Category Archives: articles

James Wolcott on Mad Men

Everybody and their mother has fallen head over heels for this show. Here’s a rare dissenting view

It’s a critic’s darling groomed for greatness despite long inert spells in each episode that leave everything opaque, as if recognizable human behavior would be vulgar coming from such immaculate mannequins. It has a seductive look, a compelling mood, a cast that could have been carved from a giant bar of Ivory soap, but zero grasp of the elastic optimism and vigor of the Kennedy years, the let-go spring of release after the constriction of the Eisenhower 50s. Even the exuberant pop music on the soundtrack is used as a counterpoint to the characters’ enclosed meanness and malaise. The more explaining and self-examination that series creator (and former executive producer of The Sopranos) Matthew Weiner does in interviews and post-episode commentaries, the muddier everything gets. Is he aware that Sterling Cooper is the most incompetent, uninspired ad agency ever to blight Madison Avenue? Meeting after meeting adjourned until the next meeting because Draper’s dimwit team can’t rub two sticks together to spark a decent idea. I don’t mind Mad Men as a mild narcotic, but the raves it’s received smack of self-congratulation, as if its fans in the press and online were fondling their own taste buds. It’s fetishistic praise, better left to the movie critics and their blurb libidos.

Writers Are Hidden Beings

Cynthia Ozick – drawing wisdom from Henry James, Vladimir Nabokov, and Rainer Maria Rilke – argues that “writers are hidden beings. You have never met one – or, if you should ever believe you are seeing a writer, or having an argument with a writer, or listening to a talk by a writer, then you can be sure it is all a mistake.”

(Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Good Idea

If I were a publisher, though, I’d hire the best critic I could find and have him or her write two reviews: a short one, to be printed the day or week the movie opens and that gives away little of the plot but tells readers whether it’s good or bad (the service aspect); and a longer, more in-depth review that discusses the entire film, to be posted online (the critical aspect). Then I’d put a message board beneath the in-depth review and sit back. Most people don’t want to hear about a movie before they’ve seen it but would love to discuss it afterward. Boy, would they ever.

—Erik Lundegaard, “Why We Need Movie Reviewers”

Zizek’s Least Favorite Job

When asked “What is the worst job you’ve done?” by the Guardian recently, Slavoj Zizek, in typical Zizek fashion, answered, “Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.”

Now, he might be right about most students being stupid and boring (though copping such an attitude displays a tremendous amount of arrogance), but, oddly enough, therein lies one of the pleasures of teaching. To paraphrase something designer Milton Glaser once said, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a student go from a condition of inertness and inattentiveness to showing an interest in learning new things.

The Reviews

According to, The Dark Knight is getting the second-best reviews of any movie so far this year. The best reviewed movie of the year? Why, WALL-E, of course.

Denby on Ledger’s Performance

Here’s David Denby on Heath Ledger’s performance in this week’s New Yorker

As you’re watching him, you can’t help wondering—in a response that admittedly lies outside film criticism—how badly he messed himself up in order to play the role this way. His performance is a heroic, unsettling final act: this young actor looked into the abyss.

Seems like there’s a pattern emerging. Have people pretty much decided that Ledger’s all-consuming commitment to his craft contributed to his death? If so, that’s really interesting.

The Dark Knight in the Early Morning

Yesterday the New York Times reported that Thursday midnight shows for The Dark Knight are selling out so quickly that some theaters have added 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM screenings to keep pace with demand. Now, why on earth would anyone go to a movie at 3:00 AM or 6:00 AM? Well, part of the reason seems to be Heath Ledger. To quote the article:

This time much of the fan interest has been driven by word of a career-topping performance by Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who died in January. His louche interpretation of the Joker has already inspired Oscar talk.

I plan to buy tickets to the midnight show today. I saw Batman Begins at midnight at the Grove in Los Angeles, and I feel it’s only proper I see the sequel at midnight as well.

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

What are the disadvantages of an elite education?

Well, according to William Deresiewicz, it “makes you incapable of talking to people who aren’t like you,” “inculcates a false sense of self-worth,” fosters a loathsome sense of entitlement, makes you afraid to take risks, and paradoxically breeds a perverse sort of anti-intellectualism. Oh yeah, it also doesn’t encourage solitude, and thus by extension, introspection.

Yep, I think that about covers it.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole essay.

(Hat tip: AMT.)

Yikes Indeed

The New York Observer reports that “A growing number of style-conscious men are becoming more comfortable with the idea of showing some leg during the hot summer months.” God help us.

(Via A Continuous Lean.)

What’s Wrong (and Right) About Christopher Hitchens

George Packer neatly explains what’s wrong with Christopher Hitchens as a writer, and what’s right:

He gets out of the way just when one would want him to interrogate himself. Here is exactly the limit to Hitchens the essayist. But he goes so far and so well before running up against it that I always want to read him.

(Via Andrew Sullivan.)