- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Come a long way

“It’s no secret that the [James] Bond franchise has a formula. There are the exotic locales, the gadgets, the super villains, the action set-pieces, and of course, there are the women. As each new entry struggles to make itself relevant in the face of Jason Bourne, it’s those … Bond girls that cause the most trouble. We can make 007 grittier, we can jack up the fistfights and car chases, but how do we deal with all those vapid sexual conquests? Diana Rigg was a delight, but you can’t bring Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore into the modern world without raising a few eyebrows.

“The solution we got in ‘Casino Royale,’ to give us a female lead every bit as clever as our hero, nearly worked. Even in the screenplay’s worst moments, Eva Green was more like a human being than a pin-up, and not since ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ has a death in the series had quite that much sting. The only problem is, ‘Casino’ had two dead women by the end credits. And as dramatically sound as Vesper’s exit may have been, the first corpse - a throwaway who exists largely so Judi Dench can purse her lips and act disapproving - shows that the new Bond isn’t that far removed from the old one as we’d like to believe.”

- Zack Handlen, writing on “James Bond: Ladykiller” on Nov. 13 at the Onion AV Club blog

Irony-proofing

“Even Madison Avenue had it all over the Duke English department. Television’s most shameless commodity, the stand-out commercial, had learned to immunize itself against the know-it-all derision of the ‘idiot box’ commentariat. Where Geritol or Pall Malls used to be hawked with literal-minded appeals to the individual to join a herd of undifferentiated consumers, by the ‘80s, televised ads were much more subtle and self-mocking. …

“Those 30-second spots that cost a fortune to run during the Super Bowl, [David Foster Wallace] understood, had evolved into pop monuments unto themselves; they still enlisted consumers in brand ‘identities,’ but the tongue-in-cheek manner in which they did it, even the most wary buyer couldn’t help but admire …

“Purveyors of everything from cosmetics to automobiles to snack cakes had learned to coerce their consumers by drawing attention to the coercion. It was an industrial innovation that Marx never anticipated - the ability of the capitalist to peddle cynicism about his own authority while at the same time turning a pretty profit. The emperor declares himself to have no clothes, which spectacle ensures the continuity of his reign.”

- Michael Weiss, writing on “Sincerity with a Motive” on Nov. 20 at the Weekly Standard

Upside of downsize

“On CNN today, I heard Suze Orman answer the following question: ‘We have no money and considerable credit card debt. Should we dip into our paltry emergency fund to pay for Christmas for the kids?’ What a sad commentary on our culture. No, you should not spend money you might need for food on a Transformer. How do we live in a society where this is even a question? …

“I know that my parents expended a lot of precious money and time on my Christmas gifts. But with a few exceptions … what I remember about Christmases is not what I was given, but the non-material traditions: the food, the family, the snow angels and crackling fires. This is true of basically everyone I know. So why do we continue to think that the gifts are the most important part?

“The only good thing that I can possibly think of about this financial crisis is that it may break the rat race of constantly ratcheting consumption, which has surrounded most Americans with nice things that don’t really make them happy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying whatever you want, when you have the money to afford it. But when you start thinking that you need toys and television sets to have a happy life, we’re all in trouble.”

- Megan McArdle, writing on “What a magical time of the year,” at her blog at TheAtlantic.com on Nov. 21

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