Personal essay: Thirty years ago, Rolf and a friend from elementary school created a vision of the future—a space opera put to tape—and buried it in a time capsule. Listening again today reveals how we remember the present as it never quite was.
TV criticism: HBO’s series about post-Katrina Louisiana obsessively works to prove it’s not a tourist in New Orleans. It ends up losing the city — and the viewers — in the process.
Cultural criticism: Dennis O’Rourke’s 1988 documentary “Cannibal Tours”, which probed the absurdities of global tourism, was as brilliant and cringe-inducing as any episode of “The Office” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Twenty-five years after its initial debut, the rise of social media self-documentation has made the film feel more relevant than ever.
Cultural criticism: When, two generations ago, Susan Sontag wrote how “needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted,” she very well could have been making a prophetic observation about “selfies.”
Commentary: A Chinese teenager defaced the Luxor Temple. That’s bad, but scribbling on Egyptian antiquity is as old as tourism itself.
From bicycling across Burma, to shopping for donkeys in the Libyan Desert, to being drugged and robbed in Istanbul, to traversing Israel on foot… Rolf has had his fair share of epic adventures. He has dedicated most of his life to writing about experiences that communicate the glorious complexity and possibility of being alive. In his books, Rolf shares the spirit and philosophy of independent travel. Through the wonderfully voyeuristic ‘Marco Polo Didn’t Go There’ and the Zeitgeist defining ‘Vagabonding’, Rolf has inspired an entire generation (including us) to go out and see the world.
Long-form reportage: In September of 2012 a Kansas small-college football player was beaten to death outside a late-night house party, allegedly at the hands of players from a rival school. Rolf takes an investigative look at the 125 years that led up to the murder, and how small prairie-town colleges stay alive through sports, often importing inner-city kids to fill out rosters.
Media criticism: Compared to the “Generation X” media frenzy of the early 1990s, the online chatter surrounding HBO’s Girls is a refreshingly diverse inquiry into what it means to be young in recession-era America.
Cultural criticism/personal essay: Why do we take pictures when we travel? And what has been lost and gained as our photo albums move from hard copy to digital?
Literary criticism/collage essay: In his literary manifesto Reality Hunger, David Shields argues for artistic plagiarism and the end of traditional narrative. Rolf’s response — embedded in a story about getting drugged robbed overseas — appropriates its own flavor of plagiarism to counter Shields’ argument.
Interview: Rolf talks with travel writer Pico Iyer about his book “The Man Within My Head,” and how art can help us identify parts of ourselves we never otherwise could have articulated.