Some of the buzziest stories of the week seemed to feed an urgent impulse: to escape the grim drumbeat of political warfare, terrorism, school shootings and the newest apocalyptic warning about the future of the planet.
“In an era defined by Trump, Brexit and ongoing concerns about the suffering environment, our desire for escapism may be reaching new heights,” wrote British historian Susan Jonusas. “Witness, for one example, the incredible success of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ — which pretty much defines escapism — and, for another, the yen for the alternate universe of ‘Game of Thrones.'”
This year’s Met Gala, themed “Camp: Notes on Fashion” in homage to Susan Sontag’s 55-year-old essay “Notes on Camp,” seemed to have special resonance. Jonusas asked why did this year’s event “blow the top off it Monday night, beginning with a shimmering spectacle of color, sequins and golden wings? (And that was just ‘Kinky Boots’ actor Billy Porter’s entrance — instantly iconic, and evocative of both Cleopatra and 1920s Hollywood.)”
“Avengers,” which Internet Movie Database says has grossed $2.3 billion worldwide and could eclipse “Avatar” as the biggest film of all time, certainly falls in the escapism category. But “Avengers” — and the Marvel cinematic universe — also reflects a historical arc, wrote Aaron Freedman. (Warning: A film spoiler lurks below.)
When “Iron Man” debuted in 2008, introducing the character of Tony Stark, the world looked very different, Freedman noted. “If ‘Iron Man’ embodied the spirit of the early Obama years, he is woefully inadequate as a hero for today. Who will save us from inequality and capitalist oppression? Surely not the rich kid who inherited a fortune from his daddy. In the era of #MeToo, is the playboy-turned-savior the right role model?”
Freedman noted, “It’s appropriate that 11 years later, Marvel has finally laid Tony Stark to rest, with a tearful funeral that closes out ‘Avengers: Endgame.'”
Who will win?
“Stark” is also the name of a family central to “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series that airs its next-to-last episode Sunday night. We asked commentators to immerse themselves in the world of Westeros and tell us: Why does their favorite character deserve to sit on the Iron Throne at game’s end?
Yes, they argue for Sansa Stark (read Lucia Brawley‘s take), or her sister Arya (by Lisa Woolfork) and brother Bran (by Gene Seymour), and of course for Jon Snow (by Samantha Vinograd) and Daenerys Targaryen (by Lindsey Mantoan). But there’s even a case to be made for Cersei Lannister, according to legal analyst Paul Callan, and for Ser Davos, who Elie Mystal believes could usher in an era of democracy.
If you’re a fan, see which argument persuades you (and send us your own take — we’ll publish a sampling before the curtain comes down on the final episode. And a note — HBO is, like CNN, part of WarnerMedia).
Schools as war zones
When author Jeff Pearlman drops his 15-year-old daughter, Casey, off at school, he thinks about the possibility that she or her 12-year-old brother could become the victim of a shooting. “Be careful,” Pearlman says. “Um, OK,” she replies. “Casey finds this weird, because in her still-innocent-enough world of water polo and beach barbecues and Green Day songs, she doesn’t feel particularly worried,” he wrote. But the reality is that school shootings are a recurring nightmare in America, and many argue that they are putting intolerable stress on children.
“Even now, more students are fighting back, throwing themselves in the path of oncoming bullets, as did 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, who charged at the (STEM School Highlands Ranch) shooter — and was shot dead,” Pearlman wrote. “We celebrate the bravery of such young people; Castillo’s actions let his classmates escape. We need to be asking ourselves how, in God’s name, is this what it’s come to?”
Teacher Madeleine Deliee wrote that “fear has become part of the job” and noted, “The truth is, I have an aluminum bat and a set of rubber door wedges sitting in my Amazon cart. I hover between clicking ‘buy’ and not. Am I being proactive or am I just trying to convince myself that I have some measure of control over my environment?”
Emperor has no dough?
Critics have long contended that Donald Trump’s boasts of great wealth were, at the least, inflated. But, as Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio wrote, this week’s revelations in The New York Times of Trump’s Internal Revenue Service tax transcripts between 1985 and 1994 show that “young Trump’s claim to great riches was, at times, completely made up. He was, instead, desperately burdened by debt that topped $1 billion. It seems that his business acumen was at best questionable, at worst fake — as were his vast profits. … The man Trump presented in his book ‘The Art of the Deal’ was a fiction.”
But will the revelations have any bite? John Podhoretz, in the New York Post, suspected not. “It would appear that, time and again, Trump found the soft underbelly of the tax code and burrowed himself into it. You can call that many things. You can call it unscrupulous, or greedy, or nervy, or even sleazy. You can say it isn’t fair, if you could define ‘fair.’ But you can’t call it dumb.”
The Defense Department has used the 1-5 Defcon scale to assess the threats facing the US military, with 1 meaning the most severe situation. Julian Zelizer wrote that its political equivalent may have arrived in Washington this week. President Donald Trump asserted that executive privilege shields from public view the redacted parts of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, in contempt.
It’s about time Congress stood up to Trump, argued Elie Honig: Democrats have the law on their side. But will the Supreme Court agree, if and when the Trump-Congress battle makes its way there?
Elizabeth Wydra wrote that the pressure is on Chief Justice John Roberts, whose desire for a court that is seen by most Americans as being above partisanship risks being undermined by its strengthened conservative majority.
Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing by Trump prompted the Mueller investigation, had strong words at a CNN town hall Thursday. He endorsed the view, expressed in a letter signed by more than 800 former federal prosecutors, that Trump’s actions outlined in the Mueller report would be enough to get any ordinary citizen indicted for obstruction of justice.
Honig signed that letter. “To watch the President of the United States commit not just an isolated act of obstruction, but rather a prolonged, corrupt campaign to derail an investigation that threatened him is too much to bear silently.”
Josh Campbell, who worked for Comey, wrote, “For many inside the FBI, Comey’s willingness to serve as a shield stands in stark contrast to the manner in which (Attorney General Bill) Barr and (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein have handled issues in the Trump era. Their goal appears to have been their own survival, even if protecting themselves risked politicizing the Justice Department — and turning it into a political arm of the White House.”
A lot of brainpower gets expended by the world’s think tanks, but it’s thinking on steroids when 28 of them get together to declare the world’s top priorities.
This week, the Council of Councils released its 2018-2019 Report Card on International Cooperation, finding that climate change was “the top international priority for the first time in the report card’s five-year history,” wrote Stewart Patrick and Terrence Mullan. “Recent reports on ocean warming, collapsing biodiversity, and natural disasters paint a dire picture of the planet’s future.”
One million species, 1 out of every 8 on Earth, is threatened with extinction, according to a UN committee’s report. In The Guardian, Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity, wrote, “A colleague recently described how fish would swim into her clothing when she was a child bathing in the ocean off the coast of Vietnam, but today the fish are gone and her children find the story far-fetched. … We have all assumed that nature would always be here for us and our children. However, our boundless consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature now seriously threaten our future.”
Musician and author Julian Lennon argued that now more than ever, parents should be teaching their children about nature and getting them outside more often: “Children are healthier, both emotionally and physically, if they spend more time outdoors. With that exposure will also come a respect for our environment and the desire to get rid of the plastic in our oceans, the pollution from factories.”
Break up Facebook
Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and other Harvard classmates, described in The New York Times a visit nearly two years ago with his former roommate, where they chatted about politics, the company and their families “while his toddler daughter cruised around.”
“Since then, Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive,” Hughes wrote. “Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders.” Hughes’ solution? “Break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.”
It’s not clear, though, that this is the answer, wrote Evelyn Douek in Slate. “We may, as a society, decide that the lack of competition and invasions of privacy might make breaking up big tech worth it. But it’s unlikely that such an approach would solve the speech-related issues. In some cases, it may actually make them worse.”
Warren makes waves
Elizabeth Warren, the US senator from Massachusetts seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, is one of those calling for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. That, and many of the other cutting-edge policy proposals she’s put forward, landed her on the cover of Time magazine and has earned her a dead-on impression by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live.” This week, Warren wrote for our friends at CNN Business’ Perspectives section about her Twitter riposte to JP Morgan Chase’s recent tweet suggesting that many people don’t have enough money in the bank because they’re spending it frivolously on coffee and cabs.
“Chase’s tweet wasn’t just mean and misguided. It perpetuates the myth that millions of Americans are in dire financial straits because of their own poor choices, or because they spend money irresponsibly. That’s a story designed to let the ultra-wealthy off the hook and pretend they bear no blame for the crisis facing workers and families,” Warren wrote.
What this mom wants for Mother’s Day
Tess Taylor channels the views of more than a few mothers with her new essay. “When I was a new mother (my oldest was maybe 18 months) I read two self-help books — itself an accomplishment, because that year, when my husband was also seriously ill, was an extremely hard one.” One of them was Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”
The other? “Zero Waste Home.” “By lifestyle guru Bea Johnson, it focused on the domestic, on one woman’s mission to save the world by eliminating one disposable item at a time from her waste stream, until all her objects were in glass bottles, upcycled, plastic-free. …”
Taylor wrote, “Both books might well have been titled ‘I changed the world through workaholic perfectionism (and you should too!)’ I have to say: I am good with hard work and saving the planet. But some Mother’s Day I want all of us to wake up into a society that supports us all more while we try.”
About that royal baby
The world met Baby Sussex, bearing the striking name, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. Holly Thomas wrote, “Britain hasn’t produced many cheerful global news stories lately. But the arrival of Meghan and Harry’s first child, a son born at 05:26 BST Monday morning, has sent ripples of delight across the UK and around the world. The leaders of UK political parties, the Obamas, world leaders and celebrities, in the words of Meghan’s former ‘Suits’ co-star Patrick J. Adams, were all thrilled that ‘the world just got heavier by 7 pounds and 3 ounces.’ “
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