Readers discuss representation in Hollywood and other realms of entertainment from the perspective of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and political bent. Share your own thoughts via firstname.lastname@example.org.
In December, I wrote an Atlantic story about how the Internet led to the decline of female film critics at prominent media outlets. The piece noted a sad irony about women and film media in 2016: At a moment when checking up on the role of women in front of and behind the camera is a popular topic with news organizations and amongst film reviewers, women write just 18 percent of top reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and constitute less than a quarter of membership in the four top national critics’ associations. I called for news and media outlets to make a deliberate effort to hire women writers and editors, because the stakes are high: As one study showed, critics tend to write about films helmed by members of their own sex, and reviews have been shown to influence audience attendance and box-office totals. Even in the Internet age, critics matter.
At the time of my writing, I argued there was reason to hope. That BuzzFeed, Time, and The Village Voice had just hired women for prominent film-critic positions in the past two years seemed, to me, a solid reason to be optimistic that media organizations had made hiring women a top priority. But yesterday, the film blog Women and Hollywood put a damper on my assertion that prominent publications have “doubled down on their commitment to women writers.”
In a story called “The Dudeocracy of Film Writers,” the blog’s editors note “a bothersome trend” over the past month—many prominent film-critic jobs have recently gone to men. The new chief film critic at Variety and the Los Angeles Times, senior film critic and film reporter at Indiewire, the film staff writer at Rolling Stone, and editorial director and editor at Film Comment are all men. The editors at Women and Hollywood write they have received plaintive messages from women film writers who are “flabbergasted,” frustrated, and themselves struggling to land staff positions.
It’s important to take the Women and Hollywood story with a grain of salt. The editors did not reach out for comment from hiring editors, who may have told them they initially contacted women to fill those positions. Editors may have added that some hiring decisions have occurred in tandem with internal promotions of women (Kate Erbland, for instance, became film editor at Indiewire) or emphasized that at least one of those hired men—Justin Chang, now the chief film critic at the Los Angeles Times—fills other, gaping diversity holes in film criticism (in his case, Asian-American critics). And as one writer pointed out to me on Twitter, the article didn’t note two other major, recent hires: While the Village Voice has a new male film critic, MTV News recently brought a woman on to be its lead film critic.
But the Women and Hollywood story nevertheless provides a crucial check-in on the ongoing, disappointing conversation. I’m grateful to the blog for ending its own addition to this depressing dialogue on a high note—with a list of women critics to read. You can find those writers (follow them!) here.
Opening with the egregious example of Jared Leto playing The Joker in Suicide Squad, Angelica Jade Bastién takes aim at the ostentatious way Hollywood is using method acting in recent years. She observes:
[M]ethod acting of this sort couldn’t exist without the culture of permissiveness and indulgence Hollywood has fostered over the years. For the last few decades, particularly after Robert De Niro’s infamous body transformation for 1980’s Raging Bull, which netted him an Oscar, method acting has become a critical factor in the campaigns of actors seeking trophies. Actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio have spoken about how they lose themselves in roles—gaining weight, whittling themselves down, never breaking character, taking on accents and hobbies that affect their personal life.
I love this observation from a reader:
The hilarious thing is that the more actors talk about their Method acting, the more attention it calls to their acting in the movie, thus breaking the suspension of disbelief. Of course, this assumes that their goal is actually to heighten their art, as opposed to win trophies or gain popularity.
I had a similar feeling about Leto’s overrated and not believable method performance as a trans woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club:
Another reader looks to a difference performance from a long-time method actor:
There’s a great story I heard once that happened on the set of Marathon Man. Upon being asked by Lawrence Olivier how a previous scene had gone, one in which Dustin Hoffman’s character had supposedly stayed up for three days, Hoffman claimed that he too had not slept for 72 hours to achieve emotional verisimilitude. “My dear boy,” replied Olivier, “why don’t you just try acting?”
It didn’t quite go down that way. Here’s a clip of Hoffman’s response to that apocryphal anecdote:
Another reader takes the opportunity to snipe at Hoffman:
Putting aside acting methods, Hoffman is one of the worst actors. It’s a blessing that he rarely works. He is constantly drawing attention to himself, letting you know how hard he is acting. There is no sincerity in Hoffman’s acting; it’s all a front. (Meryl Streep suffers from the same self-absorption; one is always extremely aware that one is watching Meryl Streep act, not a character on the screen.) The English conservatory approach has trained many more exceptional actors than the self-indulgent method, in my opinion.
Another reader quips about Hoffman, “But he did give his all to portray a tomato in Tootsie; he Became that tomato.” This next reader goes into great depth over the English conservatory approach (and I’ve embedded clips throughout):
British actors of Olivier’s generation certainly didn’t use The Method, and it’s true that recorded performances by John Gielgud, Olivier et al appear “hammy” and unnatural, even by theatrical standards.
But as Ian McKellen has remarked: What modern audiences think of Olivier’s acting now is irrelevant. The important thing is that the audiences who saw him live cried when he died, laughed when he did something amusing, and empathised with his characters; they believed him. And that is the actor’s goal.
Of course what audiences want from theatre and film changes over the years and, as a consequence, so do tastes in acting styles. Hence why Olivier’s performances are now unpalatable, even laughable, to many.
Contemporary British actors now receive a comprehensive training (usually over a full-time, three-year study period) in a variety of approaches to acting.
The most reputed drama schools will train their students in Strasberg’s Method, Sanford Meisner’s techniques, Stella Adler’s techniques, Stanislavski’s System (with the most weight being given to Stanislavski, as his system is the most complete, and the root of the works of the other practitioners), with additional training in the work of Le Coq, Michael Chekhov, and Uta Hagen (to name a few).
These approaches to acting are complemented with classes in movement, dance, body conditioning, voice, singing, clowning, and improvisation. British drama schools offer the most comprehensive and in-depth actor training in the Western hemisphere and remain the most in-demand from international students who are serious about pursuing a career in acting.
The problem with restricting yourself to Strasberg’s Method alone is that it’s incomplete. Strasberg’s aim in developing The Method was to take the work of Stanislavski and to adapt it for contemporary performers. The trouble was Strasberg had only ever read Stanislavski’s first book, An Actor Prepares, which details such staples of Strasberg’s Method as emotional memory.
Not long after publishing that book, Stanislavski witnessed first hand the physical, emotional, and mental toll that his system took on a young Michael Chekhov (who would later go on to become a significant theatre practitioner in his own right). This experience led Stanislavski to develop his work to be more holistic, and complete, with a great emphasis on what he called the psychophysical.
He wrote two subsequent books on acting in which he did not precisely disown his earlier writings, but refined them within the context of his new ideas. Strasberg does not appear to have had access to these later writings (at least when he was developing his Method). Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler are two American practitioners who felt that Stanislavski’s later writings were of equal importance, and worked them into their own working practices and teachings, which are far more complete than Strasberg's.
Couple of little corrections to the article …
Daniel Day Lewis has expressed discomfort at being labelled a Method Actor. He’s gained a reputation for being “the actor who stays in character all the time on set,” but as he has said, he only does this as he feels it’s a better use of his time than sitting around having a drink and a chat with the other actors. If he stays in character between takes and scenes he might discover something new about the character that he hadn’t thought of before and that he could bring into the next take or scene.
Here’s a brilliant scene in There Will Be Blood of that actor playing a character who’s acting:
Back to our reader:
Other stories about Daniel Day Lewis’s immersion in the parts he plays tend to be exaggerated, and the truth behind them seems more to do with his personality than any strict adherence to The Method. He’s a naturally curious man, so his research often becomes in-depth (he learnt how to build a canoe for The Last of the Mohicans, for example). But it’s not restricted to his work as an actor; he learnt how to make shoes just because it intrigued him.
Marlon Brando has also always rejected the (what he saw as) accusation that he was a Method Actor. In fact he seemed to take quite a dim view of Strasberg and his work, describing him as “an ambitious, selfish man who exploited the people who attended the Actors Studio and tried to project himself as an acting oracle and guru. Some people worshipped him, but I never knew why.” Brando credits Stella Adler and Elia Kazan as being the people who taught him to act.
Here’s a compelling clip of Brando blurring the lines between professional acting and everyday acting by ordinary people:
On that note, here’s another passage from Angelica Jade Bastién—and an especially adept one in an overall compelling piece—touching on the macho insecurity that compels many actors to go method:
Brando never went to the extremes of those who came after him, but his career and outlook provide the template for those who see themselves as his successors. Beyond his obsessive dedication to the form, Brando was self-deprecating about his choice of career. He saw acting as inferior to the kind of work a “real” man would do.
By going method, a performer can signal that he works for his art; he can make his labor visible. This attitude has lived on today, and comes through in how [Christian] Bale once framed his career for Esquire: “I have a very sissy job, where I go to work and get my hair done, and people do my makeup, and I go and say lines and people spoil me rotten. This is just not something to be quite as proud of as many people would have you believe.”
Bastién goes on to press the case that double standards over method acting are “sidelining the transformative work of actresses.” Do you have any favorite method performances by women, or thoughts about the topic more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll post: email@example.com. For my part, here’s Ellen Burstyn in Requiem For a Dream—an Oscar-nominated performance that outshines all her costars, especially Jared Leto:
Angelica Jade Bastién’s popular essay about how Hollywood has ruined method acting culminates in a theory that “the gendered nature of modern method acting has had the unfortunate consequence of sidelining the transformative work of actresses who found authenticity without billing themselves as somehow ‘above’ their art form.” A reader, Kelly, isn’t persuaded:
I’m all for gender equality, but this seems like a stretch. At the very least, it certainly doesn’t get to the root of the problem. (Hint: It has nothing to do with method acting.) If Leo [DiCaprio] wants to eat a bison heart because he thinks it’s going to improve his performance, by all means. I don’t think that necessarily makes this the new standard for acting, as referenced by Jared Leto taking a similar approach and failing.
Another reader disagrees with Kelly and reiterates several points made in the piece:
Yes, but the exaltation of this particular brand of method acting that has so closely been associated with showy, masculine feats of endurance is a part of stigmas around gender differences. Men can engage in this brand of method acting and often be praised whereas women largely cannot, and when they are praised it’s because of the bravery in not being beautiful.
In this way, what we consider to be great acting has benefited one gender disproportionately, and more specifically it helps obscure brilliant performances by actresses (and actors) who either don’t practice this brand of method acting or simply engage in another method.
I get what you’re saying, but again, I don’t think it gets down to the root of the problem. It’s societal stigma (what’s acceptable for men vs. women) and doesn’t have much to do with method acting specifically. Not to mention, I don’t think many would classify the Joker or what Leto did to get into character [gifting the cast a dead pig, a live rat, used condoms] as “masculine.” The Joker is not a masculine character and neither are his actions. The point is he’s supposed to be crazy and maniacal, not muscular, valiant, strapping, or brave. Quite the opposite actually.
I agree that method acting antics are disproportionately accepted more with male actors than with female actors, but if the end product is the same, is it really a problem?
I guess the best example I can use is the one bright spot of Suicide Squad: Margot Robbie. She’s thus far gained critical acclaim in the role of Harley Quinn.
No, Robbie didn’t use method acting, but she gave a performance that was just as, if not more, eccentric than Leto’s, and people seem to appreciate it despite the fact that she’s not portraying a stereotypical cutesy female character (though she is in a somewhat skimpy outfit).
Bottom line: Gender biases certainly exist in Hollywood, but it’s much farther reaching than the ways in which actors choose to prepare for a role.
The following clip illustrates very well the narcissistic, look-at-me showboating of method actors like Jared Leto, who interrupts Robbie when she’s telling a story of how the movie’s director cut off parts of her hair:
(Side note regarding Kelly’s point about Robbie’s “somewhat skimpy outfit”: In the above clip, a publicity shot of Leto in character is also very skimpy, and it elicits a lot of hollers from women in the audience. Both genders are sexified these days when it comes to superheroes and villains.)
Another reader, Christopher, joins Kelly in skepticism:
The main thesis of the essay is how women and men cannot engage in the same sort of preparation because of gendered expectations, and the male avenue is more highly regarded and so it forms a sort of oppressive force against actresses. It’s an interesting point, because it is very closely connected to the Hollywood appropriation of the life of the actor/actress in the marketing material.
I’m not sure if the thesis as argued holds very well, though. I say this not because I think the central point is incorrect, but because I think “extreme method acting” makes people scoff as much as it makes people interested in seeing it.
For example, if no one knew what Leo did for The Revenant, I don’t think fewer people would have seen it, but even if they did, I think it’s fair to mention how so much of the criticism against that movie and his performance was specifically about how he prepared. (But I guess Hollywood doesn’t necessarily care what people are saying about a movie just as long as they’re talking about it.)
Christopher’s point about scoffing is a strong one, especially in the case of DiCaprio. The conventional wisdom during this past Oscar season was that DiCaprio—with five Oscar nominations but no wins before The Revenant—was so desperate to finally get a gold statue that he sought the role of an emotionally brutalized and physically tortured frontiersman (punctuated by a graphic mauling from a momma grizzly) and then prepared for the role by battling hypothermia, eating raw liver as a vegetarian, and sleeping in animal carcasses. It smelled desperate. And that desperation was widely mocked in memes:
Personally I thought Tom Hardy’s performance in The Revenant was much better than DiCaprio’s, and I suspect the latter was given an Oscar because he had come so close so many times. I genuinely laughed out loud at the film’s final shot, when DiCaprio breaks the fourth wall with a direct-to-camera gaze—as if to say, “Pleeeeease can I have an Oscar now … ” Imagine this scene with a gold statue standing in for the woman:
Back to Christopher, who wonders:
Is it true that an actress would not be praised for engaging in the same faux-method acting as her male counterparts?
I understand why it would be assumed to be the case, as the article points out, but I am legitimately unsure if a movie comes out and touts, say, Jennifer Lawrence, as being so committed to her role that she lived in the woods by herself for three months with nothing but a compass and a blanket to prepare for her character, that there would be a negative reaction. I mean, Charlize Theron did win an Oscar for Monster, and it’s fairly offensive to say it’s just because she chose not to be pretty.
Speaking of method performances from actresses who won critical and popular praise, I asked readers in a previous note for more examples, and many of them delivered.
One reader points to Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance in Million Dollar Baby. Swank is one of the most famous method actors of the past 20 years, and here’s how she prepared—and suffered—for that role:
[G]oing method was the only way for her to truly get to grips with her character. So “acting like a boxer” becomes “actually being a boxer” in this case, which—as you probably guessed—lead poor Miss Swank on the path towards death. As a result of having to “pivot” excessively whilst training for the movie’s now famous boxing scenes, Swank picked up … a Staph infection, which—left untreated—is usually fatal. “I got a blister, the size of my palm, on my right foot, and it was really swollen, and I couldn’t train and walk on it,” she said in an interview afterwards. “So I popped it myself, and it got infected.” What’s more, Swank didn’t bother to tell director Clint Eastwood about her injury as she didn’t want to slow down production ...
Swank’s early experience in method acting would pay dividends when she was cast in Kimberly Peirce’s devastating drama about Brandon Teena, a real-life transgendered man who was brutally raped and murdered in a Nebraska hate crime. “I walked around trying to pass as a boy for five weeks before filming that movie,” she says. “Seeing what worked and what didn’t work, and losing a bunch of body fat so that my face would be thinner. My neighbors thought that I was my cousin Billy from Iowa.”
Another reader points to, well, The Reader—specifically Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance. Her suffering for that film was psychological:
Kate Winslet was so focused on accurately portraying her character in THE READER she struggled to return to day-to-day life after filming wrapped. The actress plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard in the post-war drama, and put all her emotions into the intense role. And Winslet … admits it took months for her to bid farewell to the character. She says, “It’s like I’ve escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened.”
The next example of method acting comes from a reader who points to Anne Hathaway losing 25 pounds and cutting off all her hair for an Oscar-winning performance in Les Miserables. She masterfully plays Fantine, an ill-fated impoverished mother who is forced into prostitution to provide for her young daughter. The most heartrending scene:
Another reader notes Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan. To prepare for that disturbing role of descending into madness, Portman lost 20 pounds, did a year of intensive ballet training, and performed much of her own dancing. For example:
Yet another reader points to Oscar-winner Halle Berry for being a well-known purveyor of method acting. Here’s a look at some of her roles:
When Berry first came on the scene in her first motion picture, Jungle Fever, she did not bathe for more than a week, in order to bring realness to her character.
In her 2003 film, Gothika, Berry was so dedicated to the role, that she ended up breaking her arm in one of her scenes, with Robert Downey, Jr. Needless to say the production was down for at least eight weeks, while the actress healed.
In The Call, Berry did her own stunts. To prepare for the emotional demands of her character, Berry worked with real life dispatchers, listening to their phone calls and observing their behavior, mannerisms, and protocol.
Here’s Berry in Jungle Fever:
Lastly, one more reader notes Rooney Mara’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a disturbing thriller that includes a horrifying rape scene that Mara had to endure. Here’s how she partly prepared for the role of Lisbeth, a tough and fiercely independent hacker:
[Mara] didn’t even have ear piercings. She felt that to truly inhabit the character, multiple piercings all over her body were necessary. Mara had her lip, brow, nose, nipples and ears pierced. She said, “because of all the tattoos and the makeup and the piercings, and the physical transformations my body has to go through, it would always feel sort of like I was in costume, even if I was naked.
Do you have an example to include? Have any thoughts about this discussion in general? Drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time to prepare for a new and better normal than your pre-pandemic life.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Arthur C. Brooks will discuss the science of happiness live at 11 a.m. ET on May 20. Register for In Pursuit of Happiness here.
Many years ago, I met a woman who had had the kind of experience you ordinarily only find in fiction. As a young adult, she was in a serious car accident, resulting in a head injury. She suffered a period of total amnesia, followed by months of convalescence. When she recovered, she was never the same: Her family relationships weakened; she cut out former friends and found new ones; she moved halfway across the world; her interests and tastes changed; she became more outgoing and less self-conscious; she no longer cared much what other people thought about her.
Domesticated betta fish have evolved a sex gene not found in wild fish of their species.
In 1975, scientists tried spaying a few hundred female betta fish. We all know what happens to spayed cats and dogs: They become sterile. Betta fish are different. A third of the surviving bettas regenerated an ovary—which, okay, interesting enough. But the remaining two-thirds did something much, much stranger: They grew testes. They turned brighter and darker in color too—like male bettas. They grew elongated fins—like males. They even started making sperm—like males, obviously. When mated with other female betta fish, these females-turned-males produced offspring that looked perfectly healthy. The only notable oddity was that the resulting broods were usually, but not always, exclusively female.
Today’s economic conditions are not just holding Millennials back. They are stratifying them, leading to unequal experiences within the generation as well as between it and other cohorts.
A few weeks ago, I met my first Millennial grandparent. I was interviewing a woman in her late 30s about President Joe Biden’s new child-tax-credit proposal, and she mentioned that it would benefit not just her two young kids but her older son’s kid too.
The incidental meeting was a reminder both that Millennials are getting older and that they are doing so without growing up, at least not in the way that many of them might wish. The woman I interviewed does not own a home, nor is she anywhere close to affording one. She has nothing in the way of savings. Nevertheless, she is a grandmother, catapulting into middle age.
Millennials, as just about everyone knows at this point, are a generation delayed. The pandemic recession has led not-so-young adults to put off having kids, buying a house, getting married, or investing in a car—yet again. But today’s economic conditions are not just holding Millennials back. They are stratifying them, leading to unequal experiences within the generation as well as between it and other cohorts.
Vaccination requirements in stores, offices, and schools can offer peace of mind. But they’re rarely going to prove anything.
If you have been fortunate enough to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, you also possess an essential, high-tech tool for proving your immunity to others.
Just kidding, it’s a piece of cardstock. On the flimsy rectangle that all Americans get with their shots, doctors and pharmacists record dates of administration, vaccine type, and lot number. Some scrawl the information by hand with a pen; others apply a preprinted sticker. The cards offer no special marker to prove their authenticity, no scannable code to connect to a digital record. At three by four inches, they’re even too awkwardly sized to fit in a wallet. A mid-century polio-vaccine card doesn’t look too different from today’s COVID-19 vaccination records.
When people share a space, their collective experience can sprout its own vocabulary, known as a familect.
I celebrated my second pandemic birthday recently. Many things were weird about it: opening presents on Zoom, my phone’s insistent photo reminders from “one year ago today” that could be mistaken for last month, my partner brightly wishing me “iki domuz,” a Turkish phrase that literally means “two pigs.”
Well, that last one is actually quite normal in our house. Long ago, I took my first steps into adult language lessons and tried to impress my Turkish American boyfriend on his special day. My younger self nervously bungled through new vocabulary—The numbers! The animals! The months!—to wish him “iki domuz” instead of “happy birthday” (İyi ki doğdun) while we drank like pigs in his tiny apartment outside of UCLA. Now, more than a decade later, that slipup is immortalized as our own peculiar greeting to each other twice a year.
Three years after his polarizing confirmation hearings, the Supreme Court’s 114th justice remains a mystery.
This article was published online on May 13, 2021.
The suburban gentry of Chevy Chase, Maryland, had some difficulty making sense of Brett Kavanaugh’s descent into villainy that fall. He had always seemed so nice and nonthreatening to his neighbors, so normal—the khaki-clad carpool dad who coached the girls’ basketball team and yammered endlessly about the Nats. It was true that his politics were unusual for the neighborhood, the kind of place where No Justice / No Peace signs stand righteously in front of million-dollar homes. But Brett was not a scary Republican, of the kind who had recently invaded Washington. He was well educated and properly socialized, a friend of the Bushes, a stalwart of the country club. When his nomination to the Supreme Court was first announced, the neighborhood had largely welcomed the news. People gave interviews attesting to his niceness; the owner of the Chevy Chase Lounge said that he would add Brett’s photo to the wall of famous patrons.
Menstruating is painful, expensive, and … unnecessary?
At the posthumous retrial of Joan of Arc in 1455, two decades after she was burned at the stake as a witch and a heretic, she was declared an innocent martyr. During the trial, a personal valet offered evidence of Joan of Arc’s piety and purity during her 19 years on Earth: “She never suffered from the secret illness of women.” As far as the people closest to her knew, he claimed, she never got her period.
Saintly qualifications aside, amenorrhea—the abnormal absence of periods—has historically been linked with misfortune. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote that “when the menses are stopped, diseases from the uterus take place.” In 1652, the physician Nicolas Fontanus identified amenorrhea “as the most universal and most usual cause” for palsy, melancholy, burning fevers, nausea, headaches, and a distaste for meat. Some 18th-century physicians believed that suppressed menses could cause a married woman to spiral into deep hysteria, and even in 1961, the epidemiologist Frances Drew proposed that a young woman might manifest mental anguish by losing her period.
On Monday morning, my partner laid a carry-on suitcase down on the floor, preparing to pack for his first post-vaccination trip to visit his parents. The moment he unzipped the bag, our cat Calvin promptly clambered inside.
A piece of me would like to think that Calvin was attempting to covertly join my partner on his trip, or perhaps thwart his inevitable attempt to spirit away. But I’m pretty sure #OccupyLuggage was less a heart-wrenching bid to tag along on a flight, and more a textbook example of a central scientific tenet: Cats are absolute suckers for boxes. And sinks, and vases, and grocery bags, and shoes, and Pringles cans, and the nooks and crannies between furniture and walls, and just about any other space they deem cozy, confining, and swaddly. (Cats, in case you were wondering, are a non-Newtonian liquid.) It’s the one thing about which our pointy-eared companions are not terribly picky: If it fits, they sits. And when they do, we humans can’t help but obsess over them.
Our culture is pettily vindictive in part because it is unequal. But we cannot punish our way to a more just society.
The purest eruption of spite I have ever witnessed took place at a former friend’s birthday party some years ago. We were all in our early 20s, and alcohol had been flowing freely. I slipped into the kitchen to refill my drink; when I returned, the birthday girl, her cheeks flushed from the wine, had become incensed at her boyfriend for some unaccountable transgression.
On the coffee table was an enormous cake, brought by her now-disgraced beloved. The birthday girl seized the platter and, with a terrific crash, hurled the cake to the floor. “Now none of us can have any,” she seethed, raising an accusatory frosting-covered finger as guests began edging toward the door.
Spite defies logic. We act spitefully—lashing out to harm someone else, even at a cost to ourselves—when the desire to punish overrides other considerations. People in the throes of spite’s poisonous pleasures do not care if they injure themselves, or make the whole world worse off, so long as they satisfy their rancor. Yet because spite involves a self-inflicted cost, this petty and ultimately antisocial emotion bears a family resemblance to altruism. Many spiteful actors believe they are behaving nobly: meting out justice where it is due.
The agency’s communication strategy has lagged so consistently behind the research that it’s brought new meaning to the concept of “following the science.”
Yesterday, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans can stop wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor places. The new guidelines still advise the fully vaccinated to mask up when entering certain public areas, such as doctor’s offices.
This is a moment to celebrate. It is not quite the pandemic’s equivalent of V-E Day; after all, thousands of people are still dying around the world each day from a virus that, far from surrendering, may be endemic. But it could be the closest we get to a formal announcement from the federal government that, after months of death and sacrifice and ingenuity, something has been won. Call it normalcy.
If you’re surprised by the agency’s free-your-face announcement, you’re not alone. State officials had no idea it was coming. Businesses were caught off guard. Even White House officials were reportedly surprised by both the timing and the substance of the new advice, according to CNN. The CDC is notionally in the business of offering public-health guidance. But when a government agency’s recommendations consistently surprise or confuse members of its own government, one wonders if it’s serving as a particularly effective guide.