Hitting the Mark

Two lead characters in the Eurovision movie after they complete their duet performance

I watched the new Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell movie on Netflix this weekend, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. And then I saw some comments on social media and even online reviews about how unfunny it was. They struck me as entirely missing the point, since I didn’t view it as a comedy.  Instead, it struck me as a light-hearted but loving embrace of the 64 year old cultural phenomenon that Eurovision has become. And so, without an understanding of that history, of what the song contest was established to help accomplish, and how it has or has not actually accomplish those goals, sure, the uninitiated viewer may feel a little lost, much like someone utterly unfamiliar with NASCAR (yes, they do exist out there) trying to make sense of why Ferrell’s 2006 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby struck others as so hilarious. Continue reading “Hitting the Mark”

Caveat Auditor

US protesting the murder of George Floyd

There are times — often unexpected and sometimes rare — when a situation arises that makes profoundly evident how groups represent the world to their members in a manner that supports their interests.

Such a moment made the rounds on social media this weekend, when then US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke at an April 11, 2003, press conference on what was, at the time, the early stages of the long war in Iraq. Continue reading “Caveat Auditor”

“It’s Just Like the Flu”

Oct 4, 1918, news story on the flu from the Dayton Daily News

Ever since the COVID-19 virus hit the news there’s been debates over what to call it. (COVID-19 just means Coronavirus Disease 2019, by the way.) We don’t have to go so far as to cite the current US administration’s habit of sometimes naming it as “the Chinese virus” (see this commentary or maybe this post on our site) but can simply focus on what’s at stake in calling it “the flu.”

For, depending on what one means by this, the designation “flu” can convey dramatically different implications — making all too apparent something investigated regularly on this blog: classification matters. Continue reading ““It’s Just Like the Flu””

Guys Like Us

Still from the opening of the TV show All in the Family

If you’re of a certain generation then you likely recall the theme song to “All in the Family,” a once-popular TV show that aired in the US for 9 seasons, all throughout the 1970s. Sung before a live audience by Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, the stars of the show, it spoke of a nostalgia for the good old days — a past constantly in tension with the present of the series.

In early 2019 the show was recreated for a special live broadcast, this time with Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei in the lead roles of Archie and Edith — the latter the eternally optimistic and long-suffering wife of the grumpy (and yes, openly racist and sexist) former. That Archie and his now outdated views were often the butt of each episode’s joke, as they say, was what made the series so popular for many, for it was broadcast at a time when race, gender, class and even generation relationships in the US were very under the microscope. Continue reading “Guys Like Us”

Mute Books that Speak Volumes

Reproduction of French Revolution-era Books with Plain Covers

You all know that old saying, the one about not judging a book by its cover, right? Well, I happened across some online French Revolution-era reproductions of books, with plain covers, that struck me as rather interesting.

The description of this product runs as follows:

Grand Tomes (Set of 3)

During the French Revolution, reading was forbidden in order to prevent the spread of rebellious stories about the monarchy. During that time, printers produced couverture muette or “mute books” – books with blank covers – to avoid detection. Paying homage to those historic 18th-century tomes, these exquisite books are entirely crafted by hand, from the torn paper and simple cover boards to the naturally stained linen bindings and timeworn labels. The only difference? The pages within are blank.

What’s so interesting to me about these “muted books” is the strategic reversal: an historical artifact that once protected dangerous content by means of an unsignified cover now, instead, has utterly blank content and a plain cover that speaks loudly of antiquity, culture, and learning — at least to those who place them around their living rooms or dens.

But despite the curious reversal, all anyone does with these books is hope that people judge them by their covers: whether disguising once dangerous ideas or putting one over on our guests.

“No Vote Was Changed”

Evidence from the Russia Investigation regarding the 2016 election

Have you caught the particular angle virtually all mainstream news media, let alone US politicians, are taking regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election?

Most recently, give a listen to this NPR radio story from this morning, in particular the 3:34 point onward, citing the Senate Intelligence Committee report that was just released (from which the above image comes [see p. 38 of the report]). Continue reading ““No Vote Was Changed””

“Let Me Root Root Root for the Home Team…”

Basketball player shooting while a fan of the opposing team tries to distract him with a huge picture of Britney Spears

Watching Wimbledon this morning I got a little curious about why a hushed silence is expected (and actually enforced by officials) in some professional sports but not in others. Sure, there’s cheering between the volleys in tennis but, come that moment when the ball is bounced and a serve is about to happen, a hushed silence falls over the crowd.

Ever watch a snooker tournament? A chess match? Maybe golf?

Silence. Continue reading ““Let Me Root Root Root for the Home Team…””

Fame, What’s Your Name…?

Gad Elmaleh holding a mobile phone that says GAD
I’ve been watching “Huge in France” on Netflix, a show based on the premise that a famous French comedian comes to the US to rekindle (or, better put, kindle) a relationship with his teenage son (an aspiring sunglasses model living in LA), the result of a fling some years earlier with a young American tourist.  It stars Gad Elmaleh, who plays himself and, yes, who is actually a very famous French comedian. But, of course, none of the Americans in the show have ever heard of him — much as many viewers here might have never heard of the actor (he’s also big in Quebec, they say). Continue reading “Fame, What’s Your Name…?”