Processed Product: Top 5

What better way to celebrate the end of Processed Product’s first year than with a best-of list? Besides being peak movie season, December is the month of lists, making it one of my favorite months of the year.

I love lists. The succinct, easy-to-scan sum-ups make it easy to see what rose to the top, and although I feel culturally vindicated when the few books or albums I’ve bought make the grade, I generally file away the results, intending to check out what’s best sometime after I’ve finished consuming other things from the past. So here goes:

Processed Product’s Top 5 Cultural Artifacts Consumed In 2014


Wire-“Chairs Missing”

No other album received as much play as this one in 2014. The hooks are less immediately apparent than on “Pink Flag,” but the songs have more structure and nuance, which earned them the nickname Punk Floyd. The album reminded me that creativity always transcends limitations. Some of the songs still make use of only two chords, but the band sucks us in again and again with loud, sharp melodies, often balancing foreboding with humor in their textured sounds and lyrics. I printed out a copy of the cryptic lyrics and read them even when I wasn’t listening to the album. Listen to the whole of “French Film (Blurred),” the build-up of “Mercy,” followed, in what is truly inspired sequencing, by the goofy pop-glory of “Outdoor Miner,” a song about fly larvae. Perfectly weird and inspiring.


Katherine Dunn-“Geek Love”

This came to my attention because the book is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and Dunn is a Portland resident, which means Caitlin Roper’s excellent Wired write up appeared in the Willamette Week and was mentioned in the Oregonian. Its influence is wide-ranging, and the book has remained a best-seller despite its odd narrative. Roper’s description of the language–and Karen Russell’s endorsement–meant that I bought the book immediately. The story concerns the Binewski family, and the narrator is a hunchbacked albino dwarf who is in love with her maniacal brother, Aqua Boy. The family drama becomes engrossing, disturbing, and beautiful.


Jonathan Glazer-“Under the Skin”

If you’re sensing a theme to this list, you’d be right. What I most enjoy is that which haunts me, especially the feeling of the uncanny. I want to be unsettled. This year, “Under the Skin” provided a brilliant recipe: Take Predator (1987), substitute the dreadlocked, techie alien with Scarlet Johansson, alter the monster’s evolutionary advantage from weapons to sex, travel from the South American jungle to Scotland, add beautiful cinematography, a director who at one point must have listed 2001 as his ‘favorite film of all time,’ and remove Arnold Schwarzenegger entirely. The result is a meditation on what truly strange creatures we are.


“Game of Thrones: Season 4”

 Well after the show became an institution that millions of people watch, I finally relented. I usually appreciate adaptations, understanding that difference is a given; the grammar of graphic media is obviously more immediate, and I come to enjoy how the one complements the other. After watching Season 1, however, I didn’t understand the fuss. The books were so much richer and more involved; that, and they gave me vivid dreams. But at some point in Season 3, I realized the economy of the storytelling and how Benioff and Weiss captured the essence of what Martin would have taken a chapter (or three) to reveal. I won’t be tweeting about the show or joining any messageboards anytime soon, but I can now say that I’m a fan.


Frederick Douglass-“Narrative of the Life”

The least ‘pop’ entry here to be sure, but reading Douglass’s “Narrative” for the first time–and then teaching it–affected me more deeply than anything else this year. The book depicts the horrors of slavery from an elevated narrative distance that is more chilling than any fictional account. Douglass rarely gives us insight into his own heart, writing in places that he ‘wish[ed] he could commit to paper the feelings with which he beheld” awful violence, and instead offers vivid reports of what happened with occasionally sly commentary. For instance, when one slave trespasses on a Mr. Bondly’s property, Bondly chases the man down and shoots him. With his musket, he “blew its deadly contents into the poor man.” The next day, Bondly comes over to see the slave’s owner, Colonel Lloyd, “whether to pay him for his property or to justify himself in what he had done, I know not.” Such matter-of-fact accounting forms Douglass’s argument. To Northern readers who questioned the veracity of slave accounts, assuming many of them to be exaggerated, Douglass presents the cold, bitter truth.

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