Tweets get more press, Youtube clips boast a better market cap, blog rants have nostalgia working in their favor — but is there any mode of expression more suited to the web than the before-and-after photo? TakeTwo, a new iPhone app, allows aficionados of the form to use their “before” photos as visual overlays when composing their follow-ups — thus ensuring close matches of perspective and other pictorial variables in shots that may end up being taken months or years apart.

 

It’s a useful tool, but the truth is the before-and-after photo has been ready for the current era of ruthlessly short attention spans and hyper-efficient communication strategies for well over 100 years now. In an 1897 edition of the Denver Medical Times, a contributor notes how well the “before and after photographs” in… More…

Long live the clowns. Long live the clowns and the jugglers and fire-eaters and dancers. Long live the trapeze artists and acrobats and magicians. Long live all the live performers who entertain us on the stage and street. It seems they are all going to die.

 

A eulogy is sad celebration, but who among us can say that we were surprised when Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., author of 2011 Career Plan, 200 Best Jobs for Introverts, 250 Best-Paying Jobs, 150 Best Jobs for a Better World, Best Jobs for the 21st Century, et al., recently announced that “stage performer” is a dying profession in America. We were not surprised. We’ve been living in an increasingly automated world for more than a century now. We’ve grown to expect, without much resistance, that modernity will continue to turn… More…

Harry Houdini’s escape trunk stands in the Jewish Museum like a coffin. “Embedded in Houdini’s ventures were competing ambitions,” says the wall text in the museum’s new “Houdini: Art and Magic” exhibition, “he simultaneously courted mortality and the triumph of life.” There’s a lot of metaphor in a trunk: adventure, travel, excitement, secrets. Houdini turned his trunk into a symbol of resurrection. Houdini’s audiences couldn’t know what tricks went on inside that trunk after he had allowed himself to be locked in and the curtain was closed. But some part of them believed that when Harry Houdini burst free, undefeated and smiling, he had shaken hands with the Grim Reaper and spat in his eye. Harry Houdini met death and came back to tell the tale.

I’d like to dedicate this very special Valentine’s song to my mother, he tells the audience. Her favorite composer is Frederic Chopin. I’d like to play this, he says, for all the mothers here, and all the mothers tuned in at home.

 

He’s dressed as a man should be dressed on Valentine’s Day, if the man is playing piano for his mother, and is Liberace: red bow tie, red vest and slacks, black jacket studded with rhinestones, ruffled shirt. Behind him, the signature candelabra on the piano, a prop idea he got from an old movie about Chopin. He takes a seat at the piano, and in his liquid way, draws a melody up out of the keys. He begins with Chopin as promised, but it’s no jumpy polonaise, no mincing waltz. Liberace starts with “Étude Op. 10,… More…

Tom Bissell is a David Foster Wallace man. I mean that specifically. DFW’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again contains “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” In that essay, Wallace wrote these momentous sentences:

Most scholars and critics who write about U.S. popular culture … seem both to take TV seriously and to suffer real pain over what they see. There’s this well-known critical litany about television’s vapidity, shallowness, and irrealism. The litany is often far cruder and triter than what the critics complain about, which I think is why most younger viewers find pro criticism of television far less interesting than pro television itself.

It would be difficult to overestimate the relief this sentence brought to many critics under the age of 40. It signaled that we had definitively turned the page on an era in which you had to go through the motions… More…