From the story of the Cold War Roomba in Moscow to Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt suburban utopia: These were the long-ish stories you swore you'd finish later, but never found the time. Well, here's your second chance!
Over the course of six weeks during the height of the Cold War, almost three million Soviets visited an exhibition that celebrated America. American kitchens, American art, American cars, and most especially American capitalism. The American National Exhibition in Moscow was a full-court press to convince the Soviet people of American superiority.
It was supposed to be a showcase for how Americans of the 1950s were living and prospering. But like nearly everything American during this time, it was really about selling the future.
In 1970, George Lucas needed dozens of actors with shaved heads for his sci-fi dystopian movie THX 1138. He had trouble filling the roles at first, since so few actresses wanted to cut their locks, but Lucas eventually found the extras he needed in a strange utopian community where everyone worshipped sobriety and expressed solidarity by shaving their heads. It was called Synanon, and over the course of three decades it would become one of the weirdest and most vindictive cults of the 20th century.
Some French companies just banned employees from responding to work emails after work hours. A city in Sweden is trying out a 30-hour work week in earnest. But while the prospect of working less and enjoying more leisure time used to be the great futuristic promise of midcentury America, today it's little more than a punchline.
Funemployment, staycations; these words have crept into the national lexicon as a cultural coping mechanism. Americans who are actually lucky enough to have a job here in the early 21st century are working their asses off to keep them. So what happened to the push-button world of leisure that Americans of the 1950s and 60s were told was just around the corner? Politics.
In 1880 industrialist George Pullman set out to build a capitalist utopia. The town of Pullman was established just outside of Chicago as a model community—a place that was supposed to produce both happy workers and a nice return for Pullman's investors. It turned out to be a miserable failure. And conditions in the town were so terrible that it was the catalyst for one of America's most famous strikes: the Pullman Strike of 1894.
Sponsored content, native advertising, advertorials. Maybe better to call it what it is: media content, paid for by advertisers, produced to look like news. Whether you think it's ethical or not, we need to first acknowledge one important fact. The fight over this kind of advertising is about 150 years old.
Frank Lloyd Wright was arrogant, stubborn, and brilliant. But above all, he was a shrewd businessman who understood the importance of spectacle in keeping his business afloat. Wright put on many shows over the course of his lifetime, but arguably no performance was greater than his utopian plan to create the perfect community: Broadacre City.
Yesterday the folks over at Vox published an article arguing that generations should be defined by the technology they use, rather than by age. They included a graph that purported to show how American society is "adopting new technology more quickly than ever before." The graph is garbage. And here's why.
Paul Morantz knew Synanon would try to kill him. He just didn't know how or when.
You probably don't know the name Paul Morantz. That's a shame. And if you know about Morantz at all it's likely because of what was done to him rather than what he accomplished in his career as a cult-busting lawyer; in the autum of 1978, he was nearly killed when members of the Synanon cult placed a rattlesnake (with the rattle removed) in his mailbox.
The Food and Drug Administration announced today that it wants to regulate electronic cigarettes. This isn't surprising. But there's considerable debate about what those regulations should look like. If history is any guide, the life of your average vaper (vapist? vapethusiast?) is about to get a whole lot harder.
Every generation has its shiny new technology that's supposed to change education forever. In the 1920s it was radio books. In the 1930s it was television lectures. Here in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) is the education tech of tomorrow. Let's hope it pans out better than previous attempts.
Back in 2012 many Americans were horrified to learn that their ground beef contained "pink slime." It's in our burgers! They're feeding it to our kids! The public outcry led many retailers to drop the beef additive from its products. But today, pink slime is slowly making its way back into our cheeseburgers and tacos. And that's a good thing. Or, at the very least, it's not a thing worth freaking out over.
American architect Philip Johnson designed some of the most iconic buildings of the 20th century. Johnson, who died in 2005, has long been hailed as one of the greats. But there's one fact about the man that many people in the architecture community don't like to talk about: Johnson was a fascist who openly supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazis for nearly a decade.
Here in 21st century America, train travel isn't seen as very futuristic. But in the years after World War II, trains were right up there with airplanes as the coolest in luxurious transportation of tomorrow. And in 1947 Americans got a peek at what was promised to be their train-bound future.
You've probably heard the story by now: On Christmas Eve 1955, a young boy in Colorado Springs dialed a Sears-sponsored hotline that let kids talk with Santa Claus. But instead of reaching Santa, he was connected to the red phone at CONAD, the military command center charged with patrolling the skies for any nuclear missiles coming from the Soviet Union. The local newspaper had mistakenly printed the wrong number.
At first the man in charge in Colorado Springs, Colonel Harry Shoup, thought the child caller was a joke. But eventually he realized what had happened and played along in good spirits, telling his men to field calls all night from kids trying to reach Santa. And so a CONAD tradition (now kept alive by NORAD, known Santa-trackers) was born.
It's a cute story that pops up in the news every year. The only problem? It's not true.