Culture

Culture Vultures

The Lazy Machines Kill Literacy

By 6.27.14

To put an end to the spirit of inquiry that has characterized the West it is not necessary to burn the books,” Robert Maynard Hutchins wrote in the introductory volume of The Great Books of the Western World. “All we have to do is to leave them unread for a few generations.”

An examined life has never been the aim of more than a fraction of any population, and intellectuals have always been rightly hated. But America certainly boasted a more literate citizenry fairly recently. More than sixty years ago, the Encyclopedia Britannica published the fifty-four-volume Great Books of the Western World. Whereas giving away the series today might be next to impossible, door-to-door salesmen—another relic (killed by enterprising door-to-door rapists) of a mostly forgotten age—sold more than a million sets at a starting price of $298, when $298 went a long way.   

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Hard-Bitten Competition in the World Cup

By on 6.25.14 | 4:09PM

The pageant of the World Cup continues. Yesterday’s heart-stopping news was Uruguay’s super-star striker Luis Suarez taking a bite out of the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini (played by Chico Marx).

Suarez, who attended Transylvania State on a Mike Tyson scholarship, could be in big trouble, as this is the third time he has run afoul of soccer’s strict but often-ignored anti-cannibalism rules. It’s now up to FIFA—which stands for the mellifluous Federation Internationale de Football Association—to decide whether Suarez should be suspended, or simply lectured on proper eating habits. My sources in Natal inform me that Suarez’s attorneys and his agent will attempt to get the charges reduced to following too closely.

Suarez’s coach, Oscar Washington Taberez, who has been in the game many years, demonstrated how central proper and honorable conduct are in the world’s favorite sport when he commented on Suarez’s tactics and the reaction to them after the match. “This is a World Cup—It’s not about cheap morality,” he said. He complained that the media like to pick on Suarez. I can’t imagine why.  

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Media Matters

George Will Meets the Clerisy Media

By 6.24.14

The Clerisy Media strikes again. This time the target is longtime conservative columnist George Will, who was dispatched by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over a column on rape. But before that? The Los Angeles Times refused to publish letters to the editor from what the paper called “climate change deniers.” The Arizona Daily Sun has done the same.

A while back it was National Public Radio firing Juan Williams for comments made on Fox News about Muslims.

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Americana

Tonto and the Washington Redskins

By 6.24.14

Those of you who follow my writing will know that my taste in music is decidedly retro. The same can be said of my taste in TV programs. Give me The Bionic Woman over Mad Men any day of the week.

A few months ago, I began spending late Saturday and Sunday nights watching episodes of The Lone Ranger. I had not seen The Lone Ranger since the early 1980s when I lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I would watch it as part of the Matinee Money Movie that aired weekdays after school on the ABC affiliate based in Duluth, Minnesota.

I must confess that when I was younger I preferred John Hart’s portrayal of The Masked Man over that of Clayton Moore. But looking on it now, Moore’s interpretation resonates far more with me. Meanwhile, no matter which man led, Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, stayed true.

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Flick Story

Disney’s ‘Maleficent’: Another Ho-Hum Gritty Reboot

By 6.24.14

My initial reaction on hearing that Disney was remaking Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of Maleficent was, “Oh God, not another one.” Batman, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White: Must everything get a gritty reboot? I'm surprised the recent My Little Pony show wasn't called “My Little Pony: Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death.”

And the villain's-eye view is also really played out. Grimmed-up, self-pitying tales of misunderstood outcasts are everywhere these days, simmering with Nietzschean ressentiment. It's like watching two hours of rationalizations: Other people never gave me a chance, you'd be like this too if you'd suffered like I have, I am secretly better than everyone.

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Mountain Men’s Conservatism

By on 6.23.14 | 11:51AM

Mountain Men is roughly a quarter of the way through its third season and continues to surprise critics with its popularity. The second season averaged between 3 and 3.5 million viewers per episode. 

What makes this remarkable is the incredibly repetitive nature of the show. The mountain men give voice-overs where they discuss the inevitable difficulties of living off the land as well as the dangers they face. The camera then moves to B-roll of beautiful landscapes. Predictably, a challenge arises and the characters must overcome it, until next week at least. There is almost no variation from this pattern, and yet the show remains quite popular. Why? 

There are two reasons for Mountain Men's success. First, it isn’t critically acclaimed shows that garner the highest ratings; even my favorite Mad Men gets crushed by formulaic (and entertaining) shows like The Big Bang Theory. These programs are popular because parents and families know what they are going to get. They can tune in and tune out because each episode is a self-contained story arc. Mountain Men is no different.

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Two-Time NL Cy Young Winner Kershaw Tosses No-Hitter

By on 6.19.14 | 12:23PM

Clayton Kershaw, who has won two of the last three NL Cy Youngs, threw a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies, striking out fifteen batters. 

It is the second no-hitter of the 2014 season. Both of them have been thrown by Dodgers pitchers. Josh Beckett hurled a no-no against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25. 

It's amazing what can happen when you're asleep.

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Among the Intellectualoids

What ‘The Goldfinch’ and Commencement Speeches Have In Common

By 6.19.14

If you were following the great Commencement Speaker Bloodbath of 2014, you might have noticed that there were two stories happening. Here’s story number one: “hyper-sensitive college students suppress freedom of speech.” This was the story most people accepted at the time. The other story went like this: “college administrators and commencement speakers prove unable to handle freedom of speech.” This story, though less popular, fits the facts a little better.

Students, though loud and opinionated, have no real power; they can’t even suppress a mouse uprising in their dorm rooms without administrative help. As protests go, these were weak. Christine Lagarde, for instance, decided not to give an address at Smith’s commencement ceremony over a Change.org petition. When have you ever heard about a Change.org petition as anything other than the punchline to a joke?

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Flick Story

Rebellion Vs. Conformity in ‘We Are the Best!’

By 6.19.14

If We Are the Best! were The Breakfast Club, Allison would make over Claire—and the boys would just be accessories.

We Are the Best! is Lukas Moodysson’s confection about middle-school punker chicks in early ’80s Stockholm. Klara (Mira Grosin) is the cute, strident one with the cool parents. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) is the mousy, insecure one who gets to stay over at Klara’s place so her mom can get on-again with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. They roam through their world, tiny splinters of arrogance and neediness, little idiots you’ll quickly come to love. 

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Round Three: USA and Ghana at the World Cup

By on 6.16.14 | 5:01PM

The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team makes its 2014 FIFA World Cup debut today at 6 p.m. ET. The Yanks face the Ghana Black Stars, which is sweet of lady luck—or FIFA, if match-fixing allegations are true—giving America the chance to find out if the third time really is the charm and get revenge for our knockout by Ghana in the last two World Cups. "Why can’t we beat them?" the Wall Street Journal asks with a tone of existential ennui.

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