Barack Obama and Hidden Figures: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

Highlights from seven days of reading about arts and entertainment

Paul Beaty / AP

Barack Obama Was the Perfect Pop-Culture President
Todd VanDerWerff | Vox
“Obama was as comfortable on Fox News as he was on The Daily Show or reading mean tweets on Kimmel. He could play games with Jimmy Fallon or talk policy with journalists, and act demonstrably different with both. It often seemed like he truly understood pop culture, particularly hip-hop and prestige TV, the two most dominant cultural forms of his era. It was like he chose a persona for each occasion—goofy but proud dad, cool guy, serious wonk—and then stepped into it.”

Juice and the Theater of Black Nihilism
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib | MTV News
“The easy thing would be to mention the cycle of imitation in life and art, but I think there are violences so common that calling them imitation when spilled onto a big screen is somewhat reductive. What I find myself more interested in, with both Khalil Sumpter and with Bishop in Juice, is what so rarely happens with black people who live and die and do wrong today: an ability to visualize a complete life behind simply a finger that pulls a trigger, and a willingness to understand what drove them there. In this way, Bishop and all of his complexities were the perfect vehicle for Tupac’s entry into film.”

Frank Ocean as an Emersonian Hero
Sophie Atkinson | The Rumpus
“The irony of all this is that, as Emerson recognizes, someone who couldn’t care less about how they come across is all the more charismatic and convincing. Emerson talks of an honor developed by carving out your own path regardless of external opinion … Reddit didn’t obsess about Ocean’s release-date dipshittery earlier this year because it hates Ocean, but because, like most of us, it’s in love with him. It’s the same vibe that person you went on two dates with and forgot to text back gives off when you run into them at a party. They want you more because they know you’re not consciously rejecting them; your priorities are just elsewhere.”

Hidden Figures and the Ambitious Working Mother
Stacia L. Brown | The New Republic
“Rare is the civil rights-era biopic that gives us this vantage of the black experience. Though discrimination is at play throughout, scholarship and tenacity are even more prominent. Though hushed household tensions do arise between men and women, they are quashed in favor of the family’s health and the woman’s upward mobility. Plenty of factors must have contributed to Hidden Figures winning the box office for its first two wide-release weekends, but the gifts it bestows and restores are what make it an invaluable viewing experience.”

Is La La Land a Good Musical?
Rob Harvilla | The Ringer
“If any song here will endure once awards season is over, bet on ‘City of Stars,’ a fine, understated bit of Chet Baker worship, with a delicate gravity not worth flouting. The melody is so sturdy and unflashy that it can carry Gosling, not the other way around; simplicity is a plus when your singer can’t handle much complexity. It’s also a bit of an earworm, and if you’ve had it stuck in your head for weeks, you are entitled to your discouraging words.”

What’s at Stake if Trump Kills the NEA
Marc Hogan | Pitchfork
“For free-market libertarians and religious conservatives, the idea of federally funded art was probably always going to be a tough sell. But for the rest of us, to put this in context: what Trump would be destroying here is barely a rounding error in terms of the overall U.S. budget, but of great value to the artists it goes to support.”

A Man in Himself Is a City: Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson
Charles Taylor | Los Angeles Review of Books
“We can’t ignore the soulful stoicism on Adam Driver’s face. It’s the look of a man who has accepted his life and his responsibility for maintaining it. There is, in the way he nuzzles the still-sleeping Laura when he wakes in the morning—tenderly, exploringly, the edge of hunger kept at bay—in the way he wakes to the aroma of her baking and says the word ‘cupcakes,’ savoring it and relishing its familiarity, the ability of a man who, as a poet should, appreciates the ordinary moments given to him. And yet, in some part of him, we see the uncertain longing for something more.”

The Gender Fluidity of Krazy Kat
Gabrielle Bellot | The New Yorker
“P. G. Wodehouse compared it favorably to Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’; Jack Kerouac later said it influenced the Beats. The strip ran from 1913 until 1944, the year that Herriman died. It is set in a dreamlike place called Coconino County, where a black cat named Krazy loves a white mouse named Ignatz, who throws bricks at Krazy’s head. Krazy interprets the bricks as ‘love letters.’ Meanwhile, a police-officer dog, Offisa Pup, tries to protect Krazy, with whom he is smitten. The structure of the strip was built on reversals: a cat loves a mouse, a dog protects a feline, and, at a time when anti-miscegenation laws held sway in most of the United States, a black animal yearns for a white one.”

How the Far-Right Is Changing U.S. Publishing
Colin Robinson | The Guardian
“Why all the furore over Yiannopoulos? Those objecting to Dangerous seems more concerned about its anticipated tone than any pernicious, new ideas it may contain. With the start of the Trump presidency comes fear of a new, more vituperative tenor in the mainstream, cementing a national lurch to the right. The American far right is characterized by, as Angela Nagle puts it, ‘a slippery use of irony’; its ‘hip elitism’ allows prejudice to be disguised as harmless entertainment. Yiannopoulos, with his Hugh Grant-like bashfulness and potty mouth, perfectly fits this tawdry bill.”