by Reihan

If you want to understand the struggle for Earth's geopolitical future, you might want to read Parag Khanna's provocative take in The Second World.

The struggle I have in mind is the far weightier struggle over who will be the Johnny Depp of the Millennial Generation.

Now, male heartthrobs are normally not my bailiwick, but a very smart reader recently noted that my musings on women make her cringe. Ahem. This comment was, by the way, totally justified, particularly in light of the fact that I once wrote a two-part rap about my inexplicable "love" for Saffron Burrows. So I'm going to do my darnedest to make entirely new demographics cringe by bringing to light the elemental conflict between Emile Hirsch, force of good, and Shia LeBeouf, force of evil, with a brief note concering Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

First, it should go without saying that Johnny Depp is the greatest actor of his generation, and possibly the greatest living human. Perhaps you missed Depp's reaction to the spectacle of a gaggle of dancing Japanese pirate toddlers, now stripped from YouTube by overzealous television executives. I wish I could honestly say you didn't miss much. I fear that, having missed this extraordinary event, you no longer have a reason to live. But somehow I think you'll manage to fool yourselves into believing otherwise, if only so as not to miss the spectacular season finale of Lost.

So yes, Depp is a hero to us all, this despite the undeniable fact that he is a goateed Francophile, which is saying rather a lot about his redeeming qualities. For years I've wanted to write a book titled Captain Jack's Guide to Management, divining the Shinto-inspired code of business success buried deep beneath Captain Jack Sparrow's wild-eyed witticisms as spouted in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Alas, there have been no takers as yet.

I'll also add, briefly, that I really love the movie Edward Scissorhands and that when I met a really lovely yet very skinny and pale young woman, my brilliant friend dubbed her, "Edward Sisterhands," as though she were, um, Edward Scissorhands' sister. Oh heck, you get the idea.

Anyway, I loved Holes and Disturbia as much as the next red-blooded American, but when LaBeouf addressed the assembled hordes at Comic-Con in San Diego last year, he was a punk. Harrison Ford, the wonderful Karen Allen, Steven Spielberg: all were class acts who recognized that the fans are decent, hard-working people who spent a lot of dough to ooh and aah with many like-minded Indiana Jones nerds. Yet Shia slouched and muttered and behaved in a generally impish, prima-donnaish fashion. I'll never forgive him. Rest assured, there are many millions of people who will throw rose petals at this young man's feet, and it's true that he's a decently talented actor. But you're no Depp and you never will be, LaBeouf. So you might want to develop some humility. Oh yes, the ladies love cool Shia. Merry Christmas, and damn you to Hades! What troubles me most is that he's rumored to be the first pick to play Yorick Brown in the forthcoming Y: The Last Man picture. More on Y to come.

Emile Hirsch, in contrast, is a true talent, as demonstrated by his remarkable star turn in Sean Penn's Into the Wild, easily one of the most affecting performances of 2007. Even in The Girl Next Door, a silly yet mildly diverting teen sex comedy, Hirsch gave a moving performance that ranged from earnest naif to smolderingly intense proto-pimp. This kid is going places, and my hope is that he will take a brief detour on the way there to trample on Shia LaBeouf. Metaphorically. We need to increase the peace, people. Just ask our next president, Obamahatma Gandhi.

Then there is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has been making many strategically shrewd choices -- playing despised, marginalized types, starring in the awesome Brick (which also starred the awesome Nora Zehetner, who also played the young Helena Bonham Carter in the criminally underrated Conversations with Other Women). JG-L is a bit older, and he certainly has the inside track to be the sleeper indie Depp. My sense is that once LaBeouf is out of the way, say his massive ego leads to some kind of temporary brain rupture, Hirsch will have to face off against Gordon-Levitt in a battle to the death. Just as the end of the Second World War saw a a globe-spanning conflict between two former allies, this hitherto unforeseen battle may prove the most consequential of them all. And the balance will be in the hands of celebrated tween icon Miranda Cosgrove, who I predict will become the Helena Bonham Carter of Generation Z.

And what will follow Generation Z, you ask? I see two distinct possibilities: (a) all of our celebrities will be digital composites, Max Headroom-style or (b) we are headed straight for something like the Biblical apocalypse. Which is why I'm investing in gold doubloons. (See Chapter 5 of Captain Jack's Guide to Management.)

Tomorrow I hope to be marginally saner. I put my chances at slim to none.

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