Contemplating the state of the modern superhero movie is probably one of the activities destined for me in hell, which might explain why I ended up doing it on a 12-hour-long flight last week. At a certain threshold of sustained boredom, you don’t actually want the ennui to be broken, only punctuated.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was diverting enough—lots of “now kiss” moments between Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie, liked the paranoid suggestions of ’70s political thrillers—but not even sensory deprivation could get me through that Thor sequel from last year. The high-fantasy psychedelia developed by Jack Kirby and Walt Simonsonhad been bronzed into bland realism, Game of Thrones with more advanced metalworking, much of it seeming to take place in some soupy netherworld. Captain America can make something of that militaristic aesthetic, even if its title character leaps around wearing an American flag, but running another dozen Marvel movies through the same colour filters reveals the Lego-like structure of their master narrative. Is this all it takes to delight nerds now? An auteur brand?
I read Young Adult literature, in theory, for work. I sell books and write about them in equal measure, and stories about teen girls have become my beat. Knowing what’s big and popular in the field is how I pay my rent. This is the line I give when I sheepishly try to explain my bookshelf to anybody visiting my apartment.
I read Young Adult literature, in practice, for myself. One may not be able to survive on YA fiction alone, and yet these are the books I frequently reach for at the end of the day. They are books generally crafted to appeal to burgeoning readers: all killer, no filler, and yet, when done right, never at the sacrifice of good storytelling. It’s a genre that lends itself well to—well, other genres.
In the events of the last few days, it’s important to insist on the primacy of one fact: the events in Ferguson, Missouri, all flow from the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and the local police department’s refusal to treat this traumatic event with even the basics of decency and respect owed the community they’re responsible for protecting and serving, without fear or favour.
It’s that trauma that put people in the streets, marching into the teeth of what can only be called a police riot, with protesters abused and (less importantly, but more visibly) reporters arrested for the crime of asking which door of a McDonald’s to exit from.
Let’s say you’re an utterly humourless individual with a zeal for self-improvement. Not to worry! A quick Google search for “how to have a sense of humour” leads you to a wikiHow page that helpfully lays out how to do exactly that in just six steps. When is a good time to laugh? As someone new to laughter, will I find some things funnier than other things? Should I “take in a funny movie or YouTube clip on occasion”? All questions are answered. “Having a sense of humor is one of the greatest assets a person can have,” the guide asserts. “If you don’t have a sense of humor, you have a lot to learn!”
Written like an instruction manual for being a functional human, the guide is as bizarre and useless as it sounds, with suggestions like “making bad puns such as those in Airplane (‘I’m not kidding, and don’t call me Shirley’) can be used anywhere.” What’s interesting is how quickly the how-to guide bumps into serious complications in defining what we usually assume is a basic, easily understood concept.
The best and worst advice I have ever gotten has always come from my father. In the seventh grade, I told him about a girl who was bullying me, and he calmly suggested I just punch her in the face, which I did, and was promptly suspended. On one hand, it worked, but on the other, I was suspended. But the point is: it worked.
Hillary Clinton has done us the service of providing a look at how she, like all senior politicians seeking the White House when the incumbent is a member of her own party, will distinguish herself from a President she supports: by pretending she was never defeated in the 2008 Democratic Party primaries in the first place.
To back up a little: On Sunday, The Atlantic published an interview with Clinton by Jeffrey Goldberg, in which the former Secretary of State suggested Obama should have armed the opposition to the Syrian Assad regime. In the same interview, Clinton added a not-too-veiled criticism of what may as well be the Obama Doctrine: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
It is kind of depressing that this discussion still needs to happen in 2014.
At a certain point in your schooling, your English teacher probably told you something about context clues, the words and phrases you can use to help suss out the meaning of a word you don’t recognize—basically the codified version of the desperate flailing for meaning we all engage in with language. At a certain point last week, we learned that a surprising number of people don’t register the phrase “dogboner” as something that might denote sarcasm, or, at least, a person who might sometimes be less than sincere.
In fairness to the thousands who snorted derisively at Michael Hale’s sarcastically captioned picture of Neil deGrasse Tyson after it was posted to the I Fucking Love Science Facebook group, theirs was less a failure of appreciating the context than not looking for it at all. Seeing one of the most recognizable scientists on the planet being mocked as a “dumbass nerd” for using his laptop on the subway short-circuited some critical faculty in their brains: that it was done by a guy named dogboner was no more relevant to the reaction than, say, wondering why someone would even consider a stranger using a laptop in public worthy of any note whatsoever. That they are roundly the type of people who wear their supposed capacity for critical thought as if it were an Olympic medal is one of those deeply satisfying ironies that makes you want humanity to live forever in its hilarious ridiculousness. Say what you will about people who take pride in their own ignorance, they are way harder to humiliate so thoroughly.
If the last week’s headlines are any indication, the battle over—or rather, against—three-litre milk bottles may be one of those fights that’s not worth winning for the dairy farmers of this fair land of ours (Ontario, in this case.) On the face of it, it’s a decent shorthand for the absurdity of economic regulation in some (but nowhere near all) agricultural products: In this province, it’s legal to buy milk in four-litre bags, or two-litre cartons, but not three-litre jugs. Literally against the law—both provincial and federal. So, before allowing something so radical, we’ll have that universal symbol for foot-dragging: a pilot project.
Others have noted extensively the Canadian policies that maintain a cartel on milk and poultry in this country are relics of a different age, and currently largely serve as a tax on heavy milk consumers (say, families with young children) that goes into the pockets of dairy farmers. What’s striking is that supply management hasn’t even had the aesthetic effect we like to imagine for our agriculture: rather than supporting family farms, Canada has lost more than 90 percent of its dairy farms since 1971.
The 50th anniversary edition of Harriet the Spy, published earlier this year by Delacorte Press, comes with a blurb from novelist Jonathan Franzen. “I love the story of Harriet so much I feel as if I lived it,” he says. Franzen is an interesting choice for Louise Fitzhugh’s classic novel; true, he’s got no shortage of literary clout behind him, yet his brand of Time-approved Serious Grown Author seems at odds with a story about a precocious, rabble-rousing 11-year old girl. His name sends a clear message: sure, Harriet the Spy might be shelved in the children’s section, but it’s so much more than that.
It’s possible that six years of “Obama is a secret Kenyan moooslim” has lowered the bar for such things, but say this for the latest smear attempt on Justin Trudeau: he did actually go to the mosque in his riding he’s been accused of going to. That this is an utterly mundane task for a Member of Parliament has not, of course, stopped several employees of Quebecor from trying to turn it into a scandal. If you’re confused: no, you didn’t suffer a head injury. It’s just crackers.
As far as anyone’s concerned with the facts in a case like this, the National Post’s Jon Kay lays them out—and the truly shameful demagoguery that’s at work here. The most significant case against the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque is that, prior to 9/11, a man who would later be detained by the Americans in Guantanamo preached there for “about a month.”
A few weeks ago, my four-year-old niece told me that she preferred “boy toys” rather than “girl toys.” By this, she meant that instead of wanting Barbies and dress-up kits for gifts, she would prefer Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed action figures, or perhaps something that produced fire. (She also told me that she has liked the Transformers since “the ’70s,” but she is a little girl and little girls are idiots.)
If you’ve opened a newspaper, a news website, listened to news radio, or spared more than a passing glance at news television in the last few months, you may have gathered it’s the centennial of the outbreak of World War I. Officially, Canada was at war by August 4, 1914, with the declaration of war by the British government against Germany. (In a historical oddity, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose spat with Serbia kicked the whole thing off, wouldn’t get similar treatment for more than a week.) In reality, Europe had arguably already been tilting towards a general war for more than a month, since Germany’s “blank check” telling Austria-Hungary they’d have Berlin’s support to deal with those pesky Serbs however they chose.
The person who wrote that blank check, as much as any one person did, was the German Emperor Wilhelm II.According to The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark’s history of the years prior to the Great War, Wilhelm’s reaction to the glowing embers of the crisis was to pour gasoline on them. When he learned that Germany’s ambassador in Vienna was urging calm, Wilhelm was outraged, saying, “it was high time a clean sweep was made of the Serbs.”