Friday, June 29, 2012
This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (June 28, 2012) and can be found here: http://www.policymic.com/articles/10396/obama-legacy-will-be-defined-by-health-care
It is a follow up to a piece that was published on PolicyMic and CNN.com, as well as "The Morning Call" (April 30, 2012). A link for the article's appearance on the last site can be found here:
Two months ago, in my editorial detailing the positive legacy President Obama will leave behind at the end of his first term, I deliberately avoided mentioning his health care reform bill, given that it was at that time "on the Supreme Court chopping block." Now that it has been officially deemed constitutional, I think it is important to note the two-fold impact it will have on Obama's historical reputation:
1. It will forever associate Obama's name with the cause of health care reform. While most people take this for granted today, it is worth remembering that this issue was not at the top of the American policy agenda when Obama took office. The general public was focused primarily on the spiraling economic crash (which Obama has addressed much better than his critics are willing to admit) and, to a lesser extent, on the war on terror (especially Iraq), with the rest fracturing into small minorities when it came to the premium they placed on other major policy questions. Although Obama had mentioned his health care proposals often during his 2008 campaign, there was no reason to believe that he would necessarily prioritize that issue over the numerous others he broached once he actually took office. He wasn't facing any particularly acute circumstantial or political pressure to act on it, as he was with the economic crisis or the Iraq War.
Yet act on it he did. By aggressively pursuing a meaningful health care reform bill, Obama put that question at the forefront of American political discourse for much of his first term, spending the bulk of his post-election political capital on pushing the necessary legislation through Congress. While the health care reform issue obviously preceded Obama's presidency by decades, it was his effective use of executive initiative that brought about the results which have just been cemented today. Consequently, just as Theodore Roosevelt's name will be forever associated with opposition to monopolies and trusts and John Kennedy's with putting a man on the moon - not because these were the only things those presidents accomplished, mind you, but because they spent such great energy and political resources on bringing about results on those issues - so too will Barack Obama's brand be permanently linked in the history books with the cause of health care reform.
2. It will be remembered as strong policy. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will
expand coverage to more than 30 million Americans by means such as expanding Medicaid eligibility to include individuals with incomes up to 133% of the poverty level, offering federal subsidies to individuals and families ineligible for Medicare and up to 400% of the federal poverty level, and creating health insurance exchanges in each state to provide health consumers with a more comprehensive range of coverage options. At the same time, it will end many of the unjust policies commonly practiced by insurance companies, such as discriminating against people with preexisting conditions, offering different premiums to clients based on age and geographic location, or placing annual and lifetime coverage caps. Finally, it will increase medical research funding and expand the National Institutes of Health, thus not only improving the quality of life for the American people but helping our nation maintain its edge as a world leader in medical innovation.
Just as important as the soundness of this policy, however, is the fact that it will be remembered as constitutional. For years, conservatives have tried to reverse the increasingly progressive rulings of higher courts, arguing that the liberal policies they support go against the intent of the Founding Fathers and our larger freedoms (I address the historical fallacy underlying many of their arguments in this editorial). While they have succeeded in doing this on many issues (see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), they had not taken down the signature legislative achievements of a progressive president since the days of the Four Horsemen during the New Deal era. Their determination to do this reached a peak when Obama passed his health care reform bill, reaching such irrational heights that they even pinned their hopes on invalidating a clause, the individual mandate, that had been first proposed by their own conservative thinkers (including Newt Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation). Their failure to succeed here doesn't mean that they will never manage to win the battle and take us back to pre-New Deal days; it does, however, constitute a significant setback, one that will be made much greater if Obama is reelected and one or more conservative judges wind up leaving the court.
Of course, health care reform hardly constitutes the end-all of Obama's larger historical legacy. He will also be remembered for preventing the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression, ending the war in Iraq, making the tough decisions that led to the assassination of Osama bin laden, repairing relations with nations that had grown alienated from America due to Bush's foreign policies, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, implementing significant financial regulatory reforms, strengthening consumers rights, and providing relief for those hardest hit by the recession. That said, if nothing else, the Supreme Court's validation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will forever rebut the charge lovingly made by Obama haters that he "hasn't done anything." Here is change that we can not only believe in, but that has actually become a reality.
This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (June 28, 2012) and can be found here: http://www.policymic.com/articles/10370/uwe-boll-a-master-of-bad-movies-finally-makes-a-winner-with-auschwitz-graphic-video
As the closing credits started rolling on the new German documentary Auschwitz, I found myself thinking - of all things - of a line from the 2007 Pixar feature Ratatouille, one of my favorite movies:
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read."
While films about the Holocaust aren't usually magnets for negative criticism, Auschwitz is unique in that it was written and directed by Uwe Boll, a notorious B-movie schlockmeister whose resume includes celluloid atrocities like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, and Blubberella. Specializing primarily in video game adaptations, Boll's reputation is so poor that he is widely considered one of the worst filmmakers of all time. Inevitably, this has turned his work into catnip for aficionados of uproariously scathing movie reviews: See Scott Brown of Entertainment Weekly writing that "when the giant, intelligent bees of the future sift through the ashes of our civilization, they will find Alone in the Dark, and they will understand," or Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel viewing BloodRayne and simply asking, "Who is Uwe Boll and why does he hate moviegoers so?" Boll, in turn, has responded to this universal disdain in a number of unflattering ways, from bitterly lashing out against the writers and actors he blames for his failures, to challenging five of his fiercest critics to a series of boxing matches (an experienced pugilist, Boll won each time).
Of course, I would have been interested in Auschwitz even if it hadn't been directed by Boll. As the erstwhile target of childhood anti-Semitic bullying that culminated in a hate crime which nearly cost me my life (when I was 12 a group of my peers dragged me into a lake and held my head under water while chanting "Drown the Jew!"), I naturally have a preexisting interest in media pieces that focus on historical and contemporary persecution of Jews. Nevertheless, the knowledge of Boll's involvement gave me an additional, and admittedly puckish, reason to follow up on the film. While I didn't think I would be offended (there was no sensible reason to believe Boll's agenda wasn't honorable), I fully expected to be amused. After all, Boll's cinematic efforts usually entertain their audiences as unintentional comedy, to say nothing of providing writers with great material, as indicated above.
My goal of roasting Boll's film was thwarted by the simple fact that his movie wasn't just better than his normal fare. It was actually good. Genuinely, legitimately good.
The first sign that I was in for a surprise came in the opening four minutes. As Boll directly addressed the audience in an introductory monologue that alternated between English and German, he explained one of the impetuses behind his decision to make this particular Holocaust film:
"The movies that get made about it [the Holocaust] are more telling to heroes, like people tried to kill Hitler - von Stauffenberg (a key figure in the July 20th assassination plot and the main character in Valkyrie), whatever - or we have special people, they helped Jews, like Schindler's List and The Pianist and so on. And I think it was time to actually do something that omitted that part, that just showed what it really was. The horror."
Boll's observation here is astute. While Schindler's List and The Pianist are modern classics (in my opinion, at least), their focus on tales of personal triumph makes it easy to obscure the fact that - for the vast majority of those who experienced the Holocaust - the ordeal was unremittingly dehumanizing, bleak, and hopeless. Films like Jakob the Liar and Life Is Beautiful have even added borderline fantastical elements into our cultural understandings of the Holocaust, dulling popular conceptions of the inescapable suffering and tragedy that most of its victims endured and instead making the event seem like just another backdrop for Hollywood period pieces.
Auschwitz is certainly an antidote for that. The midsection of the movie - a 37-minute reenactment of a normal day at the Auschwitz concentration camp - pulls no punches in its unsparingly brutal narrative. Jews are packed into trains, herded into the camps, and forced to strip down. Officers register the new inmates based on gender and age, while only a few buildings away camp guards execute babies because they are too young to be of any use as laborers. When the gas chambers are turned on, we actually see the people inside as they scream and panic and convulse in agony.
There are no heroes in this sequence, nor should there be, since Boll's clear goal is to show the cruel norm rather than spotlight the occasional miraculous exception. To the extent that we have main characters, they are the officers, guards, and other camp personnel, who are presented by Boll not as the snarling villains usually presented to us in Hollywood depictions, but rather as 9-to-5 day workers, otherwise normal men whose monotonous daily routine just happens to involve unspeakable evil instead of standard white or blue collar drudgery. By doing this, Boll reveals an understanding of the basic problem with overt vilification; when you condemn a certain action by painting its perpetrators as grotesque caricatures, you make it easy for others to believe that they could never commit similar acts of evil, since they're given the impression that the only people capable of such things are the most obvious of monsters.
In fact, as the philosopher Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, many of history's greatest atrocities were executed not by fanatics and sociopaths, but by otherwise well-adjusted and "normal" people who simply accepted the malevolent premises of the place and time they inhabited. This "banality of evil" is the central feature of Boll's Auschwitz reenactment. By making the Nazis generic and identifiable even as they commit heinous acts, Boll reminds us that the potential for great evil exists within all of us. He even reinforces this message by bravely casting himself as one of the main guards, casually munching on a sandwich as he barks out orders to the Jewish inmates or nodding off to sleep while leaning against the door to the gas chamber where Jews are in the process of being killed. In the film's best scene, the camera lingers on two guards who are engaged in casual conversation. As they cover the gamut of routine office chit-chat - from updates on pregnant wives and funny family stories to requests for vacation leave and the occasional work-related complaint (two of the oven burners keep malfunctioning) - the audience begins to notice a faint rhythmic pounding in the background. Barely audible at first, it steadily increases in volume, gradually drawing our attention and then our curiosity until it suddenly becomes obvious that what we are hearing are the gas chamber inmates slamming desperately against the walls as they succumb to the poison. By letting the audience piece this together itself, Boll skillfully allows the sinister indifference of the Nazi personnel to sink in on its own, rather than attempting to force the point. As a result, the revelation - and its moral implications insofar as the mindsets of the Nazis are concerned - is much more horrifying.
This isn't to say that Auschwitz lacks serious flaws. Instead of letting his reenactment of concentration camp life stand on its own, Boll bookends it with a series of interviews conducted with German high school students on the Holocaust. There is certainly merit to the idea of probing the opinions of young people on this subject, especially given the genocides occurring today in places like Darfur, the rising prevalence of Holocaust denial, and the politicization of Holocaust memory on issues ranging from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Turkish immigration crisis in Germany. Unfortunately, Boll's interviews lack the focus and structure needed to explore these topics in any substantive fashion, jumping quickly from theme to theme instead of pausing long enough to really flesh any of them out. Even worse, Boll mixes clips of students gettings their facts wrong (e.g., claiming Adolf Hitler was Czech) with instances in which they show an impressively sophisticated understanding of history (e.g., explaining the medieval prejudices that led to heavy Jewish involvement in banking). This makes it unclear as to whether Boll intends to portray young people as being generally uninformed about the past - the position stated in his introductory monologue - or he merely wishes to offer a general overview as to their perspectives. Finally, Boll is himself often guilty of sloppy research, such as when he casually refers to Holocaust deniers like "that Irani president or that Catholic bishop" instead of recalling the names Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Richard Williamson, or when he claims that about 50% of the people on Earth don't know about the Holocaust without providing any sources to back up his assertion.
In the end, though, these weaknesses don't take away from the fact that Auschwitz is a powerful film with a provocative and compelling take on its subject. Although Ratatouille admonishes critics to remember that "in the grand scheme of things the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so," I am happy to report that Auschwitz is far from being a piece of junk. After a long string of failures, Uwe Boll has finally made his first good movie.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
This editorial was first published on PolicyMic (June 17, 2012). The original version can be found here:
I like to eat, and I don't like to move.
That is why, roughly one year ago, I was sixty pounds heavier than I am today. For this, I have no one and nothing to blame but myself. In a nation plagued by a worsening obesity epidemic, excuses have become as common as credit card debt, which is why I make a conscious effort to avoid joining the chorus of people blaming their corpulence on elusive "glandular disorders" or needing to "eat to dull the pain." While I don't deny that problems such as these indeed exist, they are also overly used as excuses. That's why I own that my past weight problems were due to my own poor discipline and lifestyle choices, a fact I continue to keep in mind as I struggle to lose the lingering dozen or so extra pounds today.
What I've also grown to realize, however, is that there is one way in which I am quite lucky. After taking a close look at contemporary culture, it has been impossible for me to avoid the observation that if one has to live as an overweight person, it is far easier to do so as a man than as a woman.
Take Jessica Simpson. Given my complete unfamiliarity with her oeuvre (in music or reality television), my chief exposure to Simpson comes from the random stories I occasionally encounter when browsing through Google News. Such was the case this week, when I found myself greeted by a series of articles sporting pictures of an extremely attractive Simpson followed, with jarring incongruity, by melodramatic proclamations about her weight loss struggles.
Some of these came from the expected sources, such as The National Enquirer's "Jessica Simpson Post-Baby Weight Hell" and TMZ's "Jessica Simpson: Professional Fat Person." Others appeared in ostensibly reputable outlets, such as The Huffington Post, which devoted an entire piece to the singer being spotted exercising in Los Angeles, one that mentioned how she "wisely lined up a deal with Weight Watchers months before even giving birth to her little girl."
This reminded me of a comedy skit I saw a couple years ago on Will Ferrell's comedy website Funny or Die. In it, two young men at a beach pretend that they're drowning so a "perfect 10" lifeguard can come and give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The punchline was that when the lifeguard finally showed up (gamely played by former Baywatch starlet Nicole Eggert), the men were so disgusted with her "fat" physique that they desperately tried to shoo her away. While they don't go unpunished for their shallowness (the poetic justice served to them at the end is mildly amusing, albeit predictable), the video clip still manages to send the undeniable message that women who let themselves go will see their value diminish accordingly. This is made all the more disturbing by the fact that the "fat" version of Eggert comes across as merely flabby more than anything else.
At the core of all of this is a very serious social problem: In America, a woman's intrinsic value is far too often measured primarily by her appearance.
This isn't to say that the feminist movement hasn't done wonders in improving the economic, political, and cultural circumstances of American women. From the days of Susan B. Anthony and the early suffragettes to Second Wave leaders like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, we have come a long way as a country, breaking down numerous sexist barriers in our professional and social life. Nevertheless, it is foolish to look at the progress that has been made and use that as an excuse for arguing that all of the necessary work has been done. This is especially true in our pop culture, where blatant and subtle forms of sexism are rampant. From the rampant denigration of women in music videos and the sexualization of female roles in film and television to the fact that stories with female protagonists are almost always perceived as targeted primarily toward women (as opposed to those that center around male characters, which due to the use of male as "generic" are more likely to have universal demographic appeal), the media both contributes to and reinforces the perception that women are primarily defined by their gender.
This, in turn, far too often causes them to be valued based on their sexual desirability, which centers heavily around their physical appearance. That is why Jessica Simpson is hardly the first female celebrity whose weight has become headline news. Within the last few years, similar stories have been written about figures including Kirstie Alley, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Tyra Banks, and Britney Spears, to name only the ones who immediately come to my mind (i.e., those I've seen on the covers of tabloids and gossip magazines at my supermarket). While one might argue that this is merely reflective of society's general obsession with our nation's weight problems, that notion doesn't explain the obsessiveness with which we pick over the bodies of famous women who have gained a few pounds. Indeed, it also doesn't explain why male celebrities who gain weight, though certainly ridiculed to an extent, are not subjected to nearly as harsh a spotlight as their female counterparts. Even the notion that health is the main concern doesn't hold up when one takes into account that celebrities who are underweight aren't derided nearly as much as those who (often temporarily) find themselves on the other end of the spectrum. In the end, the reason these women receive such a disproportionate amount of attention is that their perceived value as female celebrities is conflated with their physical attractiveness. Because women who are overweight are considered less attractive, the prospect of someone rich and/or famous losing her looks plays right into our society's love of watching influential people fall from grace.
If there is anything about this trend more striking than the underlying sexism, it is the sheer cruelty of it all. In light of how deeply normal women fret over their appearance when in the privacy of their own homes, it is unimaginable how much more excruciating that internal pain must be when it is turned into national news. There must be a humiliating sense of dehumanization, disempowerment, and objectification in the ordeal that borders on being downright torturous. That this is merely a magnification of what everyday women encounter daily only makes the realization that much more sobering. When I was at my heaviest, my ordeals were never that terrible precisely because I was lucky enough to be a fat man instead of a fat woman. Until this fact changes - until both genders are allowed to view weight gain as being primarily a health issue, with the aesthetic implications of obesity being limited only to their personal lives rather than to any greater sense about their social value - feminism will have one more front on which it needs to fight.
This editorial was originally published at PolicyMic on June 11, 2012(http://www.policymic.com/articles/9526/romneynomics-failed-miserably-and-it-s-time-for-the-obama-campaign-to-call-him-out).
The American people have made it clear that unemployment will be the dominant issue of this election. Polls consistently show voters prioritizing it far above every other policy question, with nothing else – not health care reform, not balancing the budget, not international relations, not gay rights – managing to place even a close second by comparison. Consequently, voters need to be made aware of some ugly truths about Romneynomics if they are to make an informed choice in November.
The most important facts can be divided into two categories:
1) Romneynomics caused Massachusetts to lag behind the rest of the nation in job creation and income growth.
One of the most illuminating ways to measure a leader's success is by contrasting the conditions where he governed with those in analogous states. By this metric, Romney's gubernatorial career was an abysmal failure. During his tenure as governor, in which he enacted major spending cuts and raised revenue through fees that targeted the working class (instead of tax increases that would focus on the wealthy), Massachusetts ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation. Its unemployment rate was higher than the national average after he left office, despite having been lower than the national mean when he first took over. Further, for those who were lucky enough to remain employed, Romneynomics caused a considerable decline in their net compensation. Even as median household income increased in the rest of the country, it fell by roughly $2,000 (adjusted for inflation) in Romney's Massachusetts. These "Romney bonuses" (as those with a particularly ironic bent might call them) played no small part in why hundreds of thousands of state residents moved elsewhere at the time hoping to find work.
By contrast, Obama's policies have helped America weather the Great Recession and retain one of the strongest economies in the developed world. When the president took office in January 2009, unemployment was skyrocketing at a catastrophic rate of nearly 0.4% per month thanks to the Wall Street crash of September 2008. Indeed, before his first stimulus began to take effect, joblessness had actually doubled in eighteen months flat, from 4.7% in November 2007 (the last month before the Great Recession) to 9.4% in May 2009. Once the stimulus started to be felt, however, unemployment stabilized, remaining at or under 10% for the following year-and-a-half. An additional stimulus passed in December 2010 (weeks before the GOP gained control of the House of Representatives) then caused an overall trend of decline in unemployment that still continues today, with rates dropping to 8.7%-9.1% in 2011 and 8.1%-8.5% as of the first five months of 2012.
2) Romneynomics has already been tried in Europe, and it has failed there.
Europe reacted to the Great Recession with drastic government spending cuts, or "austerity measures," and is lagging far behind America as a result. In May 2012, as the United States posted an unemployment rate of 8.2%, the 17 nations in the European Union saw joblessness climb to a record high of 11%. The countries that implemented the most severe austerity measures, like Spain and Greece, reported the highest rates (exceeding 20%), while the United Kingdom, which jumped on the austerity bandwagon late in the game, saw its nascent recovery turn into a double-dip recession once it implemented the draconian right-wing spending cuts. What's more, despite concerns about the costliness of stimulus measures, annualized growth in federal spending has actually been slower during Obama's first term (1.4%) than under the terms of his immediate predecessors (8.7% and 4.9% under Reagan, 5.4% under Bush I, 3.2% and 3.9% under Clinton, 7.3% and 8.1% under Bush II). Finally, America's economy has grown at an average of 3.7% each quarter in the post-stimulus era, a number that Europe today can only envy.
This comparison is of critical importance because Romney intends to repeat Europe's mistakes here in the U.S. In order to meet the budgetary requirements of his current economic plan, Romney would have to implement 29% spending cuts to every domestic program except for Social Security by 2016. This would necessitate significant rollbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' disability compensation, SNAP (i.e., food stamps), child nutrition programs, assistance for secondary education, and SSI benefits for poor, elderly, and disabled individuals. As a result, millions of Americans would be driven below the poverty line and those who are already poor would only suffer more. Meanwhile, millions more would be rendered unable to afford health insurance or college tuition. Additionally, the removal of such massive government investment from the national economy would also cause a major contraction, akin to the double-dip recession that is currently causing unemployment to shoot up in Britain. One of Obama's most important achievements was steering America through the Great Recession without succumbing to the European siren song of austerity. Romney, on the other hand, would follow Europe's example. That is why Obama must emphasize, ad infinitum and if necessary ad nauseum, two key points: (1) That America has fared better in this global economic crisis than Europe because he has avoided austerity measures, and (2) That Romney would follow in Europe's example.
While it is easy to blame the media for not drawing sufficient attention to the flaws of Romneynomics, the main burden of responsibility lies with Obama's re-election team. No campaign can be successful without ensuring that the vital aspects of its message are inextricably linked with the public's conceptions about the stakes of the election. This includes not only what a campaign promotes about its own candidate, but what it identifies as the Achilles' heels of its opponents, from Bill Clinton linking Bob Dole with the unpopularity of Newt Gingrich and the 104th Congress ("Dole-Gingrich") to George W. Bush's ridiculing John Kerry's alleged evolutions of opinion on the Iraq War ("flip-flop").
Obama can certainly take pages directly from the Clinton and Bush reelection efforts. One can imagine him putting Boehner and Ryan on the spot by calling for a special session of Congress and challenging them to either pass widely supported economic programs or else be exposed as partisan ideologues (a la Harry Truman in 1948). Perhaps he could even air commercials that highlight Romney's main character weakness (his history as a flip-flopper) by juxtaposing videos of the different positions he has taken on a number of issues. Most important of all, however, the president must guarantee that the key details of Romney's economic record aren't just mentioned, but reiterated until they become the year's dominant political memes. Phrases like "47th out of 50" and "Romney bonuses" should become household words, while the theme that America needs to be "Not Like Europe" must reflexively come to every voter's mind whenever he or she thinks about Romneynomics. Four years ago, the Obama campaign forever intertwined themes such as "Hope," "Change," and "Yes We Can" with the political brand of their candidate. For an electoral narrative that will be defined by job creation, they must find equally memorable and pervasive ways to ensure that every voter knows the ugly truths of Romneynomics.
This editorial was originally published at PolicyMic on June 6, 2012(http://www.policymic.com/articles/9352/why-mitt-romney-is-a-coward).
Back in 1964, a Republican Governor named George Romney performed an act of rare political courage. As party delegates convened in San Francisco to coronate Senator Barry Goldwater as their presidential nominee, Romney noted Goldwater's opposition to civil rights legislation and announced that because "his [Goldwater's] views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our Party, I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the Party's next candidate." Despite the vicious racism of the extreme right-wing (which had taken over the GOP through Goldwater's candidacy), Romney stood by his vow, even willfully incurring their wrath by refusing to endorse Goldwater.
Half a century later, it is George Romney's son, Mitt Romney, whose moral courage is being tested. Unfortunately, this is a test which he has thus far failed in two major ways.
First he failed in his handling of Richard Grenell, a conservative* foreign policy expert who resigned from the Romney campaign after homophobic backlash to his sexual orientation made it impossible for him to do his job. The controversy was not based on any complaint about Grenell's beliefs or credentials (given that he had spent seven years under President George W. Bush as head of the American mission's communications department in the United Nations), but instead on the fact that elements of the Christian Right did not feel comfortable with an open homosexual serving in such an influential Republican post. As Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association wrote on Twitter, "Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead." Romney responded to this by limiting the extent of Grenell's involvement with his campaign, eventually compelling him to resign due to how his "ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues."
Now he is failing by allowing Donald Trump to be one of his spokesmen, despite the billionaire's recent re-embrace of birtherism. The belief that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States has already been thoroughly debunked, from the impracticality of his Honolulu parents making a sudden trip to Kenya and the presence of two birth notices in local newspapers from the time to the fact that, more than a year ago, the State of Hawaii actually released the original form of his birth certificate to the general public (state law only permits its residents to have access to duplicates). More ominous, however, is that it appeals to latent racist tendencies among its supporters. As an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology pointed out earlier this year, "the influence of racial prejudice in contemporary U.S. society is typically manifested in subtle, indirect forms of bias." Because "most Whites attempt to avoid appearing biased in their evaluations of Blacks ... Whites' prejudice is more likely to be expressed in discriminatory responses when those actions can be justified by other factors." As the head of the study later commented, "Whites who were prejudiced against Blacks were more likely to see Obama as un-American," a bias that did not carry over even to white liberal politicians like Vice President Joe Biden.
It is undeniable that, by obtaining the Republican presidential nomination, Romney has managed to succeed where his father came up short (in 1968). Whether this was due to political savvy, good luck, or (most likely) a combination of the two matters far less than whether Romney makes good use of his new power and influence. That was a test that George Romney passed - and which his son, on at least two occasions so far, has not.
* - The word "conservative" was originally "neoconservative." After Richard Grenell read the editorial and complained about the use of that appellation, however, it was changed by the editors at PolicyMic.
This editorial was originally published at PolicyMic on May 18, 2012(http://www.policymic.com/articles/8342/weekend-movie-review-the-avengers-may-be-the-best-comic-book-film-ever-made).
Film critics haven't been mincing words about The Avengers. From Hollywood Life and The Washington Times to the Dekalb County Times-Journal, pundits of the silver screen are not only praising Joss Whedon's take on the band of Marvel icons, but referring to his motion picture as the greatest superhero film ever made. While I don't quite agree with this superlative assessment, it hits very close to the truth.
A brief retrospective of recent cinematic history is necessary to fully understand why. The last dozen years have been something of a Golden Age in comic book movies. Ever since the success of Bryan Singer's X-Men in the summer of 2000, cineplexes have been bursting at the seams with narratives inspired by or ripped straight from the pulpy pages of graphic novels. Lucrative blockbusters like Spider-Man, Spider-Man 3, and The Dark Knight were the highest grossing films in their respective years of release (2002, 2007, and 2008), while especially acclaimed entries like Iron Man and The Dark Knight have netted prestigious Oscar nominations and spots on critical top ten lists.
In the midst of this deluge, two categories have emerged. First there are the traditional superhero stories, characterized by the familiar tropes of likeable good guys, memorable baddies, and unapologetically melodramatic three-act story archs (the Spider-Man and Iron Man series are perhaps the most popular in this group). Alongside those have been the more existential pieces, defined by their topicality, thematic depth, and attempts to transcend normative genre strictures (more famous examples include Unbreakable, The Dark Knight, and Watchmen).
Saying that The Avengers falls into the first category, though true, does it a bit of an injustice. While no single aspect of it stands out as unusually superb, every element that needs to fall into place does so beautifully.
As these types of movies rise or fall based largely on the merits of the characters, it certainly helps that The Avengers has quite a range of compelling figures in its arsenal. Leading the pack of heroes are a pair of dueling archetypes (metaphorically and literally): Iron Man/Tony Stark, a blithely egomaniacal playboy and renaissance man, and Captain America/Steve Rogers, whose Boy Scoutish persona almost comes across like Marvel Comic's answer to DC's Superman. They are accompanied by the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner, who when roused to anger transforms into the terrifying green behemoth known as the Hulk; Thor, the Norse god of thunder; Black Widow, a Russian superspy; and Hawkeye, a master archer and "World's Greatest Marksman." This eclectic crew is led by Nick Fury, director of a government military agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D that is responsible for assembling the titular Avengers to deal with crises once they become global in scale.
Each of these characters is perfectly cast, from Robert Downey Jr. as the inimitably sharp-tongued Stark to Samuel L. Jackson as the sullen but gravitas-laden Fury. The standout here is almost certainly Mark Ruffalo as Banner, whose depiction of a man deftly controlling the tempest of his own emotions is memorable in its stirring poignance. Tying all of them together is a plot in which the heroes search for a MacGuffin known as the Tesseract that must be kept out of the hands of Loki, the Norse god of mischief and brother to Thor who aspires to use that device to (of course) rule the world. While the story itself is not particularly original, it is utilized to its fullest potential, keeping the narrative running at a smooth clip and causing its two-and-a-half hour running time to fly right by.
All of this is spiced up by Whedon's distinctively intelligent and engaging writing style. From witty lines (Tony Stark introducing himself to Bruce Banner: "Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.") to unexpected moments of physical comedy (such as a scene in which one character receives a surprising but richly deserved humiliating beating), the screenplay proves to be almost as much of a character as any of the protagonists themselves, adding levity to prevent the story from being bogged down in its own sturm und drang while maintaining the proper dramatic perspective throughout the proceedings.
This isn't to say that The Avengers is without its weaknesses. While Loki is an adequately detestable villain, he hardly compares to comicdom's more legendary celluloid foes (Alfred Molina's Doctor Octavius, Heath Ledger's The Joker), and the story's intelligence is more surface than substantive, causing it to lack the thoughtfulness of The Dark Knight or philosophical layering of Watchmen. Nevertheless, The Avengers stands out as a practically perfect popcorn flick, thoroughly entertaining even the most disillusioned moviegoers (of which I am one) from the opening frame to the second post-credits scene (which I highly recommend audience members stick around to see). When it comes to the traditional type of superhero movie, it's hard to do any better.