Home / General / Kracauer and the Bluth/Trump Connection

Kracauer and the Bluth/Trump Connection

Siegfried Kracauer hates your Netflix queue

Once upon a time a German sociologist from the Frankfurt School wrote a little thesis called “From Caligari to Hitler” about popular imagination being reflective of the mentality that gave rise to fascism through Adolf Hitler. If Siegfried Kracauer were alive today, I am sure he would probably hate everything because he’d be over 100 years old and that sounds like it’d suck. But he’d at least have plenty of pop culture to choose from. Like one of the greatest American TV shows ever made, Arrested Development, which many of us seem to come back to when analyzing the Trump family.

I thought of hapless, overconfident Gob, the eldest son of real estate mogul George Bluth with shady business ties to a foreign dictator, this morning when I read about poor Donald Trump Jr. revealing that he had knowingly met with a Kremlin linked lawyer who was promising him damaging information about Hillary Clinton.





Look at his face. Can’t you just hear the Final Countdown playing in the background?

What else might Gob Bluth teach us about this real life rich boy?

Oh dear. The resemblance is a little uncomfortable isn’t it?

I can’t pretend to be the first person on the internet to make a Bluth/Trump analogy. Before the election, quite a few people were trying to imagine Lucille Bluth with Donald Trump’s words in her mouth, and it all meshed together a little too well.

via Buzzfeed

Of course the Bluth family wasn’t all bad. Michael and the two youngest Bluths had the power to hold their family’s destructiveness in check. Maybe Kracauer would have suggested our fascination with watching the bad Bluths was an early indicator that the antics of a wealthy family were too irresistible of a spectacle for the populace to ignore. Very few of us would say that the Bluths are to be emulated, but they grabbed our attention and we just couldn’t look away.

We hope this is what the future holds

Any Frankfurt School fans want to chime in?

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  • Taylor

    There is a documentary “From Caligari to Hitler” on Netflix, using German films to explore Kracauer’s thesis. Fascinating film record of the Weimar Republic.

    • NewishLawyer

      Oh I will have to watch!!

      • Thank you so much for putting this up. I will also watch it.

    • gogiggs

      It’s great!

    • It is sadly not available on Netflix in the UK and that does make me very sad. I’ve wanted to see it for a while.

      • LeeEsq

        I don’t understand this. With streaming video, there isn’t really any need to say that X show/movie/documentary will be made legally available in these countries but not those countries for anything but weird form of patriotism or cost, which can be minimal.

        • It’s not patriotism or cost (for Netflix), it’s a licensing issue. Many creators sell their international licensing rights separately from their domestic ones, and if someone else purchased the international rights before Netflix, then Netflix simply isn’t *allowed* to show it outside the US. (or US and Canada, or however the original creator divided up the licensing).

  • FoolishMortal

    “Dad, I’m sitting on some very hot information here. I’ve got the contract. It’s half in English, half in backwards.”

  • Damon Poeter

    I’m sure Melania wishes Donald was a never-nude …

  • LeeEsq

    The Frankfurt School is coming back into style in the age of Trump. Nearly all of the original Frankfurt School would probably see the type of pop culture that exists now, even that which is loved by liberal/progressive people, as part of the problem though. They tended to have strong opinions on these things. It was high culture or nothing.

  • NewishLawyer

    Alex Ross had an essay in the New Yorker at the end of last year about how the Frankfurt School predicted the rise of Donald Trump.

    Wasn’t there whole thing a constant hate of mass/popular culture and see it as leading to Donald Trump or some other demagogue? If I recall my Adorno, the distinction was between art that elevates and causes people to think and mass culture which lulls into complacency and short attention spans.

    This strikes me as a deeply unpopular view in today’s age of ruling kinder culture uber allies and because even the graduates of our elite university seem determined to create businesses based on the fact that reading too much is hard.

    The Frankfurt School probably overstated their case but I can’t help but think that they had a point.

    • LeeEsq

      There are more people who read for leisure in the present than any other time in history. They do not necessarily read challenging books though because most people do not associate tackling challenging culture with high entry costs as fun. Media consumption is generally supposed to be fun or informative.

    • Zamfir

      This kind of argument always makes we wonder: why the need to put aesthetics in the elevating stuff that makes people think? Reports, studies, papers, textbooks, case files. People spend their deep thinking mostly on such prosaic texts. Very few of such items succeed at being high art, or even aim at that, but that doesn’t stop the thinking or the elevating.

      It’s a strange kind of snobbery, to boast about the intellectual depths of your favourtie art forms. It’s like boasting that you dance so much faster than the kids today – how will they ever get to work in time?

      • LeeEsq

        I don’t think the Frankfurt school would have any problem with people engaging in deep thought over reports, studies, papers, etc. because those texts are supposed to make people think. Their criticism of pop culture, which by they really meant mass media pop culture, was that it distracts people from what is really going on and allows for the bad faith actors to gain power and control. Reports and studies like high art are supposed to make people think.

        • twbb

          The weakness of their assault on pop culture’s alleged lack of intellectualism is probably best demonstrated by Adorno’s hatred of jazz.

          • LeeEsq

            Indeed. In a recent history of consumerism called Empire of Things, the author has a pretty good slap at Adorno’s thinking by pointing out according to Adorno’s logic “it was one small step from ‘We have no bananas, today’ to social fascism.” When your world view can’t handle a funny, novelty song than you might need to reconsider things.

        • Bobby Tolberto AKA TDA

          A lot of folks don’t read serious stuff but they listen to lectures on CDs/MP3 about serious subjects because you can listen to them and do something else at the same time, unlike reading.

      • cpinva

        “Media consumption is generally supposed to be fun or informative.”

        why can’t something be intellectually challenging, as well as being fun and/or informative?

        • tsam100

          It can, it’s just hard to find the right people to do it, studios are more and more risk-averse all the time, and these things are always a gamble without star power to back them up.

          • twbb

            Are they? Television production takes a lot more chances than it has since the 1970s, and probably more.

            • tsam100

              I feel like the creative forces went there because TV seems more welcoming to it lately. We are in a real live renaissance in television production lately.

              ETA: I was mistakenly focusing on movies, but media isn’t just movies

            • LeeEsq

              Increased competition causes greater risk taking in television but a global audience causes movie studios to be more careful because they really need to appeal on a more universal level these days to make a profit.

        • N__B

          That’s what I used to say before Deuce Bigelow came out.

        • LeeEsq

          Besides what tsam100 said, the audience needs the right sort of mind frame. I like seeking out new information and learning things. This makes programs like the BBC’s Back in Time for Dinner or Further Back in Time for Dinner really interesting to me. Many people tend to just want to unwind or watching something gripping.

      • NewishLawyer

        I suspect it is because a lot of pop culture and mass culture is seen to be
        about spectacle and/or passive viewing.

        People use TV as background noise. Hard to do that with something that demands contemplation.

        • Deborah Bender

          I don’t understand why people do that. I hate background noise.

          • LeeEsq

            I find it makes doing chores easier and if your feeling lonely, its a relatively fast way to combat that.

          • Tige Gibson

            They don’t know what to do with their minds because they don’t actually have any culture. For many people when the mind is left to wander they manufacture fears.

            • stepped pyramids

              Or for some of us, having sound in the background gives us space in our heads to actually think. There is nothing uncultured about it.

        • Zamfir

          NewishLawyer, I don’t see how this is linked specifically to mass or pop culture. Take a prime example of non-mass culture: handmade paintings, each one unique and labour intensive. For centuries, a prestigious core aspect of high culture, especially in Europe and its cultural relatives.

          And most of those paintings serve perfectly well as background decoration, not demanding any contemplation. In fact, that was their typical and intended fate. Museums made them closer to mass media, allowing very large numbers of people to visit the paintings. Which somehow also created a more contemplative viewing style – people walk through musea in silence and concentration, intently studying individual works, with white walls and subtle lights, no disturbances. That’s clearly not ‘demanded’ by the paintings, many of which spent the centuries as backdrop for drinking games.

          Something similar happened to aristocratic music – ballets, opera, symphonies were once intended to be background for merry social events, not to be watched by full halls of commoners in precise silence.

          • majeff

            Something similar happened to aristocratic music – ballets, opera, symphonies were once intended to be background for merry social events, not to be watched by full halls of commoners in precise silence.

            Yes, the construction of the audience, and of a disciplined audience at that, is a construction of bourgeois society, to be a little bit in the mode of the post. The exertion of physical discipline during performances became a marker of class distinction.

    • cpinva

      “Wasn’t there whole thing a constant hate of mass/popular culture and see it as leading to Donald Trump or some other demagogue?”

      which is interesting, because both Fascism and Soviet Communism both professed to deplore popular culture, believing it led to the corruption of their respective classier cultures. in fact, authoritarians of all stripes tend to dislike pop culture, in the belief that it debases the proper morals of the population, especially the younger members of those populations. that those “proper morals” don’t stop those authoritarian governments from abusing/murdering their own people is to be ignored, if you’re a true “patriot”.

      • twbb

        Many of the most deplorable on the right are, at least nominally, pro-“Western Civilization.”

        • Hogan

          But not, you know, in a faggy way.

          • Tige Gibson

            Eating expensive steak but topping it with ketchup.

      • LeeEsq

        Authoritarians and the high ideological hate pop culture because it often doesn’t show the right message. A lot of times, pop culture is just about fun for the sake of fun. The Communists hated rock and other Western pop music because it was seen as unserious and capitalist, which is a weird fun house mirror version of why the Right hated rock and pop music, and tried to prevent teenagers and people in their twenties from listening to it and creating it.

        • CP

          More generally, insofar as there’s any political content in pop music, it usually boils down to “fuck the Man!” Good for you as long as you’re the opposition, not so good when you’re setting up the New Regime.

          • LeeEsq

            Plus, if your theoretically engaged in an ideological struggle to reshape human existence than simply wanting to have a good time and hang out with your friends is an ideological problematic message. Whether your trying to build the kingdom of God on earth, bring about a world worker’s revolution, purify the nation/race, or help the masses achieve Nirvana than anything distracting seems at best a waste of time or worse evil and counter-revolutionary.

      • Jon_H11

        I chalk it up to the broader Monist/Pluralist divide. Authoritarians are always monist in their thinking (“Everything must be subsumed to this one thing: be it the State, the Leader, the Proletariat, the true Church, etc…”).

        If there’s anything pluralistic to the extreme, it’s pop culture. If your ethics/aesthetics intend toward homogeneity, pop culture is repulsive.

        • LeeEsq

          This adds an interesting twist to the debates over cultural appropriation. Pop culture tends to be attracted to things that look or are cool and can’t help but to burrow the. I.e., ninjas are cool and pirates are cool, so a ninja pirate would be doubly cool. A lot of this borrowing is done at a shallow level because few people are going to want to deep historical research to get things right. It can come across as insensitive or worse though even though the creator was just thinking about how awesome a ninja pirate would be. Sometimes even well-intentioned pluralism can be exclusive.

          • Jon_H11

            To my mind, pluralism is built around the tension between exclusivity and inclusiveness. It’s a system which is inclusive of many groups that themselves are exclusive. The desire to eliminate the tension, or have a kind of recursive symmetry where all institution operate like little, nested versions of the over-institutional structure ( “You’re denying my right to free speech by not publishing me!”) is a hallmark of monist rationalism.

            I guess the whole cultural appropriation controversy has always just seemed to me to be a natural correlate of social pluralism. People are going to fight over ownership of cultural symbols. The only alternative is a homogeneous mono-culture–which is undesirable.

            • LeeEsq

              I agree entirely. I’m not entirely sold on the Intersectionality/Social Justice theory, although this is mainly because I think they have a very big blind side when it comes to Jewish identity, so I am going to side more naturally with the other side.

            • I’d guess the Frankfurt School would suggest that high culture is pluralist, and popular/mass culture is not, and offer an ideologically-grounded explanation for this, which to us probably seems paradoxical.

        • NewishLawyer

          For me, part of it is that a lot of pop culture goes for “Isn’t this cool/badass?” as a kind of automatic reaction without any further thought but whether it is a good idea or not.

          At a local pizza place, they have Wallpaper of Spock covered in Tattoos and it looks like it was taken from the Star Trek episode where they land on the planet that looks a lot like Nazi Germany. Someone in an SS uniform is standing behind Spock.

          The thought here seems to be nothing more than “Spock is badass. Tattoos are badass. Spock covered in tattoos being defiant against a Nazi is triple badass.”

          But no one seems to have thought that Leonard Nimoy was Jewish (raised Orthodox I believe) and that the Nazis tattooed their Jewish prisoners and tattoos are against Jewish law.

          It’s this kind of “Wouldn’t it be badass/interesting” that often makes me cringe because a little more education and thought and less autopilot would save us from regrettable moments.

          • One thing that Gans talks about, by the way, is the idea that consumption of high culture generally takes the point of view of the artistic creator. Today that point of view takes the form of approving people who do something “cool”. This really hasn’t changed. Just the outward forms have evolved.

      • With the caveat that authoritarians have often been fully copacetic with folk culture, whether that of the dominant nation or those of the ethnicities that make up the various people’s of the empire, the “organic” production of the relevant “nations” or classes.

        • LeeEsq

          Its debatable whether folk culture is pop culture. Authoritarians might be fully copacetic with folk culture because folk culture is inherently not pop culture. You can’t really commercialize except in the tourist industry. Pop culture doesn’t have to be completely commercial or about money but it needs to be able to be turned into some type of purchasable event or product like a show or album in order to be really pop culture. Its hard to do this with folk culture.

          • Debatable? Not to Adorno. I was going to recommend Gans’s Popular Culture and High Culture, which my brother was assigned in art-school sociology, to your brother, but I’ll consolidate. Even for Adorno though appropriation into high culture, as in Mahler or Dvorak, was a-ok I think.

          • Bobby Tolberto AKA TDA

            In Shostakovich’s alleged memoirs he stated that one of his most heartfelt desires was to abolish the Red Army Band and Chorus.

    • Jon_H11

      Pop culture is like sweets: you shouldn’t feel guilty enjoying them, but they shouldn’t be your whole diet. In fact, they should be a small part of it.

      Call me a snob, but I do think that Americans’ lack of appreciation of higher culture, to the point of pride, was a driving factor for why Trump was a feasible candidate. Let alone put him in a position to pull the Comey inside straight.

      People shouldn’t get 70% of their calories from Pepsi and Kit-Kats, and their cultural exposure shouldn’t be 70% comic book movies and Kanye West.

      (For the record, I enjoy Pepsi, Kit-Kats, comic book movies, and Kanye West’s songs, but I limit all of them to under 5% of food/media consumption.)

      • LeeEsq

        I understand what your saying and partially agree with it but I don’t think that there really has been any time where you had people treat popular culture like an occasional sweet rather than the main component of their entertainment diet. Other countries make cultural vegetables more easily available than the United States but that doesn’t mean a greater percentage of the population devotes a bigger part of its free time towards cultural vegetables. Very few British people think that I need to watch three hours of high brow BBC for every hour of Doctor Who consumed. French and German teens don’t say for every hour of pop music we need to listen to two hours of art music.

        • Jon_H11

          I guess I was implying that it was a uniquely American phenomenon. To be fair, my only meaningful experience with foreigner has been with academics, so that’s definitely subconsciously skewed my perspective.

          I still stand by the statement as a norm, even if its descriptive implications are inaccurate.

      • epidemiologist

        What would make some cultural products better to consume than comic books and Kanye West? Do we know that Kanye’s music and some comic books won’t be considered classics of our time to future humans? I think they are actually pretty representative of what many of us find influential and relevant today, and there is criticism of both available suggesting their artistic and intellectual sophistication.

        Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing Black Panther right now. Do we expect that series to be schlock that provides no perspective on his other work, or our time? Many feminist blogs’ bread and butter between outrages (or as a break from the outrages) is criticism of movies, TV, and magazine articles. They are fun and, speaking for myself, great ways to think through how our idealogies could or should play out in our daily lives.

        I think it would be more accurate to say that no one’s media diet should be primarily composed of things they consume uncritically.

        • NewishLawyer

          I think the issue I have is how much things need to be memeable and gifable these days or the mandatory nature of even prestige TV. You must watch Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Big Little Lies, Orange is the New Black, or whatever.

          But suggest that someone watch the Winter’s Tale or go to the symphony on something other than video game night or read something with a bit more depth and difficulty than the latest YA novel and then you are a horrible elitist and snob.

          There is reward in something that takes a bit more time to appreciate and can’t necessarily be turned into a meme or a gif. But the gif rules the day and some kind of WWF finishing move is more gifable than a painting by Turner or Frank Stella.

          • epidemiologist

            I don’t think this is really responsive to what I said.

            I suggested that many pop cultural products do have depth and relevance that may be under appreciated. You asserted without evidence that other types of products are both more difficult, and deeper.

            Maybe some of these creations are more difficult because their forms or references are not contemporary, and they render equally “deep” messages less accessible than work that is current.

            I would also point out that our current popular culture represents much greater diversity in its creators and subjects than our “classics”. I will need evidence to accept that current popular art and literature is inherently inferior.

          • Matty

            But suggest that someone watch the Winter’s Tale or go to the symphony on something other than video game night or read something with a bit more depth and difficulty than the latest YA novel and then you are a horrible elitist and snob.

            Look, I work a pretty well-compensated job, and even with that, tickets to the Lyric Opera are eye-wateringly expensive. So are tickets to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Smaller theaters are more affordable (although depending on how heavily you require them to adhere to The Canon, maybe they don’t meet your requirements for moral uplift), but it’s still definitely a date-night-level expenditure. So, yeah, “you must pay at least $X to be culturally serious” is snobbery.

            ETA: and that’s not even touching on books! Holy cow, dude, I used to spend my time face down in English Civil War era pamphlets. I got pretty good at reading Early Modern English, but that’s a skill, you know? And even when I was basically code-switching between Cromwell’s English and my own at will, I still had the hardest time decoding 19th century English in my other classes. So much of “the Canon” is very much of its time in terms of language, and also in terms of the social detail and basic, underlying assumptions. It might be rewarding, but reading and parsing Dickens, e.g., is very much like learning to play guitar.

            • NewishLawyer


              • Matty

                Disqus has been flaky for me, too.

          • I think you’re oversimplifying. There’s plenty of that from the opposite direction. The last two movies I’ve seen, The Beguiled and Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, positively revel in their identification of cultural sophistication and wealth.

          • Drew

            Mad Men is often written off as a soap, but I find that unfair, in addition to your characterization here. That show rewards the rewatching and deep reflection you find vital to greater works of art.

          • Veleda_k

            I don’t watch most of those shows, and no one’s taken me out back to face the firing squad.

            I love live theater and live music. But if you want me to see the symphony, you can make it possible by paying for my ticket.

            And the people whose intellects I most respect are those who can read the latest YA novel and make salient points about what that book is saying about our current time and place. What does it mean that XYZ is popular? If we want something else to be popular, what societal changes might we need? How is our current culture being reflected back at us?

            But sometimes those blog posts have gifs, so you know, I make sure to keep my nose good and high in the air.

        • Jon_H11

          I’ll put on my cranky old man hat and say “Humbug”!

          I won’t go so far as to say my proportion is right for everyone, but I will justify my cultural elitist mix by saying that I like to use historical cultural selection and time to my advantage.

          ” Do we know that Kanye’s music and some comic books won’t be considered classics of our time to future humans?”

          No we don’t. I tend to think if any contemporary musician will be it’d be Kanye, so maybe he wasn’t the best example. But we don’t know that they will end up being considered classics either. We do know that what we receive as classics have been critically evaluated over a long period of time, and found to be on the whole excellent or at least worthwhile and to offer intellectually nourishment.

          Let’s restrict ourselves to pop music, there’s a symmetrical process. Look at the top 40 pop songs for a random week far enough back to have forgotten. Odds are that at least 38 of them are stuff you haven’t heard of, and aren’t very good. The two you maybe have heard of get regular play on the oldies station and are classics.

          So if I want to allocate my mental resources, why not just listen to the oldies station, where all the songs are classics, instead of the current top 40 station, which will be lucky to have a single song in rotation that makes it to the oldies one day. Combine this with my own precocious curmudgeonry and you get my paltry 5% pop-culture to higher/academic culture mix.

          • epidemiologist

            I take your point but I think this amounts to selection bias when people then conclude that there is something inferior about contemporary or popular culture. It’s unfair to compare the full range of art being created in our time to only the best or most influential pieces from the past. Especially since by doing so, we often lose sight of the fact that these works were popular and that mass appeal does not imply lack of quality.

            Similarly people may be engaging with contemporary art works for all sorts of reasons– they may be aware of and interested in criticism or they may just like it. To hear of and decide to engage with a classical work, one usually is aware of its cultural significance. So I also don’t think a particular motivation or mindset can be inferred on the part of the contemporary viewer.

            Anyway I don’t think it makes sense to depend on classics to direct your attention. If you do that, aren’t you really just saying that you’ll let other people’s opinions dictate how you spend your time? That might be fine in theory but these other people were largely just entertaining themselves and couldn’t necessarily foresee our own period. And our cultural engagement IMO is about being part of a society and not only about our individual self-edification. Many artistically insignificant works still make up our cultural moment and influence our attitudes. Classics might provide valuable perspective on our time but by definition they can’t respond to it.

            • Jon_H11

              “If you do that, aren’t you really just saying that you’ll let other people’s opinions dictate how you spend your time?”

              I don’t think this is the case anymore so than a pop culture junkie lets the showrunners and media curators at Netflix and HBO dictate how they spend theirs.

              “And our cultural engagement IMO is about being part of a society and not only about our individual self-edification. Many artistically insignificant works still make up our cultural moment and influence our attitudes.”

              I cringe a bit at how Burkean it sounds, but I do think you have to stretch your definition of society to include a temporal axis. If you only engage with society via the current moment, your missing out on the vast majority of it (which is in the past). I’d also argue that if you are a creative type you’re limiting your ability to communicate meaningfully with those in the future, because I disagree in spirit with this:

              “Classics might provide valuable perspective on our time but by definition they can’t respond to it.”

              I guess technically they can’t “respond”, but they can meaningfully engage it through interpretation. I’d argue reading King Lear or Darkwater right now engages far more with the contemporary reality of our times than watching Walking Dead. Again I’m not saying that pop culture is valueless, it’s just way less valuable than the proportion of our mental diet it takes up.

              • epidemiologist

                Well everyone is limited in what art they can engage with by what artists actually choose to create. I don’t think that’s an apt comparison to prioritizing classics. To me it would be more like only seeing movies if they have a certain score on Metacritic, or not listening to music outside the Top 40 as a matter of principle. They rose to the top, right? If you look at how that might happen with contemporary art, it’s easy to see that the work that makes the cut might be significant or influential, might be fun and accessible, or might be both. And it still doesn’t change the fact that the themes in derivative art could have huge cultural or historical significance in the aggregate.

                If the distinction that started this thread is between art that causes people to think and complacency, doesn’t it make more sense to concern ourselves with people’s actual habits of mind? Even critical engagement with “bad” art can be enlightening.

                I think it also raises the question of what our cultural engagement is even for. If we are reading great novels or whatever to develop ourselves, well, what will we do as enlightened humans? Presumably engage with our present moment and try to influence it for the better, right? I think that implies quite a lot of engagement with popular culture even if maybe it’s not all the best.

            • ColBatGuano

              Right. The “classics” are what the elite agreed was acceptable, not something intrinsic to the material itself. To blindly subscribe to only listening/reading/watching those works is to reinforce that cultural stereotype.

              • burritoboy

                Well, no, not in general. The classics are / were what inspired the practitioners themselves, not some sort of external elite imposing an opinion.

                Take the debates over canon of the great hiphop classics currently going on now. The music industry (“the elite” in this circumstance) didn’t try to influence this debate, because it cares only about what music it can sell now and in the immediate future. Instead, the canon of hiphop classics has been primarily created by certain rappers / DJs who like to meditate on the history of the art form, as well as a limited number of journalists / aficionados.

                The hip hop “canon” that’s emerging is largely pointed against the music industry and against some, even many, of the most popular rappers of the past. If you look at most of the proposed canons, the canons are extremely supportive of more obscure, more complex, far less popular, massively less marketable rap. Most of the lists are much more heavy on artists who have great talents but never sold at even good levels. And many artists who sold huge volumes rarely appear on these lists – Talib Kweli or Mos Def or Brand Nubian are nearly universally praised by the canons, while many of the best-selling figures like Fabolous, Mase, MC Hammer, Ja Rule, Naughty by Nature, Nelly, Lil Jon, etc are rarely ever mentioned. I’ve seen extremely, extremely obscure people – Vinnie Paz / Jedi Mind Tricks or Aesop Rock or Apathy, for example, appear far more times than rappers or groups who outsold them by hundreds of times.

                • LeeEsq

                  The fact that the hip-hop cannon is largely pointed against the music industry and even popular rappers isn’t surprising. It fits with the Elijah Wald thesis that what musicians are generally considered important and influential is more determined by music critics and musicians after the fact than what people actually listened to.

                • burritoboy

                  But why should we be interested in what people actually listened to? (That is, what sold the most or played the most on commercial radio.) There’s no real debate about what people listened to, because we have the sales figures and radio play figures. That information might be interesting to economic or cultural historians, but why would that matter to us who are primarily listeners who’s trying to find what’s good? Should I care that Hemingway outsold Fitzgerald in the 1930s, but Fitzgerald outsold Hemingway in the 1920s? (Or worse, that Margaret Mitchell far outsold both Hemingway and Fitzgerald?)

                  I don’t see what relevance that has to anybody after that historic moment: In 2017, I can find A Tribe called Quest’s 1990 “Can I Kick It?” just as easily as I can find Hammer’s 1990 “U Can’t Touch This” – the question in 2017 is “which is good and worth paying attention to?”

      • NewishLawyer

        I concur but I’ve been told that this is a minority view these days and I don’t think it is limited to the right-wing either. I know very few (if any) Trump voters. Most of my cohort from college and beyond has nothing but various stages of loathing for the Trump administration and GOP. Almost all of them are much more into pop culture than I am and will minorly tease me for getting enjoyment out of academic history books and being a BAM devotee.

        A lot of people from around my age and younger have said that there should be no such thing as cultural hierarchy and/or cultural vegetables and it should all be equal and democratic.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        But what is “high culture”? Is it, say, opera? Because most opera is actually pop culture from a different era. And the TV show Fargo is probably better written and more profound than many of the serious novels being published today. All I mean is that there is no neat dividing line between pop and high culture. Any definition you use for yourself is sure to be contestable on many different grounds.

        • Jon_H11

          I’d define it as the received canon (up for debate as to what’s in it, but that’s at the margins, not in the base) and contemporaries who actively engage with it. It’s a judgement call, but if people were actively trying to critique and judge the things they consume as to whether or not they were worthwhile, and used the standards of “classics” as a starting point, I think we’d be at a much better spot than we are now where someone with a library of only John Grisham and Tom Clancy is considered a “reader”.

          It’s fine if something used to be pop culture, has stood the test of time and scrutiny, and has become classic. It’s also fine to enjoy excellent (or even not so good) contemporary pop culture. But consuming a mental diet of almost entirely contemporary pop culture… that’s just unhealthy

          • LeeEsq

            Contemporary high culture is better described as something that is difficult to engage in because it is not easily graspable. You need to think deeply about it. You can’t just watch it and kind of get the point the creator is trying to make. Superhero movies might be able to handle important issues of the day or all time but you usually understand these issues on first viewing. Wonder Woman is obviously a feminist movie and Doctor Strange is about learning humility and not being arrogant because of your skill. High art tends to have less of an easily observable message if any at all. You need to read or watch, think and talk before you get it at its most superficial.

          • Matty

            if people were actively trying to critique and judge the things they consume as to whether or not they were worthwhile, and used the standards of “classics” as a starting point, I think we’d be at a much better spot than we are now where someone with a library of only John Grisham and Tom Clancy is considered a “reader”.

            I have the exact opposite view. If the price for near society-wide literacy is that Dan Brown is a fucking millionaire, that’s fine. If the price for a world in which music and theater (and extending that out, movies and TV) aren’t dick-measuring contests for rent-fattened nobles is Taylor Swift and Michael Bay, I’m unendingly grateful.

            I’m not saying that commercial art is entirely good, or that there’s no room or call to actively engage with art. I’m saying that the view that “ugh, things used to be good, but now there’s too much of it and standards are slipping” ignores the very real, very good democratization that’s happened over the past few hundred years.

            • Jon_H11

              I’m not romanticizing the past. Nor do I think “standards are slipping”, most old stuff was garbage, most new stuff is garbage. The old stuff that survived and is still read is mostly the best of what was popular over hundreds if not thousands of years. The new stuff available hasn’t been pruned and is thus mostly fluff.

              Thinking that it’d be better if more people made the effort to listen to Beethoven instead of Pink and read some Marylynne Robinson instead of (or in addition to) Nora Roberts is hardly a call for a return to feudalism.

              • Matty

                Let’s take a step back: what do you mean by “better”, and how would having folks do a symphony a week get there?

                • Jon_H11

                  I think that having people listen to (a good) symphony a week would compose its being better.

                  Look, I eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger every once in a while, I also will eat a full meal with grilled chicken, vegetables, and a salad. The latter is better. It’s not always what I want in the moment, doesn’t always taste better to me, but I can acknowledge that it’s better.

                  Society where everyone attends one good symphony a week or reads one good novel a month is better than one where people don’t. Attaining that kind of society is (part of) the end of other policy choices, not a means to them.

                • Matty

                  Society where everyone attends one good symphony a week or reads one good novel a month is better than one where people don’t.

                  Better how, though? Your food analogy conceals more than it reveals – there are genuine, observable, physical consequences to eating a diet of convenience food, and genuine benefits to eating nutritious one. Unlike with your definition of the classics, the diet we now think of as “a good one” isn’t at all the most successful foodstuffs of the ages, it’s the diet we can see doing good. What would (to keep playing with this analogy) the lower diabetes rate of working a good novel or an opera in to one’s leisure time be?

                • Jon_H11

                  A world where people are more able to ascertain consequences to the good which are not physically observable… :)

                  But seriously, I think it’d be a world with more thoughtful engagement with politics and social issues, deeper disdain for the Trumps of the world and more appreciation for the minor characters in our own lives. Better moral and social engagement with others around us. Less solipsistic and less superficial, less “lonesome crowd”-ish. People taking more thoughtful actions and making decisions with a deeper and broader understanding of the inner lives of others. People less spiritually distraught because the feel like free-floating atoms in a consumerist void with no history and only a surface facade of community.

                  And all along they can still enjoy their pro-wrestling and young adult dystopian fiction. Just in moderation.

                • Matty

                  A world where people are more able to ascertain consequences to the good which are not physically observable… :)


                  But seriously, I think that the idea that art has a communitarian function is true, I just reject the idea that a diet of the classics is the best way to create that feeling or serve that function. I think you’ve got the causal arrow right backwards – the social engagement and thoughtfulness comes first, it gets you the skills and mental breathing room to engage with a couple millennia of recorded art. Especially for works from outside one’s native context and time (I’m not, for example, a 5th Century BC Athenian, but I cried at Antigone), the raw tools of empathy have to be there first in order to get anything out of it.

                  I don’t think that if everyone listened to Handel and read Donne, to take my two favorite examples, it’d necessarily be a more thoughtful world. The people who ran the British Empire and caused the famines and quashed the uprisings and prosecuted the quotidian campaign of police state terror read their Shakespeare and their Milton and their Cicero. The SS men loved their Goethe. Their appreciation of the inner lives of others clearly did not extend to their subject peoples.

                • Matty

                  A world where people are more able to ascertain consequences to the good which are not physically observable… :)


                  But seriously, I think that the idea that art has a communitarian function is true, I just reject the idea that a diet of the classics is the best way to create that feeling or serve that function. I think you’ve got the causal arrow right backwards – the social engagement and thoughtfulness comes first, it gets you the skills and mental breathing room to engage with a couple millennia of recorded art. Especially for works from outside one’s native context and time (I’m not, for example, a 5th Century BC Athenian, but I cried at Antigone), the raw tools of empathy have to be there first in order to get anything out of it.

                  I don’t think that if everyone listened to Handel and read Donne, to take my two favorite examples, it’d necessarily be a more thoughtful world. The people who ran the British Empire and caused the famines and quashed the uprisings and prosecuted the quotidian campaign of police state terror read their Shakespeare and their Milton and their Cicero. The SS men loved their Goethe. Their appreciation of the inner lives of others clearly did not extend to their subject peoples.

              • epidemiologist

                But again, this is letting other people do your cultural criticism for you and choosing to just consume what others found worthy.

                Critical engagement with art implies that you will be critical of it and you may find some of it unsuccessful or even objectionable. What exactly is edifying about consuming classics if your reason for doing so is that they come pre-selected?

                I think one object lesson of our cultural and political climate is that many people will do or believe outrageous, horrible things as long as it seems to be approved by others. The specific cultural touchstones aren’t the thing preserving some people from authoritarian attitudes– the ability to think for oneself is.

                • Jon_H11

                  Again, the gatekeeper of contemporary pop culture filter the contents you get just as much if not as well.

                  I think there is a value in the “classics” that is under utilized by contemporary habits. The fact that many people both now and through history agree with me doesn’t vindicate that thought, but it doesn’t refute it either. I’ve tested them, and I’ve found that while not perfect, the more or less received classical canon of art and works intimately related to it is in fact high quality stuff. I’ve also consumed a good amount of pop culture, which is likewise received, just curated based on popularity and taste makers at the moment as opposed to a tradition of critical learning and reflection.

                  My judgement is that we collectively engage with too much of the latter and not enough of the former. I’m not particularly afraid of the form of a classical canon leading to authoritarianism because the content of the actual canon we have has shown to move the world and thinkers actively against that impulse.

                • Drew

                  But enjoying art does require gatekeeping to at least some extent. There are more great books in the world than one person could read in a lifetime, even if they were independently wealthy and had no other hobbies.

                  If I had to engage with all extant 19th century literature alone, and discover Dostoevsky on my own, or in the 20th century alone and discover Pynchon on my own, my god. I do try to avoid letting critical consensus completely shape my reading, but at the same time, I’m glad the consensus existed so I could read the Chekhovs, etc without searching for years before being adventurous in seeking out more obscure or under appreciated works.

            • NewishLawyer

              I’m with Jon here. Most old stuff was garbage and no longer read. There is nothing wrong with Taylor Swift or Dan Brown being a millionaire or George R.R. Martin.

              But still, it would be nice to see someone try and read Edith Wharton instead of the next Danielle Steele. Or some Chekhov short stories while waiting for the next George R.R. Martin novel to come out. Or to listen to some Ravel or John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins or Mozart along with Taylor Swift. Or maybe go to the symphony on another night but Video Game night.

              And also to think that is vaguely embarrassing for grown men to have long discussions about the ultimate WWF finishing moves.

              • Matty

                Sure, but same question I put to Jon – why would it be nice? What does it boot us, besides being less embarrassing, to read Edith Wharton? What does it mean to actually engage with Chekhov?

                • NewishLawyer

                  To engage with Chekhov means to understand what it is like to be so passionate with life that it hurts.

                  I suppose C.S. Lewis is instructive here because he had an essay where he talked about the difference between the high-brow reader and the low-brow reader. In the C.S. Lewis variant, it is really about style and aesthetics. What I love about really good writers is their ability to create an entire world in one or two paragraphs. You see this in the opening to Narcissus and Goldmund (the wonderful opening passage about the Chesnut Tree at Mariabonn Cloister). Or the description of the opera and the ball in the Age of Innocence or Basani talking about the Jewish burial grounds in Ferrara in the Garden of Finzi-Continis.

                  In the Lewis telling, high-brow fans live for this stuff but the low-brow reader detests it as work and pompousness.

                  The opposite is that writing the high-brow reader finds dull and clichéd works wonders on the low-brow reader. This is often overly descriptive writing which tells you exactly what is going on and how to feel. It might explain why the overly literal names of many facebook groups bug me.

                  Some of this is pure beauty for the sake of beauty. Mozart is beautiful music and good for the soul.

                  Plus I think there is a good that comes from the stillness of being able to sit and analyze one or two paintings for a long time and enjoy their beauty.

                • Jon_H11

                  I’ve read George R.R. Martin as a sincere fan, I’ve also read Dostoevsky attentively (only read The Seagull, by Checkov, didn’t get as much out of it, but that was a long time ago so I may give it a try again.). The latter has made me a better person: kinder, more attuned to others suffering, more aware of peoples fears and desires and better able to appreciate what makes them uniquely human. The former was fun and had Dragons.

                  A world where more people are kinder, more attuned to others’ suffering, and better able to appreciate what makes people around them uniquely human is a better world than one where people only have fun reading about dragons.

                • Matty

                  I appreciate you taking the time to spell this out. What about Dostoevsky caused you to be more empathetic? I realize this sounds like pedantic grilling, but how does that process work? Are there other ways of achieving it?

                  I’m really resistant to the idea that art exists for our moral uplift, but you and Newish have some clear, strong opinions on this, and I’d like to understand.

                • Jon_H11

                  There was a line in Dostoevsky (I can’t remember where, seems like Karamazov) where one character talked about a saint who crawled into bed with a dying beggar to keep him warm and hold him and comfort him as he died. The character talked about how impossible it is to love an actual, living, physical other person like that. How filthy and smelly and retched and repulsive the beggar actually was physically. He morally likely wasn’t much better. One can love humanity abstractly and give to charity and support progress an all that, but to love an actual individual was impossible, a miracle.

                  Reading that section which I just paraphrased shook me deeply. I found someone who felt very similar to how I’d always felt and didn’t know it. And it contained a pointed criticism of a mentality that I took for granted presented in a way that hit me to the core.

                  I’ve made an effort (far more difficult than it should be) to love people as real individuals, not just have diffuse affection for “people” in abstract. Its bettered my relationship with my mother and my brother as well as made me far less angry and more compassionate for strangers I’d previously had found insufferable and obnoxious.

                • Drew

                  Miss Lonelyhearts affected me on the same level Dostoevsky did for you. I first read it as an adult a few years ago on a whim- someone told me they read it in a class on modern American literature, in addition to the crying of lot 49. I adore Pynchon so I figured it must be good if it was read in the same class. I ended up finishing it in one sitting and it just shattered me.

                • NewishLawyer

                  I will also add that there is something fundamentally liberating about reading for pleasure or possibly high-art in general.

                  I’ve read for pleasure nearly every day since college and this has made me a better student. But in any educational or work setting I have been in, people always say stuff like “I wish I had time to read more but my feeling is that if I have the energy to read, I should be working….”

                  And then they proceed to talk about whatever was on TV the night before.

                  Maybe these people just don’t like to read but I find that it does make reading into a protest act of sort. Something that can’t be used by the demands of the corporate world or to please the marketers. Same with classical music. You can’t sell it the same way you can sell Taylor Swift or Jay-Z and there is a pleasure in that to me.

              • epidemiologist

                I’m sorry, are you suggesting no one reads Edith Wharton anymore? Then how do you think we all know who she is to even understand your point?

                Over your long engagement in this thread you still haven’t really explained what is better about these works other than that you prefer them, and maybe want to humblebrag about it. And you go on to complain that people don’t read for pleasure, after this comment where you insult many people’s chosen reading material. Well, which is it?

                I think it is far more important to our democracy that people can be critical of what they hear, recognize and seek to address inequities in who gets access to our shared discourse (something I’ve barely seen touched on in this thread btw), and have the courage of their convictions when they have an unpopular habit or belief rather than seeking to impose their tastes on others. Unless the message of a work of art is to promote those things, none is necessarily better for people– what is important is the activity of criticism itself.

                • NewishLawyer

                  Plenty of people still read Edith Wharton and I agree with expanding the canon.

                  What I notice more (and this is also among largely white middle-class people) around my age cohort is this view that they can like what they like and fuck anyone telling them or nudging them expand their horizons.

                  A quote I hear a lot is allegedly C.S. Lewis saying something like “When I became an adult, I gave up all childish things, including the desire to be an adult all the time.”

                  The problem is that this has seemingly expanded to not needing to be an adult any of the time.

                  I guess we will just need to agree to disagree but I refuse to believe in the kind of cultural analysis that holds WWF memes or Superhero movies are culturally equal to Truffaut or Bergman movies or whatever YA novel is hot right now is equivalent to the prose of Murakami or Wharton.

                  I don’t think everyone needs to like Goddard at his most plot-free.

                  Martin Scorcese described The Age of Innocence as his most violent movie I believe. This is a profound statement and one that many people would probably disagree with but perhaps they should not. We should be able to contemplate the violence of social eradication that exists in movies like the Age of Innocence and not just have hours long discussions about the best WWF moves to turn into hyopo gifs.

                • Matty

                  The problem is that this has seemingly expanded to not needing to be an adult any of the time.

                  I really don’t think you can talk about the supposedly-new phenomenon of adults loving “childish things” without talking about capitalism both on the supply side and the demand side. I work a job where I am 24-7 on-call about half the time. By the end of any given rotation, my brain is mush. I need something interruptible, light and drawn in bold strokes. I think with the increasingly large number of people who don’t have either a predictable schedule or who don’t have a bright line between work and home, you’re seeing demand for that kind of fiction.

                  I also think you’re overestimating the extent to which Trauffaut or Bergman is even available to be seen. It’s called “art house cinema” for a reason – even new “art” films are out at odd times, for short runs, and not at all theaters. Half the time I hear about something that’s vaguely interesting, it’s either finished running, not playing by me, or only playing when I’m on call. They’re not on Netflix or Hulu, in general, but isolated to a speciality streaming service for film buffs (that’s the supply side problem). It’s similar to the “but would it kill folks to see a symphony every now and again?” line of thought – given $X for entertainment each month, am I going to spend it on Hulu, which has some movies, even some “quality” or “canonical” ones, in addition to my tv-show-with-explosions-and-caricatures dreck to have in the background, or am I going to spend it on FilmStruck, which I might watch the once or twice a week I’m in the mood for a serious movie and have the remaining life force to pay attention?

                  I actually regret not seeing as much live theater as I would like to. There have been shows at the Lyric Opera that I would have loved to have seen, given a spare 300$ rattling around in my pocket and a free weekend. But I’ve also enjoyed and benefitted from some of the genre fiction I’ve read this year (Ada Palmers Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders, e.g.). Even more the beach-read-y stuff (Charles Stross’ Laundry Files books) has been good for me, mentally (you can see Stross working out anxieties about climate change and austerity on the page, for example, which is a good thing to have in between Lovecraftian vampire-fights). You’ve slagged-off on “whatever YA novel is hot right now” a couple times in this thread without mentioning even one by name. Do you honestly believe that they’re all interchangeable, and incapable of giving anyone a reward for engaging with it?

                  I guess we will just need to agree to disagree but I refuse to believe in the kind of cultural analysis that holds WWF memes or Superhero movies are culturally equal to Truffaut or Bergman movies or whatever YA novel is hot right now is equivalent to the prose of Murakami or Wharton.

                  I think “culturally equal to” is doing more work here than it needs to. I don’t think you need to think that last week’s episode of Lucha Underground is a work of art for the ages or that we need to preserve an archival print of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 lest all civilization perish to see value in talking about “low culture” as art, and thinking about how we both individually and as a society engage with it, and what it tells us about it, and hell, why I misted up a little at the end of a stupid movie with a soundtrack of 80’s crap. If we’re talking about getting out of solipsism and self-invovedness as a reason do consume and think about art, I don’t think we can ignore popular culture at all.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Ah ah, but what is the “received canon”? Who is “receiving” it? How can we disentangle the whole notion of the canon from the power structures that have influence over what we see, read, and hear? I mean, what are “classics” and who decides that something is a classic?

            I know I’m getting all Foucaldian here — and I’m not saying that the notion of classic or canon has no purchase at all — but (this isn’t really directed at you so much as at the broader conversation about this topic) I am not satisfied with such terms because they do not reflect on the power differentials that lead to their conceptual construction in the first place.

            • Jon_H11

              While I’m not necessarily against the deconstructive project it you’re talking about, I think it’s possible to personally engage meaningfully with a piece of art while being agnostic to the surrounding societal power dynamics at play in it’s creation. Thinking about that stuff is good too, but not a prerequisite. This would go for contemporary art as well as stuff considered classic. You can enjoy hip-hop without dissecting every nuanced of the racial, sexual, and/economic power dynamics involved in it’s creation.

              As for what is the received canon, I say we can start the discussion with Dante and Shakespeare and negotiate out from there.

        • NewishLawyer

          I think for me “high culture” is about something that requires a more active engagement and rewards multiple viewings, readings, listenings, whatever. Or it just doesn’t go for spectacle as much.

          Can you give a specific example of a serious novel published today that is less profound than Fargo? I think White Tears was a great and serious and dark and very profound novel. Though the internet likes to reverse snob against literary fiction. Moonglow was also very moving. I’ve not see Fargo so I will withhold judgment on that.

          The thing about a lot of mass culture even so-called Prestige TV is that it seems to confuse darkness with seriousness and/or overly relies on spectacle and violence. My favorite movie from 2016 was based on a manga called Seaside Diary. The great Japanese film director Kore’eda Hirokazu turned it into a live action movie called Our Little Sister.

          I don’t think Americans could stand to make a movie like Our Little Sister. It is too kind and slow-paced even when dealing with fuck-up parents and kids who inadvertently end up repeating the mistakes of their fuck-up parents despite not trying to do so.

          The American way of dealing with this sort of bad family dynamic is always louder and over the top, even in so-called prestige TV or indie entertainment like Transparent.

          So for me it is not necessarily the medium but more the ways in which American culture heavily relies on spectacle or screaming big scenes of accusation and has problems with plotlessness and character study.

          • LeeEsq

            it could be that Americans deal with fished up parents and kids repeating the mistakes of their fished up parents in a loud way because American society permits a much more expressive display of emotions positive and negative than Japanese societies. Most media depictions are at least partially based on reality. If dysfunctional Americans or even functional Americans are more openly emotional than their Japanese counterparts than that will end up in media.

          • White Tears and Robinson are great examples, because they’re both literary fiction, and they’re both novels that appeal to people who studied literature in college and especially grad school, but they’re very different. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone who doesn’t like either, or both. I liked White Tears a lot, but I liked it *this year* and in relation to other things I’ve read, and it’s entirely possible it won’t look as good in five years, or fifty. It’s still one of the best books of the year, I think, and *probably* will be as worth reading in thirty years as minor Pynchon, say, or unfinished Ellison.

            On the other hand, there are people who can watch a movie where nothing happens except people walking around the screen (as far as I can tell) and immediately draw some nuanced emotional resonance from the details of the story and know exactly what the moral is, and if that makes them happy, that’s fine with me too.

            And if someone only wants to read books that were on the high school curriculum in 1955, that’s fine too. But it’s not the same thing.

            Or if someone just would rather read Richard Ford or Dennis Lehane (edit: both of whom I’ve read and enjoy, and would probably enjoy more than a steady diet of Madelyn Robinson to be honest) or Jodi Picoult, if that’s what resonates with them, I don’t see what’s wrong with it.

          • Lost Left Coaster

            Was Our Little Sister a major commercial success in Japan? Honest question — I hadn’t heard of it. But I’m curious if it was in the artsy niche there or if it is representative of what Japanese moviegoers want to see en masse.

            Also, I wasn’t slagging contemporary novels but rather trying to point out just how high quality Fargo is, and pointing out that it is difficult to draw a line between media — on this point we seem to agree. But I’m still very skeptical about putting any kind of line around the idea of “high culture,” the definition of which so often seems to be entangled within differing levels of cultural power that have little to do with artistic quality.

  • Todd

    RIP impenetrable US-Russian cyber security unit. Long live the next crazy thing that pops into his head over a 9 minute egg.

    Also, correctly spelling ‘impenetrable’ immediately vaults into the top 10 of his accomplishments in almost 6 months as Commander-in- Chief.

    • He didn’t spell it correctly. Autocorrect did.

      • Todd

        still top 10. he can be managed!

      • Hogan

        But he did manage not to put gratuitous quotation marks around it.

        • N__B

          You pay for your quotation marks?

          • You pay for your quotation marks?

            The pushers let you have the left ones for free: live it up, kid. But you wanna close? Pay, baby, pay!

        • Denverite

          “good” point

    • keta

      Trump: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..”

      Mnuchin: “What we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we’re focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any Democratic elections or conduct any cybersecurity. And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we’re doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.”

      Trump: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”

      Best path to toady fawn truckle to Der Trump: impenetrable.

      • Deborah Bender

        These are actual quotes? My god.

      • stepped pyramids

        Why is Mnuchin, of all people, talking about “the cyber”? He’s the Treasury Secretary.

      • Duvall

        That’s almost as crazy as building an anti-violent extremism operation with Saudi Arabia!


  • LeeEsq

    OT but should be pointed out: A gentile in San Diego thought it would be a good idea to create a ballet version of Rome and Juliet where Romeo is a Nazi and Juliet is a Jew. She even calls it Romeo and Jewliet. This is why gatekeepers are sometimes necessary. Squashing bad ideas before implementation is sometimes a good thing.


    • Abigail Nussbaum

      There was a very interesting twitter thread in reaction to this on Saturday, making the point that a) this sort of thing happens all the time, and b) what most of the geniuses who come up with these retellings miss is the play’s very first line: “Two houses, both alike in dignity.” It’s central to the story that the Montagues and the Capulets are of equal social status. You don’t even have to make them both powerful houses – the obvious counter-example being West Side Story – but the equality between them is central to why the story works. A star-crossed romance between a member of the underclass and a representative of the oppressors is something completely different. It’s an expression of the relentless both-sideism of public discourse, and of the inability to grasp that the oppressed haven’t done anything to earn their oppression, that people keep missing out on that.

      • I was trying to make this work in my head and it’s…really hard to come up with anything that isn’t simply ridiculous and wrong.

        Even if you made them both Jewish or both relatively well off in a city on the verge of nazification etc, it still just doesn’t work. Verona isn’t facing an apocolyptic event (for any portion of it). The duke is still the ultimate and sufficient power (to prevent total chaos, not to prevent skirmishes or tragedies).

        Part of the sense of waste is that there isn’t an external reason that their love is doomed. It’s all internal stupidity and stubbornness and “small” stakes (though personally large).

        Compare with Casablanca. Their troubles don’t amount to a hill of beans given all else going on. But in R&J, the stuff their love *could* theoretically solve the conflict. At least, it’s on the same general order.

        • LeeEsq

          The Duke is exasperated at the entire conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets and is generally a reasonable figure trying to get everybody to behave for the sake of the city.

          • (D’oh, Prince, not Duke)

            Yes, but the key point of disanalogy is that the civil and governmental order are not generally threatened by the feud. Consider the prince’s handling of the first encounter:

            Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
            By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
            Have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets,
            And made Verona’s ancient citizens
            Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
            To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
            Canker’d with peace, to part your canker’d hate:
            If ever you disturb our streets again,
            Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
            For this time, all the rest depart away:
            You Capulet; shall go along with me:
            And, Montague, come you this afternoon,
            To know our further pleasure in this case,
            To old Free-town, our common judgment-place.
            Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.

            Then Romeo flees the Prince’s justice for Tybalt’s death.

            Finally, the Prince reflects that their (and his) failure to keep the peace has been punished:

            This letter doth make good the friar’s words,
            Their course of love, the tidings of her death:
            And here he writes that he did buy a poison
            Of a poor ‘pothecary, and therewithal
            Came to this vault to die, and lie with Juliet.
            Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
            See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
            That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
            And I for winking at your discords too
            Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.

            This is all completely different from a civilisation threatening situation. The Prince himself is never in any danger. The respective Houses aren’t actually threatened either. Indeed, everyone is reasonably prosperous and secure *if* they hadn’t been a bunch of revenge/honor obsessed assholes.

            Now, of course, you could recast the bare bones of the story onto a scenari of existential crises, but then you really are doing something very different.

      • LeeEsq

        My guess is that people ignore that the Montagues and Capulets are of equal social status because they don’t really think that much about what they are reading and want to add a bit of bad boy romance to the Romeo & Juliet story even though Romeo is nothing close to a bad boy in the text.

        • Murc

          Indeed, Romeo is so much of a model citizen that Lord Capulet, who is engaged in a feud with Romeo’s whole family, is all “That Romeo Montague, he’s an upstanding young man I’ve heard nothing bad about, good on him.”

    • She even calls it Romeo and Jewliet.

      Surely “Rome-o” would have to be one of Mussolini’s boys, not Hitler’s?

      • LeeEsq

        Which is more plausible because the Italian Fascists for all their other fault only started getting really anti-Semitic under direct orders from the Nazis.

    • Mooser42001

      ” Squashing bad ideas before implementation is sometimes a good thing.”

      Don’t worry. The Jewsuits are on the job.

  • Kevin
  • Ginger Yellow

    You just know Junior goes round boasting about his $6,000 suit.

    • Robbert

      Oh COME ON!

    • ThresherK

      While turning a hundred dollar bill into 100 pennies!

      (Actually, he probably learned that trick from Sr.)

    • Drew

      The best part of that joke is how the value increases every time he says it.

      I bet he does the GOB equivalent of the sexual harassment talk:

      “There will be absolutely no discussing of, or engagement in: any sucking, or fucking, or finger-fucking…”

  • Adam
    • Kevin

      I remember that one, he did a great job on it, and it’s so damn appropriate.

      To reverse the phrase, First as farce, then as tragedy.

  • ThresherK
  • MariedeGournay

    Shakespeare was pop culture. Why do you think there’s so many dick jokes?

    • Mooser42001

      That’s why they called him Willy.

      • Indeed, Willy the Spear Shaker.

      • LeeEsq

        Free Willy at that.

  • Corey McCall

    Peter Gordon’s piece on Adorno and Trump from last year is worth a read as well:


    • Interesting article. I am just a lowly anthropologist turned social worker and i could have predicted its thesis–that authoritarianism is a better predictor of Trump followership than anything. The single most important book to read, IMO, that explains this crappy world we are in is Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. After that, The Paranoid Style and a book I got from the guys here at LGM Rhetoric of Reaction. After that you can just lie down with a cold compress and maybe shoot yourself in the head.

      • Linnaeus

        I’d also recommend Daniel Rodgers’s Age of Fracture for its intellectual and cultural analysis.

        • Ok! Thanks for the rec.

  • N__B

    I was hoping for a comparison of the Trump residence and Mount Everest. I am disappointed.

  • prognostication

    Quibble that is barely on topic: My read on the Bluth family has always been that Michael is almost as bad as the rest of them, he just thinks he’s better. I think one could make (and people have made) the argument that this was apparent even in the original 3 seasons, but it’s not even subtle in Season 4.

    • N__B

      That’s part of the mapping of the Bluths onto the Corleones, no?

    • Lost Left Coaster

      That is exactly right. He keeps playing the part of the guy who is holding it all together, but he’s a self-righteous fuckup. I love when he lectures everyone about not spending their money from the company stock but then buys himself a fancy sports car because he liked the sunglasses that came with it.

    • Murc

      My read on the Bluth family has always been that Michael is almost as bad as the rest of them, he just thinks he’s better.

      I think it’s slightly more complicated: Michael was only able to be better than the rest of them when he didn’t have the opportunities for moral calumny and hypocrisy that being in a position of authority within the company offered him. Once that happened… well.

      What Michael is better at compared to the rest of his family is, for lack of a better word, adulting. Unlike most of the Bluths Michael could absolutely function in the real world if he had to, he could get a real job and pay his bills and function as a normal human being.

      But he confuses being competent at adulting with some sort of moral authority.

      • Lost Left Coaster

        “he confuses being competent at adulting with some sort of moral authority.” — that’s a good way of putting it, and I agree. Still, I question Michael’s competence at adulting — remember just how badly he fucks up all of his romantic relationships, for example.

        • Schadenboner

          I miss Marta too. :(

          • Hogan

            Hey, whatever happened with her and Hermano?

      • Drew

        Yeah Michael’s just a standard-issue rich prick, right down to the sanctimony. The rest of the adult children are useless rich dolts.

    • Drew

      Michael is kind of like McNulty in The Wire. If you watch it superficially you miss that they’re not better than everyone else, they only *think* they are. Their self-righteousness is actually their key character flaw.

      • Schadenboner

        You’re right, but I think McNulty is smarter than Michael is gooder.

        He also has a better fake British accent (a double fake, in the case of Dominic West).

  • I’m pretty sure the Bluths were based on the Bushes (GOB = Dubya, Michael = JEB, etc.), but they map uncomfortably well to the Trumps as well.

    • Mac the Knife

      GOB was Jeb, right down to the weird acronym for his name.

      • JEB is the younger, seemingly competent, but ultimately no better brother. JEB is Michael.

        • Mac the Knife

          Fair enough. I was remembering something I’d read where Mitch Hurwitz talked about the names, but that may not have carried over perfectly to the characters themselves.

        • Drew

          Let’s split the difference! I think the weird acronym is definitely derived from JEB, regardless of whether or not the rest of GOB’s character is based on the man.

  • Mooser42001

    Hail to thee, Bluth spirit!

  • America’s made a huge mistake.

  • Joe Bob the III

    When you stop and think about it, why wouldn’t Uday Trump meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya? Junior is probably used to dealing with sleazy Russians in the regular course of his day-to-day business. After all, who is buying all those Trump condos? A bunch of Russian crooks.

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