The Darjeeling Limited Perspective

I love many of Wes Anderson’s films, but this video essay by Leon Thomas (AKA Renegade Cut) does a great job of identifying the flaws in one of Anderson’s weakest, The Darjeeling Limited.

Describing a late plot development, Thomas writes:

The brothers realize, after the first half of the movie plagued with infighting, that they have to stick together. All they were missing was a dead Indian boy. The child does the demanding work of dying tragically so that the privileged white Americans won’t have to die spiritually or emotionally. There is no joke here. The scene is played to tug at our heartstrings, and as quickly as the Indian boy is mourned, he is forgotten.

It’s all very brutal but accurate.

The evolution of public shaming

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In a piece for Vanity Fair this week, Monica Lewinsky opened up about why she decided to participate in a docuseries called The Clinton Affair:

Filming the documentary forced me to acknowledge to myself past behavior that I still regret and feel ashamed of. There were many, many moments when I questioned not just the decision to participate, but my sanity itself. Despite all of the ways I tried to protect my mental health, it was still challenging. During one therapy session, I told my therapist I was feeling especially depressed. She suggested that sometimes what we experience as depression is actually grief.

Grief. Yes, it was Grief. The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire. (You can imagine how those constructs impacted my personal and professional life.) Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.

Lewinsky has made a few public statements about her experiences in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and I’ve found them all to be insightful and moving (see: her TED talk on the price of shame). Lewinsky continues:

Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words. Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Blair Foster, the Emmy-winning director of the series, is testing that idea in myriad ways […] I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women. Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful. But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.

The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal happened while I was a teenager, but I think I’m still coming to terms with how our society and the media completely annihilated everyone involved. Weeks of newspaper headlines and endless jokes on late night TV served to normalize mockery of this young woman who was caught in a vortex of circumstances that any normal person would barely be able to comprehend (This representative clip from David Letterman is absolutely cringe-inducing to watch today).

I had a similar thought when I watched Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary about Amy Winehouse, Amy. Winehouse was ridiculed endlessly for her background and drug problems, and the documentary implies that the public scrutiny drove her to the substance abuse that ultimately took her life.

The notion that society and the media prey upon celebrities (often women) until they have extracted all they can from them is not a new idea. South Park made an episode about it. The Onion satirized it. People like simple narratives, but what these instances reveal is that by reducing individuals down to an idea, a catchphrase, a single act, we perform a kind of psychic violence upon them. We strip them of their individuality and their complex fullness. We make them into punchlines.

The difference now is that there finally seems to be a stronger willingness to reflect on the decisions we’ve made in how we think about and discuss these things. In doing so, hopefully we can finally reckon with who we were and who we should become.

Also: For a thorough and engrossing rundown of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, check out the second season of Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast.


Michael Bay: An American auteur

As usual, I’m really appreciating Patrick Willems’ latest video essays. This past month he’s put together an ambitious two-part series on Michael Bay’s contributions to American cinema.

Some interesting observations from the videos:

  • It is extremely difficult to reverse engineer or replicate Bay’s style, which in and of itself tells you that there’s something undeniably distinct about it.
  • Taken as a whole, Bay’s films don’t really have a cohesive political point of view, and Bay practically never speaks about politics, despite how many of his films glorify the military and seem to be in the tank for “real (red state) Americans”.
  • I guess The Island probably wasn’t that bad after all.

Check out the videos above and find more on Patrick’s Youtube channel.

Pocket iOS App Review (with Listening/Text to Speech Feature)

Between my podcasts, my blog/newsletter, and my social feeds, I do a lot of reading online to keep up with what’s going on online. For years I’ve used apps like Pocket and Instapaper on iOS to save articles for later reading offline. I use both because it’s nice to have a backup of all the stuff I’m saving, and often if an article doesn’t format correctly in one app it looks fine in the other.

But recently, Pocket added a listening feature that’s made me use the app much more heavily. It uses Amazon Polly to create a listenable text-to-speech version of every article you’ve saved. This means you can now listen to saved articles instead of being forced to read them.

As a result, I’ve now been consuming articles at a much higher rate than before. There are many contexts where it’s easier and more acceptable to be listening to something rather than reading it, and this app makes things easier in those contexts.

As great as this is, there are a few things I wish they’d improve:

  • It’s currently not possible (or at least not obviously possible) how to make a custom audio playlist with articles you’ve saved. This would be a cool feature to add in the future.
  • I wish I had the ability to choose which voice I wanted to read the article. On Android, I believe this is already a feature.
  • My most desired feature is the ability to start consuming an article in one format, and then resume it later in another. For instance, sometimes I’ll be reading an article via text on a bus, then need to get off at my stop. It would be great to switch to audio right then. Currently the app does not allow you to resume right where you left off.

You can check out Pocket at getpocket.com.

 

The 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, in 20 statistics

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We’re less than 48 hours from the 2018 U.S. Midterm Elections, but for me, here are the statistics that defined it:

  • 29: The number of seats Democrats gained in the House, as of this writing
  • 2: The number of Senate seats Republicans gained in the Senate
  • 46,143,122: The number of votes cast in favor of Democratic Senators
  • 46: The number of Senate seats Democrats now control
  • 33,593,564: The number of votes cast in favor of Republican Senators
  • 51: The number of Senate seats Republicans now control
  • 2.6%: The percentage vote that Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke lost by
    • 95%: The percentage of black women that voted for Beto O’Rourke
    • 71%: The percentage of white men that voted for Ted Cruz
  • 62,712: The margin of victory in votes that Georgia governor Brian Kemp won by, over Democrat Stacey Abrams (a runoff is possible but unlikely)
    • 1.5 million: The number of voters Georgia purged from rolls under Kemp (source)
  • 1.2%: The margin of victory that Democrat Tony Evers beat governor Scott Walker by in Wisconsin
    • 1%: The maximum margin of victory under which a competitor in the governor’s race can demand a recount, thanks to Scott Walker
  • 61%: In exit polls, the percentage of people ages 18-44 that voted for Democrats (source)
  • 92%: Percentage of Democrats in exit polls who believe Congress should impeach Trump
  • 100+: The number of women elected to Congress, many of them running for the first time
  • The first openly gay male governor ever elected: Jared Polis
  • The first and second Muslim women ever elected to Congress: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
  • The first Native American woman ever elected to Congress: Sharice Davids
  • The youngest woman ever elected to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Overall, this week was a big victory. Dems gained control of the House, there’ll now be a check on executive power, Trump’s legislative agenda is basically dead, and many people from underrepresented groups were elected. That said, I can’t help but think about the fact that millions still voted in favor of bigotry, weakening our institutions, and taking away the rights of others. It feels like our country is on the knife’s edge and a healthy majority of people, woefully underrepresented in our current governmental structure, are just barely holding us back from oblivion.


A few more takes to consider:

Defy Media is shutting down

Todd Spangler, writing for Variety:

“Regretfully, Defy Media has ceased operations today,” the company said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “We are extremely proud of what we accomplished here at Defy and in particular want to thank all the employees who worked here. We deeply regret the impact that this has had on them today… Unfortunately, market conditions got in the way of us completing our mission.”

The company at one point reported having nearly 400 employees. Defy did not confirm its current headcount, which has shrunk in recent months as it pared back the business in the hopes of staying afloat.

The company’s in-house studios had produced 75 regularly scheduled shows. It’s not clear what will happen to the Defy brands going forward, but the company indicated it’s seeking buyers or partners for the properties. Defy’s brands, which include Smosh, Smosh Games, Clevver, AWEme, Break and Made Man, have more than 140 million followers across YouTube and social media, according to the company.

I’m not stunned by this development, but I’m saddened by it. I have no idea how well or how poorly Defy was managed (poor management can put any company out of business) but it says something about the industry when even a company that manages some of the internet’s biggest video brands can’t make things work. Basically, the “pivot to video” didn’t work out and we are still in the middle of the fallout from it.

See also: Vice Media on track to reduce its staff by up to 15%.

Write Along – a new podcast about the creative process

I’m pleased to announce that I’m launching a new podcast called “Write Along.” It’s about writing and the creative process featuring screenwriter, author, and former film critic C. Robert Cargill. Our first episode is up now. Check it out on iTunesGoogle Play, or via RSS.

Cargill is a writer whose work I’ve followed for many years. I’ve witnessed his ascent from a film critic at Ain’t It Cool News to a screenwriter working on films that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. In recent days, I’ve seen Cargill share advice tweets about the writing process that have resonated with thousands of aspiring creatives on the internet.


I recognized that Cargill’s advice came from a place of generosity. He’d risen in the industry and wanted to reach down and help the next generation up along with him. So in an effort to signal boost, I pitched Cargill on a simple idea: A weekly podcast, no more than 20 minutes long, that covers a single piece of writing advice. It would be another way to preserve Cargill’s counsel, while potentially adding several layers of interactivity on top (both my dialogue with him, and the audience’s dialogue with us).

On a personal level, I’m excited about this podcast for two reasons: 1) I’m thrilled to be working with Cargill, whose voice I’ve always found to be compelling (even if I often disagree with him), and 2) I think there’s a lot of discipline involved in turning out a podcast that’s only 10-20 mins long each week, and I’d like to practice that discipline. I like to go long with my content. I meander. I don’t edit tightly. Can this weekly podcast that’s shorter than a sitcom episode provide enough enjoyment and utility to justify its existence?

Let’s find out together.


A few other notes and observations from the week:

  • If you’re an aspiring podcaster these days, I think it can be tough to figure out exactly which site to use for hosting and creating your podcast. There are just so many options out there (e.g. Podbean, Libsyn, Anchor, etc.). I honestly struggled for a little bit before settling on a hosted WordPress.com website, coupled with a Libsyn account for hosting files (the latter is primarily for the statistics and metrics it provides. WordPress hosts files too, if your’e into that sort of thing). I’ll probably review this experience at some point, but I chose it because it offers a lot of control over the podcast feed, with fairly minimal cost.
  • A big shout out to Wikirascals for helping me out with podcast art, and to @ZShevich for helping us come up with a name for the podcast.
  • This article about the last days of Blockbuster is beautiful.
  • I finally caught up with this powerful essay in which Darius Miles explains what the hell happened to Darius Miles.
  • Sandi Doughton has written a meditation on how to survive in Seattle traffic, which turns into a broader piece on the psychology of road rage. I can support Sandi’s premise that Seattle has some pretty terrible driving. Getting around by car is pretty unbearable and the lack of a subway system doesn’t help.
  • Roxane Gay writes about why you should vote even if you’re disillusioned right now:

Every single day there is a new, terrifying, preventable tragedy fomented by a president and an administration that uses hate and entitlement as political expedience. If you remain disillusioned or apathetic in this climate, you are complicit. You think your disillusionment is more important than the very real dangers marginalized people in this country live with.

Don’t delude yourself about this. Don’t shroud your political stance in disaffected righteousness. Open your eyes and see the direct line from the people in power to their emboldened acolytes. It is cynical to believe that when we vote we are making a choice between the lesser of two evils. We are dealing with a presidency fueled by hate, greed and indifference. We are dealing with a press corps that can sometimes make it seem as though there are two sides to bigotry. Republican politicians share racist memes that spread false propaganda and crow “fake news” when reality interferes with their ambitions. Progressive candidates are not the lesser of two evils here; they are not anywhere on the spectrum of evil we are currently witnessing.

A eulogy for the old 13″ Macbook Air

Apple yesterday announced a new Macbook Air, a new Mac Mini, and a new iPad Pro. I was hoping that we’d see a Macbook Air that kept many of the best characteristics of its old laptop, but it seems as though Apple is hell bent on following through with some of its controversial design decisions from the past few years.

In the above video blog, I express some of my frustrations and lament the impending death of one of the greatest laptops of all time.