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The triumph of the self-aware

I promise to keep my reality-TV bogging to a minimum, but last night's episode of Survivor was extremely satisfying, underscoring what for me is the greatest pleasure of the show: watching people who have no awareness of how others see them fail. In this case, one of the most appealing Survivor contestants, Cirie, executed an intricate two-stage plot to see to it that Courtney, an irritating self-satisfied faux hippie of the most egregious sort (her shining moment came when she offered to sing sensei Bruce a song, he replies desperately, "Please don't" and she starts singing anyway) was voted off. To accomplish this Cirie had to understand perfectly everyone's state of mind, how everyone viewed the situation in the camp and the upcoming vote, and what all of their long-term strategies appeared to be, then know exactly how to manage the reactions of every single other person, telling two distinct lies to two different groups and securing the crucial vote by making the stupidest person still left understand the rationale behind her plan in all its complexity (it wasn't quantum physics, but it was much more complicated than the usual Survivor schemes). It was a tour de force for Cirie and the show's editors.

In real life, people who are totally self-involved and utterly ignorant of how they are perceived often seem to do quite well; their ignorance is hardly a hinderance and may in fact imbue them with an air of confidence that persuades others to look past their obvious shortsightedness. These people are usually the loudest and most demanding, and many simply find it easier to manage them by giving them what they want rather than inciting the confrontation necessary to make them see how ridiculously selfish they are being. Their cluelessness about their own boorishness becomes a bargaining advantage, because no one wants to take on the embarrassing task of disenchanting them with themselves. So it's great escapist, vicarious fun to see that disenchantment happen on TV, accompanied with a sullen exit speech about how they are stunned and never saw it coming. Of course you didn't, Courtney, you wouldn't notice a thing happening outside the circumference of your incredibly lame fire dancing.

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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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

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