TIME Media

What It Was Like to Work With David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace edit
Harry Ransom Center Page 1 of corrected proof of David Foster Wallace’s 1996 essay on the U.S. Open for Tennis magazine.

One of the writer's one-time editors looks back on their work together

This post is in partnership with the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. A version of the article below was originally published on the Ransom Center’s Cultural Compass blog.

In 1995, Jay Jennings, a former editor of Tennis magazine, commissioned David Foster Wallace to write an article about the U.S. Open, which was published as “Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open” one year later. In 2010, Jennings contributed a file of corrected proofs and correspondence to the Ransom Center relating to the essay and revealing Wallace’s close involvement in the editorial process. Wallace had warned Jennings that he would be a difficult editee, but the papers demonstrate the contrary. Though Wallace’s comments on the proof pages are often assertive, they are equally good-natured, dotted throughout with smiley faces, and oftentimes showing his humor. Jennings recounts his working with Wallace:

In 1995, I contacted a young writer named David Foster Wallace to ask if he would come to the U.S. Open over Labor Day weekend and riff on the scene, not so much the one on the court but that going on all over the grounds of the National Tennis Center in New York. Though he was not widely known, editors were clamoring to have him to riff on some scene or another on the basis of a hilarious, hyperobservant essay he’d published in Harper’s magazine in 1994 about the Illinois State Fair. A few years earlier he’d written about playing junior tennis on the windy plains of the Midwest for Harper’s, so I knew he was a deft player and knowledgeable fan. The lure of the all-access media pass was the clincher and he agreed to do the story for much less than he could have commanded elsewhere.

We put him up at the official hotel, the Hyatt above Grand Central Station in Manhattan, and I met him in the lobby on Sunday morning to ride the shuttle bus out to Queens. Unshaven and in his trademark bandana, he looked the part of a raucous rock star but was unfailingly polite, appreciative, and both excited and a little nervous. At the site, we settled into the main stadium for the marquee match that day, between eventual champion Pete Sampras and a rising Australian star, Mark Philippoussis. I remember being concerned by how few notes he was taking in his tiny notebook and wondering if he was getting enough material. We chatted about tennis and books and other things, I pointed out my boss (a woman in a sunhat nearby), and after the match he decided to wander off on his own. Over the next two days, we’d meet up occasionally on the grounds, and as we were leaving together one day, he asked me if I wanted to join him and his friend Jon (Franzen, then a struggling novelist in New York) for a showing of Larry Clark’s film KIDS that night. My then-wife had other plans for us, so I had to demur, to my eternal regret, relegating myself to an even smaller DFW footnote in literary history. The story he produced from that weekend and his tiny notebook proved to be one of the longest (and best) Tennis magazine has ever run, and I had difficult battles with the lady in the sunhat, as Dave and I came to call her, to see that it was published as Dave intended it, footnotes, eccentric abbreviations and all. In the essay, after having spent only a few days there, he had crystalized all the annoyances, grievances, glories and grandeur that those of us who had been attending the event for years had observed but with more humor, sharpness and empathy: the “felonious” price of the Häagen-Dazs bars, the “big ginger beard” that made one of the ball boys look like a “ball grad student,” and the “mad crane” style of a 6’6″ player.

We held the story for a year to run in our 1996 U.S. Open issue, and in the interim, Infinite Jest was published and Dave became the reluctant darling of the literary world. After the issue appeared, he generously wrote to thank me for the short profile I’d written of him for the magazine’s “Editor’s Page” and, again later that year, to explain why the Tennis story would not appear in his collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, even though he thought it better than another tennis piece, “The String Theory,” originally from Esquire: the latter had received more attention and to include both would be too much tennis for the book. He didn’t owe me that explanation but, like his intellect, his empathy was wide-ranging and deep, and he knew that having the Tennis story in the collection would probably help my editing career. Instead, I got a consolation prize I enjoyed even more: he put me in the acknowledgements as “Jay (I’m Suffering Right Along With You) Jennings,” commemorating our joint battles with my superior.

We continued to correspond sporadically over the years, the last time just months before he took his own life, when I wrote to him about an exhibition match I’d seen between the retired Pete Sampras and John McEnroe. He replied by postcard that he thought McEnroe was ‘so lovely to watch play’ but ‘a ghastly TV commentator,’ a contrarian view I shared. When I heard he’d committed suicide, I remembered an earlier postcard he’d sent me, not so much for what he wrote, which was typically funny and kind, but for the picture. It showed a detail from the exterior of Salisbury Cathedral in England, a close-up of a stone bust in a silent, eternal, open-mouthed scream; on the verso, the work, a portrait of pain, was identified simply as “Head of Man.”

Jay Jennings is the author of Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City, and the editor of Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game and Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

See more about the Ransom Center’s collection here at the Harry Ransom Center blog

TIME Research

Here’s How Sexy Advertising Backfires

Researchers say that titillating content can, in fact, hurt sales‚ not help them

The first nude print ad was published in 1936 for Woodbury Soap. It featured an undressed woman lazily lying at the beach, her arm positioned at just the right angle to shield her breasts from view. It followed the old advertising adage that sex sells.

But that no longer holds true, according to a new study released by the Psychological Bulletin. Brad Bushman, a communications professor at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study, says it’s not that sex and violence don’t grab our attention—of course they do. In fact, paying attention to such things are evolutionary responses that are necessary for survival (being attuned to safety threats prepares people to protect themselves; finding opportunities for mating keep the species going).

But just because they grab our eye doesn’t mean the ad translates into sales.

“[A]dvertisers think sex and violence sell, so they buy advertising time during sexual and violent programs, and in turn producers continue to create sexual and violent programs that attract advertising revenue,” the authors write. But when a person is being shown a product—say, laundry detergent—with a sexy backdrop, it’s not the detergent that’s capturing the attention so much as the action onscreen. Sex is distracting, Bushman says. “We have a limited capacity to pay attention to cues.”

Bushman and his co-author, Robert Lull, found 1,869 articles in two databases that had historically studied consumer response to sex and violence. Researchers weeded out studies that didn’t directly address consumer response, didn’t have a control group, and didn’t look explicitly at the effects of sex and/or violence on the consumer.

“In the best case scenario, sex and violence doesn’t work,” Bushman told TIME. “For advertisers, it can actually backfire, and people will be less likely to remember your [product]. They might report being less likely to buy your product if the content of your program is violent or sexual.”

No surprise, some demographics respond differently to sexy or violent ads. Women tend to remember products from provocative ads; men tend to be distracted by sex or violence and not remember the product. Older participants were turned off by violence and sex; younger consumers were more likely to respond to it.

Still, taken together, the researchers conclude this: “Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media.”

TIME Social Media

Twitter is Deleting Stolen Jokes for Copyright Reasons

Five separate tweets at least have been deleted by Twitter for copying a joke

Twitter is beset by the all-too-common joke thief. You tweet a precious 140-character joke, labored over for minutes, then you find it posted elsewhere on Twitter. It’s often a bot that copies the witticism and tweets it to its followers without attribution.

Now, it appears Twitter has had enough.

Some tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds in recent weeks for joke-stealing, the Verge reports. Five separate tweets at least have been deleted by Twitter for copying a joke by a Los Angeles freelance writer, Olga Lexell, who tweeted this joke: “Saw someone spill their high end juice cleanse all over the sidewalk and now i know god is on my side”.

When other accounts tweeted the same joke, Lexell complained to Twitter, which then deleted the copy-tweets and replaced it with the text “This Tweet has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder.”

[The Verge]

TIME Music

Apple Is Giving Away Free Beats Headphones

Apple Beats Back to School
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Beats headphones are sold along side iPods in an Apple store on May 9, 2014 in New York City.

Part of Apple's annual back to school deal

Apple launched its annual back to school promotion on Thursday, offering a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones alongside certain purchases.

Eligible products for the Beats deal are the iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Pro, according to Apple’s Back to School 2015 terms and conditions. Only qualified education individuals are eligible for the promotion, which Apple defines as higher education students, parents and employees, or K-12 employees, board members and officers.

Participating customers will receive an instant credit of $199.95, which may be applied to a pair of Beats Solo2 headphones ($199.95) or a pair of Beats Solo2 wireless headphones ($299.95). Customers who select the latter will be responsible for paying the remaining $100 balance.

The promotion is available in U.S. Apple Stores from July 23 to Sept. 18. It’s also available in the U.S. Apple online store from Aug. 6 to Sept. 18.

Read next: The Apple-Beats Deal: 7 Things You Should Know

TIME Media

Top Hollywood Movie Studios Smacked With Antitrust Charges

Disney, Warner Bros., Fox and more are accused of violating European law

Is the European Union about to add Hollywood’s finest to its collection of antitrust scalps?

After 18 months gathering material, the European Commission’s Competition directorate has accused six of Hollywood’s largest movie-makers of sabotaging the E.U.’s single market by signing country-specific deals with pay-TV providers.

The first so-called “statement of objections” have been sent out to the studios because of their licensing contracts with Sky U.K., the main operating asset of Sky Plc, but investigations into pay-TV providers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy are still ongoing and may yield further accusations.

The pay-TV companies in Germany and Italy are now 100%-owned owned by Sky, although they weren’t at the time the investigation was launched. Vivendi SA’s Canal Plus is the company under investigation in France.

The Commission’s beef is a variation on a theme of the charges it has laid at the door of Russian gas monopoly PAO Gazprom, in that country-specific deals forbid the free flow of goods and services, denying consumers the freedom of choice and, ultimately, their pricing power.

The accusations could be one of the first serious blows struck by the regulators in a campaign to modernize the E.U.’s digital economy, an area where Europe is badly lagging. The new Commission earlier this year identified the breaking down of nationally-defined copyright and licensing laws as one of the key elements of that campaign.

A prime example of this is the phenomenon of ‘geo-blocking': at present, a subscriber to an online pay-TV service in, for example, the U.K. can’t access that service in France or (more importantly for expatriated civil servants, lobbyists and politicians) Belgium because copyright and licensing law is still handled by national governments.

The Commission says it wants to ensure that users who buy online content such as films, music or articles at home can also access them while travelling across Europe.

The objections sent out this week by the E.U. don’t go as far as cutting that particular Gordian knot in one fell swoop. Instead, they zero in on contractual clauses which stop providers from selling outside a specific country. The regulators’ expectation is that if they pull on this loose end enough, the knot will unravel in time as the broader effort to modernize the Digital Single Market gains momentum.

In theory, if customers have the right to buy across borders, then the prices for products such as ESPN or Sky Atlantic will even themselves out across the E.U..

In practice, though, even after the contractual hurdle has been cleared away, companies will still be able to say ‘no’ on commercial grounds to customers who are trying to get a better deal than the one offered in their home countries (if, for example, the administrative cost would outweigh the benefits for the company).

The six studios to have received the so-called “Statement of Objections” are:

  • Walt Disney
  • 20th Century Fox
  • Warner Bros.
  • Paramount Pictures (a unit of Viacom Inc.)
  • Sony Pictures
  • NBCUniversal (Comcast Corp.)

Sky Thursday confirmed it had received the Commission’s objections and said: “We will consider this and respond in due course.”

Under the E.U.’s rules, it can fine companies up to 10% of their global annual revenue for antitrust violations.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Media

How Paramount Might Change the Way You Watch Movies Forever

inside-movie-theater-cinema
Getty Images

Paramount is bringing some films to your home quicker than ever before

Early July, Paramount changed things. The change won’t be immediate, nor is it guaranteed that it’ll catch on at all in this particular iteration. But they made a move that, while seemingly just a smart way of dipping a toe into the waters of alternative distribution for non-guaranteed studio projects, is also going to draw a lot of attention. If it doesn’t work, somebody else will find a way to make it happen. If it does, they have the unique opportunity of being at the vanguard of the next wave of modern film distribution and consumption. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on the extent to which you, too, cringed, internally or otherwise, at the word “consumption” being used to describe the viewing of a film.

And for the melodrama of that last paragraph, Paramount’s new gambit completely warrants it. On July 8th, the studio announced that they had reached a deal with AMC Theatres and Canada’s Cineplex Inc. to release the upcoming films Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse on VOD/on-demand home rental services only 50 or so days after their theatrical releases, ensuring that people can continue to text during movies with impunity.

They’re a good pair of initial test subjects: Paranormal Activity has seen diminished returns over its three sequels and one spin-off, and The Ghost Dimension will be hitting theaters nearly two years to the day after its originally announced release date in October 2013. As for Scout’s Guide, it was bumped to the fall from March of this year, after also being renamed from the more succinct Scouts vs. Zombies.

Again, they’re both excellent guinea pigs. Even setting aside the dramatic depreciation that even the most successful genre movies typically experience from week to week, there’s the matter of the threshold for an acceptable box office return being far lower for either film than it would be if, say, Paramount decided to launch this experiment with the next Transformers. (This, at least, would allow that film to shamelessly beam advertisements into your home around a loosely assembled movie with even greater ease.) While other heavy-hitting distributors like Regal and Cinemark weigh the merits of this new model, it’s hard to fault AMC for getting in on the game. After all, times are tough for theaters, no matter how many times people race back out to see Jurassic World orInside Out yet again.

Digression time, and briefly, but 2014’s box office hit a 20-year low. Any number of reasons have been cited for this: the exhaustive parade of mega budget sequels and franchise properties, the decline of the theatrical experience in the smartphone age, the quality of modern movies, the overpriced theaters themselves. Since each of those bullet points arguably deserves its own series of lengthy essays, let’s just focus on that last bit — the theaters. Everybody has their own story (and if you want to leave a comment to this effect, please do), but since CoS is a Chicago-rooted publication, let’s talk numbers in Chicago as they currently stand.

On average, a movie ticket to a local AMC or Regal theatre is $7-13 dollars, depending on the time of day. Concessions, the real cash cow for any big-time theater giving most of the ticket income right back to the studios, will run you $6-8 for a popcorn, $4-6 for a drink, and that’s to say nothing of candy or the bars more and more theaters are installing of late. (More on that later.) So, already the trip is running you an estimable average of at least $20 for yourself. Want that screening in 3D? Add another three or four dollars. Make it another few more if you want it on an “IMAX” screen, most of which are just the “super screens” of yore re-branded and up-charged into oblivion. So, now you’re getting into the $25-30 range. That doesn’t even include parking and assumes it’s just you. Have a family of four? Suddenly you’re spending over $100 for the privilege of watching little, yellow corn men holler nonsense or something to that effect. And broken down that way, it’s not particularly hard to understand why people aren’t going to the movies.

Attendance is always huge for big summer spectacles (unless your film happens to be named Terminator Genisys, anyway), but it’s low-budget fare like Paranormal Activity that stands to benefit most from Paramount’s bold new model. In this way, for at least a while, going to see a film in a theater can be an opening-weekend event for those desirous of such a thing, and for the people who don’t care, or would rather just watch a new movie at home, now they only have to wait a month or so. And theaters have been struggling of late; Disney recently fought with theatrical distributors over Age of Ultron in an attempt to micro-regulate theaters’ abilities to offer discounts, so as to boost overall profits as much as possible. The recent monetary struggles of studio films in their theatrical phase has led to everybody getting chippy on every side, attempting to retain their part of an old structure as the whole thing starts to crumble, and therefore it’s unsurprising that, as one anonymous exec told The Wall Street Journal, Paramount’s gambit is “the edge of the sword.” Sooner or later, somebody was going to at least try it.

It does, however, cast an even longer shadow over the big question nobody really seems to want to answer: How badly do people want, and perhaps more importantly need, to see their movies in a theater? For years, the model has been shifting as streaming services have offered at least the early steps along a new path, one that sends films straight to the consumer and eradicates the middle men, at the cost of sacrificing the communal experience of the theater. Theaters all over the U.S. have been trotting out any number of new devices to attempt to combat this, from the aforementioned “IMAX” theaters to Dolby’s new Atmos sound system to electronic Barcaloungers in screening rooms to bars and restaurants in the theaters themselves. That last bit seems to be the most telling in examining audience preferences and theaters’ attempts to kowtow to them: to rouse themselves from the home, people have to be able to do an entire evening out in one shot. By letting people cut out the trip to the bar or to the restaurant across the parking lot, you cut out the chance that people could call it an early night and head home. Some may call that efficiency and savvy. Others, desperation.

The other massive change suggested by Paramount’s new distribution model, one that seems to have gone relatively unheralded in talk of it, is what this would do for the reputation of the straight-to-home film. Ever since the advent of the VHS in the ‘80s, there’s been a clear line between movies that come out in theaters and movies that don’t. Movies that come out in theaters are events worth lining up for; movies that go straight to home video usually star Dolph Lundgren. In recent years, this has changed, with VOD services allowing filmgoers both casual and serious to choose which films they’ll leave the house for and which are rented. There’s now the movie you go to the theater to see on opening weekend, the one you see after a few weeks when it’s less crowded, the movie you wait to Redbox, and the movie you wait to hopefully order right from your TV. In certain respects, it’s no different than the scenarios offered by the VHS or DVD, but now the timing is changing. Don’t feel like rousing yourself from your comfortable couch in the dead of winter to see a documentary across town? There’s a decent chance it’s already sitting right on your TV.

What’s going to change that reputation isn’t the distribution model, per se, but how it’s used. In a post-Netflix world, the best filmmakers aren’t necessarily working exclusively toward a big theatrical release any longer. Earlier this year Spike Lee released Da Sweet Blood of Jesus exclusively on Vimeo, nearly a month before its limited arthouse rollout.Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser debuted this past week on Crackle, Sony’s VOD service. Adam Sandler, perhaps that first example’s most distinct polar opposite, has signed a multi-film deal with Netflix for his upcoming releases, and the Duplass brothers recently followed suit. For filmmakers either looking for a more lucrative model in a tumultuous, focus group-centric time for studios, or even those like the Duplasses (Duplassi?) who simply prefer to play in a smaller, more controllable sandbox, streaming services like Netflix are already offering a way out of the crowded studio landscape.

To a certain extent, this is a great thing. Independent filmmaking has become its own lucrative beast in the time of the “Sundance hit” being the gold standard, and so even with studios like Fox Searchlight and Focus (at least the Focus of the early aughts, if not the one at present), the ostensible goal is still to manufacture a low-budget smash hit. Independent filmmaking in its rawest sense has largely moved online, because there, the sort of person who’d chase out to their local independent theater can find whatever they want. It’s also eradicated so many of the hurdles that used to accompany a cinephile’s early years if they didn’t live in a major urban center. (Often I lament that I didn’t become obsessed with film in high school when so many would have been at my eager fingertips. But it would’ve come at the expense of learning things like basic human interaction, so that’s probably just as well.) In so many words, streaming services have made it a lot easier for people to fall in love with the cinema, and that’s usually the point. Right?

But every frontier eventually sees a conqueror, and Paramount might be that. Much of the impetus for so many independent films’ recent reliance on VOD is the relative impossibility of getting them into major theaters. Because of chains like AMC and Regal and Cineplex Inc., the same chains hashing out this momentous decision with Paramount, so many American films released in a single calendar year won’t be seen by more than a few thousand people. VOD has offered a way for the dedicated cinephile to escape the exhaustion of going to a 20-screen theater where only a half dozen movies are playing, as they are at every other similar theater in the area at the same time, probably.

For Paramount or any major studio to move into that space, then, is to continue the problem that’s been plaguing theaters for decades now: How does everybody get a place at the table when the latecomers are taking up so much space? The answer, in its numerous iterations so far at least, is that they don’t. The heavy hitters will dominate the conversation, and the rest will clamor for whatever remains. This isn’t to say that no studio should; setting aside the crushing inevitability of it all, there’s also something to be said for the possibilities of studios taking chances on less-proven properties with a lower ceiling for success in place. But wherever there’s a takeover, there’s always a casualty.

If anything, that casualty may well be the theater, long before it’d be the micro-budget movie. And there’s something truly sad about that, about the idea that we could be watching the end of an institution in its dominant time, about how the movie theater might one day be a niche activity on par with the drive-in that some people enjoy, but from which many have moved on. Lest you assume this to be melodrama, ask anybody in your life who isn’t a dedicated film buff how many movies they’ve seen in a theater in the past one, two, five years. In the likely event that number is low, ask them why they stopped going, and you’ll hear all about the prices, the disrespectful patrons, the 20 minutes of trailers, et al.

So many disparate forces have conspired to make the theatrical experience as difficult as possible that we’re all trying to find a new way to watch movies. Selfishly, we can’t help but hope against hope that the old way isn’t beyond saving. The new way, whatever it ends up looking like in its most crystallized form, is all but guaranteed to look a lot more solitary.

This article originally appeared on Consequence of Sound

TIME Media

Saudi TV Just Got a Lot More Feminist

Sponsored Women Saudi Show
Courtesy Rotana Network Sponsored Women

An edgy drama about four young women who move to America is a surprise hit over Ramadan

At first glance, the four stars of a new Saudi television drama, “Mubta’ethat” or “Sponsored Women,” look a little mis-matched. There’s Salma, a chic tomboy with short hair and red lipstick, Raghad, a glam-girl with confident strides and princess curls, Sara, a feisty hijabi with colorful clothing, and Alia, a cautious girl who wears a black niqab (covering of the hair and entire face, with only slits for the eyes). But they have one thing in common: They’ve each got a U.S. visa page in their green passport. It is their golden ticket to leave their homes in Saudi Arabia to pursue an education in Philadelphia.

The show highlights how these Saudi women fluidly adapt to a Western world while maintaining their Eastern ideals. They enroll in English classes, move into their own apartments and learn how to drive a car. They all steer their own lives for the first time.

The script plays with the obvious contrasts inherent in the plot–the girls are almost as different from each other as their culture is from the one they’ll encounter in the United States. It manages to also dig into stereotypes about America or women in veils.

During the 30 episodes, the women are forced to identify with each other and confront their own biases. Their friendship can be compared to that of a certain all-female cult HBO show from the 90s. The now classic formula of bringing together very different girls with strong personalities and courageous adventures still works. This time, with a Saudi accent.

The program debuted on June 17, the first day of Ramadan, and was broadcast in Saudi Arabia every night through the Holy month which ended in mid-July.

The show enjoyed a steady viewership over the course of the month. Each night, the episode would be uploaded on YouTube after it airs, and the comment section would quickly populate. “These girls don’t represent any Saudi girl I know and I’m a sponsored student,” reads a comment. “This is an amazing series, can’t wait for the next episode,” reads another. The positive reviews seem to outweigh the negative ones. Since it is broadcast during the Holy Month, this revolutionary show is representing millennials in a way that Saudi TV hasn’t otherwise seen.

The show has an impressive pedigree: Directed by Oscar-nominated Saudi superstar, Haifaa Al Mansour and written by her sister, Noura Al Mansour, it was produced by Rotana Khalejia, a company that is partially owned by Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal.

The characters are from key parts of Saudi and represent different lifestyles and social temperaments. Surely, young girls in Saudi can identify with qualities found in every one of these women.

Salma is from the liberal West Coast, Raghad is from the luxurious capital, Sara is from the moderate East Coast and Alia is originally from conservative Al Qassim.

Each family reacts differently to the departure of their daughter to the faraway continent. And while each girl has at least one family member closely watching over them in Philadelphia, letting go is still nerve wrecking for the families.

In one comical scene, Alia’s mother is seen stealthily stuffing stacks of (imported) ramen noodles and sacks of rice into her daughter’s luggage before departing from Saudi. “They have that food in America!” her frustrated husband protests. “No! It’s laced with drugs there!” the exasperated mother replies. They are nervous about sending their only child, a daughter, to the unknown.

“It smells like freedom! Of course, it tastes like nicotine,” Salma, says on the phone, as she cautiously drags a puff from a cigarette upon arrival to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Despite being a few continents away, she maintains the Saudi fear of being seen smoking in public.

Actress Noor Al Badr who plays Salma, is a doctor in real life. She got “the randomest call” from Al Mansour who asked her to join the cast. Five days later, Al Badr was on the plane to Bahrain, where they shot most of the show.

“Of course, most people thought I was crazy. I was a doctor! According to most people in our society, acting is not something to be proud of. I think I’m the first Saudi girl to smoke on TV. I wanted to break the taboo,” Al Badr said.

No Saudi feminist show would be complete without the subject of the hijab. The irony is not lost on the characters. Two of the characters don’t cover their hair and two do. In one scene, Salma says of Alia, “She can see everyone but nobody can see her.” Alia, played by actress Zara Albaloshi, repeats how her covering is the ultimate feminist statement. Perhaps most surprising of all, Alia falls in love with a non-Muslim American, Jason, who lives in her building. He becomes interested in Islam and converts. By the end of the series, Alia, the girl who only reveals her eyes to the world, gives her heart to Jason.

The show’s U.S. location is also telling: Philadelphia is central to the American Dream. It is where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The women are in the U.S. on an academic scholarship, called the Saudi Scholarship. They are “sponsored,” hence the title of the show. Saudi Arabia has been funding Saudi students in the U.S. since 1960, but the late King Abdullah’s Scholarship Program, which launched a decade ago, was the largest push in encouraging female citizens to study abroad. In just five decades, Saudi girls went from not knowing how to read or write to a 97 percent literacy rate, according to UNICEF.

Although the image of Saudi women has changed over the generations, the outdated impressions haven’t yet caught up with reality. The show makes a point of addressing these issues.

“With 150,000 men and women studying abroad, why is Saudi considered to be a ‘developing country?’ In reality, it is quite developed,” Sara, played by actress Maram Abdulaziz, asks her classmates in one scene.

Actress Noura Assar’s character, Raghad, has her camera at the ready to document the trials and triumphs of her Saudi female friends. An aspiring actress and director, Raghad’s quiet rebellion comes in the form of selecting that area of study. There is no such industry in Saudi Arabia today.

Assar thinks the show is starting a different conversation. “I am proud to say that the image of Saudi women has come a long way from what it used to be; strong Saudi women always existed, however, the image was very much attached to a certain stereotype. The scholarships, I’d say, participated in this change due to the ‘face to face’ method of dealing with others, where people in other countries saw for themselves what these ladies can achieve and become,” she said.

Her co-star agrees.

“Just because we can’t drive doesn’t mean we can’t fly and reach for the stars. Hope the show will continue next Ramadan!” Al Badr said.

TIME Media

Spotify Will Send You a Personalized Mixtape Every Week

New feature will compete with curated playlists on Apple and Google's music services

With curation becoming an ever-more-important aspect of the music streaming wars, Spotify is adding a new feature to help its users find interesting, personalized playlists.

The company on Monday announced a new feature called “Discover Weekly,” which will serve users a two-hour-long playlist once a week based on their musical tastes. The list is populated based on a user’s listening habits, as well as the songs other users with similar taste are listening to or adding to their own playlists.

Spotify likens the selection of songs to “having your best friend make you a personalized mixtape every single week.” The first playlists should be available Monday.

The new feature is another maneuver to keep Spotify users from decamping for Apple Music, which is currently offering a three-month free trial to curious music listeners. One of Apple Music’s big pitches is a “For You” section that shows users playlists curated by experts based on their past listening habits. Spotify already has its own music discovery features, but they’re not as front-and-center as they are on Apple Music.

TIME Media

Like It or Not, Donald Trump Is News

Saying that his campaign isn't a legitimate political story may feel good, but it denies reality.

On Friday, July 17, the Huffington Post announced that it would no longer cover Donald Trump, a candidate for President of the United States, as political news; instead, his campaign would go in the entertainment section. “Trump’s campaign is a sideshow,” wrote Huffington’s Ryan Grim and Danny Shea. “We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.”

The next day at an event in Iowa, Trump insulted Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, saying McCain was only a hero “because he was captured.” Most of the major Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee condemned Trump’s comment with an eagerness and alacrity they would not have shown had Kim Kardashian said it.

The reason, of course, is that Trump has become a problem for them: a political problem, not an entertainment problem. He’s claiming one of the limited spots in the upcoming debates and inflaming racial controversy by vilifying Mexican immigrants. His Nielsen ratings are not the issue here; his poll numbers are.

He’s a problem–and a story–because at this moment in time, Donald Trump is a politically newsworthy figure.

You could, of course, argue that Trump–like Martin O’Malley or Lindsey Graham or any number of political candidates covered as such–has no chance of winning. That he has no intention of winning. That early polls–which had Herman Cain the leader four years ago–are useless. That Trump shouldn’t be in the political debate because he’s outside the pale of civil discourse. And any news outlet is free to say just that!

You could also argue that Trump is getting way too much coverage proportionately, and you would probably be right. A good way to send that message would be by not covering him, or covering him far less, and ceding the delicious traffic that everyone in the news business knows comes by hanging a shiny golden ‘T’ on your stories.

But if Trump is newsworthy at all right now, it’s for political reasons.

A candidate doesn’t have to have a shot at winning to affect the race, even after he or she leaves it. Look at how Ross Perot made the deficit a central issue in the 1992 campaign, or how the conga line of Tea Party favorites pushed Mitt Romney to declare himself “severely conservative” in the 2012 primary.

It says something that Trump, a clown even by the forgiving standards of reality TV, is leading the polls–and it says something political, whether you like it or not. It shows how volatile and open the GOP race is right now. It shows that there is a streak of angry nativism in the party electorate, and the party establishment’s attempts to squelch it are like trying to squash an air mattress: the air will just find another place to swell out, and right now Donald Trump is that gas-inflated prominence.

Moving him to the Entertainment section is a symbolic message, but a bad one. For starters, it’s an insult to the Entertainment section, which should be more than a repository for “the dumb news.” The Huffington Post’s TV critic, Maureen Ryan, is one of the best in the business; I’d rather read her analysis of Trump as a media figure than 95% of the glib political hot takes out there. (There’s nothing wrong with doing serious coverage of political issues in the Entertainment section too; that’s where the article you’re reading now appears, because that’s where we run much of our media coverage.)

It smacks of paternalism. You may think you support this candidate, it tells voters, but you really don’t, or you won’t eventually. Or anyway you shouldn’t and since you clearly can’t be trusted to come to right thinking on your own–you wouldn’t even take Jon Huntsman seriously in 2012 when the political press told you to!–we’re going to need to give you this nudge.

Above all, it bolsters the bogus idea that coverage equals approbation. Covering candidates isn’t an endorsement any more than covering ISIS is. You do it because they matter. If they don’t, you should use your limited resources elsewhere.

If Huffington, or anyone else, wants to make the case that Trump is a fraud, or dangerous, or unserious, or simply wrong, by all means go ahead! Serious, smart journalism can argue a point of view. But it has to be grounded in reality, and the reality is that America has come to the juncture where Donald J. Trump is a political figure.

If you believe he’s news, then cover him as political news. If you don’t, but you still want to cover him because you know people will flock to something gilded and loud and shiny: well, Donald Trump knows a thing or two about that business.

TIME Media

How Exclusives Are Hurting Streaming Music

SWEDEN-MUSIC-COMPANY-SPOTIFY
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images This photo illustration shows the Android application logo of Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Battle lines are being drawn as Apple, Tidal and others nab exclusive content. That's bad for consumers

When Taylor Swift said she would bring her multiplatinum album 1989 to Apple Music last month, it was seen as a victory for music streaming as the next evolution of music distribution. But it also exemplifies an increasingly frustrating experience for users: Albums and songs appearing exclusively on one particular streaming platform.

Apple Music is the only on-demand streaming service where 1989 is currently available. Swift famously removed her entire catalogue from Spotify last year, arguing against Spotify’s ad-supported offering that gives users access to the service’s entire catalog for free. Swift’s discography, minus 1989, does appear on rival services that don’t let users stream everything without charge, like Google Play Music, Rdio and Tidal. The pop artist has said her tie-up with Apple’s service isn’t an “exclusive deal,” but has given no indication if or when her latest album may appear on competing platforms. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, while a representative for Taylor Swift declined to comment.

Swift isn’t the only artist who has decided to keep some of her music exclusive to certain streaming services. Prince’s discography has been yanked from Spotify, but it’s available on Google Play Music and Tidal. Lil Wayne released a new mixtape via Tidal over the Fourth of July weekend, one of a number of exclusives the upstart service is using to gain attention. And on July 10, Drake debuted his latest music video exclusively on Apple Music. Increasingly, artists — or their record labels — are limiting the number of ways fans can access their music.

If this trend continues, music fans could be forced to buy two or more $10-per-month streaming services to get guaranteed access to all of their favorite artists’ songs and videos. There’s a precedent for what’s happening here in the movie world: Five years ago, Netflix had an unbeatable library of movies available for streaming because it was largely the only game in town. Now, as the streaming market has grown and new competitors have joined the fray, the breadth of Netflix’s offerings has declined, and some people are paying for more than one service to get access to more films.

The Battle for Exclusives isn’t just a problem for music listeners — it’s an issue for the industry, too. Right now, only about 41 million people around the world pay for a music streaming service — that’s not nothing, but it’s far from a majority of music listeners. In fact, just 10% of the industry’s overall revenue from recorded music comes from subscription services. You might think paying about $120 a year for access to a seemingly unlimited selection is a steal, but that’s already more than double the $55 a year the average music listener in the U.S. spends on recorded music. If the music industry’s plan is to compel millions of people to double their spending on music each year, any single $10/month offering must be comprehensive in meeting listeners’ tastes. As more music gets Balkanized on one service or another, the less appealing paying for streaming looks overall.

‘The opportunity is how do we make subscription a mainstream thing,” says Elias Roman, product manager for Google Play Music. “If people pay 10 bucks a month for service A and it doesn’t have a release they want because it’s windowed on service B, as an industry we’re kind of shooting the value proposition in the foot a little bit.”

Exclusives could hurt the music industry in the battle against piracy, too. Inexpensive and comprehensive streaming services have proven an effective way to fight illegal downloading: In Norway, where streaming services like Spotify are popular and long-established, less than 4% of people under 30 still illegally download music, according to a December survey by recording industry group IFPI. That happened because streaming is safe, easy-to-use and packed with every song a person could want. Get rid of any of these factors, and some portion of customers would likely have no problem returning to piracy.

Analysts say it’s unlikely that digital music services’ libraries will become as fractured those of Netflix or Amazon’s movie offerings. Cutting lots of exclusive deals would be expensive for streaming services, some of which are not profitable. It would also stand to cut off artists from a portion of their fanbase who don’t follow them to a specific service. “It’s not clear how good these things are at actually driving subscribers,” says Dan Cryan, a media analyst at IHS, of music exclusives. “Over the next 3 to 5 years, it will not become a mainstream activity.”

Instead of competing on exclusives, then, streaming services may be better off competing on the user experience — whether that’s Spotify’s robust social networking features, Apple Music’s curated playlists or Google Play Music’s context-sensitive radio stations. These are the features that compel customers to pick one service over another, not their music libraries. Trying to frame streaming’s value proposition around specific albums and videos makes little sense in a world where any piece of content can proliferate for free across the Internet from the very moment it’s released.

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