Of course, one challenge for me is that I was fifteen when 2000 began. My taste has changed–and (I think and hope) improved–since then. So I think it’s no wonder I see the progression of our popular culture as positive. My experience of it has certainly gotten better.
Or has Leonardo DiCaprio grown into a singularly humorless actor? Take the trailer for Inception, which looks gorgeous, and pretentious as hell:
He just looks dull. I’m much more intrigued by Ellen Page’s appearance in the movie, since she appears to have a sense of wonder and a smile left. I feel like DiCaprio may have had that once upon a time, at least when it came to spotting Claire Danes at a Venice Beach party. But not any longer, and it seems like a real missing ingredient in his acting career. Clooney, for one, knows you have to laugh or the hurt won’t seem real when it comes.
I never got the appeal of Everybody Loves Raymond, and as a result, I harbored uncharitable feelings towards Ray Romano for years. Having caught an episode of Men of a Certain Age last night, I feel a need to repent for that dislike. Men has been on my list of things to check out for a while. I like Andre Braugher. And I thought the muted humor of the commercials tended to hit their mark effectively.
But I was surprised by how much I liked last night’s episode. In one pivotal sequence, Braugher’s character discovers that Romano’s character’s ex-wife was cheating on him with the man she got together with once the marriage ended. The conversation leading up to the reveal, at a somewhat awkward function, is almost precisely what you’d expect from adults who don’t all know each other well, and aren’t necessarily clicking on any particular level. And when he convinces himself that the right thing to do is to tell Romano’s character, the reactions he gets from another friend and his wife are also surprisingly–and I think compellingly–awkward. His friend says the marriage must have been damaged for her to cheat. And his wife is more concerned with the fact that his reaction embarrassed his friend’s ex-wife (who is her friend) than in the fact that a manifest wrong’s been done. And I can understand why those reactions might be enormously disorienting: they suggest that the moral universe Braugher’s operating in is mistaken, as is his estimation of his friendship and his obligations within it.
That’s really the thing that the Beach Boys, “When I Grow Up to Be a Man,” the theme song that plays over the opening credits, is about. Digging the same things in a woman that you liked in a girl, or having your kids see you as cool, is really about whether not just your preferences, but your values, persevere.
Growing up, my family was always a little weird about popular culture. We didn’t have a television for a long time. I got to some Disney movies, but my folks don’t go to mainstream releases a lot. We did a fair bit of theater. But one of the biggest cultural legacies I got from my family, particularly from my father’s side of the family, was an obsessive love for the now-late Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert Block. My grandfather had a collection of his books that I pulled off the shelves (along with World War II Sad Sack cartoons) and read. I learned more about politics and American history from Herblock than I did from almost any other source, and wrote at least two college papers about Block’s work (particularly on nuclear weapons). He signed his autobiography for me when he received an honorary degree at Harvard.
So it was great to head over to the Library of Congress’s Herblock exhibit today for a retrospective of the great cartoonist’s work. The show made the important point that Block didn’t only absolutely nail generations of political figures, his work was a significant break with the round, doughy Midwestern School of editorial cartooning, and those spikier, more realistic figures were critical to the strength and distinction of his caricatures. The decline of editorial cartooning has always made me sad, given that Block proved how good and strong the profession could be. But the exhibit is a must, particularly since it shows how the cartoons were put together, blue sketching, black pencil and shading, and sometimes even parts of the cartoon cut and pasted in. And I’m psyched to dive into the new collection of Block’s work. His old books had 200-450 cartoons max. This one comes with 18,000 on disc. God bless technology. Especially when it keeps the work of cartoonists like Block accessible and looking great.