I was tied up in the first of two conferences earlier this week when Frank Kameny died, but I think it’s worth reiterating, even if it’s a little late in the game, what a great American he is and how much he deserves a biopic. And I think it’s especially worth reiterating that now that an Alan Turing biopic is apparently in development in what would be the second gay-themed historical star turn for Leonardo DiCaprio in a row. Turing’s story is, of course, a great World War II story, but it’s also a tragedy about how deeply and how recently Western democracies persecuted gay people. Those stories should be told in part because they make stories like Kameny’s even more extraordinary, and they illustrate the extent of his courage. We should tell both kinds of stories if we want a real sense of gay history.
I interviewed Margaret Atwood about her new book, In Other Worlds, a collection of her writing on science fiction, and we got to talking about science fiction and religion. Or rather, science fiction as a replacement for a literal, completist reading of the Bible:
I think that the religious strand is probably part of human hard-wiring…by religious strand, I don’t mean any particular religion, I mean the part of human beings that feels that the seen world is not the only world, that the world you see is not the only world that there is and that it can become awestruck. If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution. That would make sense. If you think there’s an unseen somebody or other helping you out, you’re more likely to feel encouraged. Suppose that the religious thing is kind of a given and you can’t act it out using your old figures and images, because time has moved on and people no longer quite believe, and if you announce that you have seen a bunch of angels sitting in a tree, you’re likely to be locked up in a bin, so instead you put them on planet X, where they’re like to feel quite at home.
I think it says something about the disjunct between people who say they interpret the Bible literally, which nobody does, and people who take a historical view of the Bible…that has made it more difficult to posit a world that is imaginatively complete and identical with the earlier medieval cathedral view of the universe. The imagination likes to deal with imaginatively complete worlds. It’s made it harder to do that than the old arrangement from creative to revelation, that you used to be able to see marching around the ceiling of cathedrals…It was a 3D house of the universe.
I think that’s an interesting idea. Not all the aliens we encounter in science fiction are necessarily more powerful than we are, but even if they’re not, they’re an interesting way to speculate about the divine, or the other as divine.
The Washington Post has an interesting story about the trouble the creator of Islam-inflected (though not explicitly Islamic) superhero comics The 99 has had getting a cartoon adaptation of the comics aired in the United States. I think it’s probably likely that, as one supporter of the show says, “The Hub [the network that bought the show] clearly expressed that, as a relatively new network, they simply could not afford any risks…This was not something they had initially anticipated when they bought the rights to ‘THE 99’ but was, in fact, an unfortunate reality of the current political climate in America.” Professional Muslim-bashers like Pam Geller, who has inveighed against the show despite the fact that it never explicitly mentions religion or religious law, have a deeply unfortunate amount of influence.
But I also think, as much as I like the idea of Muslim superheroes and flexible, multi-use Muslim archetypes more generally, that The 99 may not be entirely ready for prime time, at least based on what they’re putting out there in a seven-minute promotional trailer for the show:
The animation’s a couple notches above Taiwanese animation dramatizations of the news, but the visuals aren’t overwhelming. The history is intriguing — there are actual precedents for the Noor stones, and highlighting the history of scholarship in the Muslim world, the Muslim history in Spain, and suggesting that Muslims can be victims of Islamic terrorism is, and from a larger war of ideas perspective, an important point to make. But when a villain is so grindingly obvious as to declare that the people who deserve to rule the world are “the ones who are willing to crush dissent and impose their will on the mindless masses,” it’s hard for even someone like me to roll my eyes at the political overload.
And I wonder if the franchise has maybe just gone too big. Ninety-nine characters is a lot of powers to invent, and an even vaster number of characters to make believable and compelling in a way that will make readers invest in them. There are a ridiculous number of mutants now, but the X-Men started out with a fairly small cast of heroes and villains and built from there.
For an economist, the most fascinating aspect of Pan Am is the highly attractive flight attendants — or rather, stewardesses, since the show is set in the early 1960s. If you’re young enough, you might think that’s just TV. But I’m just old enough to remember flying in the 1970s, and I recall stewardesses who really were, in fact, hot. Okay, I was too young to understand the concept of “hot” — but I was definitely aware that I was being attended by some very pretty young women.
As predicted by a simple supply-and-demand model, airlines were willing to offer more flights at these high prices than customers were willing to buy. Under normal market conditions, that would lead to falling prices. But since the airlines legally could not compete on price, they competed on quality instead. They offered better service, better food, and… wait for it… more attractive stewardesses.
When deregulation came along, however, it became apparent that as much as male customers might have enjoyed the eye candy, they weren’t willing to pay for it.
As McArdle points out, it’s not economics killing Whitman’s boner, but labor laws:
Up to New York Comic Con today. The bridge is yours.
-Ten imperfect things Apple released under Steve Jobs.
-Is Superman no longer a journalist? Who will I look up to now? Curse you, Zack Snyder!
-Please, please tell me that Renee Zellweger’s new show is basically Valley of the Dolls.
-Love me some Glenn Close-as-butler:
I recently watched Wild Target, which is a total trifle featuring Bill Nighy as Victor Maynard, a repressed assassin, Rupert Grint as his surprisingly plausible son, Emily Blunt as a manic pixie kleptomaniac, and the world’s most fun-looking birthday party:
The movie isn’t particularly notable, but I appreciate the way it separates out proficiency at sex and violence. What makes Victor extremely good at killing people efficiently and with a minimum of mess is his extreme control. He lives in a house with plastic covers on the furniture, wears identical and impeccable suits, and his mother scrap-books his scores. When he and Blunt’s wildly disruptive character finally make a love connection, it’s in the form of him carrying her to bed out of the mess of the party. In as much as action movies have articulated ideas about masculinity, they often assume that the ability to wreak havoc and the ability to make love are, if not directly related, correlated. It’s nice to see something that makes the obvious point that while both are physical skills, they come from very different places.
By Tyler Lewis
Ever since The Cosby Show went off the air, there has been a constant refrain in black communities around the country that “there aren’t any family shows like The Cosby Show.” This despite the fact that Family Matters, The Parent ‘Hood, My Wife and Kids, Everybody Hates Chris – to name a few – all depicted loving, complicated black families, were funny, and did (to varying degrees) very well with diverse audiences just like The Cosby Show.
But, of course, it’s not hard to understand why people want another Cosby Show. It was a massively popular show that was incredibly, consistently good, the kind of show that just doesn’t come around anymore – white or black. Much of its appeal lay in seeing an upper-middle class black family on television going about the daily work of living and loving together. In 1984, that was revelatory. The other shows I mentioned were about working-class black families and so perhaps that is why their virtues have been unjustly overlooked as black folks endlessly obsess about when the next Cosby Show will come along.
Which brings me to the new Tracee Ellis Ross/Malcolm-Jamal Warner sitcom Reed Between The Lines, a refreshingly assured show of simple, sweet pleasures that premiered last night on BET. BET, Ross, and Warner would like you to believe that the show is the new Cosby Show almost solely because Dr. Carla Reed and Dr. Alex Reed are upper-middle class black professionals with precocious kids.
It isn’t, of course. But not for lack of trying.
Ross’ Dr. Carla Reed and Warner’s Dr. Alex Reed are presented in the very first scene and many times thereafter as just as randy and hot for each other as Cliff and Clair were. Like Cliff, Alex works from home. And Zoe Hendrix’s Alexis is clearly trying to outdo Keisha Knight Pulliam’s Emmy-nominated precocious mugging.
All of this is fine. Par for the course.
But it really is the moments where Reed diverges from its desire to be The Cosby Show that are the most interesting and represent the greatest opportunities around which to build a truly defining black show.
In the first episode, Carla goes a little nuts when a woman flirts with Alex, which plays perfectly to Ross’ ability to do physical comedy and convey tremendous insecurity. The conversation at the end where Alex talks her down is both mature and funny, without being condescending. It’s not at all a conversation you’d see Cliff and Clair have.
And it is particularly nice, after years of shows that feature the crazy husband and his pretty, level-headed, long-suffering wife, to see the roles reversed a bit here and for Ross to be, unequivocally, the lead of the show.
In the second episode, Carla and Alex struggle with the realization that they may not be perfect parents. We learn that before Carla and Alex were married, Carla was a single mother who was going to school while raising her elder twin children. The show wisely allows Carla to speculate how the Reeds’ upward mobility might have caused her and Alex to spoil their youngest child. Definitely not something Cliff and Clair ever dealt with.
These moments are sharply observed and do a good job of making the show its own animal. This is encouraging. No show will be The Cosby Show, and BET, Ross, and Warner would do well to let the show stand on its own merits.
If Reed Between The Lines continues to develop along these lines, it will have no problem meeting that challenge.