Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 4 – TV

Watching TV is hard. I swear that once I used to just turn on a box, but now I have to navigate dozens of platforms across multiple devices to sit through hundreds of old episodes of 17 seasons of a show to understand what’s happening in the one on Sunday so I can decide that I don’t like it. These 10 shows were worth all that.

BasketsBaskets (FX)
Most comedies have lazed out of being funny, original, and sincere and just go for two out of three. Baskets hits the trifecta. Everyone rightly talks about Zach Galifianakis’s and Louie Anderson’s performances, but its Martha Kelly’s deadpan guilelessness that holds the show together.

Beyond the WallsBeyond the Walls (Shudder)
A French miniseries about a woman who inexplicably inherits a Parisian townhouse and then disappears into it. I was lucky enough to watch Beyond the Walls in a theater, and the world of the house expanded to envelop the room. Turn off the lights and turn on your big-screen TV and you’ll come close enough.

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Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 3 – Movies

2016 stands out for the potentially great movies I haven’t seen. For the first time in years, I can compile a list of films that I regret not having the $15 for admission more than I regret spending that $15 on Crunchwrap Supremes. 1Including Arrival, Moonlight, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Bad Batch, Silence, A Monster Calls, American Honey, and Hacksaw Ridge. Meanwhile, my own favorites were seen by far too few people who aren’t me. Here are ten of them:

Doctor Strange10. Doctor Strange
A dinky script and a performance by Benedict Cumberbatch so hammy that they have to stop the movie every 30 minutes to add a coat of glaze can’t blot out IMAX 3D visuals that made me feel like what I imagine audiences in 1968 felt when first seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Witch9. The Witch
This exceptionally creepy and gorgeous psychological horror about isolated Puritans besieged in the woods : M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village :: Alien Howard the Duck

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1. Including Arrival, Moonlight, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Bad Batch, Silence, A Monster Calls, American Honey, and Hacksaw Ridge.

Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 2 – Music

2016 marks the first December that I looked back on a year and discovered that none of the songs I most remember listening to came out during it. Does that mean 2016 was the year I got old? I can’t be old — I can name three K-pop bands! It’s not my fault, so it must be the fault of the stupid young people who aren’t making good enough music because they’re dumb.

Nevertheless, here’s an annotated Spotify playlist of 20 songs that pulled me through the last year, including a handful that were actually released in 2016. But if you want to know what I really spent most of my time listening to, try singing along for power or air drumming.

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Stuff I Liked in 2016, pt. 1 – Books

According to my Goodreads page, I finished 30 books in 2016, which proves that even in today’s era of bite-size, high speed information intake, I still love nothing more than telling people how many books I’ve read. Here are the top five (from any year).

Watership Down by Richard AdamsWatership Down
by Richard Adams
I’ve always said that Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, but it’s been so many years since I first read it that I worried going back to it I’d find it hadn’t kept up with me. It has. This is a true all-ages book.

I realize now that as a child one reason Watership Down was so important to me is that it guided me into grown-up ideas–most notably that life involves shocking change and loss and requires bravery to face them–but at age 41, if I were reading it without preconceptions, I can’t imagine I’d label it a children’s story. That’s because its themes have only become more essential to me as I’ve aged. I’m able to more deeply plumb them, and Adams’s book matured with me to help me examine how bravery intertwines with the concepts that are most important to me now: compassion, responsibility, modeling behavior. Being a grown-up.

That aside, Watership Down is epic fantasy the way it should be written, with a rich world, thrilling set pieces, and memorable characters (Hazel is still one of my favorite heroes in all of literature). As a writer, I envy Adams’s acute originality in conceiving a rabbit adventure within the bounds of scientific reality and the rigor he employed to pull it of. As a guy who wishes he had a metal band, I would definitely name it Hazel-Rah.

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“Realism Equals Optimism”

If you’re unable or unwilling to accept the apparent cognitive dissonance of being both deeply concerned about the present and optimistic about the future, pay attention to David Rothkopf. David is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the CEO/Editor of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine. He recently tweeted sentiments like this:

Yet amidst that gloominess he also wrote an essay for Foreign Policy called “The Case for Optimism.” In a year that brought the election to the most powerful office in the world a man that Rothkopf calls an “idiot” and a “clown-villain” with a foreign policy team he labels “mind-bogglingly terrible,” Rothkopf’s essay begins, “The arc of history bends toward progress—and 2016 was no different.”

Rothkopf cites evidence showing a longterm and ongoing global spread of peace, health, education, and prosperity. He argues that the evidence of history shows that, despite the viciousness of our current (and yet-to-come) obstacles, the world will continue to improve, and improve faster:

Indeed, when you consider that living in one global community and in one single cultural ecosystem promises better understanding of one another, ubiquitous sensing, unlimited data storage, big-data analytics, and the ever-increasing capacity to connect the world’s best and most creative minds, the prospect of seeing the world in detail as it is and as it might be seems possible for the very first time. Optimism is not outlandish—it is required. Realism equals optimism.

We can be scared without being despondent. We can fight without anticipating defeat. And we can believe that things getting worse never precludes them getting better.

Some Thoughts on Cynicism From My Morning Walk

I tried to think of a working definition for “cynicism” as I see it. I came up with this:

Apathetic fatalism brought about by persistent doubt in the sincerity of others and in the ability to change one’s circumstances.

The hemorrhoidal maxim “It is what it is” has become a mantra for bending over to cynicism. What began as shorthand for “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” has been watered down to a shorthand for “It might be hard to change this, so I’m not going to try.”

Case in point: Recently, my wife and I dropped $180, a massive splurge for us, on tickets to see Pixies and Cat Power at the Hollywood Bowl. During Cat’s set, a group of dipshits in the seats behind us yakked loudly and heckled her. When I asked the lead dipshit to move out of the seating area if he wanted to talk because I had paid a lot of money to listen to someone who wasn’t him, his response was, “Hey man, it is what it is.” Translation: “Hey man, it would be hard to move or to not talk or to be courteous to those around me, so I’m not going to try, and you shouldn’t try to change that.”

Okay, it wasn’t recently. It was two years ago, and I’m still mad about it.