The time demands of fatherhood have forced me to see most movies vicariously, through the eyes of reviewers. So while I don’t know film all that well, I do know the people who write about film. My favorites are the ones whose reviews reflect knowledge of something besides the art – science, history, politics. A.O. Scott and Rogert Ebert come quickly to mind. Another is my former colleague, Christopher Orr, who now works for the Atlantic. And it is based on his recommendation, or lack thereof, I’m seriously considering skipping “The Ides of March,” George Clooney’s new political movie -- even when it comes out on video.
Chris’ primary complaint is that the movie’s portrayal of politics isn’t realistic. And I’m inclined to believe him, partly because I know that Chris has edited and written about politics for as long as I have. (Alyssa Rosenberg, also a political journalist, makes a similar complaint in her review -- though watch for the spoilers if you read it.) “The Ides of March” is adapted from a play and, for all I know, the play gets the details right. But political movies generally don't. And in that respect they are a lot like movies featuring journalists, which tend, if anything, to be more hilariously clichéd.
Of course, part of the problem may be the standards that journalists bring to reviews. The final season of the “The Wire,” HBO’s superb series on the drug trade, street life, and urban politics in Baltimore, disappointed a lot of critics. And the main complaint for many was the season’s storyline about staff at The Baltimore Sun – which, again, seemed like a caricature of the newsroom. But early in the season, Slate’s David Plotz made an astute observation about why he and other scribes found the plot so unconvincing:
[I]t's not surprising that the newspaper seems familiar—and trite—to us, because it's the ocean we swim in. If we were drug dealers or cops (God help the public!), maybe we would have felt the same way about Episode 1 ofThe Wire's first season. Maybe drunk-cynical-but-brilliant homicide detective McNulty is just as much a cliché in Copworld as cranky-romantic-and-fearless city editor Gus is in ours. Maybe we have to make a conscious effort to watch the newspaper subplot as outsiders rather than insiders. If we watch as insiders, we're bound to be disappointed: It will inevitably feel clichéd or dishonest.
He could be right -- which means that even if I shouldn’t see "The Ides of March," perhaps you should.
Riddle Me This, Obama Strategy Gurus: President Obama visited Michigan on Friday to tour yet another General Motors plant. Normally I love to see this: He has every right to brag about an intervention that saved not just an industry, but possibly a whole region of the country. But the political optics of this particular event baffle me. Obama came with the president of South Korea, to tout the newly enacted trade agreement between the two countries. The United Auto Workers support the treaty, on the theory it will allow more experts and create more jobs here. And maybe it will. (I haven’t had time to assess the deal.) But free trade is about as popular in Michigan right now as the Texas Rangers. Is this really the sort of symbolism the White House political operation wants to convey?
Anita Hill, 20 years later. By Jessica Valenti in the Nation.
Let Them Eat Pizza: Cain's 9-9-9 plan would raise taxes on a typical middle class family by 32%.
Ryan Avent is an optimist: He thinks there's only a 10 percent chance we face a "catastrophic economic collapse" over the next 20 years due to likely rising commodity prices.
Want to See Something Really Scary? The housing bubble in China looks ready to pop. An article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph points out some of the telltale signs: “IMF data show that the price to income ratio for housing is 20 in Beijing, and 14 in Shanghai and Huangzhou, triple the levels in US cities during the subprime bubble” and “The 30pc annual pace of loan growth is unprecedented in any major country in modern history. It is double the pace of America's housing boom and Japan's Nikkei bubble in the late 1980s. It may match US loan growth in the late 1920s.”
Precious Bodily Fluids: 200 jurisdictions in the U.S. have voted to stop fluoridating the water, because it costs too much money and the benefits are supposedly dubious. Public health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control, think the effort is misguided. But somewhere General Ripper is smiling.
Reader comment of the day: From “Janus,” responding to my item about James Fallows and the perils of even-handed reporting: “Headline: Brutal mugging cripples local resident; victim may have totally deserved it.”
Tweet of the day: Yes, another former colleague – Spencer Ackerman, who tweets as @attackerman: “I'm getting a ton of emails from GOPers terrified by Supercommittee-imposed defense cuts, so I assume they all support raising taxes.”
Video Dedication of the Day: To the Tigers -- and Detroit.