The New Yorker: July 8 & 15, 2013

10 Jul

Double issue this week. Kind of a weak excuse for a double issue if you ask me. Only 96 pages–they’re usually a lot longer than that. Hopefully my complaint will be noted.

Apparently this particular cover has generated a lot of heat. Controversy even. I’m not too interested in said controversy. I don’t like the cover, mostly because I think it’s stupid, not for what it says about the politics of gay marriage or Sesame Street. “OMG Bert and Ernie are totally gay!” said the boring liberal arts major who thinks he’s edgy and on the pulse of pop culture but who has nothing actually interesting to talk about.

That said, if you’re interested in the controversy, there was a good discussion about it on last week’s Culture Gabfest podcast, which I recommend in this specific instance and also recommend generally. I think June Thomas is mostly right on this issue.

Sounds like there’s an interesting exhibition of Edward Hopper drawings at the Whitney. I’m very interested in this kind of thing–most of the drawings are apparently studies for paintings. I’m pretty poorly informed when it comes to the process of art and artists, and is exactly the kind of thing museums should be trying to teach me about.

Interesting blurb about some new recordings of Arnold Schoenberg’s work. I’m not smart enough to enjoy Schoenberg, but I understand him a little bit due to an excellent college professor and a class I took on a whim. The class was called “Faust” and it was about Faust. we read several versions of the myth, including Thomas Mann’s. Mann was a friend of Schoenberg and based his main character in Doctor Faustus on him. So this genius professor spent a lecture trying to explain atonality and twelve-note composition. That was a great class. I wish I had taken more like it.

A good Comment this week by Jeffrey Toobin. His writing on the Supreme Court is always interesting and informative. I should read his book about it. James Surowiecki on Brazilian protests was interesting also, especially contrasted to the long piece about Guinea later in this issue. That is, this article was about how Brazil’s improving economy has led its growing middle class to expect more from the government. I get the impression that Guineans expect pretty much nothing from theirs.

I was very impressed by Jill Lepore’s Personal History. These are frequently kind of boring and self-indulgent. The structure she used was creative. Plus there was some informative meat there, which was worked in well and kept the piece flowing. It also kept the thing from being oppressively about someone dying, like these sometimes are. Thumbs up.

A really well-reported piece about iron ore mining and corruption in Guinea. This guy Steinmetz seems like a first-class dick. His tactics remind me a lot of American right-wing politics. Claim you’re the victim, insult people who disagree with you, issue blanket denials about anything unsavory about you, do anything you can to manipulate the media and create your own stories, etc. Patrick Radden Keefe also did a good job illustrating the general business environment of developing countries (bribes, kleptocracy, etc.) and laid out a pretty complicated story in an easy-to-read way. Good for him.

Also, the guy’s name is Steinmetz. Every time his name showed up I thought “Quit cogitating!”

I was less impressed by Nicholson Baker on LCD manufacturing in South Korea. There was some good stuff about the technology and business relationships, but a lot of the piece drifted into a childish travelogue. He’s raving about the food at the airport and how clean the trains are and shit. Like, “Things are so different here! And look at these plucky little South Koreans! They’re doing so great!” It distracted from the article’s focus and was kind of patronizing and pointless. A really weird overall tone.

The sketchbook drawing by Barry Blitt would have made a much better cover than the Bert/Ernie nonsense.

I always feel kind of insecure when there’s a story by a famous writer I’m not that familiar with. And there are a lot of famous writers in TNY. Tobias Wolff this week. Would I have a better understanding of this story if I had read This Boy’s Life? Probably not. But I always wonder. This was a pretty short piece, and was a lot more focused than some TNY stories. I thought it did a good job of making it’s point. Maybe the length helped it here–not any room to meander or let the examples of the wife’s behavior drag. B plus/A minus.

Louis Menand is one of my favorite contributors. His Critic at Large about voting rights was the highlight of the week. This kind of argumentative writing is hard to pull off. He did a good job of summarizing a lot of the civil rights movement with an eye toward what’s happening today, specifically after the recent Supreme Court ruling.

I’ve seen the trailer for The Way, Way Back several times. I have no interest in seeing the movie. It seems to me like the latest example of the kind of lazy, boring, formulaic “independent” movie that the liberal white upper class loves for some reason. Anthony Lane, as always, knocks it down with aplomb. He’s the best.

The Waldo one on page 72 was good, although I think using color is kind of cheating.

Caption contest entry
“I’m a Lions fan too!”

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