Mixed Media

Read the New York Times' 1853 Report on the Solomon Northup "Kidnapping Case"

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 11:06 AM PST

On Sunday, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was drugged and kidnapped in Washington, DC, in 1841 and sold into slavery. Northup, a violinist and family man based in Saratoga Springs, New York, was forced to work on Louisiana plantations for 12 years.

On January 20, 1853 (the same year Northup's memoir Twelve Years a Slave was published), the New York Times ran a report on Northup titled, "The Kidnapping Case," promising "interesting disclosures" (it spells his name "Northrup"):

"By the laws of Louisiana no man can be punished there for having sold Solomon into slavery wrongfully, because more than two years had elapsed since he was sold; and no recovery can be had for his services, because he was bought without the knowledge that he was a free citizen," the story reads.

During his acceptance speech, 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen dedicated the award to the tens of millions of people still in slavery today.

 

(h/t the New York Times' Facebook page.)

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Matthew McConaughey Is Right: Science Does Prove the Value of Gratitude

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 9:10 AM PST

This morning, everybody is talking about Matthew McConaughey's folksy, funny, and kinda preachy Oscar acceptance speech.

In it, McConaughey did something you rarely hear in one of these: He crossed the streams of science and religion. Specifically, after thanking God, McConaughey added that "He," with the super big capital H, "has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates."

What is McConaughey talking about?

Turns out he isn't just winging it: A decade of research has defined gratitude as a social emotion that, while related to empathy, is nonetheless distinct from it. Feeling gratitude helps bind us to our groups and communities and enhances social relationships. And it isn't just humans: Primatologist Frans de Waal has observed behaviors that look a heck of a lot like gratitude in chimpanzees, who are more likely to share food with other chimps who have recently groomed them.

What's the payoff of feeling grateful, of "paying it forward," and of helping out those who help you? The research suggests more hope and optimism, a better ability to manage stress, a tendency to exercise more and even sleeping better. And while not all of us are as naturally adept at feeling grateful, the research also suggests there are interventions you can do to turn your life on a more thankful path: Simply writing down the things you're thankful for, on a regular basis, seems to bring on these benefits.

On the Thanksgiving episode of Inquiring Minds last year, we discussed this growing body of research suggesting that the emotion of gratitude has many beneficial effects, singling out one recent gratitude study in particular, which showed a link between feelings of gratitude and the avoidance of risky behaviors like using drugs and engaging in teenage sex in African American youth. (The study did not, however, establish causation.) The discussion starts roughly at minute 3:

For a much fuller explanation of the science of gratitude, here's a piece I wrote last year for Nautilus, unpacking all of this a bit more.

Obviously, a lot of people, like McConaughey, want to hop on board this research and ride it to a religious destination. But you don't have to, because thankfulness can certainly occur outside of a faith-based context.

In other words, there was a gem of wisdom in McConaughey's speech that, religious or not, you can put to good use.

5 Best Movie Songs Never Nominated for an Oscar

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 4:00 AM PST

On the one hand, it's a little tired to obsess over Oscar snubs in what is essentially a Hollywood popularity contest. On the other, we wouldn't have to do this if the Academy weren't so wrong all the time. These five original songs, whether for petty rules reasons or basic Academy oversight, couldn't even garner nominations—but they're still more than worth your time.

Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" (Dangerous Minds, 1995): Did you even remember this movie existed? It's novel, groundbreaking plot—a passionate teacher gets inner city kids to love learning!—and high level schmaltz were panned by critics. Roger Ebert even dug into the autobiography the film was based on and found that the real-life teacher used famous hip-hop songs to connect with her students—the movie (ironically, given the soundtrack) whitewashes the musical connection to Bob Dylan. "Gangsta's Paradise" rightfully eclipsed its source material, going on to sell millions of copies, inspire one of Weird Al's most popular songs, and win a Grammy and two MTV Video Music Awards. Coolio's trophy case lacks an Oscar, though, since songs that rely on sampled or reworked material can't be nominated. (Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" is sampled throughout.) "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's Pocahontas won that year instead, beating out another artist on this list.
 

Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)" (Romeo+Juliet, 1996): This haunting track plays over the credits to Baz Luhrmann's modernization of Shakespeare. The band didn't want it to be included on the movie's official soundtrack, though, so it ended up on 1997's OK Computer, which did pretty well for itself. Radiohead was on tour with Alanis Morisette when Luhrmann sent over an unfinished cut of the last 30 minutes of the film and asked for a song. The rest is history, though the success of "Exit Music" was far from assured at the time; guitarist Ed O'Brien said in a 1997 interview that he didn't like the idea of a credits song because "it will have to compete with the sound of chairs clapping up." Madonna's "You Must Love Me" won the Oscar that year, but Radiohead can still lay claim to stopping Marilyn Manson from jumping off a cliff.

 

"America (Fuck Yeah)" (from Team America: World Police, 2004): It shouldn't be too controversial to call this the best patriotic satire ever to be featured in a movie starring marionettes. The South Park crew's action extravaganza struck out at the Oscars—maybe because the movie killed off half of Hollywood—but this track lives on in the hearts and minds of YouTube uploaders and internet commenters everywhere. Jorge Drexler's "Al otro lado del río" from The Motorcycle Diaries took home the statue, beating out the Counting Crows song that made sure an entire generation would never revisit August and Everything After.

 

Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" (The Wrestler, 2008): The Boss already has an Oscar for "Streets of Philadelphia" and was nominated again for 1995's "Dead Man Walkin'." That doesn't make "The Wrestler" any less deserving though. Bruce wrote the song after receiving a heartfelt letter from star Mickey Rourke—the two had been friends, but lost touch in he midst of Rourke's personal troubles—and ended up giving them the track for free. The melancholy track won a Golden Globe, but to everyone's surprise wasn't even nominated by the Academy. "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire won that year. At least it was a much worthier competitor than Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," which beat out "The Wrestler" for a prestigious MTV Movie Award.

 

Metric's "Black Sheep" (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, 2010): That every original song from this move wasn't given 10 Oscars each is a crime that Canadian courts are probably too polite to prosecute. Beck, Broken Social Scene, and Metric served as stand-ins for the Toronto-set film's bands, with "Black Sheep" getting the nod for actress Brie Larson's performance in the movie itself. (Metric's full version appears on the soundtrack.) Randy Newman's "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 won the Oscar that year, probably because Academy members couldn't stop crying. Still, in an alternate universe, Metric wins and Crash and the Boys play "We Hate You Please Die" on the Oscar stage.

Correction: The original post incorrectly listed Alison Brie, not Brie Larson, as the actress who performed in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

Beck's "Morning Phase" Turns Beautiful With Time

| Mon Mar. 3, 2014 4:00 AM PST
Beck Morning Phase

Beck
Morning Phase
Capitol

Beck's first album since 2008 does not beg for your attention. In fact, Morning Phase may seem a bit listless at first, but give it time to take effect, and what emerges is a understated yet uncompromising work of serious beauty. Returning to the reflective mode of his haunting 2002 opus Sea Change, Mr. Hansen delivers a stirring set of acoustic folk- and country-tinged tunes (with the occasional string section) about heartbreak and alienation but tempered by glimmers of hope. The moonlit, slow-burning "Wave" underscores his gift for using that deadpan, almost impassive voice to hint at oceans of emotion.

Over an unpredictable career spanning more than two decades, this mercurial talent has been a hip-hop deconstructor, an indie-rock trickster, and a funk dilettante. Here, he's a brilliant, irony-free balladeer, liberated from distracting gimmicks and guises. Listen:

Steve McQueen Dedicated His "12 Years a Slave" Best Pic Oscar to Victims of Modern-Day Slavery

| Sun Mar. 2, 2014 10:51 PM PST

The powerful drama 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards. During his acceptance speech, director Steve McQueen dedicated the award to the tens of millions of people still in slavery today:

Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.

Some estimates put the number at 30 million. McQueen is a patron of Anti-Slavery International and met with US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery. McQueen also made the point of 21 million modern-day slaves during an acceptance speech for best film at the BAFTAs.

Here's video (via Time) of McQueen's Oscar speech and 12 Years a Slave's big win:

Matthew McConaughey Just Won an Oscar. Here Is His Acceptance Speech.

| Sun Mar. 2, 2014 10:50 PM PST

Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club at the 86th Academy Awards Sunday.

Noted without comment, here is his acceptance speech.

UPDATE, Monday, March 3, 2014, 11:55 a.m. EST: McConaughey is right about one thing: Science can apparently prove the value of gratitude.

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Film Review: Lunch Hour

| Fri Feb. 28, 2014 4:00 AM PST

Lunch Hour

BIRDSTREET PRODUCTIONS

"I know that I don't wanna eat it, and that I don't think it's healthy, but yet I'm serving it to 600 kids," a frustrated school official tells director James Costa, whose easily digestible 75-minute doc takes a hard look at the National School Lunch Program. Politicians, doctors, and administrators line up to discuss their war on artery-clogging meals, the obesity epidemic, heart disease, and the crap that ends up on kids' lunch trays. Lunch Hour doesn't deliver the wallop of, say, Fast Food Nation, but it packs enough outrage to make you dread your child's daily trip to the cafeteria.

This review originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

WATCH: The Arizona Legislature Just Issued You a Discrimination License [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Feb. 27, 2014 4:00 PM PST

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

This Map Does Not Show What Your State's Favorite Band Is

| Wed Feb. 26, 2014 2:56 PM PST

Hello. Good day.

This map has been going around the internet. You've probably seen it posted with a headline like "Here Is Your State's Favorite Band."

But this map does not show what your state's favorite band is. It does not purport to show what your state's favorite band is. This map shows what band or musical artist people in your state like to listen to more than people in other states. The man behind the map, Paul Lamere, gathered streaming data by zip code and then built an app that lets you compare the most distinct tastes by region. Pretty cool!

For example, according to the map, people in Idaho are way more likely to listen to Tegan and Sara than people in the rest of the United States. This does not mean, however, that Tegan and Sara is the most popular band in Idaho. What is the most popular band/musical artist in Idaho? I have no idea. Tom Petty was pretty popular when I was growing up there, but that was years ago. Who knows?

These misleading headlines are not the map's fault. The map is good. The map is cool. The map shows where in the country you are most likely to run into someone with the same somewhat peculiar music taste as you.

Let's say the mob is after you. You've stolen some money and they are going to kill you. You've been tipped off by a friend, who saw one of the enforcers asking for you at the local watering hole. You've got to get out of town, and I mean fast. You head to the airport and everything is looking aces, but then the mob sees you and a car chase ensues. You're just trying to get to the airport but bang bang bang—wow, this is cinematic—right turn, left turn, over the bridge, and through the tunnel. By the time you pull up to the airport, half the city is in ruins. The streets flow with the blood of fallen mob soldiers. You're going to be okay—or are you? The mafia boss's psychotic son is down but not out. You see him making his way toward the ticket counter. You tell the ticket agent that you need a flight. "A flight to where?" she asks. That's when it hits you: You don't even know where you're going. "Jesus Christ, I don't know! I don't have time for this! You see that guy drenched in blood? He's going to KILL ME! GIVE ME A TICKET!" "Let me ask you this," she goes on. "How important is it that wherever you go, you're able to have a conversation about the band Tegan and Sara?" "Oh, very important, obviously." "Well, you're far more likely to be able to have that conversation in Idaho than anywhere else." "How could you possibly know that?" "Let me show you this map." "Boise it is!" Then she gives you the ticket, winks, and floats off into the clouds.

Anyway, that's what this map shows you. What this map does not show you is what your state's favorite band is. Headline writers, please stop saying it does. It's really driving me crazy.

UPDATE, February 27,2014: In response to the confusion over mapgate 2014, Mr. Lamere has made a second map that actually shows what is, in fact, your state's favorite band. Or at least what is the most streamed musical artist in your state in the last year.

Paul Lamere

 

The New Bryan Cranston "Godzilla" Trailer is Awesome—and Explicitly Calls Out US Nuclear Testing

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 6:55 PM PST

The upcoming Godzilla reboot (set for a May release) will offer its own modern take on the origin of the famous city-squashing monster. It's directed by Gareth Edwards, and stars Bryan CranstonElizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The new trailer is out, and it's pretty great:

At about the minute mark, you hear characters explaining how mankind created its own colossal nightmare. Their explanation seems to call out actual American nuclear testing, specifically Operation Castle. Here are some lines of dialogue narrating images in the trailer:

In 1954, we awakened something.

With those nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Not tests...

They were trying to kill it.

And thus Godzilla comes back as a radioactive beast to destroy and rampage.

The nuclear "tests" mentioned in the trailer (and presumably the film) likely refer to Operation Castle, a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in early 1954 at Bikini Atoll. The original Godzilla film (Gojira) premiered that same year, and was cleverly critical of that kind of testing. (The critically maligned 1998 Godzilla, directed by Roland Emmerich, blamed Godzilla's wrath on nuclear tests in French Polynesia.)

Here's a declassified video on Operation Castle: