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Five Things Stephen Colbert Taught Me About Love


It was more than 10 years ago now that I first set eyes on the archconservative alter ego of Stephen Colbert (hereafter referred to as TACAESC) on The Daily Show. That was before TACAESC had his own show, his own space-treadmill, his portrait in the Smithsonian. Back then, before we had developed our own rapport, all I knew was that he could make the men and women he interviewed sweat. In the decade that followed, I’ve gotten to know TACAESC. I’ve let him into my bedroom at 11:30 most weekday nights. We’ve grown together, and both learned so much about ourselves. Since tonight is the last time I’ll ever see him, it’s my pleasure to share a handful of the many lessons our relationship has taught me: about life, love and humanity. 1. Listen to your gut. Being listened to is one of the great desires of the human heart, but your gut needs it even more. And when I say “your,” I’m talking about the factose-intolerant midsection of TACAESC. As the man himself has remarked, “Love may come from the heart, truth comes from the gut.” Oh TACAESC, may I live long enough to digest all its rumblings! 2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Who cares about PACs? It’s Super PACs that matter. I want a man to challenge me, and to do that he’s got to be Megamerican enough to make me wait until tomorrow for a better tomorrow...Colbert bumps notwithstanding. 3. Truthiness is next to godliness… …in all major lists ranking words ending in -iness. Cleanliness is next to godliness too, but on the other side. And happiness is on the other side of truthiness, in the area where the grass is always greener because they’re spraying it with some kind of stuff. Better know a district, am I right? 4. Don’t forget to breathe. Wouldn’t you rather be breathing than slavishly pronouncing every blessed consonant in your name? 5. If you can laugh you can love. TACAESC—great boyfriend or the greatest boyfriend? Either way, even I can admit that if you love someone, you have to set him free. Be free, baby eagle. Spread your right wing and fly. Photo courtesy of Everett CULTUREMAP_Art-of-Sarcasm

by Beatrice Conselyea

Dec 18, 2014

The Simpsons Turn 25


A holiday experience I will always remember occurred a quarter century ago—on December 17, 1989, to be precise. I wish I could say this was the day I came upon a helpless little fawn in the snowy woods and nursed it back to health. Or prepared a meal for a homeless family who taught me the true meaning of human connection. But nope. On that evening, along with about 13 million other viewers, I was introduced to what would become the most popular and longest-running television sitcom of all time. The Simpsons was and still is, some 560 episodes later, wonderfully and smartly irreverent, taking cynical swipes at just about everyone—family, bosses, teachers, neighbors, politicians, police. We’d never met characters so likably flawed. In that first episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” Bart gets an illicit tattoo, inserts rude lyrics into Christmas carols and is yanked off the stage during his school pageant. He also pulls the beard off a shopping mall Santa. Meanwhile, Homer steals a Christmas tree and loses all the money for the family gifts at the dog track. President George H. W. Bush inadvertently endorsed the series while unsuccessfully campaigning for a second term in 1992 when he announced, “We’re going to strengthen the American family to make them a lot more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.” The out-of-touch elitist didn’t seem to realize just how deeply the Simpsons embody modern family values. This middle-class American family from a town called Springfield is in many ways like most of us—imperfect but basically pretty decent. They watch TV together, they laugh a lot and they really do seem to love each other. We’ve even adopted some of their favorite expressions into the English vernacular, including d’oh (something you say when you’ve done something really dumb, as Homer often does). Malcolm in the Middle, Modern Family, The Middle and other popular sitcoms have taken inspiration from The Simpsons, portraying amiably dysfunctional families with flesh-and-blood actors. But part of the reason The Simpsons perseveres is because the animated characters are timeless hybrids who will never grow out of their roles. Homer will never retire from the nuclear power plant where he bumbles through his shifts. Bart will always be the little neighborhood thug we want to throttle and Lisa is perennially wise beyond her years. While animated Simpsons imitators like Family Guy and South Park can be hilarious, too, to me something gets lost in all the crude innuendo. Let’s go back to that Christmas special of 25 years ago. When Homer doesn’t show up for the family Christmas Eve festivities, Marge’s snarky, smoky-voiced sisters dis him, saying he’s going to crawl home smelling like booze and cheap perfume. But loyal Marge never loses faith in her Homey, who eventually arrives with the gift of a rescue greyhound, thereafter named Santa’s Little Helper. As the family settles in for some yuletide bliss, we’re left feeling good and wanting more—that’s the secret of the show’s phenomenal success and what will keep us watching The Simpsons for the next quarter century. Photo courtesy of Everett CONNECTS_The-Simpsons

by Stephen Brewer

Dec 17, 2014

Portrait of the Engineer as a Young Man


Haruki Murakami is a big deal. When bookstores open at midnight specially to sell his latest book, lines wind around the block. The quality of his writing certainly merits the attention, but Murakami’s understated style belies his celebrity status. In his 13th novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Murakami tells a simple story into which creep fantastical elements and a foreboding undercurrent. Despite its terrible title, it’s one of the year’s most interesting books. Tsukuru Tazaki is a 36-year-old single Tokyo man who builds train stations. He lives a lonely but contented life, spending many evenings sitting on a bench in one of his stations and watching the people go by. He is permanently scarred, however, by something that happened during his sophomore year in college; his four best friends, for reasons unknown, suddenly cut Tsukuru out of their lives. (Each of their names relates to a color, hence the novel’s title.) Tsukuru became severely depressed for half a year, failing to kill himself only because he lacked the stomach for it. Since then, his life has gone on, but his lack of friends and a string of noncommittal relationships underscore his decades-old wounds. When his new girlfriend Sara learns about the mysterious betrayal of his college friends, she encourages Tsukuru to reconnect with them in search of answers. Rather than thumb through the story’s details and play spoiler, it’s more fruitful to look into the protagonist and what he chooses to show us. Tsukuru presents himself as a nondescript, fairly uninteresting person, but he perceives the people he encounters as attractive, ambitious, grounded. Whenever someone unexpectedly leaves his life, he assumes they must have sensed the way he sees himself, and demanded something more from a long-term companion. And his train watching, perhaps a charming character quirk, reveals a deep divide between Tsukuru and his fellow man. The title takes on an ironic meaning; people hustle onto trains going near and far while Tsukuru sits, his pilgrimage one of solitude, of silence. Murakami’s novel unfolds in nonlinear fashion, and even its conclusion doesn’t close the story so much as complete the tone. The main narrative follows Tsukuru’s present relationship and reconnection with his past, but we also get glimpses of him in his deep depression and soon afterward, when he befriends a young man named Haida. Throughout, it’s Murakami’s style and not the substance of the story that makes the novel intriguing. From several vivid dream sequences to the sudden introspective truths about human nature, Tsukuru Tazaki is a colorless novel you won’t stop thinking about. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia SHOP_Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

by Austin Murphy-Park

Dec 16, 2014

Painters of Light


In Mr. Turner, auteur Mike Leigh paints a portrait of an ordinary man who also happens to be extraordinary—J. M. William Turner, 19th-century England’s master painter, who possessed a penchant for maritime themes and terrifyingly sublime skies. As ever, Leigh employs subtle scenes that to the uninitiated or impatient might appear mundane instead of what they are: marvelously, cumulatively expressive. As in essentially all of Leigh’s films, Turner’s story is told through character, brought to life by a handful of excellent actors to whom Leigh frequently returns. In this case, considerable credit must go to Timothy Spall (Secrets & Lies , All or Nothing, Topsy-Turvy) who, as Turner, delivers a distinctly award-worthy performance. If there were an award specifically for superbly communicative grunting and growling, Spall would handily win it twice over. Until that category is recognized he’ll have to settle for his best actor win at Cannes, and perhaps an eventual Oscar. Spall’s Turner is gruff in the extreme—a curt, intimidating bear-pig of a man, who stoops and strides about like a Dickensian villain, a persona belied by glimpses of his keen intelligence and soulful passions. These passions and the degree to which they are withheld reveal the inner workings of a man who feels and loves so strongly, he must harden himself against his own crumbling. This conflict is the beating heart of the film. Leigh often shows Turner by way of the women in his life, all played by his familiar talents. Lesley Manville (Topsy-Turvy, Another Year) plays Mary Somerville, Turner’s friend and a notable female scientist in an age when there were few. Ruth Sheen (High Hopes, Another Year) plays Sarah Danby, Turner’s bitter first mistress and mother of his two illegitimate daughters, whom he barely acknowledges. Dorothy Atkinson (Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing) plays Hannah Danby, a relation of Sarah’s, who works as Turner’s housekeeper and loves him despite the meager affection he offers in return. Lastly, Marion Bailey (Meantime, Vera Drake) plays Sophia Booth, Turner’s last love, to whom he seems to give the most of himself before his death. Perhaps the most intriguing of Turner’s women is his mother, whom he mentions only once, with venomous scorn. Known as the “painter of light,” Turner comes across as a man acutely aware of, and at battle with, the darkness. His outsize love for women is matched by his devotion to his old dad, his eerie tenderness for a girl’s corpse pulled from the Thames and pride in his flawed England. And yet Turner’s grand passions are always set against his own physical decline and desolate view of humanity. But Mr. Turner kindles a bittersweet hope despite the inevitable doom, and in this way it feels like real life. Leigh’s skillful balance of light and shadow in portraying this stormy figure is almost singular: I strongly recommend taking the two and a half hours needed to look upon his latest masterwork. Photo courtesy of Everett CONNECTS_Mr-Turner

by Jonathan E. Roche

Dec 15, 2014