It is an awfully humid Friday here in Washington, so I am off to jump in the pool and spend some time catching up on the pop culture I have fallen behind on while writing about our culture writ large. I hope you all have a great weekend. And if you need ideas for how to spend it, here are five things I have been watching and reading lately that may show up in future posts.
1. Season two of “Orange Is The New Black”: I am finishing up the second season of Netflix’s hit women’s prison dramedy and will have more extended thoughts on Monday. But in the interim, I have been struck by the show’s desire to provide humanizing context for all of its characters. Fleshing out the guard characters has been a definite positive note. But I do wonder if, in a show about institutional abuses, a tendency to moderate or explain everything begins to feel a little less radical and a little bit more like a cop-out.
2. “The History of White People,” by Nell Irvin Painter: On the strength of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recommendation, I began reading Painter’s intellectual history of the idea of whiteness as a racial category. I had known some of the things Painter traces, like the gradual expansion of “whiteness” to include Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants. But the evolution of whiteness is far weirder than I ever could have imagined and far more disruptive to the canon of beloved American intellectuals than can possibly be comfortable for any sensitive reader.
3. “Speedboat,” by Renata Adler: I loved Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation,” a beautifully-wrought novel about a marriage made up of jewel-like anecdotes, many of them so funny that I have found myself reading them to anyone who will listen to me. “Speedboat,” one of the critic Renata Adler’s novels, is written the same way, but with greater sprawl. I am doing a lot of thinking about this particular style, roping in the poet Weldon Kees for good measure.
4. “The Philadelphia Story”: I keep a backlog of classics I have never seen in my Netflix queue and found myself in the mood for this romantic comedy, which really has not aged particularly well, has it? The exception is the excellent Virginia Weidler as pesky Dinah Lord, whose puckish rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” is proof that weird little girls will always be delightful.
5. “Miss American Dream,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: The most interesting piece of cultural reporting I read this week was Brodesser-Akner’s deep dive into Britney Spears’ Vegas residency. Synthesizing Vegas’ evolving business model and coming demographic shift with an analysis of what we want out of our pop tarts, Brodesser-Akner gains new insights about contemporary fame and the entertainment industry.