Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘video’

12 OCTOBER, 2011

How Radio Broadcasting Works: An Animated Explanation from 1937

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From oscillator to audience, or how the music of the orchestra travels from the studio to your home.

In 1909, radio pioneer Charles “Doc” Herrold made his first broadcast in what would soon become KCBS news radio, the world’s first broadcasting station. Even though he didn’t invent radio itself — Marconi did — Radio quickly became a powerful disseminator of culture, entertainment and, as 40 years of NPR attest, necessary critical thinking. But how does radio broadcasting actually work? In 1937, the Handy (Jam) Organization (which you might recall) produced On The Air, a fascinating piece of vintage edutainment explaining exactly that, from how the microphone converts sound waves into electrical currents to how audio waves travel from studio to audience, in under 10 minutes.

For more on how radio revolutionized modern communication, see Anthony Rudel’s excellent Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio.

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12 OCTOBER, 2011

The Anatomy of Influence: Mapping the Labyrinth of Literature

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What Leo Tolstoy can teach us about curation.

Understanding creative influence is essential to understanding remix culture and a centerpiece of combinatorial creativity. I recently collaborated with illustrator extraordinaire Wendy MacNaughton and Michelle Legro of Lapham’s Quarterly of a subjective visualization of creative influence in literature and other arts, but this ecosystem of cross-pollination is far more layered and complex than a playful graphic could possibly convey. The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life is Harold Bloom’s ambitious effort to peel away at these many layers. Bloom, who for the past half-century has been exploring that ecosystem as a Yale literature professor and contemporary culture’s most significant literary critic, offers insight on 30 of the world’s most iconic writers, from Shakespeare to Joyce to Emerson, and examines issues ranging from the role of “creative misreading” in the joy of literature to the supreme fiction of the romantic self to the influence of a mind on itself.

Literature for me is not merely the best part of life; it is itself the form of life, which has no other form.” ~ Harold Bloom

The book is a follow-up to Bloom’s 1973 classic, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, and was inspired by Robert Burton’s 1621 masterpiece, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Of that influence, Bloom writes:

Traces of Burton’s marvelous madness abound in this book, and yet it may be that all I share with Burton is an obsessiveness somewhat parallel to his own. Burton’s melancholy emanated from his fantastic learning: he wrote to cure his learnedness. My book isolates literary influence as the agon of influence, and perhaps I write to cure my own sense of having been overinfluenced since childhood by the great Western authors.”

But the part that captivated me the most was this quote from a Leo Tolstoy letter in the book’s epigraph, which articulates the essence of my own curatorial sense of purpose better than I ever could:

For art criticism we need people who would show the senselessness of looking for ideas in a work of art, and who instead would continually guide readers in that endless labyrinth of linkages that makes up the stuff of art, and bring them to the laws that serve as the foundation for those linkages.”

A true treat for literati and remixologists alike, The Anatomy of Influence is an exquisite paean to the love of literature, one that pulls you into its enthusiasm with equal parts mesmerism and cunning precision.

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11 OCTOBER, 2011

Perversion for Profit: Vintage Anti-Porn Propaganda

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A vintage card from the Tea Party playbook, or what the Kama Sutra has to do with the fall of the Roman Empire.

Until the global crisis of 2008, the largest financial debacle in living memory was triggered by the Savings & Loan crisis of the late 1980s. And the face of that scandal was Charles Keating. When his bank, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, failed in 1989, more than 21,000 investors, most of whom elderly, lost their savings, and the American taxpayer forked over $3.4 billion to clean up the mess. Political scandals followed — remember the Keating Five? — and Keating did federal time for wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud.

That’s when financial institutions began to lay waste to the American dream. But if you asked Charles Keating what posed the biggest threat to America’s bright future, he’d point you to something else — porn. (No, not the green kind.) Way back in 1958, Keating founded Citizens for Decent Literature, which became the largest anti-pornography organization in the U.S. As part of his crusade, Keating also produced Perversion for Profit, a 1965 propaganda film that stitched together scads of pornographic images, hoping to make the visual case that pornography, nd homosexuality right along with it, threatened to undermine America as a civilization. Domestic moral decay leads to external threat. That’s the essential argument of the film. And so we get lines like: “This moral decay weakens our resistance to the onslaught of the communist masters of deceit.” And then this, the closing words narrated by Los Angeles newsman George Putnam:

This same type of rot and decay caused sixteen of the nineteen major civilizations to vanish from the Earth. Magnificent Egypt, classical Greece, imperial Rome, all crumbled away not because of the strength of the aggressor, but because of moral decay from within. But we are in a unique position to cure our own ills: our Constitution was written by men who put their trust in God and founded a government based in His laws. These laws are on our side. We have a constitutional guarantee of protection against obscenity. And, in this day especially, we must seek to deliver ourselves from this twisting, torturing evil. We must save our nation from decay and deliver our children from the horrors of perversion. We must make our land, ‘the land of the free’, a safe home. O God, deliver us, Americans, from evil.”

You can watch this vintage piece of reactionary Americana on YouTube, or find it housed in Open Culture’s collection of Free Movies Online.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University. You can find Open Culture on Twitter and Facebook

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