The movie revels in the absence of anything weighty, but its carefree message resonates today
Image: Wikimedia Commons
I have never surfed—never even dreamed of surfing or had any inclination to pick up a board—and yet in this summer of our discontent I have become mesmerized by Bruce Brown's timeless documentary The Endless Summer. It is a beautifully shot film from pristine locales chronicling the worldly travels of two dashing surfer dudes in the mid 1960s. Brown's masterpiece has been airing over and over again this summer on ESPN Classic, and it seems to me like a perfect antidote to all the bad news coming out of Washington these days.
Wouldn't we all like to leave everything behind and go out in search of the perfect wave right about now? Wouldn't we like to worry about nothing more than finding the right beach with the right surf and the right water temperature? I'd bet the ranch that President Barack Obama, he of the Hawaiian birthplace, would sign on to that deal if he could. If the movie were food it would be your favorite dish at the local diner. If it were a song it would be the sort people pay to listen to in order to fall asleep. If I were a doctor, I would prescribe it to my patients.
Here's how Brown's people subsequently described what he accomplished nearly 50 years ago:
In 1964, filmmaker Bruce Brown decided to follow two surfers around the world in search of a perfect wave. On a budget of only US $50 thousand, with a 16mm camera, he captured the essence, the adventure, and the art of surfing. Hence the renowned The Endless Summer. From the waters of West Africa, through the seas of Australia, to Tahiti, two surfers from California achieved their great dream: to try the wildest waves in the world.
Here's a brief video clip from the film:
The genius of the movie is that it seeks to do no more than record an escape from the burdens of the real world. 1964 was a particularly important pivot point in American history. It was the year of the Warren Report; the year of the Gulf of Tonkin episode that led to the disastrous escalation of America's involvement in the Vietnam War; the year of Barry Goldwater and the Civil Rights Act. These momentous events were happening—shaping a generation—and yet these guys were chasing waves from here to (literally) Timbuktu without an apparent care in the world. They were tuning out in the sun and the surf long before their contemporaries began tuning out with drugs.
The Sandals performed the music for the film, and the surf rock themes are, you might say, epic. Here's the score:
The documentary was released in 1966 to surprisingly good reviews from mainstream movie critics. The timing was serendipitous. The technology of filmmaking would not have allowed the film to be made five years earlier. And five years later, in 1971, the sun and fun would have seemed far too frivolous following the race riots, Kent State, and the body bags coming home from Southeast Asia. For these reasons, The Endless Summer seems as much of a period piece as Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind. Yes, son, there really was a time when the beaches were clear and no one bugged you to put on sunscreen.
The film indeed revels in the absence of anything weighty. There is a single remark by Brown about South Africa's apartheid—he lamely notes that the area's sharks and porpoises segregate themselves in the water. There is a sexist remark about the bathing suits of Australia's female surfers. A few locals here and there are made fun of. And that's about the extent of the film's political message. We don't know what the boys think about anything beyond what they think of the water and the waves and the size of the surf. They aren't characters so much as props.
The film's philosophical message, on the other hand, is front and center: There is art and science in most human endeavors, including the ones that ultimately matter the least to the story of our existence on Earth. The "perfect wave" doesn't exist only in the perfect world these men inhabited during their journey. And yet the surfers were as beautiful and as graceful as the beaches and waves upon which they played. They were as carefree as the fish they saw in the water or the animals they saw on land. No wonder the Beach Boys used the title for their 1974 memorable compilation album (Side 1: "Surfin' Safari," "Surfer Girl," "Catch a Wave," "The Warmth of the Sun," and "Surfin USA").
The Endless Summer, the movie, became an anthem to the world's surfing community. And it helped inspire an international boon in surfing while continues unabated to this day. "Now it's mainstream," Brown told an interviewer last year, "but in the '50s and '60s you were an outcast, you didn't want to mention it in some circles." I'm no movie buff, and I'm sure y'all will correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot name another movie that led a cultural revolution as much as this one evidently did. The Endless Summer introduced world-class surfing to the world and the world was ready and delighted to make the acquaintance.
No doubt there are young men and women in America today who, like me, have seen the old movie on ESPN and become inspired by the grace it portrays. Good for them. I won't ever make it onto a board. But, alas, those who will are likely to search in vain for the empty beaches and mellow pace the boys found, the boys exuded, when they went on their worldwide tour in 1964. Everything has changed since then—everything but the waves of course.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Some conservatives are defying expectation and backing the Vermont senator.
When Tarie MacMillan switched on her television in August to watch the first Republican presidential debate, she expected to decide which candidate to support.
But MacMillan, a 65-year-old Florida resident, was disappointed. “I looked at the stage and there was nobody out there who I really liked. It just seemed like a showcase for Trump and his ridiculous comments,” she recalled. “It was laughable, and scary, and a real turning point.”
So she decided to back Bernie Sanders, the self-described “Democratic socialist” challenging Hillary Clinton. MacMillan was a lifelong Republican voter until a few weeks ago when she switched her party affiliation to support the Vermont senator in the primary. It will be the first time she’s ever voted for a Democrat.
If you want to annoy a scientist, say that science isn’t so different from religion. When Ben Carson was challenged about his claim that Darwin was encouraged by the devil, he replied, “I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.” When the literary theorist Stanley Fish chastised atheists such as Richard Dawkins, he wrote, “Science requires faith too before it can have reasons,” and described those who don't accept evolution as belonging to “a different faith community.”
Scientists are annoyed by these statements because they suggest that science and religion share a certain epistemological status. And, indeed, many humanists and theologians insist that there are multiple ways of knowing, and that religious narratives exist alongside scientific ones, and can even supersede them.
The Speaker’s reformist ambitions fall victim to his need to manage the media cycle.
Before taking the speakership last month, Paul Ryan made a promise to fix a “broken” House of Representatives and return the chamber to “regular order.” Eschewing the centralized authority of his predecessor, John Boehner, Ryan promised to put legislative power back in the hands of rank-and-file members—something key House constituencies had been clamoring for.
Under regular order, House bills go through an often-lengthy process from subcommittee to the floor; they are vetted, debated, and amended before receiving a final up-or-down vote. A return to regular order is one of the few areas with serioussupport from both ultraconservative Freedom Caucus members and progressive reformers in the House. After all, legislators on both sides of the aisle want a chance to be heard, offer amendments, and share expertise. Ryan concurred: “The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. When we rush to pass bills, a lot of us do not understand, we are not doing our job.”
Prosecutors indict an officer for first-degree murder, as they brace for public outrage over video footage of the shooting.
Prosecutors in Chicago filed first-degree murder charges on Tuesday against a white police officer who fired 16 shots in 15 seconds at a black teenager last year, as the city braces for the public release of footage from the incident on Wednesday.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke on Tuesday for his role in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. Van Dyke is the first on-duty Chicago police officer to be charged with first-degree murder in almost 35 years, according to the Chicago Tribune.
City officials resisted legal challenges to release the footage for almost a year. Then, on November 19, a Cook County judge ruled that the city had violated open-records laws and ordered the footage to be made public. The city will reportedly release the video of the incident at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Alvarez told reporters during a Tuesday press conference that while she had decided to charge Van Dyke in recent weeks, she felt compelled to file charges ahead of the footage’s release “in the interest of public safety” after the judge’s ruling. She added that the footage was “deeply disturbing” and “would tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.”
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
Nobody’s focused on winning the peace. That’s a big problem.
In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland to outline a shared vision for the post-World War II era. The British prime minister was so thrilled to see the American president that, in the words of one official, “You’d have thought he was being carried up into the heavens to meet God.” The two countries issued the Atlantic Charter, which sought “a better future for the world” through the principles of self-determination, collective security, and free trade. The United States hadn’t even entered the war yet, but it was already focused on winning the peace. The endgame was not just the defeat of the Axis powers, but also the creation of a stable global order, in which World War II would be the last world war.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The ambitious effort that could transform the institution and inform how other campuses respond to student protests.
Every university responds to student protests in its own way.
Earlier this month, scores of Brown undergraduates formed a circle on a quad and listened as black classmates expressed pain, anger, and frustration with campus life, following the example set by their analogues at the University of Missouri and elsewhere. Kate Talerico of The Brown Daily Herald recorded several powerful speakers and a diverse crowd that listened attentively and occasionally snapped to signal their agreement.*
Here are some of their words:
Candice Ellis, the first student to appear in the video, declared, “We begged this university to hear our stories about how racism, sexism, and a whole host of other problems prevail … and prevent us from being safe, from being at peace, from being whole and from being well. They invite us to meetings in the president’s office and the faculty club. They say they listen. They say they hear us. They do nothing.”
Just in time for this month’s climate-change talks in Paris
Where were you on November 11, 2015?
It was only a couple weeks ago, but already you may not remember. It was a humming but unexceptional news day. In the United States, protestors at the University of Missouri had just successfully ousted their president. Marco Rubio had done fine at the fourth Republican presidential debate, held the night before. And much of Europe and the English-speaking world were honoring Armistice Day.
In two or 10 years’ time, we might recognize that Wednesday as world-historic. On November 11, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii—which produces some of the most accurate and longest-running measurements of atmospheric carbon in the world—recorded that, of every million molecules in the atmosphere, 399.68 were carbon dioxide. On the following day, November 12, it measured 401.64 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Since then, its measurement of the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has waxed and waned, but always stayed above 400 ppm. (On Monday, they read 400.15 ppm.)