What I Read the Week of December 2

Trolls

“Stop Calling Me a Troll” by Farhad Manjoo, Slate — The first two links this week are both about word usage. They take on common words that have been “defined down” and are now used way too much, and often inappropriately. This first article is about the word troll, specifically the internet slang term. That word, when used properly, is a great example of an effective internet-era neologism. But, as Manjoo points out, the word is often used to disparage people whose opinions simply differ from one’s own. This is both incorrect and unintentionally flattering to some people who honestly hold to stupid opinions. Manjoo provides an extensive list of people who have been accused of being trolls, then explains how maybe only one or two of them actually are.

“There Is No Such Thing as ‘Verbal Rape’ (or ‘Facebook Rape’ or ‘Netflix Rape’)” by Karen Swallow Prior, The Atlantic — The misuse of the second word, “rape,” is much more serious. And it’s been a much louder trend. Prior lists some of the most egregious examples. Some people in the comment section argue that secondary definitions of the term are more general, and hence the usage is actually appropriate. But this misses the point. There is nothing compassionate or thoughtful about using the term lightly when physical rape remains such a danger to women all over the world. Let’s be careful with our language.

“We Hardly Knew Ye” by Michael Atkinson, Moving Image Source — This article intelligently dissects the problems with an always popular film genre: the biographical film, or biopic. Far too many films in the genre attempt to reduce an entire lifetime to the typical three-act narrative structure. It’s an injustice to the complexity of a human life, and almost always an injustice to the complexities of history as well. Atkinson asks a simple question that could almost serve as a litmus test for any biopic: would this story be worth telling if it were not a “true story”? Thankfully, he also lists a couple exceptions — biopics that are among the greatest films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia and Raging Bull — but he believes them to be exceedingly few and far between. Personally, I liked Lincoln, but I see his point.

Ave Maria

“Mass Medium” by Michael Koresky, Reverse Shot — I love Disney’s Fantasia; it’s one of my favorite movies. I always love to read positive reviews of it, because not everyone agrees with me. Some would say that it’s too boring for kids and too cutesy for classical music lovers, so in essence it has no audience. Maybe we on the pro-Fantasia side are a strange lot, but there’s no denying the film’s audacity and breathtaking animation. Koresky focuses mostly on the final segment of the film, which I found refreshing. The Ave Maria section is seldom commented upon, and I’m not afraid to admit that as a young child, I stopped the movie at the end of Night on Bald Mountain. But for more patient eyes, the Ave Maria is a magnificent work of art, and Koresky does an excellent job expressing its spiritual and technical significance.

“Why Mark Driscoll Is Wrong about Twilight” by Beth Felker Jones, Her.meneutics — Jones makes two points, both of them very important. First, Driscoll makes an implication that is both common and wrong: that only men suffer from pornography addiction, and that therefore something like the Twilight books and movies can be the “female equivalent” of porn. That’s a profoundly damaging stereotype. This point fits well with the first two articles as a reminder to use terms that carry significant emotional baggage only when they truly apply. Second, Jones thinks that Driscoll focuses on the wrong things, namely vampirism and violence. The real problem with the Twilight worldview is about gender, the idea that women can only be completed by men and should give up everything else in order to be with one. This idea has been part of our culture for a long time, but we’re beginning to see progress against it. The popularity of Twilight, however, shows how far we have to go.

“The Real Father Christmas” by Charlotte Allen, Wall Street Journal — This book review of Adam C. English’s The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus opens with a brief history of the Santa Claus myth and how he became so popular in America. Then it gets into what the book is about, which is the real St. Nicholas. He is believed to have lived around the fourth century A.D., but his existence is questioned and not much can be said about him for certain. But the book, Allen says, is an interesting look at some of the stories about the man, stories that sound pretty familiar and form the basis for the legendary figure that just about everyone in the Western World can recognize.

As I said in the previous post, this will be the last addition to my “What I Read” series. It’s been fun, but it’s time for me to move on and stare into the abyss of the blank page more often. But to close, I think it’s appropriate to come full circle by listing this week’s “Words of the Day” at Dictionary.com. They are:

  • Alexipharmic, an adjective meaning “warding off poisoning or infection; antidotal; prophylactic.”
  • Effervescent, an adjective meaning “high-spirited; vivacious; lively.”
  • Pontificate, a verb meaning “to speak in a pompous or dogmatic manner.”
  • Erinaceous, an adjective meaning “of the hedgehog kind or family.”
  • Quench, a verb meaning “to slake, satisfy, or allay (thirst, desires, passion, etc.).”
  • Howdah, a noun meaning “(in the East Indies) a seat or platform for one or more persons, commonly with a railing and a canopy, placed on the back of an elephant.”
  • Anopisthograph, a noun meaning “manuscript, parchment, or book having writing on only one side of the leaves.”

One response to “What I Read the Week of December 2

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