Your humble blogger is taking a vacation at an undisclosed zombie-proof redoubt for the next ten days, so blogging will be on the lighter side.
Speaking of the lighter side, juuuuuust a few friends and colleagues have informed me that zombie preparedness has become a political issue up in Canada. From BuzzFeed's Ellie Hall:
The Canadian government has gone on the record about the zombie apocalypse. In an amazing exchange on the floor of the House of Commons today, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked if he was working to "develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion does not turn into a zombie apocalypse."
New Democratic Party Parliament Member Pat Martin applauded the United States Center for Disease Control's emergency preparedness measures premised on a zombie outbreak and wanted to know how Canada would act to protect its citizens.
Here's the clip:
For the entirety of Baird's response, click over to Huffington Post Canada.
Now, to be honest, I'm a bit disturbed by this exchange. First of all, there were so many better puns that Baird could have uttered.
Second of all, both the NDP representative and the Foreign Minister were poorly briefed. Sure, Martin knew about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Quebec government's counter-zombie efforts, but why no mention of British Columbia's aggressive campaign against the living dead?! That seems like rank prejudice against Canada's Western provinces.
Third, how in the name of all that is reanimated could the Canadians have this debate without discussing Canada's distinguished contributions to the zombie genre? No mention of Pontypool? No mention of Fido?! Come on!!!
Fourth, the claim that zombies could effortlessly cross borders echoes a leading Canadian perspective on this issue ... but where's the expert testimony? Why no international relations perspective? It's not like Theories of International Politics and Zombies isn't available in Canada.
This is serious business. Winter has come. The White Walkers could be emigrating down from the North at any moment. Until Canada gets its house in order, secures its strategic maple syrup reserve from waffle-eating ghouls, and starts consulting experts on this issue, I for one, am taking my family south.
In recent weeks there's been a low hum of pretty interesting and not-so-interesting essays asking why there has been so much attention paid in the zombie apocalypse, and what that attention signifies.
I bring this up because the Discovery Channel will be airing it's Zombie Apocalypse documentary this evening. The New York Times' Neal Genzlinger reviews it and finds it... pretty wanting:
Thank goodness we’ll all be wiped out by the Maya doomsday by week’s end. That will spare us the discomfort of having to go through the impending zombie apocalypse....
The National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” among others, has already introduced viewers to people who go to seemingly extreme lengths to get ready for terrorist attacks, the collapse of the financial system, nuclear power plant disasters and more, so perhaps it’s no surprise that, at least according to this program, there are some among us who are seriously preparing for a zombie attack. What makes this program different is that among clips of the preppers spewing nonsense about how to shoot a zombie, it intercuts interviews with credentialed academics who say that, yes, a virus or some such that attacks the brain could find its way into humans, disseminate rapidly and cause symptoms that would make us resemble all those zombies we know and love from the movies....
The program also gives you the rare experience of hearing a professor (Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University) described as the “author of ‘Theories of International Politics and Zombies’ ” — on Monday, No. 40 on Amazon’s list of best sellers in its sub-sub-subcategory of international and world politics. And it provides a new entry for the list of you-must-be-joking organizations: apparently there actually is something called theKansas Anti Zombie Militia.
But it’s hard right now to take this program in the pop-culture way it was intended, especially the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of the various preppers. “Some people’s epiphany,” says one, Matthew Oakey, “is when they realize that the guy that lives on their block with all the guns and ammo isn’t crazy.”
I haven't seen the documentary yet, so I can't really comment on it except what I recall from their interview of me three months ago. Three thoughts, though:
1) Given the reported claim that Nancy Lanza was in fact a doomsday prepper, I have to share Mr. Genzlinger's concern about the unfortunate timing of this broadcast. Some television networks have made alterations to their broadcasts because of the Sandy Hook attack. I'm not sure this program rises to that level, but the timing makes me wince, which is probably not a good sign.
2) Damn, I need to update my Fletcher page. Seriously, that thing is at least three years out of date.
3) Regarding my participation in the documentary, well, I'll just reprint what Newsday's Verne Gay wrote:
One of the "experts" quoted here is in fact a respected scholar in foreign policy at Tufts who has written widely on zombies, though largely as metaphors for chaos in world markets and how people adapt. In an email, I asked Dan Drezner about the program, and he responded that a book he had written on the subject was "intended to be funny [but] one of the points I make is that fears about zombie apocalypses are exaggerated because people underestimate the adaptability of humans." He added, "I have no idea if that got in or not."
Sorry, professor -- it did not get in, and the documentary is not funny.
That's unfortunate... and it gives rise to an almost sacrilegious question: have we hit the law of diminishing marginal returns on the living dead? On the popular culture front, when Twilight-like books and films are being made about zombies (though I gotta admit I like what I see from the trailer) and the sign of Nick's loserdom in The New Girl is that he's working on a lame zombie novel, I fear we've hit saturation point.
On the utility-of-the-metaphor front, I will defend the use of fictional analogies as a way of stimulating creative thinking and calling attention to useful policy measures until my last undying breath. I wrote Theories of International Politics and Zombies because I thought it would make some people laugh and make some people think; it was a subversive way to get some book-learning into the cerebellum. Since the book has come out, however, I find that the questions I get from reporters and documentarians about the living dead have morphed from seriocomic to just dead serious.
I share Alyssa Rosenberg's concern that people are focusing way too much on being in the apocalypse as opposed to how we get to the apocalypse and whether it can be stopped. Analogies free up certain pattens of thought while also constraining others. Because so many zombie narratives assume that no matter what humans do, we wind up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, there's a tendency to presume that this must and always be so. That constraint is starting to become more prominent.
So to sum up: I'm in a zombie documentary this evening, it's apparently not that great, I'm quite confident that the zombie apocalypse won't happen, and my Fletcher page is badly in need of updating. That is all.
We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns. Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt. During yesterday's trip, David Petraeus resigned after... after.... well, insert your own pun involving Petraeus and Paula Broadwell here, but only if you think you can top the New York Post.
Still, I think the biggest shock I encountered upon my return was the new trailer for World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and based on the best zombie novel ever written (by Max Brooks).
I once asked Max -- yeah, I know him, I get to call him Max, just f***ing deal with it -- how he was handling the movie version of his book, and he told me that his strategy was to simply sign over the rights and then not pay an iota of attention to what happened. Once it became clear that the producers weren't interested in his input, he figured that it was the only way to stay sane.
After watching the trailer, I think his strategy is sound, because it looks like what they're doing to World War Z is a travesty:
Now, let me preface my reaction to this trailer with the following caveats:
1) All movies that are inspired by books will deviate from their source material. That doesn't make the films bad (see my review of Argo, for example).
2) This is a trailer, and very often trailers are designed to misdirect your perceptions of how the film will play out. So maybe the movie will play out differently.
3) Even this trailer has hints of the book I love -- there are suggestions of the sweeping global canvas that made the book so great.
All that said, this looks pretty bad.
First off, there's the fast CGI zombies. One of the great pleasures of World War Z the novel was the way in which the degree of threat slowly creeped up, just like the walkers that Brooks used for his zombies. Switching to the 28 Days Later style of ghouls changes the nature of the threat in ways that undercut one of the central pleasures of Brooks' novel. The trailer looks like a globalized version of 28 Days Later. Which would be OK if the zombies in the movie version of World War Z were as scary as that movie's Infected. Which they ain't. You know a movie's Big Bad is in trouble when the Dark Seekers from I Am Legend look positively life-like.
Second, the trailer and the casting make it seem pretty clear that the movie is about how former government badass Brad Pitt reluctantly decides to leave his family for a spell to save the world. Which is pretty much the total friggin' opposite of what happens in the book.
Again, one of the pleasures of World War Z was the almost-pointillist way that Brooks told dozens of small stories about what happened across the world -- and how the sum of myriad small actions paved the way to victory. Indeed, the closest thing to a strategic savior in the book is a despised Afrikaaner who modified a decades-old plan to preserve the apartheid government into a ruthless strategy to retrench and then defeat the undead hordes. Brad Pitt ain't that guy. So instead this looks like your standard reluctant-hero-saves-the-day narrative.
Finally, over 90% of the trailer looks at the U.S. Again, the best thing about the book was how it started with a global perspective and how it managed to keep a global perspective (as opposed to, say, Contagion).
In the course of writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies, my admiration for what Brooks pulled off in his book only grew with time. I hope I'm wrong about how the movie version of World War Z turns out. At this point, however, I have more optimism about Star Wars Episode VII than this bastardization of Max Brooks' magnum opus.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger will be winging his way back to the East Coast after a few days at Comic-Con. Now, one of the purposes of this blog is to act as a networked node between the worlds of popular culture and international relations. So while I could prattle on about what's hip (Wonder Woman) and what's not (surprisingly little Battlestar Galactica cosplay) or all of the ways that Joss Whedon is God -- well, a god -- that would be wrong and uninteresting to readers.
Instead, here's another angle. We know that:
B) America remains the world's cultural hegemon; so...
C) What we learn about Comic-Con attendees will tell us much about the future of global culture.
So, what did I learn:
1) America was better in the past. Comic-Con has grown by leaps and bounds in term of attendees in the past few years, and the old-timers are a bit cranky about this fact. And by "old-timers," I mean people who were here five years ago. Still, I was told that the lines used to be shorter, the exhibition hall used to have more open space, and "it used to be about the comics, man." Or, as one person put it, "all these people used to tease me in high school for liking this s**t." Nostalgia for yhe past, it would seem, is hardly limited to political elites.
2) The cultural elite is a hell of a lot more diverse than other elites. A common lament is the maleness and whiteness of the top one percent of anything. Well, rest assured this is not the case at Comic-Con. Based on my own observation, I'd say that while men outnumbered women, it's getting awfully close to gender balance. Similarly, minority representation was quite robust as well. Indeed, one group in particular with a powerful presence at Comic-Con is the disabled. If you ammassed the number of people in wheelchairs at this convention, you'd have a formidable mobile infantry.
3) Americans are cool with bureaucracy and surveillance -- so long as it's about something they want more than something they need. The lines for some of the sessions were staggering. Seriously, Disneyworld employees would have looked at these lines and said, "dude, this is out of control." I don't want to say that people were thrilled about the lines -- but compared to the DMV or even boarding an airplane, there was a minimum of fussing and feuding. Why were people cool with having 10,000 individuals in front of them to see a Walking Dead panel but ten people in front of them at the Starbucks caused complaint? I think it's about want vs. need, but I'll take alternative explanations in the coments.
As for surveillance, it was impossible to walk five feet without passing an interview or a photograph. A third of the attendees at any large panel were recording everything on their cameras.
4) There are tiny pockets of innovation everywhere. The Blog Son and I went to the panel for a forthcoming video game, The Last of Us (here's a trailer). I'm not a gamer, but I get the sense the game is easerly anticipated. What impressed about the panel was the care and craft that the creators had invested into the scenario, the acting, the gameplay, and so forth. Politicians might pooh-pooh the intended effect of all of this energy, but the innovative talent on display was impressive.
Now, this was a big panel, but all around the exhibition hall there were pockets of just brilliant stuff littered around the place. True, there was also a lot of schlock, but even a lot of the schlock was demented and brilliant.
5) Zombies still rule. I mean, c'mon -- they were everywhere at Comic-Con. Everywhere.
Posting will be intermittent for the next few days, as your humble blogger is headed to... Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego. I will be going in two capacities:
1) An expert for the Zombie Research Society panel at 7:00 PM on Thursday;
2) The World's Most Awesome Dad for taking the official Twelve-Year Old Blog Son to Comic-Con.
Beyond that, Comic-Con mostly holds a sociological curiousity for me. As a detached social scientist, I will be closely observing whether attendees have different kind of foreign policy worldviews that ordinary folk, and OMG, THERE'S A FIREFLY REUNION PANEL??!! JOSS WHEDON WILL BE THERE?! AHH!!!!!! OMG!! ZOMG!!
So, anything IR-related that happens in San Diego, I'll be FP's reporter on the scene for the next few days. Otherwise, I'll just be crossing off "Presenting at Comic-Con" off my bucket list.
As a first-time attendee, tips from any veteran Comic-Con-goers will be greatly appreciated in the comments.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]
I enjoyed the first season of Game of Thrones but was somewhat underwhelmed with efforts to use it as a window to understanding world politics today. The second season, which concluded this past Sunday, however, did much better on this score. I think this is because in season one the primary narrative dealt with one ruler of Westeros coping with
stupendously naive staff contending factions, whereas this season dealt with a more variegated set of leaders, which worked far better for the show. Two signs of this: First, whereas the Daenerys Targaryen plot in the first season was fun and diverting, I found season two's Dany sections distracting and deadening. Part of this might have been because Dany was whining more, but it was also because she was largely operating in a political vacuum and therefore less interesting. Second, whereas Cersei Lannister seemed like a master Machiavellian in season one, in season two she appeared to be just a little out of her depth. It's not because she got dumber, but because the protagonists who interacted with her were wiser or more powerful than Ned Stark.
Season two's War of the Five Kings allowed for greater contrast between different styles of political leadership and political culture -- and was therefore all the richer for it. Leadership ranged from Stannis Baratheon's humorless determination to Tywin Lannister's stolid competence to Joffrey's sadism to Robb Stark's efforts to preserve humanitarian norms to Balon Greyjoy's sheer bloody-mindedness. The staffers were great too. I'm sorry that Tyrion Lannister and Davos Seaworth never got to share a scene together -- that would have been a hoot. Similarly, the interactions between Tyrion and Varys -- especially this one -- were delicious.
Indeed, the final episode alone is so rich in its contemplation of political leadership alone that it made up for the less comprehensible parts of the plot (why the hell did Bran, Hodor, and company need to abandon Winterfell?) Tyrion's explanation for why he wanted to stay in King's Landing was one of those rare moments in television in which a character was honest about his enjoyment of politics. As Alyssa Rosenberg shrewdly observes, the Throne Room scene in which much political kabuki theater transpired was a powerful reminder of how the victors write the history. And the Varys-Ros alliance bodes well for political machinations in season three.
For all of this -- and zombies too! -- the finale was great. What put it over the top, however, might be the best rejoinder to the Great Speech Theory of Politics that I have ever seen -- Theon Greyjoy's efforts to rally his troops in the face of overwhelming odds during the siege of Winterfell:
Anyone who calls for better political "leadership" should watch this again and again and again. Yes, leadership matters on the margins -- but power and purpose matter one whole hell of a lot more.
The end of the episode promises an even wider array of political actors -- Mance Rayder, the White Walkers, a returning Dany -- influencing activities in Westeros. This bodes very, very well for season three.
What do you think?
The rest of FP's hard-working, award-winning contributors will provide plenty of reactions to Obama's Afghanistan speech from last night. I don't have anything new to add that I didn't say, oh, about a year ago to the week.
So let's talk about.... Game of Thrones!!!
Set in a fictional medieval-type world (that looks juuuuust a bit like England) with a wisp of fantasy, there's a lot for culture vultures and international relations geeks to like. Based on a series of novels by George R.R. Martin, the first season on HBO just ended on a ratings high. Essentially, Game of Thrones consists of a lot of palace intrigue, a healthy dollop of transgressive sex, and a whiff of zombies. So you can see the attraction to your humble blogger.
Having finally caught up with the entire first season, however, I'm still puzzling out the show's applicability to current world politics. I think there are a few, but there's a bias in the show that does suggest some serious constraints [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD].
On the one hand, Game of Thrones' best feature has been demonstrating the importance of strategic acumen in politics. The first season's protagonist, Ned Stark, is a stalwart friend, accomplished soldier, and dogged bureaucrat. He was also a strategic moron of the first order, which was why I didn't bewail his beheading in the season's climactic moment. Yes, it's a shame that the good man died. The thing is, he had so many, many opportunities to avoid that end, had he only demonstrated a bit more ability to think about how his rivals would react to his actions. Important survival trip: don't reveal all of your plans and information to your rival until you have engaged in some rudimentary contingency planning. Or, to put it more plainly:
On the other hand, I'm just not sure how much the world of Westeros translates into modern world politics. Realists would disagree, of course. Cersei Lannister makes the show's motto clear enough: "in the game of thrones, you win or you die." That's about as zero-sum a calculation as one can offer. In this kind of harsh relative gains world, realpolitik should be the expected pattern of behavior.
Which is also part of the problem with Game of Thrones. World politics is about the pursuit of power, yes, but it's not only about that. What do people want to do with the power they obtain? Social purpose matters in international affairs as well, and there's precious little of that in Game of Thrones. Sure, there are debates about dynastic succession, but there are no fundamental differences in regime type, rule of law, or economic organization among the myriad power centers in this world. I hope this changes in Season Two.
My favorite touch in Game of Thrones is the words of each house in Westeros. For House Stark, "winter is coming"; for House Lannister, "hear me roar"; for House Baratheon, "ours is the fury"; and my favority, House Greyjoy, "we do not sow." In case you were wondering, for House Drezner, our words are, "it is time to read." Alternatively, "Chinese food is coming."
Readers are warmly encouraged to proffer the words of House Obama, House Clinton, House Bush, House Saud, House Putin, House Chavez, or House Singh in the comments.
I held out as long as I could on the Charlie Sheen fiasco -- but damn Will Winecoff and the IR-relevant horse he rode in on!!
From yesterday's Global Times, Hao Leifeng provides a peculiarly... Chinese take on the whole brouhaha:
Actor Charlie Sheen is a classic example of the difference in Western and Eastern values and norms.
Ignoring public pleas from his father, Sheen has continued a weeklong media blitz, exhibiting obvious signs of mania. With no firm hand to guide them, Western media has deliberately goaded him into making increasingly delusional statements, more concerned about "winning" higher ratings than Sheen's own sense of pride, or the negative example his brash public admissions about his private sex life and unverifiable international conspiracies could be setting for society.
How many young people have been led astray by Sheen's boasts about his substance abuse and freewheeling sex life? And that was when he was in character on national television, as a randy bachelor in Two and a Half Men.
Sheen attracted 1 million Twitter followers in just 24 hours, yet more evidence that microblogs spread the most unhealthy contagions in society like a disease. Chinese family, coworkers, or the authorities would have taken firm steps to make sure someone like Sheen did not make a public spectacle of himself.
It's true: the Obama administration has been ridiculously slow on getting a handle on the Charlie Sheen issue. I mean, you know that if Hillary Clinton got Sheen in a room for an hour, this whole problem would go away. This just reinforces the administration's slowness on handling matters of serious popular culture.
OK, seriously, as I understand it, Global Times is not the same kind of official mouthpiece as, say, China Daily or People's Daily, so I wouldn't take this as the official Chinese Communist Party position. Hell, it might be a parody. Still, a few revealing things from this. There's the swipe against Twitter, and the emphasis on familial loyalties.
I see two other interesting reveals, however. The first is the proposed "Chinese" solution to this problem:
His employers are unhappy that he was distracted with prostitutes and drugs, and didn't show up to work on time. Why not take a tip from the Chinese business community, and make visits to a KTV parlor part of Sheen's workday?
And instead of epic parties at his home with porn stars, why not keep Sheen occupied with business banquets?
Sheen goes on television and boasts that he has two girlfriends, who both sleep in the same bedroom. Is he too poor to set up his wives and mistresses in different houses?
In Chinese society, these problems are dealt with delicately and privately. Sheen is like a typical Westerner throwing fuel on the fire with each interview and tweet. It is almost as if he feels no shame and is loving the attention.
Racism, spousal abuse, addiction, politics, mental illness, boasting about mistresses, - these are all subjects best dealt with behind closed doors.
Er... as near as I can determine, Sheen's bosses have been using this playbook for the entire run of Two and a Half Men. It's only when Sheen thoroughly rejected all outaside intervention that everything blew up. In other words, the Chinese solution to this was exactly the same as the American solution to this -- well, minus the massage parlors. This continued right up until the moment when Sheen decided that the "Charlie Sheen" drug could defeat all comers. And then he was suspended and subsequently fired. Perhaps the fact that the government decided not to send him to the countryside and instead just got his children out of his orbit is peculiarly "western."
Second -- and this is a genuine question to readers -- is Charlie Sheen actually a folk hero to anyone other than substance abusers at this point? I see the attention he's getting now as in the category of, "Wow, look at that massive 12-car pileup on the other side of the road!!! It's horrific, but I can't look away!" Granted, he's now a prime candidate for his own reality show -- but I'm not really sure that's winning the future.
This is the only time I will ask this about Charlie Sheen: what do you think?
[I]t's way easier to slip a humour piece disguised as a bizarre anti-US rant past the Chinese censor than it is to get a serious piece that is even vaguely critical of CCP policy published.
Both Chuck Klosterman and Johann Hari wrote zombie trend stories this week. This comes on the heels of a prior batch of these essays -- and I know there's gonna be at least a few of these in the future. As a public service for writers contemplating these kinds of essay, here's the generic template for the "Zombies are hot. Why?" story:
Section 1: Set up premise that zombies are culturally hot right now. Mention The Walking Dead/zombie flash mobs/spike in movie releases/Minnesota court case. Ask why. Note: try to put as many references to "shambling," "shuffling," etc. as possible.
Section 2: Compare zombies to vampires. Mock Twilight series. Point out that vampires = sex and zombies = death. Observe that zombie renaissance is surprising, because individual zombies are not interesting characters like vampires. Note: if artsy essay, be sure to name-check White Zombie.
Section 3: Propose that interest in zombies is a metaphor for something else that's rotting through American/global society. Possibilities include:
Section 4: Conclude that the current era stinks, and only when things improve will these zombies disappear. Note: try to end with joke.
[And how is this template different from your book?--ed. Um... footnotes. Footnotes and international relations theory. The ingredients for a smash hit! -- ed.]
The most painful time for a book author is that interregnum between handing in the completed book manuscript, knowing that the text is locked down for good, and the book's arrival on the bookshelves. That's because stuff happens during these months that would be awesome to put into the book, but alas, it's too late.
Fortunately, there are blogs to write.
With the success of AMC's The Walking Dead (don't worry, that show got into the introduction; oh, hey, did I mention that you can now preview the introduction online? And that the endorsements are glowing?), pundits are now falling all over each other to try to use zombies as a political metaphor. Late last month, Jeremy Grantham entitled his third quarter investment letter "Night of the Living Fed," with a pretty amusing cover graphic:
Grantham's effort, however, pales besides New York Times columnist Gail Collins, however. Her op-ed today posits that the revived popularity of the zombie genre is a bad omen for politics:
Zombies are in. This cannot possibly be a good sign....
What’s the attraction of zombies? They don’t really do anything but stagger around and eat raw flesh. The plot possibilities seem limited. Zombies come. Humans shoot them. More zombies come. Humans hit them over the head with shovels. Nobody ever runs into a particularly sensitive zombie who wants to make peace with the nonflesh-devouring public. (“On behalf of the United Nations Security Council today, I would like to welcome the zombie delegation to the ... aaauuurrgghchompchompchomp.”)
Maybe that’s the whole point. Our horror movies are mirroring the world around us. The increasingly passé vampire story is about a society full of normal people threatened by a few bloodsuckers, some of whom are maybe just like you and me, except way older. It was fine for the age of Obama. But we’ve entered the era of zombie politics: a small cadre of uninfected humans have to band together and do whatever it takes to protect themselves against the irrational undead....
I have three responses to this.
First, I wish
her minions Ms. Collins had taken a deeper bite out of the zombie canon in researching her op-ed, because, as I discuss in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, there is the possibility that the undead would follow the George Romero narrative arc and learn over time. From p. 42-3 of the text:
Even in Night of the Living Dead, Romero's ghouls demonstrated the capacity for using tools. In each of his subsequent films, the undead grew more cognitively complex. The zombie characters of Bub in Day of the Dead and Big Daddy in Land of the Dead were painted with a more sympathetic brush than most of the human characters. Both Bub and Big Daddy learned how to use firearms. Bub was able to speak, perform simple tasks, and engage in impulse control-that is, to refrain from eating a human he liked. Big Daddy and his undead cohort developed a hierarchical authority structure with the ability to engage in tactical and strategic learning. In doing so they overran a well-fortified human redoubt and killed its most powerful leader. It would take only the mildest of cognitive leaps to envision a zombie-articulated defense of these actions at the United Nations (emphasis added).
If you buy the book, you'll see some sweet artwork depicting this very possibility.
Second, Collins repeats a point that others have made in the past -- that the persistence of the zonbie genre seems aesthetically puzzling because the zombies themselves are such uninteresting characters. That misses the point, however -- what makes the zombie genre interesting has less to do with the ghouls themselves than with how humans respond to them. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead are exactly the same -- it's the human responses that evoke such different responses to those films. Sure, it's quick and easy to label one's political opponents as brain-dead zombies -- what's intriguing is how one responds to that possibility.
Third, it is noteworthy that both conservatives and liberals are using the zombie metaphor to advance their aims. They both think the other side is brainless. This doesn't sound good for political discourse -- but it might just lead to a cultural consensus.
Ten days ago,The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibbard pointed out the ideological split in TV-watching. Both sides like a lot of quality TV shows, but different ones: Democrats lean towards Mad Men, 30 Rock and The Good Wife; Republicans go for Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and The Amazing Race. I'm willing to bet, however, that The Walking Dead appeals to both sides of the partisan fence, precisely because they imagine the other side as the zombies.
This leads to an interesting prediction. Politicians, pundits and professors like to use pop culture references to explain a concept to the widest possible audience. If zombie TV is one of the few remaining places where an ideologically diverse group, however, then we're going to see a lot more uses of the zombie metaphor in politics over the next few years.
From Mark Lilla, "The Beck of Revelation," New York Review of Books, December 9, 2010 issue:
[A]fter reading these books and countless articles on the man, I’m coming to the conclusion that searching for the “real” Glenn Beck makes no sense. The truth is, demagogues don’t have cores. They are mediums, channeling currents of public passion and opinion that they anticipate, amplify, and guide, but do not create; the less resistance they offer, the more successful they are. This nonresistance is what distinguishes Beck from his confreres in the conservative media establishment, who have created more sharply etched characters for themselves....
As anyone who witnessed his performance on the Washington Mall can attest, what makes him particularly appealing to his audience is not his positions, it is that he appears to feel and fear and admire and instinctively believe what his listeners do, even when their feelings, fears, esteem, and beliefs are changing or self-contradictory. This is the gift of the true demagogue, to successfully identify his own self, rather than his opinions, with the selves of his followers—and to equate both with the “true” nation.
From Eric Wilson, "Kim Kardashian, Inc.," New York Times, November 18, 2010:
She does not talk about fashion and image as most designers and celebrity designers do, with platitudes about quality and authenticity, but rather as a person who seems wholly content to allow consumers to project upon her whatever image they wish.
“I really do believe I am a brand for my fans,” she said.
She does not talk about design in terms of cut or craft, either, but of Twitter and Facebook, of blogs and text messages. When fans ask her what she is wearing or what lip gloss she uses, she answers them and then creates products in the vein of what they like. When she was deciding on a color for her Kim Kardashian perfume bottle, she asked her followers on Twitter whether they preferred a hot pink or a light pink. (It was light pink, by far.) “Twitter is the most amazing focus group out there,” she said.
These are the connections my brain will make after reading blog posts about Snookiism.
I got to thinking – what other musical super stars could run as leaders to help fix the nations of the world? In what way could Lady Gaga help with nation-building projects? Could Paul McCartney advise the World Bank in any way (other than being able to possibly fund a small third world nation by himself for a year)?
I'll leave it to others to answer the latter two questions -- but the first one is a real doozy. Carvin offers some intriguing possibilities. As someone who's researched the link between celebrities and world politics, however, it's worth pondering the question further.
For me, the musicians I'd want in charge are the ones who demonstrated the ability to persist over time (which disqualifies Lady Gaga for now), the ability to fashion a coherent agenda (which disqualifies Bono), and the ability to avoid a shame spiral that embarrasses the country in question (which disqualifies Britney Spears and many, many others).
So, which musician would I trust with, say, American hegemony? Here are my top 5:
5) Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers. This band has stayed vital for close to two decades, and a crucial moment was Flea's decision to re-recruit guitarist John Frusciante when the band's fortunes were flagging. The result was Californication and the Chili Peppers' return to relevance. Sounds like someone who could make good staffing decisions. Downside: could raise constitutional issues -- Flea was born in Australia.
4) Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters. After 1994, he could have gone through the rest of his life resting on his laurels as the drummer for the greatest American punk band in history. Instead, he became a frontman and formed the Foo Fighters. And here just has to be a negotiating advantage from listening to this song before going into serious international negotiations. Downside: Grohl would need to get a serious grip on his coffee addiction.
3) Justin Timberlake. The only member of 'N Sync to thrive after the death of boy bands. The only ex of Britney Spears to be known for something other than dating Britney Spears. The only person I know who can be consistently funny on Saturday Night Live. Clearly, he's a survivor. Downside: Hmmm... sure, Timberlake is a survivor, but is he responsible for the demise of Britney and boy bands?
2) Snoop Dogg. Anyone who needs his own translator is bound to confuse and obfuscate his adversaries. Also, the man never seems rattled by anything -- exactly the kind of cool head we need in the White House. Downside: there could be reasons beyond temperment that he's so mellow.
1) Madonna. She's been in vogue for decades now. She's been a true blue survivor, a ray of light to other female singers looking to break into the music industry. If there's anyone who knows how to properly game a situation, it's her. Downside: There's this. And this. This too. Oh, don't forget this. Also, I'm not sure she thinks she's an American anymore.
Readers are warmly invited to proffer their own suggestions for musico-political royalty.
The USA's thrilling, last-minute victory over Algeria yesterday seemed tailor-made for pushing the popularity of the sport in this country to the next level. Americans like winners, but they really like last-minute, come-from-behind winners, and this American team seems to excel in that area.
On the other hand.... I'm not sure I really want Americans to care that much about what happens on a
soccer field football pitch. To see why, consider this Steven Erlanger story in the New York Times about how the French elite has reacted to that country's ignominious exit from the World Cup:
The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who has often criticized the failures of French assimilation, compared the players to youths rioting in the banlieues, France’s suburban ghettos. “We now have proof that the French team is not a team at all, but a gang of hooligans that knows only the morals of the mafia,” he said in a radio interview.
While most politicians have talked carefully of values and patriotism, rather than immigration and race, some legislators blasted the players as “scum,” “little troublemakers” and “guys with chickpeas in their heads instead of a brain,” according to news reports.
Fadela Amara, the junior minister for the racially charged suburbs who was born to Algerian parents, warned on Tuesday that the reaction to the team’s loss had become racially charged.
“There is a tendency to ethnicize what has happened,” she told a gathering of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing party, according to news reports. “Everyone condemns the lower-class neighborhoods. People doubt that those of immigrant backgrounds are capable of respecting the nation.”
She criticized Mr. Sarkozy’s handling of a debate on “national identity,” warning that “all democrats and all republicans will be lost” in this ethnically tinged criticism about Les Bleus, the French team. “We’re building a highway for the National Front,” she said, in a reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen....
Mr. Sarkozy himself called a meeting on the disastrous result on Wednesday, summoning Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot and Rama Yade, the junior sports minister. In a statement, he said he had ordered them “to rapidly draw the lessons of this disaster.”
Now, to be fair, there have been a few moments in the past when a US team has performed so abysmally on the global stage that it prompted a minor, ugly political kerfuffle (I'm thinking of the 2000 Olympic men's basketball team). Still, in order, here's what I don't want to see happen in the United States:
1. Philosophers using a national team's sporting performance to opine about the state of the union;
2. Any politician blaming the performance of a national sports team on the country's government;
3. A Minister of Sport;
4. A head of state summoning the head of government and other policy principals to discuss the broad socioeconomic lessons that can be drawn from the failures of a f***ing football team.
The Nation's Dave Zirin bemoans the ways in which events like the World Cup promote jingoism and nationalism in the United States, but he's aiming at the wrong target. Americans will celebrate the successes of team USA and within 24 hours forget the failures. The ways in which the rest of the world inflate the importance of this event as some august commentary on their country's national standing are beyond silly. Wars, assassinations, and stock market downturns have been (sort of) started because of this kind of silliness.
I'll take American semi-engagement with soccer over French obsession any day of the week, thank you very much.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Apparently, rants about the World Cup generate a lot of traffic to this blog. With that in mind, one of the things that fascinates me about the World Cup is the orgy of self-examination it produces about when or whether Americans truly embrace
futbol football soccer?
From what I can ascertain, there are two clear camps. The enthusiast camp, epitomized by this Daniel Gross essay, suggests that it's just so hard to be a soccer fan in the United States:
Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you're not really a part of it. And the thing you're celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time.
Jonathan Chait's rejoinder to Gross' essay best epitomizes the rejectionist school of thought. Part of it is a genuine disdain for soccer, a game with lots of flopping and 0-0 ties and is ripe for Simpsons parodies. I suspect that another component is hostility to the trendiness of the game among DC media elites and intellectuals. My local sports radiop station has had a contest to name these people, and come up with "nilrods."
My hunch, however, is that neither of these descriptions fit the American attitude towards World Cup soccer. I've seen elevated but not overwhelming interest in the World Cup. Any honest assessment of soccer would have to acknowledge that the game can be boring for long stretches, punctuated by some moments of genuine excitement and athleticism -- not unlike baseball.
The fact is, there are plenty of sports in the United States that occasionally capture the intermittent attention of the casual sports fan, but won't "break through" the sports zeitgeist until and unless the United States fields a successful national team. This is how it tends to work with the Olympic team sports, and it's how it will work with the World Cup. If the United States can advance far in this tournament, Americans will become more interested; if not, they'll switch back to baseball and the NFL draft.
In this approach, the casual sports fan is using a strategy of "rational ignorance" -- i.e., not caring until the team is sufficiently successful. This is the kind of thing that political scientists tend to understand, but sports and politics junkies reject as somehow not representing true fandom. But it is how most people think about most things in life most of the time.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Last night the Miss USA pageant crowned Rima Fakih the winner. This is interesting for three reasons: A) Fakih is an Arab-American; B) Fakih's performance in the pageant was a bit underwhelming; and C) Fakih's victory has triggered a big blog controversy.
In a moment that was replayed during the broadcast, Fakih nearly fell while finishing her walk in her gown because of the length of its train. But she made it without a spill and went on to win....
During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it's costly.
"I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it's a," Fakih said.
This prompted Michelle Malkin to argue that the politically correct fix was in:
Between the NYTimes, MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and the late night talkers, we wouldn’t hear the end of it....
Fakih’s cheerleaders are too busy tooting the identity politics horn to care what comes out of her mouth.
Daniel Pipes goes further -- he thinks this is part of a disturbing macrotrend in Western society:
[Fakih's victory] prompts me to recall some prior instances of Muslim women winning beauty contests in Western countries.
Juliette Boubaaya, 19, was Mlle Picardie in 2009.
Nora Ali was America's Junior Miss in 2007.
Hammasa Kohistani, 19, was Miss England in 2006.
Sarah Mendly, 23, was Miss Nottingham in 2005.
They are all attractive, but this surprising frequency of Muslims winning beauty pageants makes me suspect an odd form of affirmative action.
Clearly, this is the kind of all-consuming, must-respond debate that your humble blogger has no choice but to work through.
In the interest of being useful to college juniors no doubt pondering a good topic for a senior IR thesis, let's propose three topics that could come from this kerfuffle:
1) Has political correctness gotten to beauty pageants? This is Pipes' and Malkin's thesis. Malkin at least has an empirical toehold in observing that right-wing contestants might be treated differently than left-wing ones. Fakih is no former Miss South Carolina -- but if the AP story picked up the contrast between her performance and her victory, well, that justifies some further inquiry.
Pipes' assertion, however, is just horses**t. He manages to dredge up the names of five Arab/Muslim women in the span of five years to suggest affirmative action. Let's be ultraconservative and assume that there are a combined 100 pageants a year in the countries of concern to Pipes. That means that out of 500 possible contest winners, a whopping 1% of them are Arab and/or Muslim in countries far lower than the percentage of Arab/Muslim populations living in these countries. That's nothing close to resembling affirmative action.
2) How do Arab Muslim beauty pageant contestants define their identity? Liberty Pundit interprets the issue this way: "She’s in America. She’s doing what beautiful American girls do. She’s acting Western." Is this assertion true? I would anticipate that in-depth interviews of the contestants would be required -- as well as a control sample of non-Muslim contestants to ensure a sufficiently divergent set of cases.
3) Is what's good for the pageant good for the winner? Jonathan Turley notes the recent injection of politics into the pageant interviews:
As with the Prejean controversy, it continues to amaze me that people inject politics (and frankly substance) in this beauty contest. Usually it is an effort to elevate the competition but at times it is an effort to paint the contestants in a darker light.
Actually, if it's intentional, the injection of politics is pretty clever gambit by the pageant owner, Donald Trump. After all, political controversy catches the attention of people who otherwise would
watch beauty pageants as a guilty pleasure but deny it at a Senate confirmation hearing not watch bueaty pageants. The Miss America beauty pageant, for example, has suffered declining ratings for years. If politics livens up the buzz factor for these things, the organizers would be fools not to ask third rail questions on issues like immigration.
Of course, what's good for the pageant might be bad for the winner. In theory, Miss USA, like other celebrities, should be able to use their star power to promote their own charities and causes. However, as I noted here, political controversy is guaranteed to tarnish their luster and reduce their ability to appeal across the political spectrum. Miss USA winner has some charitable alliances -- but political controversies can harm the star power of the winner.
I look forward to reading the papers that answer these questions.
Yesterday I received a lot of queries about this Bret Stephens op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
Pop quiz—What does more to galvanize radical anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world: (a) Israeli settlements on the West Bank; or (b) a Lady Gaga music video?
If your answer is (b) it means you probably have a grasp of the historical roots of modern jihadism. If, however, you answered (a), then congratulations: You are perfectly in synch with the new Beltway conventional wisdom....
There may well be good reasons for Israel to dismantle [the settlements], assuming that such an act is met with reciprocal and credible Palestinian commitments to suppress terrorism and religious incitement, and accept Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. But to imagine that the settlements account for even a fraction of the rage that has inhabited the radical Muslim mind since the days of [Sayyid] Qutb is fantasy: The settlements are merely the latest politically convenient cover behind which lies a universe of hatred. If the administration's aim is to appease our enemies, it will get more mileage out of banning Lady Gaga than by applying the screws on Israel. It should go without saying that it ought to do neither.
Your humble blogger has long defended the vital role that pop tarts could play in U.S. foreign policy, so you think I'd have a long-winded response. Fortunately, I'm lazy, so a couple of other bloggers have tackled this question.
As Andrew Exum points out, Middle Eastern, Hezbollah-supporting pop tarts like Hayfa Wehbe can throw down with Lady Gaga any day of the week when it comes to provocative music videos. In fact, we will now take a 10-second station identification so every reader can visualize that precise throwdown:
[You're reading Daniel W. Drezner at ForeignPolicy.com -- your source for global politics, economics, and salacious pop culture!!--ed.]
Daniel Larison suggests that Stephens is suffering from a wee bit of present-ism:
That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there. Hegemonists can obsess over the writings of Qutb all they want, but it will not change the reality that anti-American jihadist violence did not occur until the misguided 1982-83 intervention in Lebanon. U.S. and Israeli military operations and policies of occupation provoke much broader, more intense resentment among Muslims than any general dissatisfaction with the decadence of Western culture and its deleterious effects on their own societies. The suicide bomber in Khost was radicalized by the treatment of Gaza, not the performances of Lady Gaga. It might suit a certain type of Westerner to associate fanaticism, political violence and strict moralism, but on the whole this is a misunderstanding and a distraction from the real causes of the problem.
The recent Moscow subway bombings are instructive on this point. The bombings are outrageous atrocities for which there is no excuse or justification, but one would have to be a blind fool to say that Chechen grievances, which outside jihadists have been exploiting for the last decade, are based in morally offensive Russian pop culture. It is acceptable for hegemonists to acknowledge this when Russia is the target of terrorist attacks, but when it comes to acknowledging U.S. and allied policies as important contributing factors we are treated instead to these sweeping cultural arguments and close readings of Sayyid Qutb.
And, finally, Cato's Justin Logan goes for the kill shot:
Stephens veers back toward falsifiability by writing that “the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West” is that we’re too sexed-up. This is, of course, not accurate. Bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa, after all, was not titled “Declaration of War against the Americans with their Supple Buttocks and Protuberant Breasts.” Instead, it was called “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.” Or you can take a look at the second fatwa, released in 1998. The three big claims made against us in there were
- Our presence in Saudi Arabia and support for the Saudi government, which he hates;
- Our sanctions regime against Iraq and its alleged effects on Iraqi civilians; and
- Our support for Israel.
There’s a lot you can do with this information, up to and including supposing that bin Laden would not be satisfied even if these three conditions were somehow removed. You can also read the actual fatwas and conclude that the Israel stuff was far from the centerpiece of the argument and seemed sort of tacked on at the end for good measure. I actually think both these arguments are good ones. But actually thinking about what’s in those texts should cause you to ask why, of all the grievances he could have lodged, including our reverence for Josephine Baker, did he pick those three issues?
One last thought. Let's ignore what these other bloggers have said for a moment. Let's temporarily accept Stephens' assumption that Muslims in the Middle East are equally exercised about Israel/Palestine and the decadence of U.S. popular culture. If that's true, from a policy perspective, which issue should the United States prioritize?
If you think about this in terms of American national interests, it's not a close call. Pushing Israel/Palestine forward requires leaning a bit harder on an ally that is actually vulnerable to U.S. pressure. Censoring U.S. popular culture would require massive domestic costs. If you were offering the president advice among these policy options, which one would you say yields the greatest gain for the least cost to the United States?
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Longtime readers might recall this August post about how international relations theory would cope with a zombie attack, which in turn prompted further blog inquiries from other disciplines.
The trigger for that post was a mathematical simulation by Carelton University researchers that came to a bummer of a conclusion:
An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead.... A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly.
Well, hold everything! Richard Nielson at the Social Science Statistics Blog alerts us to new research on the matter from Blake Messer:
The latter problem may be less intuitive so I'll explain my reasoning: Humans who survive the initial outbreak survive for a reason. Disproportionately, they were faster, smarter, and stronger to begin with than their fallen peers. Even if they weren't, they were luckier and have probably been able to, at least, find a more defensible location than where they started at round zero of the outbreak, increasing their chances of survival simply by virtue of having survived the early rounds of the outbreak.
So, I constructed a computational agent-based zombie outbreak model to test how my assumptions might alter the solution.
His result seems pretty encouraging:
[T]he [Carelton University] team's model leaves something more profound out the equation: human capacity for ex-post organization and response. When accounting for these things, I can find scenarios of large initial zombie outbreaks that, when followed by quick adoption of strong anti-zombie defense policies may help pockets, or even large fractions of civilization to ward off the impending doom of mass zombie infection! How exciting!
Phew!! Sounds like an uprising of the undead won't be as calamitous as we originally thought.
Except that then we get to Gabriel Rossman's sociological take:
[If] the Romero movies have taught us anything, it’s that the defensive resources are only effective if they aren’t sabotaged by the internal squabbles of humans. (If you’re not familiar with Romero’s movies, think of what Newman from Seinfeld did in “Jurassic Park”). Thus you’d have to add another parameter, which is the probability in any given period that some jackass sabotages the defensive perimeter, steals the battle bus, etc. If such sabotage eliminates or even appreciably reduces the “safe area” efficacy then human survival in the “safe areas” is contingent on the act of sabotage not occurring....
So a more elaborated model would not only have to add in parameters for spatial heterogeneity, but also human sabotage.
The man has a point. Indeed, other zombie enthusiasts have made related points:
[T]he prospect of a zombie apocalypse actually represents a chance to throw off the constrictive fetters of society, shoot your neighbours in the face, steal some guns and a car, and drive off into the sunrise, taking along only those friends and family you trust and care about the most. As such, it represents a simplifying of life.
However, part of what needs to be figured out is whether there is any organizational cohesion in the wake of a zombie attack. As the Carnegie school of political organizations would suggest, organizations exist in part to compensate for the
stupidity bounded rationality of individuals. Perhaps hierarchy and standard operating procedures in the wake of zombie attacks would help prevent the kind of sabotage discussed by Rossman.
And yet. If bureaucratic conflicts and organizational pathologies hamper effective counter-terrorism policies, imagine the effect they would have on anti-zombie policies. The bureaucratic turf wars would be significant. Quelling the rise of the undead would require significant interagency coordination. In the United States, one could easily envisage major roles for the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Health and Human Services. This does not include autonomous or semi-autonomous agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, and the myriad intelligence agencies.
So the ability of organizations to adapt to an army of the undead is an open question. Clearly, further research in this area is desperately needed.
I can't believe I watched the whole thing -- the 2010 Academy Awards show made Avatar seem tightly paced. Seriously, the show went downhill the moment Neil Patrick Harris left the stage. To be fair, there were no real surprises among the actual winners, draining any suspense from the proceedings.
Of course, this is a Foreign Policy blog -- so are there any lessons that can be drawn about world politics from such a pop culture phenomenon? Actually, yes:
1) Clearly, security studies trumps international political economy when it comes to the Academy Awards. I noted yesterday that Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds were all about war and resistance. Those films received ten academy awards. The only nominated film that addressed IPE was Up in The Air, and it got shut out.
2) That said, the awards also suggest that in Hollywood, Thucydides' dictum that "the strong do what they can, the weak do what they must" does not entirely hold. Despite being the highest grossing picture in history, Avatar got clobbered by The Hurt Locker. So much for financial power translating into prestige. That said, I'm pretty sure Kathryn Bigelow could take James Cameron in a fight, so maybe there was a different kind of power at work here.
3) Hey, that was some hard-core bargaining going on between Disney and Cablevision as the awards show was beginning.
4) The person with the greatest amount of "soft power" in Hollywood? Tina Fey. The woman could be paired with an eggplant and she'd get the eggplant some laughs.
5) Clearly, the Academy Awards has problems dealing with asymmetric threats. How else do you explain a three-minute homage to horror films in which the entire zombie genre gets less than a second of screen time??!!! Hello?! Chucky from Child's Play got a longer shot, for crying out loud!
One final thought: if there was any justice in the world, the Best Visual Effects Oscar would have been a tie between Demi Moore and Michelle Pfeiffer. In general, I found a rough but direct correlation between age and fashion sense. The older the actress, the more chic they looked.
Post your own thoughts in the comments.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
That said, this evening's festivities are a bit odd, in that there are so many mortal locks in the major categories. Christoph Waltz is gonna win for Best Supporting Actor, Mo'Nique is gonna win for Best Supporting Actor, Jeff Bridges is gonna win for Best Actor, and so forth.
For reasons that passeth all understanding, Salma Hayek did not appear in a Major Prestige Picture. This leaves the Best Actress category is a bit more muddled. Unfortunately, I fear that Sandra Bullock will win in a year when Gabourey Sidibe, Carey Mulligan and especially Meryl Streep gave better performances.
It's interesting that these are the three films being talked about, since they're all war pictures, even though they're operating in very different keys. Long-time readers know how I feel about Avatar, so I won't regurgitate it here. I finally saw The Hurt Locker last night. It's much better than Avatar -- there are nuances to the characters and everything -- its massive adrenaline rush began to wear off about two-thirds of the way into the picture (though the final 10 minutes are better than entire hours of Avatar). And as that rush worse off, so did the willing suspension of disbelief.
Then there's Charli Carpenter, who's rooting for the Basterds:
Tarantino has done what he always does best, though not always in the same way - something unexpected that makes us uncomfortable. Partly because so many of the uncomfortable conversations the film would have sparked are about one of the most important moral issues of our day: the limits of just war theory. And partly because Basterds does something most films don't do: make us think about film itself as it ties into power politics.
In what is likely a sign of advanced aging, the film I'll be pulling for is Up -- because the directors of this movie had the audacity and skill to put this effortlessly heartbreaking sequence into a children's movie. Oh, and because of Dug.
I'll live-tweet the show itself, with a wrap-up post sometime in the morrow.
Over at the Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman creates a new conceptual category:
One thing I realized is that everybody hates Starbucks. From the left, Starbucks is a creepy bit of corporate America, whereas the right sees the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops as a snobby overpriced slice of big-city liberalism. Not everybody feels that way, of course—let’s not forget the zillions of latte-swilling customers out there—but the Seattle-based sugar-and-caffeine-dispensary does seem to be disliked by both ends of the political spectrum.
As is White House economist Lawrence Summers, who is despised on the left for his Wall Street connections, his links to the bank bailouts, and, of course, that infamous “pollution memo”—while also being mocked on the right for being an economic redistributionist who couldn’t even hold down the job of president of Harvard (a post that traditionally has a turnover rate closer to that of Popes than that of manager of the Steinbrenner-era Yankees).
This raises an interesting question -- what foreign policies fall into this category as well? Off the top of my head, I can think of a fair number of them:
I'm sensing a trend here....
The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon, Evan Ramsted, and Peter Spiegel provide a nicely detailed rundown on what U.S. officials think is happening in North Korea. Essentially, U.S. policymakers in the know believe that the arrangements for a power succession from Kim Jong Il to his relatives are causing Pyongyang to act even weirder than usual.
The story contains that classic combination of Kremlinology and bizarre personal detail that make the DPRK regime so entertaining for anyone not living within the range of the Taepodong-2 missile. For example:
U.S. officials said they increasingly view [Kim Jong Il's third son] Kim Jong Un as an important player in North Korea's power equation. The 26-year-old has emerged as a stronger contender than either of his brothers. Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Il's eldest son, was widely discredited in 2001 when he was detained in Japan for traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport in a bid to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The middle son, Kim Young Chol, has been described as frail and unlikely to possess the stature to lead.
Kim Jong Il seems to view Kim Jong Un as the most like him in views and values, said the senior U.S. defense official. The younger son's mother, Ko Yong Hee, who died in a 2004 car crash, is also believed to be Kim Jong Il's favorite of his three wives.
Kim Jong Un fascinates North Korea analysts as he studied at an international school in Bern, Switzerland and is reported to be a fan of Western pop stars. (emphasis added)
I see the makings of a deal here -- instead of security guarantees and light-water nuclear reactors, what if the U.S. instead offered to build a Pyongyang Disneyworld complex? With special VIP-only lines for relatives of Kim? [Who could afford the regular lines?--ed. Oh, they'd still want the velvet ropes.]
Furthermore, in this blog's ongoing efforts to find social utility from washed-up pop stars, shouldn't the U.S. also offer a lifetime contract for Miss Britney Spears to host the resort? Now, I know what you're thinking --
Drezner is behind on his Entertainment Weekly reading hasn't pop culture moved past Britney? Well, I figure that it takes a few years for these trends to trickle into the DPRK. See, it's win-win!!
Somewhat more seriously, I have to wonder about the utility of this kind of Kremlinological analysis. I've been... unimpressed with the kind of research that tries to predict future policy prefereces based on past biography. These kind of analyses often do a good job of explaining things after the fact -- but I don't remember anyone using this kind of work to correctly predict a Gorbachev or a Deng. For the DPRK, the family dynamics make it even harder to discern, of course.
Whenever there is a discussion about the structural shifts taking place in the American economy, there's usually a question along the lines of, "where will the new jobs come from?"
This is a fantastically difficult question to answer. The answer requires an ability to predict future sectoral trends in the economy, which last I checked is pretty difficult. For example, we know that many journalists are going the way of do-do, but what will they do instead?
The New York Times' Noam Cohen, however, has pointed the way towards future employment opportunities for writers:
In its short history, Twitter — a microblogging tool that uses 140 characters in bursts of text — has become an important marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses, promising a level of intimacy never before approached online, as well as giving the public the ability to speak directly to people and institutions once comfortably on a pedestal.
But someone has to do all that writing, even if each entry is barely a sentence long. In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers — ghost Twitterers, if you will — who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star’s own voice.
Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace.
Britney Spears recently advertised for someone to help, among other things, create content for Twitter and Facebook. Kanye West recently told New York magazine that he has hired two people to update his blog. “It’s just like how a designer would work,” he said.
Guest Twitterers are just the beginning. I see a robust future for Twitter script doctors ("the first clause is great, but the last three words died in the 18-24 demographic."), Twitter proofreaders ("are we using the English or American version of 'harbor'?"), and -- in world politics -- Twitter translators and diplomatic advisors ("Mr. President, I'm not sure that twittering 'the dollar is here to stay, motherf***ers!' is really the right message to send right before the London summit.")
And, as Tom Ricks points out, foreign actors might need some assistance on this front as well.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.