Ghost in the Shell and S-Town: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

Scarlett Johansson in the remake of Ghost in the Shell (Paramount Pictures)

Ghost in the Shell Has the Look of the Original, But Not Its Brain
Emily Yoshida | Vulture
“If Paramount just wanted to do a female-led cyberpunk Bourne Identity, probably nobody would have minded. But to associate a straightforward ‘Who am I?’ action film with a franchise as philosophically noodly as Ghost in the Shell is disingenuous and pointless—you deny existing fans the actual post-self substance of the thing they like, and you alienate newcomers with a weird title and the obligatory skeleton of an existing franchise, which, when it’s not being explored, comes off as needlessly complicated.”

On Dana Schutz’s Painting of Emmett Till
Coco Fusco | Hyperallergic
“There’s a fundamental misunderstanding at work in damning abstraction by associating it with erasure and irresponsibility. Abstraction, like mimeticism, is an aesthetic language that can be interpreted and used politically in a range of ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean erasure, but it does complicate the connection between perception and intellection—something that deeply thoughtful painters like Gerhard Richter have taken advantage of in order to make us reflect on how photographic images represent history and structure memory.”

The Future Agency: Inside the Big Business of Imagining the Future
Kyle Chayka | The Verge
“While the nexus of art and technology was already established, future design agencies didn’t emerge in earnest until the 1990s, when once again the aesthetics of one avant-garde field could be conveniently applied to another. With the advent of multimedia-capable computers, it became easier for artists and designers to work with digital technology and demand for their services grew from companies who wanted to look progressive in the internet era.”

Liked Serial? Here’s Why S-Town Is Better
Amanda Hess | The New York Times
“Almost every journalist has met people like John McLemore, sources who email you under pseudonyms with tips a little too good to be true. Often they seem to mostly want someone to talk to, and to have their experiences validated by a journalist, whose job, after all, is to decide what’s important and true. Most reporters would stop taking those calls when the story ideas don’t bear fruit, but not Brian Reed. He finds Mr. McLemore’s life important in and of itself, and a whole world opens up to him.”

To Donald Trump, the American City Will Always Be a Dystopic, ‘Eighties Movies’ New York
Ezekiel Kweku | MTV News
“Movies that operate in the world of the fantastic can be an escapist retreat. But just as often, instead of withdrawing from their own era, they embody its concerns and preoccupations. Watching science fiction and fantasy movies is like reading the dream journal of the collective subconscious. Donald Trump's campaign, a bundle of exposed nerve endings and raw fear, took its campaign rhetoric about cities directly out of the pages of this journal.”

Get Out and the Death of White Racial Innocence
Rich Benjamin | The New Yorker
“The power of Get Out and I Am Not Your Negro resides partly in the films’ ominous whispers and parallel reveals. We’ve hit a turning point; so much trauma has gone down in the last 18 months that even the most delusional white person can no longer credibly strike a pose of white racial innocence. Here, film viewers should heed [James] Baldwin and behold the haunted Armitage mansion: White racial innocence is not just a form of racism; rather, it’s a belief that no longer advances the self-interest of whites, to the extent that it brutally backfires.”

Homeland’s Guilt Trip
Juliet Kleber | The New Republic
“Fear has always been Homeland’s modus operandi. Its first season told the story of an American soldier who has been converted to Islam and brainwashed into conducting a terrorist attack against his own people. The fear of Islam is mental, spiritual, physical; it is all-encompassing. With Season 6, Homeland’s central plot for the first time is not about trying to prevent an attack by Islamic terrorists. But, as in real life, fear of the other cannot so easily transition to a wholehearted embrace.”

Stephen King’s It Is Horror at Its Most Unconventional but the Trailer is the Exact Opposite
Aja Romano | Vox
“King’s It is all about slow dread—specifically the slow, lingering nightmares that frighten children. Pennywise’s power is that he feeds on the real fears of children, fears so primal that he’s able to return to torment them as adults decades later, continuing his generational cycle of violence. Over the course of It’s sprawling 1,500 pages, the group of children at the book’s center come of age by uniting to defeat It, but evolve into messed-up adults still haunted decades later by their memories. King unfolds their past and present simultaneously in a temporal juxtaposition to emphasize that present fear can only really be dealt with by reconciling with the past.”

How Nan Talese Blazed Her Pioneering Path Through the Publishing Boys’ Club
Evgenia Peretz | Vanity Fair
“With no political point to make, no precedent or roadmap for a woman, Nan simply assumed the duties of editor. She brought in groovy poet Rod McKuen, who’d been selling books out of his car in California; he ended up accounting for 24 percent of Random House’s revenue for a few years. She found A. Alvarez’s daring The Savage God, an unlikely best-seller about suicide and art. The concept of maternity leave didn’t exist then. So in 1963, when she got pregnant for the first time, she didn’t tell anyone until it became obvious—not because she feared for her job, but because it was none of anyone’s business.”

Cooking Lessons
Daniel Duane | The California Sunday Magazine
Always thrilling and deeply satisfying, Patterson’s food had an abstracted originality that could make an evening at Coi feel less like hedonistic feasting than high culture—experimental chamber music, perhaps—of the kind that lotus-eating Northern California has never wholly supported.”