Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying (or, in Max’s case, not enjoying) this week.
Vote Democratic. It’s important. — Max Brantley
Here is a Tumblr that collects photos from old issues of National Geographic: the shadow of a plane over a Saudi desert in 1986, a kitten on a lily pad in the Philippines, a blindfolded woman in an anechoic chamber in 1967. Here is a Tumblr that features screenshots of random Geocities pages before the site was taken down years ago: Web 1.0 detritus that seems distantly familiar enough to be strange. Here is a Tumblr that collects photos of mirrors found on Craigslist. Here is a song by George Harrison. — Will Stephenson
Recently a New York Times article asked if video games can be art. I haven’t read the article. My deep disinterest in most video games might do me in halfway through the read. Yet I am lively about the art that accompanied the article, by digital artist Scott Gelber (digital meaning that he specializes in gifs — yes, you can specialize in gifs). This (above) awesome Mondrian/Assassin’s Creed mashup ran with the article but I recommend checking out the series of compositions he completed for the project, too. — Bryan Moats
The night is young, but I’m confident that the scariest thing I’ll see this October is something I saw weeks ago. If, by chance, your gaze had wandered to the west side of Cherry Street during the early afternoon hours of the King Biscuit Festival’s final day, you might have seen four figures slumped over a tiny iPhone screen, jaws dropped, eyebrows skyward. You might even have scoffed at our little huddle, wondering how such rapt attention could be paid to a YouTube video on an iPhone, especially with an engine room like “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (son of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) nearby. What a shame. You’d have been right to scoff. You might not have known, though, that the tiny video screening taking place was the culmination of a few quarter hours of conversational fireworks between the four parties, who had arrived in Helena from the UK, from France, and from Little Rock. There, my companions and I found ourselves spellbound by a theatrical 1973 performance of a song called “Next” by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band on a long-running BBC music TV show, The Old Grey Whistle Test. Maintaining eye contact with the camera, Harvey howls a tale of soldiers lining up at the brothel for loveless lovemaking, and laments the way the experience cast a pall on his life afterward. It’s a dark, electric epitaph for his innocence, told above a harrowing sort of death tango, accented by a violin and a deft ensemble, and it struck fear in me on that sunny mimosa of an afternoon in a way that haunted houses and horror movies rarely do. — Stephanie Smittle
I recommend Mallory Ortberg’s modern Halloween classic, “Texts from a Jack-O-Lantern.” — Benji Hardy
Sometimes songs I haven’t thought about push their way up through the mush that is my gray matter and bang against my brain pan until I start to sing. Last week it was “Don’t want to go where there’s no Coca-Cola,” by New Zealander Tim Finn.
Don’t want to go where there’s no Coca-Cola
You’ve got life by the throat when you’re drinking Coke
Choke back the tears when there’s no Coca-Cola
You’ve got life by the throat when you’re drinking Coke
It’s syncopated and catchy as all get out, this theme to the 1985 movie “The Coca-Cola Kid,” and I’ve been singing it all day. I recommend you find it on Youtube. In fact, you can watch the whole movie — it’s about Coca Cola trying to reach the Australian outback — though what you will remember most is the song. Oh, and the guy who plays Becker (“The world will not be truly free until Coke is available everywhere”), Eric Roberts, is unbelievably good looking, both in the movie and today. Just FYI. — Leslie Newell Peacock
It’s finally Halloween! The one day of the year you can dress up like anyone or anything and have fun being silly, scary or just outrageous. If you’re like me you’ve been procrastinating all month and you have nothing to wear. Cue the scramble to pull off an awesome costume before your after-dark-festivities. Don’t panic! Even though everyone else has spent all month scouring the costume shops, internet and their grandma’s closet, you still have time to make or purchase something creative. If you’re a female between the ages of 14 and 25 this video by CloeCouture has costumes you can make in an hour or less! Also check out this list on PopSugar.com. For the boys easy and punny costumes, yes punny, are usually a winner. Try the baked potato, Instagram filter, scarecrow, and zombie. If all else fails a quick Google and YouTube search is sure to provide inspiration and creativity to make something you’ll have fun wearing. To my fellow procrastinators — I wish you the best and Happy Halloween! — Kaya Herron
I recommend the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci’s 1976 collection of her interviews with various world leaders, “Interview with History.” That might sound like an absurd title, but she’s got the goods — Kissinger, Van Thieu, Giap, Arafat, the Shah of Iran, etc. The book has one of my all-time favorite dedications: “To my mother Tosca Fallaci and to all those who do not like power.”
People talk about bias in media a lot and they usually just mean the sort of facile partisan score-keeping that passes for political engagement. A more pernicious brand of bias is fawning deference to power. The Team Red and Team Blue stuff often seems beside the point. I think journalists ought to explicitly aspire to the following bias: adversarial distrust (and even, when necessary, disgust) of those who seek and wield power over others.
Here’s Fallaci in the preface: “I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”
During her interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini, she openly called him a “tyrant” and mid-interview, threw off her chador and called it a “stupid medieval rag” (she still managed to get a second interview). She asked Colonel Qaddafi in Libya point blank: “Do you know you are so unloved and unliked?”
It goes without saying: they don’t make them like Oriana Fallaci anymore. The closest thing to a tough interview nowadays is when some hack on cable news angles for a gotcha question that might go viral. A politician makes a gaffe, the reporter gets a promotion, we all forget the content (if there was any) of the interview by the next day. What strikes you reading “Interview with History” is not the zingers, but the way the back-and-forth dialogues sprawl into, well, oral history. Reading her interview with Arafat gives us a richer understanding of both the Palestinian movement and the psyche and personality of Arafat. We see the way that the personal failings of Arafat shaped the history he was a part of.
Just think, by way of contrast, of this election season. I can assure you that the every interview done with Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton is utterly disposable. Tells us nothing, really, about matters of import today. Tells us nothing, for that matter, about Pryor and Cotton themselves. (If anyone could have managed to get Cotton, a sort of dreary cardboard cutout of greatness, to actually say something interesting, it would have been Fallaci.)
Fallaci was a thorough researcher who approached her subjects with a precision of ferocity only possible with a depth of knowledge. Even those subjects to whom Fallaci was clearly hostile were deeply engaged because Fallaci engaged them. The interviews were long, in the manner of a hearty conversation. Her questioning style, varying between probing and playful, had the zip of surprise. It’s not an easy thing to do, to say something disarming that nevertheless falls within the flow of a conversation. Fallaci was a master of the rhythms of the interview — a keen listener, a fearless fighter, a mischievous interlocutor. She had a knack for expressing incredulity in a generous and patient manner that opened up room for her subject to talk.
And talk they did, sometimes to their regret. Kissinger said it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.” He tried claiming he’d been misquoted. Fallaci produced the tape; he shut up.
Each interview in “Interview with History” is preceded by a short essay. I love this bit, when Kissinger tries a familiar power play:
“Here, he forgot about me, turned his back, and began reading a long typewritten report. Indeed it was a little embarrassing to stand there in the middle of the room, while he had his back to me and kept reading. It was also stupid and ill-mannered on his part. However, it allowed me to study him before he studied me. And not only to discover that he wasn’t attractive at all, so short and thickset and weighed down by a large head like a sheep, but to discover also that he is by no means carefree or sure of himself. Before facing someone, he needs to take time and protect himself by his authority, a frequent phenomenon in shy people who try to conceal their shyness and by this effort end by seeming rude. Or by really being rude.”
“Interview with History” is full of little moments like that. It must be said as footnote to any discussion of Fallaci that, tragically, toward the end of her life, in her 70s, she turned to a grotesque bigotry against Muslim people. Something sapped her of her fierce wisdom and grace and her work suffered predictably. But once upon a time she was a moral force, sitting down with the great men and women of the world and, literally, speaking truth to power. Go find a copy of “Interview with History” — the interview as witness, as history, as art. — David Ramsey