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In high school, we swooned to boy bands and carried quarters so we could “arrive alive” after a teenage drinking binge. In middle school, we walked straight to airport gates to greet our grandparents as they tumbled off flights, rumpled in button-down shirts and pantyhose. And in elementary school, we read piles of books to earn personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and people told us we were special.

And we were special. As the high school graduating class of 1999, early on in our academic careers, administrators, teachers, and parents lauded us with the exclusive title of “last class of the century.”

Throughout our elementary, middle, and high school years, we got by on microwavable meals and believed our brains could look like fried eggs — any questions? — but we partied like it was 1999 anyway. On the brink of Y2K, my graduating class of 374 gathered on a warm evening in late May to fulfill our legacy. We were a large class crammed into a small gymnasium in West Central Wisconsin, our family members packed onto the bleachers after months of trading and haggling for coveted graduation tickets.

As one of 17 valedictorians in my class (yes, you read that right), I’d talked my way into what I considered to be the desired final speaking position. I wanted the proverbial final word—and it wasn’t about friendships or memories, thankfulness or nostalgia. What I had to offer was a simple piece of advice: “Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience . . . I will dispense this advice now.”

That’s right. The class of 1999 was also the recipient of the spoken word piece, “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” released by Baz Luhrmann in 1998 based off of music from the film Romeo + Juliet and an essay written by columnist Mary Schmich that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. Though Schmich’s essay (and Luhrmann’s original rendition of the song) addressed the class of 1997, it was the single released in 1999 with its salutation addressed to “ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99” that implanted in our minds after playing the song endlessly on our Discmans. More… “Trust Me on the Sunscreen”

JoAnna Haugen is a writer and editor working at the intersection of ethical travel, wildlife conservation, environmental preservation, community-based development, and cultural exchange. Her writing has been published in more than 60 print and online publications.

 

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Given how contentious (and often male-dominated) the debate about how society treats female agency has often become, it’s a very good thing that the Criterion Collection has just rereleased a scintillating French courtroom drama that lets the woman have the final word. The film is called La Vérité (“The Truth”), directed by the great Henri-George Clouzot (the auteur behind superb thrillers like Diabolique and The Wages of Fear) and starring none other than Brigitte Bardot in a tour-de-force performance.

The film was a huge hit and quite a success de scandale when it was first released in 1960, with the cinema-mad Parisian press going nuts over leaked accounts of its stars’ canoodling and the film’s tempestuous production. La Vérité’s storyline is far more captivating than even the tabloid presses’ wildest dreams; the picture it paints about the way a supposedly egalitarian society understands women as moral and physical beings is far more damning than a paparazzi’s surreptitious snapshot. The film’s crackling themes of sexual politics, female agency, and the public interrogation of a woman’s private life conducted almost entirely by men ring as painfully true today than it did when it was first released.  More… “Handling the Truth”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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This essay includes a quote from The Shining wherein a racist term is used to demonstrate a dramatic shift in the narrative. 

The Shining is the most exciting and complex narrative motion picture in existence. The Shining lives on. The very two words of the title uttered by human breath ooze warmth. The sibilance of the syllables attack because of the film’s iconography: Jack, the ax, the hotel, the Big Wheel, REDRUM, the blood pouring out of the elevator, the white bathroom door being broken down, climaxing in “Here’s Johnny!”, from the moving opening shot on the water in Glacier National Park to the last ghostly blue titles on black, THE END. In between is spectral subject matter, and like the other Kubrick films, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut, it touches something raw, something we often can’t help keep hidden—our fear of death. It isn’t timeless because its time will never come; it’s timeless because it will always be ahead of time. Yet Kubrick told Jack Nicholson, “In reality, this is an optimistic picture…in some way this movie is about ghosts…anything that says there’s anything after death is an optimistic story.” More… “Shining On”

Greg Gerke’s work has appeared in Tin House, Film Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, and other publications. See What I See, a book of essays, and, Especially the Bad Things, stories, will both published by Splice in the Autumn of 2019.

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And so the torch has been passed to a new generation, or so the story goes. This year, the last of the millennials and the first of Generation Z (or post-millennials or iGen or whatever name the culture decides on) are entering the workforce, and analysts, commentators, and critics are using this transition to reflect upon the changing landscape of work at the end of the second decade of the 21st-century. Many of these articles have made a large splash in the cultural conversation — Anne Helen Petersen’s “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” comes to mind — but the discussion has also made clear a certain cultural amnesia exists about these attitudes. Case in point: CBS News ran a story on Petersen’s piece accompanied by a graphic that completely omitted Generation X from its list of generations since 1928.

Such a gaffe from a major news organization may appear surprising; however, it becomes less of a shock when one considers that, for many, Gen-X is defined not by work but rather by its aversion to it. The culture even resurrected the word “slacker,” a term used in World War I to refer to draft dodgers, to characterize the so-called aimless, apathetic youth of the 1980s. However, one thing these recent examinations of work in America make clear is that the culture is paying a price for ignoring the work ethic of Generation X. Turns out Gen-Xers were not avoiding work at all but were attempting to change America’s conception of labor altogether. More… “Slacker’s Labor Day”

Mike Miley teaches Literature and Film Studies at Metairie Park Country Day School in Metairie, LA. He is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans and The American Film Institute. His writing has appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal, Film International, Moving Image Source, Music and the Moving Image, The New Orleans Review, and Scope.

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As every cinephile knows, we go to the movies for all kinds of reasons, but escapism is probably the most common. We gather in darkened rooms to see an enhanced version of life where the people onscreen are better-looking, wittier, braver, more dynamic, and generally livelier than we are in real life. Movies give us a sense of what our lives might be like if only we were different people. Love stories epitomize this idealization as no other genre does because while some people might fantasize about being a soldier, a detective, or an uncatchable criminal mastermind, I think the Blues Brothers had it right: at one time or another, everybody needs somebody to love.

This is where the typical love story tropes tend to build up our expectations only to end up letting us down. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, let’s be real — not everybody finds somebody in the end. Maybe this is why stories about love lost are a lot more relatable than those about love found. However many times you’ve seen Casablanca, you still hope against hope that this time Rick won’t let Ilsa get on that plane and fly off into the rain with her husband, Nazi resistance be damned. It might not have worked out for those two in the end, but at least they were together for a little while and besides, they’ll always have Paris. More… “A Brief Escape”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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Carrie Rickey is a feminist art and film critic, raised in Los Angeles before attending the University of California, San Diego. Rickey’s work history spans from writing art criticism for Artforum and Art in America, to being a columnist for the now-defunct Mademoiselle. She often contributes to publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Village Voice. Rickey has been featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, MSNBC, and CNN. She also teaches at various institutions, including Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College, where she recently taught a course called “Mars and Venus at the Movies.” The course offered a perspective to students regarding the differences between male and female directors and the products they create. In this course, Rickey mentioned an exchange she shared with the infamous Harvey Weinstein. Curious for some elaboration, I reached out to Rickey for an interview. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “The Mirror has Two Gazes”

Sana Vora is a fourth-year psychology major at Drexel University and a current writer for The Smart Set.

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As we all gear up for the 2020 Presidential race with candidates from the left volunteering themselves as tributes, we have also hit my favorite time of the year every year: Oscar season. This particular ceremony gets lumped into a lot of conversations about taste and value, which considering the show’s raison d’etre prove futile and often boring. An attempt in the 1930s to rebrand and reinvigorate Hollywood during the 1930s, The Oscars were born as a means to entice people back to the movies. The audience might not have been super interested in a film, but a prize winner or a prestige picture, might gain some interest. The awards were and continue to be a smoke screen.

But I love them. I loved them as a kid. Growing up overseas on military bases, they started late on Sunday night, too late for me to stay up on a school night. This lead to a lot of bemoaning on my part to my mother about the injustices of the world – of the Super Bowl being accessible (I can’t remember if it was live or not), but being unable to view the Awards as they happened. Some might call me an advocate and a hero, but I was just a deeply passionate fan of film. I didn’t know what The Crying Game was, but I wanted to be involved regardless. As I grew up and began actually watching more, I became even more obsessive. I screamed at the television when I thought the incorrect choice was made. I was overwhelmed when the person I wanted to win, won. It was as if we triumphed together. More… “‘Tis the (Oscar) Season”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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We started our “best of” practice in 2016, when it struck us that we were all pretty cool people who liked a lot of stuff. Most of our editorial meetings become exchanges of the movies, music, books, articles, podcasts, and tv shows we’re watching and loving. We have had informal office townhalls on Bob Dylan, Roxane Gay, and Beyoncé. We have created lists of the top female vocalists of the 20th century and debated the merits of authorship, discussed the role of fandoms, and every drama — no matter how great or how small — that have arisen in the past three years. The “Best of” post has become one of my most favorite rituals for The Smart Set. First, it allows us to reflect on all the material we’ve come across throughout the year and pluck those texts or people that really struck a chord. Second, it allows us to share that joy. We hope that you find below a few samesies from your personal lists and a couple of new things to binge.

  More… “BEST OF 2018”

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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In the movies, makeovers are the answer to everything. Before, she is identifiable only by her big, bulky glasses and untamable, frizzy hair. She has no fashion sense, no boy sense, no social sense. No one notices her, no one pays attention. No one cares.

Then, something happens. It doesn’t really matter what or how — someone notices her, she becomes a princess, or a part of a bet — it just matters that now, things are different. Now, she must change. So, with the help of a friend or a makeup team, she goes from ugly and unknown to pretty and popular. Someone forces a flat iron to her hair, foundation to her face, heels on her feet. In an hour and a half, two tops, the grand transformation has occurred.

Suddenly, she’s wanted. The mean girls want to be her friend and the popular boy asks her to the dance. She stands taller, speaks louder, sounds smarter, her clear skin and cleavage making her more confident. More… “The Banal and the Beautiful”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.

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Rafael Casal is a poet, rapper, producer, writer, and actor. Over the last ten years, he and his longtime friend and collaborator, Daveed Diggs, wrote, produced, and starred in their first film, Blindspotting. The story revolves around best friends Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) during the last three days of Collin’s probation. As the days progress, their friendship is strained by Oakland’s gentrification and the community’s perception of Collin after his conviction for a violent crime. Throughout the film, heightened verse is infused to showcase Oakland, the city’s natural facility for language, and Casal and Digg’s background in poetry and music. I had the opportunity to speak with Casal about comedy as a vehicle to tell stories about trauma, toxic masculinity, unconscious bias, and the stories missing from Hollywood’s mainstream. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “In Plain Sight”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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