One complaint I hear a fair amount in the conversation about how to get more people to get their content through licit sources is that the word “piracy” isn’t really a fair or accurate term to describe the behavior of individuals as opposed to large-scale content theft operations. I’m not really comfortable describing individual action to get content outside of legal channels in terms that are positive, or even neutral. But I’m genuinely invested in deescalating this debate, because I think it’s the only way to forge meaningful cultural change, however square that ambition might seem. And I’d love to hear suggestions, if people have them, for language that would provoke a less negative reaction from the people we’d like to get to quit downloading content for free that they really ought to be paying for.
Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that Hollywood lacks standards for what acts make someone unemployable. But part of the problem is also that while we have a sense of what behavior we don’t want to see treated as if it’s acceptable, there isn’t a clear standard for what constitutes making amends, not just to the people who were directly harmed by celebrities’ actions or remarks, but to the rest of us who have to deal with those people as public figures.
The way director Brett Ratner’s behaved in the wake of his comments last fall that “rehearsal is for fags,” which lost him a chance to run the Academy Awards, is an instructive example of what celebrity redemption might look like. At the time, he promised that “I will be taking real action over the coming weeks and months in an effort to do everything I can both professionally and personally to help stamp out the kind of thoughtless bigotry I’ve so foolishly perpetuated.” And he’s lived up to that promise, committing to produce a new ad campaign for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. It’s an experience that both sounds like it’s been educational for Ratner, and that’s letting an organization that represents the people he offended derive a substantive benefit.
Now, there will always be people who judge someone who’s in the process of redemption. But I think this offers a pretty reasonable standard for deciding if someone should be eligible not just to work, but for career-enhancing slots at an event like the Grammys or a production deal at FX that’s going to require a lot of promotional heavy lifting. Has the person who broke the law or committed the sin against decency educated themselves? And have they made a substantive contribution—whether it’s a donation of their services or raising money for a cause—to make public recompense and reinforce the idea that what they did was wrong, not just for them, but for anyone? If Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen had committed to raising a very serious amount of money for domestic violence charities and followed through on the work, I’d be much more inclined to consider forgiving them. It would be an acknowledgement that they understood that their behavior was wrong, and connected to larger issues in society, and that they were committed to remedying them both.
‘Friday Night Lights’ Coach Taylor Will Help Kill Osama bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow Movie | I was already excited about Kathryn Bigelow’s Kill bin Laden, the movie she was working on about a Navy SEAL team hunting for the famous terrorists she was working on as her follow-up to The Hurt Locker before President Obama ordered the raid that killed bin Laden last spring. But I’m even more excited now that I know that Kyle Chandler, who most recently played Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights (and is beloved to some of us as the star of Early Edition), is joining the picture. Apparently the movie, which saw its release date moved to avoid influencing the November election, is operating on the assumption that when you hunt down the most wanted man in the world, clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose is a pretty good motto.
After the news came last night that New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid had died of an asthma attack in Syriat, I started reading through the archives of his work at the New York Times and Washington Post. Shadid, who ranged widely across the Middle East in his work for several papers, was absolutely wonderful at clearly explaining the dynamics of a given conflict, and what an election, a suicide bombing, or a troop pullout meant.
But what made Shadid’s work most powerful for me was the stories he wrote about about people going on with their lives even under pressure that would be unfathomable, and shattering, to Americans forced to endure it. There was as much moral force to his stories about checkpoints, and shawarma sellers as there was to his portraits and analysis of intractable dictators. And taken together, those pieces demanded that readers recognize that the places Americans only saw as strategic considerations were in fact worlds as full, and rich as their own. Here are 20 great stories from Shadid that captured the changing dynamics of the Middle East, from Iraq’s leaders in self-reflection to the cheery persistance of a Jordanian coffee-seller:
Civil Society: In 2010, Shadid chronicled Iraqi leaders’ profound self-doubt and their reflections about the failure to build a stable regime there. In 2011, he visited a hospital in Libya staffed by volunteers, more than 100 of whom came from overseas to participate in the changes underway in the country. And in 2008, Shadid examined the alternative societies of Jordan’s long-term refugee camps and the hopelessness of the residents’ attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Commerce: During the Egyptian Revolution, Shadid used the death of a prominent member to reflect on the limitations of Egypt’s patronage economy. In 2009, Shadid spent two hours at a shawarma stand in Baghdad run by Bahloul Younes. He analyzed the scene at the Bab al-Yemen market in Sanaa, a city that’s grown from tends of thousands to two million.
Transportation: Shadid bridged the Middle East’s colonial past and its future on the train from Baghdad to Basra. He parsed the desires of Iraqis in the graffiti they left at Baghdad checkpoints. Shadid spent the day with a coffee- and tea-seller who sets up shop on a critical stretch of highway in Jordan. In 2008, he examined the roles that Baghdad’s walls play in the city’s transportation routes and emotional geography. And when the Syrian government denied Shadid a visa after a 2005 story that angered them, Shadid ended up going over water to Lebanon and experiencing the tricky world of Middle Eastern sea transport for himself.
Culture: A month before his death, Shadid checked in on the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to a plan to build three enormous museums. He parsed the cultural artifacts that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would leave behind, from fairytales of American soldiers to the rise of tattoos as a positive cultural marker. Shadid broke down how the controversy over the Dutch newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad grew out of control. He visited librarians in Beirut who were committed to making banned and so-called offensive volumes available to their readers, and profiled the editor of Dubai’s al-Arabiya news channel.
Faith: In 2011, Shadid traced the changes in a crowded Egyptian neighborhood once known as the Islamic Republic of Imbaba to explain the role of faith in the Egyptian Revolution—and later looked at how the Muslim Brotherhood was building a base of political support by providing city services. He analyzed how Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had used threats of an Islamist rising in a Libyan port town to gain Western support, and then explored the town’s balance between the secular and the religious. And he reflected on the role of Arab Christians in a Middle East in the process of dramatically reshaping itself.
When we talk about reproductive health in popular culture, as progressives, we mostly talk about the essential invisibility of abortion. But the debate over Obama’s contraception coverage rule really ought to raise something related into sharper relief: the near-absence of any kind of depictions of contraception in our popular culture at all.
It’s not as if contraceptive use would be difficult to incorporate into pop culture with a relative minimum of effort. When you show a heroine doing her morning routine for the first time, show her popping a pill before she brushes her teeth. If your heroine is going to drop her purse and meet the hero when he stops to help her, have a pill pack in the mix of her stuff. Include condoms in the set dressing for your hero’s bedroom. When you have a couple go to bed, have someone reach for a bedside table drawer. It doesn’t need to be showy or obtrusive, though it is possible to make using condoms an alluring part of a sex scene. It’s entirely possible to incorporate the things people really do in their everyday intimate lives without interrupting the flow of a scene or making a bit deal out of the fact that your characters are doing something normal.
There are, of course, ratings reasons that you might not show a character clearly putting a condom on in a sex scene. But if you’ve got teenaged characters who are going to have sex for the first time and the plot doesn’t call for an accidental pregnancy; or even adult characters going to bed who want to make sure they try to get, it’s not hard to add a preparatory scene that includes the characters making sure they’ve got their birth control figured out. Even Knocked Up, which is about an accidental pregnancy, managed to work in a scene about condom use and sexual communication gone wrong. (Judd Apatow appears to have some condom issues, given both that scene and the condoms-as-agents-of-penis-destruction scene in The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.)
And figuring out how to code contraception use in a positive way is important. One of the reasons I love Sons of Anarchy so much is that it’s one of the few shows in which characters actually use or talk about contraception like grown-ups do. But often, contraception use is coded negatively. The Sons talk about using condoms when they’re sleeping with women other than their old ladies. Porn star Lyla’s use of birth control pills and Plan B isn’t a sign of her sexual agency so much as her deception of Opie and a symptom of their larger communications problems and incompatibilities. I love Tara, but it’s inconceivable to me that a professional woman who seriously loves her career and has an uncertain relationship with her biker boyfriend wouldn’t at least think about trying to protect herself from getting pregnant by accident.
It shouldn’t take product placement deals by Trojan to get condoms and other forms of contraception into our pop culture. But if it does, I suppose that’s one sort of product placement I could tolerate.
Pat Buchanan, the former presidential candidate and long-time contributor to MSNBC, has been formally let go from the network four months after he was suspended following the publication of Suicide of a Superpower, a book MSNBC president Phil Griffin had said should not “be part of the national dialogue, much less part of the dialogue on MSNBC.”
Suicide of a Superpower may have been more shocking because it pulled so many of Buchanan’s ideas into one place, but the concepts that Buchanan espoused on MSNBC and in his other writings for years were hardly a constructive part of the national conversation: my colleague Adam Peck’s detailed some of most shocking statements here. In 2006, he said that accusing then-Rep. Harold Ford of sexual laciviousness wasn’t racially coded because he “is a guy that likes Playboy bunnies. Almost all of them are white.” He suggested that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nancy Pelosi were soft on inappropriate sexual advances towards Congressional pages because they’d marched in gay pride parades with the North American Man-Boy Love Association. On Chris Matthews’ show, Buchanan described immigration as a purposeful invasion of American soil. Off-network, he suggested that Anders Breivik, who committed last summer’s terrible terrorist attack in Norway may have been correct about the threat of a multi-cultural and multi-faith Europe.
In addition to being reprehensible, these ideas don’t display any sort of creative thinking or coherent worldview on policy or politics. They just represent an overarching fear of difference, and an attempt to legitimate ugly knee-jerk reactions. Even if you leave out the ugly conclusions Buchanan reached, it’s not clear why this quality of political thought and constant default to stereotype without analysis are valuable, worthy of not just the salary but the status that comes with a contributor position at MSNBC. Surely that money could have been spent elevating talented and creative thinkers for whom a slot on MSNBC would be a blessing, rather than Buchanan, who had his post by virtue of his run for president rather than any ongoing contributions. But then, when it comes to conservatives, perhaps Buchanan’s the best MSNBC could sign up given the competition from Fox News, which has a tendency to lock up conservative superstars quickly, leaving MSNBC to pick from the Michael Steeles of the wannabe conservative commentariat.
Buchanan’s tenure at MSNBC seems like a warning about trying to balance out a group of reasonable liberals with a single contributor or a small group of wildly conservative commentators. Maybe the virulence of his views was inoculate the network from demands that they bring on more conservative contributors. But that risk doesn’t seem worth it if it means keeping alive views after the American consensus rejected them. It would be unfortunate if MSNBC slowed that process by keeping Buchanan on the air for a decade even after the political mainstream recognized his ideas for what they were.
The bridge is yours.
-Gael Garcia Bernal will be your new Zorro, because why not.
-All these Avengers teases are killing me.
-In defense of Nicolas Cage, who really is pretty awesome.
-Downton Abbey paper dolls to get you through until Sunday.
-Michael Fassbender really doesn’t look like he’s following proper scientific procedures in this new trailer for Prometheus:
Prometheus – International Teaser Trailer #1… by addictomovie
Listen, I adore Meryl Streep. She is gorgeous and funny and absurdly accomplished. But I’m extremely tired of her getting hired to play every female character over the age of 50.
I think the breaking point for me was the news that Streep’s been cast to play to play Violet Weston, the poisonous matriarch of the family at the center of Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County. It’s a terrific piece of theater, and very hard to watch: Violet is an addict, and she abuses her relatives terribly when they come together to bury her husband. What makes her powerful is her abandonment of dignity and her insistence that she’s superior anyway. Violet’s raving and out of her mind and because she’s telling enough truth, she’s able to play everyone around her. Streep does goofy or self-deprecating, occasionally, but I can’t think of a movie where she’s been genuinely unhinged, comfortable utterly abandoning the regalness that’s her signature.
So why cast her? All three actresses who played Violet on Broadway—Deanna Dunagan, Estelle Parsons, and Phylicia Rashād—are alive, healthy, and working. If you want an actress who has film and television credibility, Parsons won an Academy Award for her Best Supporting Actress turn in Bonnie and Clyde and did 59 episodes of Roseanne. Rashād is less famous, but she’s still familiar to audiences from The Cosby Show and Cosby, and she’s on Psych. You don’t have to go with Streep to go with an actress who is already prominent and has a proven ability to nail this particular role.
Handing Streep all of these roles without seriously considering other actresses in her age range puts Streep in the same position as Will Smith. Her prominence lets the industry simultaneously say that of course they take women of her age seriously, while also suggesting that no other actress would be able to do what Streep does, so they don’t have to cast or build movies around anyone else. They’re both ways for the industry to prove that they aren’t uncomfortable with diversity per se while avoiding making any substantive changes that would make movies demonstrably more diverse both in who they star and what kinds of stories they tell. I don’t begrudge Streep work in general. But she’s not actually the best actress for every single role for a woman over 50.
I really love this New York Times Magazine infographic on how to accomplish the rather difficult task of DJing a political campaign event without offending the candidate, the audience, or running afoul of cranky artists. Attention to lyrics are at the top of the list:
There are obvious songs to stay away from — Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘‘Fortunate Son’’ for Romney, Public Enemy’s ‘‘Fear of a Black Planet’’ for Obama, Tom Jones’s ‘‘Sex Bomb’’ for Gingrich — but seemingly innocuous tracks also have to be vetted for double meaning. (Campaigns sometimes give D.J.’s specific playlists to avoid trouble.) ‘‘For Herman Cain, especially, I didn’t use anything with sexual overtones,’’ says John Donahue, who has also spun for Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman. ‘‘A couple of songs on my list at his last rally were great, like this one upbeat Christina Aguilera song with the chorus ‘Ain’t no other man can stand up next to you.’ But the lyrics talk about calling your lover, so I didn’t play it.’’
I also think it’s telling what the Donahue suggest if the factors are just too complicated to get creative: ‘‘Play upbeat country. It’s usually got patriotic overtones. If ‘America’ is in the title, even better.’’ I saw a lot of complaints during the Grammys about how much country music was included in the ceremony given that it’s a genre with its own powerful infrastructure and awards shows. But increasingly, I think hip-hop and country are more the dominant consensus genres in this country, given both their free-standing success and their infiltration of pop and rock. I’m curious if Donahue, who DJs for conservative candidates, would give the same advice for Democratic rallies, or if he thinks country is solidly red and other genres are solidly blue.
This post contains spoilers through the February 16 episode of Parks and Recreation.
Okay, I’m not going to lie: if I were offered a real-life choice between Adam Scott and Louis C.K., both of whom I have seen in the flesh, it would not be an easy decision for me. So I sympathize with Leslie when Officer Dave Sanderson returns from San Diego intent on winning her back from boyfriend and campaign manager Ben Wyatt. Particularly because watching those two gentlemen square off for her affections in competing comedic cycles was easily the best part of an episode that was otherwise largely recapitulated Mouserat and Duke Silver jokes, and what Vulture has articulately dissected as the show’s Ann Perkins problem. Because the prospect of Ann allowing herself to be brow-beaten into dating Tom depresses me more than I want to contemplate, herewith let me present the official Alyssa Rosenberg Guide to Picking Between Ben and Dave:
Pro Ben: He’ll manage your campaign, has good instincts for the attack, a handy grasp of fiscal policy, and the ability to assimilate into a community by eventually coming to love tiny horses.
Con Ben: He’s got that awful political legacy trailing behind him. And there’s the scandal thing, if Pawnee voters end up caring about that. Occasionally condescending.
Pro Dave: He will likely be able to hand out reelection endorsement after reelection endorsement to you after he becomes sheriff and you become member of the city council. Also, he can probably get you Bobby’s file for negative ads.
Con Dave: Unlikely to be able to keep you calm during a contentious focus group.
Pro Ben: He will punch people who call you a bitch. Will do sexual roleplay where he pretends to be various presidents.
Con Ben: Crying Batman.
Pro Dave: “I was thinking that I would cuff him and that I would have time to speak with you and you would decide to speak with me and then we’d come back and uncuff him together.” Uses feminism to try to win you back, if kind of clumsily. Ron Swanson would probably approve.
Con Dave: That tendency to abuse police power might not be so awesome in the long run. Plus, suggests that your ex is secretly super-effeminate, which are not the actions of a confident man.
Ben: Twitchy indignation, be it over budgets, mini-horses, or science fiction and fantasy.
Dave: Folksy understatement: “We had a romantical involvement until I relocated to San Diego…which is southwest of here by a number of miles.”