Why Superheroes? What is it about the Superheroic genre that makes supermovies better than modern mainstream movies?
The answer is threefold.
First, older mainstream movies, such as GONE WITH THE WIND and WIZARD OF OZ did not follow the modernist and postmodernist tastes which have ruined so many recent movies. Those mentally empty and morally corrupt philosophies had not yet reached mainstream popular entertainment in those days.
So the first part of the answer is not that superhero movies grew better than normal, just that mainstream movies grew worse. This happened as nonconformists of the 1960’s and 70’s became the establishment in Hollywood. Their world view, which I here have called dehumanism, when consistently portrayed, lacks sympathy, drama, purpose, point and meaning; and therefore the films that win acclaim by accurately reflecting the dehuman world-view lose the ability to tell a tale in a dramatically satisfying way. Dehumanity and drama are mutually exclusive. More of one means less of another; and it is a rare genius who can reconcile the two.
The modern movies that most obviously defy these corroded modern conventions are deliberately nostalgic homages to serial cliffhangers: STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. These are among the bestselling movies of all time, and they transformed the industry and the audience expectations: summer blockbuster tentpole movies spring from nostalgic roots.
Second, there have always been superhero movies, such as CAPTAIN MARVEL serial cliffhangers. Not until recently has the special effects been able to match what pen and ink portrays. The amount of suspension of disbelief needed to feel a real thrill untainted with cynicism when watching some feat of derring-do portrayed with cheesy special effects is rather high, and only small children have that much imagination to spare. We grown-ups need more realistic special effects before we will believe a man can actually fly. So technical advances, not any change in the manners and morals of the people, allow superheroics to appear on the silver screen in a fashion that they once upon a time could not.
Third, and most importantly, superhero movies, like homages to serial cliffhangers, are fundamentally nostalgic, fundamentally childlike. One of the conventions of nostalgia is that the audience is not allowed to scoff or look cynical at the simplistic purity of the drama. If someone says STAR WARS is simply too blatantly black-and-white, with its orphaned farmboy hero in a white gi, and evil warlock-knight villain in a black cape, black skull mask, black Nazi helmet, and black lung disease wheezing, that someone just does not “get” the film. The purity of the theme is not a bug, it is a feature.
The superhero movie, along with the crowd of science fiction and fantasy movies, was welcomed into the movie theaters only after STAR WARS made such genre films respectable (which it did by tallying up a respectable profit).
Now, mere nostalgia is not the selling point. GONE WITH THE WIND or MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS or CINDERELLA MAN or SEABISCUIT are all nostalgic movies, historical period pieces taking place in periods still within living memory (at the time they were made) of the older members of the audience. No, the rise of cliffhanger serial movies and superhero movies are a particular type of nostalgia: a longing not for our childhood, but instead for the stories from serials and comics of our childhood.
And this is for the most practical and obvious reason imaginable: stories from the serials and comics of our childhood were more decent, more entertaining, and, in their simplistic way, a better reflection of the Great Tale of salvation and redemption which makes all great stories great.
Childhood tales of heroes and superheroes are not tainted with deconstructive postmodernism. Tales of heroes are about salvation, saving people in the most literal sense of the word.
John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.
January 26, 2016
January 12, 2016
Virginia Postrel an a movie that manages to portray an entrepreneur in a positive light:
In the movies, an entrepreneur is more likely to be a super-villain, or at the very least a mobster, than someone who builds a significant enterprise without getting anyone killed. Even the non-murderers are miserable jerks. Take Aaron Sorkin’s angry, status-obsessed Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network or his Steve Jobs in the abysmal recent movie by that name.
So it might be a surprise to discover a big-budget, award-friendly new film telling a tale of entrepreneurial ingenuity where the protagonist is heroic and the ending is happy. Except that in this case the entrepreneur is a woman. Her gender makes self-assertion, ambition, and even a touch of ruthlessness unconventional and therefore culturally acceptable.
The movie is Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the eponymous inventor of a self-wringing “mop of the future.” Written and directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), the film declares itself: “Inspired by the true stories of daring women. One in particular.” The one is Joy Mangano, whose Miracle Mop and other household inventions made her a multimillionaire thanks to the advent of home-shopping television.
Judging from the previews that accompanied the showing I went to in Los Angeles, distributors see Joy as a chick flick with family values. The marketing is understandable. The story is female-friendly, and both Lawrence and Mangano lend themselves to women-oriented media interviews. You start with the obvious audience and build from there.
But Joy is more than a wholesome paean to girl power. It’s a portrait of entrepreneurial gumption, with a protagonist whose journey is as relevant to men as to women. On her way to fame and fortune, Joy must reawaken the creative spark dampened by her dysfunctional family, solve practical business problems of financing and distribution, confront her self-doubts, find her persuasive sales voice, and subdue adversaries who take advantage of her inexperience and trust. These aren’t uniquely female challenges.
“I think there was this studio mentality for a long time that women and girls can relate to a male hero, but boys and men can’t relate to a female hero. But that’s simply not true,” Lawrence said in a recent Glamour interview. She was talking about The Hunger Games. She could have been talking about Joy.
With a blue-collar protagonist who takes a second mortgage on her house, Joy is a quirky but unabashed affirmation of the entrepreneurial American dream, not just for Harvard dropouts with coding skills but for everyday people with bright ideas. Giving Joy a tour of his studio, QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) explains his philosophy with Old Hollywood examples: “David Selznick, the son of immigrants, married Jennifer Jones from Oklahoma, America’s sweetheart,” he says. “It just goes to show you that, in America, the ordinary meets the extraordinary every single day.”
December 23, 2015
Published on 22 Dec 2015
Welcome to a NEW kind of film-criticism series, built around the radical premise that just because “everyone knows” a movie is a classic doesn’t mean it stops being worth a deeper look.
At first, A CHRISTMAS STORY was a small 1983 movie that not a lot of people saw. But within a few years, regular Seasonal TV replays had turned it into a counter-culture staple – an All-American Christmas Movie that was *just* sly and jaded enough to be the “cool” alternative to more saccharine Holiday fare. Today, it’s celebrated as an unironic generational classic on par with CHARLIE BROWN, THE GRINCH or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
But does it deserve to be? The word “overrated” may as well have been invented to describe seasonal family-favorites we feel duty-bound to revisit on a yearly basis. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the story of Ralphie and his Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB gun with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time isn’t a good movie… but does it belong among the *great* movies?
This Christmas, thousands of people will watch Ralphie, Randy, Mom and The Old Man’s adventures – many as part of the now-ubiquitous 24-hour marathon. But before you do, maybe pull up a chair and listen as we explore whether or not A CHRISTMAS STORY is… REALLY THAT GOOD.
H/T to Victor for the link.
December 22, 2015
Rick McGinnis says they don’t make Christmas movies like they used to (but we probably deserve it):
Arguing about the best Christmas movies inevitably turns into a debate about the best version of A Christmas Carol, so I’m going to bluntly state that it’s Alistair Sim’s film, released in Britain as Scrooge.
I’m aware that other versions of the Dickens story have their followings, and while there are no doubt virtues in the Scrooges of Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Jim Carrey, Kelsey Grammar, Henry Winkler, Hoyt Axton, Patrick Stewart, Jack Palance, Susan Lucci, John Carradine, Fredric March, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and the very busy Bill Murray, they are merely streams and tributaries that flow in and out of the great grimacing Ebenezer that Sim embodied with almost unseemly relish in director Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 film, which looks like a Victorian lithograph brought to life and tugs even more deftly at the heartstrings thanks to Richard Addinsell’s score.
There was a time in my life when Christmas day only began after I’d had a chance to screen the film, alone in the early winter night, bracing myself for the sobs when Sim’s face collapses from fear to contrition as he finally meets his nephew Fred’s pretty young wife, and begs her forgiveness for being hard-hearted.
A bachelor for too many years, I watched the film aware of how Scrooge-like I was becoming with every Christmas; I needed to ride through Dickens’ story with Sim for the catharsis-by-proxy necessary to face family and friends the next day, marking time till my own redemption.
December 19, 2015
Published on 16 Dec 2015
Vader keeps texting Leia, while Ben continues his quest for the Pickaxe of Cortez. Jack Black, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader guest.
Jason Fuesting compares Robert Heinlein’s novel with Paul Verhoeven’s movie “adaptation” (scare quotes here because Verhoeven never read more than the first two chapters of the book). I’ve never seen the movie, but the book is one of my favourites.
Taken in a vacuum, the film itself is passable for its time. Despite being released in November, the film clearly fits the summer action film niche and summer action films are not frequently known for in-depth intellectual dialog or for exceptional acting. Verhoeven’s work does not disappoint that expectation in the least. What effort is evident in the film remains focused primarily on either the fight scenes, particularly in special effects and explosions, or in finding ways to justify having the actresses expose some amount of skin in some form or fashion as frequently as possible. As such, Verhoeven’s film comes off not too dissimilarly from what one might expect of a Michael Bay film, except less subtle in every way.
Cinematography, editing, and score were not exceptional, but quite passable. The film remained fast paced and for multiple scenes camera placement complimented the special effects and other elements quite well. The effects themselves were as I remembered, great for the time period. As far as the individual components of the film in terms of film making are concerned, outside of the acting, the film is quite well done. As for the acting, what I remembered as campy and otherwise forgettable as a teen turned out to be far worse than I remembered.
When one steps back out of the vacuum, the film ultimately falls apart entirely on writing. Many would likely ponder how a summer action movie that has managed to succeed on the other points could ultimately be deemed a failure based solely off a feature movies of its kind almost universally ignore. For Heinlein fans, the film is unequivocally a thumb in the eye. From that perspective, the director took the author’s creation, fed just enough of it through a sausage grinder to get the flavor out, mixed in his own recipe of inanity, and laid out the resulting abomination in precisely the exact opposite direction. For those not particularly attached to Heinlein’s novel but still fans of decent writing, a multitude of plot holes and grave inconsistency errors abound, all of which were introduced by the writers meddling in Heinlein’s construct like children run amok.
Amok is sadly an understatement. The film and the book are two wholly different entities. A Joking comment along the lines of the script used by Verhoeven being the result of the soulless Hollywood machine itself parodied in Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player might be closer to the truth. Simply put, Verhoeven’s script shares names with the book.
Ultimately, the book’s message is one that stresses responsibility, personal, to one’s family, and to one’s nation. Heinlein repeatedly highlights how military service is not easy, that life is a lot harder than we think it is when we’re young, how war is not the cool thing most children believe. Verhoeven steadfastly ignores every bit of that and takes every point Heinlein made and twisting it to its opposite: war is great, service is so easy any idiot can do it, the military is filled with unthinking robotic idiots and evil right-wing fascists, and the only people who are held responsible are the ones who get caught without an excuse. Instead of a story that is more or less a post-hoc biography of a soldier, complete with his regrets, Verhoeven’s adaptation is little more than modern actors in remade Nazi uniforms acting out nonsense between scenes further adapted from Nazi propaganda films. Verhoeven is so over-the-top in his use of Nazi imagery and defacing the concept of patriotism that his attempted smear against the right-wing gets lost in the noise.
The film is offensive on multiple levels. First, as a veteran, the book is easily realistic science-fiction that carries multiple very pertinent messages and warnings, especially in today’s society. Many of these were messages I needed to hear when I was younger, but I had neither the maturity nor the experience to truly understand at the time. Second, as an author, I am utterly horrified at the wholesale gutting the film makers and their writers gleefully engaged in and the complete mockery of their creation. The idea that one of my prospective works could receive similar treatment sickens me. Third, as a Conservative leaning libertarian, Verhoeven’s film lampoons ideas central to the survival of any state, left leaning or right, and does so in such a poor fashion that it fails at being even amateur-level propaganda. Admittedly, hyperbole is a valid tool; however, when using hyperbole one must ensure both that one’s point is valid and that the use of hyperbole does not destroy your message. Verhoeven fails on both accounts.
Update, 20 December: Just realized I hadn’t included the original link to this review. My belated apologies to Jason Fuesting and Cedar Sanderson for the oversight.
November 25, 2015
At least, she’s not planning on apologizing for making a few (not-even-PG-rated) jokes about Star Wars. Her critics, in addition to pouring scorn and hatred on her for daring to joke about such a holy topic, also threaten her life:
Now, I received a few death threats right after I posted the aforementioned tweet — which, by the way, was why I was saying Star Wars fans were “crazy” in the first place. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal, and I kind of forgot about it.
Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.
The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:
justin 12 hours ago
Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.
needmypunk 16 hours ago
I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.
sdgaara2 1 day ago
Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”
Guardian978 22 hours ago
I want to cut that blonde c***’s face off and stick it to a thermal detonator. What a network full of c***s.
dethklok21 1 day ago
Wow what a f***ing thunder c***. I hope this b**** gets hit by a f***ing car.
Mikki Yeong 1 day ago
those death treaths are approved by me look at that b**** it’s a typical i wear big glasses to look smart but in fact i’m stupid as f*** btwthose glasses used to be only weared by nerds stupid h**
TheValefor1984 1 day ago
We should get her address then bury her a** in Star Wars memorabilia lol
TheGreenStreak452 1 day ago
I just want to burn Fox News to the ground and all their stupid employees.
[Asterisks not in the original.]
To be fair, AlphaOmegaSin did say that he denounced threats on my life because “Just because you’re a f***ing idiot doesn’t mean that you should have to die.”
A problem with being a free speech absolutist is that you have to accept that some members of the community are going to use it to be as grotesquely offensive as they possibly can. Way to live down to expectations, Star Wars fans.
November 3, 2015
… liberal-arts programs have been ailing for decades. The humane thing would be to let them die with whatever modicum of dignity they have left.
My purpose in this essay is not to defend (or attack) “the arts” (the aaaaahts, in my plummiest fake English accent). The arts don’t need defending (or attacking), and even if they did, there are lots of thick books written by people who are far smarter than me making the case. This essay is, instead, a broadside against university humanities departments, which are mostly terrible and not really worth rescuing.
We don’t need university liberal arts programs to expose us to culture. Want some culture in your life? Hit YouTube and you can get all the culture you can choke down, for free. Art, music, dance, guided tours of great museums. Literature? The local library might still have a few books lying around if it hasn’t given itself over completely to being a day-care facility for the homeless. Amazon will sell you any book you want, from The Pilgrim’s Progress to The Brothers Karamazov to The Vagina Monologues and deliver it to your portable reading device in a matter of seconds. Amazon will also sell you a Blu-Ray of any opera or great film you want, and have it delivered right to your door by the next day. (Or stream it right to your TV, iPad, or smartphone.) Embarrassed for funds? You can download tens of thousands of public-domain books, films, and pieces of music for free from a variety of sources. In short, art has been transformed from a luxury good to a commodity good.
“But wait!” the academics cry. “Who’s going to teach you how to understand all this stuff? How to interpret it? How to uncover all the subtleties and meanings in it?”
In this response you get two fallacies for the price of one: that the average citizen requires someone to perform this task, and that universities are capable of performing it even if it were necessary.
Monty, “DOOM (culturally speaking)”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-28.
October 31, 2015
Uploaded on 8 Oct 2006
This recut of the Disney classic Mary Poppins was made by myself, Christopher Rule
This contains the musical piece “A Violent Attack” composed by Caine Davidson for the film An American Haunting, “Stay Awake” written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for Disney’s Mary Poppins, and stock sounds from iMovie. Clips filmed with a Panasonic MiniDV camera and edited on iMovie.
***** Please do not support the low-quality versions other people have uploaded to their channels against YouTube’s policy. Thanks to all! *****
Ages are marked by their paranoias and despairs, and we see those paranoias and despairs in the art an age produces. What we dread in earnest we enjoy in fantasy.
After Watergate, there were a series of very paranoid and nihilistic films — The Parallax View, Capricorn One, The Conversation on the paranoid end; then all the violent ones about a growing nihilism in the world — Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so on.
Cultural observers had no problem pointing directly at Watergate (and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.) to explain the paranoia, and nor were they so blind as to not notice the decay and malaise (and rising tide of bloody crime) of the seventies were responsible for the various violent retribution films.
Since 9/11, we faced a lot of movies about cataclysm and the end of the world. It’s easy enough to see that connection.
But the Age of Obama has not produced any uplift, nor any respite from the current preoccupation of people with the End Times. As a non-religious person, I don’t mean this literally (though many may), but it is impossible not to note the idea of Apocalypse and Cataclysm is in the air.
Look at the number of zombie films and zombie TV shows — as obvious a metaphor for decay and rot as can be imagined. Or the still-doing-bonzo-business cataclysm fantasies. Even the latest Man of Steel was about cataclysm.
And now add into that the large number of paranoid, rotten dystopia movies.
If the Age of Obama is so swell, if we’re all filled with Hope, why is this age not producing the spate of feel-good, have-fun, get-rich movies the 80s did?
Why are our collective fantasies in the Age of Obama so single-mindedly focused on the idea of dystopia, cultural decay, and ultimately cultural destruction?
Whether liberal cultural critics want to admit it or not — and they seem very much to not want to admit it, because this is so obvious it’s painful, and yet they fail to make this obvious connection — the Obama years are years of economic want, emotional depression, and spiritual chaos, at least as reflected by entertainments resolutely focusing on the end-times and the wretched dystopias that arise after the End Times, when civilization is dead but just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
The Leftovers, The Returned, Revolution, the Walking Dead not only being a top-rated show, but spawning a top-rated spin-off — I dare anyone to find any previous moment in American history, including in the years of paranoia after Watergate, in which our fantasies have been so dark, depressive, anxious and foreboding.
This is all very obvious. The people in Hollywood turning out one cataclysm-and-dystopia entertainment after another surely sense this, as do the talentless idiots paid to comment on the culture at fluffy magazines like The Atlantic and New York and The New Yorker; and yet, another aspect of the Age of Obama — that one must never admit the horrible truth; one must always pretend it away, and give only praise to Dear Leader — keeps people from stating what is so obvious it’s increasingly uncomfortable to remain silent about it.
October 21, 2015
October 21, 2015 is Back to the Future day, and Toyota is playing along with the theme:
In a press release from Toyota, Back to the Future co-creator and producer Bob Gale offers some background on the manufacturer’s partnership with the franchise. “Toyota stands apart for their nod to the future and the past with the auto technology depicted in the movies. When Toyota approached us about helping tell a bigger story about the future and innovation with the Mirai, we loved the direction — and who can resist Marty’s retro Toyota truck?”
Call the number on the screen to talk to Jimmy Joe Statler himself. He offers you three choices. Be sure to press 2 for a free license plate frame. He mentions that three customized BTTF Tacomas will be revealed at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles and Times Square in NYC. They are also doing a tour of Dallas, so keep your eyes peeled if you live nearby. No word on whether Toyota will release the flying cars seen in the window’s reflection at 00:19 in the video.
We don’t know if the custom Tacoma will be produced for sale, but it should be easy enough for you to make one yourself. Just make sure you include those sweet KC lights.
October 16, 2015
Nicole Russell says that Jennifer Lawrence was quite justified in her complaint about being paid less than her male co-workers, and that the problem is industry-wide:
The equal pay gap is the issue du jour this week. It was a hot topic at the Democratic debate Tuesday night, and in Hollywood, actress Jennifer Lawrence recently discovered she made less on a blockbuster hit than did her male peers.
Unfortunately, equal pay has gotten a bad reputation on the Right, due to misinformation the Left likes to peddle. The record is easy to set straight, and the good news is that Hollywood isn’t the real world and the real world isn’t Hollywood.
Turns out, Lawrence realized what statistics have shown about Hollywood for decades: That place is a sexist desert. Being a woman in Hollywood, whether as an actress, screenwriter, producer, or the like is akin to wearing a cloak of invisibility.
After the Oscar nominees were announced this past year, the Women’s Media Center found “149 men are nominated versus 35 women” across 19 non-acting categories. There were seven Oscar categories with no women nominated, and “since 2012, only 19% of all non-acting Oscar nominations have been for women.”
Actress Charlize Theron discovered from the same Sony e-mails that her co-star Chris Hemsworth made $10 million more than she did on a film. As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway reported earlier this year, a study by The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film found only 9 percent of the top 250 domestic-grossing films of 2012 were directed by women. According to researcher Susana Orozco, who went through every single spec script sale from 1991 and 2012, women wrote only 14 percent of spec scripts sold between 1991 and 2000.
September 13, 2015
At The Walrus, Jonathan Kay explains how Ron Weasley (and the whole Fan Expo celebrity photo “experience”) made him both sad and $300 poorer:
Fans of the TV show Entourage will remember the second-season episode in which Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, dressed in prop-wardrobe Viking costume. Drama, we learn, had appeared in a (fictional) show called Viking Quest, starring as the warrior Tarvold. On the fan-convention circuit, Drama explained, he could rake in big money by signing autographs, and set conventioneers’ hearts aflutter with Tarvold’s signature cry of “Victory!” On Entourage, this seemed funny. In real life, I recently learned, it’s sad.
On Sunday, I took two of my daughters to the 2015 instalment of Fan Expo Canada, billed as “the largest Comics, Sci-fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada.” More than 100,000 fans show up annually for the four-day exhibition, which now sprawls over both buildings of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Under one roof, I was able to meet a life-size My Little Pony, compete in a Catan tournament, playtest emerging console video games, commission custom panels from famous cartoonists, pose with life-size Futurama characters, buy a fully functional 3D-chess set, and generally revel in all the various subcultures that the rest of society stigmatizes as dorky and juvenile. My girls and I have been to Fan Expo Canada three years in a row, and we always have a good time.
But my daughters are getting older. This year, for the first time, they were after more than just a Harry Potter wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt: They wanted to meet the real-life Harry Potter movie stars appearing at Fan Expo. Expecting to encounter nothing more than a real-life version of Drama’s Viking Quest subplot, I acquiesced, and we wandered over to celebrity row.
I was shockingly naive about how this process works. Before Sunday’s celebrity adventure, I’d assumed that one could mingle about and snap pictures with fan-con celebs for free, taking out your wallet only when you wanted a signed photo.
In fact, the best way to describe Fan Expo’s celebrity protocol is as a sort of Chicago Mercantile Exchange for human beings. Instead of live cattle, lean hogs, skimmed milk powder, cash-settled butter, and softwood pulp, this big board (displayed above) lists prices for Billy Dee Williams, Gillian Anderson, Danny Trejo, Neve Campbell, Norman Reedus, Skeet Ulrich, Zach Galligan, and fifty other stars and quasi-stars. The precision of the numbers suggests a fine-tuned demand-driven adjustment process that any commodities trader would recognize. Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, but you knew that) was listed at $57. Anderson (X-Files): $91. Danny Trejo (Machete): $74. Neve Campbell (Scream): $97. Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead): $130. Skeet Ulrich (Jericho): $68. Zach Galligan (Gremlins): $63. Just my luck: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s red-haired sidekick) was listed at $142 — highest on the board. I wanted to bail out. But having made the mistake of getting dragged this far, turning back wasn’t going to be a good-dad move.
September 8, 2015
Gregg Easterbrook reviews The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey:
Outside your window, living standards are rising, crime is declining, pollution is down, and longevity is increasing. But in pop culture, we’re all doomed. The Hunger Games films have been box-office titans, joined by World War Z, Interstellar, The Book of Eli, Divergent, The Road, and other big-budget Hollywood fare depicting various judgment days. Over in primetime, the world is ending on The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, The 100, and Under the Dome.
The same outlook obtains in nonfiction literature. Books that foresee doomsday — Collapse by Jared Diamond, The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett among them — win praise from commentators and sell briskly. Books contending that things basically are fine don’t do as well. One might think that optimism would be marketable to contemporary book buyers, who live very well by historical standards, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Readers prefer material that depicts them dwelling in the final generation. Perhaps declining religious belief in Armageddon has been replaced by an expectation of some natural-world version of the event.
Into this adverse market steps The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey, an impressively researched, voluminously detailed book arguing that the world is in better shape than commonly assumed. Bailey deflates doomsday by showing that human population growth does not mean ecological breakdown; that food supply increases faster than population and probably always will; that, far from depleted, most resources are sufficient to last for centuries; that air pollution in the United States is way down; and that cancer is in decline.
Specialists will argue about some of the studies Bailey cites to support these contentions. So much environmental research exists today, for example, that one can find a study to prove practically anything. But in the main, Bailey’s selection of research is fastidious and convincing.
Bailey spends too much time, though, on discredited trendy bleakness from the 1960s and 1970s — such as Paul Ehrlich’s global-famine predictions and the 1972 Club of Rome report. One can practically hear dead horses saying, “Stop flogging me.” The End of Doom redeems itself with a clever chapter on how precautionary principles boil down to this rule: never do anything for the first time. “Anything new is guilty until proven innocent,” Bailey writes, but he goes on to chronicle how many new ideas denounced as dangerous turned out instead to make life less risky.
August 1, 2015
Published on 6 Jan 2015
One of the biggest news stories this Christmas was the (un-)cancelled release of Sony Pictures’ movie The Interview. In the movie, Seth Rogan and James Franco try to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. After terror threats against movie theatres showing the film, Sony cancelled the release of the movie. This ultimately increased the movies attention and made the later online release the most successful one this year. Actually, there is a name for this kind of phenomenon: the Streisand Effect. In this episode of INTO CONTEXT, Indy explains why it’s not always smart to try to hide things on the internet.