Arts + Letters

Funny And/Or Die: When Did Being a Mocking Wiseass Become Life-Threatening?

Danger is part of the territory for war correspondents. From the U.S. Civil War on, anyone who covered conflict knew that they could be shot just as dead (or, more recently, beheaded) as the grunt walking point on patrol. But now it’s not just the dashing combat reporter at risk—it’s the editor, the receptionist, and as this week’s killings at the offices of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo also chillingly demonstrate, it can be the cartoonists.

Getting a Front Row Seat at Occupy the Farm: The Movie

Todd Darling’s documentary has continued to gather buzz and bookings since its blockbuster Berkeley debut last year. And now it’s rolling back into the Bay Area as part of am extended series of screenings. See it at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater on March 31, or check the schedule for a showing near you.

Love, Life and Baseball: A Filmmaker Follows Little Leaguers from Oakland to Havana

There are men of vision, and there are men of vision about men of vision. This is a story about both kinds of men, and about a movie, and about kids, and baseball.

If Hollywood were to make a movie about the movie, the opening scene would be in a blue-collar bar in Berkeley, two men having a beer. One of the men is Eugene Corr. He is wearing a hipster beret and workingman’s clothes. Gene looks what he is, a documentary filmmaker who graduated from Cal back in the days of ideals and dreams.

From the Winter 2014 Gender Assumptions issue of California.

Lord of Lores: Papers of Famed Folklorist Alan Dundes Open to the Public

What do a light bulb joke, your great aunt’s cold remedy, and a poem scribbled on the door of a bathroom stall have in common? If you know the answer, you may have taken a class from the late UC Berkeley professor Alan Dundes. Each of these, Dundes would have said, is an example of folklore—a category of knowledge that many people associate with the legends, old-wives tales and superstitions passed along by preliterate societies in the times of yore.

The Book of Proverb: In a New Autobiography, the ‘Last of the Biblical Tackles’ Tells All

To say Proverb Jacobs has written his memoirs is a little like saying that Herman Melville wrote a story about a whale.

That’s not to exaggerate the literary accomplishment, only to say that when it comes to sheer bulk, Jacobs’s humbly titled, self-published Autobiography of an Unknown Football Player makes even Moby-Dick look like small-fry. The former Oakland Raider’s opus runs to nearly 1,600 pages in two volumes, including notes and index. Stacked one atop the other, they’re nearly as thick as a pint glass is tall.

From the Winter 2014 Gender Assumptions issue of California.

Is Santa Real? Comedy Writer Earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy’s Eye-Opening Conclusion

When it comes to the existence of Santa Claus, it’s tough to find reliable sources. A quick Google search will lead you to theories ranging from Santa being a commercialized hoax used to sell Coca-Cola, to Santa being a shaman stoned on psychedelic mushrooms. These explanations, mixed in with the usual Illuminati and CIA conspiracies, aren’t of much help when your kids get to that pesky age where skepticism becomes as cool as Ugg boots and Legos. Wait, those are still cool, right?

Singing It Right Out Loud: How Protest Songs Have Propelled Progressive Politics

Name a progressive cause from the 20th century, and odds are it reverberated to the soundtrack of protest music.

Singing together “helps unify people and bring people together with a common message,” says Terry Garthwaite, who sang at protests on the UC Berkeley campus during the Free Speech Movement and went on to found the pioneering Berkeley rock band Joy of Cooking in 1967. “I think the Free Speech Movement benefited greatly from the musical legacy of the civil rights movement, which of course was still going strong.”

Comic Outrage—The Real Saga of the Afghan Interpreter John Oliver Hailed on HBO

Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, John Oliver has made a career of deconstructing the news into its absurdist bits and serving it back up as a steaming hash liberally sauced with irony and outrage. Plus, because his Sunday show, “Last Week Tonight,” is broadcast on HBO, he gets to say the “F word” a lot.

Bearing Witness: Filmmaker Tells Story of Diverse Nazi Victims Branded by “Triangles”

The horrors of the Holocaust have inspired countless films, but award-winning documentary filmmaker Ann Meredith thought she had something unique to offer. She wanted to tell not just the stories of the millions of Jews who were killed, but also those of the lesser-known victims of the Nazi death camps, including Gypsies, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

The resulting documentary “Triangles: Witnesses of the Holocaust” is scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles next month.

Graphic Novels Are Comics for Grown-Ups

First off, let’s admit it: Comic books are fun. And that may explain America’s resistance to comics as a “serious” art form. Our national temper includes a Puritanical thread that looks askance at anything that might be fun.

The Story of Ten Couples Who Fought Costa Rica’s Ban on in Vitro Fertilization

Andrea, a Costa Rican mother, stands in court before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., testifying against her country’s ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF). Sitting across the courtroom is Martha Garza, a U.S. anti-abortion doctor, arguing for protection of the embryos’ rights. The year is 2008, eight years after Costa Rica became the first country to ban IVF, and the ten couples who have sued their government for violating their right to have a family, have not lost strength or hope.

Germany’s Beating Heart: Berlin’s Turbulent Past Gives Rise to Exuberant Culture

“Berlin ist eine Reise wert”—Berlin is worth a trip. That tepid marketing blurb from the 1950s was meant to lure reluctant tourists to the divided city still recovering from the devastation of World War II. No such encouragement is needed today. Twenty-five years after the destruction of the infamous Berlin Wall, tourism is a leading industry in Germany’s booming capital. Last year alone, more than 11 million people visited.

From the Fall 2014 Radicals issue of California.

The Thing Is—Who Knows? It’s a Periodical Package and a Total Mystery

Here’s the thing about The Thing: It is almost impossible to define. It’s a periodical, but unlike any magazine you’ve seen before. It’s a piece of art, but it’s nothing you’re going to hang on your wall. It’s a functional object, but possibly one you’ll be reluctant to ever use. Subscribe to The Thing Quarterly, and you’ll receive a plain brown-paper package four times a year, the contents of which will be a mystery until you open it.

From the Fall 2014 Radicals issue of California.

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