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Boston Celtics' Enes Kanter on "The Takeout" — 1/10/2020

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter talks about his childhood schooling and the corruption in Turkey that led to his criticism against President Erdogan, on this week's episode of "The Takeout with Major Garrett."
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Take Your Nose for a Walk
When I leave my house, I’m first struck by the scent of a dry lawn, its soil desiccated by the heat waves of this past summer. I admire a neighbor’s roses (honey, jam, cloves) and make a right at the pho restaurant (garlic, cinnamon, emulsified bones). The pungent mothballs used by a produce market to deter pests remind me of halitosis. That odor is soon overtaken by the smell of imported guava, so fragrant that it pierces right through the plastic wrap. This high-octane perfume follows me down the block.I am on a smell walk, a habit formed during the coronavirus pandemic: I stroll around my tree-lined neighborhood in Toronto’s east end, focusing not on the city’s more obvious sights and sounds, but on its subtler scented stimuli. I started these walks for my mental health—walking provided me with daily physical activity, and smelling enabled a much-needed sense of cognitive stillness. These days, it’s become a scavenger hunt for my curiosity, an opportunity to encounter new odors that might teach me something about the place and time I inhabit.Part of the allure of a smell walk, I’ll admit, is how challenging and clumsy it feels to engage such an underused sense. Moving through the world nose-first feels antithetical to how I—and maybe most of us—grew up within it. Ours is a culture dominated by the audiovisual; filtering our experience by olfaction doesn’t come as easily as noticing the changing of seasons in the trees, say, or recognizing a melody from a passing vehicle. It requires deliberate attention and an unnatural-seeming amount of mental effort, like maintaining a firm grasp on something that is used to being free.[Read: The only two seasons that matter now]It also feels a little like rooting for the underdog. If the five senses were a boy band, smell would certainly be the least popular member. This is not news: Some of the most influential philosophers in Western history turned up their noses at olfaction. “Man can smell things only poorly,” Aristotle declared, deeming our noses inaccurate sense organs. Immanuel Kant called smell “the most dispensable” of our senses, citing its fleeting nature as the reason “it does not pay to cultivate it or refine it.” Centuries later, a study conducted by the marketing company McCann Worldgroup would reveal that more than half of the 16-to-22-year-olds they interviewed would rather give up their sense of smell than technology. My friends agree, putting smell on the chopping block before all other senses, even when I, a lifelong fragrance nerd, tell them—with some indignation—that the senses are inextricable, and that about 80 percent of our experience of taste is actually olfactory in nature.The pandemic changed this indifference to scent. Loss of smell became a telltale sign of COVID infection. People around me started reporting a temporary loss of olfaction. Some experienced ghost smells, also known as phantosmia, such as a sudden waft of cigarette smoke out of nowhere. Others experienced parosmia—distortions in their perception of familiar smells. An epicurean friend (who, for a period, found her favorite dishes ruined by this condition) admitted to me that she’d never attributed much importance to her sense of smell—until it was gone.Elsewhere, stories about smell proliferated. TikToks extolling the benefits of smell training (the practice of repeatedly smelling the same handful of fragrances to rehabilitate the nose) hit my For You page. Mask wearers talked about missing the smells of the outside world. Scent had entered the chat. I felt a strange sense of camaraderie with these smell observers, who were newly attentive to its wonders; my obsession was finally being recognized.When I got COVID two years into the pandemic, I documented changes in my olfaction with a mix of trepidation and inquisitiveness. Reading about someone else’s parosmia is one thing, but the only way to truly understand a scent is to experience it firsthand. My sense of smell shape-shifted for weeks. Water tasted alarmingly metallic. Cilantro, mysteriously stripped of its floral soapiness, was palatable again. Perfumes I knew by heart smelled like they were riddled with holes—entire spectrums of scent that I could no longer detect. Smell walks gained another purpose, a chance to put my nose to the test: Would I be able to smell the grass at the park? What about the roasted coffee from the Starbucks on the corner? Would my sense of smell return—in its entirety—in time for the lilacs?Thankfully, it did, allowing me to indulge in some of my most cherished seasonal smells: clothes hung out to dry in the sun, the coconutty bouquet of drugstore sunscreens, a waft of charred meat from a distant grill. Soon, it’ll be the cool mineral air on a fall night, the must of wet leaves underfoot. The smell walks are a reminder that seasonal transitions happen in the atmosphere too, not just in the color of leaves overhead.What is a recreational practice for me draws on the extensive work of artists and academics who study how smell informs our understanding of public space. One of them is Kate McLean, the director of the graphic-design program at the University of Kent, who leads smell walks in cities worldwide to track how scents operate in particular environments. She translates the resulting data into “smellscape mappings”—vibrant renderings consisting of colored dots, which represent different smell sources, and radiating concentric blobs that show their decreasing intensity and drift. Summer of 2012 in Newport, Rhode Island, smelled like beer bars, beach roses, the ocean. Summer of 2017 around Astor Place, New York City: construction, wet garbage bins, cigarette smoke. We frequently remember our cities through photographs and archives, but how do we remember their smells? McLean’s cartography for the ephemeral becomes a shared memory to be passed on—and an invitation to capture, through a less common lens, the times and spaces we exist in.Smell awareness can also reveal sociocultural information that tends to be eclipsed by the other senses. The Berlin-based olfactory artist Sissel Tolaas, who has been logging scents since the 1990s, sees all smells as units of data, which she organizes in different ways. In Talking Nose, odors that Tolaas collected in Mexico City became a scratch-and-sniff map that called attention to the city’s dense air pollution; in the installation Eau D’You Who Am I, visitors were invited to touch the walls to release smells that represented different facets of Singaporean youth identity. Today, Tolaas’s personal scent archive consists of more than 7,000 smells, each numbered and preserved in its own aluminum can, and linked to a story about the context of that scent. “Every smell in the archive,” she writes, “has a story to tell.”I think that’s true of all smells. On my walks, the aim is to notice scents without judging their origins, as one might treat intruding thoughts during meditation. Tuning in can feel like discovering a secret radio station, one that communicates clues about the kaleidoscopic world we live in—who was here, what they consumed, how they spent their days. And if you keep up the smell walks, they become documents of change, in seasons as in culture. I live in fear that my favorite pho shop will one day close down and be replaced by a trendy cannabis shop, echoing the fate of so many other businesses in the area. What I’d miss most would be the immediate comfort of its smell.Kant deemed olfaction unworthy of study because of its ephemerality. His loss. For me, scent’s impermanence is precisely why it is so vital. It’s in many ways a mirror of life itself: here, then gone, made richer when we pay attention along the way.
The Bros and cons of being a huge, gay Hollywood rom-com
Billy Eichner and Luke MacFarlane in Bros, a movie about gay dudes (not brothers). | Bros/Universal Pictures Bros wants to be a gay love story that doesn’t play it straight. Billy Eichner seems like the fun kind of grumpy — like a person who will say the mean stuff you’d wish you could say out loud. Eichner rocketed to success and visibility based on his ability to charmingly harangue New Yorkers on sidewalks. Then on Difficult People, he sharpened that crankiness and pop culture savvy into an acidic, narcissistic lead also named Billy, in a show that’s loosely based on his and his friend Julie Klausner’s lives. The underlying irony of Eichner’s humor is that the crankiness is blazing insecurity, the meanness is neurosis, and his self-absorption is a symptom of being his own biggest critic. He’s hilarious and caustic, but you probably wouldn’t assume he’s a romantic. Eichner is now starring as Bobby in Bros,which he co-wrote with director Nicholas Stoller. In it, he flexes a similar smart irritability that we saw in Difficult People and Billy on the Street — this time, in a rom-com. (Eichner has maintained that the movie isn’t strictly autobiographical but that it does borrow from his own life.) Romantic comedies are rare at this point, and romantic comedies about two gay men, starring two gay men (and an all-LGBTQ cast) are even rarer. Bros has the unfortunate pressure of being revolutionary by simply existing. Never mind that “revolutionary” in this case is more about how slow mainstream Hollywood can be when it comes to depicting LBGTQ relationships rather than any genuinely groundbreaking concepts that Bros contains. That’s an incredible amount of pressure to place on a movie about two conventionally attractive (one looking like a Marvel superhero) cis, gay white men who fall in love. It’s not a particularly easy position to be in. Eichner has drawn fire for trying to talk about the importance of Bros while simultaneously, and perhaps inadvertently, putting other LGBTQ movies down. He also has described the act of seeing the movie as a form of active resistance against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s view on gay rights. I do not believe Bros’ box office will necessarily determine the future of Obergefell v. Hodges. But the movie is concerned with the specifics, meaning, and pressures of gay culture. As its title suggests, Eichner’s script roasts gay male culture and its obsessiveness with masculinity and muscles. The way traditional, heterosexual masculinity is lauded in gay male culture is a gay conundrum that should be made fun of more, and Eichner is more than skilled at doing so. What caught me off-guard, though, is how thoughtful Eichner is when it comes to mapping out his own character’s vulnerability. In a way that his comedy often elides, Bros has Bobby connecting the dots between cynicism and a pursuit of happiness. It’s terrifyingly intimate territory. I thought I knew Billy Eichner to be someone cynical, who’d written off romance, but Bros reflects a curiosity about how love functions in the heads and hearts of gay men. It’s a question worth exploring. Bros is a story of a neurotic boy standing in front of another boy, asking him to love him Bros operates on a gimmick: It asks explicitly what a gay love story could look like, free from hetero norms, and then, by coincidence, its hero has a chance to answer that question. The question comes to Bobby at work. He’s an award-winning podcaster who lands a dream gig of curating the country’s first LGBTQ+ museum in New York City. The museum gig is a vehicle for the movie to talk about queer history. Specifically, it’s a chance for Bobby to wrestle with the idea of how much same-sex marriage — the biggest pop culture touchstone when it comes to gay rights — factors into the identity of the museum and his own identity as a gay man. Bobby is an intellectual and political crank, an antithesis to the movie’s title. “Bro” itself implies a simpleness of being. Bros are part of the same genus as himbos, a laid-back species of masculine men. Bobby’s never laid-back; he’s argument-prone and hyper-aware. He’s funny in a way that complaints about failing bodies are funny, and watching him navigate through the world of gay male desire — hookup apps, flirty texts, DMs slides, and circuit parties — is sometimes hilarious, often at his own expense. Same-sex marriage ushered in a wave of tolerance and economic benefits for LGBTQ people, but Bobby’s a bit skeptical. To him, the advantages of gay marriage have also come at a price: the sanding down of the edges of gay life (even if he’s not partaking in those edges) into something more palatable for straight consumption. The years and years spent trying to convince straight people that LGBTQ people are just like them was maybe too effective, particularly when it comes to sex and romance. Bros/Universal Pictures Luke MacFarlane probably does push-ups! To Bobby, straight people love Schitt’s Creek and its earnest gay romance because it’s egregiously, dopily unsexy — also the big reason he hates it so much. And oh my god, does Bobby really hate Schitt’s Creek. Since he doesn’t want the museum to pretend that same-sex marriage is the final, happy ending for queer rights, Bobby challenges his colleagues and his friends to imagine what an actual gay love story for gay people looks like. It’s a clever nod to the problem of creating a gay rom-com that doesn’t look like the same old straight stuff. Then, at a shirtless party, Bobby meets Aaron (Luke MacFarlane), a lawyer specializing in estate planning. That means that Aaron helps people draw up paperwork and decide where their money will go when they die. But Aaron doesn’t look like the kind of person who would have this job, gently guiding people to death. Aaron looks like a Barry’s Bootcamp instructor, someone you pay to be mean to you in a fitness way. He’s the kind of handsome that you can’t tell if you’re attracted to him or just want to have his pecs. Bobby and Aaron’s meet-cute isn’t really a conversation since the music is too loud (one of my homosexual friends refers to the music played at shirtless gay dance parties as “bing bong stuff”). It’s also not really a conversation because Bobby is mostly just yelling complaints about the party at Aaron. It works though, and Bobby and Aaron spend the rest of the movie figuring out whether and how much the other one likes them. There’s plenty of guy-on-guy sex happening in Bros, some of it hot and fun, some of it silly, and some of it both. Again, because of the relative lack of big Hollywood movies centering gay men and the sex they have, showing gay group sex might be seen as audacious or groundbreaking. But the most daring thing Bros does is trace the psychology of Bobby’s emotional intimacy. Bobby is hesitant to open up to Aaron, in large part, due to not feeling handsome or muscular or successful enough to warrant the affection of someone who is as handsome, as muscular, or as successful as Aaron. Admittedly, I’m not up to date on the latest heterosexual trends and best practices, but I don’t believe feeling like someone is out of your league is exclusively a queer problem. There’s plenty going on beneath the surface, though. As Bobby tells Aaron, he spent his whole childhood and adolescence being told to be anyone but the person he was. It’s a common experience for many little gay boys. Those kids grow up and that message takes its toll. Many gay men then spend an inordinate amount of their adult lives unraveling that damage, cleaving away the artificial parts of themselves they’ve built to find acceptance and finally rediscovering, sometimes too late, the tender bits that they discarded. A lot of the movie and a lot of Eichner’s comedy satirizes this trauma, stretching it to the point of neurotic derangement — Eichner once told James Corden and a slightly unamused Riley Keough about not feeling handsome enough to warrant a happy ending after a massage. Bobby’s insecurity, his deep belief that everything — Aaron, his job, his success — can be yanked away at a moment’s notice, comes from the same place as the stress of not being hot enough for a hand job, but it’s delivered without the defense humor provides. When the movie gives us a glimpse into Aaron’s life, we see what these very different men have in common. They have the same experience of hiding themselves, but just broke in different ways. Aaron compensated by following a career path and workout regimen that was supposed to get him to a place where he’d be happy. Despite the abs, wealth, and validation, his happiness is also unfortunately tethered to a fear of losing it all. Bros/Universal Pictures This is the staff in the movie that’s in charge of curating a museum of LGBTQ culture. It’s quite likely that they are making fun of Schitt’s Creek in this moment. Love, then, is a surreal thing for two men who have constantly been told it’s conditional. It’s somehow even more fragile when they come to the realization that they want it. Bobby and Aaron’s relationship is as much a negotiation of their own hangups and feelings of desire as it is wading through each other’s fears and insecurity to better understand each other. And of course, that’s exactly the kind of complicated gay love story that Bobby would love to see reflected in his museum exhibit. The pressures of gay life — whether that’s adhering to and later breaking norms in search of happiness, navigating sexual and aesthetic expectations, trying to forge an authentic life, or even speaking for the community through a museum exhibit or a de facto revolutionary movie — can feel enormous. And it’s thrilling to see it explored in romantic comedies like Bros. Hopefully, though, there’ll be a time where there’s not so much pressure to be “revolutionary.”
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