Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Dark Shadows’ Category

We Are Unblessed

Ikeep hearing and reading two phrases in regard to the twin conflagrations consuming ever more real estate on the home pages of the New York Times and Washington Post: “It will get ugly” and “We are fucked.”

The first fire is the coordinate effects of Bob Woodward’s new book and the anonymous Times op-ed by a senior White House official; the second, the Senate’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Though we longed for the implosion of Donald Trump, we didn’t want the implosion of our republic to go with it. “It will get ugly” owing to the unhinged chief executive but more so to the void of democracy known as Republicans—this lockstep conglomerate of testosterone who will devastate the country with their minority rule until either January 2, 2019, or forever.

“We are fucked” because for the past 40 years, right-wing dollars have greased a conservative legal movement to wrest control of the nation’s courts. This calculated takeover of the people’s government relied on Republicans’ sinister gerrymandering to control both the House and state governments and their unearned advantage in the U.S. Senate (all those population-challenged Red States getting the same two votes as the 39.5 million residents of California). Republicans have used these exploitations to win the Electoral College and shape the Supreme Court. Read more

Speaking in Tongues

I often wonder if someone is tracking the number of times Donald Trump has uttered or tweeted the words “disgrace” and “disgraceful” since assuming the presidency.

The stuff that gushes from his mouth and/or Twitter feed has been pretty well categorized.

There’s the third-grade-vocabulary propaganda hammered home with endless repetition and occasional enhancements—as when “witch hunt” was upgraded to “rigged witch hunt,” slathering on a generous lapse of logic.

Then there’s the outright gutter talk and the “people are saying” innuendo that gets filed under “dog whistle.” (Calling Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” is a twofer in this regard.)

Read more

About That Bat-Signal

Where Is Barack Obama?” New York Magazine wants us to know that we should want to know.

Apparently people are unhappy that the 44th president seems to have ghosted himself from public life right when we’re entering months of nail-biting over the midterm elections.

One thing the cover article showed me is that the baseline cliché of every superhero franchise has thoroughly colonized the American psyche. Commissioner Gordon is flashing the bat-signal to no avail. And he’s doing so just as DC restaurants (and their patrons) are confronting/harassing/shunning members of the Trump White House.

How quickly we forget Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high.” That got a lot of applause, but then Trump got a lot of electoral votes.

Read more

Déjà vu

I was recently trying to condense the cache of papers I’ve saved through the years and came across an entire issue of Harper’s Magazine from November 1990.

I remembered why I saved that issue. I was young and visiting Paris on my own, during La Crise du golfe. I had brought books to read, and I bought the International Herald Tribune daily for news about the situation in the Gulf. But Harper’s was lighter to carry around, and besides that, it had become a sense of home—a manifestation of the America I wanted to believe was true, especially then. I had the magazine with me when I ate alone in restaurants and cafés.

I think the reason I kept that issue was less its value as travel memento than the impact of an essay by Lewis Lapham, the publisher at the time. Lapham could be an annoyance in his vitriolic monthly columns. Yes, yes, you’d say. But what are we going to do about it? I’d start a column but often had to stop when his too-clever-by-half putdowns got in the way of his message.

Read more

Ghost Stories

After a series of FBI raids in the summer of 2010, federal prosecutors accused eleven people of being part of a Russian spy ring, living under false names and deep cover in Manhattan and Yonkers; Montclair, New Jersey; Arlington, Virginia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a slow-cooking scheme to penetrate America’s elite “policy-making circles.”

The event ricocheted around popular culture for quite a while, inspiring the FX series The Americans and catapulting to stardom the Sex and the City spy, Anna Chapman, back in the motherland.

The New York Times story breaking the news made an impression on me because of what a teenage neighbor had to say about two of the accused, a husband and wife in suburban Montclair: “They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.” Read more

Fantods Nation

Maira Kalman has created some great New Yorker covers over the years. One of my favorites appeared on February 5, 2001: “Annual February Misery Day Parade.” I guess the evergreen joke is Oh, those gloomy New Yorkers. But this was also sixteen days after the installation of George W. Bush, who managed to win the popular vote on the Supreme Court. I’m assuming the misery had something to do with that.

Of course, the sad irony is that 9/11 was still seven months and six days away. Misery Day 2002 would only be worse.

I think about that cover every February, when the Northeast winters really drag. The light comes back gradually day by day but steals itself away a little too heartlessly. Because of this, it began to make sense that America should observe some version of Kalman’s Misery Day—as a collective, secular rite, similar to the atonement of Yom Kippur. Read more

The United States of Belleville

Back in December 2016, the gilt lobby of Trump Tower became the visual center of American power. Cameras followed the comings and goings of mostly middle-aged and older men amid a large plainclothes security detail.

These images stuck with me for a reason: the men in Donald Trump’s orbit—longtime cronies, legal counsel, crony-legal counsel hybrids, and of course the Secret Service and ancillary bodyguards—wore overcoats. And not just any overcoats but overcoats with the look of the early nineties—long, wide shoulders, ill-fitting by design. Klatches of these coats seemed to linger in every alcove, and even civilian journalists in their North Face jackets couldn’t dilute the mood.

The impending presidency was ominous, but the lobby overcoat tableau seemed even more so. It took me a while to figure out why, but it eventually hit me: the scene suggested the decadent metropolis in The Triplets of Belleville, the 2003 animated comedy written and directed by Sylvain Chomet. Read more

1992

As the stock market made like the Coney Island Cyclone early this week, Reuters photographer Brendan McDermid documented frazzled traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. One of his photos—this man, whom I’ll call Trader Joe—caught my eye because of his NYSE badge number: 1992.

It’s never a good idea to read too much into coincidence. But ever since I read this Vanity Fair piece by Kurt Andersen, I’ve been cognizant of 1992 as a cultural flashpoint. Andersen’s essay is the kind people love to make a piñata of because his proffered evidence can seem overly anecdotal and subjective. But the associations he points out made sense to me.

Anderson argues that even though technology, culture, and commerce had changed drastically in the two decades between 1992 and 2012, the appearance of Americans and their stuff wasn’t all that different. If you look at the change in dress style over other twenty-year blocks, the visuals are jolting: 1932 to 1952, 1952 to 1972, 1972 to 1992. But between 1992 and 2012, the guy in jeans and sneakers looks pretty much the same. In fact, six years year later, the girl in jeans and sneakers—say, in a Madewell ad—looks even more like her 1992 counterpart. Read more