Culture

1st Ever Film Club! TIME TO WATCH A MOVIE GUYS

Perhaps you are aware of a certain blockbuster out now called Snowpiercerwhich has a Metacritic score of 83. In the site’s parlance, that translates to “universal acclaim.” For comparison’s sake, the ape movie everyone’s been waiting for has an 81.

Salon.com calls Snowpiercer “the movie of the year so far” and the NYT is similarly rhapsodic. It’s a sci fi action-adventure epic, of course, because it’s summertime, and that’s what we get in summer; but it’s also very much supposed to be a challenging, interesting, sporadically violent movie about class, in an #EatTheRich kind of way:

A few thousand survivors live in railway cars, sorted into a rigid and ruthlessly enforced social order. In the back are huddled masses fed on gelatinous, insect-based black protein bars and kept in line by a combination of propaganda and brute force. Toward the front, the more fortunate enjoy access to schools, nightclubs, fresh food and the reassurance that they deserve everything they have. An unseen, quasi-mythical entrepreneur is in charge, and a group of rebels have decided to challenge his power and the extreme inequality he represents.

Perfect for the Billfold’s first ever film club? Seems like a yes! So, the question is, what is a good time frame for us all to enjoy this allegory about the 99%? Should we reconvene to discuss it in one week? Two weeks? Should we choose something else instead? Let us know in the comments.

---

Would You Pay $375 for A Night at the Museum? ANY Museum?

Having refused to subject myself to Ben Stiller’s particularly noxious brand of simian energy, I know very little about Night at the Museum or its sequels. [Sidebar: actors we'd pay money to never see again in movies. Go!] From the trailers and the reviews though, heck even from the poster, I’ve gotten a pretty decent idea: it’s like Toy Story, only instead of toys coming to life, it’s dinosaurs, right? Less charm, more rampaging?

Ever since the movie drew more children’s attention to the American Museum of Natural History, the AMNH has been hosting family sleepovers; and now, for the first time, the museum is hosting one for adults. For $375 per person ($325 if you’re a member), you can get a once-in-a-lifetime taste of Nerd Nirvana.

  • The overnight adventure will begin with a champagne reception and music (courtesy of the 12th Night Jazz trio) in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall.
  • A three-course dinner will be served.
  • Explorers can roam through the nearly empty halls of the Museum (including the spiders). There will also be a flashlight tour.
  • Participants will be invited to attend a special presentation in The Power of Poison exhibition with Curator Mark Siddall.
  • There will be a midnight viewing of the Dark Universe Space Show, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Participants will also be invited to “enjoy wild creatures up close during a live animal demonstration in the Kaufmann Theater”!
  • You will sleep in your sleeping bag… under the big blue (clean) whale! When you wake up there will be a breakfast snack.

I’m all for this, but personally, for $375, I’d like a bed. At least a cot, or an air mattress that slowly deflates over the course of the night. Flashlight tours are always tops, though. Like flashlight tours of old cemeteries? Worth every penny. Speaking of pennies, though, what is a “breakfast snack”? Is it more or less than an Egg McMuffin?

Do you think camping out near the Planetarium stars is worth $375? Or would you pay that amount cheerfully for a different institutional location: the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Confederate Museum?

---

Do You Owe a Present to a Bride Who Owes You Money?

In today’s Carolyn Hax advice column at the Washington Post, someone wants to know whether they need to get a wedding gift for a deadbeat bride who happens to also be a relative. As in all good advice-column questions, you can feel the heat of the writer’s anger rising in waves off the screen:

Dear Carolyn:

Do I buy the bride-to-be a wedding gift, even though she owes me money she borrowed and never paid back? I’m not the only person to whom she owes money, by the way. It’s like we’re paying for her wedding because she’s kept the money and it rankles to have to fork out more cash to buy a gift. It complicates matters that she’s a family member. Is there a polite way to say your wedding gift is that you don’t have to pay me back?

J.

I love this question because the letter writer “J.” clearly believes the answer should be “No, Of Course You Shouldn’t Have To Get This Dumbquat A Present; How Dare She Get Married When She Owes You Money? She Should Be Glad You’re Even Going To Her Farce of a Ceremony.” J. is writing because J.–who I will assign the gender ze/zir for clarity’s sake–wants zir righteous indignation confirmed. I love righteous indignation. I love how enraged entitled people get when faced with other people’s entitlement. 

---

How Evangelical Christians Do Money: On Tithing

He doesn’t need my money. The church will continue to exist without my measly portion of income. But my heart needs to give it.

---

Other Fast Food Restaurants Paying Beyond the Minimum Wage

The Times has a story up about other fast food restaurant chains that pay above the minimum wage including:

---

The Last Word of the Day: Take Your Vacations

Tomorrow, we’ll be cutting out early for the 4th of July weekend and perhaps you will be too!

And I hope you will be because Bloomberg reports that Americans are not good at taking time off. From Ben Steverman:

The U.S. stands alone among developed countries by not mandating vacation time. Of those who get vacation time, four in 10 Americans stockpile them, failing to take all the days they’re offered. Those stay-at-work Americans leave an average of 8.1 days unused, according to a 2014 Oxford Economics analysis. That’s about 429 million unused days per year.

As Steverman points out, not taking your vacation days only makes sense if you get something out of it, like money for unused days, though workers often don’t use their days because the financial crisis scared them into thinking that being invested in your job can mean job security (though, I actually don’t think that’s the reality!).

So go on now, git! I’ll be off in the woods somewhere with no internet tomorrow afternoon, which means I won’t be able to work even if I wanted to.

---

The Things You Own, Own You: Fitbit Edition

David Sedaris has apparently tired of writing comedy and switched to horror. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, he chronicles his adventures with a Fitbit, a device one wears on one’s wrist to track one’s steps and also, in a larger, metaphysical sense, one’s “health.” We pay for accessories to make our lives more enjoyable, or, failing that, at least to make them longer. We do not expect our gadgets to go all HAL 9000 on us. Unfortunately, in Sedaris’s case, that is what happened:

During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I’d go out for another three thousand.

“But why?” Hugh asked when I told him about it. “Why isn’t twelve thousand enough?”

“Because,” I told him, “my Fitbit thinks I can do better.” … At the end of my first sixty-thousand-step day, I staggered home with my flashlight knowing that I’d advance to sixty-five thousand, and that there will be no end to it until my feet snap off at the ankles. Then it’ll just be my jagged bones stabbing into the soft ground.

I not only understand but identify with this: I too have the kind of obsessive personality that would make a Fitbit ($99.95) not a helpful toy but a cruel taskmaster. If you’re into cruel taskmasters though there are plenty of other options. Wirecutter recommends the Vivofit ($130). I recommend walking as much as possible and saving both your money and your sanity but YMMV. Literally.

 

---

“Frozen” Huge in Japan Because KARAOKE (Also Empowerment)

Disney’s Frozen is the best movie ever according to lots of four-year-olds and one of the most successful ever according to facts. It has made over $1,000,000,000. You see all those zeros? That’s a lot of mouths gaping open in surprise at how well a lady-driven Scandinavian-ish cartoon featuring a talking snowman has done.

One corner of the globe where the movie musical phenomenon has been a surprising extra-super hit, though? Japan.

The movie’s made $231.8 million in Japan so far, more than any movie in Japan’s history except Spirited Away in 2001 and Titanic in 1997—and it’s within striking distance of the latter.​ … Japan’s Frozen box-office receipts have contributed 19% of worldwide earnings, second in the world behind the US’s 32%, even though Japan has less than half the population of the US.

So, nanika atta?

---

Obit for Modern-Day Medici Who Made “Mockingbird” Possible

Somewhere in literary heaven, there’s a nine-gun salute happening in honor of Michael Brown, who has died at age 93. His entire obit is a delightful read. A cryptographer and Cabaret songster, he made his money writing cheeky, clever industrial musicals, which was an actual job some people had in midcentury America:

Industrial musicals boasted professional casts — Florence Henderson and Dorothy Loudon are alumnae — and opulent production values. In an era when a Broadway musical might cost $500,000, its industrial counterpart could cost as much as $3 million. They also had high-level composers and lyricists, including Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, known widely for “Fiddler on the Roof” and less widely for “Ford-i-fy Your Future,” the Ford Tractor show of 1959.

For DuPont, Mr. Brown created ‘Wonderful World of Chemistry,’ a show that in all likelihood has had the greatest number of performances of any musical in history. … Presented in the DuPont pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, it was a rare example of an industrial musical open to the public. The show, written, produced and directed by Mr. Brown, was performed at least 40 times a day, by at least eight companies, for months on end. Seen by an estimated five million people, the show, 24 minutes long, played some 17,000 performances. Broadway’s longest-running musical, “Phantom of the Opera,” by contrast, has had about 11,000 performances since opening in 1988.

But the best part of the obit tells the story of when he sent a letter to his friend, the struggling writer Harper Lee, and changed her life.

---

Festivus Poles, Soup Nazi Soup, & More “Seinfeld” Micro-Economies

Remember a time before “Seinfeld”? Of course you don’t. The show that changed television, according to Matt Zoller Seitz, has rewired our brains so that we cannot reach back to a more innocent time when words like “sponge-worthy” and “anti-dentite” meant something else or perhaps nothing at all. It wasn’t 9/11 that turned all Americans into New Yorkers; it was “Seinfeld.” And not surprisingly, a phenomenon that total had — even continues to have, lo these many years later — its own economy, as helpfully detailed today on Vulture.

Some of the fun facts:

$3.1 billion: The amount the show has generated since entering syndication in 1995.

$400 million: What Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld can each make just from the most recent syndication cycle.

Festivus Poles: The Wagner Companies, a Milwaukee railing company, has owned exclusive rights to make Festivus poles since 2005. It sells a steady 800 per year, at up to $39 apiece.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis changed its calculation of the country’s gross domestic product in 2013, creating a new category that counts long-running shows like Seinfeld as investments (rather than expenses). The tweak adds $70 billion to the GDP of the United States.

---

How Americans Think About Fairness and the Economy

There is massive new Pew Research Center poll (185 glorious pdf pages) that dissects the attitudes of Americans on all sorts of things. There is much to mull over, starting with the study’s division of the American populace into eight ideological groups: Solid Liberals (all left all the time; like me, more or less), Steadfast Conservatives (fiscally and socially conservative), Business Conservatives (corporatist, but not so down on gays and immigrants), Young Outsiders (socially liberal Republicans), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (left-leaning, working class, disillusioned), Next-Generation Liberals (like the Solid Liberals, but unconvinced of the need for social programs or anti-discrimination legislation), Faith and Family Left (like the Solid Liberals, but homophobic), and (boringly) Bystanders, who are what they sound like: disengaged and uninformed.

These groups break down mostly as you’d expect (although the right is more polarized than the left). The study is full of charts that show the spread of each group’s opinions across some typical left-right divide, and they all pretty much look like this one:

---

The Cost of Things: Supporting Podcasts, Radio, & Friends

Mike: “I don’t want your money! Keep your money!” Ester. I can’t get that song out of my head—it’s stuck. It’s from 21 Chump Street, from the This American Life musical that just went up earlier this week.

Ester: That’s hilarious, MD. I haven’t listened to it yet but I’m highly susceptible to earworms so I’m sure that once I do I too will suffer from your malady.

Mike: So, it’s from their live show, and they have a video you can download if you want, and yes, I wanted it. The cost of it was $5, but they said that since the show was so expensive to make it’d be great if you could pay more. So I paid $20.

Ester: That’s great of you! Did you consider waiting to see how much you enjoyed the content before deciding how much to give them in exchange for it? I just signed up for Slate Plus, where you pay the site $50 a year or $5 a month to get upgraded content — podcasts without ads, for example — but that was after years and years of reading and listening to Slate content gratis. Their value had already been demonstrated.

Mike: I decided that $20 was a fair price to pay for something I listen to on a weekly basis and want to continue to support, so I paid it without waiting to see if I liked the video itself.

Ester: Right, that makes sense. You’re not paying for the video, after all; you’re rewarding them for their track record. I have done that too for TAL specifically. (I’m a radio dork.) But do you have other podcasts that you listen to and like and haven’t contributed to, even though they’ve asked? What’s your criteria for deciding which listening experiences to support?

---