We All Live On a Lonely Island

We All Live On a Lonely Island

Five years ago, Andy Samberg made his final appearance as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. It was the end of a seven-year run in which he and his comedy partners, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, not only helped to save the show from cultural irrelevance but redefined popular culture for decades to come.

We gather today to remember their impact, their accomplishments and their dick jokes.

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Hamilton Tickets

Hamilton Tickets

We live in a time of great crisis and upheaval. The contradictions of the grotesque global atrocity known as capitalism continue to tear holes in the fragile fabric of the post-war liberal consensus that has guided the political culture of the western world for over seventy years. Each tear creates a new opening for resurgent fascists and other far-right extremists, who march openly in the streets of major cities for the first time in decades. The liberal centre offer no resistance to their rise, while conservatives, who have always been craftier and more pragmatic, prove eager collaborators.

After decades of failure by the professional political class, the dispossessed and disenfranchised of the world look elsewhere for solutions, and every attempt by the left to offer a more compelling alternative vision of the world than either the capitalists or the fascists is scuppered either by our own disunity or the constant treachery of centrist elites more afraid of a tax hike than eugenics. Meanwhile, poverty tortures and kills us, and the state tortures and kills us, and we torture and kill each other, and the greatest fear of all is not that some great and terrible calamity will happen, but that nothing will happen at all, and the only future is the violence and oppression of this present moment stretching infinitely forever and ever.

But let’s not talk about any of that today. Instead, it’s time we addressed another plague of modern civilisation, a malady that infects both our artistic and political culture, and threatens to consume everything that lays before it like a horde of rats.

I speak, of course, of the hit musical Hamilton.

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Defending The Hudsucker Proxy

Defending The Hudsucker Proxy

Joel and Ethan Coen make two types of films. Both types are comedies.

The first type sometimes gets mistaken for a drama. They’re the dark comedies that usually operate within a specific genre. Some of these are easily spotted – even Wikipedia calls Fargo a comedy – but it’s easy to get distracted by how serious they look on the surface. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a black-and-white period noir, which somehow overrides that the whole film is set in motion by someone coming up with this totally crazy idea he’s calling “dry cleaning”. The closest to a true drama that the Coens have directed is probably No Country for Old Men, but it has a huge amount of funny hair for a very serious, tense movie.

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A Town Called Fortitude

A Town Called Fortitude

How do you talk about a show influenced by Twin Peaks without burying it in the shadow of Twin Peaks? Twin Peaks is widely considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and certainly one of the most important. Now more than ever we are awash in a sea of shows – good and bad – that follow an investigation into a murder or disappearance in a small town that kicks up buried secrets and drags unspoken darkness into the light. And whether a show like that is good or bad, someone is going to compare it to Twin Peaks.

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Martin Scorsese’s Violence of Grace

Martin Scorsese’s Violence of Grace

In the stories of Flannery O’Connor, grace is violent. It overpowers. Baptisms are drownings. It is only with a gun pointed at her that a grandmother can recognise the humanity of her murderer: she would have been “a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

This violence of grace is often represented by human violence, but it isn’t the same as human violence. Grace is beyond human comprehension, and so is impossible to represent literally. Any religious text is filled with metaphors, because metaphors are the only way to communicate about the divine. Using violence to represent grace, art can express how grace strikes: dramatic, overwhelming, painful. It is painful because it is transformative. Like violence, it is destructive, but it destroys only evil.

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Written in the Stars or Some Crap Like That

Written in the Stars or Some Crap Like That

I Love You Phillip Morris is the lost film of the noughties, a masterpiece of filmmaking that no one remembers less than ten years later. Everyone who loves film has a movie they champion in the face of an indifferent world, and I have several, but none so much as I Love You Phillip Morris. Wikipedia calls it a “black comedy drama” but I Love You Phillip Morris is one of those rare multi-genres films that layers each element so perfectly the result is pure alchemy, a work of art so inexplicably magical that even an accurate label can only ever be a reductive one. I Love You Phillip Morris is a biopic, a caper, a black comedy and a tragedy, but if it’s any kind of film, it’s a romantic comedy, and not just a romantic comedy, but one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time.

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The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

American politics, for the past couple of decades up until just recently, has operated on a binary: liberal/conservative. A lot of the time, this leads to weird semantic problems – calling Bernie Sanders “very liberal” when he’s not a liberal at all, calling Donald Trump a conservative when his ideology has very little to do with conservatism  – but the way we talk about ideas informs what ideas become. If you only see things in terms of liberal and conservative, you can deeply misunderstand things happening in front of you. Worse, when you lose the words to describe them, the possibility of other distinct political philosophies can disappear.

South Park is a libertarian show. It’s always been a libertarian show. I find it hard to imagine a show more upfront with its ideology than South Park. Yet there are countless posts and articles debating whether South Park is secretly liberal or secretly conservative, as if it’s secretly anything. Even more bizarre is the common idea that South Park has no ideology at all. Interviews with titles like “Matt Stone & Trey Parker Are Not Your Political Allies (No Matter What You Believe).” Academic articles with titles like “Pseudo-Satire and Evasion of Ideological Meaning in South Park.” If an ideology does not fit within either of the boxes I have in front of me, it must not exist at all.

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