature photo courtesy of travelstar/Flickr Apple_Watch_connects_bottom

by Nick Mangione

Apr 24, 2015

Gunfight at the C.K. Corral


Early on in Louis C.K.’s career, back when parenthood was just a word and smartphone wasn’t, he wrote and directed a six-minute film featuring Ron Lynch and two little-known New York actors, Amy Poehler (pre-SNL) and J.B. Smoove (pre-Curb). Shot in Manhattan in an afternoon, “Ugly Revenge” opens in typical Western style—whistling wind, crackling gunshots and empty landscapes—but in place of mesas and tumbleweeds it’s the shuttered warehouses and windblown trash of the Meatpacking District. A cowboy appears, dressed in something out of a Halloween pop-up shop, and C.K.’s drawly voiceover begins: “One tahm in th’ big city, a stranger came…t’reap his ugly revenge.” He gets it—shoots his man square in the belly—then disappears amidst plaintive Mariachi trumpets and the late-afternoon glare of the West Side Highway. Today, with a failed HBO show and failed marriage behind him, with six comedy specials under his belt, with a beer gut, balding head, five Emmys and two young daughters to dote on, C.K. hardly resembles the fledgling young filmmaker he was 20 years ago. But his absurdist cinematic voice remains and, though he’s labeled a comedian (the world’s best, by some), he’s still a filmmaker at heart, a passion he pours into his FX show, Louie, now in its fifth season. C.K. writes, directs, edits and stars in every single episode—a level of artistic autonomy unseen since Orson Welles’s legendary contract with RKO for Citizen Kane. Louie is a perfect reflection of its maker: half–family drama, half–absurdist comedy, sprinkled with stand-up à la Seinfeld (albeit with much dirtier routines). At times it’s tear-jerking, at others sidesplitting and at all times very strange. To the chagrin of storytelling traditionalists, Louie is brazenly indifferent to continuity. In present-day scenes, C.K.’s ex-wife is black; in flashbacks, she’s white. Some episodes veer wildly off-course from their narrative arc, while others have no arc to begin with. There are no tidy, satisfying endings, either: You laugh, you cry and then it’s just kind of over, much like—well, let’s stay away from that cliché. New_Funny_culturemap_sideSome time in the last nine or 10 years, coinciding with the birth of his first daughter, C.K. made a career-changing discovery: He found that he could be hilarious while also being dark and poignant. “Sadness is poetic,” he once told Conan O’Brien’s audience. “You’re lucky to live sad moments.” But what’s lucky about Louis is that his audience allows him to embrace his sadness onstage, rather than hide it behind a façade of pure funny. He proves, intentionally or not, that tragedy and comedy are not mutually exclusive. Does that make him a comic tragedian? Or a tragic comedian? I prefer the term cosmic curmudgeon. There’s a short throwaway scene in the second season of Louie that, as I try to think about who C.K. is as a person and performer, keeps coming to mind. C.K. is sitting in a crowded subway car. In the seat across from him sloshes a mysterious brown puddle, which threatens to flood its banks and soak adjacent passengers with every jolt of the train. Straphangers watch it from a distance—this disgusting reminder of their filthy world—with miserable, defeated expressions. Of course, nobody does anything about it. Suddenly the picture goes black-and-white and we are in C.K.’s daydream: He rises from his seat, removes his sweater and, like a cowboy riding in to rescue the hangdog townsfolk, tosses it into the puddle and sops up the liquid. The car erupts in applause. It’s his Catcher in the Rye fantasy—instead of saving us from the cliff’s edge, he’s sopping up the filth and misery that permeate our daily lives. And he’s giving the shirt off his back to do it. Despite his superstardom, C.K. still drops in unannounced at local New York clubs to do stand-up. Some weeks ago I caught him at the UCB Theatre in Chelsea, where he tried out new material on some of his timeworn, but evidently not worn out, subjects—slavery, child molestation—and after 30 minutes received a standing ovation (to bookend the Beatlemanic frenzy that marked his entrance), thanked the audience and left. The crowd filed out and milled around in front of the theater, which was still buzzing about its surprise guest. Then, throwing open the saloon doors, C.K. emerged, donning a frayed Mets cap and black-rimmed glasses. He made his way through knots of groupie traffic and drunken improv students—yet somehow remained largely unnoticed, invisible to even his ardent followers. It was quintessential Louis C.K.: famous yet anonymous, profound yet mundane, heroic yet pitiful. He sops up the slosh, and then continues on his lonesome way. At the corner of Eighth Avenue and 26th Street, he found his trusty steed: a Citi Bike. He swiped his card, hopped on and rode off into the lamplight. Photo courtesy of Everett New_Funny_culturemap_bottom

by Gabriel Rosenberg

Apr 23, 2015

Pre-Colonial Derring-Do


In The Strangler Vine, author M.J. Carter takes us to India in the late 1830s, when the British government, as such, is not yet in the game. At this point in history, the East India Company is the colonial power. It’s perhaps the last time when what is indigenous about India prior to colonialization can really breathe, and it is to Carter’s credit that she makes you feel this. Of course, you also feel that this is a fragile ecosystem about to disappear. It’s like seeing the American prairie still dark with bison: You know all too well what comes next. The novel takes the form of a classic, almost unbearably corny adventure tale. Two, then three Britons, bearing their symbolic content as vividly as their pluck, travel across east India with a ghastly secret to reveal. The first is William Avery, a callow young soldier in Calcutta—drifting, aimless and, of course, in debt (the officer who beats him at cards suitably oily). Avery’s mission is to accompany Jeremiah Blake, former Company man, now a taciturn recluse of questionable hygiene “gone native” in Calcutta’s dodgy parts. And together, they are to find Xavier Montstuart, a fading Byronic figure, a great poet of India who has mysteriously disappeared. Their movements are set against a world in equipoise. The sort of British figure who learned the language, viewed India with tolerance and even found love amongst the natives is being replaced by colonial administrators and missionaries who seek to dominate, separate and condescend. But the intrinsic interest of the setting notwithstanding, Carter is determined for whatever reason to test her reader’s patience with a plot right out of a comic book. And the writing follows suit, with lines and set pieces that would be embarrassing were they encountered in British vaudeville, let alone in a novel. Here is Montstuart—a poet, if you’ll recall—explaining to the troupe’s ingénue how he came to know Blake, the enigmatic special agent: I cannot remember, truly, the last time I read a single paragraph cluttered with so many clichés. The “proper little criminal” just about made me howl, “I surrender!” Are we watching evening entertainment on the HMS Pinafore here? There is not a line in this novel that the reader will remember for its subtlety; there is not a character or atmosphere drawn with any nuance. Strangler_Vine_mediumAlright, so be it. Not every reading experience can be Lolita. In a historically situated novel like this, then, if the story has a certain imaginative liveliness, a lot can be forgiven. Carter’s story tries for a kind of vividness, but in her attempt to give us both a fable about colonization and a boy’s true adventure story, she overplays her hand. It turns out that Montstuart, poet though he may be, has been asked by London higher-ups to prepare a report on the Thugs, that nefarious caste of thieves who ply the roads of India, befriending travelers before brutally murdering them. William Sleeman, the real-life administrator who made the study, and suppression, of the Thugs his life’s work, is a central character in The Strangler Vine. In the book, some in London suspect that his reports, which enable the British to justify repression and the annexation of “unruly” independent states, may not be entirely driven by the facts. Montstuart’s investigation confirms just this, and after a violent quarrel with Sleeman, he disappears….only to be found by Avery and Blake, in a cave, after they are abducted by Thugs and all brought together! A remarkable escape ensues, lots of digging by flickering candlelight and anxious flight from pursuers, all to no avail. Exhausted, they come upon what they take to be their rescuers: Company men. But that report must never reach London, so real-life Sleeman’s made-up assistant shoots Montstuart in cold blood. The perfidy! More struggling, and an eventual dressing-down from high-placed officials who, while “admiring their idealism,” quite patiently explain why such things must never come out, for, like it or not, India is changing, old boy. Order must prevail, corrupt princelings must go and no scandal may break. Reconciled, sort of, Avery returns to Calcutta and even gets the pretty coquette with the improbable name of Helen Larkbridge (her lace fan and eyelashes equally busy); Blake, a broken man, returns to London. The tale ends with a predictable, stiff-upper-lip farewell on the quay. Despite its interesting story, The Strangler Vine is on the whole a disappointing book. To her credit, Carter explores how colonial justification often depends on exaggerated ideas about the criminal other, and she employs a welcome sense of historical inevitability throughout. Good intentions and a desire to be genuinely fair to a native population will not prevail; the desire for domination and plunder will. But although we learn a lot, this reader, at least, was consistently annoyed with the mechanisms by which the lesson was conveyed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

by Steven Ross

Apr 22, 2015

Amy Schumer: Loved by Ladies, Adored by Dudes


Amy Schumer’s crass. Amy Schumer’s hot. Or is she? It doesn’t matter, of course, but it also does, because Schumer is a female performer trying to get men to laugh. In the first two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer—a mix of sketch comedy, stand-up and interviews—she has done exactly this. The show is both overtly feminist and undeniably hilarious, a combination that always plays well with women. What surprises me is that men are loving it too. This is certainly true in my own household, where my husband complains if I watch an episode without him (he also feels this way about Broad City but not, say, Gilmore Girls). As it turns out, my situation is not unique. According to Time magazine, the second season of Inside  Amy Schumer “had Comedy Central’s most-watched series premiere in all of 2013, even though the network’s audience is 60 percent male.” The article goes on to say that the “numbers are surprising considering that almost every sketch on Schumer’s show comments on gender politics in some way.” Amy_Schumer_connects_sideNaturally, such sketches usually make men the butt of the joke. Take the one in which a fake all-male focus group is asked what they think of Inside Amy Schumer; every single participant critiques Schumer’s physical appearance instead. At one point, there’s a shred of hope. “I like the routines where she was on the street talking to people, and I appreciated how it had a sort of feminist bent on a male-skewing network,” says one (fat, glasses-wearing) guy. “But I must say I would enjoy the routines more if she had, like, a 10 percent better dumper?” What’s so hilarious about this sketch is how carefully the guys consider their responses. They honestly believe they’re giving thoughtful answers. What makes this medicine go down for all viewers is the end, in which Schumer, watching from behind a two-way mirror, asks, “A couple of them said they would bang me?” flashing a hopeful smile. This is how the Peabody committee, which will present Schumer an award this May, describes her: “Schumer’s wholesome, disarming ‘Brady Bunch’ looks belie and enhance a comic intelligence that’s smart, distinctively female and amiably profane.” That sounds about right. While fellow comedians with current TV shows cultivate depressing personae that I can take only in small doses—both Marc Maron and Louis C.K. come to mind—even when dealing with dark subjects, Schumer remains reliably upbeat. And these days there’s an embarrassment of Schumer riches, with her first movie, Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, coming out in July. In it Schumer plays a magazine writer and over-the-top commitment-phobe. When she’s assigned to do a story on a sports doctor, played by Bill Hader, they end up getting drunk and sleeping together, which is par for the course—that is, until he starts falling in love with her. Riotous romantic comedy ensues. But if you’re not yet versed in Schumer’s amiable profanity, season three’s music video promo is a perfect place to start. In “Milk Milk Lemonade,” Schumer uses her own and others’ sexy derrieres to remind our butt-obsessed culture of something very important. That sexy ass? Yeah, it’s also just a “fudge machine.” It’s uncomfortable. It’s hilarious. It’s classic Schumer. Season three of Inside Amy Schumer premieres tonight. Photo courtesy of Everett Amy_Schumer_connects_bottom

by Emily Burns Morgan

Apr 21, 2015