Dumbing down | 5 years ago | March 9, 2001 | Chris Wright worried that he was getting stupider with age.
“The other night, I found myself at a wine-and-cheese party in Cambridge, the kind where people sit around discussing Norwegian novelists and Algerian cinema. ‘Blah-blah is mildly derivative,’ people said. Or ‘So-and-so’s use of visual metaphor is a tour de force.’ As the evening wore on, I grew increasingly ashamed of my Keanuvian IQ. Besides things like ‘Mmm, cheese,’ and ‘Wine, lovely,’ my main contribution to the discussion was a spirited defense of the show Friends. ‘It’s funny,’ I said before returning to the Gorgonzola.
“Something had to be done.
“In an attempt to halt my slide into idiocy, I vowed to read more and watch less TV. I sat down with a copy of the New York Review of Books. I crossed my legs and rubbed my chin and prepared to indulge in a bit of highbrow inquisition. ‘There are at least three Don DeLillos,’ opined one writer. ‘There is, first of all, the poster boy for postmodernism — the wised-up child of randomness and incongruity; the Geronimo of vandalism, bricolage, and mediascape-pastiche; the conspiracy theorist of corporate power, government secrecy, malign systems....’
“I’m sorry, but I counted at least 18 DeLillos there, none of them comprehensible....
“Maybe being an idiot isn’t such a bad thing. For one thing, I know I’m not alone in this. I have dozens of English-major friends who wouldn’t know a trope if it came up and bit them on the ass. And why should they? With jobs to worry about, and relationships, and fat arms, who has time to tackle Kierkegaardian paradox and Kafkaesque perplexity? And really, who cares how many Don DeLillos there are? There could be a thousand DeLillos and it wouldn’t make the slightest dent in my car payments.”
Kindergarten cop | 10 years ago | March 8, 1996 | Gary Susman considered the character of Marge in the Coen brothers’Fargo.
“... Marge Gunderson (Blood Simple’s Frances McDormand), a small-town police chief who, on her first big murder case, proves as quietly dogged an investigator as Colombo. Marge is the most fascinating character here and one of the most intriguing cinema characters in ages, since she’s the first movie cop in about 45 years who’s not neurotic, tortured, cynical, or scarred or tainted by her brushes with evil. Happily married (and seven months pregnant), she has the respect of her colleagues and underlings, she enjoys he work, and she takes to it without any fuss or hand-wringing.
“As McDormand plays her, Marge is unflappable; when she catches bad guys, her attitude is one of mild disappointment, as if she were a kindergarten teacher who had caught her charges misbehaving on the playground.... McDormand radiates a purity that throws us for a loop because we’re so unaccustomed to it. In our heroes, evil and moral compromise have become so commonplace (on and off the screen) that they’ve become a cliché, whereas goodness remains a tantalizing mystery beyond our understanding.”