Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘bizarre’

29 JANUARY, 2010

Mythical Beasts & Modern Monsters


Beastly bullies, meek monsters, and why Donald Duck is finally proven totally useless.

Mythology is such a rich source of creativity and storytelling genius, full of wildly imaginative creatures — from the Minotaur to unicorns to Big Foot. Today, we’re turning to this age-old treasure chest and looking at three curious, quirky dissections of the mythical monsters ecosystem.


From the Bible to Tim Burton films to Budweiser commercials, anthropomorphic creatures and talking bests abound. And they’re predictably consistent — so it’s always handy to know what you’re dealing with. That way, you can come prepared for your next encounter with a large talking bird or an opinionated lizard.

Thanks to lunchbreath, one of our favorite irreverent illustrators, now you can — enter the Field Guide to Talking Beasts.

We always knew Donald Duck was a useless, pantless sucker.


It’s hard to outcool the brilliant simplicity of a good Venn diagram, with its uncanny power of illuminating and clarifying. Which is why we love this fabulous Mythical Creatures Mixology Chart, inspired by the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection of guardian beasts.

With names as hilarious as Harpy and Cockatrice, we bet some of these beasts were given countless wedgies and stuffed in the beast school lockers by the Big Bad Minotaur and his posse of, erm, bullies.


Speaking of hierarchy of powers, that’s no small matter in beast world. So blogger Chris Braak has done the dirty work of an elaborate who-would-win pitting and produced this simple yet not-to-be-contested Hierarchy of Monsters, based on how dangerous the monsters are against each other and to all the other monsters on the list.

So there you have it, a who’s-who, who’s-better-than-whom, my-monster-is-cooler-than-your-monster of the beast world.

And should you ever run out of mythical beings to marvel at, we can never get enough of Stefan G. Bucher’s Daily Monster, which is so good it got a book deal.

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24 NOVEMBER, 2008

6 Signs the Apocalypse Cometh


Shortcuts to obesity, paid shamelessness, D.C.’s constitutional right to bitch-slapping, and a potent antidote to it all.

It’s been the year of tectonic shifts, good and bad. A very real recession is upon us, a presidential election just made history in more ways than we can count, and the climate crisis has reached catastrophic proportions. It seems like (almost) everything good and holy is falling apart.

But because the devil’s in the details, we’re seeing the signs of the apocalypse in all sorts of places — some serious, some not, but all a what-have-we-lived-to-see cultural forehead-slapper.


You can now order it from your TiVo or right inside Facebook.

Domino's on TiVo

Because picking up the phone or typing a URL into your browser is too much work.


@guykawasaki Check.

Yep, we don’t get it either.


Elected U.S. officials score 44% on a simple civic knowledge test.

The uninformed commonfolk who elected them score 49%.



It’s not how we roll.


Chief Proposition 8 strategist Frank Schubert Check.

Don’t get us wrong, we have a couple of Mormon friends who are among the coolest people we’ve ever met. Which makes it all the harder to reconcile why their kind would try to deny others the basic human right to happiness they’ve been afforded themselves. Some, ahem, multiple times.


The Big Three CEO's Big Three auto execs fly private jets — 3 separate ones — from Detroit to D.C. for their hearings before the Senate and House to beg for an additional $25 billion of taxpayer money, get bitch-slapped for ridiculously timed display of corporate excess.

Oh snap.

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Yep, the world has gone mad. But we like to think that for every preposterous, shameless, or downright idiotic drop of apocalyptic poison, there’s an even more powerful antidote.


  1. Yes We Can.
  2. Yes We Can.
  3. Yes We Can.
  4. Yes We Can.
  5. Yes We Can.
  6. Yes We Can.

07 AUGUST, 2008

Inner Kid Fodder


Cat herding, bionic lobsters, how to finally understand your mother, and why Ian likes the Over Under.


We work too much. We stress too much. We talk about politics and use words like “ecru.” It’s official: we’re adults. And we don’t like it. We’ve decided it’s time for an antidote: today, we’re all about the inner kid. Come on, climb into our treehouse.

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Lately, we’ve been getting hung up on the lack of a culture of appreciation. Whatever happened to pats on the back? Where did the random nicely-done’s go? It all seems to have died with the last gold star sticker we got from Mrs. Johnson in the 4th grade.

We need an intervention. And what better way to go about it than with merit badges for adults? The Boy Scouts have our back with a hefty collection ranging from the necessary (like the Adult Beverage Drinking Merit Badge) to the niche (like the Bald Growing Merit Badge) to the undeniably questionable (like the Fart Lighting (Blue Darts) Merit Badge.)

The Blogging Merit Badge, naturally, struck a chord with our kind and is consequently sold out. As is, curiously enough, the Cat Herding one.

We suspect the people from LOL Cats went to town on both.

>>> via Coudal

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When we were little, we used to dream of setting the lobsters in the grocery store free. The closest we ever got involved a pair of meat scissors and a very, very disgruntled store employee yelling “Cleanup in aisle 6!!!” over the loudspeaker.

Imagine our delight at this chance to live the childhood dream vicariously through our new favorite hero: Bionic Lobster.

Try bisquing this one.

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We like to believe that even the stuffiest, most straight-laced adults have a mischievous kid still living inside. A kid who gets easily amused by goofy stuff that makes little to no sense by adult measures.  And what better place to pull that kid out by the messy hair than over at Perpetual Kid?

This virtual warehouse of coolness tickles our mischief bone with goodies that inspire anything from a hearty chuckle to asking-for-trouble prank ideas. Some of our favorites: Pee & Poo plush duo, “The Ex” knife set, the Hillary Nutcracker, the Understand Your Mother Breath Spray, and the Whatever Wall Clock.

But, really, picking favorites margins on impossible — we’re like a kid in a candy store. Go ahead, see if you can do better.

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Unlike most kids, we used to love tying our shoelaces. We had our own technique we still use to this day, which frequently receives comments and eyebrow-raises from friends. (Seriously, people: tying the laces behind the tongue makes more sense on so many levels.)

Which is why we dig Ian’s Shoelace Site — an impressive library covering 34 of the mathematically-proven 2 trillion ways to lace a shoe, complete with instructions, handy diagrams and even a legend showing technique complexity, speed of lacing, comfort level and more.

The methods range from the expected, like the Over Under, to the uber-cool, like Checkboard Lacing, the site’s most popular.

Our favorite: Lattice Lacing.

So: how do you lace?

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22 JULY, 2008



Adult wonderland, adult telecommunication, 229 miles of patriotism, why George Lucas is going head-to-head with a D-lister, and what NASA has to do with the MoMA.


We’re all about redefining perception by exploring new ways of looking at things normally taken for granted. And, apparently, so are you — some of our most popular content has been just in that vein. (Like this, this, this and that.) So today, we do exactly that: re-perceive.

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Most of us secretly wish the world had remained as we saw it when we were kids — bright, colorful, full of simple shapes and yet full of wonder. What would happen if that childhood world came to life in our adult reality?

That’s exactly what Korean artist Yeondoo Jung explores in his photoseries Wonderland. He collected over 1,000 drawings from 5-to-7-year-old South Korean children, curated the few best suited for the project, then recreated the depicted scenes with live models, dramatic costumes and flamboyant colors.


The result: a stunning, visually and conceptually dazzling collection of surreal photography that leaves us dreamsome and a little sad at the same time, the eerie bittersweetness of an imagined reality we’ve long dismissed as unattainable.

Also, it makes us wanna do psychedelic drugs.

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And speaking of the harsh clash between childhood dreams and adult reality, how about that all-important what-do-you-wanna-be-when-you-grow-up question? If we all ended up doing exactly what we answered at age 6, Capitalism and the entire Western civilization would have to depend on a dysfunctional army of astronauts, Yankees pitchers and Broadway starlets.

One answer we bet was quite uncommon: “phone sex operator.” Which makes us wonder about the persons behind the personas — who are the people who end up in this bastard child of the sex industry, the faceless strangers who inspire such blind and uninhibited intimacy? Are all of them really tall 36DD blondes?

In his new book, Phone Sex, photographer Phillip Toledano explores the complex human element behind the sexy voice through a crosssection of art and sociology that makes us reconsider the purely transactional nature of that industry.

“I’m 60 years old, have a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University, and married for 25 years. I have a son in his last years of college who lives at home. He’s a 4.0 with a double major in English Literature and Religion. Men call me for an infinity of reasons. Of course, they call to masturbate. I call it “Executive Stress Relief.” It’s not sex; it’s a cocktail of testosterone, fueled by addiction to pornography, loneliness, and the need to hear a woman’s voice. I make twice the money I made in the corporate world. I work from home, the money transfers into my bank account daily. I’m Scheherezade: If I don’t tell stories that fascinate the Pasha, he will kill me in the morning”

Read the fascinating interview with the artist at The Morning News and marvel at the gallery, complete with insight from the subjects ranging from the mundane to the unexpected to the utterly bizarre.

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Just like the fundamental currency of the phone sex business, many of the relationships we form in life are with virtual strangers little pieces of whom we get to know through random glimpses, strangers we build up into idols and antagonists, heroes and villains, based on how we put those random little pieces together.

Take celebrity culture. Or politics.

Some of the greatest American idols have inspired tremendous reverence and unconditional empathy in us common folk. Which is why their deaths become a national tragedy we experience and grieve like the death of a close friend. In 1968, a train between New York and Washington carried one such national tragedy: Robert F. Kennedy’s coffin. That train also carried Look Magazine photographer Paul Fusco.

Originally assigned to shoot the funeral procession, Fusco soon realized that the greater ceremony took place along the tracks of the 8-hour ride: Americans of all walks of life saluting the fallen hero, some barefoot, some wearing their finest church clothes. The Fallen was born.

Fusco only had one shot at each scene and, unable to change his position or perspective throughout the entire ride, but he made the most of it in a way that revealed the pure patriotism lining those 229 miles.

Using color-intense Kodachrome film, the photographer captured what history books never could: the raw impact Kennedy had on the people, stripping away all the political pretense to unveil the deep-felt human connection.

See The Fallen in its entirety at New York Times Magazine, with a deeply moving voiceover from the photographer himself.

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On a much lighter note, a much less artistically talented but no less experimentally brave guy takes on another kind of hero culture: movie heroes and superheroes. (Yep, we’re at it again.) D-list actor Andrew Goldenberg has taken to doing something so random and so bizarre that it’s simply brilliant: putting lyrics to movie theme songs.

Tux-clad and shakily on-key, he merges the worst of Broadway with the best of Comedy Central for a whole new level of spoof hilarity.

From Superman to Batman to Indiana Jones, he spares no blockbuster hero. Our favorite: Jaws. If Lucas were dead, he’d be rolling in his grave. Laughing. RIGL is the new ROFL.

>>> via LA Metblogs

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Remember our wildly popular Maps issue and that insanely artistic-looking NASA map of the moon? Well, the government’s space crusaders are back with more. The guys over at Environmental Graffiti bring us a collection of the 30 Most Incredible Abstract Images of Earth — we’re talking stuff better suited for the MoMA than the science classroom.

The collection represents the crème de la crème of the 400,000 images taken by NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite, hand-selected by NASA’s own scientists for an exhibition at the Library of Congress in 2000 — reassurance that at least some of our tax dollar is going to, um, the arts.

The images remind us of David Gallo’s stunning TED footage of those wondrous, color-shifting deep ocean creatures. Most of all, they remind us how amazing Earth is at its rawest, deepest core — and how overwhelming the sense of urgency about preserving it is.

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