Fit to Print

Last week, The New York Times ran a strange story about Louis C.K., whose comedy walks an artful line between insight and indecency. The piece cited “unsubstantiated internet rumors of his sexual misconduct with female comics.” I call this story strange because of that word–unsubstantiated. Substantiation is the essence of good reporting. You don’t print what you can’t pin down. But at the Times, this standard is changing, at least when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse. Hearsay is permissible, as long as women are doing the saying.

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“Wild and Blue”: Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s Populist Visions of America

Celeste Dupuy-Spencer has been painting up a storm. The artist told art blogger Brienne Walsh she usually takes 6 months to a year and a half to finish a picture but for “Wild and Blue,” her first solo show in New York (which runs until October 7th at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery), she only had the summer and the “paintings just got ripped out of me.” More than a few of her pictures hint at hurricane weather. And Dupuy-Spencer, who’s lived in New Orleans (though she’s based in L.A. now), knows from floods of feeling. Pictures like Cajun Navy and Lake Pontchartrain look back to Katrina’s aftermath but are all up in this time of climate change.

Cajun Navy

LakeDupuy-Spencer is “painting the news” as one reviewer has written in New Republic, citing her picture of the Confederate monument torn down last month in Durham, which “amounts to a kind of monument to the search for social justice.”

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Mancunian Lincoln

Mancunian Lincoln

It seems like maybe we could all use a good story about a civil war statue, a good story about an American President, and a good story about the power of the common people against the rich and powerful, so I’m going to start with this one. It’s probably for the best that you’re reading this here because I haven’t managed to tell this story in person without crying.

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Ode to Joy

The other week, deep summer, we went to see David Johansen in his persona as Buster Poindexter. For many years now, Johansen, former New York Dolls lead singer and front flounce, has in his cabaret act been one of the great American songbook curators (Jonathan Schwartz wishes), lurking in the brilliant corners of U.S. pop. (Without Johansen I’d never have heard Katie Lee’s late-1950s pop-Freudian homage, Songs of Couch and Consultation, lead song “Shrinker Man.”) At the end of this particular set at City Winery, he called to the stage his wife Mara Hennessey, who announced that she had a particular favorite she’d like David to sing, whereupon she started to intone the line, “that summer feeling, that summer feeling, that summer feeling,” and Johansen took off into the lyrics. It was so haunting! I knew that song! What was it again? When I got home I looked it up and of course: Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling.” Astonishing song.

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The Resistance to “Confederate”

Game of Thrones’ show runner David Benioff and his collaborator D.B. Weiss announced on July 19th that HBO had commissioned Confederate, elsewhere described as an alternate history drama imagining, among other things, slavery in a Confederacy surviving into our own day. An immediate twitter storm ensued, followed within few hours by the first of three NYT articles about the tweets, two of them enlivened by serial fatuities from notional experts—after all, there are no experts on television programs that have not yet been written, nor on history that didn’t happen.

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“Once Upon a Time in America”

In Sergio Leone’s valedictory film, every image, to borrow a phrase from Andrew Sarris writing on John Ford in The American Cinema, is haunted by its “memory image on the horizon of history.”  Ford is still Leone’s master, even in a film whose antagonists  —  “Noodles” Aronson (Robert De Niro) and Max Bercovj (James Woods) —  pointedly recall the gangster movies Raoul Walsh made about friends who rise up from the same slum neighborhood and become foes because of class divisions.

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On “Wonder Woman”

Most of what I’ve read about Patty Jenkins’s 2017 Wonder Woman, and most of what my friends have said about the movie, has been strongly positive, and the aspect of the film commented on most positively is its sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit feminism.  I have no quarrel with these pieces and comments;  I saw the film twice and thought it not only intelligently, brashly feminist but also stylish–the classiest and least patriarchal superhero film I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

Watching it as a pacifist, though, I was aware of another pattern of meaning, one having to do with the film’s naturalization of war and marginalization of peacemaking,  of what William James called “the war on war.” 

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A Guided Tour Through a Graveyard: Some Representations of War and the Hazards of Strong Contextualism

I shall describe and attempt to interpret a difference in representations of war in two television series made by the same people about the same war, Band of Brothers, which aired in 2001, and The Pacific, which aired in 2010.  I hope to show that despite influential argument to the contrary—most notably Paul Fussell’s celebrated The Great War and Modern Memory—it is imprudent to make strong historicist or contextualist claims that the transformed nature of war since 1914 is a sine qua non for explaining modern ironic and anti-heroic representations of combat.

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“Atlanta’s” Elevator to the Sanctum

The first ten episodes of Donald Glover’s marvelous FX series Atlanta aired weekly from early September through November 1, 2016.  Its first season, in other words, unfolded throughout the weeks leading up to the presidential election. In retrospect the power of its first season may live on in as a powerful snapshot of what we were, or thought we were, in the last months of Obama’s America.  It wasn’t a particularly pretty picture, but the very different feel of national events since November make me wonder if Atlanta‘s spectrum of tones can be repeated in the next season. Season One is almost always comic, but its humor ranges from darkly satiric to tender and romantic as the show conjures up rootsy yet media-savvy depictions of life in Atlanta.

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