- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

The smart set

“An editor of a conservative magazine recently said to me (I’m paraphrasing here) that watching [Barack] Obama is a somewhat strange experience because it’s so unusual to see political candidates actually think before speaking.

“Now, whether Obama does any more or less thinking than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican, is a moot point. What matters is that that’s how he is perceived. This seems to me to illuminate a key part of his appeal: his ability to project thoughtfulness and intelligence without seeming evasive, overly careful, or crudely tactical. He is the thinking person’s candidate (and exit polls suggest his appeal is very strong amongst the educated class).”

Peter Suderman, writing on “Can We?” on Tuesday at the American Scene blog

Allah akbar

“If, as Edward Said wrote, the old history books were covertly ideological, the current ones tend to be overtly ideological, as each new generation of scholars rides in to rescue supposedly worthy peoples who were wronged by earlier scholarship … But all these peoples, or all the ones in [David Levering] Lewis’s book, were conquerors. If the Christians took Spain from the Muslims, the Muslims had taken it from the Visigoths, who had appropriated it from the Romans, who had seized it from the Carthaginians, who had thrown out the Phoenicians.

“Lewis does not pretend that the Muslims were not conquerors; he simply justifies their conquest on the ground of their belief in convivencia, a pressing matter today. I can foresee a time when another matter important to us, the threat of ecological catastrophe, will prompt a historian to write a book in praise of the early Europeans whom Lewis finds so inferior to the Muslims. The Franks lived in uncleared forests, while the Muslims built fine cities, with palaces and aqueducts? All the better for the earth.”

Joan Acocella, writing on “A Better Place” in the Feb. 4 issue of the New Yorker

The music died

“No sooner did the Tim Burton-Johnny Depp film of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ go into production than it became the subject of excited talk in American theater circles. Only one movie of a Broadway musical, Rob Marshall’s Oscar-winning 2002 version of ‘Chicago,’ has performed well at the box office in recent years. …

“But no matter how well it does, it is a safe bet that few Hollywood directors will choose to follow in Burton’s footsteps. As David Parkinson explains in the newly published ‘Rough Guide to Film Musicals 1,’ the social and cultural conditions that drove the popularity of the genre up through the late 50s ceased to exist thereafter:

“Rock ‘n’ roll, pop, disco, and hip-hop refused to fit neatly into Hollywood’s conventional musical template. They also fragmented the audience and, with family trips to the cinema to see the latest musical spectacular becoming a thing of the past, the studios failed to capture a new generation of fans. As a result, the musical slipped down the film-genre hierarchy until it became a risky curio rather than a box-office staple.’ ”

— Terry Teachout, writing on “The Hollywood Musical Done Right” in the February issue of Commentary

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