So help me, I almost gave up on House of Cards. After zipping through the first three or four episodes of Netflix's new 13-part, Americanized remake of the 1990 BBC miniseries about political intrigue, I figured I'd seen enough to cook up a reasonably brainy-sounding takedown, starting with how some of the supposedly sophisticated power plays executed by Kevin Spacey as scheming House Majority Whip Frank Underwood—a Democrat from South Carolina, and how likely is that in 2013?—would have left Machiavelli yawning at their crudeness in eighth grade. The idea that a single planted piece by a junior reporter could instantly vault someone into front-running contention for the job of Secretary of State had me groaning, and so on.
In case you don't know, Enlightened—co-created by its star, Laura Dern, with fellow cast member Mike White, and in its second season as of last week—is the show that currently airs right after Lena Dunham's Girls on HBO Sunday nights. To say it hasn't gotten as much attention as Girls is to riot in understatement, as Gore Vidal used to say.
On Sunday night, as Jodie Foster accepted her Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes, made an awkward and extremely peculiar speech. No one seems to be entirely sure what she was saying. Was she retiring from acting? Was she coming out even though she didn’t actually say she’s a lesbian—and even though she’s made out-ish comments and gestures in the past?
In the days since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on violent movies and video games (in particular, for some reason, Natural Born Killers, a film that came out 19 years ago and was actually a critique of the media's obsession with violence), a number of people in the entertainment industry have been asked about whether their products contribute to real-world violence, and they've seemed extremely uncomfortable answering the question. Actually, they seem to have no idea what the answer might be. As it happens, this is a question that has been studied extensively, although the research is a bit ambiguous and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over just what evidence there is for the assertion. So if you're a Hollywood big shot, read on so you'll have some idea what to say next time the question comes up.
Very few men are rapists. Very few men are abusers. Or stalkers. Predators are the minority. The vast majority of men are decent people who want to do the right thing.
What would it take to shift from a rape culture to a respect culture, and end violence against women? You have to involve the decent men. You have to let them know they are our allies, not our enemies. You have to let them know what they can do to help—to interrupt violence, to help spread new norms—without having to call themselves feminists or become full-on activists.
Last week, my sort-of opposite number at ThinkProgress.org—culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who also writes for The Atlantic and Slate—posted the kind of prescriptive think piece about Our Violent Culture that makes old geezers like me heave a hefty sigh as we finger our own dog-eared membership cards in the vast left-wing conspiracy. Just for the record, I should say that a) Rosenberg and I don't know each other at all, and b) she's someone whose work I enjoy and often glean dandy insights from, not least because our sensibilities and guiding premises are so different. If she's not at her best writing prescriptions, so what? That isn't really a critic's job in the first place.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty opens to blackness and the sound of a conversation that we immediately know is real. Trapped on a high floor of a tall building engulfed by fire, a young woman says, “I’m going to die,” while the emergency responder at the other end of the phone tries to reassure her otherwise. “I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she keeps repeating, her voice already becoming unmoored from her few years on this earth and pitched at some impossible place between hysteria and resignation. The emergency operator keeps promising help; both women understand it will never come. We understand as well because this is the 11th of September 2001. When the call disconnects, we hear the operator mutter under her breath, “Oh my God,” and nothing in the movie that follows will be as wrenching as these few seconds in the dark; the next two and three-quarter hours are haunted by this prologue that can’t be undone or rectified, just avenged.
Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, is not pleased with Hollywood. In particular, Manchin is upset with MTV, which is replacing the cancelled Jersey Shore with another sober anthropological exploration of youth culture in a unique sociocultural milieu. This time it's Manchin's home state, and the show is called Buckwild. As you might imagine, like their peers in the Garden State, the cast members of Buckwild look to be doing little to burnish their state's image; instead they'll be getting drunk, hooking up, fighting, and generally making fools of themselves, albeit in a characteristically West Virginian way (there's a preview for the show here).
Earlier this week, I said that I just don’t care about General David Petraeus’s affair. I’ve since heard political writers explaining that the affair itself may be immaterial; what matters was that Petraeus was compromising intelligence, granting line-crossing levels of access to someone unknown to the CIA. That may be so. But no matter how giddily silly the whole thing has become—what with the threatened good friend and the shirtless anti-Obama FBI agent (why are men “shirtless” and not “topless”?)—I don’t care about the affair itself: consensual adults, and all that.
A couple sits on chairs in a near-empty room to watch Fox News commentator Karl Rove on a big-screen television during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.
I regularly get all giddy and Tiggerish about how far lesbians and gay man have come from the bad old days of, say, the late 1970s when I came out. Back then, most of the mainstream didn’t quite notice we were human. I do remember the moment I first realized that I wanted to kiss a girl, and my stomach fell out of me with fear: I didn’t want to be one of them. It’s hard to convey to you all how different things are and how far we’ve come.
I’ve been thinking about this because, on her Bloggingheads show last week, Sarah Posner asked me whether, ten years ago, I would have imagined we’d be as far along as we are on marriage. Ten years ago, yes. In 2002, it was pretty clear what path we were on. But in the 1970s, marriage was simply beyond conceivable.
Right, so the 2012 presidential debates are done with at last—triggering, as predictably as natural disasters produce fundamentalist sermons, a stew of grousing in Wonkland about their shallowness, triviality, and failure to articulate much of substance about whatever issues made the cut. Everybody had a laundry list of topics that never got broached at all (global warming and torture were just two of the big ones). But from my unwonky perspective, complaints of this nature reflect an either earnest or wilful inability to recognize the nature of the beast. All that counts—to the electorate, to the campaigns, and even to the outcome on November 6, which means to history—is whether they were good TV.