Jazz Painting and Boxing Movies: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

Stuart Davis's "The Mellow Pad" (Brooklyn Museum)

Why Are There So Many Boxing Movies?
Sam Schube | The Ringer
“The boxing movie is perfectly engineered to straddle the line between prestige and populism. Add it all up: If a boxing movie isn’t about the triumph of the human spirit (and it usually is), it’s about the agony of defeat. No matter the supporting cast, it is ultimately the story of one man (or woman) literally fighting the enemy. Sometimes that enemy is an opponent; just as often, it’s the fighter’s own demons.”

Martha Stewart, Comedy Genius?
Ian Crouch | The New Yorker
“When the real Martha Stewart has been funny over the years, the humor has mostly seemed to be an unintentional byproduct of her seriousness. There is, for instance, a kind of demented hilarity in the monthly calendar that leads each issue of Stewart’s magazine, in which she publicly plots out her plans to make holiday wreaths, harvest her pumpkins, or oil the saddles for her horses.”

Michael Chabon Is an Underdog on Top of the World
Doree Shafrir | Buzzfeed
“Still, Chabon’s surprise and wonder at going viral in 2016 seemed in no small way to be the appropriate culmination of a lifetime of feeling like the outsider. Having a bestselling novel has, of course, its own potency, but there is a rush to going viral that he had never experienced before. More than 40 years after the failure of the Columbia Comic Book Club, Chabon has found communities and clubs where he wasn’t even looking for them.”

How the First Online Game Consoles Changed Everything
Keza MacDonald | Glixel
“A recent resurgence of colorful, riotous indie multiplayer games like Overcooked, Nidhogg, and Towerfall: Ascension, however, shows that video game creatives have not forgotten the irreproducible joy of living-room play. Nintendo, meanwhile, ever mindful of the power of games to either connect or isolate us, has finally embraced the best of what connected gaming has enabled, but remains stubbornly committed to the idea of playing Mario Kart with other real people.”

Stuart Davis, Jazz Artist
Philip Kennicott | The Washington Post
“Davis wanted to be seen as a deeply American painter, and there is nothing more American than jazz. He also wanted to find a middle ground between formalism and art that was about something in the world. Jazz, as subject matter, seemed to ground his paintings in a fresh new Americana; it connected them not to the airy ratiocination of European art but to the yawping prosody of Walt Whitman and the grittiness of popular culture.”

Remembering Leonard Cohen
Sasha Frere-Jones | Billboard
“Cohen’s work as a songwriter followed the same ­painstaking methods of his poetry; he constantly rewrote and generated multiple drafts. The result put him at a distance from Dylan, his twin tower. Where the American generated tension with spirals of words that had no end and no single meaning, the Canadian worked toward brevity and easily ­understood couplets.”

Criticism in the Twilight
Nicholas Dames | The Nation
“The seductiveness of criticism is that this doesn’t necessarily matter. If critics are exceptional, and exceptionally lucky, their manner will endure as a personal style, a way of describing and feeling a historical situation, that is available to others for imitation. With criticism, it’s best to reverse D.H. Lawrence’s famous motto: Trust the teller, not the tale.”

Making and Unmaking the Asian American Movement
Michelle Chen | The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
“Before the movement emerged, Asians in the United States lived largely within insular cultural enclaves like the early Chinatowns, where merchants and laborers squeezed into crowded corners of New York, San Francisco, and other cities with burgeoning Asian migrant populations. These neighborhoods were products of legal exclusion and racial persecution, walled off from the outside yet strafed internally by ethnic divides and machine politics.”

How the Art World Can Change for the Better During Trump
Caroline Woolard | Hyperallergic
“What group can build something that they have not yet imagined, drawn, debated, revised, or desired? To communicate dreams—to create discursive spaces for dreaming and discussion—the arts are essential.”