Support Aeon this December

Every donation makes a difference.

Please Give Now

‘We need your support to sustain Aeon in 2019. Your end-of-year gift will help us spread knowledge and promote a cosmopolitan worldview.’

Brigid Hains, Editorial Director

Please Give Now

ORIGINAL

Dispatches from the ruins

5 minutes

ORIGINAL

What fat is for

4 minutes

The big city

6 minutes

Spacesavers

4 minutes

Can food nourish your soul?

2 minutes

Why do we crave the awful futures of apocalyptic fiction?

In the first two decades of the new millennium, stories of the post-apocalypse have permeated pop culture, from books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) to films and TV programmes such as The Walking Dead (2010-), the Hunger Games series (2012-15) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). While post-apocalyptic fictions of previous eras largely served as cautionary tales – against nuclear brinksmanship in On the Beach (1959) or weaponised biology in The Stand (1978) – today’s versions of these tales depict less alterable, more oblique and diffuse visions of our doom. So why can’t we seem to get enough of humanity’s unavoidable collapse and its bleak aftermath? 

Dispatches from the Ruins reflects on what these stories – set among crumbling buildings, overgrown lots and barren wastelands – might be telling us about modern fears and fantasies. This Aeon original video is adapted from an Aeon essay by the US writer Frank Bures. Bures is also the author of The Geography of Madness (2016), a book about cultural syndromes across the world. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and appeared in Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly and the Washington Post Magazine, among others.

Director and Editor: Adam D’Arpino

Producer: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Writer: Frank Bures

Narrator: Karl Miller

Music: Steven Bulinski

Published in association with
SAPIENS
an Aeon Partner

Abundance has made fat an enemy, but it’s been a friend to humans for millennia

Despite the modern Western obsession with bodyweight, the idea that fat bodies are unsightly and unhealthy is largely unprecedented in human history. Nevertheless, the thin ideal is spreading, permeating societies where ‘a little extra’ has been celebrated, even until very recently. But, as this short video collaboration between Aeon and SAPIENS explains, the idea of fat as something we should get rid of is a historical outlier. Playfully visualised by the London-based Kazakh animator Ermina Takenova, What Fat Is For probes the complex role of fat across human society, from mysterious Palaeolithic figurines to Jamaican dance halls, treating this vital component of our bodies with the complexity, even reverence, it deserves.

Director and Animator: Ermina Takenova

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Writer: Nicola Williams

Associate Producer: Adam D'Arpino

Sound Design: Adam D'Arpino, Eli Cohn

Meet your single-celled neighbours – a microbial tour of a metropolis

From an anthropocentric point of view, big cities are one of humanity’s most majestic achievements: massive, self-contained ecosystems built by, catering to, and inhabited by huge numbers of people. But you could forgive microorganisms for claiming that cities are actually theirs. After all, they outnumber humans in urban environments by the trillions. They also affect cityscapes in a far more tangible way: city planners and epidemiologists shape urban environments with pathogenic threats in mind. 

For his experimental short film The Big City, the Canadian filmmaker Evan Luchkow put the hidden lifeforms of downtown Vancouver’s main roads under the literal microscope, documenting the various microbes he found to reveal, in his words, ‘the blurry boundary between human society and the natural world’. The result is an extraordinary and enlightening glimpse of the vast biodiversity with which we share our cities. 

Director: Evan Luchkow

The peculiar Boston tradition that (mostly) keeps the winter parking peace

After snowstorms in Boston, street parking tensions tend to rise, especially when car owners clear out spaces near their residences only to later find another driver has swiped their hard-earned spot. But walk the city’s streets in the wake of a blizzard, and you’ll notice a uniquely Bostonian visual language that aims to keep the parking peace – even if it isn’t always successful. In a decades-old winter tradition codified by a former mayor, residents in most Boston neighbourhoods are allowed to hold their spaces for up to 48 hours using everyday objects. The formerly Boston-based director Sarah Ginsburg explores the peculiar practice in her film Spacesavers. Shot during the winter of 2015 – a record-breaking season for snowfall – the wry observational short offers a distinctive vision of Boston’s winter streets where everything from lawn chairs to walkers and golf bags become ‘keep out’ signs.

Director: Sarah Ginsburg

Producer: Will Lennon

Liberation of the soul through diet – how a Jain ascetic lives

‘Soul requires spirituality. Soul does not require food.’

Nonviolence towards all forms of life is a cornerstone of Jainism, a nontheistic Indian religion that dates back to the 6th century BCE, and today has around 7 million followers. To Jainism’s strictest adherents, even a walk through the grass or drinking tea with honey can be a morally perilous proposition, given the soul-possessing living things, from plants to insects to microbes, that can be harmed in the process. Part of a video series on the intersection of food and spirituality by the Italian-born, London-based filmmaker Matan Rochlitz, this short features a Jain ascetic discussing how a restricted diet (mostly water and dry grains) guides his spiritually.

Director: Matan Rochlitz

Why do we crave the awful futures of apocalyptic fiction?

In the first two decades of the new millennium, stories of the post-apocalypse have permeated pop culture, from books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) and Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2014) to films and TV programmes such as The Walking Dead (2010-), the Hunger Games series (2012-15) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). While post-apocalyptic fictions of previous eras largely served as cautionary tales – against nuclear brinksmanship in On the Beach (1959) or weaponised biology in The Stand (1978) – today’s versions of these tales depict less alterable, more oblique and diffuse visions of our doom. So why can’t we seem to get enough of humanity’s unavoidable collapse and its bleak aftermath? 

Dispatches from the Ruins reflects on what these stories – set among crumbling buildings, overgrown lots and barren wastelands – might be telling us about modern fears and fantasies. This Aeon original video is adapted from an Aeon essay by the US writer Frank Bures. Bures is also the author of The Geography of Madness (2016), a book about cultural syndromes across the world. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and appeared in Harper’s, Lapham’s Quarterly and the Washington Post Magazine, among others.

Director and Editor: Adam D’Arpino

Producer: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Writer: Frank Bures

Narrator: Karl Miller

Music: Steven Bulinski

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Cultures & Languages
Who decides what words mean

Bound by rules, yet constantly changing, language might be the ultimate self-regulating system, with nobody in charge

Lane Greene

Essay/
Stories & Literature
What War of the Worlds did

The uncanny realism of Orson Welles’s radio play crystallised a fear of communication technology that haunts us today

Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey