Criticism (artistic)

Your Tweet of the Day: Cul-de-Sac

Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates): social media is the cul-de-sac where "nuance" & "irony" crawl to die. [via Twitter, 20 September 2018]

“social media is the cul-de-sac where ‘nuance’ & ‘irony’ crawl to die.”

Joyce Carol Oates

A Minor Detail (Tennessee Six)

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 5, 'Brittle Bullet'.

Perhaps it seems nitpickety, but if we attend the setup from Steve Benen

In the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, opponents of gun reforms came up with quite a few culprits to blame for the bloodshed. None of them, of course, included easy access to firearms.

The public should blame the number of doors at the school, for example. And abortion. And video games. And Ritalin, secularism, Common Core, and trench coats.

And while some of this was expected—the right consistently tries to steer public discussions away from guns after mass shootings—Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) broke new ground when she tried to connect school shootings and porn.

—and the detail via Jennifer Bendery

During a meeting last week with local pastors, Black raised the issue of gun violence in schools and why it keeps happening.

“Pornography,” she said.

“It’s available on the shelf when you walk in the grocery store. Yeah, you have to reach up to get it, but there’s pornography there,” she continued. “All of this is available without parental guidance. I think that is a big part of the root cause.”

—it seems well enough to note Mr. Benen’s punch line—

Her argument raised a variety of questions, though I’m inclined to start with this one: where exactly is Diane Black buying her groceries?

—might be leading with the wrong question. To the other, who really wants to make the point when the result means listening to a bunch of Republicans talking about internet pornography.

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An Undefined Question

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

Lynsi Burton, for SeattlePI.com:

A 32-year-old man is accused of following a pair of women on Capitol Hill, holding his exposed penis, before knocking one of them unconscious.

Police reports say that Derron Wiggins then tried to run from cops but was caught while appearing to shove cocaine into his mouth.

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What Bugs a Sith Lord (When Nature Strikes Back)

When history looks back on this period of American thought and communication, we might from our present vantage in that past to be wonder how prominently will stand out the question not of re-definition, but, rather, de-definition. Once upon a time it was enough to simply mutter and growl that transition is a noun. Detail of Bug Martini by Adam Huber, 8 March 2017. Meanwhile, pretty much any noun in the language can now be converted to a verb; simply apply the gerund form to mean, approximately, “using the [noun] as the [noun] is to be used”.

This makes sense in some cases; ’tis true enough that some words simply were as such when they arrived in our knowledge. There is a Fulghum joke in that, but it’s a regional thing, or it would be except nobody really cares. But it is, in fact true. We saw with a saw, for instance, and that is simply how the word arrived in our lifetimes.

Robert Newton Peck once explained it is always a lasso and never a lariat; you lasso with a lasso, but do not lariat with a lariat. And maybe he was wrong, but the lesson stuck. American pedantry is a thoroughly internalized empiricism.

So it goes. For the moment it suffices to blame Adam.

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Image note: Detail of Bug Martini by Adam Huber, 8 March 2017.

The Donald Trump Show (Somebody Stop Me)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question during the third presidential debate at University of Nevada Las Vegas, 19 October 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“I don’t know, you tell me. You know what? Why don’t you ask Hillary if she cares that cows can’t digest corn?”

Bill Scheft

You know, it’s a lot funnier to actually attribute it to Donald Trump, but there isn’t really a good way of doing that anymore. There is, to the one, Poe’s Law; there is, to the other, Donald Trump’s easily confused legion.

But it’s the one funny line in the premature flaccidity. Nor ought we blame Mr. Scheft; flaccid is the way of the Trump, and pretty much all caricature of this emblematic strangeness extends into that range, eventually achieving its best expression as metacommentary considering Donald Trump’s seminal lack of viability.

Prematurity? Bravado? Mindbending foolishness? It isn’t so much superstition this time; rather, the fact that Donald Trump is the GOP nominee at all tells us there is enough wrong in the world that vigilance serves us best.

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Image note: Detail of photo by John Locher/AP Photo.

Scheft, Bill. “Donald Trump’s exit interview: ‘I just found out what the job paid. $400,000. You’re kidding, right?'”

Clinton|Trump|Deux

So after a couple days like that, Donald Trump turns up zombified and sniffing.

There is no point to the observation, yet, as we have yet to see if he brought anything other than concussed spite. But the first bit has been, shall we say, strange.

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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A Moment with David Brooks (Yes, Really … Well, You Know, Not in Person, or Anything, But … er … ah … Never Mind)

Huang reflects on a mission barely accomplished. (Darker Than Black, ep. 14)

This is nearly astounding. That is, here are three of the most consequential paragraphs David Brooks has ever written:

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.David Brooks of The New York Times

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

The New York Times columnist has achieved some infamy in recent months for meandering conservative apologetics and generally incomprehensible reflections of his uneasy soul; his latest exhibit is predictably disastrous, but remains significant for a couple of reasons.

What most seem to have noticed is his suggestion that Republican leaders “seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment”, and his declaration that, “People will be judged by where they stood at this time”. But there is also this reflection on the American narrative in general and masculinity in particular, which might well get lost between the discussion of declinism, Donald Trump’s pain, societal obligation, and, you know, by the time one reaches the sentence, “Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope”―yes, he really wrote that―the whole thing is simply agonizing, and only goes downhill from there, but along the way there are these three nearly magical paragraphs.

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The Ted Cruz Show (Holiday Special)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) responds to the 2015 State of the Union address in an online video, 20 January 2015.

Amid the holiday panic and cheer it is easy for small things to slip past unnoticed. Like, say, on Christmas Eve, when Ellie Shechet informed us that, “This Ted Cruz Holiday Erotica Is Fucking Weird”.

And, you know, I see no reason to doubt her. And the Bulwer-Lytton moment with a head of lettuce should have been enough of a specimen to make the point, but why stop reading? Shechet offers her critique of the first paragraphs:

This is an extremely strong and promising beginning. The setting: Ted Cruz’s retirement party, after which he believes he will be leaving political office. IRL, I have a creeping feeling that our pal Ted would push me, you, and all of his loved ones into a hole in a frozen lake and sprint away before relinquishing one inch of his extremely unlikely and hard-earned influence, but this is fan fic! We are going with it.

Right. Downhill from there. All that.

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