April 22nd is Earth Day, which means it's time appreciate the beauty of nature (from the safety of your home)
It's Earth Day!
That special time of year when we take some time to appreciate Mother Earth in all her splendor, and it would be so nice to get out into the sunlight and enjoy some nature. But it's a trap! Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, your best bet of not catching/spreading the coronavirus is to stay indoors. So whether you're fully quarantined or just practicing social distancing, these nature documentaries can remind you of the outside world without risking any contact with other people.
Dancing With the Birds
Is there anything that defines the beauty of nature more than birdsong? The sound of twittering and chirping filling the trees can make even an urban landscape feel connected with nature. But singing is just one of the ways that birds have of seducing each other as the weather changes. The birds-of-paradise that live in New Guinea and parts of Australia prefer a different kind of performance. With brilliant jumping, twisting displays of iridescent plumage, they dance for the future of the species. And for the future of your species, you will stay inside and watch them do it. Dancing With the Birds is also the only documentary on this list that your cat is likely to enjoy as much as you will.
Oh wait, forgot about flowers. Flowers are the defining beauty of springtime, and in "Flowers" episode of Moving Art you can watch every variety and color of flower grow, bloom, follow the sun, and sway in the wind—almost like you were actually outside! The soothing imagery and wordless orchestral soundtrack make for great background viewing while you count out squares of toilet paper to make sure your roommate isn't exceeding their ration.
If you haven't seen Planet Earth, you've been missing out. There's nothing outside your door that could compete with this collection of some of the most spectacular sights in the natural world, all narrated by the incomparable baritone of David Attenborough (because we aren't heathens, and Sigourney Weaver can't say "water.") Until recently it was streaming on Netflix, but now you have to pay for it, so...
Our Planet is Netflix's answer to Planet Earth, complete with spectacular sights and David Attenborough's narration. It's almost as amazing as the BBC classic, and it won't cost you anything but a Netflix subscription
In the Hopi language, koyaanisqatsi means life out of balance, so you can probably guess that the entire film is just 86 minutes of nature imagery juxtaposed with surreal scenes of urban life and destructive industry set to a score by Philip Glass—duh. The only word spoken in the entire film is the title, repeatedly chanted in a voice that sounds like it's summoning dark spirits to bring on the end times. If quarantine has you in a particularly apocalyptic mood and really hating human civilization, then Koyaanisqatsi is the perfect way to celebrate our long-suffering planet.
The story of Timothy Treadwell is a cautionary tale on the dangers of underestimating a deadly threat—and of going outside. For 13 summers Treadwell camped in the wilds of Alaska and convinced himself that he could hang out and pal around with giant Kodiak bears without issue. Without giving away Grizzly Man's tragic twist ending (he's eaten by bears), you can count on this documentary to remind you of the majesty and wonder of nature while also making you thankful that you live indoors.
Imagine living in the dark depths of the ocean where strange creatures with glowing appendages subsist off thermal vents and nutrients that descend from the sunlit waters above, and they never have to wash their hands. Blue Planet is a documentary series that explores every aspect of life in and around the seas. Episode two, "The Deep" is particularly beautiful and eerie, and invites you to imagine the isolation of an angler fish that may go its entire life without seeing another angler fish.
Chasing Coral would normally be a pretty depressing documentary. It follows a team of researchers documenting the disappearance of the world's vital coral reefs as a result of human industry. But if there is a silver lining to the current pandemic, it's that the reduction of human activity is mitigating the pollution and damage that we usually unleash upon the Earth's fragile ecosystems. If dolphins have started swimming in the suddenly pristine canals of Venice, then maybe some of the world's endangered coral will also see some benefit from this break humanity is taking.
Remember international travel? People used to get on planes and fly all over the world to see exotic locales and experience natural wonders unlike anything they could see at home. Well forget about all that, because it's gone. The closest thing in our new reality is sitting really close to your TV while Madagascar (the documentary, not the cartoon) plays. And maybe you can smear some banana on the screen to pretend you're feeding the lemurs.
It might seem strange to think of distant space as a part of "nature," but just as the moon pulls at the oceans, when we examine the workings of the universe we discover the interconnectedness of all things and gain perspective on the scale of human struggle. Also, imagine if you were out in space right now—no way you would get infected! The Universe is an ideal escape from the world.
Encounters at the End of the World
If it seems like the COVID-19 virus has turned the world into a barren waste, Encounters at the End of the World is a good reminder that there is an entire continent that remains completely unaffected—largely because it was already a barren waste. This exploration of the inhabitants and landscapes of Antarctica is the work of Werner Herzog, whose moody philosophical musings are the perfect narration for the end of the world.
Ghosts of the Mountains
Snow leopards are rarely seen by human eyes. They live in remote mountain climates and maintain solitary existences cut off even from other snow leopards. In other words, they are masters of social distancing. Watch Ghosts of the Mountains and be like the snow leopards.
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TLDR: Baby Nut is a fascist and a threat to civil liberties.
First, we were bewitched by Marvel's Baby Groot in 2017, then Disney's Baby Yoda became our new god in 2019, and during the 2020 Super Bowl we witnessed the sprouting of an infantile, talking legume: Planters Peanuts' Baby Nut.
But do we want to adopt these infant forms of beloved cultural icons–or become them? Do they satiate our compulsion to parent or be parented, ourselves?
As a marketing tactic, advertisers have been using mascots as brand ambassadors since the advent of visual media. Decades of research have revealed that mascots boost sales and public image by humanizing a product and banking on the public's emotional investment in the character. Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said that the concept for Baby Nut was bizarrely inspired by Game of Thrones' Jon Snow: "There is this renewed appreciation for these fictional characters after their death, and then they come back with a renewed sense of purpose to what they're doing, which helps to set up something bigger and a little bit different."
But recently we've amped up a worrisome trend that's been tracked by nail-biting social scientists for decades: the infantilization of American consumers.
To start with, look at the last decade of unprecedented success for children's and comic book movies. With every release we've asked, "Who is this for?" but masses have flocked to them, making superhero movies and remakes of Disney children's classics the most profitable releases nearly every year; in 2019 alone, comic book and animated movies accounted for 9 of the 10 highest grossing films (and seven of the top 10 in both 2018 and 2017). For another, frankly more perplexing, example, remember a few years ago when adult women suddenly wanted to be mermaids? "I Am a Mermaid" merchandise was worn as if womanhood was one long, unedited Disney Channel movie. And with a spike in the popularity of tattoo chokers and emo music, the resurgence of '90s pop culture was synced with millennials hitting adulthood hard and, apparently, experiencing crushing nostalgia for childhood.
But the trend goes back further. In his 2014 article "The Death of Adulthood in American Culture," The New York Times' film critic A.O. Scott critiques film and TV of this millennium for demonstrating that "adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable." He asks, "Who or what killed adulthood? Was the death slow or sudden? Natural or violent? The work of one culprit or many? Justifiable homicide or coldblooded murder?" As a critic of the media landscape, he says he's watched "over the last 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises...that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart."
Is this just art providing escapism, so business as usual? Not quite. Social theorist Jacopo Bernardini argues that one of the four primary reasons why infantilizing cultural artifacts appeal to the masses is because of the "nostalgia effect, trying to find stability in past experiences, because [an] adult already knows how it is to be a kid or a teenager" and, judging by 21th century media, nobody knows what being an "adult" even means anymore.
"I Don't Wanna Grow Up: I'm a Toys R Us Kid"
So, what happened? Cultural rewinds are part of the natural cycle of fashion and style, but they're also birthed from frustration and stagnation, be it economic or social. Bored social scientists have found that we, as a culture, are especially prone to indulge in nostalgia during times of transition, of upset and instability. So how has pop culture's absorption of recent social, political, and economic turmoil resulted in the so-called "death of adulthood?" Or in the killing and rebirthing of classic pop characters?
officially recruiting soldiers for the war on baby nut https://t.co/IqmgMaDiw8— Alpha (@Alpha)1581457590.0
Bernardini would attribute companies' babifying of their icons to "the role of marketing in the infantilization of the postmodern adult." For one thing, today's media-saturated, Very Online world run by our robot overlords has not only rerouted our brains to work like mini-optimized search engines; it's also encouraged our desires for immediate gratification, shortened attention spans, and emphasized impulsivity over practicality. In other words, we're being socialized to stave off adulthood. In Simon Gottschalk's book The Terminal Self, he argues that "our everyday interactions with these computer technologies have accelerated and normalized our culture's infantile tendencies."
In fact, the American National Academy of Sciences once suggested that modern teenage development doesn't end until age 30, while the USA Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine has suggested that practical adulthood begins around 34 years old. What this translates to, in terms of our consumer habits, is a booming market targeting kidults, a term first used in The New York Times in 1985 to describe a biological adult whose lifestyle affords them the leisure and resources to indulge in the hobbies of childhood and exist in a protracted adolescence, whether that means occupying one's time with cartoons and video games or drowning oneself in glitter and flip sequins. Bernadini describes a kidult as "an archetype of an encouraged regression, to facilitate the promotion of goods which are only apparently addressed to young people and children." To companies, that means "kidults are a perfect target for the seller. They have a large number of desires and the real ability to make purchases," adds social psychologist Maryna Dvorynk.
To put it that way sounds alternatingly condescending and banal, or even a little precious (after all, who doesn't yearn for the innocence of childhood?). But Dvornyk questions the cultural impact of this kind of marketing on our collective psyche: "Media communication, and especially advertising, nowadays seems to promote a kind of collective regression: Needs should be satisfied immediately because it is imperative to take here and now everything that life, or rather the consumer's society, promises to give us." In terms of marketing and the insidious ways brands creep their tentacles into our collective psychology, Dvornyk adds, "Youthfulness–like beauty, success and money–becomes an object that is possible to own. In other words, youth, a biological condition, seems to have become a cultural definition."
How the Kidult Became the Standard of the 21st Century
So, are we manipulated into buying goods and services that remind us of being a child in order to find reprieve from adult existential crises? Of course–look at how many crises today's adults are facing and, consequently, how difficult the transition from childhood to adulthood has become these days. Current young adult Americans came of age during two recessions and a shrinking middle class, a "forever war" in the Middle East, climate change crisis, and the starkest political polarity since the Civil War. But without haranguing about sacrificial economics and the ravages of industrial society at the cost of individual identity (okay, a little bit of haranguing), it's a mundane truth that scarcity is the god of invention. With millennials earning an average of 20% less than baby boomers (despite meeting expectations to earn a college degree and taking on their share of the nation's $1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis), labor opportunities are becoming both harder to find and less concrete. We can work online from home but often with the trappings of the gig economy, so millennials have gained a reputation for job-hopping, with three times the number of millennials switching jobs each year than non-millennials. Of course, that's largely due to today's job market, which is uniquely unstable compared to when prior generations transitioned into adulthood. And that's not to mention the entire work ethos of industrialized western society, which is dehumanizingly simple: You are what you do (for your paycheck).
Furthermore, it can seem like today's youth live in abundance, with techy shortcuts to solve every problem and more options than they know what to do with. But that's part of the problem; as Dvornyk notes, "Adulthood is being dangerously delayed by a generation who are overstimulated by a media-saturated society and overwhelmed by choice, which makes them unable to settle down, capable only of temporary alignments before they grasp onto the next bright opportunity." In a culture obsessed with constant self-optimization and upgrades (down to the way millennials were parented to prioritize "optimizing" themselves, according to the critic Malcom Harris), society's expectation to "correctly" enter adulthood is to streamline one's education into a career–to do everything, achieve in all areas, and have it all. In reality, financial analysts note that "millennials have taken longer to launch their careers than previous generations, and some have failed to launch their careers altogether, while progress toward equity in education and the labor market has stalled." So maybe millennials really are the worst for having invented Instagram and fostering in an age of selfies, FOMO, and "social media sites...shaped by infantile aesthetics and affects"—as some cultural analysts say—but it's because we inherited an unstable social reality where "stable identities have become unmoored by free markets" (and also, admittedly, Instagram really did f*ck up everyone's mental health).
So we turn to pop culture to ground ourselves, our shaky sense of selfhood and misfitted place in the world–or so say more bored social scientists who study our consumer habits in hopes to finally understand why we keep watching DCEU movies despite knowing they will always be terrible. Dvornyk critiques, "In our information-cluttered world media becomes the lifesaver and means to propagate values, trends and principles that comprise the symbolic universe of ethical choice." She adds, "Such communications legitimize immaturity or childish behavior and promote youth lifestyle." In pop culture, youth isn't just a commodity; it's a coveted identity.
guys I have almost overtaken the fascist legume known as Baby Nut in number of Twitter followers, please help me ma… https://t.co/CzSUkVfpV8— Anticitizen Rob DenBleyker (@Anticitizen Rob DenBleyker)1581178797.0
Enter baby mascots. As Dvornyk goes on to say, "The postmodern adult...chases the aesthetics and lifestyles of young people, lives in a state of continuous present, postpones or eludes those stages that used to mark the social recognition of maturity as well as the responsibilities and the preclusions involved." Traditional models of social maturation mark parenthood as the final transition into adulthood. But as U.S. birth rates decline due to millennials opting not to have children, not being able to afford to have children, or waiting until later in life than prior generations, today's culture suspends adulthood in a chrysalis stuck between carefree childhood and the responsibilities of child-rearing. The result is a generation of reluctant kidults who in many ways feel pressures of adulthood at younger ages while paradoxically being socialized by corporations and media to hide from adulthood behind performative youth: a cycle of palliative consumerism and nostalgia used to escape time. Putting Baby Nut aside, we love baby mascots who are designed without agency to speak for themselves (Baby Groot and Baby Yoda) and who fit into larger, cultural narratives (the superheroes or anti-hero on a quest to defend innocents). The ideal baby mascot is basically an avatar of our twin desires to nurture as well as be nurtured: We are all Baby Yoda; Baby Yoda is us. Or, as The Washington Post put it, "Baby Yoda is blank. And that means Baby Yoda, in a sense, is ours."
"Synth Culture": Is Baby Nut Fascist?
Unfortunately, the collective belief that "we are what we consume" is a lie, as most of "popular culture" is manufactured by a few corporations whose sole aim is to sell products. As psychologist Jim Taylor writes, "A more accurate phrase [than pop culture] is 'synth culture' because it is a synthetic product created by corporate conglomerates rather than being an expression of the shared experiences of real people."
Are our beloved characters just cash cows and damningly cute idols of escapism and consumption? Actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek Beyond) attributes this double appeal to the nefarious nature of capitalism, even citing French philosopher Jean Baudrillard to say: "Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in: inequality, corruption, economic injustice, etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth?"
For proof, one need only to return to the creation of Baby Nut. Mike Pierantozzi, an ad executive at Planters' agency VaynerMedia, shared that the idea for Mr. Peanut's death was inspired by the virtual bloodbath at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame. Pierantozzi told CNBC, "When Iron Man died, we saw an incredible reaction on Twitter and on social media. It's such a strange phenomenon." He added, "We did the unthinkable: We created [...] an idea where Mr. Peanut dies and dies specifically sacrificing himself for his friends, which has always been a tenet of who he is and what he does — he always puts others first." Despite being met by the Twitterverse's collective "wtf that is a fascist legume," Planters wasn't playing around when they employed such blatant pathos to gain attention; Baby Nut merch was available just hours after its "birth" in the company's Super Bowl commercial.
Did it work? Sort of. We certainly love to hate Baby Nut (for many right reasons, spanning from the transparency of such a manipulative cash grab at Baby Yoda's popularity to the fact that "it's all so dumb" and "shamelessly shilling Baby Nut merch"). But the marketing strategy Planters based its "hair-brained" scheme on is demonstratively effective, considering the astronomical demand for Baby Yoda merchandise, Baby Groot's sizable role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's success, and Baby Nut inspiring disturbing fan art and at least one manifesto to murder all brand mascots.
If our collective maturity as a culture—and, possibly, our civil liberties—are at stake, then what can we do? While some may be able to resist the pull of Baby Yoda's large black eyes or Baby Groot's happy little smile, the rest of us seem doomed until we either have children of our own or topple capitalism's stronghold on American media. The least we can do is withhold our consumer power and abstain from buying a company's babified products or streaming their babified content on their streaming apps (but do we have the willpower when Baby Groot dances? Oh, how he dances).
Corporate brands cultivating soulless personalities on Twitter is bad enough. Brands creating intricate backstories to superimpose narrative arcs onto their mascots is even worse (you know Mr. Clean was adopted and that he's gay, right?). But because Grimes and Elon Musk are having a baby, because we can attend concerts of our favorite dead idols' holograms, because future pop stars will be nothing but computer algorithms, and because our society's cultural tastes are careening towards post-humanism—maybe the truth is that we just want to escape time and slip into the glossy alternate reality of ad space, where Gushers candy turns children's heads into fruits and Lisa Frank's technicolor tigers run free. Yes, Mr. Peanut–the 104-year-old gay cannibal and Planters mascot–has died and been reborn: We're now living in a world with Baby Nut, Baby Groot, Baby Yoda, and soon, even Baby Sonic.
I see theres another Its punting time #BabysAreOver https://t.co/tri8EMrauk— Creeper (@Creeper)1581433603.0
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The star of Star Wars: The Mandalorian may represent a new hope for 2020.
When former New York Mayor and current media oligarch Michael Bloomberg officially joined the Presidential race last weekend, he brought the total number of Democrats vying for the nomination up to 17.
While many people have been deriding this excess for months now—calling for a culling of the herd and deriding the chances of anyone outside the top three to five contenders—I'm not actually opposed to the idea of another candidate entering the race. Don't get me wrong: Michael Bloomberg is obviously either a moron or a spoiler candidate intending to subvert the will of the people. But if the right person entered the running, it could actually make things a lot simpler. A candidate who could truly engage and excite voters—someone exactly like Baby Yoda, and no one else in the universe.
Axios first brought this possibility to my attention when they released a breakdown of article engagement based on the candidate featured. Baby Yoda easily surpassed them all. Why? Because Baby Yoda is a uniter. His power doesn't come from wealth or exclusive influence, but from the Force that connects all living things and binds the universe together.
Though he may miss out on PETA's endorsement
He's a political outsider, from a galaxy far far outside the Washington beltway; and unlike your average politician, Baby Yoda doesn't waste his time on empty words. He doesn't make a dubious promise to save the Mandalorian from a giant rhino monster. He just gets the job done and asks for nothing in return. He has the wisdom of 50 years of life, but the youthful energy to chase down a frog creature and swallow it whole. His large, soulful eyes communicate trust and optimism, even when circumstances look bleak, and they can inspire loyalty even in cold-blooded killer or a Werner Herzog. Also, his healthcare plan most likely involves using his force powers to magically heal our wounds, which is pretty rad. If all that weren't already enough to win your vote, he's not half-bad to look at either.
Pictured: Precedent for a baby/leader
Now, I know what you're thinking: How can a baby be a world leader? But would you ask the same thing of Winston Churchill? Considering that Baby Yoda is 50 years old, he more than meets the age requirement for the job, while also being—unlike Bloomberg, Biden, Sanders, and Warren—a long way off from the decline and diseases of old age. And while his father spent a long time in the Dagobah system, Yoda was originally from California, which should make Baby Yoda a natural-born citizen.
As for finances, Baby Yoda has the backing of Disney+, which is expected to spend $350 million on marketing next year, which is nearly enough to rival the $500 million that Michael Bloomberg is planning to throw away on his doomed and absurd candidacy. Compared to that, Baby Yoda running for president suddenly seems pretty reasonable.
So, while some of the deadlines for some primary races have already passed, it's not too late for an exciting new candidate to sweep in and reignite the American public's engagement in the political process... As long as that new candidate is Baby Yoda. Everyone else should give up and go home.
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