I’ve selected seven of the most interesting online articles I shared on Facebook in August and September of this year. Cited below are excerpts that spell out the gist of each article and show what I most enjoy about them. Full articles can be accessed by clicking on the titles.
“We found that old Village Inn. It was closed — empty and despondent, surrounded by chains and KEEP OUT signs. There were outlet shops everywhere and we felt sad. Everywhere starts to look the same after a while, it’s the rare place that holds its own place in the world. We hopped the chains and stood in the parking lot. The skies opened up and the grey rained down. We kissed on the front step of that old restaurant and then we peered through the opaque windows of time to our old selves. Could we have imagined? Could we have imagined the life we now live and the choices we’ve made? Could we imagine the places we’ve gone and the tears we have wept together and the babies we’ve lost? Could we have imagined the way we smile at each other in such perfect knowing when our son — our son! — raptures over a plane ride? The way you make our daughters laugh until they shriek over tickles and the way we sleep altogether at night on our family holidays? Could we have imagined even something as simple as family holidays together with your parents and your sisters and their families? We could not. But here we are, nearly fifteen years later, kissing in an old abandoned breakfast restaurant parking lot while the rain falls and we remember?”
“Felix Salmon notes that in blind taste tests of wine, people almost invariably prefer sweeter varieties. This hardly means sweeter wines are always better—and Pepsi is sweeter than Coke. On this view it’s actually Pepsi that scored the marketing triumph, by convincing people that a blind taste test represents the true mark of soda flavor. Likewise, the idea that Coke triumphs because of ads rather than flavor has trouble explaining the failure of New Coke. New Coke had the same ads behind it as old Coke, but was specifically engineered to beat Pepsi in taste tests. But taste tests consist of relatively modest sips, and Americans don’t drink tiny sips of soda. … Serious soda drinkers consume multiple servings per day, every day of the week. And while we want something sweet, we don’t necessarily want that kind of long-term relationship with something too sweet. That’s why New Coke could succeed in a lab but fail in the marketplace. The Pepsi Challenge is a great marketing gimmick but not a viable path to displacing the leading brand. Some rivalries come down to the fundamentals. Coke just has a flavor that most people like better, and decades of brand-on-brand combat can’t change that.”
“So what is a good reader? He is someone who, first and foremost, loves books. The good reader opens to the first page expecting to be both delighted and challenged. He wants to be changed by the book—to reach the end and be a different person. A bad reader, by contrast, ‘rush[es] hastily forward to do things with the work of art instead of waiting for it to do something to them.’ The bad reader’s goal when approaching a book is to see what he might extract from it: an abstract principle that he can apply to his life to improve it, or a new standard by which to measure others, or a higher social standing, or just some predictable amusement. His primary love is himself. He is frustrated when a book challenges his ideas or lifestyle, when it makes him see what it’s like to be someone else, when it unsettles his status quo—even if those things have the ring of truth. The bad reader, [C.S.] Lewis says, seeks to ‘use’ the book for his own ends. The good reader wants to ‘receive’ it.”
“Body is soul in the Hollywood musical; in films of this genre, our ability to move and sing, to swivel our hips and exercise our vibratos, brings us closer to an essential form of existence. Musicals are the imaginary made flesh, and flesh is particularly pliable in Singin’ in the Rain. ‘Moses Supposes’ is a fitting example of this pliability, sending two of its main stars off on an exhilaratingly physical tangent. It’s not a complete non sequitur, though: in treating the speech teacher so negligibly (not unlike that stuffed dummy O’Connor tosses around in ‘Make ’em Laugh’) and the English language so irreverently (‘Sinful Caesar sipped his snifter, seized his knees and sneezed’), antiauthoritarian hepcats Don and Cosmo are expressing their anxieties about the changing values of their medium. It’s thrilling that they do so in such a disorderly manner. Singin’ in the Rain reminds us, in this moment and others, that the upkeep of decorum should never be movies’ number one goal. In a sense, this is the film’s purest scene—the whole film is one, big grin as maniacal as the one plastered on Kelly’s face as the number concludes.”
“In the few examples we have of broad smiles in formal portraiture, the effect is often not particularly pleasing, and this is something we can easily experience today. When a camera is produced and we are asked to smile, we perform gamely. But should the process take too long, it takes only a fraction of a moment for our smiles to turn into uncomfortable grimaces. What was voluntary a moment ago immediately becomes intolerable. A smile is like a blush — it is a response, not an expression per se, and so it can neither be easily maintained nor easily recorded. Smiling also has a large number of discrete cultural and historical significances, few of them in line with our modern perceptions of it being a physical signal of warmth, enjoyment, or indeed of happiness. By the 17th century in Europe it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment – some of whom we’ll visit later. Showing the teeth was for the upper classes a more-or-less formal breach of etiquette.”
“Lawrence, stuck in Cairo halfway through the First World War, and conscious of a place, not far away, where the fate of nations, not to mention his own private destiny, will be decided, holds a match up close and blows it out. We cut, without ado, to the desert at dawn, and so to the slow explosion of red gold on the horizon’s rim: God lighting the first match of the day. It was a moment that Steven Spielberg saw at the age of fifteen, and which, he says, ignited his determination to make films. If you don’t get this cut, if you think it’s cheesy or showy or over the top, and if something inside you doesn’t flare up and burn at the spectacle that Lean has conjured, then you might as well give up the movies.”
“Jaws is forever vital because it’s forever about how man will never be the master of his own destiny. It’s Hooper’s sophisticated instruments and high-falutin’ education (‘Carcharodon carcharias!’) vs. Brody’s street smarts (‘Great white shark!’) vs. Quint’s boiler-room experience (‘Porker!’) — each equally incapable of explaining the ways of Nature and God. ‘Have you ever seen one act like this?’ asks Hooper. ‘No,’ Quint replies. The only one of the three ever intended to survive, Brody is also the only one without any preconceived understanding — he’s the one trying to run away. Yet what makes Jaws the film it is is that Spielberg combines these things we do to stave off the night — building shelters, telling stories (and how poignant does it become that the film opens with a campfire against the open expanse of the sea?) — with the archetypal horror that not only can we never stave off the night for ourselves, we can never stave it off for our children, either.”