The Anti-Politics of Joe Biden

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There is a certain stink which losing US presidential candidates give off. They are typically senior figures within their party, people who have put in their time and have a long list of credentials. They likely won the primary after the party establishment rallied together against a perceived more radical candidate. They don’t have a strong personality, and run mostly on revulsion towards their opponent. This is John Kerry, John McCain, Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton. This is also Joe Biden.

In contrast to this, presidential winners are typically either incumbents or those who are able to successfully market themselves as outsiders. Obama, Trump and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton were all able to establish themselves as set apart from a Washington milieu that the American public had tired of. Even George W. Bush, the son of a former president, portrayed himself as an outsider. At the same time, there’s a huge incumbency advantage in modern politics, with 4 of the last 5 presidents winning a second term. (The exception to both of the above paragraphs is George H. W. Bush, but in many ways he proves the rule — even the anointed successor to one of the most popular presidents in history was barely able to scrape out a single term.) …


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In Mur Lafferty’s Heaven, protagonist Kate dies and finds herself in heaven along with her best friend Daniel. Daniel, who she always had an unrequited crush on in life, tells her he loves her and they set about spending their after afterlife together. However, Kate gradually realizes that this is not the person she knew on Earth, but a simulacrum created to match her desires, and finds this profoundly unsatisfying. …


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Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite has proven to be that rarest of objects: a foreign language film that crosses over to mainstream success in the English-speaking world. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and has received a round of plaudits not just from the usual credentialed critics but the rich and famous. Supermodel Chrissie Teigen and possible supervillain Elon Musk both took to Twitter to praise the movie.

These responses drew a wave of revulsion from the Twitterati. The laudatory reviews of Parasite have largely focused on the film’s discussion of class. Parasite is the story of a poor family, the Kims, who gradually infiltrate the lives of a rich family, the Parks, conspiring to get each other jobs in various servile positions. Critics have read the narrative as a story of class struggle. New York Times critic Manohla Dargis describes Bong as “a rigorous dialectician” in depicting the struggle between rich and poor, while Roger Ebert.com


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These guys were pretty cool.

In what may have been a moment of madness, I decided to watch the most recent (fourteenth) season of America’s Got Talent, the US’s favourite (?) summer-season performance competition show. Now, normally I’m a pretty elitist guy when it comes to my TV watching, preferring dour cable dramas and bizarre anime, but I have been known to enjoy reality competition shows like Survivor and Top Chef in the past. And I figured that if I wanted to try a more performance-driven show, the variety of acts in AGT would make it more interesting than one of the numerous singing competitions.

This was about four months ago. The first thing I discovered was that there was a lot of America’s Got Talent. If you watched it live over the course of a summer, it would take 41 hours. Watching commercial-free episodes after-the-fact, as I did, makes it come in at somewhere above 26 hours. In roughly the same amount of time, you could watch five seasons of Bojack Horseman or three seasons of The Wire. …


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When I was eight, I was selected for my school board’s gifted program. I would spend the next nine years of my life taking early-morning buses across town, undertaking weird projects with a small group of other precocious kids. It set me on a winding track through university, grad school, and now to my current precarious writing lifestyle. It was something I took a kind of pride in.

But recently, the existence of programs like these have come into question. This summer, aschool diversity task force in New York issued a report recommending the abolition of its own gifted and talented program, condemning it as racially biased and counterproductive. The report cites damning statistics — black and Latino students are dramatically underrepresented in the program, which separates students young based on a single test taken at kindergarten age. …


An article by Andrea Denhold critiquing the recent popularity of the true crime genre, using the example of the popular podcast My Favorite Murder, made the rounds on social media lately. Denhold seems to have struck a chord with many progressives suspicious of the genre’s rise. (Of course, true crime has always been popular, but only recently has it become both popular and culturally respectable through formats like Netflix documentaries and public-radio podcasts.)

In some ways, however, Denhold’s argument strikes me as odd. She argues that true crime ultimately upholds the criminal justice system, using as examples moments in My Favorite Murderer where the hosts emphasize the threat of murder by a stranger and cheer on the execution of criminals. …


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My farm always has too many trees

For the past six months I’ve immersed myself in the world of Stardew Valley, the popular farming simulator. The game deposits you on a weed-choked plot in the small Pelican Town and invites you to transform it into a functioning farm. Along the way you can make friends with the local townspeople, try out your hand at fishing, and explore the monster-filled mines. I’ve put about 50 hours into the game, but recently I stopped to wonder whether I was actually having fun. And, if so, why?

Stardew Valley has its obvious charms — the amiably retro pixel art, the sense of humour, the variety of items to grow and collect — but it lacks the obvious hooks of many other video games. There’s no story pushing you to an end-point. There are elements of dating sims and dungeon crawlers, but they’re fairly rudimentary. …


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In the late 1990s, Pokemon redefined what a multimedia craze looked like. There had long been cartoons with toys and comic book tie-ins, but nobody had ever been successful across quite so many media and product lines. There were Pokemon movies, stuffed animals, jigsaw puzzles and waffle irons. Unlike other cross-media narratives, there was never really a core text of which all the rest were adaptation or spin-off. But at the centre of it all lay a kid holy trinity: the Game Boy games, the anime show, and the collectible card game.

What’s more, all of this core media was pretty good. The video games were imaginative JRPGs which found a good middle ground between difficulty and tangible progression. The anime was a cartoon comedy with memorable personalities that had just enough serialization to keep stringing the audience along. The card game wasn’t as complex as more grown-up CCGs like Magic: the Gathering, but it was a good introduction to deck-building and resource management for a young audience. …


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Nagata Kabi is a very atypical manga artist. For one thing, she publishes her work on Pixiv and other social media platforms, outside of the world of demographic-oriented anthology magazines that spawn most of the manga which makes it over to the West. Nagata’s work is also unusual in that it’s autobiographical, a genre experimented with by some of manga’s pioneers (such as Shigeru Mizuki’s war memoirs) but mostly pushed out of the commercial space. While most manga is published in black and white, she includes splashes of colour, mostly pink.

But even without these commercial caveats, Nagata’s work would still be distinctive. She writes from a brutally honest, marginal perspective. She’s a young, socially-maladjusted woman who struggles to adapt to the world of work and social relations. Nagata is frank about her mental illness as well as her homosexuality, two subjects which are still taboo in Japan. Instead of discussing these issues issues moralistically, Nagata delves deep into her own psyche and thought process. …


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I’ve had the final scene of HBO series The Deuce stuck in my head for the past week. (Spoilers obviously follow.) After spending the rest of the season in the mid-1980s, we abruptly jump forward to 2019. Vincent (James Franco), one of the series’ central characters, is sitting in a Manhattan hotel room. We see that the show’s subject matter — pornography but also bartending in New York — has become thoroughly mundane and regulated, just part of the room service.

Disgusted, Vincent leaves to walk around Times Square — the modern Times Square, full of tourists and wealth, not the sleazy district in which he once thrived. A cover of “Sidewalks of New York”, a turn-of-the-20th-century ballad covered by members of Blondie (who also contribute the season’s opening theme, “Dreaming”) plays. As he walks, Vincent sees glimpses of people he once knew, people that are long dead and gone but appear to him just as they once did. They are all buried beneath the square’s hyper-modernity, but remain a part of its foundation, haunting the sterile surface. …

About

Rob Hutton

A guy hiding underground shouting at the TV.

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