On March 27, ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) announced the finalists for the 2014 National Magazine Awards. The winners will be presented at a gala event on May 1 in New York City. In light of the industry’s annual celebration of the year’s best writing and photography, Zinio is compiling interviews with the authors and photographers who captured the stories. Stayed tuned to Ziniophile over the next two weeks for conversations with Harper’s contributor Ted Conover, Wired contributing editor Joshua Davis, and The New Yorker staff writer Sarah Stillman, to name a few, to find out the story behind the story.
Huck Magazine’s editor Andy Kurland talks homophobia in skateboarding, her desire to cover China, and the problem with newsstand categories
Huck Magazine, a London-based bi-monthly publication, covers people and lifestyles that “paddle against the flow.” Named after the rebellious moxie of Huckleberry Finn, Huck has covered stories from Australian surfers to William S. Burroughs. Andrea “Andy” Kurland started at Huck after she received her journalism diploma, when the future of print publishing looked dire. “One day, they (Kurland’s professors) made us stand up and say what our dream magazine job would be – then told us to get ‘realistic’ and focus on ‘stable’ titles like Dentists Today or Farmers Weekly or whatever,” said Kurland. She refused to accept this narrow prognosis. Kurland and her Huck colleagues embodied their own maverick mantra and carved out a readership. Eight years later, Huck still feeds a hungry niche of DIY-people. Zinio connected with Kurland over e-mail. This interview has been condensed and edited.
Recently, the magazine devoted an entire issue to documentary photography. What triggered that decision?
The Documentary Photography Issue was our way of reminding readers that behind every story ever commissioned for Huck lies a photographer who’s not just a lensman but a storyteller with a unique perspective. They each bring a canvas of influences to their work – whether they’re passionate about global development, social change or niche subculture scenes – and every story is so much richer for it. We wanted to share their personal work, because those stories are a little insight into who they are as people, too. I could fill every issue with their personal projects – and given free reign I probably would! Their curiosity for the world is endlessly inspiring.
Your tagline is “Radical Culture.” What are the criteria for being radical?
Radical, for us, is anything or anyone that challenges the dominant discourse – even if it’s in a small way like starting a record label or skate company in your bedroom because no one else would give you a shot. It’s that DIY attitude that gave birth to everything we admire and love: punk, skateboarding, surfing, activism, hip-hop, outsider art, indie publishing – people who make something happen because they have an urge to make something happen. Whether they’re consciously railing against the system is irrelevant; the fact that they’re challenging the perceived way of things just by acting on their ambitions is enough for us.
Radical culture is mercurial by nature. Do you see any trends developing that are surprising?
One ‘trend’ that a lot of people find surprising that we’re surrounded by every day is the continued relevance of print. But for us, it’s not surprising at all. To think that everyone was proclaiming the “Death of Print” five or so years ago feels laughable. The indie publishing scene isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving. Look around at independent titles like Boat Magazine, Apartamento, Apology, The Smith Journal, and you’ll find passionate, intrepid people who won’t stop what they’re doing – even if their accountant thinks they’re nuts. And that’s because there’s a strong community that supports what we do. So long as people stay curious and continue to live in the real world, there will be demand for good content in a tangible form.
Do you compare yourself to any other magazine or dislike any comparisons people make?
Sometimes people draw comparisons with Desillusion, Monster Children, and Vice because we exist in the same commercial sphere in terms of ad sales. But I think, in general, people have a hard time “categorizing” Huck – which is both a blessing and a curse. It throws up some really interesting placements on the newsstand for starters (my favorite was when we were placed under Boating because we had a surfer on the cover but there was no surf section in the store). Finding a way to communicate what we stand for is a never-ending task, but I don’t believe it’s best achieved within the narrow parameters currently on offer. Our readers are intelligent enough to appreciate that we can talk about art in one breath and activism in the next.
Does the magazine send writers all over the world or rely on a network of stringers to cover stories?
Huck is a fundamentally global endeavour. Every issue is the collective effort of a network of dozens and dozens of people spread across the world, working in different time zones and from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. The core editorial team is three people who work day in and day out in Shoreditch, East London; we aren’t just interested in Shoreditch, East London. So Huck is entirely reliant on the lattice of people we’ve come to know and admire over the years. Local stories are best told through a local lens, so we go directly to the source.
What’s your advice for pitching Huck?
Read it first. It’s amazing how many people fall at the first hurdle. Engage with the mag, get a sense for what makes us tick, and then hit us with a killer pitch. Do your research. You may be super passionate about surfing in Palestine, but, if we’ve just written about surfing in Palestine we may steer clear of that story for a while. Persistence and patience really pays off. I may rue the day I say this – but please do chase up your pitches. We are inundated with ideas, so you need to make yourself heard.
Is there a part of the world or a story you are dying to cover?
Yes. China. What are young people excited about in Tianjin or Chongquin? What are they doing to piss their elders off? I would love to get some of our best reportage photographers and journalists to chip away at the barricades that Chinese authorities seem intent on keeping up. I am always drawn to any story coming out of the African continent or the Middle East – both regions just seem to breed a sense of urgency in youth – so I find I have to reign myself in to give other regions a chance.
What are the definitive Huck features people should read to get acquainted with the publication?
Every issue, we aim to unearth new sources of inspiration by exploring the moments and movements that shape the people we admire. So, if you want to get a feel for Huck, I would recommend our guest-edited issues – like when Mark Gonzales curated an entire mag and shone a light on people as diverse as Ray Pettibon and Cara Delevigne, or the time Dave Eggers handpicked his favorite emerging writers. I would recommend our ongoing series The Working Artisan’s Club, which highlights indie designer-makers who are railing against economies of scale by making everything by hand, Bryan Derballa’s Last Days of Youth, a photo essay from The Documentary Photography Issue that feels like an allegory for anyone who’s ever come of age, and our report on homophobia in skateboarding which uncovered a few uncomfortable home truths.
Huck has embraced digital in a big way, from the website to exclusive original content on Huck.TV. What makes the print magazine stand out other than it doesn’t have batteries?
Consuming the print magazine is a fundamentally different experience to reading it or watching it online – that’s why we spend hours and hours tweaking picture edits or thinking about the careful placement of a caption. At every stage of the commissioning and editing process we’ve got that double-page spread in mind; where will the headline go, how will the pullquote speak to the picture edit, how will the images marry with the words, what story should come after this one for balance and flow. If you’re passionate about print, you get incredibly pedantic about that stuff.
Click here to get Huck Magazine on Zinio.
“It’s a really complex story, and it’s very hard to follow, and people love working that puzzle out. And essentially why I think people like it is it’s a rollicking good story with sex and violence,” says British actor Kit Harington in GQ about HBO’s Game of Thrones, which begins its fourth season on Sunday night. Harington plays bastard/ice zombie killer Jon Snow in the show’s fictional Middle Earth-esque locale of Westeros. If ice zombies (proper name: white walkers) sound a bit out there, they are. There’s also women who birth dragons and black smog things, children who control birds with their minds, and a queen who eats whole stallion hearts. Don’t let the fantasy fool you. The swords and dragons of Game of Thrones are second to only the guns and gangsters of The Sopranos (notice the sex and violence link) in viewership per episode on the premium cable channel. To promote the upcoming season, cast members traded cloaks and armor for more fashionable garb that is suitable for this world. Questions about hair, eyebrows, stardom, and relationships ensued. Spoiler alert: Magazines favorite ice zombie killers and dragon mothers.
To read articles and buy the issues, click on the links below.
“Dress Like a Tough Bastard,” by Chris Heath, GQ – April 2014
“Great Dane,” Benjamin Svetkey, Details – April 2014
“Train Like a Bastard,” by David Morton, Men’s Health UK – April 2014
“‘Tis the Next Season,” by Max Olesker, Esquire Philippines – March 2014
José Mourinho grew up in Setúbal, Portugal, a port city on a peninsula roughly 20 miles southeast of Lisbon. Mourinho’s father, Felix, played professional soccer as a goalie, once representing his birth nation in an international game, and his uncle Mario Ledo helped build the stadium of the local team Vitória de Setúbal. Naturally, young José followed his elders into the sport.
Mourinho’s playing career was short lived. His coaching career, on the other hand, is one of the most prolific to date. He honed his craft under legendary coaches Sir Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal before he got his big break at Porto Football Club, or Porto FC. Since then he’s experienced a disproportionate series of ups to a few uncharacteristic downs. Mourinho is the only coach to win league titles in England, Italy, and Spain. He has won the coveted Champions League—an interleague tournament in Europe between the continent’s best teams—twice, with two different clubs. At 51-years-old, only a cadre of active and retired coaches matches his pedigree.
Mourinho returned to England this season for a second stint at the helm of Chelsea FC in London. The move triggered media alertness on par with tabloid celebrities and heads of state. For one, his kempt fashion sense and good looks make him a natural focal point for newspapers and magazines. This month, British GQ and Esquire UK ran features on him that probed about his style as much as his coaching philosophy. (FYI: He doesn’t think Madrid is a fashionable city; the quality of the clothes is more important to him than the look; he has a sentimental attachment to a pair of Prada shoes he wore once during a Champions League final). But the British media’s fascination with Mourinho goes deeper than a thread count.
The intrigue started a decade ago, after his first Champions League victory with Porto FC in 2004, when Mourinho was appointed the coach of storied Chelsea FC in London. The club had hit a dry spell for trophies after the millennium, but big ambitions loomed when Russian billionaire Roman Ambromovich purchased the club in July 2003 and spent $100 million on new players. Mourinho was the man to lead the revolution.
In his first press conference in charge of Chelsea FC, Mourinho gave anything but humble answers. “I’m not one who comes straight out of a bottle—I’m a special one,” he said. This hubris remains a staple of his character (“The Special One” and his given name are nearly interchangeable) but it overshadows his true penchant for psychological supremacy.
Mourinho has made a mini-career of getting inside people’s heads. His pre- and post-game mental jujitsu is more than a benign form of gamesmanship. These “mind games” main purpose are to unhinge opponents outside the field of play; side effects include viral sound bites and media frenzy. Recently, Mourinho stated, with the deadpan ease of a lying congressman, that his team will not win England’s prestigious Premier League title despite sitting in first place with a two game cushion. In another episode of scathing sarcasm, he called Arsène Wenger, a fellow coach who led a team to the only undefeated season in 115 years, an expert in losing.
This preternatural focus on the psyche extends to the players he coaches, too. “But, as Mourinho accepts, thousands of coaches know everything about football; where he believes he can make the greatest difference is the psychology of players,” says Tim Lewis in Esquire UK. Sometimes it backfires, and players, such as Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, become publically fed up with his tactics. Yet there is an army of impassioned followers. Zlatan Ibrahimovich, a Swedish forward known for his acrobatic goals and bloated ego, played for Mourinho at Inter Milan in Italy. In his autobiography, Ibrahimovich described him as, “a guy I was basically willing to die for.” The Portuguese coach goes as far as to confront players’ wives and girlfriends to make sure his men are happy, and text former players going through a rough time, according to Lewis.
Amid all the personal touches, he’s not afraid to dust off his iron fist and remind his co-workers who’s the boss. No matter how illogical the act appears from the outside looking in. This past January, Mourinho sold one of the team’s brightest young players named Juan Mata. The 25-year-old Spanish midfielder, Chelsea FC’s player of the year the last two seasons, was shipped to arch nemesis Manchester United in exchange for around $50 million. Time will tell whether or not that move proves Mourinho is still “The Special One” as a coach. To the media, though, he’ll never lose that title.
To read the full articles in Esquire UK and British GQ, click the links below.
More Mourinho on Zinio:
In the midst of the Cold War, on September 28, 1980, PBS debuted a program called “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” For thirteen episodes, a scientist with a comb-over in a turtleneck named Carl Sagan presented the wonders of the universe and the mysteries of science. Each week Sagan took the fictional Ship of the Imagination to investigate everything from RNA to Einstein’s theory of relativity. The show was an unparalleled success. It reached 750 million viewers across 60 countries, becoming the most viewed show on PBS until Ken Burns’s “The Civil War” overtook it a decade later.
Sagan’s hard science achievements never brought him the same clout among his colleagues as celebrity scientist did with mainstream America. He worked on NASA robotic missions, groomed the next generation of astronomers at Cornell University, edited the scientific journal Icarus, and penned multiple books, but the National Academy of Sciences never admitted him. The public, on the other hand, was entranced with “Cosmos” and Sagan’s twenty-six appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. In the March issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan remembers a porter at Union Station In Washington, D.C. who refused to let Sagan tip him for helping with luggage. “You gave me the universe,” the porter said. Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” recalls Sagan’s verve on camera in the March issue of Reader’s Digest. “I saw a Brooklyn-born researcher pull back the curtain on a world of seemingly dense scientific concepts, which, with the flair of P.T. Barnum, he managed to present in ways that made them accessible to those of us lacking a degree in mathematics and physics.”
Now Macfarlane is helping to bring the universe to a new generation. On March 9, Fox will debut the follow-up to Sagan’s landmark series with “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey.” Hosted by go-to science guy Neil deGrasse Tyson and produced by Druyan and MacFarlane, the miniseries will follow the same format as the original but explore new advancements and discoveries, like exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) and the Higgs boson.
Tyson is a present day Sagan-esque science superhero—part pure astrophysicist, part figurehead to the masses. Rebecca Mead describes his unique talent in The New Yorker as follows: “Being able to pivot comfortably between the general public and the political plutocracy is a skill no less complex than being able to analyze data from the Hubble telescope; being able to do both is very unusual.”
Tyson’s day job is director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium in New York. He moonlights as a science ambassador to laymen, frequently appearing on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” and hosting a popular podcast called “StarTalk”; never turning down an opportunity to translate esoteric nomenclature into the vernacular.
To promote “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey,” Tyson has given interviews in a number of science publications. Here are a few noteworthy quotes.
“If you go back 40 years, (the thinking about) the environment was ‘don’t pollute the lake because then you’ll kill the fish, and it will mess up our little water hole.’ No one was thinking that what they did locally would affect everybody else globally. The local-global connection has emerged in the last couple of decades.” – mental_floss
“Like, Venus is 900 degrees. I could tell you it melts lead. But that’s not as fun as saying, ‘You can cook a pizza on the windowsill in nine seconds.’ And next time my fans eat pizza, they’re thinking of Venus.” – GQ
“The idea that science is just some luxury that you’ll get around to if you can afford it is regressive to any future a country might dream for itself. Innovations in science and technology are the engines of the 21st-century economy; if you care about the wealth and health of your nation tomorrow, then you’d better rethink how you allocate taxes to fund science. The federal budget needs recognize this.” – WIRED
“If I put on my pure scientist hat, you wouldn’t send humans into space. You have to feed them and keep them warm. A robot couldn’t care less. We can design robots to do what humans can do and better.” – Popular Science
To read more about Neil deGrasse Tyson and “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey,” click the links below.
“Neil deGrasse Tyson Is the Master of the Universe,” by Drew Toal - mental_floss, March/April 2014
Netflix has come a long way since its days as the Pony Express for DVDs. The red envelopes have morphed into a full-bore TV station in the cloud. Traditional TV— un-streamed, with commercials and strict start times—has been put on watch. Next, Netflix will use its rising clout to upend premium cable channels. “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, in the February 2013 issue of GQ.
Netflix and HBO each excel at the other’s kryptonite. Netflix reigns supreme in U.S. subscribers, online girth, and stock price. HBO has a firm grasp on the international sphere, profits and revenue, and budget for original programming. HBO pockets around $1.7 billion annually (Netflix’s best quarter yielded $100 million), allocates eight times more money than Netflix does on original content, and attracts two-and-a-half times as many subscribers outside the U.S. Netflix, on the other hand, surpassed HBO for U.S. subscribers at 31 million and counting, and accounts for an estimated 30% of Internet down streaming during peak hours. The company’s stock price hovers around three times the value of Time Warner, HBO’s parent company. Put the rivals together and it’s a match made in syndicated TV heaven.
Yet there still may be a plot twist in the Netflix story. The company’s trademark disruptive approach—releasing full seasons at once, foregoing ratings, keeping user data private, and paying top dollar for licensing deals—feeds viewers appetites for the silver screen and the small screen, but it poses problems for a sustainable business model. Four recent articles go behind the scenes to examine the ins and outs of Netflix and assess the chances of a fairytale ending. Feel free to binge read.
Nicole LaPorte charts Netflix’s rise from an obscure DVD service to Hollywood’s Silicon Valley nemesis. The company threw out the rulebook on its way to becoming an entertainment juggernaut, says LaPorte, but in reality it is more traditional than it appears.
Columnist and contributor Ken Auletta tackles the fickle ecosystem of TV—from the early days of black and white to viral YouTube clips. Auletta interviews top-level executives, including CBS CEO Leslie Mooves and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, to locate unique threats for different players. Netflix’s two big hurdles are broadband access, which is priced and controlled by cable companies, and live events, such as rights to lucrative sports leagues.
Releasing entire seasons at once has potential hazards, writes Daniel Frankel. If viewers are on different episodes, it can subdue steady social media buzz and water-cooler talk. Not to mention spoiler alerts (even President Obama is concerned) and the flow of production. “Will viewers of shows like House of Cards be willing to wait until the entire season is written, shot, edited and encoded?” asks Frankel.
Patty McCord helped shape the culture and work environment at Netflix before she left the company to pursue consulting. In this frank article, McCord highlights five points Netflix’s values are built on and explains the rationale behind radical employee initiatives, like taking vacation whenever you want and giving fired employees massive severance packages.
More Netflix on Zinio:
The lead up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi provided writers and editors with ample firepower for stories. Before we go any further, here are a few fun facts. The bill for the two-week event has ballooned to $51 billion, the most expensive ever; the average temperature in subtropical Sochi for February is 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit—on par with Kentucky’s average the same month; Russia spent $8.7 billion on a road to connect sites—three times what NASA spent on a new generation of Mars Rovers; Putin chose a Unesco World Heritage site for his newest dacha to conduct “meteorological research”; a blue psychedelic frog with no hands named Zoich became the unofficial mascot; the government has banned rallies and protests in lieu of an unpopular anti-gay law. As it turns out, Russia is as loaded with corrupt officials, conflict, and environmental disregard as it is vodka.
The infrastructure for the Sochi Games was built from scratch on two locations—Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains for skiing and downhill events, and the coastal town of Adler for skating competitions. The need for a decade worth of new projects was a gift for sleazy bureaucrats.
Brett Forrest writes in Vanity Fair UK that Putin and a small inner circle reaped the economic rewards from the vast construction ventures. The president’s close friends and colleagues were awarded lucrative contracts for power plants and structures, and state-owned contractors inflated building costs to cover kickbacks. Akhmed Bilalov, a Russian Olympic Committee member, oversaw the construction of the ski jump site that went over budget by $220 million. Putin jokingly applauded the miscalculation in front of cameras before he relieved Bilalov of his duties. Bilalov fled the country and survived a bout of mercury poisoning before he settled in London.
But according to Joshua Yaffa in Bloomberg Businessweek, the underhanded business that built Sochi is rampant across Russia. Yaffa met with a former Russian businessman named Valery Morozov. Morozov owned a construction firm but became weary when Kremlin officials insisted kickbacks in bags of cash. Morozov and the police created a sting operation to bring down a crooked high-profile official. The sting was busted, and the case stalled before it was eventually dropped. Morozov was granted asylum in London.
Sochi itself didn’t pop up from the earth like a ski resort. Newsweek’s Anna Nemstova and National Geographic’s Brett Forrest detail the area’s long and complicated history, from the 19th century genocide of the indigenous Circassian people to a war with Georgia in 2008.
Tension continues to this day. The surrounding areas of the Caucasus Mountians including Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya remain hotbeds for Islamic insurgents. Abkhazia, a small independent country that seceded from Georgia, got the cold shoulder from Russia after explosives linked to a terrorist group were found within the country’s borders. As a result, Abkhazians are not allowed to participate as an independent country, travel freely through Europe, cross the border to watch the Games, or get work on construction sites in Sochi.
In addition to lawless officials and volatile international relations, Sochi’s terrain has hindered plans, too. Unstable geology caused multiple site locations to shift; thick groves of trees blocked 5,750 vertical feet of ski slopes; and 28 million cubic feet of natural and artificial snow needed to be stored under reflective blankets. As a result of the environment’s “stubbornness,” developers beat the natural world into submission. Outside correspondent McKenzie Funk visited members of the Russian Geographical Society to assess the damage. The verdict: a bird preserve has vanished, up to 30,000 tons of debris ended up in an illegal landfill, and dump trucks caused landslides that shifted foundations of houses.
And then there are the athletes, who, like Sochi’s metamorphosis, rely on state-of-the-art technology to prepare for competition.
U.S. skier Ted Ligety told Popular Science he opened his own company to perfect the design of his goggles and helmets, and he tested 70 pairs of skis to find the perfect pair. According to Popular Mechanics, Team USA’s bobsled got a German makeover to speed up their medal conquest. BMW re-engineered the sled with a carbon fiber shell to disperse weight for a smoother and quicker ride. For snowboarder Amy Purdy, technology is the difference maker. Purdy explained to Glamour how she fought her way back after a life threatening illness to become the only double amputee athlete to compete at the Olympic level. For races where a tenth of a second can separate a world record holder from a has-been, cutting edge equipment is as essential to athletes as technique and drive.
The opening ceremony takes place on Friday, February 7th in the newly built Fisht Stadium. The roughly $500 million structure is scheduled for only two events, the opening and closing ceremonies. Then it takes a four-year hiatus before the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
To read all the articles mentioned, and more, click the images below from Zinio’s Winter Olympic Collection.
Popular Mechanics, February 2014
Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan. 6 – 12, 2014
Vanity Fair UK, February 2014
Redbook, February 2014
Reader’s Digest, February 2014
Popular Science, February 2014
Newsweek, Jan. 31, 2014
Glamour, February 2014
ESPN The Magazine, Feb. 3, 2014
The Nation, Feb. 10, 2014
The Economist, Feb. 1, 2014
Transworld Snowboarding, February 2014
Outside, December 2013
Newsweek, Jan. 10, 2014
National Geographic Interactive, January 2014
Off-year elections swept across the U.S. this past week and stole headlines for the right and the left. In other news, The Economist analyzes the pros and cons of Google Glass; Newsweek discusses a new element to the Syrian conflict; Rolling Stone exposes Republican gerrymandering.
“Even when menu labels do sway people toward healthier choices, that doesn’t mean those people eat better overall. Making one abstemious choice seems to free some people to indulge on others. In a 2010 study, Yale University researchers found that people who saw menu calorie counts ate fewer calories than people who didn’t. But those who saw calorie listings then went home and ate, on average, nearly 300 calories more, making up for the difference.” – Melinda Wenner on American eating habits in Pacific Standard (November).
“Shortly after President Obama’s first election, the RSLC launched the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) with an explicit strategy to ‘keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on congressional redistricting.’ The logic was simple. Every decade following the census, the task of redrawing federal congressional-district boundaries falls (with some exceptions) to the state legislatures. If Republicans could seize control of statehouses—and, where necessary, have GOP governors in place to rubber-stamp their redistricting maps—the party could lock in new districts that would favor Republican candidates for a decade.” – Tim Dickinson on the GOP’s gerrymandering in Rolling Stone (Nov. 21).
“It’s hard to look at the Democratic Party these days and not feel as if all the energy is behind Warren. Before she was even elected, her fund-raising e-mails would net the party more cash than any Democrat’s besides Obama or Hillary Clinton. According to the Times, Warren’s recent speech at the annual League of Conservation Voters banquet drew the largest crowd in 15 years. Or consider a website called Upworthy, which packages online videos with clever headlines and encourages users to share them. Obama barely registers on the site; Warren’s videos go viral.” – Noam Scheiber on the rise of Senator Elizabeth Warren in The New Republic (Nov. 25).
“The political and media elites obsessed only with Washington intrigue and the next presidential race thought New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s predictable re-election was the big story of the 2013 season. It wasn’t. The big story was a cross-country rejection of austerity and an endorsement of the progressive populism that Democrats must embrace if they hope to prevail in 2014. Bill de Blasio’s 73 percent landslide in the New York mayoral race, in which he ran on a platform of building a more inclusive city by addressing income inequality and taxing the wealthy, was just the topline measure of a national trend.” – The Nation on a progressive wave in American politics (Dec. 2).
“Still, as cameras become smaller, more powerful and ubiquitous, new laws may be needed to preserve liberty. Governments should be granted the right to use face-recognition technology only where there is clear public good (identifying a bank robber for instance). When the would-be identifiers are companies or strangers in the street, the starting-point should be that you have the right not to have your identity automatically revealed. The principle is the same as for personal data. Just as Facebook and Google should be forced to establish high default settings for privacy (which can be reduced at the user’s request), the new cameras and recognition technologies should be regulated so as to let you decide whether you remain anonymous or not.” - The Economist on the potential privacy problems amid invasive technology (Nov. 16).
“Since those early street protests—beginning in the spring of 2011—the tide of the war in Syria has turned. Public sentiment—once on the side of the opposition that modeled itself on Spanish Civil War Republicans or Bosnian freedom fighters—has shifted. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Free Syrian Army has lost ground in many places to jihadists, who are now better armed thanks to generous funding from wealthy Gulf nations. Even if the under-armed FSA wanted to maintain order among rebels, it often cannot.” – Janine di Giovanni on a new layer in the Syrian conflict in Newsweek (Nov. 15).
“Just six months ago, productive talks with Iran—the kind that hold out the possibility of a historic breakthrough—were unthinkable. Now, for the first time in thirty-four years, Iran and the United States are speaking. Yet many in the West remain wary of a diplomatic solution. The nature of diplomacy, after all, is compromise, which means that an agreement with Iran will bring an end to the fantasy of total victory for either side.” – Laura Secor on U.S.-Iran nuclear deliberations in The New Yorker (Nov. 25).
“Internet companies have started giving users greater control over their personal data. But they may start to restrict access as it grows more valuable: after all, they have their sky-high valuations to defend. That would be a loss. Open data is becoming a powerful tool for citizens and activists around the world: it has already been used to hold governments to account, to improve transport, and to make health and police services more effective.” – New Scientist on potential threats to open data (Nov. 16).
“I think we’re heading to a point where we’re going to see a physical Jedi temple sometime in the next 10 years.”
No, the above quote is neither a projection from the fictional Obi Wan Kenobi nor is it a remark from a grown man in a Jar Jar Binks costume at Comic-Con. It appears in the article “The Church of the Jedi,” by Benjamin Svetkey, from the November issue of Details. The quote’s composer is John Henry Phelan of the Temple of the Jedi Order (the Millennium Falcon of Jedi websites), who is one of a growing number of real-life Jedi zealots.
Jediism, for people like Phelan, is not a hobby marbled into a busy schedule; it’s an around-the-clock observed religion. Yes, there are wonky eccentric types and hyper-obsessed fans twirling light sabers, but, as Svetkey finds out, among the stigmas, there is a pious group devoted to a sacred doctrine.
The creation story dates back to 1987. After the original three movies, West End Games debuted Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. The activity gave fans an immersive, in-depth way to experience the thrill of the movies as participants, not just observers. The game maker is now defunct, but four parables in the glossary acted as the founding commandments of the religion.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no death, there is the Force.
These holy axioms, known as the Code, are each Jedi’s personal Yoda. The poetic fragments capture the ethos of the Star Wars movies (even though they’re never murmured in the films) into a DIY guide for Jedi life in the Milky Way Galaxy.
“It’s about identifying the elements that make characters like old Ben Kenobi so gallant (sacrifice, honor, chivalry) and codifying them into quasi-scriptural tenets that can be applied to real-world experiences so that you can be gallant too…” explained Svetkey in the article.
A myriad of denominations hold faith-based debates in a variety of places. Most exchanges happen via the Internet on no less than six independent websites. Other gatherings happen off-site.
Svetkey traveled to Norris, Tennessee to observe a summit at the Run Rabbit Retreat. Among the 18 faithful men and women, there was neither binge watching nor action figure trading (some of the people there have never even seen the films, but connect with Jediism, nonetheless). Select Jedi came together to share with like-minded souls (Dark and Light side) and to ponder ways of the Force. There was a martial arts class that covered under arm pinches, a ceremony for a Jedi who moved up ranks, and a guy who didn’t get too close to the TV for fear of blowing the set up through his body’s vibrations—all parts of the interconnected galaxy.
Prayer, in the classical Judeo-Christian, is not part of a Jedi knight’s life. Jedi focus on altruistic pursuits to fulfill their religious obligations.
“But most of those other religions are all about attaining spiritual enlightenment in order to save yourself, to stay out of hell, or whatever. With Jediism, though, our religious observance is found through service to the community. Service is sort of what we do for prayer,” stated Andy Spaulding, a Jedi and Kentucky National Guardsman.
Religious splinter groups based on popular science fiction are nothing new. Robert A. Heinlin’s cult classic Stranger in a Strange Land produced The Church of All World; Ed Wood fanatics created Woodism; The Matrix manufactured Matrixism; The Big Lebowski yielded Dudeism. Jediism shares this bloodline, but it’s slowly shedding its niche status.
In England and Wales, more people punched “Jedi” on their 2011 census cards than Rastafarianism and Scientology. Multiple thousands selected “Jedi” as their primary religion in the Czech Republic, Canada and, Australia, according to the article. Yes, the faithful admit that many may be jokes, but that won’t stop them from breaking ground on some temples in time for Disney’s next theatrical installment in 2015.
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Tornados, a shark tank, and a cranberry bog are featured spreads for the week of November 4.
Harper’s Bazaar UK, December 2013
Bicycle Times, 026
Paper, November 2013
Town & Country, December 2013
Red Bulletin South Africa, November 2013
National Geographic Interactive, November 2013
D-Photo, No. 57
Greensource, Nov/Dec 2013
FourFourTwo UK, December 2013
Dirt Rag Magazine, Issue 174
British Vogue, December 2013