Here in the U.S., we have, just now, the oddest relationship with the word “normal.” In the spring, we’d type promises to each other, to have dinner or a beer “when things are back to normal.” At some point everyone started adding scare quotes to “normal.” Now we say things like, “I’d love to see…
In 1967, the novelist John Barth wrote “The Literature of Exhaustion,” an essay arguing that unself-conscious storytelling was, well, exhausted. Henceforth, narrative art could only be self-aware, a sendup of itself. In 1971, NBC broadcast “Dead White,” an episode of the endlessly rewatchable TV detective show Columbo in which Eddie Albert kills a guy, and Suzanne Pleshette, passing by in her boat, sees him do it…
Early in the second chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1869), the four March sisters – already facing a present-less Civil War Christmas – give up their one seasonal indulgence, a fancy dinner, to a family of starving German refugees down the way. The Germans pronounce them “angels,” and Alcott, in an easy-to-miss half-sentence, notes the girls’ perfectly normal pleasure in being thus designated.
The Star Wars sequel trilogy – The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017), and now The Rise of Skywalker – is affecting to me in exactly this way. Critical consensus surrounding the films has, after bouncing around a bit, settled on “soulless corporate dreck,” and it’s not like I can’t see everything about the movies that makes them read this way to people: the predictable story beats, the sometimes heavy-handed humour, the shameless recycling and reshuffling of settings and story elements and typescenes and character archetypes from the original Star Wars trilogy.
It takes a certain kind of man, in our militantly casual age, to go by all three of your names. Certainly, from the beginning of the theologian David Bentley Hart’s public career – he began to appear in First Things regularly in the early 2000s, around the time that his first book, The Beauty of the Infinite (2003), was published – he has been exactly that kind of man, writing about theology, literature, politics, and whatever else he chooses with staggering erudition, a massive range of reference, and an overweening confidence.
People love, and hate, Quentin Tarantino’s 1969-set drama Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. They each love or hate very different films.
Black Mirror has become that most abject of things – a TV show that we talk about in the past tense even as it airs new episodes.
In college, we learn about “supply and demand” and “rational utility maximizers.” We learn about Business and Economics and Political Science as though – hilarious thought – these were separate subjects.
Last year somebody looked at a spreadsheet and decided to cancel FilmStruck. The classic-and-art-film streaming service offered you an education, in one of the only art forms young enough that a single individual can still reasonably expect to really know it in a lifetime, at a cheap monthly fee; it was so outrageously good a thing that its very existence seemed to ask for trouble.
In 1982, a comics company hired a young British writer, Alan Moore, to revamp a half-forgotten character named Marvelman. This character was himself a knockoff of the Fawcett Comics hero Captain Marvel, who was himself (according to DC Comics, mostly angry at being outsold) a ripoff of Superman.
You go to most writers to see them do the one or two things they do well. To Adam Roberts, you go for the rare spectacle of a writer who does everything well – and most things brilliantly. He seems to write terrific books in approximately the amount of time it takes me to read one.
The two best films in theatres at the moment both involve characters who brush up against penal systems. This means that both films cannot help being about those systems – their propensity for error, their gargantuan stupidity and power, how they narrow down our tangled lives and motivations to single threads.