Thursday, July 18, 2013

A few scattered thoughts from the last few days

I flew back to San Diego from New York yesterday, and tomorrow I leave for San Francisco. Tomorrow's my birthday. A week and a day from tomorrow is my wedding. Things are speeding up. Here are a few assorted links, and thoughts, from the last few days.

1) I watched Retreat, starring Cilian Murphy, Thandie Newton, and Jamie Bell, a few nights ago. It was a disaster, and I wouldn't recommend it, but it had a good premise: a couple (Murphy and Newton), their marriage foundering, take a vacation to save their relationship on an isolated island on which they are the only people. After a few days on the island, an unknown, wounded man (Bell) turns up. He tells the couple that a global pandemic has hit, and everyone on the mainland is infected. Their only chance is to board up the house and refuse entry to anyone finding a way to the island. The couple distrusts him, which makes some amount of sense, given that his story is fantastic and the couple can't even trust each other. The movie had the chance to have its theme (distrust and poor communication in marriage is toxic) align perfectly with its larger story, but it overthought itself. Retreat could have ended with the stranger's story proved true just as the couple's distrust consumes them all, so the audience can see how the couple's personal flaws doomed them. This would make something of a classical tragedy. Instead, the film provides a twist ending, in which the stranger has been lying the entire time, but the truth is much less plausible than the lie. The plot and thematic resonance is destroyed, and the movie is ruined. Blech. The lesson? Twists suck.

2) On the plane home I read "How Junk Food Can End Obesity," the cover story in this month's Atlantic. The piece suggests that the obesity epidemic is much more likely to be solved by reducing the calorie counts of McDonald's sandwiches (and other junk food items) than by anything else. Instead of expecting people to change where and how they eat, the author thinks it much more practical to make minor, calorie-conscious changes to what people are always going to eat. This strikes me as, well, sorta plausible, and not a bad idea. It doesn't require any major cultural shift to achieve, even on the part of fast food restaurants. The author already reports on some of lower-calorie options (which are still savory, meaty, cheesy, and sometimes eggy) that McDonald's already offers. But none of the suggestions are actually about nutrition, although the article expends many words talking about nutrition. The suggestions are simply about scale. Less calories means less obese people. Unhealthy people who are not obese are beyond the scope of the article.

3) I read an item in New York magazine about "The Boxer at Rest," the sculpture currently on display at the Met. The boxer is, above all, vulnerable. He's wounded; he's suffered cuts and bruises in the fight, yes, but his body also bears the marks and wounds of his occupation. He has cauliflower ears, a smashed nose, and his foreskin has been sewed shut. The sculpture fits right into a contemporary conversation about sports (especially violent sports) and exploitation. The boxer has suffered wounds and mutilations for his sport. In the moment captured here, after the fight, does he seem to believe it was worth it? It's rare to have a dialogue about sports entirely concerned with something other than the Big Game. Here, we see pain and vulnerability divorced from glory. It makes glory look different.

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