Culture

'Hell and Back Again' on PBS for Memorial Day

When the marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 8th Regiment enter Afghanistan in 2009, they're told they'll be enacting a "new" counter-insurgency strategy. Their commander names their essential contradictions. "Every interaction you have with the people is crucial," he says, "We have to develop trust in them." Strapping on gear and loading weapons, they are plainly "experts in the application of violence," but they're less equipped for developing "trust." Within moments, these ideals are dismantled: a marine is badly injured, his buddies run him along a road, the camera jogging behind them. When the corporal dies, 26-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris steps up. He will be injured too, and Hell and Back Again, airing on PBS on 28 May, follows him home to North Carolina, where he struggles to find sense in what he's done and how it plagues him. The film cuts back and forth, between the footage photographer-turned-filmmaker Danfung Dennis shot in Afghanistan over months and the diaristic scenes he shoots of Nathan home, talking to the camera, his wife Ashley, and his doctors. In pain and on medication, Nathan seems to be remembering what you see, but the documentary doesn’t pretend to know what he's feeling. Instead, it observes and draws connections, scenes that show battles or Harris and his team breaking down doors or not quite conversing with Afghan locals, or more plainly showing the effects of action. These involve Ashley as much as Nathan: as she describes their journey as "to hell and back again," you realize how they've paid, again and again.

See PopMatters' review.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Burt Lancaster not only stars in The Kentuckian (1955) but directed and produced it for the company he co-founded with Ben Hecht. The result is an exciting piece of Americana accoutred in all sorts of he-man folderol, as shot right handsomely in Technicolor by Ernest Laszlo and scored by Bernard Herrmann with lusty horns to echo the source novel, Felix Holt's The Gabriel Horn.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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