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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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Michael Andreasen’s first book, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, is one part Twilight Zone, a hint of Twin Peaks, with a dash of Booshian surrealism. Anchoring his short stories is one of my favorite sensibilities in film and literature: the extraordinary in the ordinary, whether that is making the banal fantastic or normalcy perverse. Below, Andreasen, graciously addresses some of the questions I had about Sea Beast, gearing up for his first book, and his inspiration.

More… “Sailing with Michael Andreasen”

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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When I was growing up in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, bad television was a redundancy. Think about what we had: The Beverly Hillbillies, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Petticoat Junction, Get Smart, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (even if Robert Vaughan did have a PhD). My parents, first generation intellectual snobs, were very down on television. I can remember my father looking up from his I.F. Stone’s Weekly and directing my sister and me, blissfully engrossed in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., to “shut that damn thing off!” More… “Bad Television”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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Book-ended by two heavy-hitting true crime series, The Jinx and Making a Murderer, 2015 (and ’16) saw a lot of journalists grappling with the draw of these programs and true crime as a genre. These documentaries were cinematic, following those accused of crimes but with hazy details that either led to them being imprisoned possibly wrongly (Steven Avery) or free (Robert Durst). There is an ambiguity with these real-life narratives that allows filmmakers to create engaging documentaries that grapple with inconsistencies, problematic ideologies, and injustices. Both series quickly became rulers for filmmakers as more highbrow-aesthetic true crime films are showing up on Netflix and HBO. More… “TV Departed”

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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When the stubborn, stabbing nerve pain in her abdomen wakes her in the middle of the night and she can no longer endure it, my 15-year-old daughter quietly calls to me and we descend the stairs together and curl up on the couch, under cover of darkness, and seek out the quiet reassurance of a sure and steady friend: home shopping television.

Home shopping is the best 2 a.m., lull-you-back-to-sleep TV I know. There’s no dramatic music, no cliffhangers, nothing to get you hooked. In fact, they pretty much say the same thing over and over and over again. Talk about staying on message. And even when it doesn’t soothe you back to slumber right away, there is something oddly comforting about it. The hosts are so happy. They’re self-satisfied, but somehow inviting, with their facile stream of conversation punctuated by nearly incessant, yet strangely not unpleasant, laughter. What I wouldn’t do for an ounce of their easy, self-assured chatter at a cocktail party or a school function. More… “Home Shopping Network”

Nina Uziel-Miller is a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband and two daughters.

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My dissertation was about women’s authorship and sitcoms. Authorship is a key word here. It wasn’t about “writers,” but about those who left their marks on the text, their control over character, storylines through aspects of performance and utilizing their star power — for most of my case studies (30 Rock, Girls, and United States of Tara) the examination did focus on writing, but what I found while returning to the archives was the thread of women’s narratives that dealt with writing without words. Lucille Ball never wrote for I Love Lucy nor was she the head of Desilu, but as Madelyn Pugh Davis, one of the show’s writers, notes in her memoir Laughing with Lucy, Ball exerted authorship through performance and her refusal/approval to perform certain scenes. Amy Poehler wrote a handful of Parks and Recreation episodes, but her iconic status in improvisation as a founding member of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and successful sketch career at SNL brought her a certain level of authority to the series, a sentiment continually asserted in interviews with the cast and crew. Mary Tyler Moore is also part of this legacy of women’s negotiation and “writing.” She wasn’t a writer but owned her performances. She owned her brand and in doing so provided opportunities for writers to develop their own. Mary Tyler Moore owned Mary Richards, who helped women figure out their place in feminism’s upheaval of roles and norms. More… “Left Wanting Moore”

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 asked our staff to pick their favorite contributions to popular culture that we encountered in 2016. From books, to movies, to a YouTube concert video, we enjoyed a lot of beauty and truth in a year unlikely to be remembered for either. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen famously sang in “Anthem.” Embodying this year, Cohen triumphantly released the gorgeous album You Want it Darker shortly before his voice was suddenly silenced by his passing in November. A less-quoted lyric of Anthem is Cohen’s instruction “Ring the bells that still can ring.” Here is what chimed for us this year. More… “Best of 2016”

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

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Netflix’s newest series, Stranger Things, premiered July 15, and it has swiftly become one the most talked about shows of the summer. Each major media outlet has published their own think pieces, quizzes like “Which Stranger Things Character Are You?” have circulated, and Winona Ryder (who stars in the series) has made her comeback as a magazine cover girl.

There aren’t spoilers in this essay. Or shouldn’t be, unless you consider the lack of information an incredible spoiler (and I hate these type of concessions, because plot is secondary to the creation of character, formation of relationship between audience and narrative, and the feelings depicted and attached to the narrative). The only spoiler I’m going to provide happens by episode three, when teenager Barb goes missing, pulled by a monster into a pool and through to the “other side.” Despite being a minor character, I became infatuated with Barb.

More… “We Got to Talk about Barb”

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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The history of modern art is strewn with the wreckage of obscenity charges. At the beginning of the 20th century, a work of literature with sexual content might initially be deemed obscene but eventually embraced for its esthetic and social importance. James Joyce’s Ulysses and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover are notable examples. They opposed Victorian standards of propriety, but after passage through the courts and critical opinion, emerged as high art.

In the realm of cinematic representation, obscenity was initially an industry-wide concern. The Motion Picture Production Code was developed in the 1930s under the assumption that movies, as mass entertainment, needed to be monitored to protect public morality. Strict enforcement began to wane in the 1960s, and the Code was replaced by a more indulgent film rating system. Nonetheless, certain films struggled to maintain their integrity in the face of a dreaded X rating. Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris refused to amend its subject-matter to avoid such a rating, which reduced its box office profits. In time, however, it emerged as a film classic.

Television, too, began by monitoring its sexual content until the advent of cable TV did away with most forms of censorship. On premium channels at least, sex and art are now permitted to consort.
More… “Pay to Play”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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People — women in particular — have been making themselves up for centuries, often despite fear of public derision and threats to personal health. Makeup has been used as art and artifice, for subjugation and empowerment. Read about how it has changed through the years and how it looks today, as seen in the mirror of The Good Wife. (Open Letters Monthly, The Smart Set)

Blood may be thicker than water, but alcohol is stronger than both. Read about the truth and cliché of vodka in Russia and the hangover left by Prohibition in the United States. (Gastronomica, The Smart Set)

What do you do when you know you’re losing your mind? Read about a journalist who knows Alzheimer’s inside and out and a young, forgetful woman trying to ward it off. (Nautilus, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

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