Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Notes on Pop Culture: Periodical Beach Reading, The Newsroom & Political Animals

I spent the past week on a Cape Cod family vacation where I swam, biked (rode a bike for the first time in many, many years), enjoyed sunsets, fresh seafood and got thoroughly and embarrassingly crushed on a farm-themed mini-golf course. (My 10-year-old handily kicked my behind.)

But when we weren't scanning the seas for seals, the favorite snack of sharks  -- we were a few miles away from that Cape beach where a shark chased a kayaker -- I was gorging on the heaps of reading material I brought along (an academic book and Lord of the Rings, both for a research project I'm working on, along with a bunch of periodicals). Here's what kept me entertained:
New Yorker: For a Boston area resident, I was rather sickeningly Gotham-centric this past week. I got substantial sunscreen and sand all over the July 9/16 issue of The New Yorker and enjoyed the long review of Douglas Brinkley's new Walter Cronkite biography by Louis Menand which included a fascinating debate over whether a Cronkite comment, coupled with the anchor's pessimistic view about American success in Vietnam, prompted LBJ not to run for a second term.
An article that sparked a beach-side conversation was by James Surowiecki about businesses that aren't hiring new employees because, the article asserts, employers are being too picky despite ample options:
"When companies complain that they can't find people with the right 'skills,' they often just mean that they can't find people with the right experience . . . Thanks in part to the sheer number of applications, screening of applicants is automated, with computers evaluating resumes according to pre-set criteria. Fail to meet one of those standards, and your application gets tossed, even if a good H.R. director might have spotted your potential."
How depressing.
Speaking of depressing . . . I was also riveted by "The Hunger Diaries," excerpts from American writer Mavis Gallant's journals written in 1952 when Gallant was literally starving for her art while living in Spain.
New York Magazine: The July 9 cover story, "Does Money Make You Mean?" ignited another lively debate with its provocative accompanying art. Citing various work by researchers who are delving into whether money causes people to be less humane and whether people who seek money share those same traits or whether the entire "less humane" question is bogus baloney, writer Lisa Miller worded her central query this way: "How does living in an environment defined by individual achievement -- measured by money, privilege and status -- alter a person's mental machinery to the point where he beings to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions?"
New York Times: In between the pages of the Old Gray Lady, I greatly related to a Sunday Styles section meditation, "Friends of a Certain Age," about the challenge of making and keeping friends as we get older:
"In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children's play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends -- the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis -- those are in shorter supply.
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends."
In the same section, I found a scary story by Lee Siegel who accidentally sent Linked In friend invitations to all 974 contacts in his address book including deceased people, "lawyers, landscapers, accountants, literary agents, babysitters, window-installers, art dealers, ex-girlfriends, the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend . . . obstetricians, dentists, ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, psychologists, pediatricians, billing offices for all of the preceding . . . my ex-wife [and] two litigious former landlords."

The Newsroom: As for TV, I saw the latest two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom which, I've decided, has officially hooked me with its cutting dissection of contemporary cable TV news. Yes, it can be preachy, annoyingly preachy and smugly sanctimonious as well. The second episode irritated me with its relentless focus on two of the female staffers falling to pieces over their love lives. But by the fourth episode -- "I'll Try to Fix You," which I reviewed here -- that got me.

Political Animals: I also caught the first installment of USA's mini-series (the network is calling it a "limited series event") Political Animals where Sigourney Weaver plays Elaine Barrish, otherwise known as Hillary Clinton had Clinton dumped Bill right after she lost her 2008 presidential bid. It also features a tough reporter, who wrote nasty pieces about Barrish's ex, shadowing Secretary of State Barrish around for a week for a story. The show felt crisp, the relationship between the reporter and Barrish is promising and the political manipulations entertaining (better than the boring, real life presidential race we've got goin' on right now). Looking forward to seeing more of this "limited" event.

Image credits: Amazon and New York Magazine.

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