Like everyone, I’m sad and angry about Friday’s tragedy. But I keep hearing that now is the time to discuss gun control. So, fine, let’s discuss…
—It’s unfortunate that so many people now dismiss the idea that there should be a window of mourning, during which political discussions ought to be tabled, after a national tragedy like Friday’s shooting. I understand why that is: Calls to postpone talk of politics are so often themselves politically motivated, a way to put off a conversation one side never intends to have, that they seem cynical. But it should be obvious that the time for policy discussions is not when people are angry, sad, depressed, scared, emotional, and irrational. This is what leads to laws like the Patriot Act. It’s not that policy discussions should never flow from a national tragedy, and obviously knowing how long to wait is tricky, but I suspect the answer is at least a few hours, maybe even a day or two.
—Why do so many of the same people who (rightfully) laugh at the idea that drug prohibition decreases drug use, endorse the idea that gun control will solve the problem of gun violence? Gun control does not mean that bad or crazy people won’t get guns; it means the government will get to decide who gets to have guns. This is the same government, of course, that kills foreign Muslims almost indiscriminately, that imprisons blacks at six times the rate it imprisons whites, that systematically harasses young men based on their ethnic background. But for some reason people think new gun laws would be enforced fairly and equitably.
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“We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?”—David Foster Wallace
The hagiography around David Foster Wallace—one I’ve devoutly consumed and even added to—has grown to somewhat absurd proportions in the four years since his death. It is thus possible to view D.T. Max’s new biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, as yet another contribution to the cult of DFW; this, however, would miss the substance of Max’s book. Every Love Story… actually goes to great lengths to debunk many of the myths that have grown around Wallace since his death. And although Max is clearly sympathetic towards Wallace, the book doesn’t shy away from being honest about him.
One of the ways Max establishes credibility in this regard is by making clear how unreliable a source Wallace himself is. Indeed, Wallace told a remarkable number of lies about himself: lies about whether or not he had read Thomas Pynchon, lies about who he’d slept with, lies to editors about where he’d been published, lies to friends about graduate school applications, lies to women and family members and interviewers, often about things that hardly seem worth lying over. On some level, this is consistent with the popular image of Wallace as someone intensely afraid of revealing himself to people. But it is frankly troubling to read about how dodgy, immature, and narcissistic he could be at times, and Max doesn’t shy away from these unflattering details. Continue reading »
You seriously want to vote for one of these guys?
It’s time for my biennial plea for you to abstain from voting. I’ve got my work cut out for me: As election season (mercifully) draws to an end, we’ve reached the time of year when everyone and their mother takes time to urge you to vote, no matter who you vote for, as if the mere act of casting a vote is somehow worthwhile.
What goes conspicuously unmentioned in all these pleas to vote is the simple fact that your vote is extremely unlikely to make a difference. This is nothing but a statement of mathematical fact: The odds of an election in which millions of votes are cast being decided by one vote* are essentially zero. Even in smaller, more local races, or elections that are extremely close, the odds of your vote being decisive are still incredibly small. The only elections that have been decided by one vote were races in which fewer than 10,000 votes were cast. Continue reading »
“This is rookie justice. That’s all this is. This is the rookie revolution.” —Frank
“I’ve never wrestled in oil. I’m excited to do it.”—Chet
This season of the Challenge is harder than any other to recap, for the simple reason that I still have no idea who these people are. Frank? Robb-with-two-Bs? Knight? These guys sound like a forgotten ‘90s boy band.
Luckily for me, though, the teams have made it easier for me by falling into nice, neat alliances already. Surprisingly, the dominant alliance is led by the rookies: San Diego, New Orleans, Cancun, and Las Vegas have teamed up, and those four teams had a majority of the players going into last night’s challenge. The team does have some vets, like Alton, Trishelle, and CJ, but it’s mostly rookies, and the leader/most-vocal-member appears to be Frank. Continue reading »
Every year this list gets harder and harder to write. After a spring of Mad Men, Girls, and Veep, followed by asummer of Breaking Bad, Louie, Wilfred, and Pretty Little Liars, fall is starting to look like the worst part of television’s year: another round of network shows destined to be cancelled after a few weeks, or so broad and grating that they’re hard to watch. Nevertheless, there’s usually something to be excited about, even if I have to dig deep to round out the list:
10) Ben & Kate Premieres September 25 on FOX
I’m throwing this on the list because it felt wrong not to include any new comedies, even if this year’s batch seems particularly uninspired. At least this one has Jim Rash’s writing partner, Nat Faxon, in it. Plus a cute kid…
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Walt and His Spoils
If Breaking Bad as a whole has been an experiment—as Vince Gilligan famously put it, “about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface”—then Season Five has been an experiment within that experiment: Can you a character continue to be compelling after he has ceased to be sympathetic? In other words, how do you relate to Scarface?
When discussing Season Four, I wrote that Walter White had long since passed the point of being morally defensible, but even that season humanized him in many ways: There were still moments of love between him and his wife; he still faced an adversary even more ruthless than he was; his connection to Jesse still felt sacrosanct. With the conclusion of Season Four, though, it was clear that there was nobody Walt was unwilling to hurt for his own gain. Continue reading »
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Compliance. Though the film is based on real events, if you are not familiar with the real events or the film, I strongly advise seeing the film before reading this or anything else about the film’s plot.
One of the most resonant scenes in Craig Zobel’s powerful new film, Compliance, comes near the end, when Becky (played by Dreama Walker), the fast-food cashier who has been falsely accused, stripped, imprisoned, and raped, wants someone to pay for her ordeal. She tells a lawyer she wants to sue her boss, Sandra. But that’s not the best course of action, says the lawyer. What’s the use in suing a now-unemployed fast-food manager? It makes much more sense to sue the chain where you worked: It will have much deeper pockets and, besides, wasn’t it really the company’s fault, for not having proper guidelines for this type of situation?
This rationale represents a perfect conclusion to the film, which is largely about how people absolve themselves of responsibility by submitting to authority and, moreover, how society tends to reward and condition this behavior. Compliance opens with a small but revealing scene: Sandra (played by Ann Dowd) has to get an emergency delivery after someone left the freezer door open the night before, but the delivery guy chews her out for not telling her supervisor first. “I thought I would deal with this first,” she explains, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” Continue reading »
In general, I am against gun control laws. On most days, this is an easy position to take. When I’m not confronted with the threat of a gun, it’s easy to side with more liberty as opposed to less. I’m not a gun person—I’ve never fired or even held a gun—and I don’t think most people should own them, but I don’t want the government taking away a person’s ability to defend himself if he feels it’s necessary.
But then, of course, something like what happened Thursday night in an Aurora, CO movie theater happens. Then it becomes very hard to justify opposition to strict gun control. It is utterly sickening that this keeps happening and nothing changes. Two days before a gunman in Colorado shot 71 people—killing at least 12—at the movies, a gunman in Alabama shot 17 people outside a bar in Tuscaloosa. Six days before that, four kids in Chicago were shot in a park on the South Side. Two days before that, three people, including a 16-year-old kid, were killed in a shooting at a Delaware soccer tournament. One of the victims of the Aurora tragedy narrowly avoided a similar shooting in a Toronto mall only six weeks earlier. The quaint settings of these tragedies—parks, malls, movie theaters—only add to the horror. Continue reading »
It’s the longest and most mundane symposium ever! Three years ago John S wrote about his experiences watching the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell. This summer, I watched the Malibu Sands arc of Saved by the Bell—mainly because I had just finished the first season of Game of Thrones and needed what a personal trainer might call a cool-down period.
Consider this setting the record straight.
—The issue to be raising isn’t over volleyball as a spectator sport. Clearly, Top Gun proved you wrong there. The issue is the sustainability of a beach club dynasty with an ever-changing roster of volleyball players. Just how can North Shore—the Valley of the beach, amirite?—continue dominating Malibu Sands for a decade when the players on its volleyball team (i.e. staff members at the club) presumably change each year? Now I know what you’re thinking: that I’m essentially describing major college sports, which obviously have dominant and doormat programs. But North Shore doesn’t have a coach; that much is obvious. Malibu Sands’ is Kelly. What we’re led to conclude, then, is that North Shore’s owner actively recruits excellent volleyball players to work at his club over the summer—likely costing himself hundreds of dollars in workplace efficiency—simply to beat Leon Carosi in a bet.
What did Leon do to him in the past to deserve such vengeance? Continue reading »
In theory, I don’t really have a problem with a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. It’s true that it’s only been five years since the last one ended and that the reasons for making this movie now were clearly financial, but that doesn’t doom it to creative failure. Sequels and remakes are so ubiquitous now that there’s no real point in waiting if you have a fresh take on an old idea.
The problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that there really is no fresh take at all. The story is virtually identical to the one told in the 2002 version: Peter Parker is a nerd, then he gets bitten by a spider, then his Uncle Ben gets killed, then he fights crime, then he gets the girl, then he fights a Major Bad Guy who has endangered the girl. You could argue that there’s no way to do the story without those major beats, but this movie does absolutely nothing to enliven them. It just goes through the already-familiar motions. Continue reading »