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Weekend Reads (Sep 16): Studio Ghibli, Drew Barrymore, Shakespeare Conspiracies, Chocolate
Recommended weekend reading September 16, 2023.
In honor of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest (and last?) film, The Boy and the Heron, The Daily Beast staff have compiled a list of unforgettable Studio Ghibli scenes, beginning with My Neighbor Totoro’s Cat Bus:
Totoro is the cutest fluffball of the entire movie, without a doubt, but the cat bus takes a memorable second place. Okay, maybe the cat bus isn’t that cute; upon rewatching, it’s actually a bit creepy, with holes in the middle of its body and rats as taillights. But as a fan of both felines and public transportation, I enthusiastically support the cat bus and wish I could ride it myself. After the cat bus picks up Totoro in the movie, a lame regular bus pulls up to pick up Mei and Satsuki, the film’s human stars. Not only could they have arrived in a more timely manner — they could’ve done it in style, too, had they taken a chance on the magical cat bus.
The cat bus is, indeed, delightful, but if I had to pick an unforgettable moment from My Neighbor Totoro, it’d be Totoro himself discovering the simple joy of raindrops hitting an umbrella.
On a personal (and nerdy) note, our firstborn’s nursery had a Totoro theme, and of course, the cat bus made an appearance. He stopped needing a nursery years ago, though, so the cat bus currently hangs on the wall outside my office.
Related: The Boy and the Heron had its international premier at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it’s received rapturous reviews. But the film opened in Japanese theaters back in July, and I was able to find some initial reviews.
Back in 2021, NPR’s Eric Deggans reflected on the ways that TV programming, including news coverage, was changed by 9/11.
Aaron Brown, who anchored CNN’s 9/11 coverage that day from a rooftop, says the disaster also helped cement the idea that TV news — especially cable news channels — were expected to offer continuous coverage of major news events more often.
Brown notes, instead of spending 24 hours covering a wide range of subjects, major American cable news channels excelled when they had one big, highly emotional story to cover that the audience wouldn’t dare turn away from.
“The lesson of 9/11 was that you need one great story,” he adds, noting that cable news channels still tend to cover a narrow range of popular stories each day. “You feel like a schmuck if you say, [after covering a huge tragedy], ‘Let me tell you about the weather.’”
Writing for Vox, Alissa Wilkinson reviews a new documentary about Louis C.K.’s sexual abuse and how bad men are often displayed in movies.
Sorry/Not Sorry doesn’t even try to answer the question of whether the movie should have been shown — or, perhaps to its detriment, whether all of the people excusing C.K.’s behavior are guilty not just of enabling his behavior but actively encouraging what seems like some mental health issues.
What it does do, though, is remind us that bad men get away with bad things in part because we’re conditioned, over and over, to see them as normal and funny, permutations of “locker room talk” and “just making a joke.” Several women in Sorry/Not Sorry talk about how they were discouraged from calling C.K.’s behavior out because people said, in essence, that that’s just what Louis does, and it’s weird and funny and come on, stop being so uptight, this is comedy after all.
This week in 1992 marked the beginning of the end for Saturday morning cartoons.
With cartoons gone from the lineup as of Sept. 12, NBC’s Saturdays instead kicked off with a two-hour block of Saturday Today starting at 8 a.m., followed by the dreams-come-true reality series Name Your Adventure at 10 a.m.; the Saved by the Bell knock-off California Dreams at 10:30 a.m.; the Saved by the Bell spin-off The New Class at 11 a.m.; and Running the Halls — aka Saved by the Bell on the East Coast — at 11:30 a.m.. In accordance with the Children’s Television Act, NBC classified those shows as “educational and informational” programming... even though the amount of education and information they imparted was questionable.
While the other networks didn’t follow NBC’s example right away, the cartoon writing was on the wall.
Drew Barrymore recently announced that her talk show would return to production despite the strikes that currently occurring, leading to many calling her a “scab” for crossing the picket line. But Josef Adalian and Kathryn VanArendonk break down the situation, which — surprise! — is a bit more complicated.
Fully scripted Hollywood is completely shut down because it would take literally dozens of scab workers to fill in for actors and writers. And it’s very clear that the writing and acting on, say, Yellowstone is covered by struck units of the WGA and SAG. But with talk shows, because the performance part falls under Netcode, studios and networks absolutely have a right to continue trying to produce them without invoking a visit from the National Labor Relations Board. It’s why, as you noted, some scripted shows and movies remained in production before SAG was on strike. The WGA smartly and aggressively targeted those productions with pickets because sister unions like the Teamsters refused to cross picket lines in solidarity with the writers. That resulted in many shows and movies being forced to shut down — even when actors showed up. As far as I know, SAG members who reported to set weren’t targeted or shamed in every case even though it was very clear the productions were being struck.
And that’s sort of what’s going on here. Just as networks and studios had a right to continue filming productions as long as no changes were made to scripts — something many in the WGA felt was impossible, it should be noted — they now believe they should be able to continue filming talk shows without the input of writers. The WGA disagrees, and it’s picketing. But Barrymore’s deal, like the deals of the hosts of The View or any other talk show still filming, is with her studio partners. As noted earlier, they could claim breach of contract were Barrymore not to show up.
Tyler Huckabee weighs in on the curious case of Joe Kennedy, the high school football coach who was allegedly fired for praying with players after football games — and who, despite winning his case before the Supreme Court, quit after just one game.
Even if you sympathize with Kennedy here — even if you take him at his word that the school has made his coaching job difficult and the man who’s spent the last few years devoting his life to getting this job back is now willing to throw in the towel after a single game — you have to admit how this all looks. An objective observer could hardly be blamed for writing the whole thing off as a cynical ploy for attention and another legal stunt to remake America into a fundamentally Christian Nation where all the non-Christians just have to deal with it.
As far as I can see, whatever the good intentions Kennedy and his legal team may have had, the actual impact has been to turn public prayer into a giant middle finger to the rest of America. This is prayer as political prop, culture war ammo, social leverage. This is prayer as a cudgel, in which spiritual transformation and divine communion is practically irrelevant. The important thing is to be seen praying. We win. You lose. Mission accomplished. We have received our reward in full.
In a recent opinion piece, David French reflects on the divide between Elon Musk’s reputation as a defender of free speech and the reality of “free speech” on Twitter.
[Musk] has called himself a “free speech absolutist,” and when he agreed to buy Twitter in 2022, he loftily declared that “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” After the platform’s previous moderation troubles — which the former Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey openly acknowledged — there was at least some reason to hope that Musk’s purchase would result in a platform moderated in a manner broadly in accordance with First Amendment principles.
But that’s not what happened. Not at all. Instead of creating a platform for free speech, Musk created a platform for Musk’s speech — or, more precisely, Musk’s power.
Related: X/Twitter has repeatedly failed to take action on pro-Hitler and anti-Semitic content. “X CEO Linda Yaccarino has tried to mollify advertisers by claiming that her company ‘opposes antisemitism in all its forms’ and ‘will always work to fight it.’ But X has repeatedly shown that it cares little about antisemtism and bigotry on its platform.”
John Scalzi — I highly recommend his Interdependency sci-fi trilogy — just celebrated 25 years of blogging.
Mostly, the last year reminds me that, like me and like just about anything, Whatever has a life of its own. It has its own ebbs and flows, and its own meander through the years. It’s not what it was five, ten, fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years ago, but then, what is? How could it be static when I’ve changed, Athena’s changed, and the world has changed? It will be what it will be as it goes along. Like every one and every thing, it’s forever becoming what it is. It’s not burdened by needing to make money or to draw a certain number of eyeballs to advertisements. It can be, well, whatever. I am content to see what that whatever is going to be as it continues on.
When most people think about conspiracy theories, it’s probably stuff like vaccines causing autism (they don’t) and the Earth is flat (it isn’t). But conspiracy theories also abound in the world of Shakespearean scholarship.
While doubting Shakespeare’s authorship isn’t nearly as dangerous as climate change denial, or anti-vax beliefs, or questioning Obama’s citizenship, the rhetoric and strategies of all of these forms of trutherism are quite similar: Question the qualifications of the authorities. State some assertions we can all agree with, like “We don’t know much about the life of Shakespeare,” or “Some people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 die from the disease.” Ask an escalating series of questions about the consensus view, shifting ground whenever you would lose the point being debated. Deploy shaky evidence that requires tendentious interpretation. Claim that evidence that disproves your theory in fact supports it. Needle those in power who refuse to engage with you. Use the contempt with which your position is treated as evidence that you must be on to something. Whenever possible, fall back on saying you’re just asking questions.
Related: Back in 2020, I wrote about Plandemic and over COVID-related conspiracy theories. “Our brains are sense-making machines. They’re hard-wired to look for, and even create, order in the midst of chaos so that we can better process what’s going on around us and take action. Conspiracy theories hijack this normally useful trait by using lies, half-truths, hyperbole, and charged language to trick us into thinking that we can quickly and easily get a handle on things that scare and overwhelm us (like a global pandemic).”
The rare Nacional cacao plant is considered one of the world’s finest chocolate varieties, but it was thought to be extinct for nearly a century.
In 1916, a blight called frosty pod rot ravaged cacaos, including Nacionals, and in 1919, the witches’ broom disease was thought to have finished off Nacional trees for good. Cacao yields in Ecuador plummeted, and growers introduced new hybrid and foreign varieties. The Nacional, with its distinctive and celebrated flavor, seemed to be a thing of the past — the dodo bird of the chocolate world.
But in 2011, to the astonishment of the world, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, in collaboration with Fortunato Chocolate, an American-founded company based in Peru, announced it had identified cacao trees in Peru that had ancient Nacional DNA. (While Ecuador was the center of the Nacional trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, Peru also boasted some of these precious trees.) Now, a partnership between local growers and Ecuador’s ecological preservationists is pulling this legendary cacao variety back from the brink of extinction.
Because of its rarity and flavor, Nacional chocolate can be rather expensive. For example, To’ak Chocolate’s “Masters Series Enriquestuardo” will set you back $490 for a single 1.76 oz piece. As an unabashed chocoholic myself, I really want to try one of these. I don’t, however, want to take out a small loan to do so.