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Critics at Large | The New Yorker

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Critics at Large is a weekly culture podcast from The New Yorker. Every Thursday, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss current obsessions, classic texts they’re revisiting with fresh eyes, and trends that are emerging across books, television, film, and more. The show runs the gamut of the arts and pop culture, with lively, surprising conversations about everything from Salman Rushdie to “The Real Housewives.” Through rigorous analysis and behind-the-scenes insights into The New Yorker’s reporting, the magazine’s critics help listeners make sense of our moment—and how we got here.
39 Episodes
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Is Travel Broken?

Is Travel Broken?

2024-06-1352:08

It’s a confusing time to travel. Tourism is projected to hit record-breaking levels this year, and its toll on the culture and ecosystems of popular vacation spots is increasingly hard to ignore. Social media pushes hoards to places unable to withstand the traffic, while the rise of “last-chance” travel—the rush to see melting glaciers or deteriorating coral reefs before they’re gone forever—has turned the precarity of these destinations into a selling point. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz explore the question of why we travel. They trace the rich history of travel narratives, from the memoirs of Marco Polo and nineteenth-century accounts of the Grand Tour to shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” and HBO’s “The White Lotus.” Why are we compelled to pack a bag and set off, given the growing number of reasons not to do so? “One thing that’s really important for me as a traveller is the experience of being foreign,” Schwartz says. “I’m starting to realize that there are places I may never go, and this has actually made other people’s accounts of them, in the deeper sense, more important.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“The New Tourist,” by Paige McClanahanThe “Lonely Planet” guidebooks“The Travels of Marco Polo,” by Rustichello da Pisa“Of Travel,” by Francis Bacon“The Innocents Abroad,” by Mark Twain“Self-Reliance,” by Ralph Waldo Emerson“Travels through France and Italy,” by Tobias Smollett“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (2013-18)“The White Lotus” (2021—)“Conan O’Brien Must Go” (2024)“It Just Got Easier to Visit a Vanishing Glacier. Is That a Good Thing?,” by Paige McClanahan (The New York Times)“The New Luxury Vacation: Being Dumped in the Middle of Nowhere,” by Ed Caesar (The New Yorker)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. 
“Hit Man,” a new film directed by Richard Linklater, is not, in fact, about a hit man. The movie follows Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a mild-mannered philosophy professor who assists law enforcement in sting operations by posing as a contract killer—and playing on the expectations stoked by Hollywood. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the history of the archetype, from the 1942 noir “This Gun for Hire” to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and the “John Wick” franchise, and explore why audiences have so enthusiastically embraced a figure that, contrary to the media’s depiction, is basically nonexistent in real life. “It’s a fantasy of what would happen if our rage was optimized, much like our sleep and our work day and our workouts,” says Fry. “And if it comes with a side of wearing a suit that looks great—even better.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Collateral” (2004)“Pulp Fiction” (1994)“No Country for Old Men” (2007)“Hit Man” (2024)“Dazed and Confused” (1993)“Hit Men Are Easy to Find in the Movies. Real Life Is Another Story,” by Jessie McKinley (The New York Times)“This Gun for Hire” (1942)“Le Samouraï” (1967)“The Killer” (2023)“Aggro Dr1ft” (2024)“John Wick” (2014)“Barry” (2018-23)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. 
In recent years, in the realms of self-improvement literature, Instagram influencers, and wellness gurus, an idea has taken hold: that in a non-stop world, the act of slowing down offers a path to better living. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz trace the rise of “slowness culture”—from Carl Honoré’s 2004 manifesto to pandemic-era trends of mass resignations and so-called quiet quitting. The hosts discuss the work of Jenny Odell, whose books “How to Do Nothing” and “Saving Time” frame reclaiming one’s time as a life-style choice with radical roots and revolutionary political potential. But how much does an individual’s commitment to leisure pay off on the level of the collective? Is too much being laid at the feet of slowness? “For me, it’s about reclaiming an aspect of humanness, just the experience of not having to make the most with everything we have all the time,” Schwartz says. “There can be a degree of self-defeating critique where you say, ‘Oh, well, this is only accessible to the privileged few.’ And I think the better framing is, how can more people access that kind of sitting with humanness?”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” by Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed)“How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” by Jenny Odell“Improving Ourselves to Death,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed,” by Carl Honoré“The Sabbath,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel“Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond Productivity Culture,” by Jenny Odell“Slow Down: The Degrowth Manifesto,” by Kohei SaitoNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. This episode originally aired on January 11, 2024.
The New Midlife Crisis

The New Midlife Crisis

2024-05-2348:28

From John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer” to Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling 2006 memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love,” our culture has long grappled with what it means to enter middle age. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz examine depictions of that tipping point—and of the crises that often come with it. In the mid-twentieth century (and, depending on your reading of Dante and Balzac, long before that), the phenomenon was largely the purview of men, but massive societal shifts, beginning with the women’s rights movement, have yielded a new archetype. The hosts discuss how novels like Miranda July’s “All Fours” and Dana Spiotta’s “Wayward” have updated the genre for the modern age. “I think the crisis of midlife,” Schwartz says, “is just the crisis of life, period. You invent it for yourself.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Miranda July Turns the Lights On,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“All Fours,” by Miranda July“Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005)“Inferno,” by Dante Alighieri“Mrs. Dalloway,” by Virginia Woolf“Cousin Bette,” by Honoré de Balzac“The Swimmer,” by John Cheever (The New Yorker)“The Swimmer” (1968)“The Women’s Room,” by Marilyn French“Wifey,” by Judy Blume“This Isn’t What Millennial Middle Age Was Supposed to Look Like,” by Jessica Grose (The New York Times)“Wayward,” by Dana Spiotta“Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert “Eat, Pray, Love” (2010)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. 
The rap superstars Drake and Kendrick Lamar have been on a collision course for a decade, trading periodic diss tracks to assert their superiority—but earlier this month the long-simmering beef erupted into a showdown that said as much about the artists as it did about the art. On this episode of Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz examine how the back-and-forth devolved from a litigation of craft into a series of ad-hominem attacks alleging everything from cultural appropriation to pedophilia. They discuss the way rivalries function in the creative world, fuelling new work and compelling audiences to pay closer attention to it than ever before. The hosts also consider other feuds of note, from a nineteenth-century debate over Shakespearean actors that ended in violence to the writer Renata Adler’s blistering takedown of the film critic Pauline Kael in The New York Review of Books. Why do so many of these schisms revolve around fundamental questions of authenticity and belonging? And, once they start to spiral, is there any going back? “Conflict can be productive emotionally and also artistically,” Schwartz says. “But this is not a place that we can permanently reside.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“DAMN.,” by Kendrick Lamar“To Pimp a Butterfly,” by Kendrick Lamar“Control,” by Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica“First Person Shooter,” by Drake featuring J. Cole“Like That,” by Future, Metro Boomin, and Kendrick Lamar“Push Ups,” by Drake“Taylor Made Freestyle,” by Drake“Back to Back,” by Drake“euphoria,” by Kendrick Lamar“6:16 in LA,” by Kendrick Lamar“meet the grahams,” by Kendrick Lamar“Not Like Us,” by Kendrick Lamar“THE HEART PART 6,” by Drake“Stormy Daniels’s American Dream,” by Naomi Fry (The New Yorker)“The Perils of Pauline,” by Renata Adler (The New York Review of Books)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Over the past several years, true crime’s hold on the culture has tightened into a vice grip, with new titles flooding podcast charts and streaming platforms on a daily basis. This week on Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz take stock of the phenomenon, first by speaking with fans of the genre to understand its appeal. Then, onstage at the 2024 Cascade PBS Ideas Festival, they continue the discussion with The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe, whose books “Empire of Pain” and “Say Nothing” are exemplars of the form. The panel considers Keefe’s recent piece, “The Oligarch’s Son,” which illuminates the journalistic challenges of reporting on sordid events—not least the difficulty of managing the emotions and expectations of victims’ families. As its appeal has skyrocketed, true crime has come under greater scrutiny. The most successful entries bypass lurid details and shed light on the society in which these transgressions occur. But “the price you have to pay in sociology, in anthropology, in enriching our understanding of something beyond the crime itself—it’s fairly high,” Keefe says. “You have to remember that this is a real story about real people. They’re alive. They’re out there.” This episode was recorded on May 4, 2024 at the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival, in Seattle, Washington. Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“UK True Crime Podcast”“My Favorite Murder”“Empire of Pain,” by Patrick Radden Keefe“Say Nothing,” by Patrick Radden Keefe“Paradise Lost,” by John Milton“A Loaded Gun,” by Patrick Radden Keefe (The New Yorker)“The Oligarch’s Son,” by Patrick Radden Keefe (The New Yorker)“Capote” (2005)“In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote (The New Yorker)“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” (2015, 2024)“Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi“Law & Order” (1990–)“Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022)“The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016)“O.J.: Made in America” (2016)“Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,” by Robert KolkerNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. 
From “Raging Bull” to “A League of Their Own,” films about athletes have commanded the attention of even the most sports-skeptical viewers. The pleasure of watching the protagonist undergo a test of body and spirit, proving their worth to society and to themselves—often with a training montage thrown in for good measure—is undeniable. Luca Guadagnino’s steamy new tennis film, “Challengers,” applies this formula in a different context, mining familiar themes like rivalry and camaraderie for their erotic potential. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how recent entries like “Challengers” and last year’s Zac Efron-led wrestling drama, “The Iron Claw,” reflect a more contemporary view of masculinity than their predecessors do. The hosts also assemble their “hall of fame” of sports films, including Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,” the nineties classic “Cool Runnings,” and the rom-com “Love & Basketball.” They argue that the genre, at its best, offers auteurs the chance to embrace their instincts. “For our most stylish filmmakers, I would just lay down the gauntlet. If you want to express to us your personal vision, do a sports movie,” Cunningham says. “Because we’ll know what you care about: visually, sensually—we will know.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Challengers” (2024)“The Iron Claw” (2023)“Rocky IV” (1985)“Black Swan” (2010)“A League of Their Own” (1992)“Cool Runnings” (1993)“Raging Bull” (1980)“He Got Game” (1998)“Love & Basketball” (2000)“A League of Their Own” (2022—)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts. 
“Civil War,” Alex Garland’s divisive new action flick, borrows iconography—and actual footage—from the America of today as set dressing for a hypothetical, fractured future. Though we know that the President is in his third term, and that Texas and California have formed an unlikely alliance against him, very little is said about the politics that brought us to this point. Garland’s true interest lies not with the cause of the carnage but with the journalists compelled to document it. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz debate whether the film glamorizes violence, or whether it’s an indictment of the way audiences have become inured to it through repeated exposure. The hosts consider Susan Sontag’s “On Photography,” which assesses the impact of the craft, and “War Is Beautiful,” a compendium that explores how photojournalists have historically aestheticized and glorified unthinkable acts. From the video of George Floyd’s killing to photos of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian refugee found lying dead on a Turkish beach, images of atrocities have galvanized movements and commanded international attention. But what does it mean to bear witness in the age of social media, with daily, appalling updates from conflict zones at our fingertips? “I think all of us are struggling with what to make of this complete overabundance,” Schwartz says. “On the other hand, we’re certainly aware of horror. It’s impossible to ignore.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Civil War” (2024)“Ex Machina” (2014)“Natural Born Killers” (1994)“The Doom Generation” (1995)“War Is Beautiful,” by David Shields“On Photography,” by Susan Sontag“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (2017)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Since the turn of the millennium, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has slyly satirized the ins and outs of social interaction. The series—which follows a fictionalized version of its creator and star, Larry David, as he gets into petty disputes with anyone and everyone who crosses his path—aired its last episode on Sunday, marking the end of a twelve-season run. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the show’s “weirdly moving” conclusion as well as its over-all legacy. Then they consider other notable TV endings: some divisive (“Sex and the City”), some critically acclaimed (“Succession”), some infamously rage-inspiring (“Game of Thrones”). What are the moral and narrative stakes of a finale, and why do we subject these episodes—which represent only a tiny fraction of the work as a whole—to such crushing analytic pressure? “This idea of an ending ruining the show is alien to me,” Cunningham says. “I won’t contest that endings are different—distinct. Are they better? I don’t know.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000-24)“Seinfeld” (1989-98)“Sex and the City” (1998-2004)“Succession” (2018-23)“The Hills” (2006-10)“Game of Thrones” (2011-19)“Breaking Bad” (2008-13) “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott
In her 1955 novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Patricia Highsmith introduced readers to the figure of Tom Ripley, an antihero who covets the good life, and achieves it—by stealing it from someone else. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the long tail of Highsmith’s work, which has been revived in adaptations like René Clément’s 1960 classic, “Purple Noon”; the definitive 1999 film starring Matt Damon and Jude Law; and a new Netflix series, “Ripley,” which casts its protagonist as a lonely middle-aged con man. In all three versions, Dickie Greenleaf, a wealthy acquaintance of Ripley’s, becomes his obsession and eventually his victim. The story resonates today in part because we’re all in the habit of observing—and coveting—the life styles of the rich and famous. Social media gives users endless opportunities to study how others live, such as the places they go, the meals they consume, and the objects they possess. “One of the reasons that the character of Ripley is forever sympathetic is the yearning and striving to be something other than himself, following an example that’s set out to him,” Fry says. “For him, it’s someone like Dickie. For us, it might be someone online.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” by Patricia Highsmith“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)“Purple Noon” (1960)“Ripley” (2024)“Saltburn” (2023)“The White Lotus” (2021—)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
News of Kate Middleton’s cancer diagnosis arrived after months of speculation regarding the royal’s whereabouts. Had the Princess of Wales, who had not been seen in public since Christmas Day, absconded to a faraway hideout? Was trouble at home—an affair, perhaps—keeping her out of the public eye? What truths hid behind the obviously doctored family photograph? #WhereisKateMiddleton trended as the online world offered up a set of elaborate hypotheses increasingly untethered from reality. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how a particular brand of “fan fiction” has enveloped the Royal Family, and how, like the #FreeBritney movement, the episode illustrates how conspiracy thinking has become a regular facet of online life. The hosts discuss “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” an essay by the historian Richard Hofstadter, from 1964, that traces conspiratorial thought across history, as well as Naomi Klein’s 2023 book “Doppelganger.” How, then, should we navigate a world in which it’s more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction? Some antidotes may lie in the fictions themselves. “The rest of us who are not as conspiratorial in bent could spend more time looking at those conspiracies,” Cunningham says. “To understand what a troubling number of our fellows believe is a kind of tonic action.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Don’t Blame ‘Stupid People on the Internet’ for Palace’s Princess Kate Lies,” by Will Bunch (the Philadelphia Inquirer)“Doppelganger,” by Naomi Klein“The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” by Richard Hofstadter (Harper’s Magazine)“The Parallax View” (1974)“Cutter’s Way” (1981) “Reddit’s I.P.O. Is a Content Moderation Success Story,” by Kevin Roose (the New York Times)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
Science fiction has historically been considered a niche genre, one in which far-flung scenarios play out on distant planets. Today, though, such plots are at the center of our media landscape. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz anatomize the appeal of recent entries, from Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” movies to Netflix’s new adaptation of “The Three-Body Problem,” the best-selling novel by Liu Cixin. The hosts are joined by Josh Rothman, an editor and writer at The New Yorker, who makes the case for science fiction as an extension of the realist novel, tracing the way films like “The Matrix” and “Contagion” have shed new light on modern life. The boundaries between science fiction and reality are increasingly blurred: tech founders like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have cited classic sci-fi texts as inspiration, and terms like “red-pilling” have found their way into our political vernacular. “I find the future that we’re all moving into to be quite scary and sort of unthinkable,” Rothman says. “Science fiction is the literary genre that addresses this problem. It helps make the future into something you can imagine.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Dune: Part Two” (2024)“3 Body Problem” (2024)“The Martian Chronicles,” by Ray Bradbury“Dune” (2021)“Dune,” by Frank Herbert“Star Trek” (1966-1969)“2001: A Space Odyssey,” by Arthur C. Clarke“Dune” (1984)“Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?” by Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker)“The Matrix” (1999)“Contagion” (2011)“The Future,” by Naomi Alderman“Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,” by Evan Osnos (The New Yorker)“The Three-Body Problem,” by Liu Cixin“Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds,” by Jiayang Fan (The New Yorker)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
For centuries, the bildungsroman, or novel of education, has offered a window into a formative period of life—and, by extension, into the historical moment in which it’s set. Vinson Cunningham sent the draft of “Great Expectations,” a book loosely based on his experience on Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign, to publishers on January 6, 2021. Shortly after he hit Send, he watched rioters break into the Capitol building. “For me, it was, like, cycle complete,” he says. The age of optimism ushered in by Obama was over. “We are off to another thing.” Cunningham’s novel is part of a tradition that stretches back to the eighteen-hundreds: coming-of-age plots that chart their protagonists’ entry into adulthood. On this episode of Critics at Large, Cunningham and his fellow staff writers, Naomi Fry and Alexandra Schwartz, discuss how “Great Expectations” fits in the genre as a whole. They consider it alongside classic texts, like Gustave Flaubert’s 1869 novel “Sentimental Education,” and other, more recent entries, such as Carrie Sun’s 2024 memoir, “Private Equity,” and reflect on what such stories have to say about power, disillusionment, and our shifting relationships to institutions. “I think, if the bildungsroman has any new valence today, it is that the antagonist is not parents, it’s not religion, it’s not upbringing—these personal facets that you usually have to escape to come of age,” Cunningham says. “It’s the superstructure. It’s finance with a capital ‘F.’ It’s government with a capital ‘G.’ ” 
The office has long been a fixture in pop culture—but, in 2024, amid the rise of remote work and the resurgence of organized labor, the way we relate to our jobs is in flux. The stories we tell about them are changing, too. On this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss Adelle Waldman’s new novel “Help Wanted,” which delves into the lives of retail workers at a big-box store in upstate New York. They’re joined by The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman, who lays out the trajectory of the office novel, from tales of postwar alienation to Gen X meditations on selling out and millennial accounts of the gig economy. Then, the hosts consider how this shift is showing up across other mediums. Though some white-collar employees can now comfortably work from home, the office remains an object of fascination. “The workplace is within us,” says Fry. “There will always be shit-talking about co-workers, about bosses—the materials for narrative will always be there.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Working Girl” (1988)“Office Space” (1999)“The West Wing” (1999-2006)“Help Wanted,” by Adelle Waldman“The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace“Personal Days,” by Ed Park“Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris“The New Me,” by Halle Butler“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” by Adelle Waldman“The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair“Severance,” by Ling Ma“Temporary,” by Hilary Leichter“Severance” (2022—)“The Vanity Fair Diaries” (2017)“Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick ShanleyDolly Parton’s “9 to 5”“Mad Men” (2007-15)“Industry” (2020—)“Norma Rae” (1979)“30 Rock” (2006-13)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
The campaign for an Oscar is just that: a campaign. In the weeks and months leading up to the ninety-sixth Academy Awards, actors and directors have been hard at work reminding voters and the public alike of their worthiness, P.R. agencies have churned out “for your consideration” ads, and studios have poured millions of dollars into efforts to help their films emerge victorious on Hollywood’s biggest night. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss the state of the race, from the front-runners to the snubs and the season’s unlikely “villain.” The hosts are joined by The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman, the author of “Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears,” who describes how Harvey Weinstein permanently changed the landscape in the nineties by treating campaigns as “guerrilla warfare.” Today, much of the process happens behind closed doors. If the game is rigged, why do we care about the outcome? “Even though we know that there is a mechanism behind these things, a glow does attach itself to people who win,” Cunningham says. “We are still very much suckers for the glamour of merit.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears,” by Michael Schulman“Oppenheimer” (2023)“Barbie” (2023)“May December” (2023)“Poor Things” (2023)“The Zone of Interest” (2023)“Nyad” (2023)“Maestro” (2023)“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)“Can You Really Want an Oscar Too Much?” by Michael Schulman (The New Yorker)“Anatomy of a Fall” (2023)“Titanic” (1997)“Ferrari” (2023)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
At this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, Usher Raymond sang through decades of hits while twirling on roller skates, making a case for himself as one of the great R. & B. artists of our time. The performance illuminates a key aspect of modern pop stardom: the fashioning of one’s legacy in real time. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss how musicians’ images take shape independent of their music. They consider “Bob Marley: One Love,” a new bio-pic made with the support of the Marley estate that deliberately smooths the rough edges of the singer’s life. Today’s performers take a more active role in their own reputation management, using high-profile appearances to stake a claim or reinforce their persona. At this year’s Grammy Awards, the question of legacy came to the fore when Jay-Z took issue with the fact that his wife, Beyoncé, has never won the coveted Album of the Year award. But the most indelible moments from the ceremony involved songs from decades prior—a reminder that the music itself is often more enduring than any formal accolade. “Rather than legacy in corporate terms or in institutional terms,” says Fry, there’s also “the legacy of the heart.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Bob Marley: One Love” (2024)“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, as performed at the 2024 Grammys “If I Ain't Got You” by Alicia KeysLuke Combs’s cover of “Fast Car” by Tracy ChapmanTwins react to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins“Walk the Line” (2005)“You Make Me Wanna . . .” by UsherNew episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
As much as contemporary audiences relish a happily ever after, some of the greatest romances of all time are ones that have turned out badly. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz consider stories of “wretched love”—love that’s star-crossed, unfulfilled, or somehow doomed by the taboos of the day. First, they react to listeners’ favorite examples, from Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” to “The Notebook” to the Joni Mitchell song “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” Then, the hosts discuss their own picks: the poet Frank Bidart’s collection “Desire”; James Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room”; and “A Girl’s Story,” by the Nobel Prize-winner Annie Ernaux. Why do we—and centuries’ worth of artists—gravitate toward tales of thwarted desire? Perhaps it’s because these moments unlock something that stays with us long after the sting of heartbreak has faded. “When you widen the lens, life goes on,” Schwartz says. Nevertheless, “there is a need for all of us to return to that moment because that was part of what made you who you were.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Annie Ernaux Turns Memory Into Art,” by Alexandra Schwartz (The New Yorker)“Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy“Conversations with Friends,” by Sally Rooney“Desire,” by Frank Bidart“Eugene Onegin” (1879)“Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin“A Girl’s Story,” by Annie Ernaux“Sense and Sensibility,” by Jane Austen“Sense and Sensibility” (1995)“Sylvia,” by Leonard MichaelsJoni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard”“The Notebook” (2004)“Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë“Wuthering Heights” (1939)Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
If some of us have managed to avoid mean girls in life, we’ve had no such luck in art. The “mean girl”—a picture of idealized femininity who usually heads up a like-minded clique—has appeared in films like “Clueless,” “Heathers,” and, of course, the 2004 classic “Mean Girls,” written by Tina Fey. Recently, the mean girl has received a makeover. In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz discuss texts that have breathed new life into the trope, beginning with Ryan Murphy’s “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans,” which dramatizes the schism between the writer Truman Capote and the group of New York City socialites he called his “swans.” The hosts trace the figure of the mean girl through culture, from the character of Regina George—who returns in the 2024 movie-musical reboot of “Mean Girls,” albeit a little less mean than before—to the cast of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” Today, the archetype is ripe for projection, appropriation, and maybe even for sympathy. “The hope and the fear looking at these mean girls is imagining how great their lives must be,” Fry says. “But I think concurrently we would be happy to learn that, in fact, it’s lonely at the top.” Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“The Allure of the Mean Friend,” on “This American Life”“Carrie” (1976)“Daniel Deronda,” by George Eliot“Euphoria” (2019—)“Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” (2024)“Gossip Girl” (2007-2012)“Heathers” (1988)“La Côte Basque, 1965,” by Truman Capote (Esquire)“Mean Girls” (2004)“Mean Girls” (2024)“101 Dalmatians” (1961)“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” (2020—)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
The wives and daughters of Dubai’s ruler live in unbelievable luxury. So why do the women in Sheikh Mohammed’s family keep trying to run away? The New Yorker staff writer Heidi Blake joins In the Dark’s Madeleine Baran to tell the story of the royal women who risked everything to flee the brutality of one of the world’s most powerful men. In four episodes, drawing on thousands of pages of secret correspondence and never-before-heard audio recordings, “The Runaway Princesses” takes listeners behind palace walls, revealing a story of astonishing courage and cruelty.“The Runaway Princesses” is a four-part narrative series from In the Dark and The New Yorker. To keep listening, follow In the Dark wherever you get your podcasts or via this link https://link.chtbl.com/itd_f
What Is the Comic For?

What Is the Comic For?

2024-01-2552:18

Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, “The Dreamer,” has drawn criticism for its targeting of trans and disabled people–the latest in a string of controversies, and of increasingly self-referential sets. His and other standup comics’ growing fixation with cancel culture raises a pressing question: What is the role of the comic today? In this episode of Critics at Large, the staff writers Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz trace how comedians have positioned themselves in relation to their audiences over time, from the proto-standup acts of the vaudeville era to the political humor of the legendary George Carlin, who paved the way for the success of Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show.” Where Chappelle and Ricky Gervais are doubling down in the face of backlash, comedians like Jacqueline Novak and John Mulaney are finding new ways to expose societal fault lines in order to bring the crowd to a place of cohesion. But in the era of the culture wars, do we want to be challenged, or affirmed? “Whatever comedy is now, needs willing and predetermined audiences—people that are there to pay attention to a certain kind of thing,” Cunningham says. “If what we want is a kind of shattering of whatever mythologies surround us, maybe it’s not the best for that.”Read, watch, and listen with the critics:“Dave Chappelle: The Dreamer” (2023)“Ricky Gervais: Armageddon” (2023)“Chappelle’s Show” (2003-06)“Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees” (2024)“Outrageous: A History of Showbiz and the Culture Wars,” by Kliph Nesteroff“I Love Lucy” (1951-57)“George Carlin’s American Dream” (2022)“The Daily Show” (1996-)“Comedy Book: How Comedy Conquered Culture–and the Magic That Makes It Work,” by Jesse David Fox“John Mulaney: Baby J” (2023)“The Anxious Precision of Jacqueline Novak’s Comedy,” by Carrie Battan (The New Yorker) “Jenny Slate: Stage Fright” (2019) “Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker” (1999)New episodes drop every Thursday. Follow Critics at Large wherever you get your podcasts.
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Comments (12)

Paulo Lavigne

One of the hosts, in just over two minutes (24:01 to 26:14), said "like" 20 times!!!!!

May 17th
Reply

Janet Lafler

I recently watched My Fair Lady with my teen, whose high school theater class is now looking at musicals, and I had to leave the room before the ending because I couldn't stand to watch it. I remember, as a kid, being disappointed by the end of Pygmalion, in which Eliza leaves and doesn't come back, because I wanted a "romantic" ending. But now I see the end of Pygmalion as Eliza dodging a bullet.

Apr 11th
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Janet Lafler

Just wait til you find out how "Featherstonehaugh" is pronounced....

Mar 28th
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Janet Lafler

I think the main mistake that many people take from reading SF is to read it too straight-forwardly, without understanding it as critique. Thus, tech entrepreneurs fail to see the negative, even dystopian, qualities of the tech envisioned and just think "oh, cool!" Or people fail to see that Dune is, among other things, a critique of the hero/messiah narrative.

Mar 22nd
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Janet Lafler

I don't know if this was mentioned, but FYI: the novel Severance, by Ling Ma, is completely unrelated to the TV show Severance. The novel is underappreciated (it's the book that IMO should have gotten all the hype and acclaim that Station Eleven did).

Mar 9th
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Janet Lafler

I know nothing about any of this (I am an old), but just that short interview clip makes me want to strangle Diane Sawyer.

Feb 22nd
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Janet Lafler

As Maude said, "go out and love some more."

Feb 8th
Reply

Janet Lafler

Possibly I'm obsessed with Jane Austen, but I think Mary Crawford may be the original mean girl. Caroline Bingley wants to be a mean girl, but doesn't have the chops.

Feb 1st
Reply

Janet Lafler

AFAIK, the first of the type of deliberately anachronistic period dramas you discuss is A Knight's Tale, which is more than 20 years old now, and still the only one I've found that I enjoy. [There's a much older tradition of deliberately anachronistic musicals, e.g. Kiss Me Kate, Camelot, etc.] I think one of the things that makes The Knights Tale work is that it's not an adaptation (though supposedly "inspired" by Chaucer). It's essentially a sports movie, with all the attendant tropes.

Jan 31st
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Faranak Raste

Great episode you guys. Thanks.

Dec 4th
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Jack Sparrow

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Nov 20th
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Mahmodabasi Nozari

Oct 14th
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