- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

For the distracted

“Is having all those options really such a good idea?

“Think of it this way: Suppose you bring one book along with you on a trip. Suppose you start it, and it’s not really doing much for you — you’re having trouble getting into the mood of it, the swing of it. If you have it on a Kindle, you’re almost certain to give up and turn to one of the dozens of other books you have available.

“But if it’s the only book you’ve got, you’re more likely to stick with it. And if it’s a good book — if it’s a book that holds real pleasure or instruction for the persistent and non-distracted reader — then later on you’ll be glad that you read it. You’ll be glad that you didn’t have something else to read on that trip. You’ll be glad that you had a book instead of a Kindle.”

Alan Jacobs, writing on “A Dialogue,” at the New Atlantis blog Text Patterns

For the bohemians

“[Author Paul Fussell‘s] Xs were essentially bohemians, the young people who flocked to cities in search of ‘art,’ ‘writing’ and ‘creative work,’ ideally without a supervisor. Xs disregarded authority; they dressed down on every occasion; they drank no-name liquor (‘Beefeater Gin and Cutty Sark Scotch betray the credulous victim of advertising, and hence the middle class’); they wore moccasins and down vests (in 1983, Fussell considered L.L.Bean and Lands’ End natural X clothiers); they carelessly threw out, unread, their college alumni magazines. … Sadly, though, rebellion is not the outlier stance it once was. …

“It’s not just that Romantic Selfhood — Walter Pater’s notion of burning with a ‘hard, gemlike flame,’ which is the true emotional underpinning of bohemia — has become commodified. Fairly harmless is the $4 venti soy latte purchased amid Starbucks’ track lighting, Nina Simone crooning, and a story about Costa Rican beans that have sailed around the world just to see YOU!

“It’s that Selfhood has its own berth now in the psychiatrist Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs,’ a generational shift presaged by American sociologists who, as early as the 1970s, posited that, while hungry people are concerned about survival, those who grow up in abundance will hunger for self-expression. In the relatively affluent post-Cold War era, the search for self-expression has evolved into a desire to not have that self-expression challenged, which in turn necessitates living among people who think and feel just as you do. It’s why so many bohemians flee gritty Los Angeles for verdant Portland, where left-leaning citizens pride themselves on their uniform, monotonously progressive culture — the Zipcars, the organic gardens, the funky graphic-novel stores and the thriving alternative-music scene. (In the meantime, I’ve also noticed that Portland is much whiter than Los Angeles, disconcertingly white.)”

Sandra Tsing Loh, writing on “Class Dismissed,” in the March issue of the Atlantic

For the fanboys

“‘Watchmen,’ like ‘V for Vendetta,’ harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering 19-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear — deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation — is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.

“The problem is that [director Zack] Snyder, following [writer Alan] Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon. The result is perfectly calibrated for its target group: Nobody over 25 could take any joy from the savagery that is fleshed out on screen, just as nobody under 18 should be allowed to witness it.

“You want to see Rorschach swing a meat cleaver repeatedly into the skull of a pedophile, and two dogs wrestle over the leg bone of his young victim? Go ahead. You want to see the attempted rape of a superwoman, her bright latex costume cast aside and her head banged against the baize of a pool table? The assault is there in Moore’s book, one panel of which homes in on the blood that leaps from her punched mouth, but the pool table is Snyder’s own embroidery.”

Anthony Lane, writing on “Dark Visions,” in the March 9 issue of the New Yorker

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