The temptation of apathy, and what this has to do with a mediocre movie
|May 19||Public post|| 2|
Long Shot, the rom-com about a presidential candidate who boffs her speechwriter, isn’t what you’d call a “good” movie. Sure, Charlize Theron is believable as a politician so glamorous that the world treats the U.S. Secretary of State like a movie star, and Seth Rogan nails the possessiveness a writer feels about words he writes for someone else to say. The male-female screenwriting team nail the pressures that women face in politics as well as how painful the yearnings of women have become for representation since Trump beat Hillary. The send-ups by Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Lisa Kudrow, and Andy Serkis had some genuinely funny moments, and there were a lot of jokes I laughed at that I hoped my kids didn’t get.
But with all that, you — being the celebrated arbiter of taste that you are — would not call the movie good. The script tries to have it both ways with both sides. In trying to broadly appeal and lecture simultaneously, the screenwriters left breadcrumbs in circles. And when the character played by Theron announced for president, she did so in front of a crowd of about 25 people, which is not nearly enough to make a speech look like a big event. Please. It’s hard to watch a satire that doesn’t take its subject seriously enough to put in the effort to make it look real.
Worse yet, the movie is about a politician falling in love with the speechwriter. As a former speechwriter, it’s difficult to put into words how unbelievable that was. As I told my wife as we were leaving the theater, the Mayor of Austin and I didn’t have sex nearly as often as Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan did in the movie. (I am reliably informed that the First Lady did not get that joke. Come to think of it, I do not remember my wife laughing either. It’s possible it’s not funny. This possibility is too frightening to contemplate.)
Political farce doesn’t peacefully co-exist with the gulping emotion of seeing a woman take the oath of office. When you tell a story in which a powerful woman is forced to make herself accountable to what she really cares about, it’s going to be hard to land the masturbation joke, especially when our hero has lost faith in her journey at the story’s nadir, when she lays on the floor of a hotel room and says, “I wish I were one of those people who didn’t care.”
“I wish I were one of those people who didn’t care.”
At that point the movie stopped being a farce and became painfully real. I’d been there. I mean, I have never been on the floor with Charlize Theron, which, you know, fine. For me that moment came when I was laying in bed the morning after Trump won. I was staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out how to react to the clown show that our country had become. I imagined what could come from handing so much power over to this particular man. I had never been that kind of scared before and wanted more than anything not to feel that way, which is when I hit upon the idea of becoming one of those people who didn’t care. My mistake was saying this out loud while my wife was in bed next to me.
Reader, trust me when I say that I have on occasion given my wife reason to be mad at me. I have even disappointed her a time or two. But the look in her eyes that day let me know that I had crossed a line that I didn’t know existed. Measuring her words carefully, she let me know that life must be pretty easy for me to be able to contemplate tapping out of the fight when the rest of my friends were still in it. And so I’m still in it, even though my main role in the fight these days is to support and cheer on my wife’s career (a theme Long Shot plays with without making it a thing).
Luke, a friend of mine, does not have the luxury not to care. Actually, he does, but he would never see it that way. See, Luke’s gay, and he’s in national security, not notably an arena noted for its embrace of the LGBTQ+ community. With his brains and education, he could be doing quite well just looking out for himself. But for as long as I’ve known him he has fought to create safe places for his community in professional life. This week he had a big career success when a group he founded got a major endorsement, and it reminded him of a quote he saved to remind him why he continues to fight.
“When you feel powerless and beaten down by the brokenness of the world, you can do something. You can take your pain, your grief, and your rage, and you can roll it out into the world as change. When you take unfathomable losses you can’t undo what’s happened but you can fight on for your fallen friends, in their names, until you fix it for younger people. You can save someone else. And in saving them, you can save yourself.”
It would be easy to skip the front section of the newspaper, focus on the sports and comics, and only care about making myself feel better. It would be easier if Election Day were just another Tuesday. It hurts to know that millions of Americans could look at the way Trump behaved in the 2016 campaign and vote for him just because they really hated Hillary, because when they sent that message we were the ones who got it. To know that part of the reason Trump and his partisans do what they do is just to hurt us — to “own the libs,” as they say — does, in fact, hurt us. Even to bear witness to what he does every day makes it a humiliating time to be a patriot. It would be easier to write all Trump voters off. It would be easier to convince myself that not only light can drive out darkness. It would be easier not to be the change I want to see in the world. It would be easier not to care, but then we’d be lost. In caring about others, we save ourselves.
That moment on the floor was what this movie got so right. To care is to accept that we live in an era of moral brutalism too stupid to be believed. This, said Seth Rogan, is what they were trying to achieve in making the movie.
The analogy we kept using was just putting a hand on the audience's shoulder and being like: “We live in this world with you.” Because I watch a lot of movies and it doesn't feel like that, honestly. It feels like they just decided, “Eh, it's too hard to acknowledge this world.” Or they didn't want to because it's too controversial.
Caring is hard, and sometimes you just need a break from it all, but then you have to get right back in it. There are smarter movies about politics, and there are funnier satires. There are even movies with better dick jokes. The people who will laugh the hardest at Long Shot are the people who need a break the most. You can’t be one of those people who doesn’t care, but you do deserve a break now and then. And if what you need is to laugh, then you could do a lot worse than Long Shot.
What I’m reading
Chris Richards, the Post’s music critic, went to Rolling Loud, a hip-hop festival in Miami and Klostermanned all over it. This might be the best music criticism I’ve ever read.
This is encouraging for both social media and for vaccines.
Dana Perino, who worked in the George W. Bush White House before finding a second act on cable, has some tips for Democrats who want to appear on Fox News, and it’s actually pretty good advice.
There’s a pretty big generational divide within Gen X on social media and streaming habits, but regardless of whether you’re 38-45 or 46-53, we’re spending a lot of time online. Also, I wasn’t crazy about the Times' package on Gen X, but this piece that blows up all the myths about my generation is pretty good.
Apparently 31 percent of Republicans think the President’s first term should be extended for two years and his re-election should be delayed until 2022 because, as Jerry Fawell Jr. tweeted, “Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.” Also, 53 percent of Republicans agree with the statement, “We need a strong leader willing to break the rules.”
Speaking of the delusions of partisanship, apparently we think people are smart if they agree with us on unrelated topics.
Seriously, if you’ve read this far you might as well subscribe.
I had zero idea that intra-continental African trade was such a problem or that they’re about to start the largest free-trade agreement in the world covering twice as many people as the EU or NAFTA. This one detail about how hard it is to cross the Congo River between Kinshasa and Brazzaville brought the problem into focus:
If the residents of San Francisco faced the same charges pro rata in crossing the Bay Bridge to Oakland as do residents crossing the Congo River between Kinshasa and Brazzaville, a similar distance, they would pay more than $1200 for a return trip. As a result passenger traffic at this obvious focal point for cross-border exchanges between the two Congos is around five times smaller than that between East and West Berlin in 1988 – well before the dismantling of the Wall!
Damn, Becky: “Most white women believe there is a gender pay gap but don’t believe they’re paid more than non-white women.” Here’s the data. Speaking of Beckys, I remember when Victoria Secret used to be racy, but now this commercialized vision of sexuality seems boring, and it’s not just me. Apparently parading lovely women in their skimpies makes for bad TV these days, and I’m not sure what that means, but it’s real interesting.
Let’s stay on womenfolk for a second here: Monica Hesse, whom you should bookmark at the Washington Post, has a fundamental take on all the anti-abortion legislation that I haven’t read anywhere else.
I can’t believe any American would go to a McDonald’s in Vienna, but apparently it happens often enough that the embassy is partnering with the Golden Arches to provide consular services such as dealing with lost passports. Is there a way for our government to be a little less tacky, please?
What? “French law tightly regulates the creation of lists and databases of people based on their political views.” That’s… nuts.
I don’t know how I feel about Ryan Murphy producing and Rob Lowe starring in a show set in Austin that might not be filmed in Austin. I didn’t know the colonial, sexual, and racial aspects of vanilla. And I’m not surprised that hilarity did not ensue when half a ton of cocaine washed up on this island off Portugal in 2001.
I can’t believe this needs to be said, but “the First Amendment doesn’t say you can tweet whatever you want.” Alas, our executive branch isn’t fluent in the constitution, and apparently the powers that be think otherwise.
I laughed through the first half of this story about a guy who hacked Tinder; my stomach hurt through the second half. I asked myself why I thought it was funny, and the answers weren’t good, which I guess is the point.
It the latest “What’s the Matter With Beto” story, there’s interesting in an observation it makes about getting your message out in a digital world.
RAND studied shifts in linguistic factors in newspapers, cable and broadcast news, and digital news. This sentence in Nieman Lab’s analysis jumped out at me: “…the post-2000 explosion of digital writing hasn’t had that much of an impact on newspaper reporters and editors — even though a screen is usually the first place their words reach readers today.”
The last communications thing I’ll leave you with is the paradox of clickbait (which I think I’ll write more about next week, because this has come up in conversation recently — ICU, K.B.): The greater the perceived outrage in a headline, the less likely readers are to engage, the more likely they are to perceive the article as untrustworthy, but the more likely they are to remember facts from the article.
What I’m watching
Netflix’s Wine Country, which deftly hides the joke in the homonym there, offers many funny moments in which funny women are funny with each other. Basically, it’s funny, though the plot seems entirely beside the point. It’s worth it just to watch Amy Poehler and Emily Spivey game plan a play list.
Killing Eve is back on BBC America, and it takes a good turn.
What I’m listening to
Y’all! Jamila Woods’ LEGACY! LEGACY! is so good. Here’s the video for the single, “Giovanni.”
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