Tom Carson

Tom Carson won two National Magazine Awards during his stint as Esquire's "Screen" columnist and has been nominated twice more as GQ's movie reviewer. Formerly a staff writer at LA Weekly and The Village Voice, he is the author of Gilligan's Wake (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2003) and Daisy Buchanan's Daughter.

Recent Articles

And Best Supporting Zinger Goes To...

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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.

Lance Armstrong, the George W. Bush of Sports

USADA's report confirmed our worst suspicions about cycling's self-appointed king, finally marking the end of a long era of lying and arrogance.

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

The next thing you know, we'll find out he never even really had cancer. Short of that, it beats me what new revelation anyone would need to confirm the verdict Chicago Tribune sportswriter Phil Hersh delivered recently on CNN: "You can push Marion Jones and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Rosie Ruiz aside. Lance Armstrong is the greatest fraud in the history of sports."

NOLA Contendere

Treme's viewers may be dwindling in its third season, but this New Orleans resident still finds more than enough to like in a show that keeps finding new ways to love its milieu.

(AP Photo/Joe Giblin)

Take it from me that being a New Orleanian hasn't been all beer nuts and candy this autumn. On October 1, despite screeches of futile outrage from us peons and crustier protests by civic leaders that ended in Burghers of Calais-style woebegoneness, the Times-Picayune shrank on schedule to three editions per week, leading one wag to dub the reduced version the Times-Methadone and forcing many to the back-alley indignity of resorting to the Baton Rouge Advocate for their old-school daily fix. Our vaunted (and reviled) football team is 1-4 going into its bye week, making the huzzahs for Drew Brees's ongoing string of broken records sound increasingly like, well, broken records.

Adding insult to injury, nobody outside the city limits likes Treme anymore. That's an exaggeration, of course. But in some pop-cult wheelhouses, the mere continued existence of David Simon's NOLA-set drama has become cause for derision. Seduced away by Mad Men and Breaking Bad's trashier appeal—kidding, kidding, and yet not—the Emmys haven't been kind, with just two nominations for Treme's first season and bupkus from then on. Since the 2010 premiere, viewership has dwindled by roughly half, settling in at some 500,000 diehards: pretty piss-poor numbers, even by cable standards. Forgive me if it sometimes feels as if around 250,000 of them live within a 10-mile radius of me.

B Is for Bad Moderator

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

All spinning aside—and if I read the term "rope-a-dope" one more time, I may lose it—Wednesday's debate was a bummer for Obama's partisans and a lift for Mitt Romney's. But let's not slight the night's one great contribution to American unity. Who among us can forget the thrill of realizing we were all fed up with Jim Lehrer? From blue, red, and even purple throats alike, a roar of "Put a sock in it, you dweeb" rang through the land.

When the Fringe Shapes the Center

During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP's radicalism forced more mainstream gay-rights groups to step up their game.

(AP Photo/Tim Clary, File)

Starting with my inability to believe Mitch McConnell isn't one of Disney's talking teapots gone rogue, there are plenty of good reasons I don't and shouldn't run the zoo. But if I did, How To Survive A Plague would be mandatory viewing for Occupy Wall Streeters. First-time director David France's new documentary about the 1987-'93 glory years of ACT UP—aka AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, in case you've forgotten—is a wrenching remembrance of a gay holocaust that's already dimmer than it should be in our memory. The movie is also an exhilarating portrait of human beings discovering what they're capable of in a crisis.  But above all, it's the story of how a never too numerous band of obstreperous activists successfully changed public policy.

On that count, France may gild the lily somewhat. Left out is the groundwork laid from 1982 on by the pioneer AIDS lobby, Gay Men's Health Crisis—co-founded by playwright and veteran thorn in complacency's side Larry Kramer, who moved on to  help birth ACT UP once the GMHC proved too apolitical for him.  The omission slights how ACT UP's radical bent ended up repositioning other pressure groups as the mainstream version of AIDS-era gay activism, an invaluable lesson in how defining the fringe can help redefine the center.