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Robert Williams: Bitchin’ Art Crusader?
As artist Robert Williams grew up in his often dysfunctional, divorced home in the 1940s and 1950s, his mother wished he’d become a cowboy. After seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s 1935 film The Crusades (rereleased in 1948), however, young Bob decided on a career as a crusader instead. With a lion’s heart, fiercely wide-ranging intellect, and outsider’s eye, Robert Williams dreamed of a holy land where his unique brand of art would one day gain acceptance. Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin’, now available on DVD and digital platforms, tells the story in Williams’ own words and pictures of that long, often lonely crusade to make art true to his experience that defied the mores of society at large and the art world in particular. Entertaining and enlightening, Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin’ offers the rare chance to see the real-life good guy win in the end.
For an artist with so many accomplishments (and possibly the leader of a “movement” or “school,” although he’s leaving that up to posterity), Williams strikes you with an astounding lack of pretension combined with a profane disregard for the rules. During Mr. Bitchin’, Williams rides a bicycle and a unicycle and manages to fall off both. Watching him ride with the joy of a young boy, I couldn’t help but think of that great picture of Albert Einstein on his bicycle. I’m not calling Williams an Einstein, but I do think that there’s a connection between playfulness and genius that can’t be denied. Neither took himself too seriously, which freed them up to fail enough times to succeed in the end.
Williams’ irreverent lifestyle and art come straight out of the Southern California environment he’s steeped in since moving there in 1963. He credits the hot rods, outlaw bikers, psychedelic posters, underground comics, porn industry, and tattoo culture as all having an influence on him. “The West Coast was holding all the cards,” Williams says in the film, while the Midwest and East Coast held onto the “constipated” 1950s mindset. After art school, Williams resisted the limiting branding of “illustrator” and continued to follow his own path, stumbling eventually onto his “dream job” of working for Ed "Big Daddy" Roth studio and producing images for the SoCal hot rod crowd. Continually at his side was his wife, Suzanne Chorna Williams, also a working artist and hot rod enthusiast, but more importantly a kindred spirit with wide-ranging interests and ideas to help feed Bob’s visual landscape.
Throughout Mr. Bitchin’, you always feel a kind of challenge in Williams’ voice—are you capable of keeping up with him? Standing before one of his many “Super Cartoons”—meticulously painted works that portray an entire story in one panel—Williams is at one moment making you think about the Piltdown Man hoax and the general nature of deception, then the forgotten world of board track racing and the death of three racers at the Beverly Hills Speedway in 1920 and the nature of mortality and fame, and then King Farouk of Egypt as an embodiment of self-delusion. A great deal of thought goes into each of these works and, as several scenes show, a great deal of craftsmanship. For someone with little regard for rules, Williams respects the craft of painting deeply, stretching his canvas and sneering at those who use staples instead of tacks and reminiscing when “being a technical craftsman used to be part of being an artist.” The results can be mesmerizing, as in 1968’s In the Land of Retinal Delights (detail shown above), which smacks of Salvador Dali, but never surrenders, as Dali sometimes did, the idea of communicating an idea, however difficult or however obscure.
Williams finally found a larger audience when he joined ZAP Comix, an underground comic born in the anti-establishment age of anti-Vietnam War protests and the youth movement. Along with artists such as R. Crumb and Victor Moscoso, Williams’ comics became the gateway drug for many to come to accept his paintings as “real” art. “When I came into art,” Williams explains in the film, “cartoons were not considered art. But the cartoon is really the point where you can do the most exaggeration and really test and strain your imagination.” For Williams, the art found in E.C. Comics and pulp magazines contained an “energy that’s been lost in abstract art.” The stifling conformity of canonical art short-circuited art itself for Williams. “There’s a thing about ugly and distastefulness that’s really an aesthetic in itself,” Williams believes and then proves in the calculated ugliness and distastefulness of his work.
That ugly aesthetic brought Williams his biggest fame and infamy when Guns N’ Roses placed his painting Appetite for Destruction inside their album of the same name. Amid cries that the painting “glorified rape,” Williams responded that he was simply portraying the desires of actual life. Williams, who elsewhere painted a series of sexually potent women posed atop food items, recognizes human hungers of all kinds and puts them in his pictures, which can be read as exploitive, but which he (and his supporters) see as powerfully human.
By the end of Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin’, you’ll be cheering for the artist, who not only never compromised on his ideas, but also gave back to like-minded artists by founding Juxtapoz Magazine, which publicizes “low brow” art in opposition to the more mainstream art magazines. Thanks to Juxtapoz, today’s generation of “outsider” artists can exhibit in galleries and survive without feeling the loneliness Williams’ did during his earlier career. When Juxtapoz co-founder Greg Escalante tearfully compares the impact of Robert Williams on modern art with that of the Beatles on modern music—and how both are unfairly discounted by history—you feel some of the tragedy of Williams’ struggles, but when you hear Williams say now in all honesty that he’s happy, you’ll feel better about life and art and believe again that the good guys, the true crusaders, sometimes do win.
[Image: Robert Williams. In the Land of Retinal Delights, 1968 (detail).]
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.
- Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
- The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
- The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.