My good friend John Hawkins has decided to take a few weeks off from his weekly PJ Lifestyle article. So now seemed like the appropriate time to finally do what I’d been meaning to for some time: begin compiling together collections of some of his best articles. For almost two years now John has tackled all kinds of issues — from self improvement to popular culture to male-female relationships. He’s established himself as the section’s most popular writer and I’ve enjoyed watching him explore and experiment. When John comes back we’ve decided to brainstorm a new direction for him to focus on developing. I’m not sure yet what it should be — though I don’t doubt that John and I could probably come up with something within 15 minutes of brainstorming. The problem is that there are simply too many ideas where John could succeed! As this collection of his 5 most-heavily trafficked articles of 2012 shows he has developed himself into a versatile, witty writer who can craft engaging pieces across a number of subjects. Please leave your suggestions in the comments for the particular direction you’d most like to see John develop his writing in the future.
This is the first of a series of what will become an ongoing collection of The Best of PJ Lifestyle. I have plans for several more John Hawkins’s Greatest Hits Collections featuring compilations of his commentaries on Self Improvement, Movies, Entrepreneurship, Humor, Internet Culture, and other subjects. I hope that these collections can showcase the work of a talented writer I’m proud to work with who I’m excited to see continue to grow into one of his generation’s most distinct and consequential voices. In the coming months I will release similar compilations celebrating the work of other regular PJ Lifestyle contributors who have made editing this publication such a perpetual joy. It’s time to take a retrospective look back at the fantastic work of such frequent PJ Lifestyle contributors as Kathy Shaidle, Walter Hudson, Paula Bolyard, Charlie Martin, Jeanette Pryor, Theodore Dalrymple, Robert Spencer, P. David Hornik, Andrew Klavan, and Bob Owens. (And that’s just the beginning!) And as I publish these compilations now is the time to express your views on the directions you’d most like to see these writers take in the future. The ship has its crew; it’s time to set sail. Now we just need to chart our destinations.
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Watch out, ladies in the dating world: Family Guy’s prized demographic is totally Petarded.
According to the show’s creator, Family Guy’s target audience is men ages 18-34. This happens to be one of the most desirable demographics for advertisers and women looking to eventually get married and settle down.
Who hasn’t dreamed of a life with Peter Griffin?
Obviously, not all men between the ages of 18 and 34 are going to find the humor of Family Guy appealing. Yet a growing majority of them do. I long ago learned as a woman not to attempt to comment on the male psyche; why these men find Family Guy so appealing is not in my realm of interest. However, the message Family Guy sends about masculinity is so apparent that I can’t help but laugh at this not-so-subtle irony: Most women looking for men, the ladies trolling the clubs and hitting Happy Hours at the bars, are the ones who tend to stereotype men exactly the way they are portrayed on the show.
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
Part 1 of a 4 Part series Deconstructing Family Guy
When Seth MacFarlane sang about boobs at the Oscars, I’m pretty sure he was referring to his own fans.
Most of the time it is taken for granted that we recognize the latent moronic nature of most television programming today.
Then again, do we?
If we agreed as a culture that television programming like Family Guy is so moronic, why would a collective cheer rise up at the sight of another Emmy win? Would we be told by media commentary royalty to worship Seth MacFarlane, the show’s creator, as fascinating? Not only does the guy have mega street cred in the pop culture universe, the primetime structure he’s so wholeheartedly mocked is singing his praises. In fact, it could be said that Family Guy’s seemingly counterculture humor has been legalized by the mainstream.
What’s more, like a bad addiction, Family Guy is the drug that has turned a generation of Boob-Tube addicts into junkies. So, what are the signs, Doctor? How do you know when a co-worker, a friend, even a loved one has become a total Boob? Let’s play MediaMD as we examine the 5 most common side effects of watching Family Guy.
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
I used to hate politics. Then I met Ann Coulter.
In case you haven’t seen PCU, allow me to explain: I am only one of many in my generation who grew into adulthood harboring a strong desire to avoid all forms of political discussion. For many of us growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the deafening liberal attacks coming across cable news, talk radio, and then the internet defined politics as a source of talking-head tsuris and therefore best avoided at all costs.
The unavoidable reality hit when I enrolled in grad school and promptly learned the phrase: “Everything is political.” And that was before I got the chance to interview the prospective film studies professor who declared himself a communist without blinking an eye.
Critical theory, my chosen area of study, comes in many forms. The most memorable (and popular) being a series of schools based on race/ethnicity/gender/sexual demarcations that could easily be classified under the heading “White Men Are Coming To Get You Studies.” All theories are taught under the general pseudo-philosophical guideline of postmodernism. I could spend entire articles trying to explain that one. Instead, I’ll just let this handy little comic do it for me.
Nothing I learned made sense yet all of it was accepted as holy. Any time I would question these ideas I would receive furrowed brows, gobsmacked expressions, or simply be told in so many words that I just “didn’t get it.” These reactions probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much except for the fact that they were coming from the professor who would sign off on my thesis, providing me with the paperwork I needed to graduate and get the hell out of Dodge.
Hell. I was in hell. Instead of being taught how to think, I was paying to be told what to think. Waiting in the airport for my flight back to campus after winter break, I contemplated throwing in the towel. And then, I heard an angel’s voice and a bright light beckoned me to the bookstore in the terminal…
Okay, not totally. But I do know for a fact that finding Ann Coulter’s Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right on my way to the plane was a divine appointment. Three hours later I landed on solid ground and felt my feet beneath me for the first time in 18 months. Finally, someone was making sense.
Perhaps if conservatives had had total control over every major means of news dissemination for a quarter century, they would have forgotten how to debate, too, and would just call liberals stupid and mean.
Ann waited until page 2 to verbalize the crux of the problem I’d been facing: This liberal professor had total control and, therefore, could demean and dismiss me whenever he liked.
Or so he thought and so did I, until I met Ann Coulter.
Action movies are just as American as motherhood, apple pie, and capitalism. Movies like Unforgiven,Gladiator,Rooster Cogburn, Conan,Dirty Harry, Die Hard,The Dark Knight,High Noon,Man on Fire, Red Dawn, Tombstone, and True Grit speak to men in a primal language that transcends the story line on the screen. Men like these films because they capture qualities we’d like to think we have ourselves. We like the idea of being billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and fighting crime in our spare time, pointing a gun at a punk and asking him if he feels lucky, or responding to the question, “What is best in life?” with “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!“ While there are dozens of deserving action movies, there are seven that are particularly good at revealing parts of the male psyche.
John Rambo is a damaged character. His fighting in Vietnam left him with mental problems, made him ill-equipped to fit into society, and led to him ultimately having a difficult and lonely existence. However, there are two things about him that make the character click with men. The first is this:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 men against your boy is a no-win situation for us? Trautman: You send that many, don’t forget one thing. Teasle: What? Trautman: A good supply of body bags.
Rambo doesn’t pick the fight, but when he is backed up against a wall, he is a one-man army. This theme is repeated over and over in action movies because it’s something men aspire to all the way down in their souls.
The other, more subtle thing that makes Rambo appealing is that he shares a grievance that most men have on some level or another: his sacrifices are largely unappreciated. He went through hell to do what had to be done, paid a terrible price for it, saw his suffering shrugged off by men unfit to say his name, and was left holding the bag. There are millions of men who feel the exact same way. They’ve provided, they’ve struggled, they’ve done things they didn’t want to do for other people, and, ultimately, they found that it wasn’t valued. That makes it easy to relate to a character like Rambo, even if you’re not planning to shoot at anybody with a machine gun.
Today, when every computer ships with GarageBand-type software, sour notes can be sweetened with Auto Tune, and radio stations broadcast focus-grouped computerized playlists, there seems to be no room for the serendipity — – or sheer incompetence and confusion — that helped create some of the greatest records of all time.
One of the more remarkable vocal pyrotechnics on an album where Delp’s singing gives Scholz’s guitar work a run for its money is on the passage where Delp’s ever-rising tenor rides into the first notes of the signature guitar solo, a move Boylan says was planned and executed flawlessly on virtually the first take.
I was ten years old in 1974, when the Buffalo PBS station across the lake began airing the iconoclastic BBC comedy series every Friday night.
Being stuck in a cheap, dinky apartment that overlooked a burned-out church, with my bullying alcoholic stepfather and a meek, “see no evil” mother, surrounded at school by more extroverted, rough-and-tumble classmates — and very likely, without knowing it, clinically depressed — that half hour once a week sitting two feet from the TV was one of the only things I felt I had to look forward to.
Maybe ever, I thought at the time.
Ironically, my crappy stepfather was the one who turned me on to the show.
The first night, he “made” me watch it, the same way he was always trying to “make” me get a suntan or take up horseback riding or keep all the closet and cupboard doors in the house either open or closed depending on his inscrutable whim of the week.
My pouty resentment faded fast. For whatever reason — the cool accents, the breathless pace, the tame “naughtiness,” the “question authority” iconoclasm, the ineffable cuteness of Michael Palin — I got hooked on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
In high school, I finally met a couple of girls who shared my passion, and we became those insufferable sorts who communicate almost entirely in Python (and SCTV) catchphrases.
I know you all want to pretend like 2012 never happened, but if you do you’ll miss out on a little fun because once again it’s time to recap the funniest videos of the year with a politically Right (and by “right” I mean correct) point of view. I thought about writing The Top 10 Ways the 2012 Election Screwed Us Over, but I think this will be more fun. Besides, we did it last year and you really liked it.
These are in order of awesomeness, ending with the most awesome, so if you get bored be sure to jump to the last page for the best. Some of these might be by leftists, but as long as it promoted a Rightist viewpoint I included it for consideration.
Once again I look forward to your blunt, rude, angry comments pointing out videos I’ve overlooked or how I have the order completely wrong, etc. Please, don’t hold yourself back on account of my fragile ego.
So here we go!
# 10. Conan Campaign Slogans
Coming in at 10 — because it’s not technically a video — is a hilarious clip from Conan on TBS. Late-show humor is usually rank with leftist philosophy, and worse, they have a lot of talent on their side. But once in a while that talent betrays the evil empire and comes to the assistance of the rebel forces. This is one of those times.
# 9. It’s a Wonderful Life (with Capitalism)
I found this video amusing, but more importantly, very professionally done. It’s not a laugh-out-loud video, but it’s got some humor and sells the message of capitalism well. Let’s face it, most Right-sided humor is produced in somebody’s shed with a crappy webcam and bad lighting, so this is a rare treat.
No wonder every kid grows up wanting to be a superhero. The comic books make it sound awesome: your life is exciting, you’re important, you’re famous, and being a hero is part of the description of what you do on a regular basis! It’s like being a celebrity-astronaut-Seal who can lift a car over his head. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Well, maybe YOU wouldn’t once you realized that in practice, it would be about as much fun as being Mark Sanchez’s quarterback coach.
1) It Would Be Impossible to Hide Your Secret Identity.
Most comics only make a cursory attempt to explain how superheroes could hide their identity. Superman just wore glasses. Glasses on, Clark Kent. Glasses off, “Hello, Superman!” Batman wore a mask and disguised his voice, but he was obviously an incredibly wealthy, athletic man with access to advanced technology who lived near Gotham. If you asked the Bat Computer to tell you how many people fit that description, the only answer would be, “Bruce Wayne.” Peter Parker was a photographer who, completely coincidentally, was selling pictures of Spider Man to the Daily Bugle every week. Like no one could figure that out.
It doesn’t exactly take Stephen Hawking to crack the mystery of those secret identities, and the real world is much more sophisticated. You’d have every intelligence agency on the planet trying to figure out your identity, gossip mags offering to pay millions for evidence, statistics junkies mapping every place you’d ever been, tens of thousands of bloggers and journalists trying to figure out who you are, and tens of millions of Internet junkies on fan sites spending hours every day trying to piece together who you are when they’re not writing erotic fan fiction imagining you being seduced by the evil lizard queen of Mars. Eventually, someone would snap a cell-phone picture of you coming out of your lair, some long forgotten cousin would remember you picking up a jeep when you were five, or someone would figure out who you were from the DNA on a can of Coke you drank while you were visiting orphans. Then, you’d have super-villains showing up at your house, people kidnapping everyone you ever said “hello” to in public, and even worse….
One of the best parts of the holiday season has to be Christmas movies. There are hundreds of them and a few dozen classics among them. As a father of two, I’m always interested to see how popular films portray dads, so it makes sense to find the best papas in favorite Christmas flicks who can teach us all how to be better parents.
Let’s focus on five who would make Father Christmas proud.
5. Clark Griswold, The Do-Whatever-It-Takes Father
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third film in a series following the hilarious Griswolds. The family patriarch is the lovable goof Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), whose greatest desire is for his family to have the perfect Christmas. How many dads can relate to a guy with Christmas cheer who can’t catch a break in trying to make the season bright? Clark’s frustrations abound as he just tries to give his family a “good old-fashioned family Christmas.” Clark forgets the saw when finding the perfect Christmas tree, he can’t figure out how to get his million lights to light up (been there), he can’t make annoying in-laws happy (won’t say I’ve been there), and he buys a huge gift for his family and then doesn’t receive his Christmas bonus to pay for it. He struggles and fails, but he keeps on fighting for that wonderful family Christmas.
Time rightfully put Clark in their top ten list of perfect movie dads. They praised him as the ultimate example of “determination.” He was always willing to go the extra mile to provide experiences his family would never forget.
Clark makes our list for doing whatever it takes to bring joy and special memories to his family for Christmas. Yes, he fails and sometimes fails miserably, but his heart is in the right place. While many men may ignore Christmas or leave it to others in the family, Clark takes the lead to bring his family the joys of the holiday. I can relate to that and so can countless other fathers. We are kids at heart and want our families to experience the wonders of the holiday season.
Even while women devour the Twilight books and flock to the recent release of Breaking Dawn 2 most revile the series’ heroine Bella Swan. The savvy modern woman prefers the vampire-slaying Buffy Summers. As a fan of both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight franchises, I think that we have this partially backward and that the Buffy v. Bella arguments common on the web underscore dangerous assumptions about women. Feminists have co-opted Buffy and the female superheroes for the gender wars in order to perpetuate their illusion of no differences between men and women.
Conventional wisdom tells us that women can do anything men can. With rare exception owing to strength or stature, this is true. But we don’t always want to do what men do, and even if and when we do we have to account for our biology. Sometimes it is the strength and stature deficit, sometimes it is our heavier role in reproduction. The feminist intelligentsia thinks this unfair, so, couching their advice in terms of equality, they tell us to ignore biology. Accordingly, the female heroes who we admire today are the ones who work around reality.
It is great that we have heroes who happen to be women, but we mistake them as role models for womanhood. Five pop culture heroines to illustrate my point:
5. Hermione Granger, The Maligned Hero
Hermione helps Harry Potter figure out how to defeat the evil wizard Voldemort and, at great personal sacrifice, she accompanies Harry on his final quest.
As a role model for womanhood she is the best of this list. She shouldn’t even appear but for what we like about her. The oft-cited favorite Hermione part in the movies: when she punches Draco Malfoy.
Over eight films loaded with powerful women defying evil—Luna Lovegood, Molly Weasley, Lily Potter, Narcissa Malfoy—that inconsequential punch makes number six of the 50 greatest moments. What was a slap in the book was rewritten as the crowd-pleasing punch because we like it when a woman acts like a man, which is ironic considering the next most overrated heroine, Wonder Woman.
In the last few days before the election, many moderate Democrats are contemplating breaking up with Barack Obama. Parting with a political party or candidate can be every bit as wrenching as severing a personal relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend. The problem whenever one walks away from a serious breakup is that doubts keep creeping in: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Will there be someone else for me?” “Was there something wrong with me that I was attracted to such a manipulative, unkind person?” “Will I be ridiculed for being blind to his/her faults?”
Republican political groups (the Romney campaign, the RNC, PACs) have recognized that there are a lot of voters out there who need permission to change their minds about Obama. The Independent Women’s Voice has recently released several videos that recognize that political relationships are just as real and deep as romantic relationships. These videos address people’s struggle to balance a sense of loyalty with a belief that their survival depends on leaving a damaging relationship:
Because this election is going to depend on people breaking away from their toxic relationship with Obama and the Democrat party, we should acknowledge their emotional pain and extend a helping hand. This doesn’t just mean helping them decide to break-up, it also means validating their feelings and inspiring them after the breakup.
We need to remind them that they’re stronger and better for having abandoned a damaging relationship. It’s not their fault that they were charmed by a shiny smile and a glib line. We’ve all been there, but the smart ones walk away, having learned from the experience. Here, then, are the top seven “I am so done with you” breakup anthems.
Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 - by J. Christian Adams
Two weekends remain before Election Day — just enough time for movie fans to pop in a couple of flicks. These suggestions aren’t obvious election-related films like 2016 or Occupy Unmasked. For starters, these movies aren’t necessarily as depressing. They can instead be hilarious, uplifting, and fascinating. But each one has something to say.
Avalon is the gorgeous Barry Levinson story of Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to America, and who came to love America. They proudly sought America’s material promise and spiritual freedom. They built things, they raised families, they dreamed. They realized that no place on Earth offered the same life to those determined to work hard. Sometimes they failed, but that didn’t stop them. Sometimes they made mistakes, but they learned. Avalon is the story of what happens when the goodness of a nation is matched with good people. It is a story of what makes our nation great and what Americans have treasured for generations.
If Avalon is poetic and beautiful, this Mike Judge comic farce is ugly and lowbrow, except it really isn’t. Idiocracy is the story of an “average” American who is frozen for 500 years and awakens to a totally transformed America. Law, culture, morals, ambition, intelligence, initiative, thrift, industry, and competence have all rotted away. The movie is a comic romp through the resulting society. Planes fall from the sky, government planning leads to near famine, and sugar drinks flow through tubes to millions watching TV on the couch.
I guess it’s to be expected – that the cool grew up to be square. Hell, even evangelicals are hipper than liberals now. (I used the word Hell deliberately, even though it isn’t cool.)
Now here’s the thing: Liberals are beginning to realize they’re not hip anymore. They won’t admit it, but they do. Witness Obama’s behavior with the press. He’s sweating like Nixon – and that’s definitely not hip. (On second thought, Nixon was finally hipper than Obama.)
And Jay Carney? Would you call him hip? And what about Biden? Has there ever been a soul so square?
What makes modern liberalism the mess that it is today is that it is mainly composed of people who desperately wanted to be cool in high school – wanted to be Abbie Hoffman or Eldridge Cleaver – but never were. Their longing – this need to be Abbie – has clouded their thinking and their ability to perceive reality, placing us all in a mess along with them.
“He’s forgetting what his own positions are, and he’s betting that you will, too. I mean, he’s changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping, we’ve gotta … name this condition that he’s going through… I think it’s called Romnesia,”
Of course we’re down to the final months of the president’s term, as presidents…
…as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute.
And by the way in — in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president’s remarks tonight are brought to you but the letter ‘O’ and the number $16 trillion.
– GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, October 18, 2012
Previously at PJ Lifestyle we’ve discussed the phenomenon of the “crunchy conservative,” the individual who embraces politics and values commonly associated with “the Right” while living a more natural, “hippie” lifestyle stereotyped as a monopoly of those on “the Left.”
But libertarians who prefer raw milk and organic food aren’t the only oddballs smashing the stereotype of what a “Bitter Clinger” actually looks like. Here are three more political-cultural hybrids:
Someone with classical liberal politics and outside-the-mainstream art tastes, lifestyle choices, diet, fashion sensibilities, sexual preferences, or religious beliefs. Often times this mindset comes as a result of a political shift to the Right later in life.
Archetypal example: New Media troublemaker and publisher, the late Andrew Breitbart (whose memoir appears second on the list.)
Tea Party Occultist
One who identifies with both the founding fathers’ Enlightenment politics and Masonic spiritual values — and perceives the relationship between the two. Religious Liberty requires a government based in Political Liberty and a military to defend it from barbarian idolaters who would take away both. Alternative definition: one who identifies with both the “Right-Wing” Tea Party movement and the Right-Hand path of the Western Mystery Tradition, adequately defined here by Wikipedia:
The Right-Hand Path is commonly thought to refer to magical or religious groups which adhere to a certain set of characteristics:
They adhere to social conventions and avoid taboos.
They divide the concepts of mind, body and spirit into three separate, albeit interrelated entities.
They adhere to a specific moral code and a belief in some form of judgement, such as karma or the Threefold Law.
(See the rest of the Wikipedia entry for a list of various religions and mystical groups characterized as Right-Hand.) Even within the magical world those on “the Right” cherish the Rule of Law, while those on “the Left” embrace anarchy.
Archetypal example: James Wasserman, author, book designer, and a “founding father” of the modern revivals of the mystical secret society the Ordo Templi Orientis and its religion Thelema. (Wasserman’s new memoir begins the list and four more of his books also appear.)
One who understands the magical abilities of the free market to create value, wealth, and prosperity out of nothing but hard work, great ideas, and good luck. In free societies you really can wave your wand and turn lead into gold. All wealth begins when the entrepreneurs who will someday create it first dream and then put pen to paper to lay out their plan. Writing creates wealth. The ridiculous level of comfort in our society today — our government can afford to pay for the luxury of a cell phone for “poor” people — could happen because hundreds of years ago men wrote that the pursuit of happiness was an innate right.
Archetypal Example: Walt Disney. What began as imaginations in his head and sketches of a mouse would one day become a billion dollar multimedia empire with DisneyLand — our Mecca — as the permanent celebratory reminder of how the imagination can manifest mental and spiritual wealth into the material world.
One can note that these categories each correlate with one of the three values of the American Trinity identified and defined by Dennis Prager in his book Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. Counterculture conservatives embody Liberty, Tea Party Occultists emphasize In God We Trust, and the Capitalist Wizards live E. Pluribus Unum in both theory and practice.
These three categories also have their natural opponents, of whom more will be said later in the list when appropriate:
Counterculture Conservatives Vs Cultural Marxists.
Tea Party Occultists Vs Nazi Mystics.
Capitalist Wizards Vs Corporatist Sorcerers.
My intent with this list is to compile an annotated bibliography of sorts — a collection of books on a variety of subjects and genres that when put side by side can manifest fresh connections and new ways of looking at the world so we as individuals can solve our problems and live happier, more fulfilling lives.
Future editions will include additional categories and authors, as well as expanded entries for the books and authors already included. (Please leave suggestions of who should appear in future updates. And if you leave an especially strong comment then I might include it in the next edition.) This first list comprises only a bare bones beginning for defining these three emerging traditions. Perhaps 100 more titles await in my mind for potential inclusion and with input from PJ Lifestyle’s readers that number can grow.
Here are the various sections of the list for your browsing convenience so you can jump to the subjects or authors who are of most interest. However, I’ve still written this extended article (really more of a free e-book before the election) with the traditional intent that it should make the most sense read beginning to end… that is, if it ends up making any sense at all — which is not something I can guarantee… Caveat Emptor…
“Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other, responsibility. Both edges are exceedingly sharp and the weapon is not suited to casual, cowardly or treacherous hands.” — Jack Parsons…
Generation X has taken over the movies. Just this fall, new films from David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, and Quentin Tarantino promise to be major players come awards time. So who are the five best American filmmakers under 50?
5. Darren Aronofsky
Arrogant enough to turn down the opportunity to direct Batman Begins, the Brooklyn-born filmmaker has made some surprising choices. After starting out in David Lynch territory with Pi, he threatened to disappear in a fog of epic sci-fi weirdness with The Fountain but returned to Earth in triumph with the agreeably gritty and surprisingly straight-on The Wrestler, which relaunched Mickey Rourke and showed an unexpected depth of feeling and humanity. Then came Black Swan, a worldwide sensation that deservedly won Natalie Portman an Oscar and managed to be cerebral, trashy, arty, and sexy all at the same time. Now Aronofsky is going off in yet another direction, steering the mega-budget Bible epic Noah with Russell Crowe, which sounds like either a disaster or a sensation but seems guaranteed to make an impression.
Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 - by Hannah Sternberg
I admire and respect J.K. Rowling a great deal. It takes a lot of courage for a popular author to reinvent herself and come out with a book upturning what her readers expect. That’s what she did with The Casual Vacancy, her first published work of adult literary fiction.
The Casual Vacancy opens with the death of Pagford Parish Councilmember Barry Fairbrother, soon revealed to be the most genuinely kind, generous, well-meaning and non-self-absorbed person in town. He was also the deciding vote in a conflict that has torn the town apart: the stewardship of a nearby government housing project and the renewal of a lease for the local addiction clinic. A massive host of characters grapple with his death, their own personal demons, and the local controversy stirred by the special election to fill his council seat.
Rowling had to have known there would be hordes of readers hating The Casual Vacancy automatically just because it doesn’t have wizards or magic in it, and who would share their disappointment all over the internet.
That’s part of why I’m sad that I didn’t like it more. Because I picked up The Casual Vacancy prepared to read it as if it were the work of a first-time author, not the creator of Harry Potter. I was not going to bring the expectations that come with a fantasy young adult (YA) series to an adult work of literary fiction. But reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about what worked in Harry Potter and where those elements were missing from The Casual Vacancy – no, I wasn’t going to pitch a fit because Rowling dared to write a book in a different genre, but I was disappointed that she didn’t bring some of the very impressive writing skills that she’d displayed in Harry Potter to her adult fiction.
Here are four reasons why Harry Potter succeeded that have nothing to do with wizards — and why The Casual Vacancy didn’t live up to Rowling’s potential, even for a reader who wasn’t expecting wizards.
Remember the final refrain of the classic Queen song “Who Wants To Live Forever?”
Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who has forever anyway…
If you’re like most people, you probably answered that in your head with “ME! I want to live forever!” It does sound appealing, doesn’t it? The idea that you would never die as long as you kept your head was what really captured people’s imagination about Highlander. The same goes for vampires. The big difference between vampires and other much more boring supernatural creatures like goblins, ghouls, ogres, and pixies is that they can live for thousands of years…. like God. Just imagine what you could do, learn, and become if you had thousands of years to do it! Unfortunately, there may be a few downsides people haven’t considered…
1) Sometimes, death is a mercy.
We get this when it comes to animals. When a pet’s whole life becomes misery, we put it down. Even though we don’t do the same with other humans because of political and cultural reasons, we understand it. But, if you were immortal and healthy, why would you ever WANT to die?
In Greek mythology, the immortal Prometheus was chained on a mountain, and each night a vulture came to rip out his liver and eat it.
In Ninja Scroll, the immortal Lord Himuro Gemma is washed into the sea by a wave of boiling gold, which hardens, traps him, and takes him to the bottom.
In the TV show Angel, the main character, who is a vampire, is sealed in a metal box and dropped to the bottom of the ocean.
In the TV show Supernatural, the unkillable Doc Benton is chained in a refrigerator and buried alive.
Imagine being caught in a landslide, being trapped in a plane that goes down over the ocean, or even being captured and experimented on by a government trying to learn the secrets of your immortality. There are times when dying beats all the other options.
So, guys: your girl drives you crazy sometimes, huh? Hey, deep down, we get it. We know that it’s a lot to ask of you to keep the toilet seat up, read our minds, and talk to us. But guess what, fellas? It kinda goes both ways. And I’m not talking about the obvious, like… well, keeping the toilet seat up, or your inability to listen. We love you, but sometimes you just drive us crazy. Not only do these things drive us crazy, but we just can’t understand them. We just can’t understand why you do things like…
Act Like Babies When You’re Sick
Why is it that when men get sick, they act as if they’ve just been diagnosed with terminal cancer? Women get the flu, and we don’t really have the luxury of wallowing around in bed, moaning for someone to come baby us. We still have to buck up and take care of the kids, keep the house clean, and get dinner on the table. Sure, our head is pounding, our nose is running, and we feel like crap. But stuff still needs to get done.
Men, on the other hand… you get a cold, and it’s like you’re literally dying. You basically become five year olds crying for mommy. And who gets to play mommy? That’s right, we do. We’ve got to cuddle you, cater to your every need, and basically treat you like you’ve magically turned into one of our children. It’s somewhat amusing, but mostly aggravating, because, hey, we get it — being sick sucks. But is it that hard to suck it up and deal with it? And we know, we know. You’d return the favor for us. But the thing is, women don’t turn into crying, sniveling babies when we get sick. Why is it that the person who’s supposed to be the tougher one in the relationship always does just that?
There’s no denying it: ladies love the chick flicks. For men, they’re instruments of torture they must endure with their woman so they can be rewarded at the end of the night. Women, however, eat them up — especially the under-30 crowd. They’ll drag their boyfriends to them, bond with a group of girlfriends while watching them, or sit at home alone crying to them. Never mind that they’re vapid, formulaic crap that Hollywood can churn out faster than Sandra Fluke can go through condoms. They’re still successful.
Too bad they also send some of the worst messages to women in the history of mankind. Horrible stereotypes, insulting characters, idiotic relationship advice… it’s all there. Some chick flicks are better at hiding it than others, but generally, you can count on the same thing each time. The worst part is, women are actually starting to believe the lunacy they see in these movies!
So which are the worst offenders, and what damaging messages do they send?
The Notebook is considered by many women to be one of the most beloved movies ever, a perfect example of what romance and long-lasting love are supposed to be. Too bad about half of the movie revolves around the main character cheating on her fiance.
For those who haven’t seen it, Allie and Noah are high-school sweethearts. Allie’s rich and Noah’s poor, so they break up after one summer. Noah joins the Army and fights in World War II; Allie goes to college and gets engaged to a handsome soldier turned lawyer. After getting engaged, she runs back to Noah, rolls around in the hay with him a few times, and ends up insulted at her mother’s insinuation that she’s a tramp. None of this matters, of course. Noah and Allie love each other so much that cheating on the man she promised to marry was perfectly acceptable. Heck, even her fiance didn’t get mad at her. It’s romantic, see?
The lesson here is that, hey, it’s totally cool to cheat on someone if that’s what your heart is telling you to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. If you’re following your heart, then cheat away!
I know all the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” — although a lifetime of Hockey Night in Canada probably helped.
All that to say:
There are a few things this (rare) pro-American Canadian still doesn’t understand about your wonderful country.
I’m not pretending to ask these questions either, like this shameful and embarrassing federal government employee, whose CBC TV show is paid for by my extorted tax dollars. Note that while ostensibly mocking Americans, all he does is accidentally highlight how patient and polite you guys really are:
Ed Driscoll and I had fun last week with my brainwave about the preposterously-named Adam Smith’s freakish drive-by harassment of a (preternaturally Zen) Chick-Fil-A employee.
I was struck by the incident’s similarity to the famous “diner” scene in Five Easy Pieces(1970), right down to the “chicken”:
Ed quoted a film critic who held up that scene “as the point where American movies began to celebrate gratuitous anger.”
Anyone who’s watched other drivers careen out of the parking lot after the latest Fast & Furious movie has to admit that films affect our behavior; that cinematic ideas and attitudes trickle into the cultural water table, and sometimes pollute it.
In the 2004 film Finding Neverland, playwright J.M. Barrie is depicted seeding orphaned children throughout the opening-night audience of Peter Pan. He does this to break the ice for the surrounding adults, gambling that the children’s earnest reactions will suspend disbelief in grown-ups.
I was reminded of Barrie’s strategy upon watching the teaser trailer for Man of Steel, which was attached to the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises. For those not expecting it, the teaser plays its subject close to the chest. Shots of rural America are interposed with footage of a black-bearded, blue-eyed migrant worker hitching rides between jobs. Visually, all is ordinary, even a bit mundane. Only the voice-over hints at something special about this man. In the version I saw (there are two making the rounds), Kevin Costner speaks of a moral choice ahead and states that this man, his son, will undoubtedly change the world.
It is only after that subdued montage, when our interest is piqued regarding how this seemingly ordinary person could change anything, that we get a brief glimpse of something up in the sky, a caped figure propelled without effort, zipping through the clouds at such speed that he leaves behind a sonic boom. Then, we behold the iconic S shield.
It was at that moment during my viewing that a young child among the audience gasped and cheered.
I doubt he was a J.M. Barrie plant, but the moment played as he would have intended. The whole audience took that kid’s glee as permission to get excited. After the Dark Knight legend ends, the Man of Steel’s begins.
The grounded portrayal evident in the teaser offers hope that this on-screen iteration of Superman will depart significantly from the increasingly cartoonish super-powered soap operas of the past thirty years. Lending credence to that hope is a familiar creative team. Christopher Nolan, who directed the Dark Knight trilogy, is producing Man of Steel. He also came up with the story, which was put to script by Dark Knight scribe David S. Goyer. Direction is provided by Watchman and 300 auteur Zach Snyder.
Assuming Nolan can tame Snyder’s often chaotic visual style, it seems likely that Man of Steel will revitalize the Superman mythos for a generation that’s never been properly introduced. Sure, there was Superman Returns a couple years ago, and the adventures of a young Clark Kent in television’s Smallville. But neither of those efforts effectively captured the essence of the character or his world.
Those of us with young children today grew up with the films of the late ’70s and ’80s. For us, Superman was and shall in spirit remain Christopher Reeve. The earnest humanity he brought to Clark Kent was eclipsed only by his steadfast portrayal of Superman.
Richard Donnor, director of the 1978 original, famously sought verisimilitude.
You will believe a man can fly.
So read the teaser poster. And we did believe. The film is still regarded as one of the best in the genre. But it was not without flaws, and things have slid downhill since.
Superman II was only partially shot by Donnor. It was finished by and credited to Richard Lester, who added heavy camp reminiscent of super hero parodies like the ’60s Batman television series. Though much of Donnor’s verisimilitude endured in the final cut, it was wholly absent from the absurd entries which followed. Reeve remained impeccable as Superman, but could not overcome his increasingly ludicrous surroundings.
After Donnor and Reeve, Kent and his alter-ego retreated to the small screen in various iterations until 2006’s Superman Returns. Coming off the success of the X-Men franchise, and in light of vocal reverence for Richard Donnor, it seemed the Superman property was in good hands under director Bryan Singer. Alas, what emerged in theaters was a super disappointment for reasons we shall explore.
In order to set things right, and restore Superman’s verisimilitude, there are several things next year’s reboot must do. The fact that Nolan and company are proceeding as though no previous films exist provides an opportunity to recast the godfather of all superheroes in an image long lost. Here are six punches director Zach Snyder must land in Man of Steel.