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7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: From Walkmans to Game Boys - meet the people who still use retro gadgets

Settle down in a comfy chair with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked some of the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. Endangered languages

A fascinating piece about the fight to preserve languages that are in danger of disappearing. 

(The Guardian, approx 15 mins reading time)

All languages may be equal in the abstract, but much harder to bridge are the social and historical disparities among their speakers. At present, about half of all languages are spoken by communities of 10,000 or fewer, and hundreds have just 10 speakers or fewer. On every continent, the median number of speakers for a language is below 1,000, and in Australia this figure goes as low as 87.

Today, these numbers reflect serious endangerment, and even languages with hundreds of thousands or a few million speakers can be considered vulnerable. In the past, however, small language communities could be quite stable, especially hunter-gatherer groups, which typically comprised fewer than 1,000 people. Likewise, most older sign languages, now critically endangered, evolved in so-called deaf villages, where the incidence of hereditary deafness in the population was significantly higher than elsewhere, though still rarely more than about 2%. Many hearing people in these villages could also sign, but the core group of signers was typically several hundred at most.

2. Retro gadgets

dublinireland-may2022sonysportswalkmanradiocassette A Sony Sports Walkman radio cassette player. Shutterstock / Nicola_K_photos Shutterstock / Nicola_K_photos / Nicola_K_photos

Despite the advances in technology over the last few decades, from music streaming services to AI, there are people who are still in love with vintage Game Boys and Walkmans. Larry Ryan meets them.

(The Guardian, approx 14 mins reading time)

“Time can make easy fetishists of us all,” remarked the culture writer Niko Stratis on seeing news stories reporting that branches of Urban Outfitters in the US were selling iPods for $350 (not far off the price they were on release in the early 2000s). There is plenty of such backward-gazing trading to be found online: eBay seller Retrogadgets-UK offers a “factory-sealed” third-generation iPhone “sold for collectors only” listed at £2,499.99. US brand Retrospekt sells all manner of refurbished old tech. “Our mission is to give you a product with years of history that works like it was made yesterday,” it declares. Elsewhere you can find camcorders and digital cameras, VHS and DVD players, “vintage” Game Boys, clock radios, and everything in between – including the soundtrack to classic teen soap Beverly Hills 90210 on cassette (yours for £15.39, if that’s your thing). And a surprisingly large number of Walkmans.

3. Wartime salons

Two years on from the invasion of Ukraine, this piece looks at resilience and resistance in a time of war through the lens of beauty salons. Sophia Panych writes about how they have adapted, with many of them now operating from bunkers to provide services – as well as refuge.

(Allure, approx 20 mins reading time)

“An air alert is sounded when airplanes with possible weapons take off somewhere in Russia; an air alert doesn’t scare anyone anymore,” explains Borodina. It’s at this point that some Ukrainians who find themselves in public spaces go through a series of calculations, not all of which are based in fact or official protocols, attempting to rationalize the risk. “When a missile launch is recorded, you receive an air-raid alert on your phone, but even then Ukrainians don’t immediately seek shelter,” Borodina continues. “You have to find out where the launches are coming from. If it is the Caspian Sea, we know it will take about 50 minutes to fly to Kyiv. So I have the opportunity to finish this Zoom, finish my manicure, and then, in 30 minutes, if [the missile is] suddenly directed to Kyiv or if it doesn’t get shot down, I move.”

4. ‘At first I was afraid…’

gloria-gaynor-us-singer-in-1979 Gloria Gaynor in 1979. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The history of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 disco hit and how it became a universal break-up anthem.

(BBC, approx 10 mins reading time)

I Will Survive isn’t just a beloved disco record, but also a landmark one. In 2016, it was listed in the National Recording Registry, a catalogue of sound recordings “deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. Despite being 45 years old, the song itself retains a generation-spanning appeal. Gen Z icon Harry Styles covered it during his 2022 Coachella headline set, while Madonna, one of pop’s great survivors, is singing it on her career-spanning Celebration Tour. Miley Cyrus’s shimmering 2023 hit Flowers, which was recently named record of the year at the Grammys, doesn’t formally sample I Will Survive, but does contain echoes of its dance floor defiance. When Flowers was released last year, Gaynor said approvingly that it “carries the torch of empowerment”. Bestley says that because the two songs “mix very well together”, they have been pairing Flowers and I Will Survive in their DJ sets for “a peak moment”.

5. The ‘pretendian’ phenomenon

How a mother and her twin daughters fraudulently claimed to be Indigenous and benefited to the tune of thousands of dollars.  

(Toronto Life, approx 28 mins reading time)

There are two kinds of fraudsters, according to Teillet: fabricators who invent Indigenous identities whole cloth and embellishers who exaggerate some perceived connection. Some embellishers bolster their claims using the results of DNA tests showing small percentages of Indigenous heritage. Others exploit unverified family stories about a distant Indigenous relative. Whatever kind of identity fraud they’re engaging in, they generally lie to get ahead professionally. Maybe they want an Indigenous award or grant or acceptance into networks that are closed to them. Such fraudsters exploit affirmative action initiatives or diversity, equity and inclusion protections, says Teillet. As an Indigenous applicant, the person could be accepted into law or medical school when they’d otherwise be rejected. And sometimes, the motivation is even simpler: “They want something that makes them unique and different, and this gives them a chance to say they’re special,” Teillet says.

6. The BentProp Project

worldwariieraamericanbomberinflight File photo of World War II fighter plane. Shutterstock / Ivan Cholakov Shutterstock / Ivan Cholakov / Ivan Cholakov

Stephen Mihm meets the team dedicated to finding and recovering the wreckage of US planes and the airmen who flew them during the Second World War. 

(Smithsonian Magazine, approx 24 mins reading time)

One afternoon a week later, toward day’s end, a large crane reels up the first recovery basket of the mission, steering it to a soft landing on the back of the barge. The team members swarm around it, peering intently at the contents: large, twisted pieces of metal, some scorched and warped by fire, and several mysterious sections of black rubber. One by one, the artifacts come out, gently cradled and placed on a tarp. The black rubber turns out to be swaths of the fuel bladder, its white stenciled serial numbers still bright and legible. Then comes a piece of the bomb bay door, its hydraulics still attached; skeins of electrical wires; and a handful of indignant crabs, which are promptly returned to the sea. The most evocative items are the smallest: a piece of Bakelite, likely from a radio; a strand of silk parachute cord, still intact; and, most haunting of all, spent rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun that turret gunner Di Petta fired as the plane came under attack. “They went down fighting,” a younger diver murmurs, turning the relic over in his hand. 

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

It’s 15 years since Disney Pixar’s ‘Up’ was released. This 2022 read explores the making of the first 10 minutes of the film – and why it makes you cry. 

(The Ringer, approx 11 mins reading time)

“I remember Pete saying Ellie was the spirit of adventure,” director of photography (camera) Jean-Claude Kalache says. Indeed, the two characters bond by spending time in the abandoned shack that Ellie has fashioned into a clubhouse. While visiting Carl one evening, she shows him “My Adventure Book,” in which she illustrates her dream: to one day travel to the mythical Paradise Falls. She even makes Carl swear that he’ll take her (and her clubhouse) there. In a flash, Up snaps into a montage of their life together: the two pals fall in love, get married, buy what was once Ellie’s hideaway and turn it into a home of their own. But as they age together and life grows more complicated, their bucket-list trip becomes more and more elusive. Then, it’s too late. “We figured the best way to make the audience understand—and care—would be to connect his house to a relationship, and unfinished business,” Docter says. “We worked hard to visually train the audience to associate the house with his wife, and the unkept promise of an adventure in South America.”

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