Know Your Enemy

Trump knew what he was doing with this “both sides” shit. If you think it’s irreparably damaged his presidency, I humbly suggest you not judge too quickly. Here’s why: That neo-Nazis and white supremacists exist in America has been generally acknowledged for a long time. News reports about them have been popping up for decades; Edward Norton and Ryan Gosling (to name just two) have played skinheads in movies. But almost everyone could see that Charlottesville was different. Nearly everyone wanted to know what accounted for that difference.

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Lieutenant Weinberg’s Lament

If it makes you feel any better, Americans are not all THAT divided. For example, there’s what NYT’s Frank Bruni called “the recent ugliness at Evergreen State College.” Long story short, student activists invited Evergreen’s whites to report to an off-campus “all-day program focusing on allyship and anti-racist work” rather than going to class. The so-called “Day of Absence,” held this year on April 14, is an annual Evergreen event that usually sees students of color meeting offsite for programs and conversations. This year, organizers opted to flip the script.

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Like, A Prayer

“To the victor belong the spoils!” That was Camille Paglia’s reaction, reported in a May Salon article, to what she referred to as “the sexiest picture published in the mainstream media in years”—a photo showing a besuited Donald Trump looming possessively over his seated date at a banquet in the early 90s, his pendulous necktie practically tracing the word “phallus” in the air for the benefit of all easily impressed onlookers. Paglia apparently being one of them, although she wasn’t invited to the banquet—for her, the tie is a “phallic tongue” and Trump resembles “a triumphant dragon,” his “spoils” worthy of Rita Hayworth comparisons.

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Mindless Pleasures

No one sings in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie Inherent Vice, the first film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. This is quite strange, considering that of all Pynchon’s quirks, his characters’ tendency to burst into song Hollywood musical-style would appear to be among the most welcoming to the general audience, the most “filmable.” And it’s especially strange coming from Anderson, who 16 years ago padded his film Magnolia, already overstuffed, with an unfortunate, outta-nowhere singalong sequence set to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” (memorable for all the wrong reasons). So it’s not that P.T. Anderson, probably Hollywood’s most celebrated writer-director under 50, has anything against diegetic singing per se. He just doesn’t think it has any place in his Pynchon movie. Yet Inherent Vice is praised as an uncommonly “close” literary adaptation.

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IMMA LET YOU FINISH

“Shake It Off,” director Mark Romanek’s recent clip for Taylor Swift, depicts bad new trends in beautiful old ways. It works the same way as the best ‘80s-‘90s music videos—using semiotics to express up-to-the-minute changes in pop culture, producing the sort of imagery commentators and marketers now glibly call “iconic.”

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Mumblecrit

“I don’t care what any of these snobs say!” said my freshman-year Postmodern Lit instructor, not bothering to identify the snobs. “Titanic is a damn good movie, and ‘My Heart Will Go On’ makes me cry!” His line of thought, though tangential to the class discussion that day, didn’t come from out of nowhere, as it was early 1998, well within the James Cameron blockbuster’s imperial moment in global pop culture. Apparently, enough backlash had built up by then to provoke my instructor’s gratuitous but highly revealing outburst.

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IMMA LET YOU FINISH

“Shake It Off,” director Mark Romanek’s recent clip for Taylor Swift, depicts bad new trends in beautiful old ways. It works the same way as the best ‘80s-‘90s music videos—using semiotics to express up-to-the-minute changes in pop culture, producing the sort of imagery commentators and marketers now glibly call “iconic.”

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Far From Fantasy

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is good enough to deserve a better title. I wish he’d just called it Twisted: meaning strange or perverted, but also, in vernacular usage, confused or misunderstood (as in “don’t get it twisted”). Isolating this double meaning illuminates the double consciousness at work throughout the album, which dropped late last year into a media landscape so hostile to personal expression that misunderstanding was to be expected as well as feared.

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Hipsters ‘R Us

Where were you on April 11, 2009? On that day, writers for and readers of the lit-journal n+1 participated in a symposium at NYC’s New School on “the contemporary hipster.” Papers were read, then a panel discussion was held to which audience members—there were 175 attendees—were invited to contribute. I missed it.

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