America

Idols of Nostalgia and the Downfall of Doc Huxtable

Idols of Nostalgia and the Downfall of Doc Huxtable

It’s hard to cross the Internet these days without reading an update on Bill Cosby’s falling star. As of this writing, a planned NBC comeback sitcom has been cancelled, and other new initiatives (like an ill-conceived social media meme push) have been met with anger and sarcasm. Perhaps most salient: TV Land has quietly stopped airing reruns of The Cosby Show, the sitcom that rocketed Bill Cosby to the national spotlight in the 80s. I missed the golden years of Dr. Huxtable and clan on The Cosby Show, so I’ve been discovering in tandem the tremendous legacy of hope that was Cosby’s acting work…

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Existential Modesty and the Death of Brittany Maynard

Existential Modesty and the Death of Brittany Maynard

A striking editorial by Lisa Miller appeared in New York Magazine last week about the recent death of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old who had elected (and advocated for the right) to commit suicide after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Miller is less interested in the ethics of Maynard’s decision and more interested in the unprecedented outpouring of adulation it has garnered. Miller tells us, “in the days since she died, [Maynard] has quickly become something more, especially in the ethereal space of social media, where she has risen to the status of a martyr-saint.” Strong words, and Miller…

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Reflections on a Notched Gun from Selma

Reflections on a Notched Gun from Selma

Over the summer, my father gave me an old, Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 revolver. His father, who received it as a gift from his best friend, gave it to him. Family lore has it that my grandfather’s friend took it from someone else in an apparent altercation. What makes this interesting is the revolver itself and the historical context in which it existed. On the wooden handle, there are five notches… four parallel notches with a fifth crossing them out. Now, that could mean anything… squirrels, rats… but the heyday of this revolver came in the mid-20th Century…

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The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

We haven’t done a straight social science post in a while, so here goes. The Pacific Standard published a goldmine of fallibility and low anthropology last week in David Dunning’s not-so-subtly titled “We Are All Confident Idiots,” ht TB. Dunning, a professor at Cornell, takes as his jumping off point the brilliant “Lie Witness News” segments that Jimmy Kimmel does on his late-night show, where street respondents fake knowledge about a fictitious subject rather than admit they don’t know, or aren’t aware of something. It’s hilarious… until you realize that you do the exact same thing, all the time. Just yesterday…

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On TV: The Boardwalk Empire Series Finale and the Warning Label on the Side Panel of the American Dream

On TV: The Boardwalk Empire Series Finale and the Warning Label on the Side Panel of the American Dream

The fifth and final season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire concluded last week. It ends having not quite the widespread appeal of The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, but the reviews were strong, due largely to how well the show balanced a fictionalized morality tale with an historical account of the emergence of the American gangster during the Prohibition era. BE centers around the rise of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) to prominence as the preeminent bootlegger in Atlanta City in the early 1920’s. The Nucky Thompson character is based on real life gangster Nucky Johnson who was an associate of Al…

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Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole

Another Week Ends: Misplaced Fear, Further Reflections on an Epidemic, Recovery and the Ego’s Death, Dave Eggers, Marilynne Robinson, and Clickhole

1. It’s a little too easy, but Barry Ritholtz over at Bloomberg helpfully reminds us that Ebola is no threat to the personal health of 99.99% of Americans, which goes into a broader point:

We fear the awesome predatory perfection of the great white shark, and have made the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” “the longest-running cable television programming event in history.” This seems somewhat disproportionate, given that 10 people a year die from shark attacks — out of more than 7 billion people. If you want to fear a living creature, than logic suggests it’s the mosquito — they kill more human…

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Salvation by Sweat Alone

Salvation by Sweat Alone

An uncannily resonant follow-up to Evan’s recent post about the Church of CrossFit appeared in the NY Times Magazine this past weekend, courtesy of Mbird fave Heather Havrilesky. “Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?” she asks, and her answers are nearly identical to our own, i.e. we are all deeply religious, and a religion of law plays to our controlling inclinations. The line about the similarities with the faith of our pilgrim forebears is particularly telling; the roots of asceticism, regardless of the form it takes, can often be traced to the same place. As always, say what…

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Ebola, “Friends” and the Reasons We Give

Ebola, “Friends” and the Reasons We Give

Tim Keller has said that a Christian is someone who knows that they need to repent not only for the wrong things they do, but for the reasons they do the right things. That is to say, whatever we do, no matter how seemingly altruistic, almost always has some sort of selfish motivation mixed in – as Joey points out to Phoebe in “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS” (or so my wife tells me). Who would’ve thought that Joey Tribbiani would subscribe to what Calvin (following Sts. Augustine and Paul) called “total depravity”?

Further illustrating this point was a recent…

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House of Yoga, Church of CrossFit: Filling the Spiritual Void With Exercise

House of Yoga, Church of CrossFit: Filling the Spiritual Void With Exercise

Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn’t about words. […] There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.

-Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

In an effort to fill the void, many Americans are beginning their search not in the pew but in the gym. Intense forms of exercise, from CrossFit to Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, have grown tremendously in popularity. Some gyms attempt to directly adapt “combat sports” to a more fitness-friendly environment: “cardio kick boxing” for the stay at home dad, mitt work and sparring for the…

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Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

Another Week Ends: American Immortals, Henry James, U2charists, Authentic Nerdists, AWK Prays, and Reclusive Deities

1. Part and parcel of the juvenilization we touched on earlier this week is the phenomenon UPenn bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel (best name ever?!) describes as “the American immortal”, that not-so-peculiar species that devotes so much of its time/energy to prolonging life that it kills them (often before they die). Surprise surprise–underneath the aversion to growing up may lurk a denial of human limitation which is ultimately a denial of death. In the latest bit of watercooler bait from The Atlantic, “Why I Hope To Die at 75″, Emanuel challenges the notion of “compression of morbidity”, the widespread presumption that the…

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Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone?

There I was, reclining in the waiting room while my son met with his speech therapist, as I do every week. Computer on my lap—heaven forbid I sit there unoccupied—I was reading A.O. Scott’s new treatise for The Times on “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture.” I like Scott’s writing, so I ignored the instinct to roll my eyes at the prospect of yet another think-piece about stunted millennials; I had time to kill, after all. It opens with some bold claims:

Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the…

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Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

Another Week Ends: Commodified Experience, Counterproductive Shaming, Fake Asia Trips, Net Addiction, and Star Wars Minus Williams

1. The New Yorker weighs in on “bucket lists“, ht DH:

Whence the appeal of the bucket list? To stop and think about the things one hopes to do, the person one hopes to be, is a useful and worthwhile exercise; to do so with a consciousness of one’s own unpredictable mortality can be a sobering reckoning, as theologians and philosophers recognized long before Workman Publishing got in on the act…

As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a…

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