Torture in Virtual Reality, ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot,’ and More: Today’s Recommended Reading


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the Internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘Net are doing, too. Today we have an insightful look at the use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun, as well as an exploration into the possibilities of torture in virtual reality. We’ve also got a reported piece from Deadspin about the stars of classic metal short Heavy Metal Parking Lot, and, lastly, a piece that attempts to explain the thinking behind the Metropolitan Museum’s bid for modernity.

In 2015, the American Dialect Society declared the “singular they” the word of the year. That declaration has helped legitimize the use of “they” as the stand-in gender neutral pronoun. As one would expect, this usage is being argued against by those deeply entrenched in the segment of linguistics concerned not with correct usage but proper usage — based, usually, on outdated tradition. The New York Times has a wonderful essay that attempts to debunk this line of thinking. It makes an especially strong case by reminding us that “they” as an exclusively plural pronoun is relatively modern in its own right.

But central to the appeal of the singular “they” is that it’s often deployed unconsciously. It’s regularly repurposed as a linguistic crutch when an individual’s gender is unknown or irrelevant. You might use it to refer to a hypothetical person who, say, goes to the store and forgets “their” wallet. That casual usage has a long history — it has appeared in Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen and Shaw. It wasn’t until 1745, when the schoolmistress-turned-grammar-expert Ann Fisher proposed “he” as a universal pronoun for a person of unknown gender, that the use of “they” in the same circumstance was respun as grammatically incorrect.

You may not have heard of Heavy Metal Parking Lot – heck, I hadn’t until now — but it’s a sixteen-minute short film about the subculture of mullet-sporting metal heads who mostly only call parking lots home. Deadspin writer Dave McKenna took a deep dive into this world of oddballs and miscreants, catching up with them more than 20 years after the film was made.

There’s the cherub who just after announcing herself as 13 years old is shown making out with a self-described 20-year-old Air Force enlistee who’d bragged he was “Ready to rock!” while holding a can of Budweiser in one hand and the poor, underaged lass in the other. And the shirtless, 17-year-old central casting stoner who introduces himself as, “Graham, as in gram of dope!” At a time when much of the nation was embracing President Reagan’s “Just Say No!” puritanism, Graham of Dope tells the camera that drugs should be legalized.

The Oculus Rift has been made available to the public, making virtual reality a thing of the present rather than the future. This could lead to some very dangerous uses, as pointed out by Version‘s Jason Johnson, and we should be talking about them.

It stands to reason that some groups or rogue individuals would very much want to do harm. Military organizations, for instance, would be interested in how the sensory aspects of VR could be abused to screw around with interrogation subjects’ heads. Though the United Nations has prohibited any form of torture that causes severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, since 1987, the mental proviso is often ignored. There are often loopholes, and torture has become oriented around techniques that leave little physical evidence like scars.

As it stands, NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is the place tourists mostly go to see “art” art — that is, the classic stuff. If you want the weird, the abstract, the architectural, you usually head to MoMA. But, with the Met’s recent addition and renovation of what used to be the Whitney, that could all change. Ian Volner writes in The New Republic :

The move into the Met Breuer—renamed for its architect, Marcel Breuer, after the Whitney decamped for its new Renzo Piano–designed digs in the Meatpacking District—was arranged in part to accommodate a massive trove of modern art donated to the Met by cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder. The modernist ambition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has lagged behind the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim for much of the last century. The $1.1 billion Lauder gift instantly made the Met into a prime destination for twentieth-century paintings and sculpture—it includes 33 Picassos and a smattering of works from Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris.