Public radio’s smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Studio 360 explores the creative influence and transformative power of art in modern life through richly textured stories and insightful conversation.
Thursday, July 17, 2014 9:00pm
What does today’s sci-fi mean for our real-life future? Cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson argues that it’s time to get over our love of dystopia. A class at MIT searches sci-fi classics for technologies they can invent right now, although maybe they shouldn’t. Geoengineers take a tip from Carl Sagan – who saw a green future for Mars – to see if we can save Earth. And we meet some scientists who think that if we ever want to see the stars, we’d better start building the starship.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 5:00am
The greatest interview ever recorded won’t get as many hits on YouTube as a cat giving a high five. The people behind Blank on Blank want to make audio go viral. They take audio gems that fell on the cutting-room floor, or low-fi cassette tapes that were never aired, and create original animations of two to five minutes. Producer David Gerlach selects the audio (everyone from Fidel Castro to Meryl Streep to 2Pac), and gives it to animator Patrick Smith, who visualizes the words in charming lo-fi videos. Blank on Blank is now drawing millions of views, and Sean Rameswaram talked with Smith talk about tricking people into watching audio.
“Me and David are a packaging element,” Smith says. “We take something that someone may not have noticed before and put some eye candy on there that really lifts it up.” The animation isn’t terribly flashy. Each video is comprised of 40 or so compositions. You see David Bowie pensively reflecting on his career, his animated words bouncing around the frame, and scarecrow-like shadows of his previous personas surrounding him. Smith says he most often tries to steer away from literal interpretations, using as much symbolism and “weird” imagery as possible. “It’s very fulfilling to have these wonderful pieces of audio from these brilliant people and actually get a chance to define their words visually.”
Blank on Blank’s most popular videos have featured dead artists: Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Philip Seymour-Hoffman, and Janis Joplin, to name a few. It’s a daunting challenge for an animator. “You know [Hoffman] is dead. You know he’s brilliant. And you’re in charge of visualizing these words. It’s scary.” He finds that the hardest recordings to animate often yield the best results, forcing him to think past the obvious. Smith’s animations – sketchy, vibrant, and witty, like the best New Yorker cartoons come to life – are unquestionably the secret to Blank on Blank’s success, but he defers to the strength of his creative partnership with Gerlach. “I’m an animator who needs a producer who can push me,” he says. “All artists are lazy. Left to our own devices, we make the worst decisions.”
Thursday, July 10, 2014 9:00pm
Are young people getting less creative? New research suggests teens’ fiction is a lot less interesting than it was in the 1990s. Performance artists tell what they really think of Shia LaBeouf and James Franco muscling in on their turf. A new trend in stripped-down, minimal motorcycle design harkens back to classic British bikes without all the baggage. And Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory sing about what really scares them.
Thursday, July 3, 2014 9:00pm
From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to George Orwell’s 1984 to Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning Her, artists have imagined what the future will look like. In this week’s episode, Kurt Andersen explores how science fiction has shaped the world we’re living in right now. The inventor of the cell phone gives credit to Star Trek’s communicator; International Space Station superstar Chris Hadfield explains the ups and downs of space; and science writer Carl Zimmer says the giant sandworms of Dune got him interested in life on Earth. And we answer the age old question: where’s my flying car?
(Originally aired: January 24, 2014)
Tuesday, July 1, 2014 5:00am
This episode of Sideshow features explicit language.
The internet was supposed to kill TV, but the two have become BFFs. Superfans turn to entertainment sites, YouTube, and podcasts to sustain the experience of their favorite shows. Episode recaps have been driving traffic to Entertainment Weekly, Slate, and Rolling Stone for years, but the form has evolved from a plot summary to an art. Leading the charge is Gay of Thrones, hosted by Los Angeles hair stylist Jonathan Van Ness.
Warning: this video contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 10
Jonathan’s comedy career began with a haircut. He was coiffing comedian Erin Gibson’s while summarizing a recent Game of Thrones episode. She didn’t watch the show, but she fell out of her chair laughing, and insisted they pitch the concept to Funny or Die. “Very loud hairdressing queen chatting about Game of Thrones, it’s just a very yummy cocktail,” Van Ness says.
Since launching last year, Gay of Thrones episodes have featured Margret Cho, Alfie Allen (a.k.a. Theon Greyjoy), and George R. R. Martin (who seems to have declined the haircut). Jonathan has racked up hundreds of thousands of views and made fans who don’t even watch Game of Thrones. “I also hear a lot, ‘I never watched Game of Thrones until I saw Gay of Thrones,’” Van Ness says. “This I think is amazing.”
Margaret Lyons writes about TV for Vulture. She’s been reading recaps since 1997, when she had to seek them out on questionable early-internet outlets like “Ken Hart’s Melrose Place Recaps.” She’s unsurprised by the huge audience for recaps. “TV is with you all the time,” she says. “I see these people every week. I’m not tired of thinking about that, or talking about that, or listening to what other people have to say about that.”