‘Groundhog Day’ as a theory of love

3 Mar

WHEN I learned that Harold Ramis died last week, I reacted the way I’m guessing many others did: By queueing up “Groundhog Day.”

The 1993 movie about almost-eternal life, which Ramis co-wrote and directed, is the deepest light comedy of all time, variously held up as a parable of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Kabbalah, Nietzsche, Camus, the Sisyphus myth, the practice of yoga, the process of recovery.

It’s less celebrated — though it should be — as a theory of love. Because it turns out that Ramis’s true genius was making “Groundhog Day” into a romantic comedy, when it easily could have been something else.

Read the rest of my Boston Globe column here.

Why Phil Robertson = Kim Kardashian

4 Jan

And Archie Bunker. My Boston Globe column about the “Duck Dynasty” saga:


SO I was doing an Internet search on “Duck Dynasty.” These days, it’s the thing to do. And at one point, I Googled “bullets and beef jerky,” a term that came up in this year’s holiday special, when two stars of A&E’s smash-hit reality show were standing in the local Walmart, discussing Christmas gifts for their employees, concluding that, with a certain pair of items, you really can’t go wrong.

“Bullets and beef jerky,” they continued, in such a self-congratulatory way that I wondered if it had become a catchphrase, in the vein of Jersey Shore’s “Gym, Tan, Laundry.” Turns out, not yet. But the phrase did turn up a blog that’s dedicated to refuting everything Sarah Palin says.

This seems a dubious way to spend your time, given Sarah Palin’s current state of relevance. But Palin has been a staunch defender of “Duck Dynasty,” and this blogger, who hates Palin, hates the top-rated cable series by extension. Not that she has ever actually seen it.

“I am proud to say that I have NEVER watched an episode,” she wrote. But she had watched an Internet clip of that Walmart scene, and from that, concluded that the show represents everything wrong with America. “I am astounded, saddened, and scared that this show is so popular,” she proclaimed.

Read the rest of the column here.

My take on Miley

14 Sep

I expected some backlash for this one — and I got it — but I also discovered that plenty of people agree. Take her VMA turn in the context of current pop music  – with its  astoundingly retro set of gender relations — and what Miley did, tongue and all,  looks a little more impressive:

At the VMAs, Cyrus shared the stage with Robin Thicke, whose “Blurred Lines” is a throwback in every way to the days when girls were seen as mere tools for boys’ pleasure. And yes, in a reference to the women in Thicke’s video, Cyrus was almost naked, while Thicke was fully clothed.

But in her tongue-wagging way, Cyrus turned the script around. Unlike the women in the video, she didn’t just prance past him or — oy, Marlo! — allow herself to be pet. She sang with him, teased him, challenged him, and proved herself the bigger star.

Read the rest of the column — including nostalgia for “Free to Be You and Me” — here.

Weiner and Spitzer: It’s not about forgiveness.

13 Jul

A FEW MONTHS after the last presidential election, at a forum at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, a group of seasoned political consultants were discussing what makes a good candidate — someone voters will respond to and connect with. The answer, one said, was “authenticity.”

This isn’t necessarily a trait that voters — or campaigns — would name. Candidates like to pitch themselves as people with grand passions, brilliant ideas, noble backstories, or all-American values. (Not all necessarily at the same time, but hey, we can’t have everything.)

But this different and slightly subversive idea — that voters want, most of all, to know precisely what they’re getting — goes a long way toward explaining why there’s hope for Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.

They are destined to be paired in headlines all summer: the testosterone boys, recovered from their sex scandals and bidding to be New York City’s mayor and comptroller, respectively. And the standard political narrative puts them in the framework of downfall and redemption: sinners, tapping into America’s grand willingness to forgive….But maybe the public isn’t rewarding these guys’ repentance so much as their honesty. Maybe voters don’t need to forgive, or even forget; they just have to wrap it all into a credible big picture.

Read the rest of my Boston Globe column here

Dexter, Walter, Tony, and Dzhokhar

3 May

In Slate this week, I argued that the urge to find a logical backstory for the marathon bombing suspect — to imagine that, in the right circumstances, someone could have stopped him — is a habit we’ve honed by watching “quality TV:”


This is how television crowds into our lives: I know I wasn’t the only one who watched the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing while guiltily making comparisons to Homeland. I thought back to the chilling scenes, in Season 1 of the Showtime series, when Nick Brody, the POW-turned-terrorist, donned a suicide vest and prepared to visit destruction on Washington, D.C. I remembered the carnage at the end of Season 2, when a bomb goes off at a crowded event, killing and wounding scores of innocents. The reality of a terror attack—the senseless deaths, the horrific injuries—was, among other things, a kind of rebuke, a reminder of how easily we lap up these entertainments.

But there’s another way TV has influenced our reaction to the Boston bombing, another screen impulse that has found its way into real life. It’s the urge to see a perpetrator—in this case, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—as a person we can understand.

Read the rest of the essay here.

#BostonStrong: The search for answers

29 Apr

I wrote two columns for the Globe in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The first — which I later read aloud on Australian radio — was about the jarring task of telling a child what happened. The second was about the quest to understand why a young man – not much older than a child – could do something like this.

Why do so many people want to understand Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? To find within him some speck of humanity?

That’s not an accusation; it’s a statement of fact. In the weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings — in columns, in tweets, in hushed and guilty conversations — there has been a widespread urge to get inside the suspect’s head, to imagine him somehow brainwashed, bullied, regretful. Not everyone feels this way, of course. But it’s not hard to view Tsarnaev differently from the 9/11 bombers, or from Jared Lee Loughner or Adam Lanza, two other young men who committed mass murder in recent months.

Those men, the common narrative goes, were sick. Distant. Separate. Tsarnaev was different. Before the mayhem, he seemed to be one of us.

This is a pressing mystery of the bombings, and the fact that we’re hunting for answers doesn’t mean we’re going soft. It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

It has to do with unanswered questions, both general and specific, and the hope that somehow, answers could prevent further attacks. How do small numbers of young men grow radicalized? How do they lose their humanity? How do they evolve from boys — with friends, parents, social lives — to killers?

Read the rest of the column here.

Why I wouldn’t buy sneakers from Manti Te’o

25 Jan

Manti Te’o and Katie Couric have the same publicist, which goes a long way toward explaining how Couric — as opposed to, say, Oprah — landed the first on-camera interview with Te’o yesterday on her syndicated talk show, “Katie.” It was an unmitigated success for Couric, whose ratings soared to their highest levels since her show’s debut. She has been praised for her willingness to ask follow-up questions, and for the fact that she seemed tough, channeling a nation’s skepticism about the world’s weirdest supposed love-story hoax.

Couric wasn’t Oprah, so she didn’t have that grand bearing, that Oprah-esque way of suggesting that someone has Wronged The Nation and Must Be Set Right.
But then, Te’o didn’t wrong a nation so much as he confused and unwittingly entertained it. So Couric’s demeanor fit: She was more like your high school friend’s nice-but-nosy mom, who would sit you down at the kitchen table and pour you a Coke and ask you probing questions about your life. With Te’o, she couldn’t believe the answers — not because she’s a journalist with a killer instinct, but because she’s a human being with a normal amount of sense in her head.

(Read the rest of my post from Boston.com’s The Angle blog here.)


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