This was a question from the Chicago Sun-Times who were pressing Madigan about a possible gubernatorial run in 2014 against Governor Pat Quinn. She and her husband, Pat Byrnes, have two children ages four and seven; she was asked if she could both be governor and raise her kids the way she wants to. “Wow. Does anybody ever ask that question?” Madigan replied. Read more
Boy, does Cloud Atlas look like an ambitious film. A new trailer for the film — which we’ve spotlighted here and here — dropped today, and it’s somewhat confusing to watch if you don’t know that the book it’s based on is made up of six tightly interconnected, time-spanning stories, as you get exactly zero sense of a plot in any traditional sense. But that’s not the real point of what’s going on here:
The trailer is trying to thread a peculiarly difficult needle: give a sense of the movie’s time-spanning multiple-story arc, introduce its Big Ideas, and reassure the viewer that emotionally resonant human stories won’t be lost by the wayside in the process. Each of these elements, unsurprisingly, feels somewhat underserved by the trailer, and Cloud Atlas will succeed inasmuch it manages to effectively juggle all three missions. Judging from the expanded five-minute trailer, I’m cautiously optimistic. There’s a surprising amount of pathos (no doubt helped by the stellar cast) for something that’s fundamentally throwing up a bunch of random scenes with a voiceover about the connections between past and future.
Further piquing my interest is the film’s approach to political history seems connected to a particular philosophical view that isn’t engaged with very much in popular culture. Questions like like “is it OK to restrict some rights in the name of security” or “can economic inequality ever be fair?” are common, but there’s another way of approaching thinking about political justice, most famously associated with Robert Nozick, that sees political morality in terms of a sort of historical fairness. The most relevant moral questions, for Nozick, aren’t who gets what but rather whether the historical processes by people got what they have were fair. Cloud Atlas‘ overarching narrative about the connections between actions in the past and the lives and welfare of people down the line suggests it may be grappling with the sort of questions that consumed Nozick. Moreover, Nozick’s theory is designed to provide a philosophically sophisticated case for libertarianism, but it’s not all that clear that it succeeds at this on its own terms. It’d be interesting to see whether lines like “Our lives are not our own…and by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future” suggest an alternative way of viewing justice across historical boundaries.
I’m a huge Jay-Z fan, and equally as big an Angela Davis fan, so my immediate response to this news was “awesome.” From Deadline.com:
[Will and Jada Smith's] Overbrook Entertainment and [Jay-Z's] Roc Nation will lend their clout to the Realside Productions/De Films Aiguille-produced documentary Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, which was directed by Shola Lynch. They will become executive producers on a film that premieres at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival and marks the 40th anniversary of the acquittal of Angela Davis on charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy….
Roc Nation founder Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, added: “Shola Lynch has crafted an intricate and compelling film about Angela Davis. Roc Nation is honored to be a part of a creative collective that can present such a riveting story.”
It’s awesome because a documentary about Davis, from my view, is essential, and the fact that Jay-Z, alongside Will and Jada, is lending his name to this project means it will receive considerably more attention than it would left to fend for itself.
But I also can’t escape the incongruity of hip-hop’s most successful capitalist executive producing a project about one of America’s best known communists. There’s little to debate about Jay-Z’s talents as an artist; he’s one of the genre’s greatest. However, his idea of black power rests in corporatism and obscene wealth accumulation, where his greatest contribution is giving a piece of what he earns back to those at the bottom (“I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them/so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win”). It’s unsustainable model and one at direct odds with the ideology of the film’s subject. You have to wonder what Davis has to say about Jay-Z’s NBA team contributing to the gentrification of Brooklyn.
It also brings to mind the criticism recently lobbed against the mogul by the legendary entertainer and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 85 year-old lamented the loss of social responsibility among the current generation of entertainers, saying, “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example.”
This isn’t a new charge, and high-profile celebrities, especially black ones, are used to hearing it by now. No matter the number of charities they establish and/or organizations they lend their time and support to, there’s a contingency that feels they don’t do enough to champion the most pressing political and social issues of the day. They make headlines for giving birth but don’t use that same attention the press affords them to speak out against American foreign policy. They aren’t marching in the streets for Trayvon Martin. They squander their celebrity on themselves.
Jay-Z has spoken back to these critics in rhyme, but also noted that he could do more (check “Minority Report” from the Kingdom Come album). I don’t know the man personally, but I believe he has a genuine desire to lend his voice to causes higher than himself, for the good he can do, but also for consideration of his legacy. When his book, Decoded, was released a couple years ago, a friend and I noted that Jay-Z has entered a phase of his career where he is playing hip-hop’s cultural ambassador to the rest of the world. The book didn’t offer anything new to those fluent in the language, but was an explainer of all things hip-hop to those who still think it’s all guns, drugs, and destruction. Considering that alongside his executive producing of the hit Broadway musical Fela!, and now this Angela Davis project, it’s possible Jay-Z’s greatest contribution in this semi-retired stage of his career will be ensuring black culture has a place to live in the greater American imagination.
The video in this post contains spoilers for Season 5 of Breaking Bad, up to & including the September 2 episode.
It would be a usurpation to write up the closeout episode of season 5.1 of Breaking Bad with Alyssa vacationing. I won’t try to do that, but the folks at Press Play have a gorgeous video essay up stringing together some of the best bits of cinematography we’ve seen this season and making an argument about what it all means. Take a look:
The accompanying text is well worth your time too. Praising the show’s “visual literacy,” Derek Hill writes that “it draws on the muscular richness of past masters of the action genre, such as Sergio Leone, John Sturges, Budd Boetticher, Sam Peckinpah, William Friedkin, and Michael Mann, to deliver the goods.” That’s quite a list, and I think I agree — especially when Hill contrasts the use of cinematography to flesh out character psychology in Breaking Bad with the way that an adroit stylist like Tarantino employs some of the same techniques.
Hill goes on to narrow the argument about the show’s cinematography a bit too far for me, however:
Actors in the frame are typically juxtaposed with advertising signs or dwarfed by urban architecture, a sort of primetime visual semiotics. Although the show ostensibly explores Walter and Jesse’s trajectories through the seedy, violent world of drug dealing and crime, it’s really about capitalism at its most savage. Walter’s justification for his involvement in the meth business has always been his need to financially support his family. That’s what he tells himself and his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). It’s a lie, however, since Walter has had many opportunities to walk away with the fortune he’s made. Greed and the American need to dominate have taken root in Walter now.
Hill makes a strong argument and you should read the whole thing, but I disagree that capitalism is the core of Breaking Bad. For me, the constant visual evocations of Westerns and action flicks point a different direction: gender panic. Walter gave up on his startup only to get stuck teaching bored teenagers the basics while his former partners earn billions pushing the boundaries of the science he loves. He’s so ill-compensated he takes a carwash job that inverts the status his education would seem to confer, and spends his evenings getting yelled at by strangers picky about their cars.
Yes, it’s late-stage American capitalism (and Walt’s decisions within it) that put him in this position. But his break into criminality and his gradual dedication to not just sufficient profit but kingpin status are compensatory. Walt’s been deprived of even the opportunity to play an alpha role in his professional life, and clings to the illusion of one in his personal life to such an extent that he’s outraged and wounded when Skyler wants to go back to work. He compensates for what he feels are years of deprivation by launching himself towards the opposite end of the masculinity spectrum, where he feels he deserves to operate. No one ever calls him on the reality that he made the choices — or at least the primary choice — that left him juggling jobs to support his family. Rather than floating towards some kind of equilibrium point along the scale of “kneeling carwash employee” to “The One Who Knocks,” Walt’s been relentlessly pressing toward the outward bound of the alpha-male self identity he carries in his head. He’s been going all one direction for four and a half seasons (and a year of his life). The show has illustrated this lunge for idealized man-ness with car explosions, ruthless poisonings, manic self-confidence, various forms of aggressive/threatening sexuality, potted plants thrown through windows.
Insofar as the show is about Walter White, it’s about a wild-eyed monomaniacal lunge for status and control. Insofar as the show is about America, Hill’s spot on. The visual language of Breaking Bad is working on a bunch of different tasks at any given time. It’s almost too gorgeous to digest in a single viewing, and as tough as it is to wait a year for the conclusion, that gives us all time to watch and rewatch this singular set of visual achievements.
You have to pity Katie Couric, sort of: she voiced what everyone else has been thinking and now has to defend herself for simply saying it first. Last week after a taping of her new talk show “Katie,” the perk-tastic former newsanchor and morning show host fielded questions from the audience in a Q&A. But a softball question about how Kate Middleton would be her “dream guest” became something else entirely when Couric added off-the cuff, “I think she needs to eat more because she’s so thin.”
That siren you hear? It’s the body police. Read more
Since this is a culture blog, I’m going to leave the policy and political analysis of President Clinton’s barnburner DNC speech to others (see Daniel Larison, Jonathan Cohn, and James Fallows for some good examples). But one of the reasons that Clinton’s speech succeeded in the way that it did was the cultural cache surrounding Bill Clinton and the era where he was more relevant. As Duncan Black points out, this was the last era in memory where Americans felt thoroughly optimistic about the future of our country:
Whether or not he deserves any credit – and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for some bad things – what I think has been lost is the fact that the latter half of the Clinton years were good times. Good times in a way that that hadn’t been experienced since the late 60s or so. I don’t just mean in terms of purely quantifiable things – though the numbers there are good – it was also the case that there was a real sense of optimism. America, we’re back, bitches! It wasn’t all a horror story in the previous couple decades, but “morning in America” ads aside, there was a feeling of stagnation.
What struck me about Black’s observation was that I felt similarly — despite the fact that I was 12 when Bill Clinton left office. My generation became politically aware around September 11th; we matured alongside the Iraq war and the financial crisis. We’re the generation of crisis politics, and looking back at the trappings of the 90s — the comparatively insignificant politics, the silly clothes, the sunny art — makes us acutely aware of the contented America we missed out on. Watching the quintessential 90s President deliver an address about a better future is the ultimate exercise in the displaced nostalgia pervades American culture in the 2010s. Clinton’s address sometimes felt like the political equivalent of watching Downton Abbey and Mad Men to escape to an enthralling past, or using Instagram to get an instantaneous sense of having “been there, man.” And, for a few minutes last night, it seemed like we were.
So yes, ‘Asylum of the Daleks!’ I have many thoughts about this episode, some of which have already appeared. But what I keep coming back to again and again, my friends, is that Steven Moffat has serious lady issues. Are you tired of them? Because I am tired of them. He’s got this obnoxious tendency of reducing female characters to orbiting moons rather than their very own planets, and the man cannot seem to understand why women are rather riled up at their depiction; who can forget that line where he tried to turn a critique ’round on the critiquer by claiming it was ‘anti-woman’ to be concerned about reducing female characters to mothers as though there was nothing else for women to do and it was impossible to be a mother and something else at the same time? (How could little ladybrains possibly manage dual tasks like that?!)
I mean, really. I rather wish the man would write a submarine drama or something just to give us a break from his attempts at female characters, because it would be a relief for us all. Maybe they’ve got an opening on Last Resort he could fill for a bit.
Be advised, my friends, that some discussions of recent plot events lie below!