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The Contrarian

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Staffer Ryan Smith says goodbye to the Reader

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 05:15 PM

Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign.

Shortly after Sun-Times Media bought the Reader, CEO Edwin Eisendrath admitted he didn't really know what an "alternative" publication in Chicago had to offer these days. Alternative to what?

In some ways, he had a point. Alt-weeklies have increasingly become a victim of their own success. The countercultural beat of weed, LGBTQ pride, edgy theater, and punk music that once set the alternative press apart have increasingly become permanently etched into mainstream urban life. The entrenched power structures that used to vehemently oppose the rights of gays—Republicans, the police, and the military—now regularly march at Pride parades. Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker wants Illinoisians to be able to smoke weed for fun. Riot Fest, punk rock's annual nostalgia fest, doesn't inspire anything resembling a riot.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Why the Wndr Museum isn't a ‘selfie factory’: a defense of the pop-art pop-up

Posted By on 10.02.18 at 06:00 AM

Photographer Elizabeth De La Piedra in one of the "infinity rooms" - ISA GIALLORENZO
  • Isa Giallorenzo
  • Photographer Elizabeth De La Piedra in one of the "infinity rooms"

This summer brought us a new, Instagram-friendly kind of gallery/"museum": the "pop-art pop-up," you could call it, a traveling cluster of interactive installations with lots of eye candy—and lots of selfie and Instagram possibilities—designed to be easily enjoyed by any kind of audience, art-world outsiders and children included. The first to blow in, Happy Place, arrived in May, "a new traveling circus—the Instagram trap," the Reader's Ryan Smith called it (a slideshow by Reader photo editor Jamie Ramsay is here). The "experience" 29Rooms, promoted by the media company Refinery 29, made its appearance in July. Now there's a third, more ambitious pop-up: the Wndr Museum.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Everyone's a sucker at a new kind of traveling circus—the Instagram trap

Posted By on 07.30.18 at 06:00 AM

Orange Is the New Black star Dascha Polanco at Refinery 29's 29Rooms - JEFF SHEAR/GETTY IMAGES
  • Jeff Shear/Getty Images
  • Orange Is the New Black star Dascha Polanco at Refinery 29's 29Rooms

Look closely and you could see exhaustion etched on the smiling faces of those frolicking inside a bubblelike room advertised as the World's Largest Indoor Confetti Dome.

It was a sweltering July afternoon, and there was no hint of air-conditioning in this warehouse along a quiet stretch of Elston that was temporarily housing the pop-up exhibition Happy Place. That didn't stop a college-age couple from taking turns tossing bucketfuls of colorful shreds of paper in the air. A nearby attendant hit a button and hot oxygen blew out of holes in the floor, swirling the confetti all around them.

The visual effect was striking: it was as if they were figures encased in a real-life human snow globe. That's probably why the pair were so eager to snap photos of each other. The tall, thin blond boy didn't even hesitate to put his iPhone back into his pocket during confetti gathering, using it instead as a makeshift scoop so he could keep recording every conceivable moment. And then suddenly the air stopped flowing, the confetti fell to the floor, and the pair walked wordlessly to the next room.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Seriously, Chicago—you don't have to watch this royal wedding crap

Posted By on 05.16.18 at 05:44 PM

Prince Harry and his betrothed, Meghan Markle, have inspired a special at Burger King. - AP PHOTO/ILLUSTRATION RYAN SMITH
  • AP Photo/Illustration Ryan Smith
  • Prince Harry and his betrothed, Meghan Markle, have inspired a special at Burger King.

The royal wedding has been a royal pain to avoid this week.

Some have dubbed this Saturday's oh-so-glamorous nuptials between Prince Henry of Wales, aka Prince Harry, and American actress Meghan Markle the "Royal Wedding 2.0," as if it were the natural sequel to the 2011 wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. That's actually kind of appropriate, since it's being endlessly hyped like a Star Wars movie. Meanwhile the rote Harrison Ford-less movie Solo is struggling to compete for our collective attention this weekend.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A hot dog with ketchup is delicious—even in Chicago

Posted By on 08.09.17 at 08:11 PM

hot_dog.jpg

On the wall of the Lakeview hot dog joint Flub a Dub Chubs, there is a Polaroid of me looking sad and confused. At least I think it's still there—I'm not sure because in the seven years since it was taken I've been too traumatized to make a return visit. You see, I made the "mistake" of ordering ketchup on my hot dog and was promptly added to the restaurant's "wall of shame" for all who dare choose the red vinegary condiment over the city-sanctioned yellow one. But now, with Chicago Hot Dog Fest (aka the Mustard Mafia's Christmas) upon us, it's time for me to metaphorically tear that photo off the wall and speak, well, frankly: I'm not ashamed to put ketchup on a hot dog. 

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Obama’s first post-presidency speech and the March for Science were nonpartisan to a fault

Posted By on 04.28.17 at 01:54 PM

Obama didn't mention Donald Trump in his conversation on civic engagement and community organizing at the University of Chicago on April 24. - CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP
  • Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
  • Obama didn't mention Donald Trump in his conversation on civic engagement and community organizing at the University of Chicago on April 24.

Though Barack Obama's first post-presidency speech on April 24 and the March for Science on April 22 were at least partially born out of a need to address dangers presented by the agenda of President Donald Trump and a reinvigorated GOP, both only winked at Trump while embracing a kind of bloodless nonpartisanship.

Held just a few miles apart, the two highly publicized events kept Trump and his agenda in the margins. The 44th president danced around his predecessor's name as if Trump were Voldemort. And while many pro-science marchers carried signs that attacked and mocked Trump, the speakers at the rally were careful not mention his name—part of an effort by the organizers to somehow keep the demonstration apolitical.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Not even our bookstores are safe from Silicon Valley's growing might

Posted By on 09.02.16 at 01:30 PM

Customers shop at the Amazon Books store in Seattle—also coming soon to Lakeview. - JASON REDMOND, AFP/GETTY IMAGES
  • Jason Redmond, AFP/Getty Images
  • Customers shop at the Amazon Books store in Seattle—also coming soon to Lakeview.

Amazon is spiking the football in the face of mom-and-pop shops it's crushed over the last decade and a half. That was my first reaction to the news that the mega online retailer plans to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Chicago in 2017, just a few blocks from the soon-to-be shuttered Bookworks in Lakeview.

Why else would a company that helped build its fortune by destroying place-based retail now create a real-life outlet of its own? What's next, Netflix selling DVDs in a brick-and-mortar video store a la Blockbuster? Apple installing a series of public phone booths?

Then again, dancing on the graves of indie bookstores would be an uncharacteristic move for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has previously tried to keep the human misery his company inflicts—in this case on its own workers—behind closed doors. Maybe Amazon's Wrigleyville invasion isn't a middle-finger gesture but a canny PR move designed to put a human face on the tech giant's silicon skull and soften our feelings toward the company. That way, next time we buy one of the trillion things Amazon offers online, we'll picture the smiling young wage slave that rings up our copy of the latest Harry Potter book, not some monolithic corporation floating in cyberspace, constantly trying to extract money from our wallets.

Either way, Amazon's bookstore is just the latest tech-giant scheme to make me wonder: Has reality become a dystopian science-fiction movie come true? Are we all just guinea pigs in a grand experiment to remake America according to the capricious whims of a few billionaires?

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I don't miss Hot Doug's

Posted By on 04.06.16 at 10:28 AM

Doug Sohn at the now-shuttered Hot Doug's. His "retirement" has been Jay Z-like.
  • Doug Sohn at the now-shuttered Hot Doug's. His "retirement" has been Jay Z-like.

I have a way of digging in my heels. My enthusiasm for anything is usually inversely proportional to the vehemence with which somebody gets bug-eyed and lays his hand on my arm to squeal, "Oh my god—you've got to [see/eat/read/try] it! You just have to!"

So it was with Hot Doug's.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

In defense of Hitler's 'deformed' penis

Posted By on 03.25.16 at 01:15 PM

You could say Hitler lost the Battle of the Bulge twice. - SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO
  • Sun-Times File Photo
  • You could say Hitler lost the Battle of the Bulge twice.

Late last month, a number of headlines carried news of Adolf Hitler’s genitalia: "Medical Records Reveal Nazi Leader Adolf Hitler Had Deformed Micropenis."

Hitler's schvantz, as stunted as his art career—it made perfect sense. What else could've created such an evil monster besides a disfigured groin nubbin?

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Dispatches from Chicago's Trumpocalypse

Posted By on 03.14.16 at 12:29 PM

Protesters outside Friday's abortive Trump rally at UIC Pavilion - CHRIS RIHA
  • Chris Riha
  • Protesters outside Friday's abortive Trump rally at UIC Pavilion
A man wearing an American flag slung around his shoulders like a crude superhero cape handed a street vendor named Cot a $20 bill. In exchange, Cot gave flag man a replica of the red "Make American Great Again" hat made famous by a certain celebrity billionaire turned inexplicably popular presidential candidate.

Two hours before Donald Trump's scheduled rally at UIC Pavilion on Friday afternoon, Cot was hunkered down on the corner of Polk and Racine to hawk his wares. Chicago was just his latest stop. The Ohioan has followed Trump's gatherings all over the country—but not for ideological reasons.

"Myself, I'm more of a Bernie Sanders than a Trump guy, but I'm not really political," he told me. Cot's a pragmatist, which is why, when he gets grief about his unusual sales gig ("What's a black guy doing selling Trump hats?" people ask), he's honest: "I tell them, 'Look, I'm just trying to make a buck, man.'"

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