Game of Thrones and ‘Empowerment’: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment


Thrones of Blood
Clive James | The New Yorker
“Everyone in the show is dispensable, as in the real world. But without Tyrion Lannister you would have to start the show again, because he is the epitome of the story’s moral scope. His big head is the symbol of his comprehension, and his little body the symbol of his incapacity to act upon it. Tyrion Lannister is us, bright enough to see the world’s evil but not strong enough to change it.”

How “Empowerment” Became Something for Women to Buy
Jia Tolentino | The New York Times Magazine
“The world was built on a misaligned foundation; no amount of awareness can change the fact that it’s the already-powerful who tend to experience empowerment at any meaningful rate. Today ‘empowerment’ invokes power while signifying the lack of it. It functions like an explorer staking a claim on a new territory with a white flag.”

“We’re Creating a World That Feels True”
Caroline Framke | Vox
“Everyone on The Americans is working toward the same goal. This sounds like an obvious statement, but trust me: With so many variables in play and so little time to get everything done, that kind of teamwork is both rare and prized. If a set is like a train hurtling toward its destination, any bit of discord on the route clashes against the tracks and creates a warning spark—and the more that happens, the more likely it is that the whole thing will derail.”

Why Hamilton Matters
Jeremy McCarter | BuzzFeed
“When people talk about the role of the arts in our national life, the conversation tends to be dominated by the culture wars, the flashpoints when some outré performance starts everybody screaming. But as the broad embrace of Hamilton demonstrates, artistic expression more often, and more powerfully, has been an integrating force in American life.”

On Kobe Bryant
Nikil Saval | n+1
“Late Kobe, like late Hemingway, was a throwback to himself. The violent jabstep; the crossover and pump-fake; the heedless drive into the lane against multiple defenders before the nervous retreat into the fadeaway, his body hinging and snapping, his oversized jersey billowing, his shot—more likely than not—clanging out. What once seemed like a kind of vicious genius became what it perhaps always was: theatrical, ritualistic gestures toward a game that no one played any more, and with reason.”

“Yet I’ll Speak”: Othello’s Emilia, a Rebuke to Female Silence
Caitlin Keefe Moran | The Toast
“How had no one ever told me about Emilia, who, in only a couple of lines, brings down one of the most conniving, merciless villains in all of Western literature? How had no one told me about this fantastic female character who defies not one but two sword-wielding men in order to make sure Desdemona, her mistress and friend, receives justice? I wanted to rip up my diploma.”

Hannah Horvath, Why Do We (Still) Hate Thee So?
Kathryn VanArendonk | Vulture
“Beyond that cultural framework, though, there’s another way to consider Hannah’s strangely potent impact on her audience: as a character on a TV show. She is, after all, not a real person, and not a direct extension of her creator, much though that conflation seems to plague her critics. She’s a construction, made for the express purpose of being viewed by others, and so it’s especially befuddling that she’s so constantly bad at pleasing us.”

The Marginalized African Songbird Who Finally Became Visible Again
Robin Kelley | The Conversation
“But Benjamin never strayed from her devotion to modern jazz as ‘the most liberating music on the planet.’ Ironically, that same commitment ensured her marginalization, as beautiful romantic ballads and torch songs lost their relevance in a highly nationalistic era of urban militancy. And as a colored South African woman working in a genre too often construed as black—and as white, male and essentially American—Benjamin had to struggle just to be heard.”

Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker Poem Wasn’t Just Offensive. It Was Bad Satire.
Katy Waldman | Slate
“Effective parodies have a double consciousness—the enlightened perspective of the poem both envelops and refutes the blinkered viewpoint of the speaker. Trillin’s verse doesn’t give us enough reason to think its parodic heart is any more honorable than its bigoted tongue. Sure, if he were a Chinese writer, we’d have extradiagetic reasons to trust him, but the poem itself shows little indication of objecting to what’s really objectionable about its insensitive narrator.”

A Good Fit: Why the Best Thing About Catastrophe Is People Laughing
Linda Holmes | NPR
“By following models where the characters don’t notice jokes—by prohibiting them from laughing at laugh lines—lots of romantic comedies rob themselves of one of the primary ways people create connections and one of the ways close relationships are navigated and negotiated. Rob and Sharon use laughing as glue, as distraction, as entertainment, as team-building, and ultimately as reassurance to each other that in a world full of battles towering and stupid, they mean to be working together.”