Friday links! Human endeavor edition
Ah, the human: so much more ambitious than the object, yet so much less reliable. It seems that wherever you look, human beings are trying various stuff. Be it opening a pickle jar or writing a play about an ambivalent Danish prince, people can’t get enough endeavoring. Does every endeavor succeed? Probably, is what I’m thinking, but let’s just run the numbers and make…okay, nope. It turns out history is littered with failed endeavors, be it opening a pickle jar or writing a comedy series about a handsome lawyer. Today is Friday, and you don’t know until you try. Won’t you hurtle down the ramp with me?
Let’s start with what I suspect is the best essay about the history of Egyptian political humor ever to appear in the New York Times. I kept assuming that I would stop reading Alaa al Aswany’s editorial at any moment, but he just kept hitting me with rad anecdotes. Did you know Napoleon outlawed jokes about himself after Egyptians wouldn’t stop making fun of his penis? Or that an Ottoman viceroy offered Yaqub Sanu money and a damn title to stop publishing his satirical newspaper? You probably knew that about the Yaqub Sanu thing, but it pleased me nonetheless.
For every written work that makes an aristocrat try to bribe you into silence, though, there are two Street Fighter movies. Polygon has published this long, fascinating look at what went wrong with director Stephen de Souza’s attempt to turn the hit arcade game into a feature film, which includes but is not limited to: Jean-Claude Van Damme’s cocaine/Kylie Minogue addiction, inadequate Thai electricity, and overpatronage of massage parlors by the male cast. Street Fighter: The Movie is regarded as a historic flop, which is weird because it recouped about four times its budget. It also holds the record for greatest drop between opening-night box office and ticket sales the next day.
Some endeavors make a ton of money but suck anyway. Others make no money at all and are great. I’ll leave my 19 year-old self to ponder the terrible injustice of that arrangement and instead direct you to Mary-Kay Wilmers, who is 75 and edits the London Review of Books. In its profile of the magazine and Wilmers, The Guardian has produced what I can only call a compelling portrait of a rascally old lady. I particularly enjoyed this quote:
Why do people feel compelled to agree with everybody? It would be quite nice if there was slightly less outrage about the same things all the time.
Wilmer’s is a truth-teller: we are constantly lining up on the same side of a controversy, and that does look an awful lot like agreement. Now who wants to read a 23,000-word essay about ghostwriting for Julian Assange?
There are easier ways to make money. For example, you could annex a short stretch of highway and deputize your whole town to issue speeding tickets. Hampton, Florida, population 477, issued over 12,000 speeding tickets between 2011 and 2012. The story includes people who are not police officers making arrests while driving around in uninsured cars and the aptly-named Hall family, which appears to have used city government as its own slush fund. Now the Florida legislature is threatening to disincorporate Hampton, just as soon as they make it legal to shoot a gay person from your home if you have a sincerely held religious belief.
It’s possible that last part is made up. But seriously, you guys, even pretty simple things are hard:
Those dudes blew it.