Do you regard Vox's presentation as dumb?


Also, (all but one of) The Reasons Why Hillary Lost:
At some point, should a major political movement decide to reject the transparent dumbness of its thought leaders?

Should political players decide that it isn't OK to be transparently dumb in pursuit of legitimate values? Over the past month, we've been asking ourselves these questions.

Golden Globe nominations were announced on December 9. It's been A Furious Time in the Neighborhood ever since.

Liberal and feminist pundits have declared that Greta Gerwig and her film, Little Women, have been widely "snubbed" on the basis of gender. In our view, gender fairness is very important, but so is avoidance of transparent dumbness.

With that in mind, how about it? Do you regard this recent presentation in Vox as dumb?
GRADY (1/13/20): On Monday morning, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women was nominated for the 2020 Oscar for Best Picture. It also racked up five other nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay. But Gerwig herself was notably shut out of the Best Director race.

Those two categories have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other
, on the grounds that the directors who did the best jobs probably made the best movies. But on a fairly regular basis, the Oscars have opted not to nominate directors from disenfranchised groups, Best Picture nomination or not: When Selma was a Best Picture nominee in 2015, director Ava DuVernay, a woman of color, was not nominated. Only five women directors and 22 directors of color have ever been nominated.
The presentation goes on from there, leading to a claim about the "consistent snubs" suffered by Gerwig as endless industry groups have handed out their endless nominations and awards.

It's certainly true that women have rarely been nominated for Best Director Oscars. When Gerwig was so nominated two years ago, she was just the fifth woman to receive such a nomination.

That said, was she somehow "snubbed" this year? This brings us back to our original question:

Do you regard that presentation by Vox as dumb?

The presentation turns on a vastly misleading statement. Truth to tell, the statement in question is really just wrong. The statement in question is this:
Two Oscar categories—Best Picture and Best Director— "have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other, on the grounds that the directors who did the best jobs probably made the best movies."
On the basis of that statement, we're asked to believe that Gerwig was discriminated against this year. Righteous anger spread through the land, but that statement by Vox was just dumb.

In fact, that angry statement was tremendously dumb. This is why we say that:

As of 2009, the statement in question was accurate. Right through 2009, the Oscars dispensed five nominations for Best Picture each year, along with five nomination for Best Director.

Almost always, the people who directed the Best Picture nominees were nominated for Best Director. For a reason everyone understands, that changed after 2009.

Starting in 2010, the Oscars began nominating up to ten films for Best Picture each year—but there are still only five nominations for Best Director. Stating the obvious, this means that many directors of Best Picture nominees don't get Best Director noms.

How hard can it possibly be to understand this point? Starting in 2010, the numbers break down like this:

Over the past eleven years (2010 through 2020), 98 different films have been nominated for Best Picture. But there have been only 55 Best Director nominations.

Two Best Director nominations have gone to people whose films weren't nominated for Best Picture. This means that of the 98 people who directed a Best Picture nominee, only 53 received Best Director noms.

Eleven years later, are we still unable to understand the way this system works? Over the past eleven years, 46 percent of the people who directed a Best Picture nominee didn't receive a Best Director nomination!

Gerwig was one of those people this year, along with two white men and one man who is ethnically Maori. As everyone knows, this is the way the system now works.

(When DuVernay failed to get a Best Director nomination, so did three white men who had directed Best Picture nominees. One of the three was Clint Eastwood.)

"Those two categories have traditionally tended to closely replicate each other?" As everyone on the planet knows, that stopped being true after 2009.

But so what? There it was in Vox at the start of the week, with some unnamed editor waving the claim into print. In this way, we liberals were goosed into seeing our tribe as victims again.

Should Gerwig have been nominated for Best Director this year? We have no idea. Nor do we know of any reason to think that the principals at Vox bring any expertise or experience to this subjective question.

Gerwig was so nominated just two years ago, for another female-centric film. This makes the claim that she's now being discriminated against on the basis of gender this year seem especially stupid.

That said, we live in a time when The Culture of Irate Tribal Complaint has surged to impressive new heights. Discrimination on the basis of gender is, of course, a bad thing. But so is the spectacular dumbness which is increasingly put on display across the liberal world, winning votes for Trump.

Should liberals and progressives complain when tribal journalistic leaders behave this way, perhaps a bit like the shills at Fox?

In our view, the answer is yes—and there's a lot more to complain about. Consider Gene Lyons' new column, the one which touches upon The Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Lost.

When we discuss the reasons why Clinton lost, we're also discussing The Reasons Why Donald Trump Won. Lyons calls attention to the decades-long role the New York Times played in this debacle.

The Times' role in this debacle dates all the way back to 1992, when its bungled front-page reporting created the Whitewater pseudo-scandal. Quite literally, Lyons wrote the book on that puzzling journalistic affair, the heavily-disappeared Fools For Scandal.

In the course of his new column, Lyons discusses the role the Times played in pushing the transparently ludicrous Uranium One pseudo-scandal.

Uranium One was an especially stupid part of the Trump-Clinton campaign. It involved a set of ludicrous charges—charges for which Hillary Clinton has recently been "exonerated."

The Times pimped Uranium One through a gigantic front-page report in April 2015. In his new column, Lyons says this about that:
LYONS (1/15/20): Like Whitewater, [Uranium One] originated in a piece of absurdist journalism published by the mighty New York Times back on April 24, 2016 [sic]. Read today ... Well, the thing is almost impossible to read, which ought to have been a tipoff.

When you can’t make heads or tails of a newspaper article, it’s usually because the authors have no idea what they’re talking about
and hope you won’t notice. Here Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was murkily accused of taking a bribe from a Canadian philanthropist who’d long ago sold his interest in a Utah uranium mine of no great value. (U.S. ore production is a tiny fraction of the world market.) A Russian company bought it.

The Times produced no evidence that Hillary played any role in the transaction whatsoever—signed off on by nine separate U.S. government agencies unrelated to the State Department. But the newspaper had made a devil’s bargain with one Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart-affiliated Steve Bannon acolyte with a history of smearing Democrats.

It was one of those deals where all the “mistakes” ran in the selfsame direction. Correct the errors, fill in the blanks, and the presumptive scandal vanishes. Exactly as this latest, and presumably last, Clinton scandal has done.
So it went at the New York Times starting in 1992, with a detour of several years spent attacking Candidate Gore in transparently ludicrous ways.

Last week, Rachel Maddow gently chided the Times for its treatment of Uranium One. She forgot to mention what viewers of her own program were told about the crazy report when it appeared in the Times.

(Maddow herself completely avoided the topic. As we've noted down through the years, this is her standard play whenever Elite Upper-End Power is involved in assaults against major Dems. She mugs and clowns and entertains but also looks out for herself.)

The Times ran a jihad against Hillary Clinton (and Candidate Gore) which extended for roughly twenty-five years. This is one of the obvious reasons why Clinton lost (and Donald Trump won), unless you read lists of reasons recently compiled by Ed Kilgore and Gail Collins.

We'll assume that Vox was just being dumb concerning those Oscar nominations. At other times, leading journalists may simply refuse to tell us rubes the (whole) truth.

We'll get back to Maddow and Uranium One as we proceed with our award-winning "Rational Animal Tales." For today, let's conclude our rumination concerning Vox:

That recent presentation was transparently dumb. Will the time ever come when we liberals decide to reject this type of tribal behavior?

The anger is fine; the dumbness is not. Will we self-impressed "rational animals" ever decide to accept this?

Best Picture reviews in the Washington Post!


Just as a small point of reference:
We've mentioned some movie reviews this week.

Movie reviews are subjective. Different people—even different major reviewers—will react to particular films in different ways, depending on various factors.

You'd think that everyone would understand this basic point. But it sometimes seems that we don't.

This morning, we were looking at the Washington Post's Weekend section. We decided to look at the number of stars the paper's reviewer, Ann Hornaday, gave to each Oscar Best Picture nominee this year.

There are nine Best Picture nominations this year, though only five for Best Director. Below, you see the nine films in question, along with Hornaday's ratings. The Post rates films on a four-star basis:
Washington Post, number of stars
Parasite: 4.0
The Irishman: 3.5
Jojo Rabbit: 3.5
Little Women: 3.5
Marriage Story: 3.5
1917: 2.5
Ford v Ferrari: 2.5
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: 2.5
Joker: 2.0
Hornaday is a major mainstream reviewer. She gave underwhelming ratings to four of the Best Picture nominees.

(Based on this Metacritic page, several of those Best Picture nominees weren't all that favorably reviewed.)

On the other side of the coin, Hornaday gave four stars to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. On her year-end Best Movies list, she listed it as second best film of the year. As you can see at Metacritic, a very small number of other critics rated it that highly.

None of this means that she was "right." None of this means she was "wrong." Reviews, best lists and numbers of stars all involve matters of judgment.

In the end, there is no right or wrong to these assessments. It's amazing to see how many pundits may not have completely internalized this fairly basic point.

It's been a furious week in the neighborhood! That may not be a great thing.

Hornaday got it right: Yes, we know Hornaday a tad, and we like her a lot. But she's always honored in these parts for her 2002 review of Blue Crush, including these assessments:
Spectacularly filmed, well acted and snappily edited, "Blue Crush" exemplifies Hollywood at its best and most brazen: It's honest, even occasionally elegant, American pulp.


As in his first feature, the teen melodrama "crazy/beautiful," Stockwell has a good eye and ear for characters and their environments, and he is especially sympathetic with women characters.
How many stars did Blue Crush get? The Post's online review doesn't say.

For ourselves, we like Blue Crush, and the basic idea of Blue Crush, more with each year that goes by. We posted our own capsule review once before at this site:
"That's my sister! That's my sister!" This time, the girls get to win.
Inevitably, Stockwell was totally snubbed. The film has become a "cult classic."

RATIONAL ANIMAL TALES: West Wing and the death of The West!


The Autumn of '99:
Sometimes, you just have to chuckle.

Wisely, that's the way we chose to react to the material shown below.

This is the way David Sims started his peculiar interview piece in the Atlantic last month. Sims is describing Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird:
SIMS (12/17/19): ...Sorkin’s dramatization of Harper Lee’s novel, which opened on Broadway last December, is an unexpectedly probing work that refuses to let an American classic go unchallenged. Instead, it stages two trials: One is from the book, in which Scout’s attorney father, Atticus Finch, defends Tom Robinson, an African American man accused of rape in 1930s Alabama, and tries to combat the community’s entrenched racism.

In Sorkin’s play, the other trial is of Atticus’s own nobility, and how it doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice. Though the adaptation broadly follows the narrative arc of Lee’s novel, it uses Scout, her brother Jem, and her friend Dill (all played by adult actors) to cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details. That framing encourages the audience to ponder the limits of Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell, a man who’s trying to pin his own assault of his daughter Mayella on Tom. The play beefs up the relatively anonymous parts given to black characters in Lee’s work, gives Atticus’s kids a more argumentative nature, and sheds harsher light on the book’s somewhat pat ending.

The stage adaptation is nonetheless made with appreciation for Lee’s novel, and that mix of homage and update has translated into a family-friendly Broadway hit...
Some of that passage is perhaps a bit too fuzzy to parse.

"Atticus’s nobility doesn’t always square with his grander vision of justice?" Even after reading the full interview piece, we don't really know what that means.

Meanwhile, does Sorkin's Broadway adaptation "cast a wary eye over some of the book’s more idealistic details?" Presumably, that fuzzy formulation means that Sorkin is looking askance at "Atticus’s impulse to empathize even with vile racists such as Bob Ewell."

Rather plainly, the impulse to empathize with Ewell doesn't exist in Lee's famous book. But neither do many other actions and attitudes which Sorkin seems to have placed in his "family-friendly Broadway hit" which, we're told in that passage by Sims, "is made with appreciation for Lee's novel."

Does Lee's novel actually end with Atticus Finch covering up the murder of Bob Ewell? Does Ewell get murdered at all?

It would take a very strange person to understand Lee's novel that way, but Sorkin and Sims excitedly voiced these very strange thoughts before their session was through. And despite Sorkin's "appreciation" for Lee's book, he makes other vast rearrangements in the basic events of the book, as we've been noting all week.

Today, we'll quickly note one more. In Sorkin's adaptation, Bob Ewell apparently rapes his teenage daughter, an act for which Tom Robinson is accused and convicted, and dies.

Does Bob Ewell rape his daughter, Mayella Ewell, in Sorkin's "adaptation?" So several reviewers explicitly say in their reviews of the play.

That said, no one gets raped in the Harper Lee's actual book. But once Sorkin decided that Atticus Finch reminded him of Donald J. Trump, he apparently set out to create a family-friendly, hall-of-mirrors version of the famous novel.

Bob Ewell gets murdered after raping his daughter! Atticus dumbly convinces Tom Robinson to renounce the plea deal which would have saved his life!

And not only that! In the actual words of the overwrought Sorkin, the Atticus Finch of Harper Lee's novel "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

In short, Sorkin seems to have created a version of To Kill A Mockingbird on acid. Most significantly, it seems to us that you have to be very dumb to believe the various strange things this guy has said along the way.

In fairness, no animals died in the course of adapting Harper Lee's novel. But what does it mean when our major cultural and political figures seem to be so dumb?

Sorkin strikes us as quite limited. For example, it seems to us that he completely misses the moral arc of Lee's intertwined (fictional) stories when he tells Sims this:
"Atticus isn’t the protagonist in the book or the movie; Scout is—her flaw is that she’s young, and the change is that she loses some of her innocence."
In Lee's novel, Scout doesn't just lose some of her innocence; she gains a deeply important understanding, an understanding which escapes many of Maycomb's adults.

At the end of the book, she comes to see that Boo Radley is an actual person. He isn't a figment of her imagination, or a source for the childish fantasies she and her childhood companions have always spawned.

Boo Radley's an actual person! This understanding escapes many of the town's white adults with respect to the scary, dumb stories they tell themselves about their black fellow citizens, including the innocent person who gets convicted of a capital crime.

That's the moral arc of the book's two intertwined narrative threads. Scout comes to see something very important. On the whole, her town's white adults do not.

Sorkin seems to have missed this. Setting such denigrations to the side, let's move ahead to The Autumn of '99.

What does it mean? What does it mean when our culture's most influential thought leaders are simple-minded, substantially limited in their insights, perhaps even just a bit dumb?

What does it mean when our Sorkins are so dumb that they can read To Kill A Mockingbird and think it ends with Bob Ewell's murder? Among other things, it means that our major thought leaders were doing things like this in The Autumn of '99:
Sorkin conceived the political drama The West Wing in 1997 when he went unprepared to a lunch with producer John Wells and in a panic pitched to Wells a series centered on the senior staff of the White House, using leftover ideas from his script for The American President. He told Wells about his visits to the White House while doing research for The American President, and they found themselves discussing public service and the passion of the people who serve. Wells took the concept and pitched it to the NBC network, but was told to wait because the facts behind the Lewinsky scandal were breaking and there was concern that an audience would not be able to take a series about the White House seriously. When a year later some other networks started showing interest in The West Wing, NBC decided to greenlight the series despite their previous reluctance. The pilot debuted in the fall of 1999 and was produced by Warner Bros. Television.
Sorkin and West Wing met cute! He pitched the show "using leftover ideas from his script for The American President," a family-friendly, sit-commy film about life inside the White House.

In The Autumn of '99, Sorkin debuted his next collection of family-friendly TV fare. As he did so, a lynch mob was running through the streets of Washington and New York—a mob which would send George W. Bush to the White House, plus Donald Trump sixteen years later.

Hillary Clinton was being slandered in The Autumn of '99, often in plainly misogynist ways. Candidate Gore was being slandered too, but so darn what? Flyweights like Sorkin were flitting around, entertaining us, and dumbing us down, with silly TV piffle.

How did Donald J. Trump reach the White House? The silence and dumbness of flyweights like Sorkin very much helped put him there.

Some of these people were in entertainment. Many others were in the upper-end press.

The Creeping Dowdism had taken hold. But so had the Sorkinism.

This week, we've been telling a Rational Animal Tale about a person who's so dumb that he can read Harper Lee's famous book and think Bob Ewell got murdered. Also, that Atticus Finch "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

You have to be extremely dumb to go around saying stupid shit like that. Are you prepared to see how dumb, and even perhaps maybe how dishonest, our own tribe's leaders have been?

There's a whole lot more where Sorkin came from. The spectacular dumbness of this unchallenged group helps explain how we got where we are, with Donald J. Trump in high office.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal." Aristotle is said to have said that, long ago. Are you prepared see how wrong this famous figure was, if only on this one point?

It's anthropology, all the way down. Are you willing to go there?

Next week: The next in our award-winning string of Rational Animal Tales.

We expect to continue with some Little Women Snub Complaints. We'll move on to recent striking accounts of The Reasons Why Hillary Lost.

It's A Furious Day in the Neighborhood!


Pseudo-lib anger and dumbness:
Anger and dumbness were on wide display in the wake of this week's Oscar noms.

Increasingly, these are the fuels on which LiberalThink runs. Again, we'll recommend the angry screed run by the Washington Post under this self-assured headline:
Pop Culture : Analysis
This year’s biggest Oscar snubs, from Adam Sandler and Jennifer Lopez to women directing movies
The Post dragged out four different "pop culture" reporters to catalog all the snubs.

They told us who was "totally snubbed." They told us who is "consistently snubbed."

They told us which were the biggest snubs. They told us which of the (thousands of) omissions were "more glaring."

They told us whose fans were "angered," or were even "totally angry." These are the only metrics these "pop culture" scribes seem to know.

Increasingly, our liberal tribe is adopting the culture of Rush Limbaugh and Fox. Within this brain-dead culture, no complaint is too dumb to advance if it supports tribal scripts.

Today, we'll offer just one example. In the passage shown below, the four "pop culture" reporters complained about the lack of Best Director nominations for a female director:
IZADI, RAO, BUTLER AND YAHR (1/14/20): Many had hoped Greta Gerwig, who earned a directing nomination two years ago for her solo debut, “Lady Bird,” would again appear for her critically acclaimed adaptation of “Little Women.” But the fifth slot went to Todd Phillips, whose box-office juggernaut “Joker” landed the most nominations of any project despite being one of the year’s most divisive films.

There weren’t too many other women who stood a chance in this arena, though it’s worth noting that Marielle Heller, who has delivered two Oscar-caliber films with this season’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and last year’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” is consistently snubbed. Tom Hanks, who was nominated for his supporting role as Mister Rogers in the former film, told the New York Times he wanted to work with Heller after reading a story that inspired him to work with more female directors and, then, seeing her debut film, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
Should Heller have been nominated for Best Director?

We have no idea. Beyond that, we doubt that the four pop culture reporters have anything which dimly resembles expertise in this area.

That said, we can tell you this. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” wasn't especially well reviewed. Not even with Tommy in it!

The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday was an outlier in this area. She picked A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as the second best film of the year.

Almost no one else reviewed the film that way. Very few mainstream critics had it on their "ten best" lists. Were all those critics, male and female, "snubbing" Heller too?

In her own screed about the Oscars, Dana Stevens linked Slate readers to this Metacritics page. That page seems to say that A Beautiful Day didn't even rank among the year's thirty best-reviewed films.

That same page lets you review a very long list of critics' "top ten" lists. Heller's film appears on very few of those lists.

The critics aren't necessarily right. Oscar voters aren't necessarily right. But given the way the film was reviewed, why would anyone have thought that Heller would get a Best Director nod? And what makes those reporters so eager to say that she somehow got "snubbed?"

Increasingly, our tribe behaves like Fox. We're angry and persistently stupid. We're full of complaints and we're dumb.

Increasingly, our punditry and our journalism seem like versions of Children at Play. This doesn't work well for our liberal tribe, or for the values we claim to support.



And calls to mind Donald J. Trump:
Does it really make sense?

Does it make sense to create an "adaptation" of a famous book—in this case, a famous novel—if you don't even like the book? If you don't understand the famous book, even in the most basic ways?

Also, have you "adapted" a famous novel if, in the course of your "adaptation," you simply change the famous novel's basic events all around? If you massively scramble the attitudes andthe views of its famous characters? Should we call that an "adaptation?"

The famous novel to which we refer is Harper Lee's 1960 classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. The "adaptation" to which we refer was written by Aaron Sorkin.

At present, it's bringing in big money on Broadway, but generating no public discussion. And perhaps that's just as well!

In a recent, extremely strange interview piece, The Atlantic's David Sims describes the Broadway version of To Kill A Mockingbird as "an unexpectedly probing work that refuses to let an American classic go unchallenged."

There's certainly noting wrong with "challenging" an American classic; such critiques are advanced all the time. But Sorkin's critique is based on certain perceptions which are remarkably hard to sustain—and Sorkin has played a major role in our nation's childish political discourse over the past thirty years.

Sorkin has been a major "influencer," and it seems he's perhaps weirdly dumb.

How strange are the perceptions which lie behind Sorkin's apparently heartfelt "adaptation?" In a crazy essay for New York magazine, Sorkin offered a set of crazy pensees back when his play debuted.

Sorkin reasoned thusly. Atticus Finch was going to be the protagonist of his play. And if he was going to be the protagonist, he would have to have a flaw.

That said, what flaw could Atticus possibly have? Sorkin racked his influential brain as he tried to come up with the answer.

Finally, it happened! According to Sorkin, he realized that Atticus always had a flaw, even in Lee's novel! The man who has fed us so much simple-minded TV sitcom-style pap spelled it out like this:
SORKIN (11/26/18): [H]ow do you give Atticus Finch a flaw?...I tried all the doors and they were locked, until I found one that swung open with the lightest touch. I didn’t have to give Atticus a flaw because, to my mind, he already had one; it’s just that we’d always considered it a virtue. Atticus believes that you can’t really know someone unless you “climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it.” He believes that Bob Ewell should be understood as a man who lost his job. He believes Mrs. Dubose should be understood as a woman who recently stopped taking her medication and lives in physical pain. He believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists. He believes … that there are fine people on both sides?

In the play, this set of beliefs would be challenged.
It would be hard to overstate the childishness of that analysis, and beyond that its sheer stupidity. What can it mean when one of our leading "influencers" reasons in such childish ways?

Amazingly, that passage actually seems to mean when it seems to say. As he reread Harper Lee's novel, Sorkin apparently came to believe that its noble hero, Atticus Finch, "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists."

Those are Sorkin's actual words—and yes, it even gets more childish and stupid than that! As Sorkin reread the famous novel, he began to see that Atticus Finch was quite a bit like our own Donald J. Trump!

Very famously, Trump had recently said that "there are fine people on both sides." Apparently, Sorkin thought that he had spotted this attitude in Lee's heroic lawyer. The flaw had been there the whole time!

Harper Lee's fictional Atticus Finch now seemed like Donald J. Trump! In a disappointing piece in The New Yorker in which she herself seemed to take everyone's side of every point, Casey Cep summarized Sorkin's new view of the book:
CEP (12/10/18): The children are now played by adults; Calpurnia, the Finches’ black housekeeper, gets to argue a bit with her employer about his tolerance of intolerance; and Atticus—sounding, Sorkin has noted in interviews, a little like President Trump—says that there are good people on both sides of a lynch mob. It was Trump’s comments after a counter-protester was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville that, Sorkin has said, helped him see the contemporary resonance of the play.

In an essay for New York, Sorkin recounts how, after finishing a bad draft, he realized that he could not “swaddle the book in bubble wrap and transfer it gently to a stage”; instead, he focussed on Atticus and his transformation from one kind of man into another. In this new production, the empathy for which Atticus has always been celebrated—his belief, as Sorkin sees it, in the “goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists”—would be his fundamental flaw.
In Sorkin's reading of Lee's book, Atticus Finch believed in the “goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists.” He was a great deal like Trump.

In case you missed that part of Lee's book, Sorkin apparently decided to goose up this flaw just a bit. In last month's interview piece at The Atlantic, actor Ed Harris describes a scene in the new "adaptation." Harris spoke with David Sims, The Atlantic's film/drama critic
SIMS (12/17/19): The show is interrogating Atticus’s passivity and nobility. How do you want to communicate that passivity, and the anger within him as well?

HARRIS: Early on in the play, Bob Ewell comes by [to the Finch house] and threatens Atticus, saying, “We’ve got two ropes.” And Jem, Atticus’s son, comes out and says, “You want me to respect Bob Ewell?” And he says, “Yeah, there’s good in everyone.”
"There's good in everyone," this new, adapted Atticus says. Atticus [HEART] Bob Ewell!

Did Atticus Finch really [HEART] Bob Ewell in Lee's famous book? We're forced to suggest that he didn't.

In the climax of Lee's book, Ewell tries to kill the Finch children. Boo Radley saves their lives.

This unseemly bit of behavior is not unlike Bob Ewell! Early in the book, the adult narrator tells us what Scout's father had told her about the Ewells when she was still only 6:
LEE (page 33): Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb County for three generations. None of them had done an honest day's work in their lives. He said that some Christmas, when he was getting rid of the tree, he would take me with him and show me where and how they lived. They were people and they lived like animals.
There isn't a lot of admiration there. Indeed, Lee has been criticized for her book's scathing portrayal of the Ewells as "white trash."

That criticism seems valid to us. But it flies in the face of the lusty "challenge" Sorkin decided to lodge.

Later, Scout starts to learn about the crime with which Tom Robinson has been charged. Once again, we learn how Atticus has described the Ewells:
LEE (page 141): Calpurnia sighed. "Old Mr. Bob Ewell accused him of rapin' his girl an' had him arrested an' put in jail—"

"Mr. Ewell?" My memory stirred. "Does he have anything to do with those Ewells that come every first day of school an' then go home? Why, Atticus said they were absolute trash—I never heard Atticus talk about folks the way he talked about the Ewells. He said—"

"Yeah, those are the ones."
Atticus does display empathy for Bob Ewell's mistreated children. Back toward the start of the book, he tells his irate daughter why everyone agrees to let Bob Ewell hunt outside hunting season:
LEE (page 34): "Atticus, that's bad," I said. In Maycomb County, hunting out of season was a misdemeanor at law, a capital felony in the eye of the populace.

"It's against the law, all right," said my father, "and it's certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey, his children have away of crying from hunger pains. I don't know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit."
There is no place in Harper Lee's book where Atticus Finch tells his children that they should respect Bob Ewell because there's "goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists.” Whatever their shortcomings might possibly be, the moral holdings of the book are much more subtle and varied than that.

Atticus doesn't [HEART] Bob Ewell in Harper Lee's famous book! For whatever reason, Sorkin decided to put new attitudes in this famous character's head, new words in his mouth.

No ticket holders will be irreparably harmed by Sorkin's "adaptation." With that admission recorded, we think a different question should be asked:

What does it mean when influential figures within our culture reason as oddly as this?

As he says in The Atlantic, Aaron Sorkin apparently thinks that Harper Lee's famous book ends with Atticus Finch covering up a murder—the murder of Bob Ewell.

That is a very strange reading of this famous book. Beyond that, Sorkin seems to think that Harper Lee made her black characters too "docile." Instead of displaying respect for Atticus Finch, they should have taken to the streets of their small Alabama town in 1935.

They should have shouted "no justice, no peace," then burned the courthouse down. In The Summer of '35!

To help us see why Maycomb's black residents should have done that, Sorkin rearranges Finch's racial views, having him display imagined resentment toward Calpurnia, who isn't grateful enough. To help us see how stupid Finch was, he has him consign Tom Robinson to his death by dumbly convincing him to renounce a previously-arranged plea deal.

And not only that! Sorkin has Atticus tell his son that he should respect Bob Ewell because there's good in everyone, even in a person who has just threatened him with a hanging. This is what this very strange person thinks when he reads Lee's book.

In her disappointing discussion of Sorkin's "adaptation," Cep offers an accurate assessment of Harper Lee's actual book. "Although it features children, it is not childish," she says.

To Kill A Mockingbird isn't childish, but Sorkin's odd reasoning is. Searching for a way to "adapt" a book he doesn't seem to understand very well, he decided that its hero reminds him of Donald J. Trump and even [HEART] Bob Ewell.

Does Lee's famous book end with a murder? You have to be dumber than a seventh grader to come up with an idea like that.

The person who did so is influential! What does it mean when our leading cultural figures are as dumb and as childish as that?

Tomorrow: The Summer of '99