Constructing the Chrysler Building (1929-30)

6 minutes

The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

7 minutes

Carl Sagan’s message to aliens

8 minutes

Sandorkraut

12 minutes

Giant Steps

2 minutes

‘Quite a height, ah?’ A tour of the Chrysler Building by those building it

The Chrysler Tower … stands by itself, something apart and alone. It is simply the realisation, the fulfilment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambition and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards.
The Architectural Forum, October, 1930

Today, it’s easy to mistake the Chrysler Building for just another skyscraper dotting the New York City skyline. But upon its completion in 1930, and until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931, it was the world’s tallest manmade structure. At the time, the tower was notable not just for its sheer mass, but for its polarisation of architecture critics, with detractors deriding the building as an unsightly novelty, and a monument to the grand ego of its car magnate namesake, Walter Chrysler. But, as is clear in this footage filmed by Fox Movietone News, while the building might have originated as a ‘one-man dream’, it was built on the backs of fearless ironworkers – self-proclaimed ‘roughnecks’, who constructed it without harnesses or hard hats. This footage from 1929 and 1930 of the building’s construction – including the placement of an iconic 61st-floor Art Deco eagle – showcases how these workers were less comfortable delivering canned lines for the cameras than they were sitting atop beams hundreds of feet high.

This footage was accessed and published by Aeon with the permission of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, an archive that ‘preserves films and videos produced outside the American feature film industry to make them available to present and future audiences’.

The pioneering psychologist who proved that being gay isn’t a mental illness

‘What is called this year “evil” and whatever, next year may constitute the blessing of the human race.’

Throughout much of the 20th century in the United States, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the medical establishment. This view created a cruel set of circumstances for gay people, as a lack of serious research into homosexuality allowed social institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and medical institutions could subject gay people to psychologically and physically damaging therapies.

This brief video essay explores the legacy of the late US psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1907-96), whose groundbreaking studies of homosexuality would help lay the groundwork for the modern gay rights movement. Inspired by her friendship with a gay student she met while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1940s, Hooker began to study mental stability in straight and gay male populations. Ultimately, her work revealed that there was no correlation between homosexuality and psychological maladjustment. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders amid pressure from gay rights activist, who cited Hooker’s pioneering work in their arguments.

Video by University of California

Website: Fig. 1

How do you message an alien? Carl Sagan offers some simple suggestions

Is there a foolproof way to announce our existence to other intelligent life-forms? It’s a brainteaser with vast potential consequences, and one that scientists seem to love puzzling over – even if some, such as Stephen Hawking, have questioned the wisdom of alerting advanced beings to our humble corner of the Universe. In this short video excerpt from a 1977 lecture at the Royal Institution in London, Carl Sagan – more optimistic about the prospect of alien benevolence than Hawking – offers one possible method. First, he establishes his belief that a common language among dissimilar beings in a shared universe should, in theory, be possible. He then presents a document coded in ones and zeroes, containing a message that he hopes could be decoded by an intelligent being anywhere in the Universe. Finally, Sagan recounts an experiment in which he presented the document to what he considers a ‘reasonably clever’ life-form – some of his graduate students at Cornell University – to see if they could decipher it.

Making sauerkraut is a spiritual matter for the ‘fermentation fetishist’ Sandor Katz

The US writer and activist Sandor Katz is one of the world’s leading experts on fermentation – a process born of the collaboration between people, time and microbes that makes possible such beloved culinary staples as bread, beer, wine, kimchi and miso. A self-described ‘fermentation fetishist’, Katz views this process as a humbling means of reconnecting with nature and its foodways, and has written several books on the subject and leads fermentation workshops in the US and abroad. In Sandorkraut, the US filmmakers Emily Lobsenz and Ann Husaini explore how an HIV diagnosis in 1991 led Katz on an unexpected path from New York City to a queer community in Tennessee, where he developed a spiritual connection with all things fermented.

Step into synaesthesia’s visual soundscape, built with the music of John Coltrane

The Israeli animator and artist Michal Levy is among the roughly 3 per cent of people who experience synaesthesia – a neurological condition in which people have a recurring sensory overlap, such as ‘tasting’ words or envisioning letters and numbers each with their own inherent colour. Levy possesses one of the most common forms of the condition, chromaesthesia, in which sounds and music provoke visuals. For her short film Giant Steps, Levy set out to convey her audiovisual experience of the John Coltrane composition ‘Giant Steps’ (1959). The resulting short animation is at once an intriguing window into the sensory world of a person with synaesthesia and an audiovisual delight, as Coltrane’s rollicking notes elicit a kinetic, cascading cityscape built from colourful blocks of sound.

To read more about synaesthesia, visit visit Aeon’s sister site, Psyche, a new digital magazine that illuminates the human condition through three prisms: mental health; the perennial question of ‘how to live’; and the artistic and transcendent facets of life.

Director: Michal Levy

‘Quite a height, ah?’ A tour of the Chrysler Building by those building it

The Chrysler Tower … stands by itself, something apart and alone. It is simply the realisation, the fulfilment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambition and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards.
The Architectural Forum, October, 1930

Today, it’s easy to mistake the Chrysler Building for just another skyscraper dotting the New York City skyline. But upon its completion in 1930, and until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931, it was the world’s tallest manmade structure. At the time, the tower was notable not just for its sheer mass, but for its polarisation of architecture critics, with detractors deriding the building as an unsightly novelty, and a monument to the grand ego of its car magnate namesake, Walter Chrysler. But, as is clear in this footage filmed by Fox Movietone News, while the building might have originated as a ‘one-man dream’, it was built on the backs of fearless ironworkers – self-proclaimed ‘roughnecks’, who constructed it without harnesses or hard hats. This footage from 1929 and 1930 of the building’s construction – including the placement of an iconic 61st-floor Art Deco eagle – showcases how these workers were less comfortable delivering canned lines for the cameras than they were sitting atop beams hundreds of feet high.

This footage was accessed and published by Aeon with the permission of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, an archive that ‘preserves films and videos produced outside the American feature film industry to make them available to present and future audiences’.

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Skinheads in Southend, England, in 1981. Photo by Michael Daines/Mirrorpix/Getty

Essay/
Subcultures
Hate reads

The Western canon has no shortage of fascists. But can the far-Right make ‘literature’ worthy of the name?

Andrew Marzoni

Self-Portrait in the Camp (1940), by Felix Nussbaum. Nussbaum was a prominent and admired artist prior to the Nazis seizing power in 1933. He subsequently worked in exile and hiding before being murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Neue Galerie New York/Getty Images

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Where loneliness can lead

Hannah Arendt enjoyed her solitude, but she believed that loneliness could make people susceptible to totalitarianism

Samantha Rose Hill