July 2018: Thinks, Reads and Sees
Think About This: The Roots of our Cultural Road Rage
We live in a rhetorically polarized time. Regardless of political bent, we can likely all agree that the language framing our debates has become increasingly heated and intense. Let’s take a step back and connect the dots between workplace shifts engendered by Silicon Valley and our rhetoric. People now work in cubicles and open offices, are called ‘resources’ — a word we’re accustomed to using around inanimate coal, oil and gas — and employee reviews are adjusted during ‘calibration sessions.’ Dehumanizing environments and language lead to a gradual dehumanization and fungibility of the individuals themselves, engendering irritation – even anger — and decreasing empathy, all of which means that when feelings are finally expressed, they spew forth with greater intensity.
The only cause? Absolutely not, but rarely does anything have an only cause. Why bring it up? Because sometimes looking at a broader cultural canvas illuminates an issue in an important way that wouldn’t emerge through primary research alone. We think connecting disparate dots matters – sometimes there are tweaks, fixes, shifts that can mitigate a broader problem.
Picture a slovenly but incredibly sly and competent Albert Finney as the boss of a motley crew of washed out MI5 personnel and you have the premise for Mick Herron’s witty take on espionage. The usual tropes are brilliantly present – tension, deception, action and of course, political struggles within the halls of power – but they are punctuated with such droll wit that this writer laughed out loud alone in her hotel room and immediately shot off an email to the author. The Oxford educated Herron responded with charm and my only regret is that I left said volume in my hotel room to lighten my travel load, meaning I can’t return to that line. Start at the beginning with Slow Horses.
Read This: Shortform: The Long Layover
We all have different feelings about long airport layovers. For some they’re an excuse to leave the airport, using every available minute in a race against the clock to see as much of the city as possible before it’s time to clear security yet again. For others – self included — long layovers are a kind of suspended animation (think 7th Inning Stretch for those baseball fans among us). The chance to wander in a familiar yet unfamiliar world without tether or accountability, ambling in and out of shops and overpriced restaurants with a sense of feeing in between one place and the next. No matter which type you are, Sasha Chapin captures the latter beautifully in her NYT column.
Watch This: Longform: The Secret City on Netflix
We watch political dramas with a set of reflexive expectations premised on our view of the global power structure and how our country fits in the hierarchy. Rarely do we encounter the conundrum of a liberal democracy caught between two global superpowers – in this case the US and China — and the attendant struggle to balance competing interests. The Secret City, set in Australia, reminds us that not all countries share our perspective. It’s a taut, engaging and fascinating look at how a country, vulnerable to geo-political strongarming, struggles to maintain independence and sovereignty.
Watch This: Shortform: W1A on Netflix
Why on earth, you ask, is a three season series listed under shortform? Well, simply because all it takes is an episode or two to grasp the premise and fun while the storyline itself is, to be honest, slim. But for anyone who has sat in one too many branding meetings, who has seen a corporate vision jump the shark, or encountered a mission statement that could apply equally to peanut butter or washing machines – sit back with a glass of wine and laugh heartily. Lord Grantham (Hugh Downing) stars as the bicycle folding new ‘Head of Values’ for the BBC and his attempts to maneuver amongst his over the top colleagues are the perfect antidote to that time when you thought you’d explode if you had to sit through one more meeting. And if you find yourself watching all three seasons I won’t judge.
This Issue’s Overlooked City: Brussels
We do qual so we travel. A lot. We often find ourselves in cities off the tourist radar, but try to get to know each and every one of them, and find something to love just about everywhere we go. More often than not, that leads to the realization that these are great places, just a bit overlooked. Today’s city: Brussels, Belgium.
Brussels gets a bad rap. Given a choice, most people head to Paris, Amsterdam, or even Bruges, rather than this charming, manageable city. Thinking it’s a place for EU bureaucrats with little else to offer means you miss out on. . . well, the obvious chocolate: Neuhaus, so exotic in the states, is more like See’s candy in Brussels – ubiquitous with shops everywhere and some exclusive varieties that don’t travel stateside. You’d be wise to compare it to the myriad other chocolate shops that never cross the Atlantic and then walk it off with an aimless stroll. The Belgian aesthetic is on full display as you wander down from Avenue Louise through the gorgeously picturesque Sablon and down to the Grand Place. It’s a city that makes flaneuring easy, and if you go in December or January you have the added bonus of sublime seasonal lights and decorations.