The world as we sometimes insist it must be!


Police shootings by age and by race: It's a depressing topic, for several quite different reasons.

That said, Kevin Drum has assembled a graphic, and we're directing you to it. It shows the rate at which people are shot and killed by police, grouped into three different age ranges.

You can look at the data yourselves. We're going to point your attention to the highly novelized stories we insist on telling ourselves.

Kevin says this as he starts:

DRUM (1/31/23): We all know that Black people are killed at much higher rates relative to population than white people, but it turns out that the difference depends a lot on age.

Indeed, we do all know that first fact. Meanwhile, just a guess: 

Given news coverage of the past decade, we wonder how many people might believe that no one except black people are ever shot and killed by police? We'll guess that the number is larger than zero, and that the number is likely non-negligible.

We do all know that first fact! That said, at an early point in his brief post, Kevin offers a perfectly sensible suggestion about why some people—some people. not all—may get shot and killed by police:

DRUM: It's not surprising that the rate of fatal police shootings is highest for young age groups, since ages 18-29 are the prime years for criminal activity. 

The suggestion is clear. In some cases, people get shot and killed by police because the people were involved in some sort of criminal activity.

Presumably, that explain why some people—we have no idea how many—get shot and killed by police. Later, though, Kevin also writes this:

DRUM: For some reason—maybe real, maybe not—police are way more afraid of young Black suspects than young white suspects. 

That suggests that some young black people get shot and killed by police because police are "way more afraid of young Black suspects" than they are of young white suspects. (For the record, Kevin even goes so far as to suggest that, at least in some cases, the reason for this may be "real.")

This raises an obvious question:

As Kevin's numbers show, young black men are shot and killed by police at much higher rates than young white men. The question:

Does this happen because police are "way more scared" of young black men? Or does it also happen, in some unknown percentage of cases, because young black men are more often involved in criminal conduct?

We would assume that each of those factors may contribute to the disproportionate rate of shooting deaths displayed in Kevin's figures. But within our failing blue tribe, we tend to be wed to a certain picture of the world, a picture that possibly seems to be expressed in this early comment:

COMMENTER: The racist stereotype is clearly about young Black males. When people see a young Black male, they are scared. Even Jesse Jackson once admitted it—he said it made him sad that he felt this way, but he couldn't deny that he was thankful when he realized the young man walking towards him at night was white.

But Black females and older Black males aren't coded as threatening on the streets in the same way. It's very specifically young Black males that trigger the racist assumption that they must be criminals.

Almost surely, stereotypes and sweeping assumptions about young black males do, in fact, play a role in the disproportionate rate of fatal police shootings. 

That said, the commenter seems content with that picture of the situation, full stop. A second commenter offered this response:

RESPONSE TO COMMENTER: Yes, I was going to point out the same thing.

There's a stereotype about "rampaging" young black men that goes back to the days of slavery. One of the justifications for slavery was the "need" to keep young black men under control since they're so terribly "dangerous." This was lampshaded mercilessly in Blazing Saddles ("Where the white women at?").

But it's still operative; it was used in the defense arguments for Derek Chauvin's trial.

Here too, it almost seems like we're assuming that the stereotype about young black men may wholly explain the disparity. No other possible factor need apply!

Inevitably, we're also told that the stereotype "goes back to the days of slavery." 

On the one hand, that statement is almost certainly true, to some extent which can't easily be measured. On the other hand, it's astounding—and depressing—to see how often this pleasing narrative element is introduced into the stories our tribe is currently inclined to tell about various racial disparities.

Is it possible that poverty, societal mistreatment and personal despair lead a higher percentage of young black men to engage in the "criminal activity" to which Kevin referred? Is it possible that these tragic factors explain some percentage of the disparity under review in Kevin's post?

Sadly, we would assume that it is. That said, you have to go very deep into the comments to Kevin's post to find someone suggesting that this factor might account for some unknowable part of the disproportion under review.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we simply love our stories. We love our stories, and we love to repeat them. No other thoughts, however tragic, ever need apply.

THE ROAD TO HELPFUL: Charles Blow does get one thing right!


Stormy Daniels 33, Tyre Nichols 6: As a general matter, it seems to us that Charles Blow's reactions tend to be unhelpful.

That said, there's no ultimate way to measure such things. Our instincts concerning Blow's work may not be right.

At any rate, we'd have to say that Blow pretty much got something right in yesterday's New York Times column. He opened with his standard fury—but he did seem to get something right:

Tyre Nichols’s Death Is America’s Shame

The spectacle of a televised countdown to the showing of the video in which Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten by Memphis police officers doesn’t just theatricalize Black death; it is a damning indictment of American perversion.

It was horrific, as promised, but unfortunately not singularly so. It was instead yet another data point in a long line of videos showing the torturing of Black bodies by the police. It was more snuff porn with Black victims, in a country becoming desensitized to the violence because of its sheer volume.

As we noted yesterday, that's the way the column started. Are such declamations helpful? We're inclined to think they aren't.

Briefly, let's review:

On the day he entered the White House, Donald J. Trump described a (vastly overwrought) state of "American carnage." In yesterday's column, Blow went the former president one better:

He started with "American perversion," then continued on from there.

We could always be wrong! But we'll guess that such sweeping denunciations don't help us get anywhere. We'll guess they aren't real helpful.

As he continued, Blow indicted the nation's whole population, except perhaps himself. As he continued, he started calling the roll of those who simply don't care:

BLOW (continuing directly): America—and the world—had the realization that police violence was a problem, and then it simply walked away before the work was done and the war was won.

After the killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the historic summer of protest that followed, police killings of American citizens didn’t decrease; they increased. What fell away were the evanescent allies, poll-chasing politicians and cooped-up Covid kids who had used the protests as an opportunity to congregate.

A bunch of "cooped up Covid kids" had walked away from the fight. So had the "poll-chasing politicians"—but then, so had pretty much everyone else:

BLOW (continuing directly): Even Black people’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement eventually began to fall.

And as Americans shifted to other priorities like politics and the economy, the broader public became desensitized to police killings, or it callously started to see the police killings as unfortunate but ultimately acceptable byproducts of much-needed increased policing at a time of rising crime.

Even black people seemed to be part of the problem as the broader public callously shifted its view.

As a general matter, we'd have to guess that such approaches may not be especially helpful. Especially at times of vast tribal division, we'd have to guess that such declamations may tend to harden the tribal lines defining the tribal war.

In fairness, though, we'd have to say that Blow got one thing pretty much right in yesterday's angry column. As he begged for greater attention to "police killings of American citizens"—also, to what he called "the torturing of Black bodies by the police"—there plainly was one part of the American public who didn't much seem to care.

For us, the heads of this group first popped out of their hole at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon. Even as Blow was begging for more attention to the killing of Tyre Nichols, Nicolle Wallace introduced some of "our favorite reporters and friends"—and they spent the next 37 minutes discussing Stormy Daniels!

Eventually, the reporters and friends got around to the killing of Nichols. But that one segment was rather brief, and after the two-hour program returned was back to our tribe's favorite cable news product:

Trump Trump Trump Trump jail!

Was this reaction unique to Wallace's program? Actually, no, it wasn't.

Last evening, at 9 P.M., Rachel Maddow showed up on our TV screen for her now-weekly appearance. From 9 o'clock straight through to 9:37, with only a four-minute break for commercials, she talked about Stormy Daniels and Donald J. Trump and about nothing and no one else.

Starting at 9:41, she offered a six (6) minute segment about the killing of Tyre Nichols. This included an amazingly perfunctory pseudo-interview with the head of the Memphis NAACP.

By that time, it was Stormy 33, Memphis 6 on the Maddow Show! On the brighter side, we got to see some of Rachel's most widely loved clowning techniques as she pretended to be embarrassed by such things as the deeply embarrassing way she was forced to say the word "affair."

(This gong show never stops.)

Stormy Daniels is doing fine, Rachel oddly assured us right at the start of the program. Soon, she introduced us to some new fun—for example, to the difference between "bimbos" and "himbos."

The beloved TV star played the fool in the way our blue tribe loves. As she did, she ran up the score, which stood at 33-6 by her program's end.

This morning, the same thing happened! On Morning Joe, Mika and her collection of sidekicks opened the program with—who else?—Stormy Daniels! They offered a 16-minute discussion of Daniels, followed by an 8-minute discussion of the Memphis police and the death of Tyre Nichols.

As it turned out, that eight minutes was pretty much all she wrote. At 7 o'clock sharp, Mika kicked off a second discussion of Stormy. This discussion ran 11 minutes. By that time, the score on Morning Joe stood like this:

 Stormy Daniels 27, Tyre Nichols / Memphis 8

Make no mistake! This represents a business decision by our tribe's cable news network. They're serving us the cable news product they feel, and most likely know, that we want to consume.

They seem to feel that we don't really care all that much about Memphis and the like. We want a chance to amuse ourselves with talk about Trump's "affair," and with sugarplums of Donald J. Trump being frog-marched to jail.

For the record, what inspired all the new talk about Daniels, the "feminist icon" who blackmailed Trump into giving her $130,000 in hush money in the fall of 2016? 

(Otherwise, she said she would blab about the one (fully consensual) sexual experience she says she had with the overweight mogul back in 2006?)

What inspired all the talk? It was a report in this morning's New York Times—a major newspaper whose news judgment vastly differs today from that of our cable news tribe.

In this morning's New York Times, Memphis appears at the very top of page A1. In the online edition of the Times, the report's twin headlines say this:

Initial Police Report on Tyre Nichols Arrest Is Contradicted by Videos
The police report was the latest instance in which video evidence offered a starkly different account of police violence than what officers had reported themselves.

In print editions, that report tops the Times' front page. 

Inside the paper, the National section starts on page A11. Starting on that very page, three other news reports about Memphis appear today:

Page A11: In 13 Minutes, 71 Clashing Commands and Escalating Brutality.

Page A11: Nichols Pulled Over for Police, But It Quickly Turned Violent

Page A12:  Two More From Force Face Scrutiny After Death

Memphis appears at the top of page A1. Inside the paper, Memphis consumes the whole of page A11, plus the vast bulk of page A12.

Where does Stormy Daniels turn up? She turns up in the single news report which launched a thousand cable news ships. 

That report appears on page A16, near the end of the National section. Concerning the matter devoutly to be wished, it includes such buzzkill as this:

RASHBAUM ET AL (1/31/23): The prosecutors have also begun contacting officials from Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, one of the people said. And in a sign that they want to corroborate these witness accounts, the prosecutors recently subpoenaed phone records and other documents that might shed light on the episode.

A conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.

Still, the developments compound Mr. Trump’s legal woes as he mounts a third presidential campaign...

Could the newly revived Daniels matter perhaps send Trump to jail? Even if a charge is brought, a conviction is no sure thing, the Times report reported. According to the Times, an indictment would be "a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory."

Could Donald J. Trump end up getting indicted because of the payments to Daniels? That topic appeared on page A18 of the New York Times—and all over blue tribe cable! 

As Maddow mugged and clowned and played the embarrassed little girl, the exciting Stormy Daniels "affair" ran up the score on the death of Nichols, much as Blow had suggested. On Maddow's clowncar of a broadcast, the score at the end stood like this:

Stormy Daniels 33, Tyre Nichols 6

We've tried to tell you something down through the many long years:

Despite our blue tribe's endless performances, some of our constituent groups may not always seem to care all that much about matters of racial justice and fairness.

That doesn't make them bad people, we've said. It makes them people people. But it often seems that we don't really care, though we're often quite good at performing.

You can't blame Blow for being angry about such manifestations. A person could fairly judge that such anger is fully justified.

Still and all, a question remains about Blow's declamation concerning American perversion:

Even if Blow's anger is understandable, are such presentations helpful?

Tomorrow: So many roads to unhelpful

STARTING TOMORROW: Angry versus helpful!


Also, children born today: Increasingly, identity has come to rule the discourse of a rapidly shrinking world.

We aren't saying that issues related to "identity" shouldn't rule the discourse. We would seek to initiate a different type of discussion:

We humans have a strong capacity for anger. That includes anger which is perfectly justifiable. 

But when people discuss identity issues, what kinds of reactions are likely to be helpful? By way of contrast, which kinds of reactions are simply unhelpful anger—are anger all the way down?

Conflicts based on cultural identity are found all over the globe. Given the way human anger works, we're guessing that the attempt to address such issues won't always be thoroughly helpful.

For starters, what do we mean when we say that identity has come to rule a rapidly shrinking world? For one example out of many, we point you to an interesting profile in Saturday's New York Times.

It was listed as THE SATURDAY PROFILE. The headlines on the profile say this:

Teenage Rapper, Rooted in Mapuche Identity, Roars for Indigenous Rights
MC Millaray, 16, an emerging music star in Chile, uses her fierce lyrics to convey five centuries of struggles by the country’s largest Indigenous group against European colonizers.

We'll take a guess. We'll guess that most people who read that profile had never heard of the Mapuche. 

That said, the Mapuche are indeed Chile's largest Indigenous group. The leading authority on the topic offers this brief overview at the start of a lengthy discussion:

Mapuche history 

As an archaeological culture, the Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history which dates back to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society underwent great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. 

The Mapuche have been involved in identity-based conflicts dating back to Spanish colonization. Saturday's profile involved a 16-year-old girl who is focused on current struggles in her native Chile.

The Mapuche are a cultural group with a very long history. For better or worse, Chile's non-Mapuche population is a much more numerous group.

In Chile, those groups are currently engaged in a struggle. Meanwhile, in that same day's New York Times, a second news report offered this:

‘We Have to Come Here to Be Seen’: Protesters Descend on Lima

They marched through the streets of Peru’s capital, carrying signs that said “I’m not a terrorist” and waved rainbow-colored flags associated with Indigenous communities in the Andes. Many chant “murderer” at the country’s leader and sing hymns about not being afraid anymore. On Thursday, more continued to arrive, with many vowing to stay for the long fight.

In the past week, thousands of rural Peruvians have descended on Lima to join local protests calling on President Dina Boluarte to resign...


Since Ms. Boluarte took office on Dec. 7, violent protests against her government have paralyzed large swaths of southern Peru, shutting down copper and tin mines and choking off highways leading to Lima and towns in the Amazon.

There have been at least 57 deaths related to the unrest, all outside of Lima. 


The protests have been led largely by Indigenous, rural and poorer Peruvians fed up with what they portray as the country’s dysfunctional political system and entrenched discrimination. 

These events in Peru also involve long-standing conflict between different ethnic / cultural groups.

Population groups are involved in conflict all around the globe. 

Most American haf never heard of the Kurds until that group became part of the ongoing war in Iraq. Almost surely, most Americans still have never heard of the Uighurs—wouldn't recognize the name, wouldn't have any idea who the Uighurs are.

As of the early 1990s, few Americans had ever heard of the Tutsis and the Hutus. Global history teems with disputes, conflicts, wars and genocides involving such historically distinct ethnic / cultural groups.

Identity groups are in conflict all around the world. Increased communication and ease of travel in a rapidly shrinking world serve to bring the world's many different identity groups into increasing contact with each other.

In this nation, we largely focus on the cultural divisions between the population groups defined as black and white. (Our own indigenous groups receive much less attention.) The vicious killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has now become the (temporary) focus of that ongoing discourse.

Alas! We humans routinely have a hard time negotiating points of conflict between different "identity groups." That 16-year-old rapper in Chile gave voice to a great deal of (justifiable) anger in last Saturday's profile—but we pause this week to ask a basic question:

What kinds of behavior are likely to be helpful in such familiar discussions? By way of contrast, what kinds of reactions may give voice to (fully justifiable) anger, but may only make matters worse?

There's no sure way to answer such questions! But in this morning's New York Times, Charles Blow starts his latest column like this:

Tyre Nichols’s Death Is America’s Shame

The spectacle of a televised countdown to the showing of the video in which Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten by Memphis police officers doesn’t just theatricalize Black death; it is a damning indictment of American perversion.

It was horrific, as promised, but unfortunately not singularly so. It was instead yet another data point in a long line of videos showing the torturing of Black bodies by the police. It was more snuff porn with Black victims, in a country becoming desensitized to the violence because of its sheer volume.

On the day of his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump described his "American carnage." 

This morning, in the New York Times, Blow has a wide array of things to say about "American perversion." Also, about America's ongoing "snuff porn."

"America should be ashamed," Blow says as he continues. He offers sweeping denunciations of virtually every subgroup in the country, excluding virtually no one except perhaps himself.

Elsewhere in this very large nation, a whole lot of babies are being born today. What sorts of reactions are likely to build a batter nation for these, our newest fellow citizens?

Charles Blow's columns are routinely full of anger. A person might, with perfect sense, say that Blow's anger is almost always justified.

That said, we'll be asking a different type of question this week. It's a question for which there's no ultimate answer:

What kinds of reactions may prove to be helpful? Which kinds of reactions may not?

Tomorrow: E pluribus, insults

Tucker still can't figure it out!


Also, what Paul Krugman said: Last evening, Tucker Carlson was finishing his opening segment.

In that opening segment, he had discussed the beating and the subsequent death of Tyre Nichols. Tucker had gone to the usual places, saying elites are using the incident to increase their power over people like his viewers. 

Briefly, let's be fair. On this rarest of occasions, he didn't say that the Chinese Communists were behind the whole thing!

His remarks about Memphis were crazy enough. For today, though, let's start with what Carlson said as that first segment came to a close:

CARLSON (9/27/23): So it's Friday, apparently a big day for bodycam footage. We got what we showed you from Memphis tonight. But in San Francisco, authorities also released bodycam footage from that very weird Friday night at the Pelosi household in Pacific Heights in San Francisco back in October.

We'll have that—not that we can make sense of it, but we'll have it anyway. And of course, we'll continue, for the duration of this show, to monitor the riots that appear to be unfolding across our country tonight. 

We'll be right back.

As it turned out, the riots to which Carlson referred were unfolding inside his own head. For today, we'll focus on what he said about the Pelosi bodycam footage, which he still can't make sense of.

Upon his return, Calson played that bodycam footage. After that, he tried to decipher the footage, or at least he pretended to try.

You can watch the bulk of what Carlson said simply by clicking here. He starts by saying that the 911 operator in the Pelosi incident ought to be "fired immediately." She's plainly our "dumbest 911 operator," Carlson said, without attempting to explain his assessment.

Sadly but unmistakably, it's the type of judgement Carlson constantly makes about the nation's women. Later, you'll see him affirm an account of what's seen on the bodycam tape—a poorly sourced, misleading account which NBC News aired in real time, then quickly retracted. 

Now that the bodycam footage has been released, we can see that the NBC account was grossly misleading (and flatly wrong in parts). Inevitably, Carlson—he still can't make sense of what happened that night!—said it was basically accurate.

"Shame on NBC," the excitable fellow excitedly said, complaining about the fact that NBC News had quickly disavowed its report and suspended its reporter. 

This sort of nonsense is broadcast, each night, to millions of Carlson's viewers. Elsewhere, people are exposed to vastly different factual claims and assessments.

When large societies break down into an array of such disconnected groups, it becomes very, very hard for such societies to function.

For the record, Carlson does this sort of thing on a nightly basis. He may believe the things he says. It may be that he doesn't.

Do we, within our own blue tribe, ever have any blind spots? We're going to say that we actually do. Consider something Paul Krugman wrote in his latest New York Times column.

Tucker Carlson seems to be crazy-adjacent. Quite plainly, Paul Krugman is not.

That said, Krugman's strength has always lay in his analysis of policy matters. He's less strong in the area of politics, as he showed at one point in yesterday's column. 

Krugman was discussing "rural resentment" and the role it plays as rural voters keep trending Republican. 

Much of his column made perfect sense. Eventually, though, he said this:

KRUGMAN (1/26/23): What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?

J. D. Vance seems to be transparently phony. Plainly, Paul Krugman is not.

That said, is it really hard to imagine a Democratic politician making the sort of remark which might fuel rural resentment? Not too long ago, a fairly well-known Democratic pol made this famous remark:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Eventually, every major politician will make a dumb remark. Vance makes dumb remarks on purpose. Plainly, Barack Obama does not.

That said, rural and small-town America has been looked down upon by upscale urban progressive elites for as long as such places have existed. This pattern obtains fairly widely all over the world, but also right here in this country.

Many Trump voters feel disrespected by our blue tribe's elites, even by blue tribe rubes. In many cases, they feel disrespected by our elites because they routinely have been.

Within our tribe, it tends to be the way it is with human tribes all over the globe. We find it hard to see the truth about the way our own tribe behaves. Even a person as bright and decent as Paul Krugman may fail to discern the pattern.

We wouldn't vote for major Republicans ourselves. We also wouldn't say the things we see blue tribers say, on a daily basis, about the deplorable people who do.

From comments threads on up to the top, we love to name-call these fellow citizens. Please please please don't speak to Those People, we tell our major news orgs.

Tucker Carlson lives off this dynamic. He can see that it exists. Quite often, we blues cannot.

Spoiler alert: Your lizard is going to tell you that we're just stupidly wrong in what we've said about Krugman's statement.

Your lizard is going to tell you to split tiny hairs in search of that verdict. According to an array of experts, that's the way lizards work! 

GROUPS V. GROUPS: Are the nation's critics a siloed group?


E pluribus, more of the same: About a third of the way through the feature film Tár, a beautiful human moment occurs.

There are very few such human moments in this critically lauded film. As a point of personal privilege, we want to cite it here.

In the film, a very prominent (fictional) conductor, Lydia Tár, shares a 6-year-old adopted daughter with her partner or wife, Sharon Goodnow. (The film doesn't say that the daughter is adopted, but the screenplay does.)  

As Tár is driving this beautiful child to school, suddenly, and out of the blue, they recite an old nursery rhyme. In our view, it's a rare and beautiful human moment within a weirdly opaque feature film:

TÁR: Who’ll bear the pall?

PETRA: "We," said the wren. "Both the cock and the hen. We'll bear the pall."

TÁR: Who'll sing a psalm?

PETRA:  "I, said the thrush as she sat on a bush, "I'll sing a psalm."

TÁR: Who'll toll the bell?

PETRA: "I," said the bull, because I can pull. "I'll toll the bell."

Together, parent and child then finish the rhyme: "All the birds of the air fell a-sighin' and a-sobbin' when they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin."

Because of the beauty and the innocence of this 6-year-old child, this leaps out as a rare human moment. Much later n the film, Tár's angry partner or wife says that Tár's relationship with this little gitl is the only relationship Tár has which isn't "transactional"—which isn't devoted to propelling or maintaining Tár's high-flying music career.

As we learned through a bit of googling, Tár and Petra were reciting parts of a very old nursery rhyme, Who Killed Cock Robin? Just a guess:

This moment is layered into the movie to foreshadow the impending fall of the highly transactional classical music maestro. The word "cock" may have bene floating around in Todd Field's mind as well.

We can think of one other such human moment in this very long film. It occurs when Tár's youngish assistant, Francesca, informs Tár that Krista Taylor, a 25-year-old former colleague of theirs, has taken her own life.

Francesca, who is a human being, is plainly distraught as they discuss this event. She weeps, and she asks to be held.

Tár reacts in a different, perhaps more transactional manner. 

Instantly, Tár instructs Francesca to delete the tortured emails she has been receiving from Krista, whose name resembles Christ's. After Francesca leaves for home, Tár deletes a series of emails she herself has sent to major orchestras around the world, telling them that shouldn't hire Krista Taylor because she's too unstable.

For whatever reason, the powerful Tár has blackballed her former colleague from employment:

“I must warn you of the danger to your orchestra in hiring Ms. Taylor.” That's the way the screenplay summarizes the snippets of the various emails we see on the screen as Lydia Tár reads them, then clicks them away.

Now for a question:

Is it possible that these emails were actually sent in good faith? Is it possible that Tár really believed these representations about her young former colleague?

Almost everything is possible in this lengthy film. That said, critics have generally assumed that Tár, Francesca and Krista were all lovers in the past, and that Tár was blackballing Krista's prospects out of some sort of pique about the way things ended.

What actually happened between Tár and Krista? As with most such matters in this film, the moviegoer is never shown or told. 

That said, the viewer does see what happens on that prior occasion when Tár drives her 6-year-old daughter to school:

Tár believes that one of Petra's 6-year-old classmates has been bullying Petra. After sending Petra off to class, Tár confronts this other 6-year-old girl and aggressively threatens her in this remarkable manner:

TÁR: Hello, Johanna. I'm Petra's father. She’s told me a lot about you. I know what you’re doing to her. And if you ever do it again, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll get you. 

And if you tell any grown-ups what I just said, they won’t believe you, because I’m a grown-up. But you need to believe me: I will get you. 

Remember this Johanna, God watches all of us.

At that point, Tár walks away. Presumably, "God watches all of us" is meant to prefigure the way that deity is going to bring Tár down.

There's a lot of prefiguring in the film Tár, and a whole lot less exposition. We're never exactly allowed to know what Tar's relationship with Krista was, but it's Krista's suicide which eventually brings Tár's career crashing down.

We do get to see Tár threaten a 6-year-old girl. We also see her deceiving her partner on various occasions in various ways, and we see her trick Francesca into letting her use her laptop. 

After sending Francesca out of the room, Tár checks to see if Francesca has deleted Krista's emails, as she's been told to do. Francesca, who seems to be human, hasn't deleted the emails from her tortured friend, as the peeping Tom Tár now knows.

In short, we see Tár doing various highly unattractive things in the course of this long feature film. It's just that we're never allowed to know what actually happened between herself and Krista in the central event of the film. 

(Or even between Tár and the adoring fan, or possibly the starstruck journalist, whose red handbag Tár apparently ends up owning! The moviegoer doesn't see that episode spelled out either, assuming that he or she has even noticed that the red handbag has changed hands.)

For ourselves, we don't see the point of exploring #MeToo themes in this type of fictional setting—a setting in which moviegoers are never allowed to know what actually happened, or possibly didn't happen, in the various interpersonal matters which lie at the heart of the film.

Someone else's mileage may differ with respect to this murky exposition. Mostly, though, we disliked the feature film Tár because of the ten million ways it makes its contents inaccessible to moviegoers, starting with the unbearably long opening scenes which are littered with references to the world of classical music, references the typical rube won't care about or understand.

On first viewing, we marveled at the way this lengthy film seemed to have been constructed. It almost seemed that the film had been deliberately constructed to make its contents incomprehensible to the vast bulk of moviegoers.

People who showed up to see the film may have taken that set of cues from this puzzling film's puzzling lack of clarity. In a recent profile of the film's writer-director (Todd Field) and transcendent star (Cate Blanchett), Variety's Kate Aurthur explains the problem like this:

AURTHUR (1/5/23): In a blighted landscape for movies, where fervid audience theorizing has been mostly reserved for television shows such as “The White Lotus,” and most films are forgotten the week after their release, “Tár” is an art-house movie that actually punctured the zeitgeist. During Halloween, Lydia Tár costumes populated Instagram. “That was unexpected!” Blanchett says.

Yet “Tár” has also become emblematic of the difficult period during COVID for the movie business, and the continuing uncertainty around the financial viability of prestige films. A New York Times story from last month, headlined “Highbrow Films Aimed at Winning Oscars Are Losing Audiences,” used an image of Blanchett as Lydia, looking spooked.


That “Tár” has grossed a mere $5 million in theaters as of this writing, and is a symbol of the box office crisis for Oscar-oriented movies, was decidedly not part of the [marketing] plan. 

Variety's Aurthur is second-generation Hollywood. (Her father, the late Robert Alan Aurthur, was a substantial Hollywood screenwriter.) 

Like the New York Times before her, Aurthur described the way this "Oscar-oriented / prestige film" bombed at the box office as an offshoot of Covid, which in part it surely was. 

That said, Aurthur also makes some slightly odd claims concerning the vast sweep of Tár. It "punctured the zeitgeist," she murkily says—and she offers an odd piece of evidence in support of this claim:

During Halloween, Tár costumes populated Instagram, Aurthur says—whatever that statement might mean. 

Quickly, a guess! We'll guess that you saw no such costumes at any Halloween parties you may have attended last fall. We'll even guess that you saw no such costumes when children came to your door dressed like Rachel Maddow, or perhaps like Tucker Carlson.

Is it possible that Aurthur is part of a siloed population—a siloed subgroup within which this highbrow film really did "puncture the zeitgeist?" Beyond that, is it possible that the nation's major film critics may now constitute some such group—a subgroup which is unable to see how a film like Tár will perhaps appear to regular moviegoers? 

A subgroup which is perhaps unwilling to say what it knows for certain "transactional" reasons?

After first attempting to watch Tár ourselves, we were amazed by one aspect of the major reviews. The film is extremely hard to follow, but the major reviews didn't say so.

It's always possible that the major reviewers were able to negotiate the complexities of this film in a way which we ourselves couldn't. Aside from their genuine literacy in the world of film, they may have had a press kit in hand, a press kit which told them what they were (supposedly) seeing as the film's scenes rolled on.

Who knows? They may have had access to the screenplay, a screenplay which explains some of the points which go unexplained on the screen. In an unusual move, that screenplay was recently made available for Aurthur to publish and praise, just in time for it to be nominated for an Oscar.

Who knows? It's even possible that some film critics are involved in relationships which are somewhat "transactional." It may be that they're loath to criticize figures like Field and Blanchett, major figures they will want to interview on some future occasion.

That said, Aurthur's profile of Field and Blanchett is ripe with hints of "transactional" conduct. The keister-kissing never stops—the keister-kissing between Fields and Blanchett, to cite two examples, along with the apparent keister-kissing laid on by Aurthur herself.

In major profiles of this type, no statement by industry stars will ever be questioned or challenged. No performance of high credulity will ever be left behind.

Keister-kissing headline included, Aurthur's profile begins as shown. Tell the truth! Do you believe that this car crash actually happened?

Who Is Lydia Tár? Cate Blanchett and Todd Field Lift the Curtain on Their Oscar-Season Masterpiece

Cate Blanchett is not an actor who skims a screenplay when she’s considering it. “I read scripts very, very slowly,” she says, “but this one I read incredibly quickly...She turns to Todd Field, the writer-director of the film in question, “Tár,” and says, “And you crashed your car.”

On this chilly Sunday afternoon in mid-November, Blanchett has made the long trip to Los Angeles from Australia, where she’s been in production. She’s here to attend the Governors Awards as a formidable Oscar contender, having given one of the most rapturously reviewed performances of her career as Lydia Tár—troubled, lesbian, world-famous conductor of a major orchestra in Berlin. She’s sitting next to Field, who, it’s true, got into a bad car accident trying to get the screenplay to Blanchett. Field hadn’t made a feature since 2006’s “Little Children”—and, unbeknownst to Blanchett, had written “Tár” only for her, during a 12-week sprint in the lockdown stage of early COVID.

In September 2020, Field was driving while on the phone with Blanchett’s agent, Hylda Queally, who’d just delivered the devastating news that her client was booked for the next three years and wouldn’t be able to star in his movie. And then he crashed.

“I think because Hylda felt sad for me doing that, she agreed that if I wasn’t in too bad a physical condition, I could get home and send her the script, and she would read it,” Field says.

That “Tár” started with a car crash feels right, maybe even poetic...

Do you believe that Tár really started with some such car crash?  Granted, it's a Perfect Story—but did it really occur? 

Certainly, it may have happened, but there's no obvious way to know. There's also little way to know what's happening in major parts of Tár—until you read the major reviews, where no such problem is noted.

The kissing of keisters is general through Aurthur's profile. Todd Field kisses Blanchett's keister. Blanchett then kisses his.

Aurthur kisses both their keisters. The stars are looking for Oscar wins, and Aurthur has landed a major profile with two major industry stars. 

To our ear, another secret may start to dribble out in Aurthur's profile: this screenplay may be somewhat challenging. Ther are many such suggestions within this profile, and in the overview Aurthur provided when she recently published the screenplay

(In that overview: "On repeat viewing, Cate Blanchett’s performance as the famous conductor Lydia Tár deepens and becomes more complicated, beautiful and upsetting, as the enigmatic layers of Field’s screenplay continue to unfold for the audience.")

There are "enigmatic layers" to this Oscar-nominated screenplay? Back in Aurthur's profile of Fields and Blanchett, we're quickly told this as well:  

"For the most devoted fans of 'Tár,' it’s a puzzle, a treasure hunt, with clues so subtle you have to freeze the frame to catch them." 

Say what? You have to freeze the frame of the film to solve the puzzle, to win the treasure hunt?

Question: Can you freeze the frame of a film in a large movie theater? For people who aren't its most devoted fans, the film may be less a puzzle, more an annoying miasma. 

At any rate, Aurthur seems to be noting the difficulty of the screenplay at various points in her piece.   You can go on a treasure hunt for such hints. For today, we'll post only this:

AURTHUR: The film’s acting ensemble worked with Field on the backstories of their characters’ relationships so there would be a textured, lived-in feeling to them. Noémie Merlant plays Lydia’s beleaguered assistant, Francesca—an aspiring conductor herself, and one of her boss’s former lovers—and she says it was easy to channel her character’s relationship with Lydia: “I used my admiration for Cate.”

“She’s still in love, my character,” Merlant continues. “She needs time to realize that Lydia is not in love anymore with her.”

The film doesn’t give you easy footholds into understanding what any of those relationships are,” Blanchett says. “So we absolutely had to go into the nuances. And it’s almost like we overwrote all of the scenes in our heads—and then you cut out all the dialogue until it’s sort of like a haiku.” 

Merlant is kissing Blanchett's keister at the start of that passage. At the end, Blanchett seems to be saying that they cut out so much dialogue out of the film that a lot of the scenes are "sort of like a haiku."

For us, the film was sometimes sort of like a haiku with the middle seven syllables missing. For more literate students of film, mileage may conceivably differ—but we saw no critic who warned the rubes that this film would be hard to follow unless you could freeze its frames, making time stand still. 

We'll take a guess:

The rubes who actually went to the film produced zero "word of mouth." Their silence helped lead this film to the fall.

Tár crashed and burned at the box office. The critics adore it still, and there's no reason why they can't or shouldn't. 

But when we first tried to watch this film, we thought we were seeing a minor example of a much larger problem which is currently bringing our society down, much as Lydia Tár crashed to the earth.

Like Cock Robin himself, our society is slipsliding toward perdition. In no small measure thanks to the ideology of our own blue tribe, we're dividing ourselves, again and again, into ever smaller siloed demographic groups.

Each group has its favorite reporters and friends, and its favorite Storylines.

Each group massages logic and fact to serve itself enormous helpings of Story. Very few invidious comparisons seem to get left far behind.

In some small way, is it possible that our nation's upper-end critics are one such siloed group, operating without awareness of, or perhaps regard for, the outlooks and understanding of us the rubes? We think that was one of our reactions when we first tried to watch this film a million years ago.

E pluribus, our modern culture just keeps giving us more such groups. Our high-end critics can't seem to see how this film will appear within the zeitgeist of us the rubes. Either that or, for whatever reason, they know that they mustn't tell.

Out of pluribus, we keep building additional silos around additional subgroups. Can a large, major nation really expect to function in this way? We'll answer your question as always do: 

Go ahead—take a good look around!

Are schoolkids asking for litter boxes?


Remarkably strange beliefs: What follows is, or should be, deeply depressing. It's a note about Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl-winning former NFL head coach.

On a personal basis, Dungy has always been highly regarded within NFL circles. He's also a Christian conservative, but what follows isn't intended as a commentary on his past or present political judgments.

What follows is a commentary on something he apparently believed. Here's the start of a recent report from the Indianapolis Star:

FRANK (1/21/23): Tony Dungy, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, apologized Saturday for a since-deleted comment on Twitter earlier in the week regarding a proposed Minnesota state bill requiring menstrual products in boys' school bathrooms.

"This past week I posted a tweet that I subsequently deleted. I issued an apology but not everyone saw it," Dungy's tweet stated. "So I am reposting my apology here. As a Christian I want to be a force for love to everyone. A force for healing and reconciliation-not for animosity."

As part of his apology that was made the day after his deleted tweet, Dungy said, "As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry."

Dungy's original comment about the subject stated: "That's nothing," Dungy tweeted at 9:38 a.m. Wednesday. "Some school districts are putting litter boxes in the school bathrooms for students who identify as cats. Very important to address every student's needs."

By 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dungy deleted his cat litter tweet which was in response to a Daily Wire video showing Minnesota State Rep. Sandra Feist advocating for menstrual items in boys' school bathrooms.

Should public schools have menstrual products inside boys' bathrooms? Presumably, most people can probably see why that proposal would strike many people as strange.

That's not what we're talking about! We're talking about the fact that Dungy apparently believed the claim which has been going around, according to which some districts now have litter boxes in public school bathrooms (and classrooms) for kids who identify as cats.

By any normal measure, Tony Dungy plainly isn't "stupid." On a personal basis, he's long been highly regarded by most people who know him.

That said, he was somehow able to believe the claim about the public school litter boxes. He believed it to the point where he was willing to post a tweet complaining about the practice.

For better or worse, we all live in an age of "new anthropology." The rise of talk radio and social media have created a world in which crazy claims are persistently all around us—and many people believe them.

This strikes us as a new and profound anthropological learning. It was hard to know that we human are able to believe anything, no matter how transparently nutty, until the Internet came along and put the matter to a test.

There's nothing we humans won't believe! This strikes us as a major new learning. It also represents a terrible, daunting challenge to our political system.

For the record, weird belief isn't confined to red tribe people, the ones who live Over There. Our own tribe has its own widespread forms of unfortunate bogus belief.

(Did you hear the one about the crazily racist white medical students?)

There seems to be no claim which is so transparently nutty or improbable that lots of people won't believe it, especially at times of tribal stress. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans aren't "the rational animal," and it looks like we never were!

"Man [sic] is the rational animal?" Way back when, at the dawn of the west, was that the original transparently wacky belief?

GROUPS V. GROUPS: What did the critics fail to say?


A nation of siloed groups: How hard can it be to follow the action in the critically-acclaimed—and Oscar-nominated—very long feature film, Tár?

The film goes on for a very long time (158 minutes). In our experience, it's also quite hard to follow. 

Forgive us as we walk you through one minor event in the film—a minor event, or set of events, which we finally deciphered during our second weekend of viewing. 

The events in question occur near the start of the very long (fictional) film. It seems to us that they help to raise an important question about one siloed, very American, contemporary population group.

Aa we've noted, the movie opens with a series of frequently highbrow discussions. In the third of these four discussions, the famous conductor Lydia Tár is luncheoning in New York City with Eliot Kaplan, a philanthropist with whom she runs a foundation and a would-be conductor himself.

Their conversation jumps all about, as will happen with conversations between close associates. For better or worse, the conversation is littered with references which will almost surely be obscure, if not opaque, to almost all moviegoers.

Eventually, it becomes clear that Kaplan wants to know how Tár managed to pull so much "from the strings in the last movement" of some unspecified composition in some apparently recent performance with "the Israeli Phil." 

(The piece in question may be "Mahler Three," whatever that is.) 

"How did you get them there? Was it the hall? The players?" Eliot asks, as you can in the official screenplay

Tár doesn't seem to want to share her secret, but so what? Eliot continues to ask for a chance to review her "notes," whatever they might be. Along the way, this happens:

KAPLAN: What time are you heading back tomorrow?

TÁR: Francesca’s looking into flights [from New York back to Berlin].

ELIOT: Call her off. Leave when you like.

TÁR: You don’t have to do that.

ELIOT: My motives are far from altruistic. Just a peek. One peek at your performing score?

Eventually, Tár  seems to give in to Eliot's request. (Moviegoers may not understand that fact, based on the limited dialogue). She seems to say that she'll let Eliot see her "performing score" later that day, at 5:15 p.m. 

From there, the lunchmates engage in some derisive insider chatter about the playing technique of someone named Sebastian. Among other alleged problems, Sebastian "truly is Mr. Tempo-rubato," and he's also in the grip of "nostalgia for pre-war Kalmus miniature scores." 

As the luncheon scene ends, Tár finally seems to tell Eliot the secret of her success with the Israeli Phil. It was apparently based on "free bowing," whatever the heck that is. 

From there, the movie moves to a lengthy insidery discussion during a class at the Juilliard. Before long, the next morning arrives. Tár and an assistant, in a car, execute this grumbling exchange:

TÁR (not happy): When were you informed of this?

FRANCESCA: Just this morning. Mr. Kaplan was very apologetic. I was able to get us on the seven a.m. you like through Munich. The connection’s short, but special services are standing by.

"Where are things with DG?" the unhappy Tár now asks. No one explains what DG means, though we eventually figured it out.

We were finally able to decipher these events, though not until our second weekend of watching this very long film. As best we can tell at this time, what has happened is this:

The wealthy Eliot has told Tár, at the start of that posted exchange, that she can fly back to Berlin, whenever she likes, on his private jet. Perhaps in a bit of a trade, she then agrees that he can review her performing score later that afternoon.

The following day, it turns out that the offer of the private flight has somehow fallen through. Tár is grumbling with Francesca, her aide, as they're headed to the airport to take a commercial flight.

Is that what actually happened there? We're fairly sure that it is, though we wouldn't bet grandmother's farm on this interpretation.

We'll also guess that few moviegoers will understand this upon a first viewing—and this is just one tiny example of the million-and-one parts of this film which are quite hard to decipher, disentangle, digest.

For the record, this question of the private jet has absolutely nothing to do with insider technicalities of classical music. 

We'll guess that the technicalities of classical music create constant problems of comprehension for the typical moviegoer. That said, the film is also hard to follow on the basis of simple private events in the life of Lydia Tár and those with whom she's surrounded as her brilliant career in classical music—and among the Shipibo-Konibo—comes crashing to the ground.

The fictional Tár's brilliant career comes crashing down in the course of this very long film. The film Tár also came crashing down when it arrived in North American movie theaters last fall. 

We're going to guess that the film received exactly zero (good) "word of mouth" from the people who actually showed up to watch it. That might explain why a film which upper-end critics had praised to the skies crashed and burned at the box office in the manner shown:

Domestic box office, Best Picture nominees
Top Gun: Maverick:  $718.7 million
Avatar: The Way of Water: $598.4 million
Elvis: $151.0 million
Everything Everywhere All At Once: $70.0 million
The Fabelmans:  $15.0 million (to date)
The Banshees of Inisherin: $9.4 million
Tár: $5.9 million

If Elvis hasn't quite left the building; Tár barely got in the door. 

At the New York Times and then at Variety, this box office failure has been written off as the fate of "highbrow films" in the age of covid. That said, we'll guess that the bizarre obscurity of this film is a rather large part of the package.

Full disclosure! In a few of the provinces, including Variety, some writers have possibly begun to hint at the difficulty of this Oscar-nominated film and its Oscar-nominated screenplay. Tomorrow, we'll look at the fleeting admissions which can perhaps be found in this aspic-kissing Variety profile, in which, or at least as its headline insists:

Cate Blanchett and Todd Field Lift the Curtain on Their Oscar-Season Masterpiece

In that aspic-kissing profile, Variety kisses the aspic of Fields and Blanchett as Fields and Blanchett bang the drum in search of Oscar nominations and/or wins.

A few weeks later, the Oscar nods came. For us, a question lingers:

Why did so many mainstream critics fail to note a fairly obvious fact? Why did they fail to say that this very lengthy feature film may be extremely hard to decipher, even for those who may jump at the chance to see a "highbrow film?" 

Why did the nation's high-end critics fail to mention this fact as they spilled with praise for this rather strange film? Is it possible that they failed to notice this problem as they sat and watched the film, perhaps with press kits in their hands and sugarplums dancing in their heads about future interview sessions?

Meanwhile, how about this?

Is it possible that we're the ones who are wrong? Is it possible that the feature film Tár really isn't especially hard to decipher? 

Everything's possible all at once, but in defense of our supposition, we'll offer those box office figures again. Tomorrow, we'll show you the peculiar semi-admissions which turned up in that ascot-kissing Variety profile.

Once again, we direct you to those remarkably puny gate receipts! As we do, we pose a question about our failing nation's high-end, erudite film critics:

Our very large nation is rapidly devolving into a large array of siloed demographic groups. From that, these questions follow:

Can a very large nation really hope to function that way? Also, did the critics, journalists all, in this and perhaps in other cases, maybe perhaps and possibly behave as one such cosseted group?

Tomorrow: E pluribus, even more of the same

Fani Willis disappears!


Our blue tribe's sad "advice universe:" Starting yesterday afternoon, it was one of the hottest topics in blue tribe cable news.

Down in Georgia, Fani Willis had seemed to say that there were going to be indictments in her probe of TrumpWorld's attempted interventions in that state's 2020 White House race.

During a court session, Willis spoke of "future defendants" and said "decisions are imminent." This was treated as major news—by CNN, to cite one example:

‘Decisions are imminent’ on charges in Trump’s effort to overturn 2020 election in Georgia, Fulton County DA says

But also by Politico, and also even by Forbes:

‘Decisions are imminent’: Georgia prosecutor nears charging decisions in Trump probe

Will Trump Be Indicted In Georgia? Fulton County DA Suggests ‘Multiple’ People Could ‘Imminently’ Face Charges In 2020 Election Probe

Nicolle and her very favorite friends puzzled about what "imminent" might be taken to mean in this context. Other discussions followed last night.

Because we don't completely trust our favorite friends, we were eager to see how the daily newspapers might cover this topic today. Our answer:

The New York Times reported on the court hearing in question, but it didn't mention Willis' statement that charging decisions are imminent. Having said that, good God!

Willis' statements haven't been reported at all by the Washington Post. Our print edition of today's Post contains no report on yesterday's court hearing. In the devolving online Washington Post, Willis' name doesn't even appear in the paper's search engine over the past week.

As we type, if you scan the online Washington Post, you don't even know that a hearing was held at all, or that Willis has made any statements! What you get instead its lots and lots of advice:

You get advice columns up the yinyang. Increasingly, the online Post is selling dumbnified advice columns and increasingly little else.

The Washington Post is going this way in the total absence of commentary from any blue tribe observers. Meanwhile, the situation over at Slate is possibly even more instructive—instructive but pitiful, sad.

At the rapidly devolving Slate, the children are currently celebrating an occasion they're calling Advice Week—"Slate's celebration of all things advice." 

The site's trademark stupidity is on full display. The gong show started with this:

It’s Advice Week! We Have Big Plans for You.
That’s right! Even more advice.

In that kick-off report, Paola de Varona shared the news about all the extras we'll be getting during this special week. That includes even more advice!

A few days later, the addled editor of the failing site dumbspoke her way through this interview with de Varona, headlines included:

The Editor Behind Slate’s Many, Many Advice Columns
An interview with Paola de Varona.

Long before I was the editor in chief of Slate, I was a devoted reader, and Dear Prudence was at the top of my list of Slate favorites, along with departed features.... So when I got here last year, I was so excited to understand how Dear Prudence—and Slate’s entire wonderful advice universe—is still so damn good and useful.

The person with the answers is our own Paola de Varona...

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our species' capacity for cosseted dumbness comes close to knowing no limit. Briefly, let's be candid:

The various "departed features" the editor cites no longer exist at Slate because they weren't sufficiently stupid. They've left behind a rapidly growing "advice universe"—the kind of piddle you apparently have to publish to get blue tribe readers to click.

The Washington Post is becoming an "advice universe" too—and as this happens, no one is making a sound. As of noon today, Willis' statements couldn't be found anywhere at all within the devolving Post. 

Increasingly, Tucker Carlson is out of his mind in the red tribe's tents. As our nation slides toward the sea, our own astoundingly self-impressed tribe is dumbly responding with this.

GROUPS V. GROUPS: What were those characters talking about?


Only the Shadow knew: Even in the age of covid, certain films sell lots of tickets in their theatrical runs.

Certain films can still make money at the domestic box office! According to Box Office Mojo, these nominees for this year's Best Picture Oscar did sell quite a few tickets:

Domestic box office, Best Picture nominees
Top Gun: Maverick:  $718.7 million
Avatar: The Way of Water: $598.4 million
Elvis: $151.0 million

Elvis hasn't quite left the building yet, according to those gate receipts.

Certain films—possibly, certain types of films—can still put keisters into soda-stained seats. Other nominees for Best Picture performed a bit less well:

Domestic box office, Best Picture nominees
Everything Everywhere All At Once: $70.0 million
The Fabelmans:  $15.0 million (to date)
The Banshees of Inisherin: $9.4 million
Tár: $5.9 million

Other Best Picture nominees have done even less well. But the critically acclaimed feature film Tár severely crashed and burned at the box office, despite the torrent of praise. 

We don't think it's hard to know why. We also think there's something significant to be learned from all that unrequited critical praise.

As we've already noted, we rented and watched Tár over the past two weekends. In fact, we watched and watched and watched the film, in an attempt—an attempt which wasn't always successful—to figure out what was happening in the lauded fictional film.

In part, we rented the film out of curiosity about the reactions to the film of a telephone interlocutor in the Hudson Valley and her circle of friends. 

As best we could tell from what we were told, they had basically loathed the film. After our initial attempt at watching Tár, we felt we likely knew why.

Has there ever been a major feature film which seemed to work so hard to keep its contents inaccessible to all put a few moviegoers? On our first viewing of Todd Fields' film, we began to fast forward about twelve minutes in. 

The film's official screenplay—it was made available to Variety—helps us show you what was happening as we briefly speeded ahead.

In the film's initial scene, a great (fictional) conductor, Lydia Tár, is being interviewed before a rapt audience by The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik (playing himself). According to the screenplay, here's part of what was going on when we decided to speed ahead:

GOPNIK: Tough question, I know, but what was the most important thing you learned from Bernstein?

TAR: Kavanah. It’s Hebrew for attention to meaning, or intent. What are the composer’s priorities, what are yours?

GOPNIK: "Kavanah." I think many in our audience may have other associations with that word.

TAR: Yes, I’d imagine so.

GOPNIK: The first conductors on the scene weren’t all that important, right?

TAR: Yes, that’s right. By default it was the job of the principal violinist.

GOPNIK: When does that change? And why?

TAR: With the French composer Jean Baptiste Lully, who reportedly used a rather enormous, rather pointy staff to pound the tempi into the floor. It’s not something I imagine the players particularly appreciated. Anyway, that technique ended during a performance when he accidentally stabbed himself in the foot with the thing and died of gangrene.

(Audience laughs)

But the conductor becomes essential as the ensembles get bigger. And once again, we go back to Beethoven. 

(Sings opening of Fifth) 

Doesn’t start with the eighth note. The downbeat’s silent. Someone had to start that clock. Now when that someone was Lenny, the orchestra was  led on the most extraordinary tour of pleasures. He knew the music, Mahler especially, as well, or better, than anyone. And of course, deeply and truly loved it. So he often played with the form. He wanted an orchestra to feel like they’d never seen, let alone heard, or performed, any of that music. So he’d do radical things, like disregarding the tempo primo and ending a phrase molto ritardando.

GOPNIK: He over-egged it?

TAR: No, not at all. 

Bernstein disregarded the tempo primo. He ended a phrase molto ritardando, but he didn't over-egg it!

So this screenplay goes and goes, then goes and goes and goes. For the record, Gopnik's remark about the audience's associations with the word Kavanah is a remark about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or at least so we came to believe over the course of time.

(In the film, the audience murmurs when Gopnik makes that remark.)

As we noted yesterday, Justin Chang is very bright reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and NPR. In his review for the Times, he says he loved the film. 

In Chang's assessment, the pacing of this widely praised film is andante. On our first attempt to watch the film, we found the pacing to be interminably slow—and we found the content, again and again, to be basically incomprehensible.

Has there ever been a major film which involves so much "insider" technical talk, whether from the world of classical music or from some other (siloed) part of our vastly varied contemporary world? 

Tár opens with a (very long) series of scenes in which the (often opaque) technical talk is (rather remarkably) general. 

How opaque can the discourse get? The film begins with Gopnik's introduction of Tár—and his intro begins like this:

GOPNIK: If you’re here, then you know who she is. 

One of the most important musical figures of our era, Lydia Tár is many things: a piano performance graduate of the Curtis Institute, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard. And she earned her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Vienna, specializing in indigenous music from the Ucayali Valley in Eastern Peru, where she spent five years amongst the Shipibo-Konibo.

She spent five years amongst the Shipibo-Konibo? We're prepared to admit that we didn't quite know who that was or is. (For edification, click here.) 

Tár spent five years in the Ucayali Valley. Continuing, Gopnik says this:

GOPNIK (continuing directly): As a conductor, Tár began her career with the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the so-called Big Five in the United States. A string of important posts followed at the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and New York Philharmonic. With the latter, she organized the Highway 10 refugee concerts in Zaatari—concerts attended by over seventy-five thousand people.

She organized the Highway 10 refugee concerts in Zaatari? After doing a bit of checking, we ended up knowing this:

The Zaatari refugee camp is a refugee camp in Jordan, located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Mafraq, which has gradually evolved into a permanent settlement; it is the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees.

Within the context of the film, that may help explain why Tár and her partner have a 6-year-old adopted Syrian daughter. 

Well—the screenplay says the daughter is Syrian. As far as we know at the present time, nothing in the film itself actually tells us that, though we may get a tiny hint of the adorable child's status if we understand the film's one fleeting use of the term "Biodeutsche."

Tár starts with a lengthy introduction of Lydia Tár, the film's (fictional) main character. To our ear, it almost plays like a parody of a type of pompous high-end introduction, and it's entirely possible that that was the director's intent. 

(Or then again, possibly not!)

From there, the film meanders through a succession of scenes clogged with references which will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of moviegoers—even to moviegoers who will react favorably to widespread critical praise for a "highbrow film."

After Gopnik's lengthy introduction of Lydia Tár, her actual interview with Gopnik runs something like eight or nine minutes. At one point, we briefly fast-forwarded through part of that interminable insider discussion.

Alas! That discussion was followed by an insidery exchange with an enraptured fan of Tár, with whom Tár has a sexual exchange that evening (or then again possibly doesn't). After that, we watch an insidery luncheon discussion with a philanthropist funder of Tár who is also a minor conductor himself. 

From there, we move to a very insidery session at Juilliard, during which Tár engages in a rather hostile exchange with a BIPOC pangender student conductor. And so on and so on from there.

At this point, we'll take a guess:

We'll guess that the average consumer of highbrow films will have little sense of what has been discussed to this point in the film, which has now been running for something like half an hour. (Because our second rental of the film has ended, we can't provide precise time.)

For the record, it isn't just the technical discussions of classical music—and of endless classical music figures—which will almost surely leave the average consumer of highbrow films at sea as this film proceeds. 

It's also the unexplained, insidery aspects of the bureaucracy of classical orchestras—of their audition procedures, for instance—and it's the speed with which the film flits through various events which are supposed to let us know where the film is headed on the personal level.

We'll offer an example or two tomorrow. For today, these points:

Have we ever seen a feature film which seemed to be so weirdly designed to keep its theatergoing audience wholly in the dark? 

Upon our first attempt to watch this film, we gave up after roughly an hour: We didn't have the slightest idea what was transpiring in the film, on any particular level.

Others may have been able to watch with more comprehension and care. But as we later told our interlocutor in the Hudson Valley, we pitied the moviegoers who had seen this lauded film cold—who had actually sat through this lengthy film in an actual movie theater.

Such people couldn't do what we did—they couldn't stop the film, then come back the following day after performing substantial background research as to what is allegedly taking place in the lengthy film. 

Indeed, even after our background research, we still found it hard to understand various scenes as we returned to this puzzling film. So it went on our winter vacation as we tried to watch Tár.

We watched and watched and watched and watched Tár through the past two weekends. After that, we may have watched it a little bit more.

Eventually, we pretty much came to understand what was occurring in various scenes (or then again, maybe not). That said, we have no idea how anyone could have followed the film upon a single traditional viewing in a movie theater.

This left us with a bit of a puzzle concerning the ecstatic way the film had been reviewed.

Justin Chang is very bright. As we noted yesterday, he said, in his review for the Los Angeles Times, that the film's 158 minutes "flew by like a dream" for him.

We don't doubt that claim. We'll also guess that this film flew by for very few people who went to a movie theater to see it. We'll guess that this may help explain the egg it laid at the box office.

For Chang, the film flew by like a dream, even including "the long, teasing reveal of an opening sequence" in which Tár is interviewed by Gopnik.

For us, the film was almost wholly unapproachable, very strangely so. We didn't find its pacing andante. For us, the pacing was glacial, if we may use a metaphor which may be on the way out, in large part thanks to our ongoing societal breakdown.

For us, that raised a question about the other critics who praised the film without noting this blindingly obvious problem with its basic construction. Also, it almost seemed to be teaching a lesson concerning the increasing existence of siloed groups in this, our failing age.

What were those characters talking about in those various scenes? Only the Shadow—and the nation's high-end critics—seemed to think they knew.

Tomorrow: Through a glass very darkly

George is the one whose shoes got stolen!


Rachel's the one who got drunk: Yesterday, we showed you Gail and Bret's assessments of the Biden classified documents.

Today, we'll consider their takes regarding George Santos. After discussing Biden's documents, the pair continued as shown:

STEPHENS (1/24/23): Switching to Republican embarrassments, Gail, we never got around to talking about George Santos, Republican of Long Island. I’m not sure there’s anything new to say about the sad, surreal, scuzzy, scamming, shameless, soulless man that he is. But boy, what a comment on today’s Republican Party.

COLLINS: Well, Bret, a lying, weird Republican who seems to have made up almost everything in his biography including his prowess at volleyball would have been your problem in a different era. But you’ve spent so much of your time crusading against the deficiencies in your old party, you’re the last one I could blame.

STEPHENS: The G.O.P. should be renamed B.T.P., for Bermuda Triangle Party. Enter it, weird stuff happens, and you go straight to the bottom.

COLLINS: To be honest, he’s so terrible I’m kinda fascinated. And the writers for all the late-night comedy shows really do owe Santos some gratitude for making their lives so easy lately.

Pretty clear the House Republicans don’t think they can afford to lose him, though. Any chance they’ll take the high ground?

STEPHENS: I’d be surprised. George Santos is what you inevitably get once you’ve already normalized Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Lauren Boebert and “Space Laser” Greene. After them, what’s another pathological liar, more or less?

For the past several years, we've been deeply involved in what might be called "the anthropology of human intelligence." These lazy assessments of Santos strike us as the latest case in point.

Collins and Stephens bang the drum in the simplest possible way concerning the conduct of Santos.  

According to Stephens, the fabulizing House member is "sad, surreal, scuzzy, scamming, shameless and soulless." To Collins, he's just another "lying Republican." 

Indeed, Santos "seems to have made up almost everything in his biography," the insightful Times columnist notes.

Collins also resorts to the most simple-minded possible fallback, saying the late-night shows owe Santos a debt of gratitude for making their job so easy. This is the kind of hackwork in which these limited lifeforms used to engage when they were pretending that Candidate Gore was also the world's biggest liar.

Does it make sense to think that Santos is just another run-of-the-mill liar? Stephens even refers to Santos at one point as a "pathological liar," but so what? Even the use of that psychiatric term doesn't stop the pundit pair from engaging in what we'd be inclined to call "the moralization of everything."

Is there really such a thing as a "pathological (compulsive) liar?" Given the craziness of his various claims, Santos would certainly seem to be some such creature.

That said, the world of our upper-end mainstream press is so compulsively unintelligent that its denizens don't seem to recognize the realm of mental illness and personality disorder, even when they use terms explicitly drawn from that branch of medical science. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our human capacities turn out to be extremely limited. That brings us to Rachel Maddow, who entertained the masses with the latest videotape of Santos last night.

At this point, Rachel only works one night per week. Last night, she burned a healthy chunk of her program wasting time on Santos.

She played a videotape of Santos making deeply ludicrous claims in a recent interview session for a Brazilian podcast. (It was an exclusive!) She rolled her eyes, then mugged and clowned, about all the new fun she had found.

Just so you can keep them straight:

Santos is the one who now claims that he had his shoes stolen, in broad daylight, on New York City's Fifth Avenue. Also, that he survived an assassination attempt.

Maddow is the one who told us the crazy tale about the way she bought her first TV set, with the channel backing her up. (She and Susan got blackout drunk and ordered the set from Amazon. Why else would she ever have bought one?) 

Also, she had no idea why her (inaccurate) claim about the gender wage gap had been challenged on Meet the Press. The following night, her performance in defense of her misstatement was one of the most complex snow jobs in the long and ridiculous history of "cable news." 

You may need a scorecard to keep these lifeforms separate. Such is the way of human intelligence and our failing culture, top major experts insist.

"Surreal is one word for it," Rachel said last night. If not for our anthropological knowledge, we might tend to agree with that statement!

GROUPS V. GROUPS: A telephone talk concerning Tár!


A fire bell in the night: Long ago and far away, we received a telephone call concerning the critically acclaimed feature film, Tár.

In fact, the telephone call to which we refer most likely occurred in November. Our interlocutor had seen the film at a movie theater in the Hudson Valley with a group of her friends. 

It seemed clear that they had all disliked the film, perhaps to the point of having been offended in some way. But our correspondent wasn't real clear about the reason for this apparent reaction. 

Two weeks ago, we saw that Tár had become available, through On Demand, for what seemed to be the surprisingly low price of $5.99 for a two-day rental. We began to watch around 7 p.m. on Friday, January 13.

By minute 14 on our rental—maybe 12 minutes into the actual film—we were already fast-forwarding. We quit watching the film that night after a bit more than an hour. 

The next day, we started over, after getting a clearer idea of what was apparently taking place in the widely praised film.

Good grief! If we had gone to see Tár at The Charles, we would never have stayed all the way to the end. 

After an hour of watching at home, we had little idea of what was happening in the film. Even after watching the film several times over the past two weekends; even after schooling ourselves concerning its alleged contents; even after reading the official screenplay, which was recently published by Variety; there are still parts of the film we can't quite see or explain.

After our first weekend of viewing, we offered condolences to the friend who sat through Tár in that Hudson Valley theater. 

It seemed to us that watching Tár would be a painful and maddening experience for the typical moviegoer, even for the typical moviegoer attracted to a "highbrow film." In support of our judgment on this matter, we'll go ahead and post these excerpts from the leading authority on this topic, as we did in yesterday's report:

On Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of 283 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's consensus reads, "Led by the soaring melody of Cate Blanchett's note-perfect performance, Tár riffs brilliantly on the discordant side of fame-fueled power." Metacritic...assigned the film a score of 92 out of 100, based on 59 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." 


The film, in general release and about to be released internationally, has to date made 6.3 million dollars...

The New York Times estimated the total budget of the film at $35 million and argued that Tár and similar highbrow films "failed to find an audience big enough to justify their costs." Some commentators attributed the poor box office performance to the film's subject matter alienating a general audience, while others noted a larger trend in art house releases faring poorly during their cinematic runs following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact: according to Box Office Mojo, Tár seems to have earned $5.9 million in its North American theatrical run, which is now essentially over. 

Even allowing for the ways moviegoing has changed in the wake of the covid pandemic, it seems surprising to us that a film which received such widespread critical acclaim could crash and burn to that extent at the domestic box office.

Why did this widely lauded film crash and burn at the gate in the way it did? Why were we ourselves fast-forwarding after only 12 minutes? Why did we give up after an hour, deciding we'd have to conduct some background research before we could work our way through the film?

Also, why did so many high-end critics praise the film as they did, without commenting on the rather difficult terrain it offers the moviegoer? 

As we fought our way through such questions, we thought that we had wandered into an allegory for our times—for an age in which a very large, continental nation has been devolving into an increasing array of smaller, siloed groups.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," the poet once famously said. Can a giant nation expect to function as a collection of walled-off groups? 

We're going to guess that the answer is no. If you think the answer is yes, we're going to quote Bruce Springsteen again:

Go ahead! "Take a good look around."

Tomorrow, we're going to start to try to tell you why we began fast-forwarding. For today, we're going to show you some excerpts from Justin Chang's highly articulate review of Tár in the Los Angeles Times.

Justin Chang is very bright—and he loved the film. "A lot of people I've spoken to about Tár were thrown off by the ending, even those who love the movie as much as I do," he said in a review for NPR's Fresh Air.

Chang reviewed Tár for NPR and for the Los Angeles Times. Here are some of the things he said in his longer newspaper review:

CHANG (10/6/22): It’s not until an hour into “Tلr” that we see the title character—a classical conductor known the world over as Lydia Tلr and played by an unimprovable Cate Blanchett—do what she was born to do. It’s an astonishing performance nestled inside another: In one shot, Lydia towers like a colossus over the podium and the camera, her face visible only to the musicians seated off-screen, her arms spread wide as if she were embracing or perhaps possessing the world. Classical music buffs, who will have a particular field day with this movie, will also have sharper observations than mine on the merits of Blanchett’s posture and baton technique. But this actor doesn’t even need to lift a baton, or approach a podium, to make us feel we’re in the presence of a singularly gifted musical body and mind.

A lesser movie—and one of the weird pleasures of “” is that you can’t stop imagining the lesser movie it so easily might have been—would have introduced Lydia in full-blown maestro mode, so as to convince us of her genius at the outset. But writer-director Todd Field takes that genius as a given and trusts we’ll do the same; he respects the intelligence of the audience as surely as he does the magnificence of his star. And that respect is clear from the long, teasing reveal of an opening sequence: an onstage Q&A moderated by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself) that ushers us, with tasteful chuckles and radio-smooth applause, into Lydia’s rarefied cultural sphere. 

Full disclosure! It was during "the long, teasing reveal of [that] opening sequence"—that introduction into Lydia’s "rarefied cultural sphere"—that our initial act of fast forwarding occurred. 

For the record, we aren't "classical music buffs," but Chang says he isn't one either. 

At any rate, what was "long" for Chang was interminable for us—and we'd have to say that that opening sequence, and several others which quickly followed, struck us as very strange.  

Chang felt that Field was showing that he respects the intelligence of the audience. Our own reaction is substantially different—but at any rate, Chang also offers this:

CHANG: And now Field, bringing a 16-year absence from filmmaking to a well-deserved end, has imagined Lydia’s inner and outer worlds with a clarity and rigor that makes 158 minutes fly by like a dream. If “time is the essential piece of interpretation,” as Lydia claims early on, then this filmmaker’s own mastery of cinematic time is worth singling out. So, for that matter, are the cool, somber precision of Florian Hoffmeister’s images, the fluidity of Monika Willi’s editing and the sleek, luxurious chill of Marco Bittner Rosser’s production design. If there’s a reason this movie flows so absorbingly, even with its decidedly andante pacing, it may be that Field’s storytelling draws no artificial distinction between the big and the small, the important and the mundane; everything we see and hear matters. And because each moment serves at least two purposes—“Tár” is both a superb character study and a highly persuasive piece of world building—you may well find yourself marveling at Field’s economy.

To Chang, the pacing was andante. On our first attempt to this widely praised film, the pacing was unbearably slow—and we almost thought we might be hearing a fire bell for our country, off somewhere in the night.

Justin Chang is very bright, and he's an experienced reviewer. For him, the 158 minutes flew by. For us, we had to watch Tár again and again to figure out what was occurring.

When we spoke again with our interlocutor, we offered our condolences to her and her whole party. It seemed to us that going into a theater to try to watch this (lengthy) film would turn out to be, for most people, a frustrating, painful experience.

Lizard brains may tend to insist that we have to be wrong. In support of our reaction, we'll off this evidence once again:

Among high-end critics, this film was praised to the skies—and beyond. But based on the North American gate, we'll guess that no one ever got on the phone and told their friends that they just had to go see it.

Full disclosure: We aren't saying that Chang's assessments are "wrong." We're saying what Thoreau said, right at the start of Walden, concerning everyone else:

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.

We're not entirely sure what that means. But it seems to mean that a sincere reaction, described sincerely, will always come as a surprise. 

We don't doubt the sincerity of Chang's reaction to this Oscar-nominated film. We'll admit that, based upon past experience, we're a bit suspicious of the general critical reaction, a point we'll touch upon before the week is done.

That said, we don't think a giant nation can long endure if its population separates itself into an array of disparate groups walled off from one another. We'll also say this about Tár :

We don't think we've ever seen a major film which worked so hard to make its contents inaccessible to "the mass of men" (and women!) who might show up in a movie theater, or pay six dollars at home.

Tomorrow: Concerning the andante paving of that long, teasing reveal