Happy Birthday, Bill

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As my Loyal Readers will recall, I have made a point the last few years of observing the birthdays of two men whose work on a 1960s television series has had an enormous impact on my life, namely the actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. By some cosmic coincidence, they were born within days of each other, which has always seemed weirdly appropriate given the way their legacies became intertwined with each other’s. But this time, of course, something is different.

Five years ago, I wrote the following:

Strange to think that they’re so close to the same age, and even stranger to think of how advanced that age is getting to be.

 

This is a morbid notion, but I find myself wondering how long one will outlast the other when time inevitably catches up to them. They’ve spent so much of their lives seemingly in parallel. When one of them finally passes away, will the survivor go on for years more, or will they be like a long-married couple who die within days of one another, unable to continue without their beloved?

I still wonder about that. And I wonder as well if Bill Shatner, the older of the two by four days, is thinking about Leonard tonight. Shatner has a pretty bad reputation for being a self-centered douchebag — consider the bile that was spilled over his inability to attend Nimoy’s funeral — but I can’t help but think that this, his 84th birthday, has been a somber one for him. If I could, I’d buy him a drink. And I would be honored to raise a glass with him…

To absent friends.

To life going on.

May you have many more happy returns, Bill.

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Friday Evening Videos: “Detroit Made”

It wasn’t too long ago that I was waxing nostalgic for Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” a song that’s always had a lot of meaning for me, and lamenting that he never comes to my hometown when he’s touring. Not long after that, you may recall that I included him on my “fantasy list” of musical artists that I’d like to see in concert, but probably never will because they are “semi-retired, unlikely to ever come to Utah, or really expensive/difficult to get [tickets for].”

Well, things can change very quickly sometimes, and opportunities you never imagined would happen can come out of nowhere. Which is a roundabout way of announcing that tonight I’m going to cross another entry off my wishlist (I refuse to call it a “Bucket List,” for reasons I won’t get into here) by seeing Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band at Salt Lake City’s own Energy Solutions Arena. As far as I know, this is the first time he’s ever played Salt Lake, or at least the first time since I’ve been paying attention to such things (which has been a very long time, considering I went to my first rock concert in 1981, when I was 12!). Also, this is rumored to be his final tour — he’s 69 and has said in recent interviews that he “doesn’t want to overstay his welcome” — so this one feels pretty momentous. Needless to say, I am just a wee bit excited.

To mark the occasion, I thought I’d post a track from Bob’s latest album, Ride Out. It’s his first release of new material in eight years, and his best album (in my opinion) since Like a Rock back in 1986, in part because of his unexpected willingness to risk alienating his core fanbase (which tends to skew to the political right) with songs about climate change, income inequality, and gun violence. (Bob explains his newfound social consciousness as “wanting [his children] to have a future and a good place to live” and says he’s going to be 70 soon and this may be his last album, so “better late than never.”) Don’t misunderstand, though, this album is not a grim political screed; it includes plenty of the rootsy rock-and-roll storytelling that is Bob’s trademark. Like, for instance, the single “Detroit Made.” It’s classic Seger, a celebration of the chromed-and-befinned marvels that once poured out of the factories in his hometown, Detroit, and the wholly American lifestyle they enabled. There is an element of melancholy in the video if you want to see it that way; with its nostalgic color filter and artificial scratches that make the images look like they come from an old Super-8 home movie, it reminds us that the days of classic Detroit-steel muscle machines are long gone, and the days of the carefree driving around on cheap, plentiful gasoline are fading fast. But the song itself is so relentlessly upbeat, so, well, driven, if you’ll forgiven the quasi-pun, that you can’t dwell too long on the negative. It’s a song that make you want to slip behind the wheel and roll on out… just like I’m about to do, with my Bic lighter in my pocket, ready to flick during the ballads:

Have a great night, kids!

[UPDATE: Turns out Bob has been to Salt Lake before; I've learned he played here on May 9, 1980. At that point, I would've been more obsessed with The Empire Strikes Back than rock and roll...]

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Shiva Concluded

As I understand it — which I admit is probably not very well — the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva” requires the family of a deceased person to formally grieve for a period of seven days following the burial, during which time friends visit to express condolences, offer support, and share stories and memories of the deceased. If you didn’t know, the late Leonard Nimoy was a Jew, and thinking back over last week’s outpouring of reminiscences and good feelings for him, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it was as if the entire Internet was observing shiva. I’ve been very impressed and moved by the volume of good will directed toward this man, and frankly, I’m proud to have played a small part in a pretty huge and amazing thing, this online display of shiva. I only hope that Leonard’s actual family was aware of what was going on, and that the stories and love of Leonard’s “fan family” helped ease their pain at his loss.

I’d like to share a few links to things that caught my attention last week, things I found especially interesting, moving, funny, or just plain cool:

  • Nimoy was a strong supporter of feminism, which he expressed through actions rather than mere words. The online magazine Bustle summarized four of his best moments in the fight for gender equality here.
  • As a photographer, Nimoy made waves in 2007 with his “Full Body Project,” a  collection of photos celebrating the beauty and dignity of, to be blunt, fat women. Here’s a personal account of what the collection meant to one woman in particular. There’s an accompanying gallery of selections from the collection; be warned, it’s NSFW, as they say. Nudity ahead.
  • I’m not a gamer — I haven’t had any interest to speak of in video games since Mortal Kombat changed the arcade-gaming paradigm in the early ’90s, and I’ve never set a virtual foot inside an MMPORG — but I thought the tributes for Leonard (as well as other deceased cast members, and of course Gene Roddenberry) built into the Star Trek Online environment last week sounded pretty neat.
  • Leonard’s passing got novelist Dayton Ward thinking about what it was like to watch Star Trek in the olden days, when technology wasn’t as, shall we say, reliable as it is today. His blog post reminded me of my own childhood experiences with an old hand-me-down black-and-white portable TV, the one with the rabbit ears and the busted vertical hold. Kids today really have no idea what it was like back in the Dark Ages.
  • Speaking of ancient video technology, Dangerous Minds dredged up a mind-boggling artifact from 1981, a 11-minute clip of Leonard conversing with, um, well, a glowing rock about the then-cutting-edge “laser video disc” system from Magnavox. This one really must be seen to be believed:

(Incidentally, I have to say that, while I am hugely annoyed by the current-day disdain for mustaches and the overused and frankly offensive suggestion that they denote their wearers as porn stars and child molesters, I’m really glad Nimoy didn’t sport this look for long. It didn’t suit him at all.)

  • The nostalgia site Plaid Stallions had a fun post celebrating the ads and products that featured Mr. Spock’s visage in the early ’70s. I had a lot of these items myself when I was a wee Trekkie. Ah, who am I kidding? I still have them all, tucked away in a box in the fabulous Bennion Archives, a.k.a., my basement.
  • All this fun stuff aside, we need to remember that Leonard Nimoy was a real human being, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I was moved by the tribute People hosted by the folks who are going to miss him most.
  • And lastly, the oddly controversial sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which either laughs with or at the fans who revered Nimoy, depending on your point of view (guess which camp I fall into), concluded last week’s show with a classy and heartfelt vanity card that I thought summed up so much of what I was feeling:

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And with that, our observances are now concluded. Shalom. And, of course, LLAP.

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Commuting Is Hell

I haven’t gotten home from work before seven o’clock in nearly 10 years.

That’s how long I’ve been working for my current employer, and how long I’ve been riding TRAX, the Salt Lake Valley’s light-rail system. I tell myself all the time that it’s the best option, that I’m helping the environment and I don’t have to deal with the stress of freeway driving, that it gives me an opportunity to read for fun, or to nap, or to study the unceasing pageant of human behavior, or to just stare out the damn window. But the truth is, I’m getting very, very tired of being a prisoner to somebody else’s schedule, to wasting time standing around in the cold or the hot or the rain or snow, or running to beat the clock so I don’t end up waiting around. (I’m no runner, not even after losing some 40 pounds a couple years ago.)

If I get out of the office at just the right moment, I can make the 6:07 southbound, which puts me at the end of the line at 6:49. Then I still have to drive home from the park-n-ride lot, which takes between 10 and 15 minutes. Most nights, I step into the house about five after seven. That’s on a good night, one of the nights when I don’t have to take a later train.

Tonight was not a good night. Tonight was a very not-good night. A collision between two trains earlier today closed off a segment of the main trunk line connecting downtown to the rest of the valley. I had to wait around for a southbound train, ride it as far as the point where the track was closed, then switch to a bus to jump over the out-of-commission section, wait some more for yet another train, and then ride it the rest of the way. Oh, and then I discovered the road I usually drive between the train station and home was a mess due to a broken water main and resulting sinkhole. I finally got home 35 minutes later than usual. And the whole time I was thinking I could have just gone down to the parking garage beneath my office building, gotten into my car, and driven home in roughly half the time of my regular commute, let alone this cocked-up mess of one. I’m so sick of my nights being basically a wash and having to try and squeeze all my errands, all my chores, all my socializing, all my living into the scant 48 hours of the weekend because I spend so damn much time commuting.

We won’t even speak of the situation in the mornings, except to say I’m no more a morning person than I am a runner.

I was planning to post this image, one of several that Boing Boing recently gathered under the title “5 strangely comforting gifs,” tonight anyhow, simply because I thought it was neat, but now… now I think I really need to just stare at it for a while and work on my breathing:

calvin+hobbes

 

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Can You Beam Me Up Now?

I have a confession: I hate talking on cell phones. Cordless handsets for landlines, too. Sure, it’s convenient to walk around the house while you’re talking to someone, but at least back in the days when we were tethered to the kitchen wall by a 20-foot length of curly vinyl cord, we rarely had static or random noise in the line, and calls never just “dropped out” because you walked through some Poltergeist-ian “dead spot.” (I live in an old house, and plaster-and-lathe walls are murder on reception.)

That’s why I can’t help but roll my eyes when some Damn Kid™ starts acting all superior and sniffing at how outdated the original Star Trek looks because the communicators used by Kirk and Spock aren’t as “sophisticated” as our modern-day smartphones. Um, kids, do you really think your iPhone has enough range to contact a spaceship in orbit? And have you ever seen a communicator fail to make or maintain contact with the guy on the other end (assuming some mysterious god-like entity wasn’t interfering with their operation, of course)?

The following illustrates my point quite handily, by showing what Star Trek would be like if communicators functioned as well (i.e., as unreliably) as our cell phones:

(Sensitive Loyal Readers be warned: there’s an F-bomb. But it’s funny.)

And yes, I know the video is riffing on The Next Generation and its “combadge” technology instead of the original series’ classic handheld communicators. Even so…

Via Boing Boing, of course.

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This Just In: Nimoy Loved Sweets!

Oh, man… just when I figure I’ve done my mourning for Leonard Nimoy and I’m ready to put the Kleenex away, I run across a personal remembrance by his friend Nadine Schiff-Rosen and get another reminder of what a swell human being he must’ve been, and how I wish I’d actually known him:

His eclectic love of confections knew no bounds: Vanilla macaroons, cream-filled éclairs, peanut butter brittle, custards, meringues, puddings, soufflés—I was lucky to watch him devour desserts around the world. Just as a botanist would feel at one with a rare orchid, so too would Leonard commune with a red velvet cupcake, exploring the icing, excavating the creamy center. Then, sliding the plate over to me, he would cry out, “OH, YEAH,” in a way that made me wonder if he and his sugary delight shouldn’t get a room. And if he was met with resistance from me—a self-deprecating remark about watching my weight, for example—he would nudge the plate over to me further, his long, tapered fingers wordlessly ordering me to, “Take a bite.”

I can just imagine the expression on his face at that moment too, that devilish glimmer in his eye and the arched eyebrow that said, “Go on… you know you want to…”

Read the whole thing. It’s not long, and it’s worth it.

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Gerrold on Nimoy

There’s no shortage of commentary across the InterWebs at the moment about the late Leonard Nimoy, but I thought the words of science-fiction writer David Gerrold were worth passing along. Gerrold has a long association with Star Trek — his first professional sale was the screenplay for “The Trouble with Tribbles,” which is often cited as the most popular episode of the original series and is, in my anecdotal experience, the one non-Trekkies are most likely to have seen. He knew Leonard personally; here’s part of what he had to say:

The remarkable thing about Spock isn’t Spock and it isn’t just Nimoy’s singular invention of Spock — it is that Spock is very much a reflection of Leonard Nimoy’s own character as a man.

 

Nimoy was gracious, friendly, loving, supportive, brilliant, and ultimately a person who continually challenged himself to expand his own horizons. He was generous in nature, humble in spirit.

So Spock was never just a performance as much as it was an evocation of the soul within.

I think, to a great degree, it was that inner nature that most of us were responding to.

 

I did not get to spend a lot of time with Leonard, there were always too many others shoving in to spend time with him — and I’d already had my moment. I’d given him lines to speak, and he’d brought them to life. I couldn’t ask for better. No writer could. But in the moments we did spend together, he always made me feel important.

 

If there is one lesson I would want to learn from Leonard Nimoy, that would be the one — how to love life to the fullest and cherish everyone in it.

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In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

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“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

– Leonard Nimoy’s final Twitter post, February 23, 2015

It isn’t often that I find myself at a loss for words, but yesterday’s news that Leonard Nimoy had died left me floundering. What do you say about the loss of a man you never met in person but who nevertheless felt like a member of your own family?

I do not remember a time when I had never seen Star Trek. That’s the plain truth. My mother has told me she and I started watching the show together when it went into syndication in the early ’70s. She wasn’t a science-fiction fan, particularly, it was just part of the afternoon block of old sitcoms, westerns, and spy shows that provided background noise while she did the housework, and I was a captive toddler audience playing on the living room rug in front of our old console TV, the one that I once fell against and split my scalp open. Why Star Trek sank its hooks so deeply into me instead of Gunsmoke or Mission Impossible is anybody’s guess, but it did. One of my earliest memories is talking to a little girl in my kindergarten class about a dream I’d had involving her and Mr. Spock, Nimoy’s signature character from that show. (You could tell a girl something like that in kindergarten without fear that she’d crush your soul with derisive laughter and then make you persona non grata with the rest of the class; such repercussions didn’t become a risk until somewhat later… fifth grade, in my experience.)

Many of my fellow travelers shared their memories on social media yesterday and they were all telling the same basic story, about how they felt like outsiders growing up, and in the half-human, half-alien Spock, they found a character to identify with, a role model who could guide them through the tricky business of finding yourself when you just don’t quite fit in. I understand why they were drawn to him, but I never identified with Spock in that way myself. Oh, I had plenty of moments when I felt like an alien among my peers. I think every kid does, even the ones who don’t prefer comic books and sci-fi paperbacks to football and dirt bikes. But I always gravitated toward Captain Kirk as my inspiration and role model. Spock was… well, if Kirk was the man I wanted to be, Spock was the friend I wanted to have. When I think of the character, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind: not his struggles to suppress, then to understand and finally to accept his human half… not his logical thinking or his trademark pointy ears or his Vulcan neck pinch, but all the times he and Kirk expressed their friendship, their fierce loyalty — their love — for one another.

In the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk and Spock are displaced in time, and a 20th century woman named Edith Keeler — played by the luscious Joan Collins — tries to figure out where these two strange men ought to be. She can’t imagine at all where Kirk belongs, but Spock, she says, she sees always at Kirk’s side. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, after a disastrous attempt to telepathically mindmeld with the super-intelligence called V’Ger, Spock takes Kirk’s hand and tells him that “this simple feeling” — i.e., friendship — “is beyond V’Ger’s understanding.” And of course the most famous line Spock ever uttered, from his death scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “I have been and always shall be your friend.” (Man, I remember writing that in a lot of high school yearbooks and feeling like I was so deep and clever.) Watching that scene on YouTube yesterday morning just about ripped my heart out of my chest, and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears sitting in my cubicle on the 13th floor of a skyscraper in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, a long way away from that living room rug in front of the TV in a little farmtown in the early 1970s. Because yesterday it felt like he was saying those words to me. Spock… Leonard… my friend… from the time I was a very small boy… saying goodbye.

There was much more to Leonard Nimoy than just Spock, of course. He appeared in many other classic television shows, from Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone to Mission: Impossible. He hosted In Search Of…, which more or less established the template still followed by countless overly credulous “documentary” shows about the unexplained. On stage, he played Sherlock Holmes and Vincent Van Gogh, and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He was downright creepy in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the rare example of a remake that’s just as effective — arguably better, in fact — than the original. And only last week, I watched him in an fun little curiosity called Baffled!, a failed TV pilot that had a lot of interesting ideas behind it but just didn’t quite come together. As a director, he scored a tremendous non-Star Trek hit with the 1987 ensemble-comedy film Three Men and a Baby. He wrote poetry. He was an accomplished photographer. And he recorded music, even though he himself admitted he wasn’t much of a singer. (Talented singer or not, his 1967 novelty tune “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” is bizarrely charming, unlike much of William Shatner’s musical output, which is just bizarre.) But of course it’s Spock that he will forever be associated with, a character that has so thoroughly penetrated popular culture that he’s known even to people who’ve never seen a single frame of the television series or movies he comes from.

Like his other Star Trek costars, most notably Shatner, Nimoy has at times expressed ambivalence about that silly old television show being his legacy. In the ’70s, he wrote a memoir with the somewhat-petulant title I Am Not Spock. And if you delve into the production history of the Star Trek movies, there was always a question of whether he would consent to appear, at least in the earlier ones. At one point, Spock was not included in the script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the original plan around the character’s death in The Wrath of Khan was for him to stay dead. (Honestly, I’ve often thought that would’ve been a more courageous and creatively interesting path for the series to take, and possibly a healthier path for the franchise as a whole… but of course that argument is academic at this point, after three decades, four more original-cast movies, and appearances by Nimoy-as-Spock in both The Next Generation and the JJ Abrams reboot films.)  But eventually Nimoy came to embrace his Vulcan alter ego, to the point that he penned a second memoir in the 1990s and called it I Am Spock, a nod to his earlier book as well as a direct refutation of its title. And he adopted a charming, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole thing, which was nicely displayed in an Audi commercial he filmed a year or so back with Zachary Quinto, the young actor who plays Spock in the reboot films.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the past few decades, and especially since the Salt Lake Comic Cons began in 2013, to meet quite a few of the actors I grew up watching. I’ve found it genuinely fulfilling to shake their hands and tell them how much their work has meant to me, whether I’m talking to Adrian Paul from Highlander: The Series or Erin Gray from Buck Rogers or Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame or Danny Glover from… well, all kinds of things. But my experience of meeting people associated with the original Star Trek has been on a whole different plane from the others, and almost shockingly moving for me. Of the seven main cast members, I’ve met four: Shatner, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), the late James Doohan (Scotty), and the irrepressible George Takei (Sulu). Sadly, I never got the chance to meet DeForest Kelley, a.k.a. Dr. “Bones” McCoy, who died in 1999. And I didn’t get to meet Leonard either, although I kinda-sorta came close. He was invited to the last Salt Lake Comic Con, in September of last year. He couldn’t come in person due to his declining health, but he did arrange to appear via Skype in a panel discussion… which Anne and I did not attend because the timing conflicted with something else at the con that we’d spent considerable money on and so were committed to doing. I did, however, buy one of the limited number of autographed photos that Leonard had sent on ahead to the convention organizers. While a cynical part of me notes that there’s no way to be sure he actually signed the photo or touched it in any way, I choose to believe in its legitimacy… and I am glad to have at least that much of him. Because I knew six months ago that it was the closest I was ever going to get to him.

Nimoy maintained an active online presence through Twitter, interacting with fans and signing every post “LLAP,” an acronym for his Spockian catchphrase, “Live long and prosper.” In recent years, he took to calling himself “Grandpa” and offering to be an honorary grandfather for anyone who cared to take him up on it. For the record, I never did… at least not formally. (I wish I had.) But when I read of his death, I felt as if I really had lost a grandfather. To be honest, I think I felt more grief yesterday than I did when I lost my real grandfathers, neither of whom I was close with. But Leonard… ah, Leonard I felt like I gotten to know, and I liked him. It’s not the loss of “Spock” I’ve been mourning. It’s the kind, good-humored old Jewish man with the quick smile and the big laugh and the unmistakable voice, the lively wit and strong sense of social justice, the celebrity who seemed genuinely concerned for his fans when he urged them to learn from his example and stay away from cigarettes…

At Spock’s funeral in Star Trek II, his friend Admiral Kirk says, “of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” And although my fellow fanboys have already turned it into a cliche to use this line in reference to Leonard Nimoy, I can’t think of anything better to sum up this actor, this icon, this man whom I really wish I’d been lucky enough to meet.

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On the Connection Between Cars and Rock Music

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“…the mobility afforded by the automobile combined with a rockin’ soundtrack was a recipe for spiritual liberation. Play loud and drive fast – these things go hand in glove. It’s really not a coincidence that the popularity of hot rods and custom cars was concurrent with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll – they’re really about the same thing.

–Billy Gibbons, lead guitarist, ZZ Top

Quote sourced from here; photo from here.

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Local Landmark Is Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month!

I make no claim to knowing anything about architecture as an art or a science, but I know what I like. And more importantly, what I don’t like. Guess which category this falls into?

federal-courthouse-slcThat’s the new U.S. federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Completed just about one year ago, the building houses 10 courtrooms along with associated offices and agencies, is LEED certified as a “green” building, and has won a number of awards from architectural and engineering organizations. It’s designed to make use of natural daylight as much as possible, it’s built with recycled materials, and it even has an open-to-the-public cafe in the lobby. Oh, and free Wi-Fi in the cafe, too.

Too bad it’s so frakkin’ hideous.

What the architects describe as “a primary form, projecting grounded dignity, immovable order, and an equal face to all sides” looks like an aggressively uninviting aluminum box to we lesser beings who do not dwell in the rarefied air of the modernists and post-modernists. I pass this monolith on my daily train commute every day, and I’ve heard out-of-towners and locals alike say things along the lines of, “what the hell is that?!” as it heaves into view. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, I really like how its austere exterior challenges my bourgeois sense of aesthetics with its defiant lack of traditional ornamentation!” Certainly nobody has ever called it “pretty” within my hearing. What we Salt Lakers mostly call it is “the Borg Cube.”

Given my feelings about this monstrosity — which, by the way, were not at all influenced by the demolition of one of my favorite watering-holes from my younger days, the late, lamented Port o’ Call, to make room for this thing — I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape, has chosen it as his February Eyesore of the Month. Describing the architects’ sterile conceptual rendering, Kunstler says:

[Architects Thomas Phifer and Partners have] really caught that old security state spirit in a building that looks uncannily like the computer server that contains your credit record, your tax filings, your phone log, your internet purchase trail, the drone photos taken outside your girlfriend’s bedroom window, and all the other nifty data-crumbs that the world’s greatest democracy is harvesting in order to maximally coerce you. Note, they didn’t even bother to airbrush in the theoretical pedestrians but opted to show the street in its actual glorious entropic deadness.

And that in a nutshell is the problem I have with so much modernist architecture (or would this sort of thing be post-modernist? Hell, does it matter, since the last distinctive form that had any real appeal to regular people was Googie?): It often seems to be designed in a vacuum where the context of the surrounding structures don’t matter, and human beings don’t exist. The architects can describe their ivory-tower thematic concepts with as much poetry as they muster, but the truth is, if it’s not a place human beings actually feel comfortable being in and around, it’s not a good design. But superstar architects nevertheless have a way of convincing the community that their “visions” are important or even, yes, beautiful, and anyone who doesn’t agree is simply not educated in the field. It’s a real-life case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, in my opinion…

PS It’s not part of the passage I quoted, but Kunstler’s best phrase is when he describes the Cube as “a high-art monument to techno-necrophilia.” Love it!

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