After my recent full-throated participation in the culture wars, I've been more interested in - say - enjoying the fine spring weather than in engaging in yet another on-line debate as to whether Christopher Hitchens is a genius or an overrated hack. However, my absence from the blogging "scene", if you will, has caused a reader (one more reader than I realized I still had) to lament my lapse into blogospheric non-existence, so I feel it behooves me to post something or other.
First, if I were blogging, and I'm not sure that I am, I would certainly be extensively linking Michael J. Totten's Lebanon blog. This is the real thing, like some sort of fever dream of liberal hawk bloggers come gloriously to life. Here we have American friends of freedom in the Middle East going to the heart of an organic, indigenous pro-democracy movement in a Middle Eastern country, collecting donations to aid said movement, and blogging everything they see. Best of all perhaps, it's a non-violent, non-military way of helping to reform the Arab world so everyone should feel like they can participate. If you want to make a donation to the protesters in the tent cities of Beirut who hope to get Syria and Hezbollah out of Lebanon non-violently, you can use the form at the top of the every page of the blog. I have, and I'm desperately poor. This would seem to be a much more promising use of blogging than merely shouting about the same stuff they're shouting about on cable news.
In other news, how about America's Next Top Model last night!? Girrrrrrlllllllll!!!! Seriously though. The unprecedented two-girl elimination! Then, Tyra's dressing down of Miami-ghetto-girl-almost-made-good Tiffany! That was one of the most compelling moments I've ever seen on television. So compelling in fact, that - apologies to Conan O'Brien - I've taken to calling it simply "compellevision". It actually reminded you of why the reality-TV idea seemed good to begin with. There was genuine emotion up there. Honest, real stuff far beyond the crap that most hack TV-writers can come up with. Does stuff like that ever happen on American Idol or The Apprentice or any of those shows I ask you? I think not. That's why Tyra Banks is the thinking, um, man's reality TV queen I say!
Upon surveying what the kids call the "blogosphere" I see that Ross Douthat and some other young smarty-smarts are playing this game where you "list five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over." Nobody asked me to play, but since I hate a lot of stuff I thought I'd at least talk about the game and other people's choices.
I give Douthat mad props for mentioning the immensely overrated Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He's right that part of what makes this film - which as a Gen-Xer I'm legally obligated to love - so irksome, is how smug the tone is. But, for me, what's annoying about this movie, and a whole lot of other putatively comedic pop culture, is something even more basic than smugness. It's the fact that the main character is a winner. Winning simply isn't funny! Or sympathetic! Comedy is a reaction to losing, to embarrassment, to pain, to life's unfairness etc. Though this film is putatively a "comedy", what exactly is so damn funny about seeing the smooth, cocky self-assured hero triumph without effort over every adversity! Meanwhile, the far more sympathetic, far more flawed Cameron ends the film having to deal with whatever psychological torture his father has in mind for him because of the car, a car he wouldn't have even wrecked had he not initially followed Ferris's idea of stealing it. The golden boy goes home unpunished, while the imperfect - and funnier looking - characters such as Jeanie and Cameron are crushed. Har dee har har! What is this? A teen comedy or a Nazi propaganda film? Ferris in reality has a lot more in common with the 35-year-old blond-haired corvette-driving villians of most 80s teens comedies than he does with any kind of sympathetic hero.
Though generally I'm also not even wild about (and this is true heresy for someone of my age group here) the entire John Hughes/80s Teen Comedy genre. Part of this is because I saw a lot of the canonical films at the wrong age (i.e. too late). The ne plus ultra of the genre was supposed to be The Breakfast Club, which I saw at roughly the right age. What supposedly made this film so brilliant, for both teens and adults alike, was how it exploded teen stereotypes. I've seen it both as an adult and a teenager, and both times it seemed to do nothing but build them up; smart kids are miserable dorks, jocks are stupid etc. In fact, contrary to virtually other member of Generation-X I've met, I actually think that those who've grown up post Gen-X have generally had a better, smarter, less-condescending choice of teen-oriented films, from Can't Hardly Wait to Ghost World to, yes, even the first American Pie.
I now see that Jonah Goldberg says that this game, pretentiously called by the people who started it the "Caesar's Bath game", is a "lefty blog meme." Since I'm told every day by conservatives that I'm not a conservative and by liberals that I'm not a liberal, I suppose I could just invite myself in to play, but it's more fun just to comment on other people's choices anyway.
Matthew Yglesias's saying that The Atlantic Monthly is "a bad magazine" strikes me as a particularly cracked out utterance. I could see saying that it was "overrated" or "not as good as it was under Michael Kelly", but "bad"? Let's get some perspective here. It seems to me that there's not real substance to his critique of the publication; just a lot of "Oh, look at me I'm the Atlantic I'm so fancy and important, but to bad really I'm not!" He holds their publication of Howell Raines's lunatic screed against them, but really I think that they performed a public service by letting everyone see how crazy Raines was and how bad things had gotten at the Times (which maybe is why Yglesias didn't like their publishing it.)
I could never respect anyone who doesn't understand why college basketball is better than the NBA. His description of college basketball players as "puny" and "second-rate" betrays the fact that he's probably never watched a game. But even if they were, what he doesn't understand for some reason is that college players play harder and more passionately and better as a team. Would you rather see LeBron James playing one more meaningless game out of 82, just thinking about his paycheck, or two teams of only slightly worse athletes playing their heart out for the glory of their respective schools? If you even had to think before answering that question you're not a basketball fan.
I found Julian Sanchez's responses surprisingly sympatico. I'm very surprised he doesn't like the brilliant Deadwood though. He must really not take his work home with him, because for someone of his left/libertarian politics I would think the show would be a wet dream. The perfect anarcho-capitalist situation is set up. Outside corporate and government interests come in to try to ruin it. Organic, local institutions like small business (whatever those businesses might be) rise up to fight those outside influences. I'm surprised libertarians haven't embraced this show more.
I'm totally with him on including Ernest Hemingway though. I've never understood why Hemingway's ghastly, mannered writing style was considered fit for the canon and I've long suspected it was a colossal prank by English Professors as Sanchez does.
It'll be interesting to see when/if this meme gets back to me through the proper channels now.