Culture Crash 17-22: Stephen King’s Mastery of Storytelling

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture, what’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

On the dedication page before the novel It, Stephen King writes, “Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.”

Horror has never been my thing, so growing up, I generally avoided Stephen King books. The extent of my knowledge of king was watching the Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Sure, and I love those movies but I thought they were the exception and that the rest of his catalogue was cheap thrills, monsters, and gore. But there’s a reason he’s one of the best-selling authors ever, and it’s not just chance.

Several years ago, I was finally brought fully into the world of Stephen King by my girlfriend and, more specifically, her father. Ignoring my distrust of horror media, I dipped my toes into the King library. I read Carrie and Salem’s Lot, then, I dove all the way in – Night Shift, It, The Stand, on and on.

Here’s what I discovered. First: there’s more to King than black cats and stormy nights. 11/22/63, The Green Mile, Joyland, Different Seasons, and many more of his works manage to be page-turning reads without being horror.

Even when he is writing horror, King writes deeply realized characters who we really care about. Yeah, he creates terrifying universes – in Christine, an evil car controls a high schooler, in The Shining, a hotel transforms a father into a monster, and in It, a clown hunts down children.

But when you get past the fantasy, you can see that they’re really parables: of addiction, of losing your innocence, and growing up and moving on. They’re scary, but they’re relatable. King writes about things we’ve all experienced. He just externalizes them as the boogeyman. It’s fiction. But like he said, fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Stephen King allows us to feel with his characters, get inside their heads, and understand what they’re thinking.

800-some pages into It, King writes: “maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends- maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for.”

It’s passages like that where King really shines.

And that’s not so scary, right?

The magic exists.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 17-21: Rap with a Message

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture, what’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Suicide and depression are hard topics for anyone to discuss. But the rapper Logic recently wrote a song about it called 1-800-273-8255. The unconventional title is for a good reason. That’s the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Logic recently explained the genesis behind writing a suicide prevention anthem to the lyrics analysis site, He says he was inspired by conversations he’s had with his fans.

The song, which features Alessia Cara and Khalid, is a single off of Logic’s album titled, Everybody, and has a structure designed to confront suicide and depression as frankly as possible.

In the first verse, Logic raps the thoughts of someone who has called the lifeline with suicidal thinking . In the second, he speaks from the point of view of the lifeline worker explaining some of the reasons why suicide is not the answer, and at the end, he returns to the caller, suddenly with a new perspective on life and no longer in crisis.

The song is raw and emotional and, Logic hopes, it could help save some listener’s lives.

1-800-273-8255 is on Spotify and Apple Music. Logic’s album Everybody is available now.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 to anyone considering suicide at 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-TALK.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 17-20: Aziz Ansari Has a Lot to Say in “Master of None”

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture, what’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

This weekend, you may have noticed a Netflix banner for the new season of Master of None. The show was created by, and stars, comedian Aziz Ansari and made a big splash in the fall of 2015 when it first debuted.

Ansari, a veteran of the NBC hit Parks and Recreation, created the show with friend and Parks writer Alan Yang. Master of None follows the life of an Indian-American actor named Dev, played by Ansari, and his life in New York City.

We watch as Dev and his friends date, travel, and visit food trucks around the city. Like Seinfeld or Louie, the show embraces the slice-of-life approach. But unlike Seinfeld, Master of None abandons the idea of being about nothing.

Most episodes of Master are self-contained but they deal with personal and political issues that we have all faced at one time or another. The second episode of the show is called Parents and the audience watches as the relationships between characters and their parents are put under the microscope. We see the sacrifice parents make for their kids, especially immigrant parents, and how easy it is for younger generations to dismiss that sacrifice.

Similar statements are made in later episodes about respecting the elderly, the mistreatment of women online, and a particularly powerfully episode titled, Indians on TV shows just how comfortable American media is with stereotypes and whitewashing minorities, especially when it comes to depicting Indian culture.

Master of None is just one of many shows Netflix is advertising. The banners and promos may well quickly fade when Frank Underwood makes his return in the latest season of House of Cards later this month.

But Master of None is worth seeking out. Each episode will make you laugh and give you food for thought about how we treat each other and what we all take for granted.

Seasons one and two of Master of None are now streaming on Netflix.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 17-19: Radio Dramas Get an Update in Gimlet Media’s “Homecoming”

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Welcome to Culture Crash, a segment where we examine literature, film and entertainment to explore issues and trends affecting the country. It’s pretty clear that nostalgia media is “in” right now – last year, Jungle Book was remade, this year we got a new King Kong and I’m pretty sure they’re making new Star Wars films from now until the sun burns out. But Homecoming, a recent podcast from Gimlet Media, harkens back to an age before any of those. It recalls a time when the family would gather around, not to watch TV, but to listen to radio dramas like The Shadow or the famous Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast.

Homecoming is an original thriller told exclusively with sound. You know when someone’s getting in their car from the jangling of keys, you can tell a character is outside from the sounds of traffic. And if the format sounds like a bit of a throwback, the show itself is very contemporary. It’s set in the modern world of psychology and features soldiers struggling with PTSD. Homecoming is written by author Eli Horowitz and has attracted big-name vocal talent like Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer. To get a feel for the show, take a listen to this clip from the first episode where Catherine Keener’s character Heidi is being questioned…

Homecoming isn’t some self-indulgent regression into radio past, it’s helping pave the way for a new future of podcasting. Until recently, podcasts have taken mainly two forms – they’ve been either talk shows like This American Life or The Bill Simmons Podcast or they’ve been explorations of non-fiction topics, like Serial or Hardcore History with Dan Carlin. Homecoming joins the more uncommon realm of fiction podcasts. While it’s not the first of it’s kind, other shows like, Limetown, The Truth, and Issa Rae’s Fruit have done it before, Homecoming may be the first to use such notable actors, so it’s attracted more attention than its fiction-pod predecessors.

The series is being developed for television by Sam Esmail, who wrote the TV show Mr. Robot, but there’s something magical and entirely worth your time about its audio-only origins. Season one is out now and can be heard on iTunes and Soundcloud. For a link to Homecoming’s site, along with more information and links to the other shows mentioned in this piece, visit I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 17-18: The Impact of “Hamilton: An American Musical”

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Welcome to Culture Crash, a new segment where we examine literature, film and entertainment to explore issues and trends affecting the country.

This week, we look at the musical people can’t stop talking about: Hamilton: An American Musical.

Hamilton the brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, has won numerous awards including a Tony for Best Musical and a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of forefather Alexander Hamilton, Miranda and his collaborators sought to make this essential American history lesson more accessible to modern audiences.

The infectious music pulls from a variety of styles, most notably rap and hip-hop, but it also includes ballads and several pop-rock songs reminiscent of the British Invasion. The anachronistic music succeeds at bringing the history of the late 1700s and early 1800s into the twenty-first century.

Even more significant Hamilton makes history accessible to everyone through ground-breaking non-traditional casting. The show features African Americans and Latinos portraying the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and our unlikely narrator, Aaron Burr.

But make no mistake, in addition to being a trailblazer, Hamilton teaches real history. Songs document the tactics involved in winning the Battle of Yorktown, the neck-and-neck election of 1800, and the famed duel between a sitting vice president and the man on our ten dollar bills.

After U.S. history teachers lauded the production for being classroom-ready, the producers have hosted several free matinees for high schools in New York City and Chicago, with plans to unveil similar programs in other cities across America. Hamilton is now running on Broadway and in Chicago, and a touring production opened in San Francisco last month.

If you can’t find a ticket are interested in the history the full soundtrack for Hamilton, all two hours and twenty-two minutes of it, is available for purchase or can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music. I’m Evan Rook.