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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Peggy Lee Revisited

A recent discussion on the message board brought back memories from my youth of a glamorous figure in a time when glamour had not yet assumed the tawdry implications that would later become attached to it.  In 1959, Peggy Lee appeared in an engagement at a nightclub in New York City called Basin Street East, a place in which she’d achieved a triumph the year before.  The poster announcing her return was displayed in front of the club and became a sensation unto itself.  Versions of it made their way into newspapers, and it was pasted up on available surfaces everywhere on the island of Manhattan.  In it, Peggy was wearing a white, backless, sequined gown, and the picture was taken from behind.  Her bare back, revealed to the waist, was a thing of beauty to behold, and she was looking over her shoulder, her mysteriously lovely countenance caught in a look of elegant seduction.  Whatever else she might have been, she was certainly an astonishing presence.  Sparks seemed to fly away from her person and draw strangers into the aura they projected.  This startling vision was, at the same time, contrasted by a clear statement of aloofness, distance, and unavailability.  There was no question that the image being observed, although unquestionably magnificent, was an artifice that she had created.  It was a measure of her talent in this regard that nobody ever asked about the real woman behind the mask.  In bold letters above the photo, the caption read, “PEGGY’S BACK!”

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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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The Color of Law

I just finished Richard Rothstein’s brilliant—and far from uplifting—book The Color of Law. It’s been getting a lot of favorable press, and rightly so.

The book accepts (for the sake of argument, maybe—Rothstein is always parsimonious in his arguments) the principle that Chief Justice Roberts puts forward when he says that if residential segregation ‘is a product not of state action but of private choices, it does not have constitutional implications’. It is devoted to showing that, contrary to the prevailing myth that residential segregation (between whites and African Americans) is a product of a private choices it is, in fact, a product of government policies, all the way from the Federal level to the most local level, and this is true in the North as well as the South. Housing segregation in the US is de jure, not de facto. And… it shows just that. He makes his case in careful, meticulous detail, but in unfussy and inviting prose, packed with illuminating stories that illustrate the central claims.

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The Hammer and the Paint Brush

I had read Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son when it came out in paperback, 1993. I had read Tree of Smoke, which won a Nat’l Book Award in 2007. That, I didn’t like so much, but after Johnson died, in May, I decided to read the earlier one again. If you can recommend another book of Johnson’s to someone who didn’t like Smoke but did like Jesus, I am buying.

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