In the wake of the political upheaval of 2016, cultural critics predicted that the Trump presidency would, for all of its inevitable calamities, bring about a golden age for political art. They were wrong. Instead of a flowering of genius works of protest art, the past two years have brought a deluge of half-assed attempts at political commentary. We’ve seen enough faux-woke pop songs, prestige TV plots based around “Fake News”, and Oscar-bait that pontificates on “American Culture” over the last couple of years that even the biggest news junkie must be sick of art that tries to be topical — to be important.
I often find myself in the company of utopians. The most common on campus are the social-justice types: history’s on our side, folks, and it’s coming to an end… It’s progressive Stanford, proud home of the pseudo-Hegelian, and while Hegel has no place in the histories they’ll write, they will follow him, misinterpreted, to the end of time. Naturally, this being Silicon Valley, you also meet the transhumanists—true believers not just in our world’s perfectibility, but in the perfectibility of the body, mind, and soul (in a purely scientific sense, of course). Then, near and dear to my heart, we have our communists and communistically-inclined, pinning their hopes on the distant Revolution and a new world order. There are many more such groups at Stanford, but you get the main idea: I’m surrounded by lovely, well-meaning Teleologists. And they’re from all over the ideological map.
Fall quarter presents students with a dazzling array of courses in the humanities and social sciences (and even STEM). Your trusty friends at the Sphere have come up with ten of the most appealing classes on offer, from transnational sexualities to the European scramble for Africa, and inequality in the ancient world. We at the Sphere wish you a fantastic new academic year.
Eight years ago, the link aggregator Digg caused an uproar: content would be ordered based on user activity. Today, we take that for granted. In 2010, it spelled the end of Digg. A commenter with the handle blue_beetle lamented, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” Simplistic, sure, but it got the point across: we had entered an age in which entire business models could rest on the idea of collecting your information—not something we should necessarily be comfortable with. Fast forward eight years, and the blue_beetle’s comment is as relevant as ever. We have come to accept data as the basis for every online transaction, a condition as obvious as it is easy to forget.
Every Google search leaves you on the losing end of a simple, painless transaction. Unless you’re the tape-over-the-webcam type, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about your place in the twenty-first century barter economy, but the billionaire playboy who runs your search engine isn’t the President of a charity. In exchange for your quiet acquiescence, you get access to the largest store of knowledge in human history: fully searchable, at a price unknown, under the all-seeing eyes of Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
When the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had harvested and shared the private Facebook data of over 50 million Americans to support Trump’s 2016 campaign, the proverbial shit hit the fan. Shrill headlines decrying ‘The Data that Turned the World Upside Down’ raced throughout the social media giant’s own networks, and the public erupted in fury. To make matters worse, this shocking news came on the back of a seemingly continuous stream of tech related scandals – from privacy concerns to Russian bots – over the past year.
A group of Asian Americans are filing a lawsuit against Harvard, claiming the university discriminated against Asian American applicants. The plaintiffs allege that Harvard set racial quotas, forcing Asian Americans to score higher than other racial groups to be considered equally competitive. Many are not sympathetic to the Asian American plaintiffs. Some think that they are simply disillusioned to think that they deserved better. Others think that they are being used to make a case against affirmative action.
Certain ticket reservations for the Stanford College Republicans’ recently announced event with controversial conservative group Turning Point USA have been deleted and cancelled, with the cancelled reservations possibly having been targeted in a manner in violation of SAL event policy.
The most shocking thing about Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth film in the all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), is that it is, for the most part, coherent. For the bulk of its two-and-a-half hour runtime, Infinity War operates as if it’s just another movie — one with clearly sketched characters, some of whom have arcs of their very own, and a plot that builds to a climax befitting the movie’s overwrought title. This may sound like damning with faint praise, but just clearing that low bar of coherency is something to celebrate. Considering the vast amounts of capital (of both the narrative and literal kinds) invested over the past decade into the MCU by its owners at Disney, it was always more likely that Infinity War was going to be a mediocre, focus-grouped-to-death product that muddled through its contractually-obligated crossovers with all the joy of negotiating a corporate merger.
I have a weakness for protest art. I’m one of the few remaining fans of Phil Ochs, arguably one of the greatest protest singers of all time. Sixty years ago, he had a friendly rivalry with Bob Dylan. To our generation, he’s virtually unknown.