A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

Your name here

9 minutes

The swimmer

12 minutes

Agnes Callard on the agency of becoming

31 minutes

9at38

18 minutes

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

‘From dream to reality!’ The 1960s spoof that marked the dawn of self-aware advertising

At its height in the 1940s and ’50s, the now-defunct Calvin Company of Kansas City, Missouri was one of the largest and most successful producers of advertising films in the United States. With Your Name Here (1960), Calvin Company offered a wry, tongue-in-cheek satire of its own advertising style. Beginning with a generic retelling of human history before transitioning to a jingoistic story of American exceptionalism, a narrator declares that, for all our collective striving, ingenuity and brilliance, happiness still somehow eludes us. So what’s the solution? A more satisfying tobacco-smoking experience, of course. Or more leisure time. Or whatever it is that your product, service or institution offers. While today the self-aware commercial is a genre unto itself, it’s somewhat jarring to see the form so cleverly executed in this peculiar short, released at the dawn of the Mad Men era – a time when exceeding earnestness in advertising was very much still in fashion.

For this version of the film, Aeon’s video programmer and producer Tamur Qutab provided digital enhancements to the picture and sound.

‘It makes sense of everything I am.’ The transcendence of the long-distance swimmer

but today you swirl and spin
in sea water as if,
creatures of salt and slime
and naked under the sun,
life were a waking dream
and this the only life.
– From ‘A Swim in Co Wicklow’ (2011) by Derek Mahon

In 2012, the Irish long-distance swimmer Stephen Redmond became the first person to complete the Ocean’s Seven challenge, which includes marathon swims in seven channels around the world. In The Swimmer, the Irish filmmaker Thomas Beug takes us along on a brisk Atlantic swim, gracefully weaving lyrical images of Redmond on land and in the water with his musings on the ineffable sense of purpose he finds in the open water. Complementing Redmond’s narration are lines written and performed by the Irish poet Derek Mahon, offering a refreshing glimpse of the sublime and the spiritual within the realm of extreme sports.

Director: Thomas Beug

Producer: Jessica Bermingham

How the philosophical paradox of aspiration is resolved by a new theory of self-creation

Let’s say you’ve decided to enrich yourself by learning to appreciate classical music, even though you didn’t have much previous interest in it. Such a resolution is hardly uncommon, but acting on the aspiration requires you to value an activity that you don’t yet know how to. In this video, Agnes Callard, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, borrows from her book Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming (2018) to put forth a solution to this paradox centred on understanding our current and future selves as inexorably bound through the act of aspiration. Further, she argues, in resolving this paradox, we can understand ourselves as responsible for the act of self-creation – and, by extension, for our own morals and values. This video is part of the series Into the Coast, which sets out to capture philosophy as a ‘living discipline’ through interviews with leading academic philosophers.

Director: Octavian Busuioc

Producer: Katie Howe

Music: Tuomo Tiisala

The violinist staging a concert of unity at the border between North and South Korea

The South Korean violinist Hyung Joon Won has held a singular – and perhaps quixotic – dream for the past seven years: a joint concert by North and South Korean musicians at the world’s most contentious border. At 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separates the two countries at the 38th parallel. On this narrow strip, the threat of all-out war hangs heavy – and anyone with a violin case or a film camera gets short shrift. The South Korean-born filmmaker Catherine Kyungeun Lee follows Hyung Joon as his plan for a show of peace at the border teeters between success and collapse, at great personal cost to him. Filmed in 2015, her documentary traces the confluence between fraught geopolitics and all-too-human struggles on the peninsula.

Lee is now directing two documentaries in East Africa. One tells the story of a child-soldier who became a Harvard graduate and activist who was jailed in South Sudan, and the other follows the woman in charge of realising Somalia’s first democratic election in 50 years, despite seemingly insurmountable opposition.

Director: Catherine Kyungeun Lee

Producers: TR Boyce Jr, Ciara Lacy, Sarah S Kim

Website: 9at38

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

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Berlin, Potsdamer Platz (1932) by Carl Grossberg. Photo by AKG-Images

Essay/
Education
The scholar’s vocation

A century ago, Weber both diagnosed the ills of the corporatised, modern university, and pointed out the path beyond it

Chad Wellmon

Uummannaq Fjord in Northern Greenland. Photo by Ciril Jazbec/National Geographic

Essay/
Anthropology
We are wayfinders

Navigation and spatial awareness sustained humans for tens of thousands of years. Have we lost the trail in modern times?

Michael Bond