50 Signs of Hope for Culture in 2016

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Everything is terrible. Or, at least, sometimes it feels that way — the presidential election has long since devolved into a bleakly comic farce, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the planet’s temperature continues its slow, inexorable rise. But! In amongst the gloom, there are signs of hope, and happily, many of them come from the world of culture. From highbrow to lowbrow, from literature to TV and music to video games, here are 50 cultural phenomena that give us hope that somehow, maybe, everything’s gonna be OK. — Tom Hawking, Deputy Editor

The continued evolution of Broad City

One of the many, many things that makes Broad City such a miracle of a show is how it seemed to come into the world fully formed, with a rock-solid sense of everything from its characters to the simultaneously insane and all-too-real version of New York City they inhabit. But it’s also managed to mature over time, and its third season has proved no exception thus far. There’s the coup of landing their biggest guest star yet, and more importantly, there’s the long-awaited moment when Jaime addresses the elephant in the room — namely, Ilana’s penchant for wearing “Latina” earrings even though she’s, er, very white — and Ilana reacts with earnest horror. If even the seemingly perfect show can find room for improvement, then so can we all. — Alison Herman, TV Editor

David Shankbone/Flickr

We finally understand the enormous impact of David Bowie’s life

For a lot of us, January 11, 2016 was the saddest day in recent memory (which is saying a lot, considering that American politics has hit a depressing new low just about every day this year). But after we shed our tears and clutched our copies of Blackstar and rethought our life choices and relived our most cherished moments of David Bowie’s career — together, in public — what we were left with was a measure of the immense impact he made in less than seven decades of life. Collaborators came forward to recount the magic of working with him. Artists of all kinds spoke about how his boldness gave them the courage to create. Everywhere you looked, someone was talking about how his mere existence kept them alive through difficult years. And the tributes still haven’t ceased. Though his appeal never felt as monolithic as the Beatles’ or the Rolling Stones’, Bowie was more people’s secret savior than even his most ardent admirers could have imagined. His death came too soon, long before his creative powers started to wane, but if nothing else, it revealed the depth and breadth of his contribution. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

ANOHNI’s Hopelessness

In a 2015 interview, ANOHNI told me, “People are used to relying on my voice as a comforting voice, and I think that I’ve been using my singing voice and increasingly the imagery around my work in more challenging ways in the last few years.” She certainly upheld that promise. “4 Degrees,” the first new track from her upcoming album Hopelessness, is a beautifully blaring announcement of a change in style from the singer’s decades of dark, sensual chamber cabaret. It’s a stampede of horns (characteristic of collaborator Hudson Mohawke’s production) and electronics. ANOHNI’s voice remains instantly recognizable, but “4 Degrees” uses the comfort its timbre for an especially uncomfortable love song: singing desirously of “dogs crying for water” and “fish go[ing] belly-up in the sea,” the song takes on the voice of the logical conclusion of anthropocentric carelessness. The album’s second single is a ballad called “Drone Bomb Me,” with ANOHNI singing to the symbols of destruction as one might a lover.

In Hopelessness, ANOHNI seems to imagine a world where there’s no vocabulary of beauty outside of destruction; where human desire is harm. Hopelessness may seem like a hopeless vision to put in this list about hope, but perhaps it’s hopeful that some artists are reaching a point where they’re willing to be uncompromising in order to wake people up. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther run

Black Panther is going to have a pretty great 2016. Fifty years after his first appearance in Fantastic Four, T’Challa, king of Wakanda, will get his first chance to shine in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War. More importantly (at least for book nerds), T’Challa will return to comics in an 11-part series written by The Atlantic columnist and MacArthur Genius Ta-Nehisi Coates. Like all forms of “pulp” fiction, superheroes can be a great vehicle for pop philosophy in the right hands. Coates, an avid comic fan since childhood, will hopefully bring a level of nuance and thematic sophistication that’s often sought after in comics, but increasingly distant, especially among the genre’s most popular characters. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice

Gender Is Over

It might have started as a throwaway line in a late-night conversation, but Brooklyn residents Marie McGwier and Nina Mashurova’s Gender Is Over project has taken off in a big way, developing into a fully fledged cottage industry of T-shirts, hoodies, and celebrity endorsements. It’s a lovely demonstration of how to expand an idea into something tangible and beautiful. More importantly, it’s created a community for people in environments that mightn’t be supportive of nonconforming gender identities, acted to normalize the notion that gender is a construct that could do with a good smashing, and generated funds for organizations that support trans and gender nonconforming people. And the vests are cool as fuck, even on a Flavorwire editor with rudimentary selfie skills. — TH

Karan Mahajan’s novelistic act of radical empathy, The Association of Small Bombs

Like Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, a great film that blindsides you early with death, Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs is designed, maybe perfectly, to thwart the given. It is also a novel about bombings that asks the reader to thwart his own sympathetic fury by way of an act of empathy — Mahjan’s, in writing the novel — unlike anything we’ve seen in recent fiction. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor

Frankie Cosmos. Photo by Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Democracy in music, via platforms

Despite their protestations to the contrary, the big three major music labels still make ungodly amounts of money, leveraging their massive catalogs into huge lump payments every month from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. And their distribution networks are still the fastest way to get your music heard by as many people as quickly as possible. But it’s also never been easier for an indie artist to build an audience on their own, as well as deliver and monetize that audience without signing odious contracts or giving up control of their master recordings. Platforms like Bandcamp and Big Cartel allow artists deliver physical releases and merchandise to their fans without building their own systems or using the majors’ networks like the Alternative Distribution Alliance. They can deliver downloads and streams while collecting the data withheld from them y companies like Apple, and use it to help identify and foster their audience, wherever it may be. And Bandcamp success stories such as Car Seat Headrest and Frankie Cosmos prove that they’re a great proving ground for the major indies to find their “next big thing.” — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

Seinfeld Current Day

Would there be hope without satire of absurdity and hopelessness? @Seinfeld2000 reifies our present political and cultural ridiculousness through a garbled version of the nostalgia machine. Whether it’s the media/social media frenzy over Kanye’s The Life of Pablo unveiling or Donald Trump’s success in the primaries, the @Seinfeld2000 Twitter account weaves it all into Dadaist statements about the desire for a return of Seinfeld (with amusing intricacies that escalate as time passes, such as the seeming usurpation of much of the content by enthusiasm for Bee Movie). The tweets don’t so much skewer their subjects as cast a bizarre light (and bizarre grammar) on both nostalgia fetishism and the oddness of the current day. Seinfeld Current Day is a free, sustained, updated-hourly art piece that’ll make you somewhat dizzied by both the past and the present; and the fact that the present has enabled sustained, updated-hourly art pieces that’ll make you feel somewhat dizzied about both the past and present is kinda hopeful, eh? — MH

Netflix’s The Characters

Like a lot of burgeoning TV powerhouses (see: Box Office, Home), Netflix partially got its start with cheap and easy-to-produce stand-up comedy specials and has built its reputation for cutting-edge comedy from there. This month, the streaming service premiered a genuinely new take on the comedy special: eight standalone episodes of sketch comedy from eight rising stars. The results vary widely, from Natasha Rothwell’s tightly structured segments to Paul W. Downs’ anarchic, partly live-at-UCB performance showcase to Kate Berlant’s standout art-world parody, presented as a single narrative. Cumulatively, they add up to both tremendous work from the comedians themselves and a fascinating experiment in how to lend the spotlight to talent that could use it. — AH

Diana Drumm, via Twitter

Female Film Critics Twitter

The Female Film Critics Twitter account appeared late last year and has become a proactive resource for women writers. But the account isn’t mere retweets. Posts focus on real-life issues, like a recent poll asking: “Do you consider a press badge enough payment for festival coverage?” And the account supported the recent BinderCon conference, “a non-profit devoted to advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers by connecting them with the skills, knowledge, and networking opportunities they need to get ahead.” Flavorwire spoke with film journalist behind Female Film Critics, Diana Drumm. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Flavorwire: Please introduce yourself and share why you’ve chosen to remain anonymous on the account.

Diana Drumm: I’m a freelance film writer, finding myself more “free” than “lance” these past few years. The account was born from continuing frustration with the comparative lack of women being published and promoted as well as the ongoing onslaught of gig-based misogyny and harassment based on gender. While looking to others’ writing for motivation, I realized there wasn’t a hub for women’s film writing and decided to register the Twitter account and Tumblr. The anonymity is so the account can focus more on the general purpose, rather than be restricted by a personal agenda. I write “anonymity,” but I have been open with who I am to anyone who’s asked.

How do you choose the writing you want to help support? How do you organize your daily Twitter output?

It’s mostly keeping a pulse on online cultural discourse, acting as an in-real-time, woman-friendly curator of Film Twitter. If there’s a festival or relevant live event, I retweet and pull-quote from people on the ground. Every so often, I’ll tweet out pull-quotes from reviews for the upcoming weekend releases, relying mostly on Rotten Tomatoes, Criticwire, Metacritic, and top women critics. Hootsuite is a godsend.

What’s your hope or goal for the Female Film Critics account?

My hope is that this account fosters more encouragement and empowerment for women film critics and writers. Being a film writer, entertainment journalist, and/or cultural critic puts you in a bizarre position; the juxtaposition of the inherent loneliness of writing and criticism within an industry that bludgeons you frequently with how replaceable you are. And as women, generally speaking, we don’t get invited to the beers with the guys, or if we do, we’ve had to push our way in and still remain the odd lady out. And if we open up about our experiences, our words are interpreted as “complaining” by male ears. In an ideal world, this account would be that extra nudge that, yes, what you do is worthwhile and you are valued, even as you have to fight for opportunities you’ve already earned and push for reasonable pay, and that writer’s block is the real bitch you have to knock down, not fellow journalists.

What are the disadvantages faced by younger female film critics?

Unless you were on the college-intern-to-staff track, it’s very tough to break your way through an editor’s slush pile. You have to pester and hustle, but not enough to be labeled troublesome or “too much.” It’s the same as most other industries, but the gender pay gap in film writing isn’t a woman getting 77 cents for every dollar a man’s paid as much as a woman just not getting a paycheck and men saying she should have fought more for it. Many up-and-coming writers wind up paying their dues with unpaid internships and underpaid work for far too long, hoping and working towards a steady paid position, and their work suffers for it until they eventually burn out and/or move on, with hate-filled comment culture regularly being a last straw. I want to be that safety net for passionate writers so they don’t transition from burning out to moving on.

How have women been reacting to what you’re doing?

Women have been very positive, and so have a few men. Most of the messages I get are forwarding links to their or other women’s work, and some are thanking the account for positive support and motivation. I did get a message from a prominent editor, who gave some great advice on transitioning the account from retweets to focusing on promoting particular pieces of writing. If I had my druthers (and a sustaining income), I would expand the account into a podcast (to discuss upcoming releases and topical film issues) and a Slack support group (for advice, questions, critiquing, etc.). If women can’t get a supportive network in our day-to-day work life, I hope that the Female Film Critics account can fill that void with celebration and conversation.

Hamilton and its Hamilstans

To be honest, I still find the constant quoting of the Hamilton soundtrack on social media rather irritating, even after having fallen in love with the soundtrack itself. Other complaints about the show itself: the tickets are too pricey, it’s a stretch to try to see absolutely everything through the lens of Alexander Hamilton’s rivalry with Aaron Burr, and I occasionally find Lin Manuel-Miranda and co.’s shtick to be so earnest my teeth hurt.

But Hamilton also gives me hope, because its fandom — unlike anything else I can think of, except for maybe Harry Potter — brings every aspect of my multifaceted universe together. Multicultural feminists, trend-spotting journalists, costume drama aficionados, musical theater geeks, hip-hop nerds, avid readers of founding father biographies… they’re all on board, and the only qualification that unites them is a certain degree of unabashed dorkiness (and yes, that includes America’s First Family). You can’t be too cool for school and enjoy Hamilton; it’s basically a fun history class made into art. But with other Broadway productions embracing both history and colorblind casting, Hamilton could be more than an anomaly; it could revitalize Broadway and offer us a new, honest, but upbeat way of looking at our own past. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

Suede finding a way to make getting older as romantic as being young

There was a time when the idea of a Suede reunion sounded worrisome, even to their biggest fans. Youthful loves and dreams and loneliness formed the emotional core of the band’s music, and it was difficult to imagine Brett Anderson returning to that well when it had all but run dry by the time Suede split in 2003. But an initial run of reunion shows at the beginning of this decade led to a good album, 2013’s Bloodsports, followed this January by a legitimately great one: Night Thoughts . Here, Anderson confronts marriage and fatherhood, alternating between plainspoken accounts of the universal frustrations of long-term relationships (“I Don’t Know How to Reach You,” “I Can’t Give Her What She Wants”) and soaring, romantic inflations of same. It’s these moments that connect Suede’s past with their present, in the terrifying codependence of “Tightrope” and the day-seizing violence of “Outsiders.” My favorite song on the album is the final one, “The Fur and the Feathers,” which locates both the beauty and the danger in adulthood: “And who knows what we’ll become/ As we brave the weather/ From the moment we are young/ The fur and the feathers, the fox and the geese/ The thrill of the chase.” If Brett Anderson can grow up, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us too. — Judy Berman

Sunjeev Sahota’s groundbreaking migrant novel: The Year of the Runaways

Shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize, Sahota’s novel about migrant workers in Sheffield makes its way to American bookshelves this month — during a primary season where the status of migrants is ridiculously under siege. Writing for the Guardian , Kamila Shamsie argues that Sahota “makes a nonsense of common assumptions about what it means to write a political novel,” which sounds apt in a moment of political nonsense. — JS

Kamala Khan (aka Ms. Marvel)

Comic books may be starting to feel same-y on screen, but there are still superhero stories that manage to keep things feeling fresh. In 2014, G. Willow Wilson reimagined Ms. Marvel as a goofy teenage Pakistani girl from in Jersey City. In 2016, she’s one of Marvel’s most original (and increasingly popular) characters. Whereas the vast majority of the Marvel stories, both on screen and on the page, seem intent on cannibalizing their characters’ histories with remixes, reboots, and universal cosmic-level conflicts, Khan’s world stands out because it’s still developing. Wilson has a penchant for all-female hero teams: in addition to Ms. Marvel, she writes the all-female Avengers book A-Force and was behind a short but excellent, all-female X-Men series. Fans’ continued love for Wilson and Khan will hopefully lead to more diversity in superhero storytelling, a trend that might even make its way to TV and film before too long. — ME

People paying attention to queer lit in 2016

It’s still too early to call, but the first three months of 2016 have been some of the greatest in recent history for queer books people are actually talking about. Now, that’s not to say that last year wasn’t a good year for books centering gay characters and themes — we see you, Hanya — but this year has been especially stellar, with the release of Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door, Tender by Belinda McKeon, Black Deutschland by Darrell Pinckney, and a ton more that I’m missing, I’m sure. (Also, let’s not cast aside Maggie Nelson’s recent NBCC win for The Argonauts, one of the most touching queer books in years.)

The simple fact that so many gay books have been recognized in 2016 might not seem worthy as any cause of “hope” for the world, but the fact that they’ve been heralded as pillars of 2016’s lit scene is massive, especially in the current climate of bookchat that often focuses on nothing but itself. Greenwell’s taut novel is especially emblematic of the power of gay narratives, as it’s still getting press months after publication, something that not even publications by old, white, straight titans like Franzen (RIP Purity) can claim. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

The new family sitcom

“Network TV in 2016” may not be the first place one looks for signs of hope in the culture, but some of the most exciting developments in television today are coming from its oldest institutions. From The Carmichael Show to Fresh Off the Boat to Black-ish, comedy writers are dusting off the tried-and-true family sitcom, keeping the chemistry and heart that’s made the form so beloved, and breathing in a decidedly contemporary sensibility. That means cast diversity; that means frank discussions of the immigrant and contemporary African-American experience; that even means ’90s hip-hop and Lord of the Rings references as touchstones of a new kind of coming-of-age story. It’s the combination of savvy engagement with the past and determined drive into the future that’s defined television’s current Golden Age, but applied to a very different format than the Difficult Man saga. — AH

Photo by Jörg Buttgereit

Horror cinema streaming platform Shudder.com

Horror cinema streaming platform Shudder has been a treat for enthusiasts seeking something more than the standard blockbuster fare, with equal attention paid to international movies and under-appreciated genres. The specially curated service doesn’t shy away from transgressive films either, like German director Jörg Buttgereit’s politically charged Nekromantik or Takashi Miike’s ultraviolent romance-gone-wrong tale Audition. The service is branching out to support the next generation of horror directors, too, with the founding of Shudder Labs. The program offers emerging filmmakers a week-long workshop retreat with master classes and the opportunity to study with a professional mentor for one year. — AN

Ilana Glazer’s Time-Traveling Bong

One of the many great things there just wasn’t room for in our write-up of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s SXSW panel was this: Ilana’s got a miniseries coming up on Comedy Central, and the premise is amazing. “It’s very political, right?” joked Jacobson, but oddly enough, it kind of is. Based on a series of shorts Glazer made before Broad City (the first is above), it is, per Glazer, “about these two mediocre, very average white people, these two cousins, who travel through time and only through time travel do they become above average. They learn a lot, and they see how anybody who’s not a white dude can time travel, and have a pleasant experience.” It premieres, unsurprisingly, on 4/20. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Cultural time travel back to the 1990s

Already this year we’ve seen Belinda McKeon’s precise, painful Tender, an Irish novel set mostly in the 1990s. Next we have Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire, which, with its narrative witchcraft, conjures up the ghost of the decade to full effect. If recent events have inflamed your sense of nostalgia, the novel’s got you covered. — JS

Grimes

Art Angels was one of the best albums of 2015, and Grimes’ personality had everything to do with it. Not because Grimes’ personality outshines her music, but because it’s essential to it. There is a tendency to diagnose her sound with some kind of psychiatric adjective — schizophrenic or manic — but to do so is to insult the fact that Claire Boucher does multifaceted better than most people do monotonous.

That Boucher is doing her great work in a way that embraces her femininity but also resonates, at times, more ferociously than the most “masculine” thing you might listen to today only exemplifies her talents. And trust, she has talents in spades, as she wrote and played every instrumental part on Art Angels. This would all be for nothing if it fell apart at the live show, but it doesn’t; a Grimes concert is like a fireworks show, even when it’s interrupted by technical difficulties. — SB

The woke teens who’ll save us all

Who gives us hope for the future, if not the children? From Amandla Stenberg to Rowan Blanchard to Zendaya to Kiernan Shipka, our model of teen stardom seems to have moved on from Bieber-esque misbehavior, or at least begun to offer an alternative path. All these child stars are negotiating their transition to adulthood with maturity, eloquence, and a savvy engagement with political issues, from Stenberg’s explanations of intersectional feminism to Shipka’s identification as a feminist to Blanchard’s casual admission on Twitter that she identifies as queer. The kids are all right, and they’re certainly way more well-spoken than we were at that age. — AH

The ultra-weird Smith siblings, contrived or otherwise

I’ve written before about why I feel people’s ire shouldn’t be directed at famous people who seem incapable of keeping their creative ambitions to just one medium, but with Jaden and Willow Smith, children of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, my defense isn’t entirely applicable.

With these two, who seem to fully delight in making their lives as #2016 #teen as possible, one has to simply admit that these kids are weird, and maybe a little derivative and not even that creative. They were also born into so, so much privilege, which is probably to blame for much of the criticism thrown their way. But why should we not celebrate Willow surprise-releasing a 15-track R&B sci-fi album that draws from all of indie’s trends and yet isn’t afraid to be completely unlistenable? And why shouldn’t we applaud Jaden Smith for giving zero shits about wearing dresses, or wearing a Batman costume in public? Would we rather have our rich, famous kids go to private school for rich, famous kids and proceed to do nothing but invest their parents’ money, buy art, and become TMZ celebrities? Where’s the fun in that? — SB

Music’s new political radicalism

Music has long been used for political messaging, its power to influence recognized and even feared by those in power. Pop music is no different; punk has railed against the status quo from its inception, and even the most mainstream artists have participated in music as protest. Generation X may have tuned out in favor of an escapist slacker aesthetic, but many contemporary musicians are no longer willing to opt out. In hip-hop, the biggest young star — Kendrick Lamar — presents powerful imagery of the country’s mass incarceration epidemic on music’s biggest stage. Punk bands like Downtown Boys are no longer content to just badmouth the government on record, choosing instead to put themselves on the front lines, organizing to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised in the most direct way possible. And for an artist like the Niger-born Bombino, messages of peace and compassion can be a radical act. The power and influence of music has never been more apparent. — MIR

Nathan For You

Nathan For You has proved that one of the funniest TV shows around can come directly from reality, when that reality is the fantastical world of competitive marketing, engendered by a system where small businesses have to fight (often by appearing on reality TV shows like the one Nathan For You pretends to be a part of) to stay alive. Rarely have you seen exercises as elaborate and futile as those proposed by Nathan Fielder to small businesses, as the comedian makes some of the best found art out of our corporation-favoring economy. — MH

Where to Invade Next

In the darkest hour of American current events, it’s strange but fortuitous timing that Michael Moore made his most optimistic, inspiring film in years. By going around the world and checking out everything that other countries do exceptionally well — from health clinics to reparations for genocide to school lunches — he provides a withering critique of the American status quo. And we need it. But Moore also focuses thematically on the dramatic changes that protests and an engaged citizenry can bring about, and the fact that many of the world’s best social and political ideas were born in the US, even if they didn’t stay here. It’s funny, broad and engaging — as Moore’s best work so often is — and it’s a timely antidote to Trumpism. — SS

The success of Stardew Valley

The concept of Stardew Valley, one of 2016’s most popular games, is not new. The indie farm sim, developed by a diehard fan of Harvest Moon, Eric Barone, is all about raising crops, cooking food, selling property, and managing one’s virtual life for an endless amount of time. And yet, the game has become a runaway success.

The game, which Barone created on his own time outside of his other work, has so far sold half a million copies on Steam, the gaming community and platform. Stardew found its success in ways similar to another lo-fi world-building venture, Minecraft: through word of mouth on social media, and also on Reddit, where the game’s community has more than 30,000 subscribers. In a year when games like the MMO shooter Tom Clancy’s The Division are making waves for their imbecilic programming decisions, the fact that a back-to-basics game like Stardew Valley can capture the hearts of so many people across the graphics-addicted Internet? Well, there’s hope in that. — SB

Colson Whitehead’s epic: The Underground Railroad

Arriving in September, in the interregnum between the primaries and the general election, is Colson Whitehead’s epic The Underground Railroad, arguably the most anticipated novel of year. It tells the story of Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation, and Caesar, who tells her of the Underground Railroad — which, in Whitehead’s hands, is “not a metaphor.” — JS

The Absolutely Fabulous movie, at last

We’ve waited decades for Patsy and Edina to make it to the silver screen, and at last, the long-rumored but never-delivered Absolutely Fabulous film is a real thing with a US release date! The date in question is July 1, and if anything, it’s kind of scary how relevant Jennifer Saunders’ greatest creation remains in 2016; Ab Fab completely predicted how the intersection of consumerism and baby boomer hippiedom would give rise to the capitalist wellness complex, which is basically everywhere these days, in the form of everything from $700 yoga mats to this asshole. (And the Lululemon murder.) Namaste, sweetie darling. — TH

The political reinvention of true crime: Ken Corbett’s A Murder Over a Girl

Published earlier this month, Ken Corbett’s true crime story about the murder of 15-year-old Larry King — a brown boy, who had recently begun to identify as Leticia — transforms the genre with its psychological depth and urgency. One can only hope that future examples of the genre likewise value empathy over entertainment value. — JS

No Man’s Sky

Sometimes you just need to get away. In our efficiency-driven, always-online culture, we rarely get a moment to feel untethered, to be ourselves outside of the context of our daily lives. No Man’s Sky, a new video game coming to PS4 and PC this June, offers players that freedom, in the form of a whole new universe to explore. Players begin the game on a planet at the edge of the universe with one vague directive; get to the “center.” Their path, and it how long it takes them to take it, will be entirely up to them.

All of No Man’s Sky‘s players will occupy the same universe, and the game will require an Internet connection. However, unlike most games, which try to make connecting with others as easy as possible, developer Hello Games claims that No Man’s Sky’s sheer size — there will be thousands of planets to explore, set many minutes apart from each other — will make interacting with other players a rare and novel occurrence. While “hangout” games with worlds that revolve around crafting or exploration, rather than sharing a narrative, have been out there for a long time, especially on the PC, No Man’s Sky — by virtue of its size, scope, and, frankly, the marketing put behind it — seems to have the potential to kickstart a new pop-culture moment for interactive non-linear narratives. — ME

Lush reunited

From shoegaze to Britpop, Lush got mixed up in just about every ’90s British rock trend — but their charismatic performances and clever lyrics (see, especially: “Ladykillers”) always put them miles ahead of the various bandwagon jumpers. Having broken up in 1998, Miki Berenyi and co. announced their reunion last year; next month, they’ll embark on a tour of the US and Europe and release an EP of new music, Blind Spot. The first single, “Out of Control,” is a fluffy down comforter of dream-pop, with a chorus befitting Lush’s name. — Judy Berman

The women behind @MarsCuriosity

Who needs human space explorers to enchant the public? The all-female team behind NASA’s @MarsCuriosity Twitter account has given the roving robot a sly personality (and a female gender!) that’s drawn more than 2.2 million followers — three years after its landing, when the thrill should have long since worn off. The women tweet as Curiosity in the first person, and couch hard science in the language of social media: “Can’t wait to share science results from Namib Dune; but first, let me take a #selfie.” The mission’s Social Media Manager, Veronica McGregor, told Forbes, “The feed reflects how the team talks to each other, as well as the hopes and dreams of people here at JPL. We want people to realize that science is fun.” Mission accomplished. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor

John Oliver’s real fake news power slams

When news first came that John Oliver was going out on his own — for a weekly show — I wasn’t too thrilled. He was great on The Daily Show and even better on Community, and I wanted as much John Oliver as I could get. And so, for the first year (or more!) of Oliver’s show, I didn’t get any John Oliver at all — I ignored the show. But, for the past few months, that’s been all but impossible.

The easy way to explain Oliver’s sudden relevance is the nearing presidential election, but he waited for months to even touch Trump, and his take on the awful specifics of America’s voting districts and the absurd laws working to slowly eliminate abortion clinics are the real showstoppers.The strength of Oliver’s British perspective is that, even after acquiring citizenship, he’s still an outsider, and so the fact that he wasn’t raised in America’s political climate, and the fact that he cares about the country enough to formally become a citizen, makes his observations all the more biting.

And also, on an entirely selfish level, it’s nice to see clips from TV shows going viral without having to rely on the games of Jimmy Fallon or the Carpool Karaoke of James Corden. So, John Oliver is one of culture’s saviors not only for what he gives us, but also what he saves us from. — SB

Beyoncé’s “Formation”

It’s easy to be skeptical of the confluence of political pop and personal branding, but sometimes a work is so potent, unflinching, and well made that skepticism is moot. Beyoncé’s “Formation” is a resounding statement of black Southern American culture, positioning it as a powerful ideological shield against systemic adversity and white supremacy. The fact that it caused an excited uproar of #BlackGirlMagic across social media while also simultaneously confusing and even upsetting some white people proves what a vital, important song it is, and how much we’re in need of more immensely popular stars that give centrality to non-white experiences. — MH

Ryan Murphy is finally making a great show about race and gender

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson sounded like a good idea to exactly no one. A drama revisiting a relatively recent trial that divided America along racial lines and helped invent our current celebrity-industrial complex, created by the guy who couldn’t even make a show about a boarding school for witches without sticking his foot in the outrage machine? But, perhaps by limiting his involvement in his new true crime series’ writing, Ryan Murphy ended up making a case for his continued existence as one of TV’s most prolific voices. The People vs. O.J. Simpson gives us an unvarnished, anti-nostalgic view of the mid-’90s and everything that era wrought, with enough distance to see all the ambient sexism, institutionalized racism, and opportunistic media-whoring more clearly than we did at the time. The Marcia Clark revisionism, in particular, has been a welcome addition to the historical record. — Judy Berman

Lady Gaga’s Oscars performance

It was pretty amazing that Lady Gaga brought dozens of sexual assault survivors on stage with her at the Oscars, where she sang the song “Til It Happens to You” from campus sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground . The vocal performance was overwhelming, but the message of the song remained powerful, a genuine moment in a typically Hollywood night. But what struck me was the lack of backlash. Joe Biden himself introduced the song, the Academy applauded, and no one beyond the usual naysayers tried to undermine the moment. The concepts of consent and rape culture have reached a new level of mainstream awareness; they’re literally a cause célèbre. The question now is how this broader awareness will affect policy, from sex education to campus and criminal prosecution of rape. — SS

Kapwani Kiwanga

Paris-based artist Kapwani Kiwanga has a background as an anthropologist and social scientist, a role she occupies in her work — including her ongoing Afrofuturism project called Afrogalactica, which started in 2011. She was the 2016 Commissioned Artist for the recent Armory Show, where she created an on-site installation, The Secretary’s Suite. The interactive work explored the economics and politics of gift-giving. “When I visited the UN recently, I was struck by the interesting gifts that had been given by different countries as commemorations of some kind,” she told Artsy. “I got to thinking about how gifts are given, why they’re given, and particularly how gifts are and have been used to create political, social, and economic ties between people and communities across time.” Her global perspective, which includes the oft-neglected African diaspora and uses positions of power to undermine authority (as an anthropologist from the future in Afrogalactica, for example), feels incredibly vital and exciting. — AN

The best web series around getting the platform it deserves

I’ve been freaking out about High Maintenance, occasionally in public, for years. Sometime later this year, however, I’ll have the occasion to do so again: the web series turned kinda-sorta-actual series, via a collaboration with premium video site Vimeo, is now a full-blown television series, with six half-hour episodes forthcoming on no less prestigious a platform than HBO. It’s basically the dream scenario of two creators, husband-and-wife team Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, making something great on a shoestring — specifically, a show about a Brooklyn weed dealer and his various clients — and being given the money they need to make something even greater. I can’t freaking wait. — AH

Perfume Genius’ odd brilliance on Twitter

Perfume Genius hasn’t released an album since 2014’s career-making Too Bright, but that doesn’t mean Mike Hadreas hasn’t been entertaining me ever since. His Twitter account is one of the best on all of the Internet, not only because it’s so purely hilarious, but also because it is so out of line with the subtlety he’s cultivated through song.

His Twitter feed is not so subtle, but it’s not on-the-nose, either. It’s a type of humor that’s hard to pin down, tapping in to the oddball sensibilities of the Internet 2.0, but also into the sub-genre of Weird Twitter, and also Gay Twitter, and also Weird Gay Twitter. Understanding Hadreas’ most popular tweets means spending too much time outside of the mainstream feeds of publications and superstars, which is why a biweekly trip down the rabbit hole of his page has served as some kind of cyber medicine since discovering his 140-character brilliance a year ago. I’ve come to realize that, as I share select tweets with friends and colleagues, they prove most effective when you’ve become aware of the general vibe of his feed. It really is a world unto itself, consistent and self-governing.

Some highlights:

— SB

Rewire

Women’s content and content about abortion have been dominant online for the better part of the decade, growing even as reproductive rights shrink. This week, the site once known as RH Reality Check (full disclosure, I wrote for them in the ’00s) has rebranded as Rewire, but it remains devoted to reproductive rights and health, covering a full spectrum of issues, from parenting to healthcare to abortion. “Reproductive rights” don’t happen in a vacuum, but are connected to issues like police brutality, parental leave, diaper banks, and housing discrimination. Rewire’s existence as a publication devoted to all these subjects helps push the narrative around abortion forward into more nuanced territory. With other new websites like The Establishment and Fusion, and podcasts like “What Would a Feminist Do?,” abortion is becoming more and more part of the public conversation. — SS

The A-Block of The Nightly Show

Trevor Noah’s doing his best, but the most essential voice in nightly comedy is clearly, by leaps and bounds, his lead-out Larry Wilmore. His panels are still uneven, and he turns too much of the show over to his less-than-stellar contributors, but the first chunk of each Nightly Show – his stand-up and sit-down rundown of the day’s news, controversies, and bullshit – has become a vital, necessary piece of nightly satire, befuddlement, and anger. If we’re really going to do this thing where Donald Trump is an actual party leader and presidential candidate, we’re gonna need Wilmore’s voice more than ever. — Jason Bailey

MTV News

Pre-Internet, the news of the world was filtered through iconic voices; think the Walter Winchells, the Edward R. Murrows, the Peter Jenningses of the world. For music and culture fans of a certain age, those voices were on MTV — in addition to being the faces of the main platform for music on television, Kurt Loder, John Norris, Tabitha Soren, and company were often tasked with walking the youth of today through the major political and cultural events of our time. MTV as a network has long evolved into something else entirely, but the news and commentary part of its storied past is making a comeback with a renewed investment from Viacom in MTV News, hiring preeminent news and culture writers, and staffing up on the broadcast side as well. Time will tell if they are able to recapture the influence the brand once wielded, but at this point, anything is better than more Teen Mom. — MIR

Sophia Al-Maria

Beretta is not only the story of a mute, repressed woman pushed to extremes by her environment, but it is the story of a people, raped and degraded by their government, culminating in revolt,” artist Sophia Al-Maria writes of her film, set in contemporary Egypt and inspired by Abel Ferrara’s cult movie Ms .45. Her video Evil Eye, created from footage shot for Beretta, is “a North African take on the ‘teen witch’ film genre.” The Qatari-American artist makes work through the lens of “Gulf Futurism,” inspired in part by her observations growing up in the Persian Gulf during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Her 2012 coming-of-age memoir The Girl Who Fell to Earth takes a deeper look at bi-cultural conflict/identities and 21st-century Arab life. This year, Al-Maria will have her first solo museum show at the Whitney. — AN

Postcapitalist literature

The failings of late capitalism have been well documented in recent years, but a common response to those documents has been something along the lines of, “Well, what’s the alternative?” Happily, 2016 has seen the publication of some fascinating books aimed at answering that very question, most notably Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Shout out in particular to Verso Books and The Baffler for being hives for this vital thinking, and to our own Jonathon Sturgeon for being all over coverage for it. — TH

Wikipedia Commons

Virtual reality

With the launch of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive virtual reality headsets this spring, we’re on the cusp of what could be a new entertainment medium. Though its success is far from guaranteed, anyone who’s had the pleasure of spending time in virtual reality can tell you it is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. While the platform will only be available to small number of highly motivated patrons at first — between the cost of the headsets themselves and a computer powerful enough make them work, you’ll most likely need to spend more than $1,000 to have VR at home — the potential for new experiences across film, TV, and gaming will only grow as the platform becomes affordable and disseminates into the public consciousness. For the first time in a long while, there is a clear course to uncharted water on culture’s horizon. — ME

An exciting year in genre-play

Genre films — superhero movies, fantasy, action, horror — make a lot of money and are prone to sequels, and for those reasons, more of them tend to get made than, say, character dramas. But within the climate of redundancy, we’re seeing a some movies reach weird, stunning heights by actually ascribing to genre when you might expect them to do the opposite. In both The Witch and 10 Cloverfield Lane — the first low-budget, the second mid-range — we don’t know what type of film we’re watching until very close to the end. And even then, there’s still the question of whether certain twists (or anti-twists) are enough to determine the whole film’s genre. — MH

Twitch outgrows gaming

A lot of the Internet is, frankly, pretty boring — but if you dig a little deeper, try a little harder, and can keep an open mind, you’ll find that there are still people trying to find new ways of sharing themselves and creating new ideas in the process. Take, for example, video game live-streaming service Twitch. Since November, the service — which allows players to broadcast themselves their gaming sessions online — has opened new “creative” and “food” channels, which allow artists and cooks to broadcast their own art and cooking shows, respectively. No matter how boring and same-y things start to feel, there is one unequivocal truth on the Internet; there will always be a “next thing.” Increasingly, however, those new things are coming and going without ever making it to “public” social channels. — ME

Aliza Ma

Flavorwire spoke with Aliza Ma, Head Programmer at Manhattan’s newest cinema, Metrograph, and former Assistant Film Curator for the Museum of the Moving Image, about the theater’s exciting opening series, the importance of preservation, and connecting with the community. — AN

Flavorwire: Metrograph’s opening repertoire is a cinephile’s dream. It’s becoming harder and harder to obtain prints these days. How difficult is it to secure these films? What’s the reality of gathering so many incredible, offbeat titles?

Aliza Ma: With the increased rarity of 35mm prints, booking films takes on an archaeological significance. You have to reverse-engineer the lifespan of a film from the current rights holders or the last place that showed it. It can be a long, arduous, and sometimes fun process to track down the best print of a film, but this is the most important aspect of what we do as programmers. (Thank goodness for archives and collectors for their vital work in preserving and restoring films from around the world!) Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française said that the best way to preserve a film is to show it, and that statement seems to be as pertinent as ever now.

The audiences are reacting positively to our efforts to show these rare prints too. It’s heartening to see a completely sold-out theater for films that are accessible on other platforms, like Singin’in the Rain or Vertigo, because we are showing them on gorgeous archival IB technicolor prints. We have also instituted a program called Old & Improved, which showcases new preservation and restoration prints (all celluloid in this first calendar!), and we will be getting involved in making new prints and helping with film restorations from around the world as well.

What’s the typical demographic of your audience versus your ideal audience? How are you trying to reconcile the two? What kind of outreach are you doing?

My ideal audience? Someone who loves films as much as I do. Astonishingly, it seems to match the audiences we’ve been getting at the cinema thus far. They are excited, curious, and respectful, of diverse backgrounds and wide-ranging ages. People like to stay in the space and talk about what they’ve seen, which makes me very happy.

You’re working with folks like the Subway Cinema/New York Asian Film Festival crew for the April kung fu fest. And you’ve already shown The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter. Is there going to be a concentrated effort to show Asian films?

New York City, and specifically this neighborhood, used to have lots of cinemas serving its very mixed demographic. We are located right across the street from the defunct Chinatown single-screen movie palace, the Jersey Loews. I was born in Beijing, where my whole family still lives, and where my grandmother worked as a cinema manager. On our opening day, between screenings of Taxi Driver and The Purple Rose of Cairo, we had Chinatown lion dancers in the lobby, blessing the cinema, and everyone got such a kick out of it. I would say that programming Asian films at Metrograph is a natural response to being in this neighborhood, trying to evoke the spirit of filmgoing that used to exist here, and using a very personal approach to programming.

Metrograph is asking audiences to trust the brand even if they aren’t familiar with the films — and your A to Z series is a bold way to introduce some eclectic picks. You’re essentially introducing your brand. Within the canon of filmmakers like Ken Russell and Robert Bresson, these are some fairly inessential films [not considered canonical favorites]. So how does a new cinema house get audiences to see something like The Cassandra Cat, a Czech New Wave movie that many people haven’t heard of?

I wouldn’t call Bresson inessential! There are so many lists around us all the time. Metrograph A-Z is a kind of anti-list. It’s a very idiosyncratic grouping of films that are — for whatever reason — never far from our minds. The only structuring principle is the alphabetical ordering, and our decision to limit ourselves to one film per filmmaker. The result is indeed a very eclectic list of films that we’re very proud of, because it really speaks to our personalities and passions. There are so many places that already show the newest 4K restoration of canonical classics (The Third Man, Hiroshima mon amour) fairly regularly, and we really want the programming here to complicate the established terrain of repertory programming in a way that prompts audiences to respond with discussions and questions.

Maria Bamford’s upcoming Netflix show

Maria Bamford, a prototypical comedian’s comedian whose vocal range and slyly pointed takes on mental illness have earned her the cult following to end all cult followings, is finally getting her own series, thanks to Arrested Development mastermind Mitch Hurwitz’s development deal with Netflix. Called Lady Dynamite, it debuts in May, and I can honestly say I have no idea what to expect other than brilliance. — AH

Bears in pop culture

When I first heard of Viceland’s plan to investigate the “gay bear culture” of Provincetown, Massachusetts — which really exists only for one hairy, drunk week — I was afraid that Balls Deep (that’s the name of the show) correspondent Thomas Morton would fill his allotted time with dimly lit, poorly soundtracked orgies, possibly featuring one (or several) of my friends in compromising situations. Happily, it wasn’t that.

Bear culture, like gay culture (and, well, plain old culture in general), is vast and multitudinous, as bear poet Walt Whitman might have pointed out. Now, Vice certainly isn’t the American mainstream (yet), but to see these half-naked, usually sedentary bodies represented so well in a mini doc was certainly heartening. Throw in the bears in The Outs, the awful bear in the awful 2 Broke Girls, the Mean Girls bear in Looking, Ilana’s not-quite-a-bear (but maybe a cub?) brother in Broad City — the bears keep coming. That I can’t be sure I’m even aware of all of the gay characters who defy the flamboyant stereotype is testament to culture’s embrace of all of the colors of the gay rainbow. — SB