Cultural stockpiling: mind food in pandemic lockdown
The openDemocracy team's recommendations for books, music, films and TV that will get you through the crisis.
There's a Twitter hashtag, #COVIDCelidh, which is an absolute delight. Loads of amazing musicians sharing Celtic tunes from their kitchens, gardens, living rooms etc etc. Was captivated last night, and it's somehow a much better portrayal of that culture than the normal concerts/TV shows that people away from the Highlands might usually see. Alastair Tibbitt
'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi
I think I am going to finally make time to read this book. It may be too dark in addition to the times but may be the companion one needs to process, and make some peace, with so much passing of life. I want to read it because I am fascinated by the end of life and how our minds navigate such a finality. The book is an autobiography of Kalanathi, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in the final year of his neurosurgery residency. He wrote a good amount of it during the time he was as a doctor turned terminal patient. I think his wife completed it after his death. Random House published it in 2016. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize and a few others. Lydia Namubiru
'The Man Who Hated Work – and Loved Labor', a biography of Tony Mazzochi
Mazzochi was a US labour activist who pioneered a coalition between environmentalists, scientists and union organisers in the 1960s and 1970s to campaign against workplace hazards in the nuclear, oil and chemical industries, where workers were regularly – and without their knowledge – exposed to hazardous conditions and substances. Mazzochi also pushed US unions against the Vietnam war, and the nuclear arms race, during a time when the AFL-CIO unions were playing "cold warriors" across the world. In his campaigning for UBI for people who work in hazardous industries, he was a rare example of someone who attempted to bridge the tense gap between environmentalists – who often seek to shut down refineries and extraction – and unions, which want to protect jobs. He later helped found the US Labor Party, believing in a third force outside of the Democratic establishment for working people in the country. Tom Rowley
'Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex' season 1
Set in futuristic Neo-Tokyo and probably one of my favourite bits of TV of all time. A hacker decides to take advantage of futuristic social media and mass adopted cybernetic implants and go on a one-man hunt to uncover a large-scale manufacturing-mired scandal based on finding a cure of a long-standing, debilitating disease. Uncovers a lot of things people have started to take for granted and makes you really think about the way people adopt new technologies without considering the ramifications (episodes 20-26).
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I've always thought 'Ghost in the Shell' has been a thought-provoking catalogue of how politics and technology intertwine. The 2017 film never did the concept justice. There's a fascinating episode in the second season where the automated AI-assisted robots have independently arrived at the idea of becoming self-aware. This entire episode is just a discussion about the nature of AI, its role as an assisted tool in human society, but also its potential Asimovian threats.
There's a lot of dialogue and a great soundtrack by one of my favourite composers, Yoko Kanno. Additionally the episodes are only 20 minutes, so the whole season is about 8.5 hours. It's also one of the first animes to really get comfortable with the idea of gender fluidity, as Major Kusanagi infamously says that she picked a woman's body upon becoming fully cybernetic because 'it's easier to move around in', which raises a question that is never fully answered throughout the entire series. Selwyn Sivagumar
This is a lush historical crime drama set in Berlin when it was 'dancing on the volcano' between the world wars. The most expensive German TV series of all time, on one level it follows Kommissar Gereon Rath and his partner Charlotte Ritter as they track down murderers, pornographers and other criminals in Berlin's underworld. At another level, it brings the social history of the time to life: monarchy vs. republic, communists vs. fascists, feminism vs. a male-dominated system, the rise of national socialism and the rubble of the first world war. It's a fascinating and beautiful show. In Britain you can stream it through Sky's Now TV system. You'll be glad you did. Cameron Thibos
'The Machine Stops' by E.M. Forster
In times of dystopia and confinement it is worth re-reading some classics instead of running to catch the latest novelty. Confinement brings the illusion of the availability of a lot of time ahead to read, but reality keeps coming back asking you to care about many little stupid things. In this situation, short novels are rewarding: beyond their quality, as you have the feeling of being productive when you finish one book after the other. My first recommendation under this logic is 'The Machine Stops' (12,300 words), from Edwardian author E.M. Forster, where a world of people confined underground and hardly allowed to travel outside and are totally controlled by a communication and messaging technology: an anticipation of the internet-controlled world of today. We are currently experiencing confinement in a relatively mitigated way, as via the internet many things are possible, including working harder than ever before. The dystopia will be total if The Machine (internet) starts decaying and then stops, as happens in Forster's story. That could be an upcoming catastrophe beyond COVID-19, and only people used to the analogue world could cope. A quickly read, inspiring and admonitory little book. Francesc Badia i Dalmases
'Inside the Nudge Unit: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference' by David Halpern
This might give some insight into how the British government is handling the situation. "Dr David Halpern, behavioural scientist and head of the government's Behavioural Insights Team, or Nudge Unit, invites you inside the unconventional, multi-million pound saving initiative that makes a big difference through influencing small, simple changes in our behaviour. Using the application of psychology to the challenges we face in the world today, the Nudge Unit is pushing us in the right direction. This is their story." Pete Speller
'Woman on the Edge of Time' by Marge Piercy
A 1970s feminist utopian novel. Really interesting ideas for organising social systems within ecological limits and a fantastic politics of mental health.
'The Dialectic of Sex' by Shumalith Firestone
Radical feminist text from 1970 advocating family abolition and cybernetic communism!
'Girl, Woman, Other' by Bernardine Evaristo
Won the Booker prize last year, great patchwork of stories about (mainly) women of colour living in Britain.
'The Joys of Motherhood' by Buchi Emecheta
Next on my list: haven't read it yet but it's meant to be amazing. Laura Basu
'Fall of Eagles'
I'm rewatching 'Fall of Eagles', a thirteen-part 1974 BBC series about the fall of the houses of Romanov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern. With Patrick Stewart as Lenin. Possibly best series ever made (IMO). And all free on YouTube. Peter Geoghegan
'The L Word'
It's pretty great. Oh, and obviously Buffy. Adam Ramsay
'The Show of Delights' from 'This American Life'
I first listened to this podcast episode in early February, when the idea of a global lockdown was unimaginable (at least for me) and then I listened to it again this weekend because I kept thinking about it, about how important it is to seek delight in our socially isolated lives at this moment. Both times I wept a little bit (and a little more now than in February). I dare anyone to go through Act Two without feeling their heart warm.
The episode was inspired by "The Book of Delights", written by Ross Gay, who spent a year writing daily essays about things that delighted him. I have just started reading the book and it feels like the perfect book to read right now. Carolina de Assis
'Our Mutual Friend' by Charles Dickens
I have arranged with a friend who also loves reading to read my favourite Dickens out loud on FaceTime. We have a few people who want to listen in and may take a turn at a chapter of ‘Our Mutual Friend’. It’s perfect because so various, and full of ups and downs, humour and tragedy and wonderful language to savour – and one of my favourite villain heroes ( I collect them), Eugene Wrayburn. And quite long. Rosemary Bechler
'The 100 Greatest Films of All Time'
I've set myself a challenge to try to watch all of the films featured on Sight and Sound's '100 Greatest Films of All Time' list. I'm watching one movie a night for two reasons: 1) I tend to watch repeats of 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians' in the evenings, and, dare I say it, it's getting boring now; and 2) I might pick up some obscure film knowledge and show it off in a future pub quiz. So far, so good. Jenna Corderoy
'Edge of Darkness'
I’m thinking of rewatching the 1985 'Edge of Darkness': protest, murder, conspiracy, corporate power and the end of the world, also family. A six-part series on the BBC, never been surpassed. Anthony Barnett
'The Three-Body Problem' by Liu Cixin
It's a hard science fiction novel that begins during the Cultural Revolution and follows the story of a Chinese scientist who accidentally makes contact with an advanced alien species on the brink of extinction, who subsequently prepare to colonize Earth with the support of an organised network of humans who intermediate contact through a computer game. It's the first Chinese science fiction book I've read – and one of the best I've ever read. Highly recommend. Laurie Macfarlane
Cory Doctorow and 'Devs'
For some eerily comparisons to today's world. I also just started watching 'Devs' and can highly recommend it. Inge Snip
'In the Days of the Comet' by H.G. Wells
In my young teens I was in love with space flight and astronomy and the thought of adventure, so I read all the Jules Verne and H.G. Wells I could. I even got as far as Wells' 'In the Days of the Comet'. An idealistic counterpart to his pessimistic class-war parable 'The Time Machine', it's not much talked about – perhaps because it gets stuck in the mire of science-fictional wish fulfilment. But it's worth a look just at the moment.
The plot begins with a love triangle stretched by class inequality, with one of Wells' typical lower-middle-class heroes jilted for a richer man. Cue bitterness and plans for violence. However, a global change is coming in the form of a comet on collision course with Earth. Unlike the rogue planet Melancholia in Lars Von Trier's film of that name, however, the comet's gases bring about a change in human consciousness, awakening a sense of beauty and generosity all over the world. Cue the end of war and hierarchies, world government, sexual liberation and the rule of rationality.
We're In the Days of the Virus now. Anyone think we're headed for a progressive paradise? Julian Richards
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