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Communism Never Looked So Groovy

A new photo book illuminates the visual culture behind the German Democratic Republic.

It’s been more than 25 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but the specter of communism still lingers as a conflicting memory. Over the intervening decades, the legacy of the USSR has been oversimplified into irrelevance—either the loser in an epic battle of ideologies or a totalitarian regime that was destined to fail. In Beyond the Wall: Art and Artifacts From the G.D.R. (TASCHEN, 2014), a 900-page picture-filled tome cataloguing the massive collection of German Democratic Republic ephemera housed in the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, a new vision of the supposed black and white Cold War emerges. The book showcases a society that, much like our own, was both vibrant and complex, propagandized but human, and casts doubt on the “us versus them” narrative of the history books. Inside, a fuller picture of life in the vilified G.D.R. emerges in all its sad, beautiful, and occasionally humorous glory: spy-pen recording devices sit with neon busts of Lenin; ultra-modernist cooking utensils alongside homemade discotheque advertisements. The book paints an extensive portrait of life inside the repressive regime, revealing both the banality of authoritarianism and a nuanced view of life in the failed state.


The brainchild of the Wende Museum’s curator, Justin Jampol, a rockstar historian turned filmmaker/curator, Beyond the Wall’s 2,500 objects are the product of four years of intense research and collection, thoughtful curation, and prodigious help from those willing to empty out musty government archives and basements to create a rich portrait of the “other.” For historians as well as critical thinkers, this book presents a new angle on a supposedly rigid era. “As soon as you introduce a wider berth of resources, history begins to change,” says Jampol. “Many of the histories I've admired have come from people who were willing to question where their sources were coming from, what's being collected and why… and what's not. To ask ‘How is it impacting the histories that are being written—beyond direct political reasons?’" While legendary Berlin institutions like Checkpoint Charlie and the Stasi Museum showcase the dark and dramatic aspects of the regime, they don’t accurately reflect the everyday. This new collection offers something different.

“We [as a culture] define ourselves in many ways by what we aren't,” continues Jampol, “and we impose the idea of what we aren't onto others.” But ultimately, as the book asserts, the citizens of the G.D.R. were a lot more similar to us than anyone assumed. "I really think the only enemy we have is the presumptuous. Whatever the opinion is, or interpretation, it's not simple. No matter what you think, or think is right, there is going to be something in the book to counter that. It's a period that is prone to oversimplified assessment, but there is something to asking, ‘Is that right?’ That kind of questioning is ultimately what history can give us.”

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

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The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





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Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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