Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Mere Anachrony: Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Girl Meets World, the Disney Channel’s long-awaited Boy Meets World spin-off, premiers tonight. Except it’s not Disney’s typical audience of pre-teens who are awaiting this premiere—it’s people in their 20s who have been clamoring the loudest for this show about an eleven-year-old girl. And why? Because we millennials fucking love Boy Meets World.

For those unfamiliar, Boy Meets World aired on ABC from 1993 to 2000, as part of the network’s “TGIF” lineup of family-friendly programming. The titular boy was Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage). He was in sixth grade when the series began. His parents were happily married. He had an older brother (Eric, played by Will Friedle) and a younger sister (Morgan, played brilliantly by Lily Nicksay, then forgettably by Lindsay Ridgeway). His best friend was Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) and the object of his affections was Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel). Most important, though, was his next-door neighbor and perpetual teacher, Mr. Feeny (William Daniels), who was the show’s voice of reason and guiding light.

But all that sounds pretty cookie-cutter. It doesn’t really capture the enduring appeal of Boy Meets World. So what does? What accounts for the enthusiasm for Cory and Topanga’s return? Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: Atlas Shrugged

Looks OK....

W.B.O.A.T.

Ayn Rand is an odd figure in our political and cultural climate. She is one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century—her books have sold over 25 million copies—despite the fact that she wrote long, dense tomes about political philosophy. She’s beloved by many and hated by more. Yet many politicians tout the controversial Rand with a fervor usually reserved for Founding Fathers and Jesus.

Rand functions as a kind of ideological shibboleth, a password into the club of self-reliance and small government. But many readers also really love her. They cherish her books with a passionate intensity that’s impossible to ignore.

Although I’d read The Fountainhead—and liked it quite a bit more than I expected—I had never read Atlas Shrugged, which Rand herself considered her greatest work and which gets mentioned the most in discussions of her literature and philosophy. Given all the fuss about Rand and specifically this book, I felt like not reading it was a gap in my knowledge. What was it that Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Mark Cuban, and so many others found so exciting about this novel?

So I read it.

And at the risk of sounding intemperate, Atlas Shrugged is by far the worst book I’ve ever read. This is true on a purely aesthetic level, leaving aside Rand’s abhorrent philosophical views—though the philosophy embedded in the book only makes it much, much worse. The prose is tedious, the characters are absurd and the story is both repetitive and nonsensical. On virtually every page there is something to insult the reader’s intelligence. It is somehow both consistently infuriating AND incredibly boring. The English language is worse off for having been contorted into the shape of this misbegotten novel.

But allow me to elaborate… Continue reading

Ranking Lorde’s Lyrics

Queen Bee

Queen Bee

Lorde was 2013’s biggest new pop sensation, sending her single “Royals” to #1 in August and releasing her album Pure Heroine in September. Both were NPI favorites. We were particularly taken with her voice and her lyrics so, as we are wont to do here, we decided to rank our favorite lyrics from her songs. Here are our 18 favorite lyrics of hers:

18) “All work and no play / Keeps me on the new shit, yeah” Still Sane 

(Tim’s rank: 17/John’s rank: 18/Josh’s rank: 18)

17) “Let me in the ring, I’ll show you what that big word means” Glory and Gore 

(Tim: 16/John: 15/Josh: 17) 

16) “But this is summer, playing dumber than fall” Still Sane 

(11/19/16)

15) “In all chaos there is calculation” Glory and Gore 

(10/16/15)

14) “I won’t be smiling but the notes from my admirers fill the dashboard just the same” White Teeth Teens 

(15/7/14)

T12) “And you can watch from your window” Tennis Court 

(18/14/2)

T12) “I’m sitting pretty on the throne / There’s nothing more I want, except to be alone” The Love Club 

(14/5/13)

T10) “I don’t ever think about death / It’s alright if you do, that’s fine” Glory and Gore 

(13/11/8)

T10) “The way they are, the way they seem is something else” White Teeth Teens 

(12/6/12) Continue reading

The Best Movies of 2013

The Theme of Movies in 2013: Rick People Suck

The Theme of Movies in 2013: Rich People Suck

Before I start, I want to address how silly a ranking like this is bound to be. It’s not that lists are inherently dumb—we at NPI (and the Internet writ large) LOVE presenting things in list form. But listing the best movies of 2013 IN 2013 (or, technically, immediately after 2013) feels misguided. It takes a while for feelings about a movie to settle. I saw five of these movies in the last two weeks; who knows how I’ll feel about them in a month? It’s not always clear which movies will be remembered well, or suffer on a rewatching. Looking back at my list from last year, I see about a dozen changes I would make. So consider this list somewhat provisional.

With that said, I saw a lot of movies this year, and lists can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts on those movies. I’ve borrowed some of my category ideas from Josh’s ranking, but unlike Josh I find the distinction between “independent” movies and studio films to be arbitrary to the point of distraction. Plus, it’s a little pretentious. If a movie is good, it’s good; if it’s bad, it’s bad. Who cares who made it or what the budget was?

Anyway, here are the movies I saw in 2013, in order from worst to best…

Continue reading

The Top Ten Television Episodes of 2013

The Year of Breaking Bad

The Year of Breaking Bad

This was a big year on television. Netflix and Amazon added a bunch of new shows and a whole new model for making them. A bunch of big shows, from 30 Rock to Breaking Bad, aired series finales. And what the hell happened to Homeland? The result was a lot of turnover on my list of best episodes. Some shows, like Louie, didn’t air in 2013, and some, like Community, simply dipped in quality. Anyway, here are the top ten episodes of the year. With spoilers, obvs…

 

10) “The Marry Prankster” — Happy Endings

 

Happy Endings did not get one. It was cancelled unceremoniously after a season that was kind of a letdown. But it was still one of the funniest shows on TV until its dying day. “The Marry Prankster” was probably the best example of its absurdist humor to air in 2013, from the Usual Suspects homage (“I’m not as dumb as I am”) to the crafty one-liners (“Classic Brad panic move, like when 9/11 happened and you full on supported the War in Iraq…” “We were lied to!”). Happy Endings will be missed, though some of the cast have found new homes on Fox sitcoms.

Continue reading

Why I Still Hate Christmas and Always Will

Christmas

The skies will rain fire, the oceans will boil, and the streets will run red with Christmas decorations…

Christmas is awful. Christmas is the worst. Christmas is evil in calendrical form. If the Devil were real, he’d look upon all that is Christmas, smile, and say, “Nice.” There is nothing good about Christmas.

Why is Christmas so terrible? Well, its badness probably cannot be adequately described in human language, but let’s try. For one, Christmas combines two of the worst things in the world: religion and consumerism. At Christmas, people are encouraged to buy a bunch of stuff they don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of a god that doesn’t exist.

But Christmas does something special: Religion and commerce, such potent forces for evil when considered separately, combine with such insidious synergy that they produce a holiday far more nefarious than the sum of its parts. It’s not merely that people spend money and believe in God during the “Christmas season”—which now apparently begins shortly before Halloween—since people do these things all year long. It’s that each of these things brings out the worst in the other. Continue reading

Aaron Sorkin’s Liberalism

HBO The Newsroom

The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s fourth television series, debuts its second season tonight on HBO. And while the first season was something of a disappointment, Sorkin is still one of the most acclaimed writers on TV, with an Oscar and highly anticipated projects in Hollywood and on Broadway.

And yet The Newsroom seems to highlight all of Sorkin’s most annoying tendencies, from his inability to write women, to his smug condescension, to his love of self-plagiarism. But rather than repeat those complaints, I want to focus on what bothers me the most about Sorkin’s work—its lionization of a particularly virulent strain of liberalism.

I’m generally wary of the terms “liberal” and “conservative”, since they are often used to restrict the realm of acceptable political thought to the stances of the two dominant political parties. But Sorkin seems to represent a kind of liberalism that denotes a worldview rather than just stances on particular issues. Of course, on those issues Sorkin loves to parrot the most thoughtless talking points of the Democratic Party (the Christian right is silly; guns are bad; Islam is no more violent than other religions; etc.).* Continue reading

Mere Anachrony: The Sopranos Season One (RIP James Gandolfini)

In honor of James Gandolfini, who passed away at the age of 51, NPI is reposting its look back at the first season the show that made Gandolfini an icon.

sopranos

It’s been over two years, now, since The Sopranos ended its run on television with one of the most cryptic endings in television history, leading to weeks of debate over whether or not Tony was dead, who killed him, and why Meadow was such a bad parallel parker.

For many people, that ending is the most iconic image from the show; for some, it may be the only thing they remember of the show’s cultural impact. Unfortunately, that black screen is blocking a very rich history.

It’s easy to forget, but when The Sopranos premiered in 1999, it instantly became the best television drama of all-time (granted, this wasn’t as difficult of a crown to earn back then, since The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, etc. had all yet to air). It also resonated culturally in a way other great shows rarely do; it was almost instantly beloved by critics and viewers alike, at least partially because HBO allowed them to show violence, profanity and nudity.

Looking back on the first season of the show, it’s odd to think how “edgy” a lot of it was. Aside from cursing and sex, the show features a character who kills someone with his bare hands in the fifth episode (which HBO thought would render Tony unsympathetic to an audience), which now seems tame (this guy doesn’t even wait five scenes). The show uses psychiatry as a key feature of the narrative, which is commonplace now. And the show offers a frank approach to sexuality and drug use, which has become par for the course now as well.

And yet, none of the shows that have pushed the envelope farther has achieved the resonance that The Sopranos had. What made the show great wasn’t shock value— though it had plenty of that— but something much more substantive. Continue reading

A Problem with Series Finales

The Office Finale

In case you somehow missed it, The Office aired its series finale last week. Now, I’m on the record with my problems with that show, and fans seemed to like the finale a lot, so I won’t rain on their parade with my criticisms of it. But it brought to mind a problem I have with series finales in general: It really bothers me when characters in TV finales act like they know they’re in a TV finale.

This is a very common problem, especially with comedies. Plot-driven shows can spend their finales concluding whatever series-long arcs it has been developing: (Spoilers) The Sopranos settled Tony’s war with New York, Battlestar Galactica found “Earth,” Lost explained the Island (kind of), etc. But shows that are more character-driven end up filling the time with a lot of “finale talk.” Continue reading

The Democracy Project: An Occupy Manifesto

The Democracy Project

An OWS Manifesto

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” —Karl Marx

What ever happened to Occupy Wall Street? Only 18 months after the camps in Zuccotti Park and across the country were being compared to the Arab Spring, people now remember the movement with the same dismissive nostalgia usually reserved for lesser Backstreet Boys. Cynics wonder what the movement ever accomplished, as if OWS fizzled out on its own accord as opposed to being brutally, aggressively, and covertly evicted in a coordinated, nationwide campaign of repression.

Of course, the reality is that OWS never really went away—it only became less visible and therefore easier to ignore after the evictions. Even when OWS couldn’t be ignored, it was always easier to make fun of it than to try to understand it. The lack of concrete demands, the weird hand gestures, and the eclectic mix of people all made the movement impossible to fit neatly into the ubiquitous “Democrat vs. Republican” narrative, and so it was generally viewed as a sideshow or a “liberal Tea Party” by the mainstream media.

But OWS was always better understood in the context of history than in the context of American politics—the entire premise of the movement was that American politics were fundamentally broken in the first place. David Graeber’s new book, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement aims to place OWS in that historical context. It’s something of a tricky task, since the movement is only two years old, and its long-term effects are still unclear. Continue reading