Picks this week from Mother Jones, Slate, Grantland, The Washington Post, Film Comment, The Paris Review, and a guest pick by The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes.
Can American football succeed in China?
"Football in America is closely associated with working-class communities, the ready-made tableau of small towns throughout the South or Midwest where collective esteem rises or falls according to how the local team did. This isn't always how it works elsewhere. In England, for example, there remain pockets of middle-class NFL fans who turned to the sport after the hooliganism of the 1980s left them alienated from soccer. In rural China, the NFL's flag football initiatives have helped democratize the playground; nobody grows up playing the sport, so there's no natural hierarchy. They can all — boys and girls — be awful and then learn together. But in cities like Beijing or Shanghai, football seems to represent the cosmopolitan or exotic — it's the distinction associated with being into something others just don't understand."
PUBLISHED: May 2, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5635 words)
The writer follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska in a Super Cub plane:
It turned out that Martin Buser, the musher whom I’d watched start the race, had come up with a strategy that was blowing people’s minds. He wasn’t stopping. Conventional Iditarod tactics call for frequent voluntary rest periods in addition to the two eight-hour breaks and one 24-hour break mandated by the rules. Iditarod sled dogs are bred for stamina, but they need food and sleep. Mushers, who will be almost unimaginably sleep-deprived by the time they reach Nome in any event, need at least token periods of semi-unconsciousness. You know the story of the tortoise and the hare? Yeah, the hare definitely wins the Iditarod. Slow and steady is not the ticket in the long-distance dog-mushing game. You want a lot of naps punctuated by periods of hellish subzero hustling.
Buser, though? He ran from Willow to the Yentna checkpoint and stopped for just 21 minutes. Then he ran to Skwentna and stopped for half an hour. He ran to Finger Lake, in the snow country just before the mountains, and stopped for 26 minutes. Then he ran practically all the way over the Alaska Range on no rest. Through Rainy Pass on no rest. When he reached Rohn, just before 10 on the morning of Monday, March 4, he’d driven his dogs nearly 200 miles in less than 20 hours, and he hadn’t stopped for longer than it took to have a vet eyeball them at the checkpoints. It was demented, was the feeling on the trail. What the pound-sign-percent-asterisk-dollar-sign was the guy thinking?
PUBLISHED: April 24, 2013
LENGTH: 77 minutes (19296 words)
How does a would-be blockbuster become a disastrous flop? A look at the decisions, large and small, that doomed Super Mario Bros. in the early 1990s:
"You can learn a lot about the way the movie industry works in a given moment by looking at its successes (whether accidental or engineered), but often you can learn even more by looking at its failures — the long-in-development projects that never make it to the screen, the labors of love gone wrong, the should've-been blockbusters that fail to land — particularly those that caught Hollywood by surprise, miscalculations that everyone involved has attempted to sweep under the rug. By digging up some of these misbegotten artifacts and examining them both within the context of their eras and in the cold light of the present, we'll try to understand how seemingly inexplicable disasters happen."
PUBLISHED: April 7, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4341 words)
The fading spotlight of one of the biggest icons in boxing history:
"If King wants to reflect on the past during this, the evening of his career, he only has to look around his offices at Don King Productions, where he has surrounded himself not only with memorabilia, but also with the same people who helped him rise to the top. Dana Jamison, King's vice-president of operations, has worked with King for 27 years. His personal photographer has been around for two decades. Of all the people I met associated with Don King, only Tavoris Cloud was under the age of 40. King's productions feel even older and more out of date. While waiting for him to show up back at the headquarters of Don King Productions, I squeezed into a long-since-abandoned cubicle, careful not to disturb an ancient Brother typewriter and a stack of press releases and legal documents from the late '90s. In the lobby, there was an old movie theater popcorn machine stamped with Don King's emblem. One of his employees told me that in the '90s, that machine had pumped the smell of fresh popcorn into the vents of the building. He couldn't remember the last time it had been turned on. Out back in a warehouse behind the offices, more than 20,000 square feet of King's possessions — mostly ornate furniture and towering bronze statues of lions — gathered dust along with seven of King's cars. Earlier this month, Jessica Lussenhop of the Riverfront Times
published an excellent article
about King's ongoing legal battle with St. Louis boxer Ryan Coyne, a conflict that started in November 2012. If you go to donking.com today, you will find a story titled 'Undefeated National Champion Boxer Ryan Coyne Meets Cardinals Three-Time MVP Albert Pujols.'"
PUBLISHED: April 4, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6640 words)
On the road with Dan Harmon, the exiled creator of Community, now sharing his deepest confessions with a live audience:
"So Harmon gets up onstage, confesses to the crime of being Dan Harmon — bad boyfriend, high-functioning alcoholic, approval-hungry self-Googling6 mansion-owning gardener-having man-baby, petty, loathsome human — and somehow the results are cathartic and funny, and the essential truth that we are all shitty people and therefore we are all in this together is affirmed. Sometimes it's like being at a weird college seminar run by a substitute teacher in the middle of a drunken meltdown and sometimes it's like hanging out in Dan Harmon's living room. Sometimes people from the audience wander onstage; sometimes when this happens (or when Jeff says something like How's everybody doing tonight? and Harmon interrupts and tells the crowd that they don't have to answer that with applause if they don't want to) it feels like all the basic assumptions and rules of entertainment are up for debate. It's almost never boring, it's usually funny, and whenever the energy flags, Jeff Davis will cue up a hip-hop beat on his iPad and Harmon will start freestyle rapping, usually about fucking somebody's mom, and dancing like a 3-year-old in footie pajamas who's been allowed to stay up late to put on a show for cocktail-party guests."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 12, 2013
LENGTH: 37 minutes (9284 words)
Rethinking the legacy of one of the most ridiculed hair bands of our time:
"I have no insight into the goings-on of Jon Bon Jovi's headspace, but I like to imagine him having a 'Once in a Lifetime' moment during the Springsteen duet: 'This is not my classic-rock staple, this is not my classic-rock backing band. Well, how did I get here?' Maybe I'm projecting: In many people's minds (certainly many critics' minds), perceptions of Bon Jovi will forever be fixed in the late '80s, the band's most commercially successful period, when Slippery When Wet and 1988's New Jersey spun off seven top-10 singles — an unprecedented run for what's ostensibly a hard-rock band — including four no. 1's. 'Blaze of Glory,' the breakout song from Jon Bon Jovi's 'solo' soundtrack for Young Guns II, also hit the top of the charts during this period.
"Susan Orlean's1 1987 profile of Bon Jovi for Rolling Stone was typical of how the press treated the band at the time. The piece begins with an extended, oddly reverential treatise on Jon Bon's 'fourteen inches' of hair: 'Its color is somewhere between chestnut and auburn, and the frosty streaks in it give it a sizzling golden sheen,' Orlean writes. 'Truth is, it would be safe to say that Jon Bon Jovi has the most wonderful hair in rock & roll today.' Orlean describes Jon Bon's locks as an oedipal metaphor for rebellion against his dad, a hairdresser, though her poker face doesn't quite hold. She doesn't really take this guy seriously, and the implication is that we shouldn't either."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 22, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3546 words)
A new year, and a change in the conversation about race in America:
"As I left the theater after Django, it was interesting to see how diverse the crowd was, and, based on the conversations being had in the lobby, how they were all impacted in some way, whether it was by the violence or the language or the fact that it was simply a really good movie. I left the theaters feeling oddly proud of Tarantino for making such a thought-provoking film, while feeling the exact opposite way about Spike Lee for not giving Django a chance. I was slightly shocked at how numb I became to Leo's use of the N-word, to the point that I almost started to marvel at the bravado with which he uttered it. As for my 'Django Moment,' yes, there was the horrible foreign couple behind me that thought everything was hilarious, but mine came from a more unexpected place: the laughter that filled the room when Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx would say the N-word — less like we imagine blacks would have in the 1800s, and more like they were two of the four Kings of Comedy."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 8 minutes (2095 words)