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Heroin in the Hymnals

Heroin in the Hymnals

There is a moment deep into Netflix’s underrated Ozark (spoilers below), where the raising of a cross atop a church emits ripples of fear, as if recreational Missouri were ancient Rome. Whatever the show’s imperfections, I submit that restoring a sense of the scandal of the cross to America’s Bible belt is a considerable accomplishment. For the most part, the sex and violence in this show is more narrative tool than titillation – though I do wish there had been less of it. Even so, while most critics have fallen into lock-step complaint that Ozark is not Breaking Bad, I…

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Faith of Thrones

Faith of Thrones

There are already scores of recaps of Game of Thrones season finale readily available online (see this fine one from NPR for starters). I feel no compulsion to add to the already abundant list. But there was something that stuck out to me that is worth a little reflection. It’s something that has characterized the entirety of the series but of late, for me at least, has become more pronounced. The genre of Game of Thrones is of course fantasy, and like most fantasy stories it’s set in a premodern world. The technology, culture, and religion all seem pre-modern through…

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Everybody Touch Somebody: Glory & Grace in Last Chance U

Everybody Touch Somebody: Glory & Grace in Last Chance U

The very first shot of the second season of Netflix’s documentary series Last Chance U shows a hot Mississippi sun peeking out through trees. The second shot is of a small church near the rural town of Scooba. The third shot is also of a church, while the audio of a preacher addressing his congregation plays as a voice-over. “As the coach watched himself on that screen, he didn’t like what he saw” expounds the voice-over, referencing the show’s first season. “Can you imagine if a documentary was made about your life? And they followed you, the good the bad,…

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Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death

Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

Freud, Kierkegaard, and the drug lord Heisenberg…A free peek into the Love & Death Issue, which people continue to tell us is their favorite issue thus far. Here is Ethan’s piece on the classic, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. If you subscribe to the magazine, and add the code JESSEPINKMAN in the notes section of your order, we’ll send a free copy to a friend of your choosing.

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone…

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When God Leaves It Unresolved

When God Leaves It Unresolved

As it goes when its 90-plus outside and no body of water is cold enough to cool you off, much of my time the past few weeks has been spent on the couch, in the air conditioning, streaming television. Lately, Hannah and I were recommended the crooked-cop show, Line of Duty, and in the past couple weeks we have sped through three seasons. It’s a terrific show, the best kind of cop show, where the dialogue is smart and the plot twists are both conceivable and completely unforeseeable. As expected, we start with one episode in mind and, bleary-eyed and…

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The Exhaustive Fullness of the Law, Brought to You by GMC

For those of you also watching the Tour de France this year, this commercial was the aspirational regular. To the “employee of the month” out there, who also happens to be “parent of the year,” and a standard-bearer, whatever that means…

 

What Is It About Fargo?

What Is It About Fargo?

This past week, the third season wrapped up in FX’s Fargo. Just like the first two seasons, I remain blown away that show creator Noah Hawley and company have continued to create new narrative worlds that fit so perfectly into the landscape of the Coen brothers’ original film. What I’m writing here below is not just for those who have seen this season—the final episode of this season just got me thinking about what it is exactly that makes the show’s (and the original film’s) storytelling so compelling, beyond the impressive cinematography and soundtrack and Minnesotan accents and Peter and…

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Old Ways and New Ways in Master of None Season 2

Old Ways and New Ways in Master of None Season 2

Bust out the Italo and pull out your pasta makers! Aziz Ansari’s Netflix project Master of None is back for season two, exploring the difficulties of love and relationships in 2017. The show continues with storytelling inspired by Aziz’s Modern Romance research project, a book we loved so much that we invited co-author Eric Klinenberg to #MbirdNYC16. Sadly, book deals prevented us from sharing the recording, so just trust me when I report that it was one of the best (funniest? most poignant?) talks at an Mbird gathering from someone “outside” the fold.

Season one, united by the theme of “fear…

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Party of Five and the God of Party Poopers

Party of Five and the God of Party Poopers

When life gets tough, I like to watch other people’s lives get tougher. In Germany or Avenue Q, this is called shadenfreude; in America, this is called haphazardly engaging in political discourse on social media, or watching just about any popular TV drama. Forgoing the Covfefe hoo-ha, I recently committed instead to a teen soap opera — a precious genre rife with death and tragedy and youth pregnancy scares.

Several episodes deep into a show like Party of Five (1994-2000) and my day-to-day seems pretty alright. The walls begin to lean blessedly outward instead of in. I can breathe, and I…

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The Handmaid's Tale: When My Zumba-Loving Heart Hit the Dance Floor

The Handmaid’s Tale: When My Zumba-Loving Heart Hit the Dance Floor

In Houston, Texas, Zumba is what God hath intendeth it to be. You will never hear a song in English because it is almost exclusively Latin music. Praise Jesus. Also, you will not hear many words spoken in English either. All of my teachers have been native Spanish speakers. Which is perfect, because many of the classes participants are too. So, Spanglish it is. God bless Texas. And Houston. #sanctuarycity4lyfe

Some years ago, I attended my first Zumba class when we lived in Westchester County, New York. To say the least, I was not impressed. The music was mostly from the…

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Cringe-Watching Catastrophe

Cringe-Watching Catastrophe

For the last few weeks at bedtime, my youngest son has requested that I read him a story out of a book called “Farmyard Tales.” These are innocuous little stories of Apple Tree Farm, and the family who lives there. They are sweet and lovely, and also criminally boring. They are perfect bedtime stories for a tired little kid, though, and I send him off to dreamland with pleasant little stories about goats and pigs and their little farmyard antics galloping through his head.

By contrast, my husband and I then go downstairs to our living room to fold piles of…

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Fluorescent Lighting and Vampire Haberdashery: Some Thoughts on Scapegoating and Parables

Fluorescent Lighting and Vampire Haberdashery: Some Thoughts on Scapegoating and Parables

For me, writing about grace is like undressing in a cold changing room, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and flickering fluorescent lighting: self-flattery is an impossibility. Don’t worry, there is more nudity on the way.

When you can no longer unsee your own low anthropology, writing about internal work feels exposing. Feelings aren’t always reality, though, and the “me too” connection that writing can bring makes it worth the, uh, exposure.

Speaking of “me too” moments — meaning I have already done this — you know those times after you stub your toe and, instead of saying “ouch,” you yell at your dog, who did nothing wrong? Sometimes,…

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