Tone Madison's best takes of 2017

Our writers held forth on Madison culture issues from the trivial to the dead-serious.

Photo by Chali Pittman.

Photo by Chali Pittman.

Madison is a complex, challenging, inspiring, and even occasionally infuriating place. At times there are things that just have to be said, opportunities that deserve to be identified, assumptions that need upending. The problems our writers wrestled with in opinion pieces in 2017 ranged from the profound, life-and-death consequences of state and local politics to a whole fiasco involving a chicken nugget sauce that I still don't really understand. But on some level, it was all important to this broader conversation we're trying to have about arts and culture in Madison. We issue these takes because we love.

The posthumous character assassination of Tony Robinson, by Michael Penn II

"Police and city officials' comments about the settlement proved that even two years later, they're not ready to own the basic humanity of a dead young man. Tony's humanity is still playing the same role in public discourse that it has since his killing: defenseless, senseless, and confined to a headline. Such discarding of the full being he was—young, capable, fallible—continues to rear its ugly head in the fallout of this settlement by pundits and neighbors alike."

With its new music gear, can UW synthesize fresh perspectives on sound?, by Emili Earhart

"Integrating electro-acoustic music into music schools' curriculum, encouraging students to experiment, and providing technological resources is crucial to making sure that students learn meaningful lessons about sound, whether one plans to buy a synth or master the traditional repertoire of their chosen instrument. High-end recording technology is important for auditions, and having access to speakers and microphones allows for a whole world of electro-acoustic repertoire to add to a student recital. Being able to simply run your instrument through your choice of a dozen or so effects pedals can yield a new way of listening to that instrument. And utilizing EARS, even just during a practice break, to experiment with a synthesizer or Ableton for the first time might inspire a student to take new musical paths."

Sinners in the hands of a tacky God, by Reid Kurkerewicz

"The mosaic also brings to mind some of the reasons why the Catholic Church hasn't been on top since the reformation in the first place. Back in the good old days before all this society-destroying technology (the printing press, English language Bibles, etc.) the Catholic Church had a monopoly on a religious reality, at least in a large swatch of the Western world, and so accrued a ton of wealth. Even before Martin Luther  and Gutenberg helped kicked off the dawn of social media (circa 17th century), the Church was associated with ostentatious displays of wealth, a rather on-point medieval hot-take of world order that eventually contributed to the downfall of Catholic hegemony in Europe. So, this is what we're left to ruminate on as we pass St. Paul's. It's just the Catholic Church being the Catholic Church. And you can never be more extra than the Catholic Church."

Madison wanted that Mulan McNugget sauce, Morty!, by Chris Lay

"It could be worse. Other than some light trolling, it sounds like Madisonians handled themselves with relative decency, especially compared to sauce-chasers elsewhere in the country. Footage of crestfallen Rick & Morty fans in California berating McDonald's employees with chants of "WE WANT SAUCE!" made it all the way to the BBC (as if we needed more evidence that some of Rick & Morty's most vocal supporters are dickheads)."

UW's disingenuous "Hillbilly Elegy" conversation, by John McCracken

"As the son and grandson of coal miners, greenhouse workers, dairy farmers, and a public-school teacher from eastern Tennessee, I sincerely ask this state, this city, and this campus to look at what is going on in other regions of our country. We need to stop asking who we can blame and start asking who we can advocate, vote, and fight for. Hillbilly Elegy does a great job of regurgitating falsehoods and speaking over minority voices while conveniently pulling the heartstrings of conservatives and liberals alike. Campuses and cities like Madison will continue to masquerade as accepting while silencing true free speech on campus and ignoring the stories of people who are truly burdened by power structures in our country. In turn, they will echo these minimizing and harmful outlooks created by Vance's memoir until there is nothing left to hear but white noise."

Scott Walker is hip to these postmodern trends, by Erica Motz

"In mid-October, Walker unveiled a half-baked petition responding to the NFL players’ protests against police brutality. “My request is simple,” Walker wrote in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He proposed that NFL players should stop kneeling during the national anthem and instead stand up to respect the troops, and then after standing for the troops, also stand up against domestic violence. “Stand for the American flag and the national anthem out of respect for those who risk their lives for our freedoms, and then take a stand against domestic violence to keep American families safe.” (In late September, Walker said he wouldn’t tell people what they “should or shouldn’t do” during the national anthem.) He fired off a few tweets about his proposal, but returned to his regular gameday activities the following week."

Soggy don't, by Emily Mills

"Despite his radical roots, Soglin has proved himself a pretty dedicated out-of-touch curmudgeon in his latter days as mayor of Madison. From his outright disdain for homeless people and their needs, to his open antagonism of the Common Council (and, often, regular citizens) for daring to defy his every whim, to his attempt to stop the annual Mifflin Block Party (good luck!), and several other confounding and downright obnoxious statements and political moves, Soglin has come to epitomize the cranky aging Boomer who refuses to give up his position and power."

More early shows in Madison, please, by Scott Gordon

"It’s not that hard to catch local bands or DJs during happy hour or before 9 or 10 p.m., but these shows are rarely presented as strong attractions in and of themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing: Residencies like Mal-O-Dua’s recurring happy-hour gig at Mickey’s are treasures. Still, audiences, venues, and bookers largely treat these shows as a background to drinking, eating, and socializing, and the music occasionally cuts through the noise of a busy bar or even thrives among it, or even earns itself a following. These gigs have their place and if anything I’d urge people not to take them for granted, but are a symptom of live music’s excessive financial dependence on the alcohol industry. If more of these early shows were promoted for their intrinsic value as music events, that might shake up the formula a bit."

The Mallards' Chris Farley bobblehead is an abomination, by Chris Lay

"This thing looks bad. The team is already getting roasted in comments on its Facebook post promoting the bobble, albeit with a distinctly Midwest-nice approach: "Too bad it doesn't look like Farley," says one. "Looks like Harry Caray with brown hair =)" reads another. The most damning one of all, though: "Is that Chris Farley? Or is that a Drew Carey bobblehead?" C'mon folks, let's dig in a bit here, shall we? Let's hear some chatter out there!"

We apologize for Channel 3000's "We apologize to Taco Bell" editorial, by Ben Munson

"Devoting two humiliating, hilariously earnest minutes of airtime to walk back a criticism of Taco Bell's food is pointless. The whole world knows Taco Bell is bad, but we keep lining up to let it run amok upon our colons, because craving Taco Bell is not the same as craving Mexican food, just as wanting Pizza Hut isn't the same as wanting pizza, and just as loving McDonald's breakfast isn't the same as maintaining the will to carry on."

Downtown while black: On "gang" activity and Madison's irrational fear by Michael Penn II

"This stretch of University Avenue is indeed notoriously riotous from Thursday to Saturday nearly all-year round, attracting every crime you'd expect a student-heavy area to have: robberies, physical assaults, sexual assaults and the like. None of these establishments have actively worked to deter students, even those who drink underage and wreak havoc all their own during gameday traffic or midterm season. The problem, it seems, only begins when non-white non-students become a big part of the clientele. Once another marginalized group, thus further criminalized, begins to occupy a space that's rarely populated by that group, and often engineered to keep it at bay, any disruption raises a call to arms for everyone to prepare for the worst."

A play for Wisconn Valley, by Chali Pittman

"The elephant in the room, the show points out, is that none of this is really news. The only thing that's changed is that it's now becoming impossible to shape a world in which we're willfully blind to the externalities of 'technological innovation,' or—twist the words to fit your worldview—planned obsolescence. Decades of global NIMBYism are coming back around to haunt us—and what a perfect time to consider our priorities, when the pewter skies of Shenzhen may be soon mirrored in southern Wisconsin. Post-fabrication, there's still much that Daisey's monologues can do for us, as we come to discover just what an incredible strain the Foxconn deal could have on our economic, political, and social infrastructure."

Should Old Abe be the next to go? by Michael Penn II

"On top of his role as a good luck charm or a judge of one's bedroom exploits, Lincoln's figure is constantly manipulated and re-framed within the context of student-led activism. Countless demonstrations have started atop Bascom near Lincoln. Whether one places signage in his lap or alters the statue itself, Abe's body becomes a blank canvas for a multitude of agendas and ideologies that seek to align themselves with Lincoln's virtuous image, symbolically placing their opponents (often university officials or state legislators and governors) on the wrong side of history. The examples include Black Lives Matter and Blackout protests in recent memory, but also go much further back. During the era of McCarthyism, students painted Lincoln red in protest of the Wisconsin senator's fraudulent hunt for Communists."

The people you meet in Phil Hands heaven, by Scott Gordon

"When Bucky Badger appears in Hands' cartoons, it's usually to garishly taunt UW's assorted rivals before a big game. But Hands also has a thing about Bucky's fragile side. Sometimes he experiences pure terror at the hands of Republican state legislators, or begs for some help in the football department. And Bucky also isn't too tough to cry in front of Bo Ryan and Frank Kaminsky. This latter I consider a separate character called Haggard Crying Bucky, but anyway. Speaking of sports, I'm probably just hallucinating this one."

An open letter to Steve Nass, by Michael Penn II

"Senator Nass, with years of evidence and repetition, how can you expect your constituents to respond to your calls for 'accountability' when your only play is persistent grandstanding against any and all who oppose you? How can you, in good conscience, claim to represent the people of Wisconsin, or even your district, when you've stopped at nothing to effectively target anyone whose narrative, body, and very existence are not subservient to straight, white, conservative men?"