This was a day of travel-related travails of many sorts. Had expected to be en route to Mississippi on an American Futures-related update trip. Instead (seemingly) unrelated but mounting mechanical and electrical problems in a small plane meant no-go tonight.
The silver lining was the excuse to try out a place I had heard about (and whose beer I’d bought) but not visited: one of Dogfish Head’s three DC-area outlets. The brewery and headquarters are nearby in Delaware. I say: even if you’re not reflecting on a cancelled trip, worth checking out.
Posters for their beers:
Since you asked, the tattoo on the right says 酒 , jiu, for liquor or spirits. As in 啤酒, pijiu, for beer or 葡萄酒, putaojiu, for wine. Pijiu was the specialty at Dogfish head.
Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.
1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.
In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.
Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!
2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville, no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.
3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…
I have exactly two sources of recent interest in the fascinating-to-millions-of-people-but-previously-not-to-me world of SEC football.
One is the delightful recent book by Stuart Stevens — former Mitt Romney campaign strategist, book and TV writer, author for The Atlantic and other publications — called The Last Season. It’s the story of how, after the painful loss with Romney, Stevens spent a late summer and fall going with his 95-year-old father to every game of the football season for the University of Mississippi, his father’s alma mater. The book is about the modern role of football, especially the SEC variety. But it is also about the pre- and post- Civil Rights era deep south, about fathers and sons, about self-knowledge and self-delusion, about life’s losses and gains. I recommend it. It was 99% because of the book that I watched part of the game this afternoon in which Ole Miss steamrolled LSU.
The other is our series of visits in the past 18 months to the Golden Triangle of Mississippi, one of whose three component cities is Starkville, home of Mississippi State. One week ago I was flying over the Mississippi State campus with members of the Atlantic’s video crew, getting as close to the Alabama-Mississippi State showdown in Wade Davis Stadium as the gametime no-fly zone would allow.
A year ago at this time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were just ending a multi-week run as the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. (They ended up with three losses, and a final ranking as #11.) In their game last weekend, the Bulldogs were crushed by the Crimson Tide. But as I type the Bulldogs are in an extremely high-scoring cliffhanger against the Arkansas Razorbacks. I will intentionally post this before I know the outcome.
Until three years ago, Mississippi had nothing like a craft brew industry. State law limited the alcohol content of beer to 5%, and most craft beers are above that. Since the law was changed in 2012, new breweries have sprung up. A week ago, at the indispensable Mississippi beer center known as the SmokeStack (in West Point), I loaded up on the Magnolia State products you see at top.
Very different styles, but I liked them all (and liked the two from Lazy Magnolia best). Keep an eye out for them; enjoy Stuart Stevens’s book; and now I’ll check to see how the Dogs-Hogs game turned out.
Update Very dramatic! The Dogs won in the final minute, 51-50, by blocking a Hogs chip-shot short-yardage field goal attempt with 40 seconds to go. I think I will now leave SEC football to its actual fans, going out on top after this exciting evening game.
When my wife and I lived in Austin long ago, while she was a UT graduate student and I was working for the then-new Texas Monthly (and then-State Senator, now Congressman, Lloyd Doggett), we spent what seemed like every evening with friends at the famous Scholz Garten open-air beer garden downtown. The range of regional beer choice in those days was Shiner, Pearl, or Lone Star from Texas, and Negro Modelo, Bohemia, Dos Equis, etc from further south.
The craft brew age has come to Texas as it has everywhere else. Continuing our saga of appreciation for the increasing range of American beer greatness, please consider the four offerings above. They are shown on a Dallas doorstep, protectively nestled on a blanket with Dress Mackenzie tartan. From left to right:
Deep Ellum IPA, again from Deep Ellum brewery. If forced to choose between this and Mosaic, I would choose both.
My main point with these updates is to add little chronicles of the ongoing golden age of beer. For academic substantiation on that point, check out the new Journal of Wine Economics for a history and analysis of the American craft brewing movement by three academic economists: Kenneth Elzinga, Carol Horton Tremblay, and Victor Tremblay. A PDF of their 33-page essay is here. (Thanks to Russ Mitchell for spotting it.) The report includes this map of craft brewing’s expansion, after Jimmy Carter took the historic step of legalizing home brewing in 1979.
A new entry on Amtrak’s cafe-car offerings: Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA!
This is a step forward on an already progressive menu. For years Amtrak has offered Sam Adams Boston Lager on northeastern routes, plus Yuengling — and then Dogfish Head’s super-potent 90 Minute IPA, which at 9% alcohol is too much for me. [Update: and I hear from a reader that San Diego’s wonderful Stone beers have been available on the west coast Surfliner.]
Yesterday in this space I argued that Donald Trump should shut up. Amtrak’s recent decision to stock Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA on some trains showed that America is already great again.
Today the evidence from the nation’s northeastern rail corridor is mixed. On the one hand,we have the livestock-pen-indignity of the Penn Station waiting area, in which people mill around waiting for the last-second announcement of which gate to rush toward. (Yes! I know about the secret lower-level workaround. I’m thinking of my fellow citizens.) This is better than most commercial airports, but just barely. Penn Station veterans will know that the miracle of the shot below is that you can see a little area of unoccupied linoleum. But after all, this was 3 pm.
If Trump would boil his platform down to, Making Penn Station Great Again, I might sign on.
On the other hand, I give you now the Zaro Family Bakery, a Penn Station vendor doing its part to make things great all around. In its cooler we find … cans of wonder! Sierra Nevada Torpedo, in the darker-green cans, plus its mainstay Pale Ale; Sam Adams Rebel IPA and (lower down) its mainstay Boston Lager; plus Brooklyn Lager and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, all at $5 per 16-ounce can. More than in a liquor store, less than on the train.
As always our world is complex. But I have a can of Torpedo with me, and the wifi is working on the train as it rolls along through the clear and icy landscape, so for now I’ll return to the can-is-half-full perspective on our land.
Last summer my wife Deb and I stopped through Chico, California, to hear the story of how Sierra Nevada, second-largest of America’s craft brewers, had ended up in this remote site in Butte County. More on that tale ahead.
For now, to catch up on our Cavalcade of Beers, a welcome harbinger of spring on the still-chilly Eastern seaboard. It’s a 2016 release from Sierra Nevada’s line of Beer Camp collaborative and experimental releases. This spring’s version, Tropical IPA, has been in ample stock at the neighborhood Safeway here in DC. (Sierra Nevada now serves the East Coast from a second brewery, in North Carolina.)
You can follow the whole discussion about this seasonal release on Beer Advocate here; most people who have weighed in like this Tropical IPA, as do I. Judge for yourself, if you still can find it in one of your stores — which is to say, if I haven’t been through your neighborhood.
Thanks to my Atlantic colleague Kathy Gilsinan for the reminder of why today is different from all other days: It’s National Beer Day! Congratulations to beer.
Last week I did an item about the reasons to believe that craft breweries can actually play a significant part in the economic revival of communities. Short version: because startup breweries need a lot of space but typically don’t have a lot of money, they usually set up show in low-rent, fringe, non-fashionable parts of town. The jobs and activity they create in those neighborhoods have their own effect — which is then magnified by the customers they draw to the area, particularly at night and weekends when warehouse districts would ordinarily be deserted. As Jeff Alworth wrote in an All About Beer item I mentioned:
They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood.
Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too. It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.
My wife Deb and I have seen dozens of startup craft breweries around the country in recent years, and I could have used a photo of some random one in Vermont or South Carolina or Pennsylvania or Mississippi or Southern California to make the case. Or for variety I might have used a photo like the one at the top of this post, from Flowers Craft Beer and Wine in the developing/local-arts-centric Roosevelt Row district of Phoenix, which we visited earlier this week. Flowers sells craft beers (including in growlers and bombers) rather than brewing them on-site but has brewpub-like spillover economic effects.
But the photo I happened to use was of the four young founders of Bent Paddle Brewing in Duluth, Minnesota: Bryon and Karen Tonnis, and Colin and Laura Mullen, whom you see again below:
After using their photo, I heard from a number of people in Minnesota, all asking whether I was aware of the political controversy that Bent Paddle was in the middle of.
I wasn’t aware of it then, but I am now. And I think this dispute shows something interesting and potentially significant about the role of the young startup “makers” we’ve been reporting on around the country.
Bend Paddle and its founders have become members of a Duluth-area organization called the Downstream Business Coalition. In my March issue story, I quoted the Duluth entrepreneur Dave Benson as saying that the area had become a hotspot of startups and innovation. The kinds of companies he was talking about — including Loll furniture and Epicurean kitchenware, which he and his brother Greg founded — are very strongly represented in the Downstream membership. (You can see the full list here.) The organization has a strong environmental emphasis, directed especially to protecting Lake Superior and its watershed. These are as important to Duluth’s identity, and its emerging northern-paradise eco-tourism prospects, as the ocean is to Malibu or the mountains to Colorado. As the coalition’s manifesto says:
We are a growing group of nearly 80 small businesses in the North, representing a cross-section of industries including technology, manufacturing, service, entertainment, and the trades. We employ nearly 1000 people and we are continuing to succeed and invest, adding jobs and dollars to our economy. Our businesses depend on the health of the Lake Superior watershed.
For those of us in the over 17,000 job, $800 million annual tourist and outdoor industries of Northeast Minnesota, the water draws our customers. The St. Louis River, Boundary Waters and Lake Superior have become great attractions for our region, and others and we have built a foundation for an entire tourist economy. For all our regions businesses, healthy water and vibrant outdoor access have enabled us to recruit and retain skilled employees. The economy of the North overall depends in on the unparalleled quality of life the clean water provides. For several of our businesses, water is our raw material and our brand. Those of us in the beverage manufacturing industry have located our businesses in the watershed specifically for access to the pristine water of Lake Superior.
How could this outlook be controversial? Because it led the members of the coalition, to oppose a proposed new copper mine on the north shore of Lake Superior, near the town of Silver Bay. You can read the details of the dispute in the Duluth News Tribunehere and here, and the Downstream coalition’s warnings against the mine here. In essence they argue that even on purely economic grounds, a new mine would be a mistake, since in exchange for a relative handful of mining jobs the region would jeopardize its highest-value, fastest-growing industries.
Based on what I’ve seen across the country and around the world, I find this a compelling argument. But for understandable reasons, some residents of Silver Bay, which have lost old mining jobs and how for new ones with the proposed copper mine, see it differently. Thus one month ago the Silver Bay city council passed a resolution order the city-run Silver Bay Municipal Liquor Store and Lounge to take Bent Paddle products off its shelves. If city residents decided to express their disapproval by not buying Bent Paddle brews, that would be in the grand old tradition of people voting with their pocketbooks. The City Council move was in the cruder tradition of denying customers that choice.
Last week I called Laura Mullen, of Bent Paddle, to ask her how this appeared from the company’s point of view. She said that part of the tension was long-standing. The traditional mining communities of Minnesota’s Iron Range have felt themselves on the wrong side of history’s slope. (This is me talking, not Mullen.) Their populations have been shrinking, jobs and young people are going away, those who remain are older, and among their antagonists (as they see it) are the younger, environmentally active populations in the cities.
“As soon as we became part of the Downstream alliance, we knew we’d have trouble in the Range,” Laura Mullen told me. But she said that the company was expecting some customer resistance, not the council’s outright and heavy-handed ban. “The difference with Silver Bay is that it told the municipal liquor store what to do.”
“We’re not looking for a war with Silver Bay,” she said. “We actually feel kind of bad for all the negative publicity they’re getting.”
Based on what I’ve heard from friends in Duluth, the anti-Bent Paddle move is in fact backfiring. A move meant to punish the company in one small market for an environmental stand is winning it broader support elsewhere. (You can think of the obvious parallels with the national reaction against anti-LGBT measures in Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, and elsewhere.)
“This dispute has been happening through the fall and winter,” Laura Mullen said. “But the summer tourism season is about to kick in again. People have heard about our beer, and will be asking for it. Summer tourism will change the game, because people who aren’t selling the beer will lose a lot.”
There’s a fascinating report here, in Growler magazine, of Laura Mullen’s statement to the Silver Bay city council, after it imposed the ban. Speaking for all four Bent Paddle founders, she emphasized that the company was pro-mining, pro-union, pro-livable wage, pro-Northland. She added:
When this controversy first began, our first action was to get into our car and drive to every store and bar struggling under pressure to drop our product on the Range. We drove. We listened. We explained. While these accounts don’t represent huge sales volumes, it’s the relationships that truly matter to us. We want to take this time to thank those business owners who did not succumb to the pressure of a few and who believe in the free market by keeping our Northland-made beer on their shelves and menus. We also want to do everything in our power to help the Range and this region with the job insecurity that has been so prevalent in the traditional mining communities of our state. Please know that Bent Paddle will be right beside you as we demand action from our Northeast Minnesota policymakers and seek real, long-lasting, sustainable economic diversification for our region so we can all continue to live, work, and play here without fear of what tomorrow will lend….
Hard as this is, we’re proud of our stance. In our backyard sits 10% of the world’s fresh water—fresh, clean water is becoming a more valuable asset globally each day, and to think we are all the stewards of 10% of it is a large undertaking that we believe our Northeast Minnesota community should be protecting wholeheartedly—in our case even if it means upsetting friends and losing sales.
That’s as far as I want to get into the specifics of this dispute now. My point in bringing it up, on National Beer Day, is to underscore the way this part of America’s entrepreneurial- and place-making revival is playing a part in shaping and improving our national future. One further thought from the Bent Paddle statement to the Silver Bay council, which is relevant for its economic, environmental, and civic overtones:
None of this has been easy. Beer is often celebratory, bringing people together. We take a lot of pride in being a part of this region so it has been incredibly difficult to think of this issue dividing us….
Our brewery is located in a neighborhood that has historically been unattractive to business development. We have joined and been active in several organizations to revitalize the neighborhood we operate in and are trying to find ways and reasons for other businesses to open and provide jobs for neighborhood residents. At the end of the day we feel it is better to be proactive and stand up for what you believe to be right.
Congratulations to beer! Congratulations to America’s start-up brewers.
I am in the middle of article-writing. Thus this amuse-bouche.
In this space I have from time to time unkindly disparaged the state of Florida. If you’re from California, you are supposed to. Also, I blame the @_FloridaMan Twitter account. Still, in atonement let me mention two nice beers I found during a trip to Miami last Friday. I was there for a National League of Cities conference to hear six mayors talk about how their cities had come back from hardships, and to talk with people at the Knight Foundation about the “City Challenge” program I wrote about last week.
Last week I mentioned that Salisbury, Maryland, was among the towns taking the craft-brewery route to success. A local newspaper article mentioned Evolution brewery. In a local DC Kwik-E-Mart I have just found and tried some of its No. 3 IPA, which you see in the center below, and which like the others here I recommend. On the flanks are two old-friends Centennial IPAs, from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The craftbrew revolution: it’s not just for America any more
I give you Wig and Pen, on the very campus of the Australian National University in Canberra. A wide range of beers made on site, and this in the land that barely a decade ago offered mainly the thin and depressing likes of Foster’s, Tooheys, Hahn, and VB.
If you would like to be astonished by a range of craft beers from around the world, try the Oak Barrel in Sydney. And if you’re in the Australian Capital Territory, check out Wig and Pen.
That is all. Thanks to Christopher Zinn and Sam Roggeveen.
Heady Topper is a beer from Vermont with three distinctive attributes. It is extremely good; it comes in large-sized cans; and it is available only in a very limited area around its brewing site, in Waterbury. You can read all about it starting here.
I’ve found the Australian counterpart. It’s from a brewery called Modus Operandi (which I have not yet visited), in the northern Sydney suburb of Mona Vale, and it is called “Former Tenant” Red IPA.
When I was in the very well-stocked Oak Barrel beer-and-wine store in Sydney last week, I asked one of the staffers for the best, canned, Aussie, IPA he could point me toward. Best for obvious reasons; canned so I could easily bring it back in a suitcase; Aussie as part of a buy-local, see-the-world policy; and IPA because that’s what I like.
“Well, it’s probably this one,” he said, pointing to “Former Tenant.” It is indeed excellent, and the harsh truth I have to convey is that you just aren’t going to find it any place other than greater Sydney. At least for now. Another reason to visit! Among many.
The can even looks like Heady Topper’s. If you have a chance, check it out.
Here’s something I hadn’t come across before: Not simply good local craft beer inside an airport, which is becoming more common (and which I first noticed a few years ago, with Heady Topper on tap at the excellent-in-all-ways BTV BVT airport in Burlington, Vermont). In this case the local supplier in question is Yazoo Brewing, of Nashville, and the airport is BNA, of Nashville.
(I wrote about Yazoo last summer, when I was in Nashville to interview Al Gore for this story. Alas, I couldn’t talk Gore into visiting the brewhouse with me, so I was there on my own.)
The news for me was craft beer to go inside the Nashville airport. Or beer “on the fly,” as the Yazoo banners put it. You can buy a pint from the Yazoo kiosk in Concourse C (as I did today) and then take it anyplace inside the “secured” (post-TSA) part of the airport, excepting only (a) into other bars and (b) actually onto the plane when you board.
Why does this matter? Obviously in any cosmic way it doesn’t, but it’s one more little ergonomic improvement. You don’t have to jam into one of the bars, elbowing for a seat and wondering if you’re already late for the plane. You can stroll with your plastic cup of craft brew to the gate, and then endure all the other minuses of airline travel with this slight positive counter-force.
Background on the policy behind “beer on the fly” here and here. Well done BNA and Yazoo. That is all.
A lasting effect of this pandemic will be a revolution in worker expectations.
I first noticed that something weird was happening this past spring.
In April, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke an all-time U.S. record. Economists called it the “Great Resignation.” But America’s quittin’ spirit was just getting started. In July, even more people left their job. In August, quitters set yet another record. That Great Resignation? It just keeps getting greater.
“Quits,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, are rising in almost every industry. For those in leisure and hospitality, especially, the workplace must feel like one giant revolving door. Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.
The irony in loneliness is that we all share in the experience of it. In this episode of How to Build a Happy Life, we sit down to discuss isolated living and Americans’ collective struggle to create a relationship-centric life. As we continue along our journey to happiness, we ask: How can I build my life around people?
This episode features Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general.
This episode was produced by Rebecca Rashid and hosted by Arthur Brooks. Editing by A. C. Valdez. Fact-check by Ena Alvarado. Sound design by Michael Raphael.
Be part of How to Build a Happy Life. Write to us at email@example.com or leave us a voicemail at 925.967.2091.
Hospital staff say they're facing a violence crisis.
The San Leandro Hospital emergency department, where the nurse Mawata Kamara works, went into lockdown recently when a visitor, agitated about being barred from seeing a patient due to COVID-19 restrictions, threatened to bring a gun to the California facility.
It wasn’t the first time the department had faced a gun threat during the pandemic. Earlier in the year, a psychiatric patient well known in the department became violent, spewing racial slurs, spitting toward staffers, and lobbing punches before eventually threatening to shoot Kamara in the face.
“Violence has always been a problem,” Kamara says. “This pandemic really just added a magnifying glass.” (San Leandro Hospital spokesperson Victoria Balladares says the hospital had not experienced an increase in workplace violence during the pandemic.)
The Oscar winner and celebrity guest Rami Malek knew when to lean into his roles—and when to get out of the way.
When a Saturday Night Live host really commits to the job, even a sketch with a simple premise can feel surprising. Consider last night’s “Mattress Store,” in which Rami Malek, the show’s latest celebrity guest, and cast member Aidy Bryant play a couple searching for the right mattress by enacting every over-the-top scenario they might encounter in bed. Their skits escalate predictably, and Malek matches Bryant’s melodramatic line readings, leaning into the absurdity. When the two act out a lovers’ spat, the Oscar winner catches the audience off guard by miming masturbation under a blanket. When the pair pretend an intruder has entered their bedroom and shot Malek’s character, he flops across the mattress, clutching his heart in a pitch-perfect piece of physical comedy.
The Tribune Tower rises above the streets of downtown Chicago in a majestic snarl of Gothic spires and flying buttresses that were designed to exude power and prestige. When plans for the building were announced in 1922, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime owner of the Chicago Tribune, said he wanted to erect “the world’s most beautiful office building” for his beloved newspaper. The best architects of the era were invited to submit designs; lofty quotes about the Fourth Estate were selected to adorn the lobby. Prior to the building’s completion, McCormick directed his foreign correspondents to collect “fragments” of various historical sites—a brick from the Great Wall of China, an emblem from St. Peter’s Basilica—and send them back to be embedded in the tower’s facade. The final product, completed in 1925, was an architectural spectacle unlike anything the city had seen before—“romance in stone and steel,” as one writer described it. A century later, the Tribune Tower has retained its grandeur. It has not, however, retained the Chicago Tribune.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
In its third season, HBO’s award-winning series Succession needs to remember the dramatic stakes that made it great.
Watching Succession’s second season, which to my mind is one of the most dexterous and enthralling seasons of television in recent history, was like an immersion in all the different ways tension can manifest on-screen: a loaded conversation between two people, a fraught family event, a hunting excursion during which executives literally scuffle to bring home the bacon. You perhaps remember less about the specifics of each scene than the visceral feeling of watching them. A four-minute conversation in the sixth episode, “Argestes,” between Shiv, one scion of the wealthy Roy family (played by Sarah Snook), and the fixer Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) was almost incidental in terms of plot, and yet the palpable hostility between the two women conveyed infinitely more than was in the script. The setting of Succession is 21st-century Extreme Wealth Island, but the mood is ancient Greece. Brutality and fate and ritualistic violence are never far from the surface.
The recent scandal at her talk show suggests that the host’s smiling facade covers up something dark—and hints at why that facade had to be created in the first place.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show features a recurring segment, called “Cash for Kindness,” that spreads good cheer by lying to people. DeGeneres will send a producer or an audience member out into the world to pretend to be some harried worker—a cater-waiter, a delivery person, a birthday-party magician—and then, in spectacular fashion, spill whatever they’re carrying on the sidewalk. As potatoes go rolling or greeting cards flap in the wind, a trap is laid. DeGeneres watches through hidden cameras to see which passersby do, or don’t, stop to help pick up the mess.
The bit is funny because it is mortifying. Speaking into her producer’s wireless earpiece, DeGeneres feeds her staffer ever-more-distressing banter to recite: There’s an engagement ring in the tiramisus! The greeting cards are supposed to be in alphabetical order! The strangers who stop to help are, you may suspect, a bit nervous that they’ve been roped into some scam—or maybe worse, roped into a situation that will expose the limits of their time, means, or generosity. Eventually, the undercover staffer reveals that they work for Ellen. The random Good Samaritan is brought onto the talk show’s set, and DeGeneres hands them cash: a reward for being kind, but also, it feels, payoff for being messed with.
Like any good prank, especially the pranks DeGeneres loves, cash-for-kindness revels in voyeurism, deceit, and discomfort, all of which get forgiven in the name of a laugh. Yet, like so much of DeGeneres’s comedy, this mischief doubles as do-goodery. It is part of DeGeneres’s grand campaign to merchandise kindness—which is also seen when she says “Be kind to one another” at the end of each show, or when she gets taxi drivers to hug Uber drivers on air, or when she hawks kindness-themed subscription boxes for up to $250 a year. Her aesthetic of cream colors, goofy grins, and uplifting tears, along with her amusing displays of light sadism, have earned her a $330 million empire, a raft of Emmys, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The comedian’s latest special blurs the line between victim and bully.
At the end of Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix stand-up special—after 72 brutal, bruised, combative minutes that conclude with the story of a suicide—my other half turned to me and said: “That wasn’t very funny, was it?”
Was it even meant to be? The emotion that defines The Closer is not laughter, but anger. Chappelle once delivered his most offensive jokes with a goofy, quizzical, little-lost-boy smile, removing some of their sting, but here the humor feels sour and curdled. The stoner who never gave a shit seems genuinely frustrated and goaded on by social-media pile-ons. An alternative title for the special might be A Response to My Critics.
Artists tend to be annoyed when critics grade their work on its political content rather than its technical and creative choices, and yet responding to The Closer any other way is hard. The special draws its energy from one of the hottest debates in popular culture, about competing claims to victimhood. Its jokes about LGBTQ people have led to boycott threats, calls to remove the special from Netflix, and even the brief suspension of a transgender Netflix employee who protested the special. In GQ, the writer Saeed Jones declared, “I feel like a fool to have rooted for Dave Chappelle for so long.”
Female doctors have always dealt with appearance-related confusion and disrespect. That only got worse during the pandemic.
In the spring of 2020, as Boston’s first COVID-19 wave raged, I was the gastroenterologist on call responding to a patient hospitalized with a stomach ulcer. Wearing a layer of yellow personal protective equipment over a pair of baggy scrubs, I spent 30 minutes explaining to him that he needed an endoscopic procedure. We built a rapport, and by the end of our conversation about the pros and cons, he seemed to agree with my recommendation. I told him we would be ready to perform his endoscopy within half an hour.
“Well, before we do anything, I’m going to need to discuss it with the doctor.”
When I entered the room, I had introduced myself as the doctor. I had also just explained, in great detail, a highly specialized procedure.