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08
DEC
8am

Troll review — The mindless fun of a monster stomping through the countryside

Even as it stumbles into its final act, ‘Troll’ is a silly, satisfying popcorn flick. A unique Norwegian touch, top-tier production values and a goofy, likeable character collective add to the joy.
Giant creatures stomping through cities, triggering millions in insurance claims and putting humans in their inconsequential place. We’ve seen this scenario on the big screen for almost a century (arguably starting with King Kong in 1933), but it’s usually a special niche genre dominated by two countries: the United States and Japan. Now streaming on Netflix, Troll gives Norway a slice of the monster movie pie — and viewers something fun, if not as fresh as it could have been.
As in Godzilla, self-centred human progress and disregard for the natural world once again triggers disaster in Troll, which is set in modern-day Scandinavia (the film has English subtitles). While drilling and blasting through the mountains of Dovre to build a new train line, the workers unleash something unfathomable: a giant of stone and earth. Thinking that it’s a prehistoric beast, the Norwegian prime minister and her advisory council recruit palaeontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann). Far more helpful, though, is Nora’s estranged father Tobias (Gard B Eidsvold), a disgraced professor specialising in folklore, who knows exactly what the creature is: a troll. Except the reassuring, traditional tales haven’t told the full story about these beings.
Troll has a lot in its favour. The film features production values that rival any American blockbuster, combining convincing CGI special effects with on-location filming in the strikingly rugged Norwegian countryside. The film looks great, and director Roar Uthaug (who gained international attention for disaster film The Wave, and 2018’s Tomb Raider) keeps tight control of the pacing and enjoyably coherent action scenes.
Troll also has an unusually strong sense of humour. There’s no wink-wink self-awareness or parody, but its pop culture savviness comes through in the dialogue. Godzilla, King Kong, Greta Thunberg and Call of Duty are all name-dropped, reminding audiences that the film is set in our world. And in our world, facing lumbering stone men with a tail is kind of silly.
It’s a different kind of energy to that of monster films normally, and the difference filters through in other aspects of the movie as well. Troll is also free of posturing machismo, ego and sexism; men and women are equal in the film, there’s no forced romance, and even the “get the ...
08
DEC
8am

Why some like it hot: The science of spiciness

Human attraction to spicy food makes us an anomaly amongst mammals. Chilli is one of the most popular spices in our cuisines, but how the affinity for chilli appeared is a mystery.
Spiciness, or its perception, occurs in most cuisines worldwide. The chilli pepper of the genus Capsicum (family Solanaceae) is one of the world’s most widely used spices, found in thousands of recipes and sometimes eaten as a stand-alone dish. One in every four people on the planet currently eats chillies on a daily basis.
As a forest eco-physiologist, I study the adaptation traits developed by plant organisms to interact with other living beings and the surrounding environment.
The research on chilli peppers and spiciness represents an outstanding example of multidisciplinary science. Several researchers in the last decades have provided information and curiosities about this most unique and desirable oral sensation.
A brief history
Chilli peppers were unknown to much of the world until Christopher Columbus made his way to the New World in 1492. Several origin theories flagged different parts of South America as “the” spot where chillies came from.
A phylogenetic analysis found that they are native to an area along the Andes of western to northwestern South America. These ancestral wild Capsicum were “small red, round, berry-like fruits.”
The earliest evidence of domestication dates back to 6,000 years ago in Mexico or northern Central America. Chilli peppers were introduced into Europe in the 16th century. Currently, there are five domesticated chilli peppers species.
The five domesticated species are Capsicum annuum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, C. baccatum and C. pubescens. The species with the most varieties is the C. annuum, which includes the New Mexican jalapeño and the bell pepper. The Habaneros and scotch bonnets instead belong to the C. chinense, while Tabasco peppers are C. frutescens. The South American ajis are C. baccatum, while the Peruvian rocoto and the Mexican Manzano are C. pubescens.
Nowadays, more than three million tons of chilli peppers are produced yearly for a global market that is well over US$4 billion.
Why chilli burns?
Spiciness is a burning sensation caused by capsaicin in food. When we eat spicy food, capsaicin stimulates receptors in our mouth called TRPV1 receptors and triggers a reaction. The purpose of TRPV1 receptors is thermoreception — the detection of heat. This means they are supposed to deter us from consuming food that burns.
When TRPV1 receptors are activated by capsaicin, the sensation we experience is linked to the feeling ...
08
DEC
5am

Music streaming in South Africa – new survey reveals musicians get a raw deal

New survey shows poor earnings from music streaming made worse by the digital divide and a lack of policy.
Musicians worldwide have been placing their tracks with global streaming platforms such as Spotify for many years. South African musicians, however, have reported only sparse earnings from streaming music online.
When our 2020 survey revealed this, we wondered if part of the reason was inexperience. At the time, Covid-19 lockdowns had made live performances impossible, driving many South African musicians to try what looked like an alternative revenue stream.
In 2022 we broadened and deepened that research. And we discovered that earnings from music streaming remained poor. Further, major international studies were also now demonstrating the same earnings trend everywhere.
Those studies suggested that, without urgent reform, the entire streaming system was rigged against musicians. And genres and musicians on the periphery of the western-dominated music industry were hit hardest.
We heard from 279 music role players – artists, venues and local platforms – and took the international findings on board. The full report, Digital Futures 2 Taking Music Online in South Africa, confirms, with much more nuance, that our 2020 findings were correct.
A much bigger sample spread across all provinces demonstrated that South African musicians weren’t beginners in the world of streaming: 77% of respondents had some involvement even before Covid-19 struck. Just over 40% used methods including site analytics to monitor their business performance. But despite this, and despite the data also showing improved audiences and that more artists now owned their streaming rights, the earnings picture remained just as bleak.
“Poor” or “very poor” was how 63% of respondents rated their earnings. At best, streaming provided a supplement to other music-related earnings such as live performance or hiring out equipment. At worst it was a drain on them – because of platform fees. Without sponsorship, streaming would be impossible for most.
Musicians are the losers
South Africa’s musicians pay a dollar-equivalent fee to post their music on an international platform. They are allocated a payment whenever a track is streamed. But each stream is at best a few hundredths of a US cent, depending on the platform. What listeners pay doesn’t go directly to the artist. It goes into a global pot and is then allocated – after platform service fees are deducted. Allocations are made via complex algorithms based on many factors, including the artist’s existing share of the market and where their listeners are ...
08
DEC
3am

Celestial love, theatre and more — things to do this week around South Africa

Your weekly round-up of go-to events in Mzansi.
WESTERN CAPE
Theatre
Star+Crossed
The focal point of this upcoming musical is a love for the cosmos; it is based on the true story of the late Elizabeth Klarer, a South African woman who claimed that following multiple UFO sightings throughout her life, she was abducted by aliens and had a child with a celestial being. The musical stars Earl Gregory and Isabella Jane. Tickets cost R250 per person and are available via Computicket.
Where: Artscape Arena, Cape Town When: 8 – 31 December 2022
The Secret Garden
The life of Mary Lennox is changed forever when her mother and father die following a cholera outbreak. She is sent away to England to begin her new life with her uncle Lord Archibald Craven. While exploring the grounds of her uncle’s manor, she discovers a secret garden that soon becomes a place of refuge. This upcoming retelling of the classic tale was directed by Stephan Fourie and stars a vibrant cast of 23 performers, with Tessa Bottomley taking on the lead role of Mary. Tickets cost R180 per person and are available via Quicket.
Where: Star Theatre, Cape Town When: 9 – 17 December 2022
Comedy
Platform 9: Coming Home
Television stars Theodore Jantjies and Maurice Paige are set to make their return with another proudly South African comedy show — expect a celebration of the Mother City and what it means to be “Capetonian”. Tickets cost R180 per person and are available via Webtickets. Evening shows begin at 7pm while Saturday matinees begin at 2.30pm.
Where: Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town When: 13 December – 7 January 2022
Workshop
Build a gingerbread house or boy & girl
If you’re looking for a fun way to keep kids occupied for the day, then consider adding this event to your list of Christmastime to-do list. Children will be given the opportunity to create their very own gingerbread houses or gingerbread people. Tickets include the baked goods, a set of decorations, as well as aprons and paper chef hats. Tickets cost R130 per child and can be purchased on Quicket. Attendees have the option of participating in one of four sessions, each lasting 45 minutes.
Where: Willowbridge Shopping Centre, Cape Town When: 16 – 23 December 2022
Music
Summer Sunset Concerts: Sunset Sweatshop
Take full advantage of summer days and warmer nights and attend the upcoming edition of the outdoor concert series, featuring Sunset Sweatshop, a must-see if you’re into rock, reggae, folk and ...
07
DEC
2pm

Uncertain times revisited — ‘Ulysses’ and ‘The Waste Land’ 100 years on

After the appearance in 1922 of ‘Ulysses’ and ‘The Waste Land’, the novel and poetry were irrevocably changed. While the works were committed to representing life in all its harshness and drudgery, they did so in a way that displayed extraordinary verbal virtuosity and beauty, that leavened the unpalatable without avoiding or suppressing it.
As 2022 draws to an end, in uncertain times with the world facing pestilence, war and potential widespread hunger, a glance a century back to 1922 takes us to a time that was perhaps experienced as even more chaotic and uncertain.
That year combined upheaval and crisis, but also witnessed momentous cultural and literary landmarks.
In South Africa, a communist-inspired white mineworkers’ revolt was put down with considerable force at the beginning of the year. It was also the year that the world’s largest broadcaster, the venerable British Broadcasting Corporation, was founded. In the latter half of 1922, Joseph Jughashvili, better known to the world as Joseph Stalin, exploited the power vacuum left by Vladimir Lenin’s declining health and consolidated his position as the dominant figure in Soviet politics, with fateful consequences for the peoples of the Soviet Union.
From a literary point of view, the same year saw the publication of the two towering landmarks of 20th-century literature: In February, James Joyce’s novel Ulysses was first published as an entire volume and was followed in October by the appearance of TS Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land.
The backdrop to these two literary monuments was the nihilism, anomie and social collapse in the aftermath of the death and destruction of World War 1, then known as the Great War. The pervasive mood of the time among all sections of society, but particularly the intellectual classes, was memorably captured by Eliot in a critical essay he wrote on Ulysses, “Ulysses, Order and Myth”. Here he described the emotional, political and intellectual landscape of the time as “the immense panorama of futility and anarchy that is contemporary history”.
In the essay, Eliot praised Joyce’s use of what he called the “mythic method” to give order and shape to the disintegration and fragmentation of the post-war world.
Depending on the reader’s tastes and criteria, Ulysses is a leading candidate for the greatest novel ever written. It is perhaps the prime embodiment of the observation of the literary critic and political theorist Georg Lukács: “The novel is the epic of a world that has been abandoned by ...
07
DEC
12pm

How the philosophy behind the Japanese art form of kintsugi can help us navigate failure

A break or moment of failure can be an opportunity to create something new and beautiful.
In our 20s and 30s, there can be immense pressure to measure up to the expectations of society, our families, our friends and even those we have for ourselves. Many people look back and feel disappointed that they hadn’t taken the opportunity to travel more. Others might have envisioned that they would be further along in their careers or personal relationships. In reality, life is hard and we might face setbacks (big and small) that can shatter our dreams, leaving us with fragments we perceive as worthless.
Feelings of failure can take a long-lasting mental toll but they don’t have to stop you in your tracks. There are many teachings, practices and philosophies that can help you deal with disappointment, embrace imperfection and remain optimistic.
One such practice is the Japanese art form of kintsugi, which means joining with gold. It has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years as both an art technique, a worldview and metaphor for how we can live life.
Many forms of Japanese art have been influenced by Zen and Mahayana philosophies, which champion the concepts of acceptance and contemplation of imperfection, as well as the constant flux and impermanence of all things.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. If a bowl is broken, rather than discarding the pieces, the fragments are put back together with a glue-like tree sap and the cracks are adorned with gold. There are no attempts to hide the damage, instead, it is highlighted. The practice has come to represent the idea that beauty can be found in imperfection. The breakage is an opportunity and applying this kind of thinking to instances of failure in our own lives can be helpful.
A technique to repair broken pots
Kintsugi was fairly widespread in Japan around the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The origins of this aesthetic go back hundreds of years to the Muromachi period (approximately 1336 to 1573). The third ruling Shogun (leader) of that era, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408), is said to have broken his favourite tea bowl. The bowl was unique and could not be replaced.
So, instead of throwing it away, he sent it to China for a replacement or repair. The bowl returned repaired with its pieces held in place by metal staples. Staple repair was a common technique in China as well ...
07
DEC
12pm

The Wonder: Netflix’s story of 19th century ‘fasting girls’ reminds us starving bodies remain a public spectacle today

As the trend for “heroin chic” returns to runways, new Netflix film The Wonder takes aim at our fascination with disordered eating.
In October, US tabloid the New York Post reported somewhat gleefully that the early 2000s trend for “heroin chic” is back. After a brief period of limited body diversity, it reported, runways were once again full of extremely young, wraith-like white women.
Visible bones, once photoshopped away to avoid public outcry, are once again the order of the day. While the reports framing the last few years as a “brief, shining moment of body positivity” are exaggerated, the shift towards a more extreme bodily ideal is concerning, with media commentators and eating disorder specialists raising concerns about its effect on viewers’ mental and physical health.
For some time now, media academics and commentators, such as myself, have noted western media cultures’ hunger for stories of self-denial in pursuit of bodily perfection. As film critic S.R. Benedict argues in her viral 2019 essay Everyone is Beautiful and No-one is Horny, celebrity narratives have tended to focus on tales of discipline, self-control and denial.
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, once noted for their “bootylicious” curves, have showcased dramatic weight loss. Fasting and “clean eating” are the social media trends of the moment, along with Ozempic, an injectable diabetes drug that causes dramatic weight loss at the cost of distressing and potentially dangerous side effects.
The Wonder and our fascination with disordered eating
This morbid fascination with the suffering of the young and beautiful is not new. Sebastian Lelio’s Netflix film, The Wonder, based on the novel by Irish writer Emma Donoghue, is inspired by the “fasting girls” of the 19th century, young women whose “miraculous” starvation attracted much attention from an emerging mass media.
These cases have been seen as early instances of disordered eating. But Donohue’s novel suggests that the 19th century, with its emerging mass media and its repressive attitude to women’s bodies, can be reimagined to shed light on our own time.
In a controversial opening scene, the camera pans over a warehouse interior to a film set, while an Irish-accented woman’s voice tells us that what we are about to see is a story, but that we should empathise with the characters nonetheless.
Throughout the film, we are reminded of the importance of the stories we tell, how they shape our lives, determining what is possible and imaginable. The Wonder chimes with feminist media research that ...
07
DEC
4am

Eight glasses of water a day? It’s more complex than that

A recent study published in the Clinical Kidney Journal proposed that actor Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 at the age of 32, suffered from fatal hyponatraemia.
The popular belief that eight glasses of water is the right amount to adequately hydrate the average person is a myth, according to Professor Razeen Davids, head of the division of nephrology at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital.
“There is no evidence that supports this for healthy people. You should be guided by thirst,” says Davids.
Even though, according to experts, six to eight glasses a day seems to be the recommended amount of fluid the body needs to function, this does not necessarily include only drinking water from a tap. The body extracts water from everything it consumes; “from the water in your sandwich to your coffee, it all adds up,” writes Maverick Life journalist Sarah Hoek in the article “This week we’re listening: You’ve been lied to about how much water you really need”.
However, there are conditions where high water intake may be beneficial, says Davids. Patients who are prone to developing kidney stones are encouraged to increase water intake to achieve a urine output of at least two litres a day, he adds.
Hyponatraemia: what is it?
Under specific circumstances, drinking too much water may be fatal, as suggested by a study titled Who killed Bruce Lee? The hyponatraemia hypothesis, published in the Clinical Kidney Journal in March 2022.
Martial artist Lee died on 20 July 1973 at the age of 32 in Hong Kong. The authors of the study suggest: “Bruce Lee brought attention to martial arts in the Western world and popularised the quote ‘Be water, my friend’ [.] The cause of death is unknown, although numerous hypotheses have been proposed, from assassination by gangsters to the more recent suggestion in 2018 that he died from heatstroke. The necropsy showed cerebral oedema. A prior episode was diagnosed as cerebral oedema two months earlier. We now propose, based on an analysis of publicly available information, that the cause of death was cerebral oedema due to hyponatraemia. In other words, we propose that the kidney’s inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee.” In summary, they argue that he suffered from an acute case of hyponatraemia, or water intoxication, which led to a fatal case of brain swelling.
Davids explains that acute hyponatraemia develops within 48 hours and is a result of drinking too much water in ...
06
DEC
6am

Pokémon’s Ash wins World Championship after 25 years – here’s why the franchise is still capturing fans

Twenty-five years on from his promise to become “the very best”, Ash Ketchum has won the Pokémon World Championship. But for a franchise that’s always evolving, this is far from the end.
Twenty-five years ago, an animated ten-year-old boy was united with Pikachu, his very first “pocket monster” and set an ambitious goal: to become “the very best, like no one ever was” by winning the Pokémon World Championships.
On November 11, over 200,000 Twitter users joined in congratulating Ash on his victory. But now that Ash has achieved his goal, where does that leave the future of the Pokémon franchise?
Pokémon’s potential as a world-dominating franchise wasn’t immediately apparent in the early years of its development. The designer of the original Game Boy Pokémon games, Satoshi Tajiri, had more local goals at first. He had observed the stress that children in Japan seemed to be experiencing in the 1990s due to an “academic record society” that prized hard study and achievement over play and imagination.
The original game design drew from Tajiri’s memories of growing up in the 1960s, using his imagination to create his own entertainment, and drawing from such common childhood activities as bug catching.
Pikachu’s name is often attributed to the Japanese word pika, which was used to describe the flash of atomic weapons detonating. Early Pokémon culture was rooted in memories of post-war Japan, in contrast to the dominant trend at the time which removed Japanese associations from products destined for overseas consumption to make them “culturally odourless”.
Despite these obstacles, Pokémon captured the global imagination. It became such a success that journalists and academics wrote of a “Pokémon craze” sweeping the media landscape of the 1990s. By 2004 however, scholars writing in Pikachu’s Global Adventure described “the spectacular, complex, and unpredictable rise and fall of Pokémon in countries around the world” as they predicted the end of the franchise’s peak popularity. As you might have noticed, however, Pokémon didn’t go anywhere.
Pokémon’s evolutions
Pokémon’s ability to incorporate new developments in audience engagement has been key to its success. In its early franchising into animated television, film, and merchandise, the Pokémon phenomenon is a prime example of the “media mix” or “media ecology” in which one story or character appears across a range of different media and entertainment products.
Pokémon proved highly adaptable across new platforms appearing in the 2010s and 2020s, with the development of Pokémon Go and Twitch channels dedicated to Pokémon ...
06
DEC
5am

I’m a Black woman and the metaverse scares me – here’s how to make the next iteration of the internet inclusive

Today’s social media is plagued by racism and sexism. Without intentionally building the metaverse to be inclusive, it will be, too.
Marginalized people often suffer the most harm from unintended consequences of new technologies. For example, the algorithms that automatically make decisions about who gets to see what content or how images are interpreted suffer from racial and gender biases. People who have multiple marginalized identities, such as being Black and disabled, are even more at risk than those with a single marginalized identity.
This is why when Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for the metaverse – a network of virtual environments in which many people can interact with one another and digital objects – and said that it will touch every product the company builds, I was scared. As a researcher who studies the intersections of race, technology and democracy – and as a Black woman – I believe it is important to carefully consider the values that are being encoded into this next-generation internet.
Problems are already surfacing. Avatars, the graphical personas people can create or buy to represent themselves in virtual environments, are being priced differently based on the perceived race of the avatar, and racist and sexist harassment is cropping up in today’s pre-metaverse immersive environments.
Ensuring that this next iteration of the internet is inclusive and works for everyone will require that people from marginalized communities take the lead in shaping it. It will also require regulation with teeth to keep Big Tech accountable to the public interest. Without these, the metaverse risks inheriting the problems of today’s social media, if not becoming something worse.
Utopian visions versus hard realities
Utopian visions in the early days of the internet typically held that life online would be radically different from life in the physical world. For example, people envisioned the internet as a way to escape parts of their identity, such as race, gender and class distinctions. In reality, the internet is far from raceless.
While techno-utopias communicate desired visions of the future, the reality of new technologies often doesn’t live up to these visions. In fact, the internet has brought novel forms of harm to society, such as the automated dissemination of propaganda on social media and bias in the algorithms that shape your online experience.
Zuckerberg described the metaverse as a more immersive, embodied internet that will “unlock a lot of amazing new experiences.” This is a vision not just of ...
05
DEC
1pm

Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book – the essential handbook to change the world

In ‘The Climate Book’, environmental activist Greta Thunberg gathers wisdom from over one hundred experts – geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders – to outline the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster.
Securing a safe future for life on Earth, at a scale and speed never seen, against all the odds, might seem an impossible task. As Thunberg points out, there is hope — but only if we listen to the science before it’s too late.
Thunberg also shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. This is one of our biggest challenges, she says, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? Read the excerpt.
Hope is something you have to earn
Right now, we are in desperate need of hope. But hope is not about pretending that everything will be fine. It is not about sticking your head in the sand or listening to fairy tales about non-existent technological solutions. It’s not about loopholes or clever accounting.
To me, hope is not something that is given to you, it is something you have to earn, to create. It cannot be gained passively, through standing by and waiting for someone else to do something. Hope is taking action. It is stepping outside your comfort zone. And if a bunch of weird schoolkids were able to get millions of people to start changing their lives, just imagine what we could all do together if we really tried.
The transformation we need in order to stay below 1.5°C or even 2°C of warming may not be politically possible today. But we are the ones who determine what will be politically possible tomorrow. We now live on a planet where technology has allowed nearly all of us to be connected to each other. In some nations, the political regime does not allow this. But still, if something big enough happens somewhere around the globe, then nearly everyone will instantly know about it. This opens up a whole new realm of possibility. No one yet knows what we are capable of once we collectively decide to respond to change. I am convinced that there are social tipping points that will start to work in our favour the minute enough of us choose to take action. The ...

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