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Week’s Highlights: “I Award You No Points”

PUBLISHED: August 11, 2009


In Tablet, VQR contributor Adam Kirsch essentially gave Rich Cohen the Billy Madison “I award you no points speech” in a review of Israel Is Real.

I didn’t think I was ready for an “Age of Obama” zeitgeisty piece, but I liked Kurt Andersen’s “Pop Culture in the Age of Obama.” Here’s a taste:

And then there’s Obama the tasteful pop-culture-consuming American, redefining presidential regular-guyness. On his iPod, Obama says, are “probably 30 Dylan songs,” “African dance music,” “Javanese flute music,” Yo-Yo Ma, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra and Sheryl Crow. Having admitted getting high as a young man, as president he met with the Grateful Dead. The first movie he watched in the White House was “Slumdog Millionaire.” He doesn’t just name-check, but convincingly declaims — he prefers Spider-Man and Batman to Superman because “they have some inner turmoil.” And — crucially — he’s even acute and impolitic enough to discriminate between quality and crud: his favorite movies are the first two “Godfather” films, but he acknowledges the inferiority of “Godfather III” and says his wife “likes ‘American Idol,’ her and the girls, in a way that I don’t entirely get.”

The latest New Yorker, a double issue, features “War Dances,” the titular story from Sherman Alexie’s forthcoming book. Funny, humane, sad, structurally interesting, and many other fine things, the story is worth reading.

NYT film critic A. O. Scott wrote an astute piece about the dumbing down of the American film industry, and he did so without seeming like a crotchety grandpa. (Writing “Get a clue, grandpa” may have helped to head off those critiques.) This topic has, of course, been discussed a lot lately—i.e. solid-to-excellent, mid-budget, well-acted dramas like “Michael Clayton” and “State of Play” are practically extinct; most new movies are remakes, reboots, or adaptations; everything is focus-grouped to mediocrity, etc.—but Scott analyzes the situation quite well, weaving throughout the theme of infantilization and calling out some unexpected targets. A representative passage:

Commercial success may represent the public’s embrace of a piece of creative work, or it may just represent the vindication of a marketing strategy. In bottom-line terms, this is a distinction without a difference. A movie that people will go and see, almost as if they had no choice, is a safer business proposition than one they may have to bother thinking about.


Leonard Lopate talked to Roger Allen about Yusuf Idris, focusing on Idris’ The Cheapest Night and the lack of translations available of the Egyptian writer’s work. Interesting fact from the talk: foreign literature—by which I assume Allen means literature-in-translation—makes up 46% of the French market, 2% of the British market. In good times, it’s 3% in the US, which is how Chad Post’s blog got its name. American University in Cairo Press brought out The Essential Yusuf Idris in May. (The book has a July 8, 2009, release date on Amazon, but it’s out of stock there.)


All praise the blissfully strange wonders of the Internet, for the most affecting thing I saw last week was a Ukrainian woman constructing a sand animation on “Ukraine’s Got Talent.” In the video, Kseniya Simonova, accompanied by music, including an orchestral version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” (!), tells a story of life in her country during World War II, and her work brings audience members and a judge to tears.

Binary Data

The words at the end of the video translate to “You are always near.”


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