Culture Essentials for August


August is one of my favorite months of the year. It’s hot and sleepy and you don’t really expect people to answer emails or pick up the phone when you call. It’s a good-natured, lazy stretch of the year before fall electrifies the air and makes you want to accomplish things again. This month I mostly want to laze about on a blanket–at the park, at the beach, at the pool–and read as much of the excellent fiction that has come out this summer as possible. I also want to eat ice cream in the dark chill of a movie theater, without a lot of expectations of the film I’m about to see. I want to make a fruit cobbler and binge watch a show I’ve missed up until now and I want to set up a picnic just outside the fence at Celebrate Brooklyn and sip the wine I’ve brought while listening to something wonderful. All of those possibilities exist this month–summer’s bounty, let’s go enjoy it.

Kara Walker, Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching, 2006

10. The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in AmericaBrooklyn Museum, through September 3

Among the city’s major art museums, Brooklyn Museum really stands out as the one that feels as though it is programming for 2017, and this strange, uncomfortable cultural moment we find ourselves in. It’s a truism that art should help us grapple with change, and at Brooklyn Museum that is actually happening. The small, but incredibly powerful show, The Legacy of Lynching is on display on the main floor of the museum through September 3, and it explores the long tail of racial violence and terrorism perpetrated against African Americans in the age of Jim Crow, and how that legacy is still with us today, even when it goes unacknowledged.

9. The Dark Tower, August 4

We’re about to enter a Stephen King renaissance. King and his son Owen have co-authored a book called Sleeping Beauties that is coming out in September, J.J. Abrams is working on a Hulu show based on the King multi-verse titled Castle Rock, and there’s an absolutely terrifying looking It reboot coming to the big screen this fall, as well. The Dark Tower has been in various stages of production for ages now, which is often a bad sign when it comes to cinema. It’s an ambitious project, considering the sweeping literary landscape it seeks to dramatize, and there’s a lot that could go wrong. However: Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star. I would see any movie with both of them in it, and I’m probably not alone here.

8. Youssou N’Dour at Celebrate Brooklyn, August 12

The season of free concerts in Prospect Park is truly one of the loveliest parts of summer in the city. Go see the final show of the year when Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour comes to the bandshell. N’Dour is one of the most famous musicians in Africa and he will be joined by Yacouba Sissoko, a Malian singer, who is known as one of the best kora players in the world. A kora is a 21-string instrument something like a cross between a harp and a banjo, native to West Africa, and truly the evening sounds like a chance to close your eyes and let yourself be transported to another continent.

7. Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang, August 1

Don’t let any Lena Dunham sour grapes prevent you from picking up a copy of Sour Heart, the first book from her new Lenny imprint at Random House/Penguin. Jenny Zhang is a poet and essayist who has crafted a series of seven interconnected stories that explore the Asian immigrant experience. Think of it as a beach read that won’t leave you feeling empty and vaguely disappointed in yourself when you’re done reading it.

6.Weekend Update, August 10

Democracy, not to mention baseline decency, may be under siege, but as you’d expect from times like these, late night comedy and its quintessentially satirical tone are having a heyday with all the material our government is churning out right now. Saturday Night Live just had its best, most relevant season in decades, and honestly, Weekend Update was one of the weaker links in a sea of consistently strong writing. It’s hard to compete though, with the like of John Oliver, Sam Bee and Stephen Colbert, all of whom seem like they were born for this moment in time. It will be interesting to see if this special run of four half-hour episodes of Weekend Update, which starts on Thursday, August 10, can step it up to become appointment viewing you’ll be posting to social media on Friday morning.

5. Wind River, August 4

In a season of super heroes, comic book universes and big screen adaptations of memoirs, it’s refreshing to see a thriller with an original screenplay on offer at the theater. (Read this excellent New York Times Magazine piece about the obsessive quest to turn everything from game apps to emojis into the next movie franchise.) Wind River stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen who investigate a murder on Native American land in Wyoming. No, neither one of them plays a Native American, thank god, but there are definite Thunderheart notes here (which the late great Sam Shepard was in, I’ll note). I don’t necessarily mean that as a critical dig–I love that movie, but Val Kilmer is not part Sioux, as his character claims to be. It would be nice to see Native actors, like the always excellent Graham Greene, in movies that are not either about murders on reservations or white people doing peyote, but I love a thriller and I love Jeremy Renner, who can be a real show stealer when cast correctly (see: The Town). 

4. August Kids Calendar

Each month Brooklyn Based contributor Meredith Craig de Pietro puts together a calendar of events around the city for families that makes it clear that she is the most fun mom ever. There’s a ton of ice cream, both real and rendered as art, on her August calendar, as well as concerts, shows and some parenting pro-tips for a seamless end of summer.

3. Halt and Catch Fire, August 19, AMC

There’s not a of ton of compelling new television premiering in August, so it’s a good time to catch up on shows you may have missed up until now. If you want something dark and Euro, go watch season 1 of The Tunnel, and then tune in to season 2 which will wrap up on PBS this month. If you’re after something that explores with tech as a cultural phenomenon, without the nausea-inducing Silicon Valley worship, check out AMC’s underrated series Halt and Catch Fire. The fourth and final season starts on August 19, following a rag-tag band of coders and tech industry business types with big dreams and small budgets. It’s nerdy without being impossible to follow, has actual female characters with dialog and ambition (especially starting in season 2), and all the 80s period kitsch you could ever want.

2. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta, August 1

There’s something very suburban about summer, even without the lawns and adultery, and Tom Perrotta is one of the masters of suburban intrigue (see: Little ChildrenElection). His new novel, Mrs. Fletcher, traces the parallel stories of a mother and son, both liberated by his departure for college, and both nearly undone by what might be described as a surplus of sudden freedom. In The New York Times, Chris Bachelder writes that, “Mrs. Fletcher is the sweetest and most charming novel about pornography addiction and the harrowing issues of sexual consent that you will probably ever read.” Light and breezy, right?

1.Afropunk, August 26-27

Afropunk is probably the single most exciting and dynamic music festival in New York City each year, so much so that you have to wonder when it will grow out of its home at Commodore Berry Park on the far end of Fort Greene, close to the Navy Yard and move to bigger digs. This year’s line up includes Solange, Raphael Saadiq, Thundercat and King, among dozens of other artists. Tickets start at $45 for a single day, but go ahead and get the weekend pass, because you’re going to want to go back for more.

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