Studio 360 has asked designers to come up with new concepts for the gay pride flag, Monopoly, and even Christmas, and we came up this design challenge: rebrand marijuana for mainstream culture. The Original Champions of Design (OCD), a branding firm, took on the challenge ...
The association of art with altered states of consciousness goes back a long way. Archeological evidence of fermented beverages and some of the oldest musical instruments were found at the same 9,000-year-old site in China. Do alcohol and marijuana improve creativity?
This week, Kurt Andersen calls a listener named Ken in New Hampshire who turns out to be Ken Burns, the filmmaker. Burns has a few good words for our latest listener challenge, like "a reel of documentary filmmakers" and "a scratch of DJs." We ask what a rebranding of marijuana ...
Iris Barry was one of the first intellectuals to treat film as an art form, appreciating its far-reaching, transformative power. She founded the Museum of Modern Arts’ film department and became its first curator. In Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film, Robert Sitton writes about her life and her lasting legacy.
The pianist and MacArthur genius Vijay Iyer is one of the great living jazz musicians, although a lot of his music isn't what you'd recognize as jazz. In addition to leading a trio and playing duets with a saxophonist, Iyer programs laptops, and writes chamber music. The heart of Iyer’s ...
A few weeks ago, we asked you to create new collective nouns for modern types of people — conceptual artists, Trekkies, yoga instructors, and more. The submissions are rolling in from listeners across the country, including one Ken Burns from New Hampshire. Yes, that Ken Burns ...
The winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize were announced this week, acknowledging the best in journalism as well as the arts. Donna Tartt won the prize for fiction for her third novel, The Goldfinch. The 784-page bestseller, which took Tartt eleven years to finish, is a Dickensian tale ...
It goes something like this: Sidekick. Sidekick. Bunny-hop forward. Bunny-hop back. Three bunny-hops forward.
This dance, called the "penguin dance" or "raqsat al-batriq" in Arabic, is a hit in Saudi Arabia. Families do it at home, at gatherings and at weddings.
Several YouTube videos have appeared online, in which Saudis are doing the penguin dance.
One includes a father in his traditional attire standing next to his daughter and they hop back and forth together in the living room. That video has received close to 2 million views so far.
It's not clear how the dance became popular in Saudi Arabia, but Ellen Knickmeyer, reporter for the Wall Street Journal thinks the Internet has played some part.
"Saudis spend a lot of time online, watching videos," she says. "They're one of the world's biggest consumers of YouTube and there are dances that show variations of the penguin dance and Saudis say they saw these videos, and once it hit Saudi, it just spread."
Given that many other diversions are banned in Saudi Arabia, the dance has become something that families can do together.
"Movie theaters in Saudi Arabia are banned and a lot of public entertainment places that the rest of the world has are banned too," Knickmeyer says.
Meanwhile some conservative Saudis aren't seeing this as a fun, family activity.
"There are some people who are expressing the view that this is something that's a foreign import and it's not something that Muslims or Saudis should do," she says.
Knickmeyer says she has seen tweets calling the penguin dance a Zionist plot or an attempt to convert Saudis to Christianity.
But so far, she says, there hasn't been a major attempt by the government to ban the dance. Most pressure has come from the families themselves.
Knickmeyer spoke to some teenagers who wanted to do the dance, but their families told them it's not something for men to do.
For now though, some Saudis are just having fun with the dance.
"The fact that they're willing to show the lighter side of things...it's a way for [them] to show that they're real people and they enjoy having fun."
Gabriel García Márquez, a Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer best known for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, saw himself as a journalist first and a novelist second. And as a realist above all.
He died Thursday in Mexico City.
Because of his writing style, he's often credited as a pioneer of the magic realism literary genre.
"I invent nothing," he once told the BBC about his literary style. "People always praise my imagination, but I believe I am a terrible realist. Everything I invent was already there in reality."
Many in Latin America agree that there's nothing magical about the way García Márquez described people and places, even if his characters were visited by ghosts, or floated impossibly far above the ground.
Writer Daniel Alarcón, a frequent contributor to The World and co-founder of Radio Ambulante, says García Márquez's writing came from a rich tradition of storytelling and oral history.
"I remember, a couple years ago when I was in Cartagena [Colombia] and I was in a cab and the cabbie was like, 'This is Gabo's house,' and he says, 'Here in the Caribbean we all have great stories, he's just a good typist,'" Alarcón recalls.
Alarcón wouldn't use the label "magical realism" to describe García Márquez's work, though. Instead, he believes García Márquez depicted a certain kind of reality — the kind found in Macondo, the fictional town in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
"I'll give you an example," Alarcón says. "There's a bus company in Peru, in Lima. Turns out there's a bunch of fake buses that have painted their buses exactly the same and are running the same route and they are not a part of the company, but everyone thinks they are. And they are stealing passengers from the real company. You know that's 'Macondiano.' You realize you are in a world with its own logic."
García Márquez also influenced writers beyond Latin America. Hamid Ismailov, a novelist from Uzbekistan (and the BBC's official writer-in-residence) says he began writing in the Soviet Union around the time of García Márquez's first literary breakthroughs.
Ismailov says Márquez's work had a huge impact on writers, like himself, from small villages.
"His One Hundred Years of Solitude was completely different to everything we were reading about at that time," Ismailov says. "It was neither the Soviet literature nor the American or the Western literature. It was the third-world literature. And it made us look at our own roots and all of a sudden to remember how magical our literary tradition is. For example, One Thousand and One Nights is in our literature. It helped us to rediscover ourselves."
García Márquez also wasn't seen as a threatening, anti-Soviet writer, and his work became wildly popular in the USSR.
"Then other books of Márquez appeared, like Autumn of the Patriarch or No One Writes to the Colonel, which were absolutely, in a sense, anti-Soviet ones. But the floodgate was already open," Ismailov says.
So readers and writers alike read García Márquez and were shaped by him.
"He helped to create the talent of Fazil Iskander, an Abkhaz writer who famously wrote Sandro from Chegem. Once again, the village in the middle of nowhere was taken as the center of the world. And everything was happening somewhere — but not in Moscow, for example, or not in St. Petersburg or not in New York or Washington. So, little by little, the value of the ordinary life was creeping in with the help of Márquez's books," Ismailov recalls.
Ismailov describes it like this: "Storytelling is such an important part of human being and with every story it is human nature to add something sort of magic, something kind of hyperbolic. When you are telling stories, you are sometimes hyperbolizing. And that was the essence of the technique of Márquez and he released this technique for the whole world."
Never before has Sunday morning entertainment played so well with Sunday night entertainment.
He was born Touko Laaksonen.
But as an artist, he was known as Tom of Finland.
He died in 1991.
During his life, he sketched homoerotic images of young men with bulging muscles, mostly dressed in tight leather, or not dressed at all.
His style was always provocative. And like his friend Robert Mapplethorpe, Laaksonen's work had a huge influence on gay culture.
He depicted men dressed as soldiers, bikers, lumberjacks, construction workers. Tom of Finland's style influenced artists like the Village People and Freddie Mercury of Queen.
“I don't think anyone since the Greco-Roman times really adulated and adored the male form like Tom did. He gave us godlike creatures but they had a strong humanity to them. They were fantasy but they were also our friends,” said S.R. Sharp, Vice-President and curator of the Tom of Finland Foundation.
Sharp says that Laaksonen's work played a crucial role in changing the way gay men in the mid-20th century saw themselves.
“We were very limited in our imagery before Tom of Finland. We were depicted as sissies or poofs or pansies, fairies, often feminized and made lesser than. Tom sort of turned it around and made us more than.”
The images the Foundation chose for the stamps don't represent the most graphic of Tom of Finland's work. But one of the three designs shows a man's naked backside with a face peering between the legs.
There are a number of countries around the world where a stamp with a man's buttocks on it would not be well-received - like Saudi Arabia or Nigeria where homosexuality is illegal. And it's not unprecedented for a country to bar mail because of an offensive stamp, according to the American Philatelic Society’s Ken Martin.
“The most famous, I think was what was probably the first nude on a postage stamp, Spain in 1930 issued a series with a painting by Goya of a nude which attracted a lot of attention," Martin says. "As best as I can determine, it appears the United States postal service rejected and returned mail bearing those stamps in the 1930's.”
The Tom of Finland stamps are not the first to celebrate gay culture. In 2010, Austria issued a stamp celebrating the 15th anniversary of Vienna's Rainbow Parade. And next month the US Postal Service will issue a stamp with the image of American gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.
Tom of Finland stamps will be released in September in conjunction with a retrospective exhibit of his life and work.
* Updated: A previous version of this story said that S.R. Sharp was co-founder. He is the Vice President and curator.
Legendary ballet dancer Gelsey Kirkland and her husband, dancer Michael Chernov, talk about creating The Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet.
Dear Internet, I know your job is hard. But when I miss my favorite show, I need you to not give all the major plot points away within 12 hours.
Music has played an important role in the Ukrainian crisis.
One folk song in particular, though, has become an anthem for Ukrainians who feel more allied with the West than with Russia. The song is called 'Plyve Kacha Po Tysyni'.
And it has a special meaning to the BBC's Irena Taranyuk.
"I knew this song for a number of years as something very mournful and sad. I used to have a good cry about it when I felt down," said Taranyuk. "It is a lament. It is about a young soldier, a young recruit going off to fight in foreign wars and him having a dialogue with his mother saying ‘My dear mother, what will happen to me if I die in a foreign land?’ and she tells him ‘Well, my dearest, you will be buried by other people.’ It’s really poignant and sad."
That old folk song is now associated with those who lost their lives during the protests in Maidan, Kiev's Independence Square.
“When dozens of people were killed by snipers in Maidan on the 18th and 20th of February, were buried and mourned in the mass funeral on February 21st, it was this song [that was played]. It acquired a life of its own, this song - a new life for the 21st century,” Taranyuk says.
"Plyve Kacha Po Tysyni" translates as "The duckling swims." For generations of Ukrianians, it has been a song warning of the risks of warfare.
If you haven't seen the Indian film The Lunchbox, by writer and director Ritesh Batra, you should.
It's billed as a romantic comedy but I found it to be much more; a movie about love, yes, but also about loss and aging. It hit all the right buttons without getting overly schmaltzy or saccharine. In fact, it's anything but.
The movie, as the title suggests, centers around a lunchbox. In Mumbai there's a "dabbawallah system" of delivering hot, home-cooked lunches to workers in their offices around the city. The dabbawallahs who deliver the lunches are extremely efficient, delivering up to 250,000 lunches each day and barely ever making a mistake.
The film, however, is about a glitch. One lunch keeps getting delivered to the wrong man. But when the woman making the meal confronts the dabbawallah he shakes his head and tells her it’s impossible. They never make mistakes, even Harvard came to study the delivery system, he tells her.
It’s true that they hardly make mistakes, says Stefan Thomke, the Harvard Business School professor who did that study.
So, what is their secret?
“Their secret is the system,” says Thomke. This system is a very complicated dance of many, many elements, including the railway system in Mumbai. The dabbawallah rely on the train to deliver the lunchboxes around the city.
“[The railway] sort of helps them in unexpected ways. It synchronizes the system because in Mumbai the railway is one of the few things that always runs on time. It forces the entire organization to run according to a rhythm,” he says.
Another example of the perfection of the dabbawallah system is how they label the lunchboxes. There’s very little information on the boxes.
“For example, there’s no return address,” says Thomke, “but these boxes have to go back to the person who gave them to you.”
How do they know where to return the lunchbox? That information is memorized by the dabbawallah, he says.
“The information that’s on there gets [the lunchbox] back to the last distribution point and from the last point, it’s all about memory and they bring it back,” Thomke says.
Despite the fact that the premise of the movie is nearly impossible, Thomke still enjoyed the film.
“I loved the movie because it starts out with something that’s highly improbable, and isn’t that something that life is all about — something that is highly improbable,” he says.
Guest host—and former ballet dancer—Sarah Jessica Parker goes behind the scenes of the New York City Ballet and talks Gauguin with the director of MoMA.
"Uncomfortable" is a word I've heard a lot while reporting on the ongoing Greek economic crisis during the past few years.
Greeks who once had good jobs, houses – a level of comfort – suddenly find it's all vanished.
Athens-based architect Katerina Kamprani is no exception.
“The problem is actually getting worse,” Kamprani says. “Here in Athens, and in Greece in general, architecture is not going so well. So, I also try to do other stuff. Whatever other creative thing I can try to do, I do it.”
And what Kamprani's done is tap into her own discomfort. A few years ago, she started thinking of everyday objects, and how they might be "re-imagined."
“The first sketch that I did was a toilet that was elevated six and half feet off the floor. So, you’d have to use a ladder to go to the toilet. And I thought, ‘Well, that's uncomfortable.’”
Kamprani was onto something.
“Some hours later than that, another idea popped into my mind: a closet whose doors opened inward. Even if you put something in it, you can’t take it out very easily.”
She transferred her sketches to her computer, and started doing 3-D mock-ups of the objects.
There's an umbrella made of cement, and a beautiful bowl that sports a hole in the bottom.
There’s an inflatable door handle. Imagine trying to turn that!
And she’s got a pair of yellow rain boots, but without the toes.
“I try to design the objects to be a bit usable, to not be completely useless,” says Kamprani with a laugh. “You could use them, but you'd have to try a lot.”
She calls the set of designs, “The Uncomfortable.”
There are many variations on that classic, the fork. Kamprani's got versions with hinged tines, with a hinged handle. There's another with tines three inches thick.
They're forks, Kamprani says, but they're not.
“When it comes to everyday objects, we have an idea in our minds what it could do. We all know what a fork does, and a spoon does, and all these everyday objects. So you have an expectation for that object. What I design is very close to that, but a bit different.”
For my part, I started out by laughing at Kamprani's designs. And then, after a couple of minutes, I got a bit annoyed.
“Many people get angry seeing this,” she says. “I don’t know why. They say, ‘Oh it just makes me so angry.’”
Kamprani thinks it's because people start thinking about what it would be like to try to use her uncomfortable objects.
Take Kamprani's design for a pretty, blue watering can.
She's turned the spout backwards, so that if you tried to pour the water out, it would instead pour right back into the can.
“It's not even in the guidelines I have for myself for uncomfortable. I think it's completely useless. It doesn't do anything. But, it's very symbolic.”
Symbolic, Kamprani means, of life in Greece these days especially, which has moved beyond the uncomfortable, and gone straight into the surreal.
But what would be even more surreal, she says, is if one day the Greek economy actually improved, and she had enough money to build real-life versions of her computer-designed creations.
I'd be first in line for those toeless yellow rain boots.
They'd go well with that watering can that doesn't actually water.