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Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Finding Seth Rollins

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Is it just me, or does the man in the artwork for CNN’s upcoming series “Finding Jesus” cut a striking resemblance to WWE’s Seth Rollins? Just an observation.

jesus christ seth rollins

In any case, the Shroud of Turin, which is the subject of the first episode, supposedly depicts the image of a crucified man that some claim might have been used in the burial of Jesus. Despite the fact that we have no idea what Jesus of Nazareth looked like — if he existed in the first place — and despite the fact that untold numbers of men, probably many of them bearing beards, long hair and pre-crucifixion wounds were crucified in 1st century Palestine, some apparently seem to think that the shroud still has some modicum of legitimacy, thus giving rise to what will no doubt be another sham show and rating grab perpetrating the myth that Jesus must have left some ancient clues to his true nature and existence if we are only willing to dig hard enough to find them.

Written by Jeremy

March 1st, 2015 at 11:01 am

Why not more conservative satire?

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This article from The Atlantic is certainly worth a read, but without any hard data, I think I can offer some quick answers as to why America doesn’t have more conservative satire. In short:

Reason 1 − Conservatives by and large don’t “get” or appreciate irony in quite the same way as their liberal counterparts.

Reason 2 − Liberals and progressives tend to be more irreverent, even toward leaders in their own camp. This itself is ironic because conservatives, who spend a lot of time railing against government overreach and corruption, should be the ones giving leaders the hardest time.

Reason 3 − Conservatives take themselves and their party and politics and life too seriously.

Reason 4 − Even when conservatives try to “do” comedy, it just comes off as preachy and forced for reasons inherent number three.

Written by Jeremy

February 16th, 2015 at 2:21 pm

In defense of ‘The Daily Show’

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jon_stewart

Perhaps Jon Stewart was partially responding to Jamelle Bouie’s recent article in Slate, “Why Jon Stewart Was Bad for the Liberals Who Loved Him,” which referred to Stewart and his show as if he didn’t have months left to go as the 17-year host of “The Daily Show,” when, during the episode after the announcement that he was stepping down, Stewart asked, “Did I die“?

In any case, as someone who says he “grew up with” “The Daily Show,” attended Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and watched the show on a “semi-regular” basis for the better part of a decade, Bouie speaks as someone who has a profound misunderstanding of Stewart, his shtick and, indeed, for political satire in general and the continued need for heavy doses of it in modern political America.

Bouie’s main gripe about Stewart seems to be this:

The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer—or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb—coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian.

… His protests to the contrary, Stewart is a pundit, and like many pundits, he’s wed to a kind of anti-politics, where genuine difference doesn’t exist (or isn’t as relevant as we think) and political problem-solving is mostly a matter of will, knowledge, and technocratic know-how.

Bouie here is replying to Stewart’s assertion that he is not, as some would label him, an influential political thinker, but “just a comedian” who is, at the end of the day, solely interested in making people laugh and not being, well, influential. When pressed, this has often been the answer Stewart himself has given whenever he runs the risk of being cast as something more than a comedian, and it may sound like he is failing to own up to what he really is — a comedian and a political satirist — but what other answer could he really give? His show is on a comedy network that is, in its most basic form, geared to generate laughter.

That said, no serious person who has actually paid attention to “The Daily Show” can conclude that Stewart completely separates his comedy on the show from ideology, that he just cracks jokes and “throws spitballs,” as he once said, in a vacuum, or that the show conveys the message that “government is only hypocrisy and dysfunction,” as Bouie contends. The latter is a job and a message for members of the far right, not a left of center liberal like Stewart, who, I would guess, thinks government has a role to play in people’s lives, and as such, it should function as efficiency and logically as possible. That it does not is deeply troubling, and this no doubt provides plenty of fodder for the show.

Bouie also argues that Stewart’s brand of liberalism, or at least the one he conveys on the air, is cynical all the way to the core and has no real substance, and is thus, a bad example for fellow liberals. Bouie’s example of this, his only example, comes not from Stewart’s own show, but from Stewart’s famous interview on “Crossfire” from 2004:

Take his Crossfire appearance. Lurking in his media criticism was a larger idea about the pointlessness of ideological combat. “To do a debate would be great,” he said, responding to protests from the hosts. “But that’s like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.” In the context of Begala and Carlson, this was a fair point. But in the larger world, it’s off. No, you’re not going to find sophisticated arguments on cable news, and to the extent that places like CNN are vehicles for nonsense and quasi-dadaist performance art, Stewart is right to mock and ridicule.

Cable, however, isn’t the only forum for debate, and most political conversations aren’t as shallow as the ones you see on TV. On op-ed pages and around dinner tables, Americans have substantive conversations about politics. And while the facts aren’t always right, the discussion is often valuable. Stewart gives short shrift to that kind of talk. Instead, in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works.

Again, to say such a thing about Stewart’s show indicates that either Bouie has actually not watched much of “The Daily Show” — by his own admission, he was finishing up high school in 2004 — or he either does not appreciate or understand Stewart’s brand of satire. Although Bouie didn’t think it was important to provide any actual examples from “The Daily Show” to support his case, I’ll point out some segments from Stewart’s show — out of scores that I could select — that demonstrate that Stewart’s show goes beyond just sneering cynicism.

Sure, Stewart spends a lot of time mocking public officials and cable news channels, since there is so much idiocy that’s worthy of mocking, but to say that is all “The Daily Show” is, is just as short-sighted as the legions of lawmakers and pundits Stewart has hacked up these last 17 years.

In this clip, Stewart takes Obama to task and makes the point that although the president’s campaign was a well-oiled machine, Obama couldn’t seem to bring that level of efficiency to solving real problems after he entered the White House, namely streamlining the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

Here is Stewart speaking candidly about the Eric Garner injustice, which belies Stewart’s supposed choking cynicism:

And then there’s this:

The above clips show Stewart at his most sharp, most critical and decidedly least anticynical.

Bouie concludes with this:

The natural response to all of this is a version of Stewart’s protest—He’s just a comedian—and a refrain from The Dark Knight: Why so serious? The answer is easy: He’s influential. And for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem. And while I wish him luck in his next move, I’m glad he’s stepping from the stage.

How exactly has Stewart been a problem? We don’t really know since Bouie didn’t give us any concrete examples, other than to say the show is too harsh on government and expound on “The Daily Show’s” overt cynicism in somehow not engendering political discussion around the dinner table and in the op-ed pages. Would Bouie have felt better about the show if The Washington Post and The New York Times were buzzing every week with opinion pieces on Stewart’s latest shot across the bow? Probably not, but what “The Daily Show” has given us was an unrelenting and fearless critique of the people who are charged with leading this nation, both in theory and in practice, and commentary on the farce that is TV “journalism,” all by cutting through the dishonesty, disigenuity and obscurantism that is pervasive in both. And for these contributions alone Stewart, whenever he decides to vacate the chair, will leave an indelible gap in the national discourse, one that his successor will not easily fill.

Written by Jeremy

February 14th, 2015 at 5:44 pm

All the news that’s not fit to print

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And now for a eulogy on journalism, from REM’s Mike Mills, Zach Sherwin from “Epic Rap Battles of History,” Colton Dunn from “Key and Peele” and actor Brandon Johnson:

The song is part of the comedy album “2776,” which was made to raise money for OneKid OneWorld.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 11:51 am

‘American Sniper’ bungles recent history

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Zack Beauchamp writes that the Clint Eastwood-directed movie “American Sniper,” which seems to have garnered gushing reviews from many of the right-of-center folks on my Facebook feed, not only gets history wrong, but it does a “disservice” to viewers, and much worse, Iraq War veterans and their families. As Beauchamp notes, the movie falsely gives the impression that the Iraq War was fought as a direct result of Sept. 11, 2001:

From the get-go, Chris Kyle’s military career is all about responding to terrorism. Kyle joins up after al-Qaeda bombs the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. We see him and his wife Taya’s stunned reactions to 9/11.

And then, bam. Kyle’s at war in Iraq. The film does not contain, as best I can tell, a single reference to George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, or weapons of mass destruction. There’s no Dick Cheney, no Colin Powell at the UN, no anti-war protests. The film implies that the Iraq War was a deliberate response to 9/11.

In fact, the Bush administration premised its 2003 Iraq invasion primarily on the alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice memorably put it, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” The Bush administration repeatedly asserted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was actively developing nuclear weapons and other programs it might use against the United States. Bush and some his top advisers had come into office, before 9/11 even occurred, believing that Saddam was a threat and discussing possible ways to remove him.

The war, in other words, was not actually about 9/11. And, crucially, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that were the basis of the war turned out not to exist.

It’s not just that American Sniper weirdly excises all of this history; it’s that the film replaces it with the implication that 9/11 gave America little choice but to invade Iraq, that the 2003 US invasion was something that happened to us, not something we chose to do. Chris Kyle repeatedly explains that he’s fighting to protect his family, again suggesting that the invasion was a necessary preemptive defense against Iraqi terrorists, when no such threat actually existed.

Nationalism. Portraying most Iraqis as “savages.” An overly simplistic, black and white worldview in which the hero must defeat the terrorists at all costs with no time or need to fret about gray areas in combat and diplomacy. Revisionist history. Sounds like a perfect Clint Eastwood joint. By all means, we should honor the service of the real man on which the movie is based, but mucking up history that wasn’t all that long ago isn’t the way to do it or honor other soldiers who sacrificed equally for the nation. 

But I can’t say that I expected much more from Eastwood, an NRA nut who, just 2 1/2 years ago, was having an extended conversation with an empty chair. In a bit of last-minute double irony, the war hero who was “untouchable” in Iraq, as The New York Times described Chris Kyle, was killed at a shooting range in Texas on a trip trying to help his friend recover from PTSD.

Written by Jeremy

January 22nd, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Review of HBO’s ‘True Detective’

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So, this was originally going to be a Facebook post, but it started to turn into one of those long, ungainly rants amid a sea of memes, one-liners and family pics, so I thought it would warrant an airing here.

I just finished watching the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” and I must say, I’m a little underwhelmed, although I don’t want to diminish the superb acting performances of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The first few episodes were fantastic. I think episode four was possibly the climax for me, but the show seemed to drag a bit from there. I got through the last four episodes mainly just to find out what was going to happen.

In the end, I think we were left with a bunch of unanswered questions − What’s the deal with the Yellow King and what are the larger implications of the Tully family and government’s involvement − and an albeit creepy, yet anticlimactic resolution. But perhaps my biggest gripe is that Rust, Matthew McConaughey’s character, is this skeptical, nihilistic philosopher type through most of the show, and then in the last five minutes after solving the case, he suddenly believes in the afterlife and that light ultimately wins out over darkness. This, after the show tried so hard to convince us of Rust’s firm grasp on the hard truths of reality.

The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber perhaps said it best:

Rust scoffed at tent worshippers, and the Carcosa cult’s belief in the supernatural had terrible consequences, but Rust ends up joining all of them by buying into comforting, irrational mumbo jumbo.

So perhaps Rust’s nihilism over the course of the series was just the setup for one big, cosmic punch line about the human yearning for meaning.

If so, the ending of the show leaves me with a kind of despair, that the most unflinching of characters, who was at the core a decent person in spite of his nihilism and who was ready to meet life as it comes, ultimately just reverted back to the old human habit and the easy path of trying to find meaning and purpose in the meaningless.

Kudos to the show for attempting to deal with some of the more heady questions of life in a buddy-cop genre that is, in itself, a cliche, and some of the philosophical musings from Rust were profound indeed, but I’m afraid that only lasted for 7 3/4 episodes. The ending killed any professions of profundity for me.

Written by Jeremy

December 22nd, 2014 at 12:12 am

Anita Sarkeesian and violence against women in video games

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More than a year has passed since I have commented at any length on feminism and the issue of gender equality because frankly, the blog/YouTube wars and constant bickering between feminists, the men’s rights crowd and those who are somewhere in between made my head hurt. As such, I’m a little bit behind the curve in becoming aware of this Anita Sarkeesian person, who seems to have made quite a stir in the atheist and gaming community with her long-form videos about misogyny in gaming such as this one:

I recently became aware of her because of a recent interview she conducted with Stephen Colbert. While I have not watched all of her videos, I have watched “Damsel in Distress” parts one and two, in which she claims that the majority of action and adventure video games depict women as merely pawns or objects in male-centric narratives. Men, in her view — and she provides example after example — take the lead role in most of the games, with any females taking a backseat as secondary characters or love interests that the male character must rescue from certain doom because the females are disempowered, weak and incapable of saving themselves. In the first video in this series, Sarkeesian mainly focuses on two of Nintendo’s largest franchises, “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda.” I was never as into Zelda, so I will focus on her critique of Mario Bros. As she recounts the story of the game, the princess, Peach, is captured by the villain, Bowser, and Mario must go through eight grueling levels to save her. Sarkeesian thinks that Mario, Zelda and other longstanding franchises that began decades ago could and should have been modernized to more robustly include strong women characters into the narrative.

First, as The Amazing Atheist pointed out, (and my linking to him doesn’t imply that I agree with him on every point) Mario and most of the other games she talks about follow the monomyth narrative structure, in which the protagonist begins the story in his or her everyday life, something unusual or bad happens and the hero goes on an adventure to right a wrong. Or, as Joseph Campbell put it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

True, a majority of the action and adventure games that follow this structure feature a male protagonist and a female character that the male must either protect or rescue from peril. Like Mario, as in more modern games that follow this structure, the male typically goes through all sorts of dangerous challenges to protect the female because he either loves her or she is an important person.

Obviously, high-profile exceptions to this pattern exist within the gaming industry, but since they go all but unnoticed by Sarkeesian, I will briefly mention some here.

In many cases, like “Assassin’s Creed Black Flag” and “Red Dead Redemption,” female characters guide players through certain parts of the game and are imperishable parts of the storyline. Annie Stoakes, a cattle rancher and important character to the central story of “Red Dead,” competed in a gun duel tournament against male opponents. The game’s Wiki page had this to say about Stoakes:

Annie’s father did not adhere to the gender roles of the day: He raised his daughter to be a successful, independent rancher in a violent, male dominated society.

In “The Last Of Us,” the main character, Joel, lost his daughter 20 years before the main storyline begins. Through the early part of the game, he is accompanied by a female ass kicker named Tess, who helps him escape Boston. Through most of the rest of the game, Joel partners with a quick-witted and emotionally unflappable teenage girl named Ellie, who becomes an ass kicker in her own right.

In her two videos, Sarkeesian paints the impression that there are virtually no strong female protagonists in video games, now or in the past. While there are certainly fewer males than females in leading, playable characters in video games overall, which is probably because of the demographics of people who play action and adventure games and the demographics of those who development them, Sarkeesian conveniently fails to mention some prominent females that did actually command lead roles.

Metroid, which was another of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, follows the protagonist Samus Aran. In the first game in the series, players did not know until beating the game that the main character was, indeed, a female. This goes unmentioned in Sarkeesian’s analysis. More modern games that have featured woman in prominent and empowered roles, including the following:

  • Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider”
  • Chell, “Portal”
  • Aveline de Grandpre, “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation”
  • FemShep, “Mass Effect”
  • Joanna Dark, “Perfect Dark”
  • Jill Valentine, “Resident Evil”

This doesn’t mention the countless number of strong female characters in the Final Fantasy series and other role playing games over the years. For more examples of lead female roles, see here:

In two videos that cover almost 50 minutes of content, Sarkeesian concedes that there has been a “moderate increase” in the number of lead female roles in video games recently, but can only be bothered to specifically mention two titles, “Beyond Good & Evil” and “Mirror’s Edge,” in 30 years of development. Also included in her list of games that disempower and objectify women was “Dante’s Inferno,” which I thought was a head-scratcher since the game is based off Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and in the game, the main character literally claws through the terrors of hell to save his love, Beatrice.

Sarkeesian does not seem like a person who is interested in presenting a fair picture of the video game market or even the entertainment market. Unlike Sarkeesian’s uneven presentation of the problem — and misogyny and violence against of women in video games is a problem, just as it is in real life — the video game industry has produced a number of strong, empowered female characters. I would be interested to know that if the roles were reversed and a large number of video games suddenly came out with female characters victimizing males and that somehow spoke to a larger problem in society, would Sarkeesian come to the defense of disempowered males? I should hope so, but for some reason, I’m not sure.

Of course, I wouldn’t care if she didn’t; I would just like to know if she’s at least willing to be consistent.

Last, I couldn’t help but wonder why Sarkeesian’s critique was limited to video games. If the problem of disempowering and objectifying women is prevalent in video games, it is certainly prevalent in movies and television, and perhaps it’s prevalent in the entertainment industry because it is, most unfortunately, prevalent everywhere. The problem, then, is not violence in video games, or even violence in movies and TV, but violence, abuse and objectification of human beings, male, female, gay, lesbian, black or white. Assholes and abusers will probably always exist, so I’m not here to offer a particularly optimistic view on stamping out all three of those anytime soon, but in this case, video games provide yet another example of art imitating life, not the other way around.

Written by Jeremy

November 14th, 2014 at 12:44 am

On alleged racism in the WWE

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WWE has taken a beating in the wrestling community recently for at least three incidents of alleged racism or stereotyping against some of its former top stars, including Alberto Del Rio, the original Sin Cara and Ricardo Rodriguez. Sin Cara said WWE created a bad environment for Latinos to work and claimed he was subjected to numerous incidents of racism from WWE employees, noting that the company higher-ups could be “very racist:”

(There) are different cases. I have never complained about anything. … Sometimes the “gringos” are very racist, sometimes (managers) made ​​racist jokes.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer and on-air head of The Authority heel faction, Triple H, allegedly nicknamed Rodriguez “Bumblebee Man” after the character on The Simpsons, according to reports from Rodriguez.

Del Rio’s case is perhaps the most serious incident that has come to public light so far. Del Rio, whose real name is José Alberto Rodríguez, reportedly overheard a racist joke against Mexicans come from a WWE employee named Cody Barbierri. According to Del Rio, he told the employee, “Say that again to my face,” to which the employee smirked and did not apologize. Del Rio slapped the man and was subsequently fired after previously being told he was just going to get a three-week suspension with no pay.

Here’s Del Rio’s recent account about what happened:

Apparently, the employee threatened to sue the company over the incident, so Del Rio was fired. The employee in question is apparently no longer with the company.

One isolated incident is one thing, but three Latino workers having problems with the company in such a small window of time could be a bad sign, especially since WWE trips over itself to promote its Be A STAR anti-bullying campaign. STAR stands for show tolerance and respect. And Vince McMahon doesn’t exactly have a glowing record of anti-bullying himself, drawing heat for mocking former announcer Jim Ross’ bell’s palsy in front of millions of people on RAW.

Pro wrestling fans know that WWE has pushed certain Latino stars to the top, most notably Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero, but pushing Hispanic wrestlers has always been more about making money by tapping into the large Latino demographic than seeking diversity in the company. Mysterio, who has been injury prone as of late, became famous way back when WCW was around and only later transitioned to WWE. As his star was fading, WWE had hoped that Del Rio and Sin Cara were going to be the next big Latino stars. While Del Rio reached the upper midcard and had some main event matches, Sin Cara was mostly a failure.

As a side note, I thought the editing job in the Del Rio interview above was interesting. For some reason, the producers left in “fucking” but edited out what immediately followed, which if my lip-reading skills are correct, was “racist prick.” Perhaps that was done at the request of Del Rio.

‘Pacific Rim’ film review

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This is going to be short — really short — lest I waste anymore time analyzing a movie that’s already taken two hours of my life. I knew that “Pacific Rim” was going to, at best, include 1 1/2 hours of over-the-top CGI action porn, with shallow actors and a contrived, nonsensical plot. I knew that going in. But we got was actually more than two hours of action, most of it either under water or in the ocean, a boilerplate hey-look-it’s-another-white-guy-hero surrounded by a cast of forgettable token characters — the kooky scientist, his even kookier partner and, of course, black male and Asian female supporting roles.

The film lacked any discernible heart, depth and scant reason to care whether or not the robots succeeded in saving whatever generic Pacific city they were trying to save. My interest in the film, with still about an hour to go, tanked when the main analog robot, named Gipsy Danger (Wait, how or why would a robot from the year 2020 still be analog?) and the alien were fighting each other and destroying the city in their wake, crashing through buildings and chasing each other through the streets, presumably causing a shocking loss of life all the while. A few minutes later after the alien was defeated, we see the Jaeger team back at the base cheering in celebration after the victory, with no consideration of the gigantic number of people who were just crushed under the hero robot’s heel, impaled as the combatants tromped through the city or who simply fell from skyscrapers to their grisly deaths. Are we to believe that all 2 million people managed to find one of the Kaiju refuge stations in a matter of minutes? Hardly.

In any case, the action and effects were spectacular, but I judge all movies on the same criteria — acting, depth, emotion, character development, etc. — no matter the genre, and no amount of “CGI motherfucker, CGI!” can save a movie with a bland plot and lifeless characters.

Written by Jeremy

September 28th, 2014 at 7:32 pm

A first read of Stephen King

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I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) – Dwight Allen

***

As I am 240 pages into my first – and probably last – Stephen King novel, “Needful Things,” I find myself agreeing with every sentiment in this column about what separates fiction from literature, and why King simply doesn’t measure up, and as far as I’m concerned, he can’t hold Thomas Pynchon’s literary jockstrap.

I’m actually not looking forward to reading more in this book because A) it is needlessly long and B) it is endlessly dull and formulaic. A small town in Maine. A creepy new business owner comes to town. Stupified locals buy his trinkets that just so happen to fulfill their most base desires. Creepy guy gets creepier. And I can only assume, the shit gets weirder, and I don’t care. I’m sure some zany stuff is afoot, but King hasn’t made me invested in the characters, so I also don’t care what happens to them. I could put the novel down right now and happily move on with no desire to know what happens next. That’s a bad sign for an author of King’s calibre.

As such I really don’t get King’s mass appeal. Is everyone’s lives so boring and depressing that they can be fulfilled by even the most basic escapist fiction? I mean, this novel, so far, has no heart, it doesn’t examine any higher truths about humanity or the human condition, it is written in language most middle schoolers could follow and the plot itself plods along at an uninteresting snail’s pace. If the majority of people read novels simply for a compelling plot, boy are they missing out on the truly enriching and soul-fulfilling experience of actual literature, which this is not.

As Dwight Allen put it:

King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.

A “sentence by sentence … revelation about life” is what I require from literature, and this is not literature.

Written by Jeremy

August 31st, 2014 at 12:51 am

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