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The Two Americas: The White Lotus Fans and Reacher Fans
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.Today’s special guest is David French, a contributing writer and the author of the newsletter The Third Rail. He’s a football fan who has critiqued what he calls the NFL’s “good ol’ boy problem” and extensively covered First Amendment issues, including the Republican turn against free speech. David loves living in the worlds of both The White Lotus and The Terminal List, and claims that true history dads read books about World War I, while true nerds read Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic: You should probably wait to buy a home. Instagram is over. What kind of man was Anthony Bourdain? David French’s Culture SurveyWhat my friends are talking about most right now: One of the things that most interests me about American culture is a different formulation of the “two Americas” concept. Instead of red and blue, it’s online and offline. As Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy demonstrated in their brilliant 2019 analysis of the Democratic primary electorate, there are distinct political differences between people who spend considerable time on social media versus those who do not. That exact principle applies to entertainment as well.In my online world, I see a conversation dominated by debates over The Rings of Power versus House of the Dragon. If you’re really into prestige television, you’ll have participated in more than one conversation about Apple TV+’s show Severance (which is marvelous, by the way).Offline, to the extent anyone talks about streaming more than they talk about football (which is rare), I hear far more about Amazon Prime shows such as Reacher or The Terminal List, action-packed shows that can be essentially summed up with the description “Deadly warrior on a quest for justice.”Frankly, I love living in both worlds. So let’s start the night with college football; check out Amazon Prime’s latest action thriller, The Peripheral; and then end with HBO Max’s The White Lotus and a discussion about the exploitative amorality of America’s elite. And if you’re wondering how you can do your job, raise your kids, and maintain that kind of pop-culture commitment, always remember that sleep is for the weak. [Related: The powerful, unlikely force shaping modern TV]My favorite blockbuster and favorite art movie: I’ve got a confession. I don’t watch art movies. I haven’t really seen many since I was dating my wife and tried to convince her that I had a sophisticated cinematic palate by watching Woody Allen movies. As soon as she said yes, it was back to blockbusters. The first movie we watched together after we exchanged vows was the original Independence Day, a film far more glorious than anything I’ve ever seen with subtitles or set in the sitting room of an English aristocrat.But a blockbuster art movie? That’s the stuff. Those are the best films of all time, and the apex of the genre used to be the original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. I’m still haunted by the beauty and finality of Rutger Hauer’s death soliloquy as Roy Batty: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe … Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion … I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain … Time to die.”But there’s a new champion for best blockbuster art film, and that’s Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 film, Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The premise is simple—aliens arrive, and the world needs linguists to try to communicate with the interstellar visitors. What you watch is one of the most moving and thought-provoking films ever placed on the silver screen. My family still talks about the concepts of time and destiny embedded in the film, and it contains a message of profound meaning—fierce love is worth deep pain. [Related: Arrival’s timely message about empathy] Arrival "contains a message of profound meaning—fierce love is worth deep pain." (Jan Thijs / Paramount Pictures) The best work of nonfiction I’ve recently read, and the best novel: As a middle-aged dad and young grandfather, in some ways my reading habits are completely clichéd. I like World War II histories (I just finished Paul Kennedy’s new history of the naval war in World War II, Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II), but everyone knows the true hard-core history dads read books about World War I.I highly recommend a 2014 book by Alexander Watson. I just discovered Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, and it’s one of the relatively few books that tracks the war from the perspective of the Central Powers. I don’t view the Allied victory as inevitable in either world conflict, so it was fascinating for me to gain greater insight into the strategic choices and grave mistakes that led to Germany’s defeat and Austria-Hungary’s dissolution.As for fiction, if you claim to be a nerd and haven’t discovered Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series, then I doubt your credentials. It’s got everything I love—compelling characters, rich world-building, powerful magic, and epic battles. And after you catch up on the The Stormlight Archive, read his older series The Mistborn Saga. But set aside a month or so—there are a lot of pages in those stories. [Related: The imperial mind: A historian’s education in the ways of empire]A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: We’ve been living through a season of loss, and there’s an older song by a Northern Irish Christian musician named Robin Mark that has affected me from the first moments I truly faced my own mortality when I deployed to Iraq. It’s called “When It’s All Been Said and Done,” and its simple lyrics challenge us to consider our legacy. When it’s all been said or done, did we live for truth or for treasure?As for a loud song, I just finished creating a playlist called “Old and Awesome,” and it includes all of my favorite songs from my teen years to my life as a young adult. The newest song is “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen. It can be loud or quiet, but I prefer the loud version. There are precious few songs about tragedy (in this case, the doomed “rising” of the firefighters up the burning World Trade Center towers on 9/11) that are quite so defiant, demonstrating there is something majestic about courage and that we live our lives with both a sense of purpose and eternal hope. It’s magnificent. [Related: Bruce Springsteen and the art of aging well]The Week Ahead Stella Maris, the second of Cormac McCarthy’s interconnected new novels (Tuesday) George & Tammy, a series about country music’s George Jones and Tammy Wynette, starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon (premieres tonight on Showtime) Empire of Light, Sam Mendes’s new film starring Olivia Colman (in theaters Friday) Essay (ScreenProd / Alamy) The Most Overhyped Space MovieBy Marina Koren As the outer-space correspondent at The Atlantic, I spend a lot of time looking beyond Earth’s atmosphere. I’ve watched footage of a helicopter flying on Mars. I’ve watched a livestream of NASA smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid on purpose. I’ve seen people blast off on rockets with my own eyes. But I have never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is an enormous oversight, apparently. The 1968 film is considered one of the greatest in history and its director, Stanley Kubrick, a cinematic genius. And, obviously, it’s about space. Surely a space reporter should see it—and surely a reporter should take notes. Read the full articleMore In Culture Seven books that will make you smarter The strangest medical drama you’ll ever see Unfortunately, the sexy teen-cannibal romance is a letdown. Ode to the French baguette Stubborn, determined, and dying The strength of the “soft daddy” Christine McVie’s most miraculous song RM of BTS is embracing the silence on his new solo album Read the latest culture essay by Jordan Calhoun in Humans Being.Catch Up on The Atlantic Mark Leibovich: Just wait until you get to know Ron DeSantis. The Supreme Court case that’s all about Donald Trump A group of thinkers is cheering for humanity’s end. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and Joseph DePasquale (STScI)) Keep up with our photo editor’s Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Every day until Christmas, he will add a new image of the universe.Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.Explore all of our newsletters.
theatlantic.com
How We Survived Winter in Wartime
As millions of Ukrainians face their first winter of the war, I share in their dread because I know how brutal a winter war can be. As a child in Sarajevo, Bosnia, I survived three long winters in a city under siege. I endured the cold and deprivation alongside the constant anxiety that I might lose my parents to a bullet or a mortar shell every time they went out to forage for wood or water. War and winter are relentless, but so is the human spirit. This is why I have hope that the Ukrainian people will survive this winter with grit—and even some grace.The siege of Sarajevo started in the spring of 1992, and during the first few months, the daily onslaught of thunderous explosions made our apartment building shudder, forcing us to seek refuge in the moldy basement. By the end of the summer, we gave up hope that the Serbian blockade would end anytime soon and began readying for winter. At 13, I dealt with the ordeal by keeping a diary. On November 6, 1992, I wrote: Most of the trees have been cut down for firewood, so we can’t see the leaves changing to beautiful autumn colors … Death is the most frequent passerby on the streets. Life seems cheaper than a slice of bread or a cup of water. Although everyone dreaded the first snowfall, I was secretly excited. In my childish naivete, I hoped that the snow would act as a cushion for the mortar shells, preventing them from exploding. The first time I saw scarlet splatters in the snow, all that remained of my innocence melted away.In early November, we managed to get a small wood-burning stove to heat our home, which was already freezing because all of the window panes had been shattered. In their place, we taped plastic sheeting in the bare frames. That kept us protected from the snow and rain, but did little to insulate the apartment from the plummeting temperatures. Like most families, we quickly ran out of firewood and had to find other things to burn. People resorted to burning furniture, books, shoes, picture frames, even musical instruments. The constant damp made the wood flooring of the apartment warp and lift, so we started burning squares of lacquered parquet. But they burned so quickly that before long, we had stripped all of the floors, exposing cold, bare concrete. After our car was destroyed by an explosion, we started burning chunks of the tires, even though they gave off thick smoke and a horrible smell.[Read: From Sarajevo to Aleppo: lessons on surviving a siege]At night, we closed off my bedroom to conserve the little heat we had in the rest of the apartment; I slept on a makeshift bed in the hallway near the front door. Being tucked in that narrow corridor offered at least an illusion of shelter, especially to my mother, who agonized over my safety. I spent many sleepless nights there, shivering, listening to the crackle of sniper fire. At daybreak, before my father got up to stoke the fire, I could see my breath as if I were outside. The only thing that got me out from under the covers was the thought of being with my friends.At school, too, everyone was freezing despite hats and gloves, but we were determined not to fall behind in our education. Classes were held in the basements of apartment buildings, and everyone brought something to burn in the stove. Afterward, I attended singing lessons. I wore my winter coat and as I sang, I gazed through the hole that a mortar had made in the ceiling of my music school. Three decades later, I see myself in every image of a Ukrainian child playing or studying in a dank basement.In Sarajevo, the winter’s darkness seemed unrelenting. When our supply of candles dwindled, we improvised lamps: a little cooking oil and a cork with a shoelace strung through it for a wick, floating in a cup of water. Despite the risk from snipers and mortar shells, everyone foraged for things to burn amid the wreckage of our city. When our neighbor found several crates of plexiglass, we broke it into long, narrow pieces and lit one end to use as torches in the dark stairwells. The smell was acrid and intense, stinging our eyes and noses. Most mornings, I awoke with black circles around my nostrils from the soot.One day, I accidentally shifted one of the paintings in our living room, which we refused to feed to the stove, and was shocked to discover the pure white wall behind the frame, unstained by smoke. It was a small reminder of what our lives had been before the siege.Some days, I felt wilted and my lungs ached for fresh air, but the bombardments kept us inside for days at a time. While my parents were asleep, my brother and I would sneak into his room and open one of the windows with taped-plastic panes. The city was in complete darkness except for the artillery explosions that lit up the sky with orange-yellow flashes. It was dangerous standing there, but we felt better for expelling the stale, putrid air of our confinement.[From the April 2000 issue: Midnight in Sarajevo]On the rare occasions when the electricity came back on, we were stunned by the lights and noises from our now useless appliances. The dishwasher had become a locker for our paltry supply of pasta, rice, and lentils; the washing machine had not run for months. With the power back on, we scrambled to complete as many chores as we could: cooking, cleaning, and vacuuming. Even then, the water pressure was too weak to reach our 14th-floor apartment, so we used the elevator to carry up buckets of water.My brother and I would be in a frantic rush to finish all our household tasks because we longed to watch just a few minutes of MTV or the movie Top Gun, which we had on VHS. All too soon, the power would go again, we’d be plunged into darkness—and a cry of disappointment would echo around the whole neighborhood. Such scenes have already been playing out in cities across Ukraine as they contend with blackouts and the deepening cold and darkness.Of all the privations, the shortage of water was the hardest to bear. Sarajevans resorted to collecting rain and snow, and filling up containers at public fountains and wells. Sometimes, a water truck would park in our neighborhood, inviting a long line of people with their buckets and canisters. My dad insisted on being the only one of our family to go out to get water, because it was the most dangerous task. Every few days, he would gather up all our containers, strap them to a sled, and walk into the night to stand in line for hours. The tanks encircling the city frequently targeted these gatherings. On January 15, 1993, I wrote: A deadly missile exploded in front of the Sarajevo Brewery where citizens were collecting water. Eight killed and fifteen wounded! In a single second, two children were injured and lost both their parents. Considering the dangers, each drop of water became precious, and we made every effort to conserve and reuse as much as possible. Above our bathtub, we hung a 10-liter metal container with a brass spigot, and we kept a plastic basin below to catch the water we used to wash our hands, so that we could reuse it to flush the toilet. When I washed my hair by pouring freezing cups of water over my head, I agonized over every drop spilled, because it meant my dad would be in danger again that much sooner.[Eliot A. Cohen: The words about Ukraine that Americans need to hear]During that first winter, we focused so much on surviving, it would be easy to think that we weren’t actually living. Yet Sarajevans went to work and school, published newspapers and books, and performed concerts. We put on theater productions that mirrored our grim reality, always peppered with black humor because laughter helped stave off the misery. We banded together, and eventually the winter always relented. This way we survived not one but three brutal winters.I imagine there will be many such months ahead for the Ukrainian people. But my hope is that they will survive the hardship to experience the moment we Sarajevans dreamt of in the darkest days of winter: Despite the war’s infinite callousness, at the spring’s first thaw, we walked into the sunlight and warmed our faces. We were weary and scarred—but unbroken.
theatlantic.com
‘We Will Never Be Happy’
This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.Every now and then, I ask other Argentinians—friends, family, fellow journalists—which World Cup is the first that they remember. Their answers are a reliable reflection of generational differences. Most of my fellow Millennials, for instance, are too young to have experienced the exquisite joy of watching Diego Maradona kiss the trophy in 1986; our formative memory happened 15 years later, when the country’s economy collapsed.In the decades since Maradona’s triumph, watching Argentina play in the tournament has evolved into a kind of national agony. We place a ridiculous degree of hope in the outcome, as though it will erase the economic problems and political corruption that always seem to haunt us.After decades of high inflation, Argentina’s current inflation rate is more than 10 times that of the U.S., and is projected to reach 100 percent before the year’s end. More than 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. When asked last month about the government’s plans to address these matters, Labor Minister Kelly Olmos said that Argentina winning the World Cup was a more immediate concern. (She later apologized.)Life is what happens in between World Cups, we say. During the tournament, there is cause for optimism.The players on our national team understand the stakes. Emiliano “Dibu” Martínez tweeted after last Saturday’s win against Mexico that it was easier to play knowing that he had the support of 45 million Argentines behind him. But sometimes, it seems more as though he and his teammates are carrying the weight of an entire country that’s relying on them for some good news, at last.Coach Lionel Scaloni has tried to alleviate his team’s burden. “It’s a football match—I don’t share the feeling that you are playing something more than a game,” he said as his assistant coach openly wept following the Mexico game. Scaloni has become known for reassuring his players that, “win or lose, the sun will rise tomorrow.”But Scaloni’s efforts may be a lost cause. In Argentina, the World Cup is the one month every four years when we are allowed to dream big. The most hard-core of us will watch every single game, no matter how inconsequential it may be.Above all else, international soccer tournaments like the World Cup are what brings my divided country together. When we lose, we collectively mourn. In moments of defeat, it’s become something of a meme among Argentines to tweet “nunca vamos a ser felices”—we will never be happy—in a most tragic tone.We rejoice together, too, gathering to celebrate victories at the obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires. Although I now live in Washington, D.C., that instinct is still within me. When Argentina won the Copa América last year, I marked the occasion the only way I knew how: I went to the Washington Monument in the hope of finding someone else as fanatical as me. Eventually, an Argentinian couple passed by on a scooter, and we chanted together. Perhaps, this World Cup, I will have a reason to repeat the ritual.
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theatlantic.com
The American Soccer Bar Wakes Up
This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.When the Polish team captain Robert Lewandowski stole the ball from Abdulelah Al-Malki in last Saturday’s World Cup match between Poland and Saudi Arabia, and went on to score his first goal ever in the tournament, the Poland fans at Cleos Bar and Grill in Chicago erupted in cheers.“Oh, that’s it! That’s it!”“Lewangoalski!”Fans ordered shots to celebrate. It wasn’t yet 9 a.m.Two hours earlier, just before the sun had fully risen, I joined the 20 to 30 soccer fans already settled at the pub’s bar and high-top tables, watching the teams warm up on numerous TV screens as they nursed water, coffee, and Bloody Marys. As one might expect, the early-morning crowd cared deeply about the tournament and their chosen teams. What struck me most was that virtually everyone was either a first- or second-generation American.The world’s game has been infamously slow to come into its own, stateside. But America’s taste for the sport is growing. Regular-season MLS viewership is up 16 percent over last year and, over its past two seasons, the Premier League increased its American audience by an even greater margin. And this World Cup already has one of the largest U.S. audiences in FIFA’s broadcast history—more than 15 million viewers watched the U.S.-England game on November 25.Dedicated soccer bars are nonetheless relatively uncommon in American cities. People come from all over the Chicago area, and beyond, to catch games at Cleos. The pub offers a rare midwestern window into a global sport obsession. It also attracts a breadth of immigrant cultures that infrequently come together in one place. Majed Al Turki and Fawaz Al Wael, a pair of Indiana University students from Saudi Arabia, were there on Saturday morning with rolling suitcases in tow. Following the Saudi team’s triumph over Argentina in one of the biggest upsets of World Cup history, the duo rescheduled their bus tickets back to Bloomington so they could watch their country’s next game among fellow soccer fanatics. Although I was surprised that they were the sole Saudi Arabia supporters in the house, it made sense to find most people rooting for Poland. Illinois accounts for nearly one-third of the total Polish-immigrant population in the entire United States.Greg Gaczoi, one of the many Poland fans I talked with at Cleos, characterized his ilk as “pessimistic, loud, and proud.” The description matched the energy in the bar that morning—arms were thrown in the air after missed shots and fans were yelling at the flatscreens in front of them. But Gaczoi was happy to be watching the game at Cleos, rather than a bar in his native Poland, because of how its crowds reflect the city’s dynamic immigrant mix. The matchup between Poland and Mexico was a perfect case in point: Chicago has one of the largest Mexican populations in the U.S., including more than 200,000 Mexico-born residents.“What’s great is that there’s so many Polish and Mexican people in Chicago that it [created] this incredibly diverse, but weird, dynamic,” Gaczoi said of that match. “Before the game actually happened, there were jokes going on about how the city is going to burn down.”Joanna Szczudlo also watched Poland, her team of choice, play Mexico in a packed—and divided—Cleos. Though she was still lamenting Lewandowski’s saved penalty kick in that game, which was blocked by the goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, she couldn’t help but cheer for the great play. “If Mexico goes further, it’s kind of like a part of our city is going further,” Szczudlo told me. (On Wednesday, Poland advanced to the next round of matches and Mexico was eliminated.)Alex Lopez, who arrived at Cleos at 9 a.m. to secure a comfortable spot for the afternoon’s Mexico-Argentina match, attributes the swell in support to the diversification of America’s top players. He told me that it finally seems as though the United States team “represents the country we live in—a country built off immigrants.” According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult, soccer’s U.S. fan base is similarly more diverse—and younger—than that of any other American sport.For some, the global element of soccer is part of the game’s appeal. “Seeing the Mexico fans crying in the stands of happiness after Lewandowski missed that free kick is just something you can’t, as a U.S. fan of sports, relate to,” Mark Wojtowicz, a second-generation Polish American who’s cheering for Poland and the U.S, told me. “You might see meathead, drunk college fans crying because they’ve been tailgating since seven in the morning, but not, We saved the free kick. I’m so happy that I’m bawling. That’s what I’m here for, to catch a slice of that.”
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theatlantic.com
Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson Don’t Understand the First Amendment
Last night, Matt Taibbi, an independent journalist, wrote a lengthy Twitter thread he called “THE TWITTER FILES.” The thread purported to expose how Twitter made the decision to dramatically suppress discussion of the contents of a hard drive from Hunter Biden’s laptop. But it inadvertently did something else entirely: It exposed the new Twitter owner Elon Musk’s profound misunderstandings about the First Amendment.Taibbi’s documents provided further evidence demonstrating what Twitter’s critics (including me) have long argued—that the decision to suppress the information was both incoherent and inconsistent. Twitter suppressed the information based on its so-called hacked-materials policy, but the application of that policy was hardly clear in this instance, especially given that the platform had, at the time, just permitted widespread sharing of New York Times stories about Donald Trump’s leaked tax information.I agree with the attorney and election analyst Jeffrey Blehar about Taibbi’s thread. Writing in National Review after last night’s release, Blehar said the thread contained “few, if any, explosive revelations” for those who’ve followed the story closely. But don’t tell that to Musk. He seemed particularly outraged that one of Taibbi’s tweets described how the “Biden team” asked Twitter to delete a series of tweets, including ones that contained nude pictures of Hunter Biden.Responding to a document where a Twitter employee indicated that Twitter had “handled” those posts, Musk tweeted, “If this isn’t a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment, what is?” He followed up moments later with a slightly longer statement: “Twitter acting by itself to suppress free speech is not a 1st amendment violation, but acting under orders from the government to suppress free speech, with no judicial review, is.”[Read: The far right is getting what it asked for]Last night, on Fox News, Tucker Carlson also picked up the claim about the First Amendment. With characteristic breathless hyperbole, Carlson declared that the documents “show a systemic violation of the First Amendment, the largest example of that in modern history.”Musk and Carlson are both profoundly wrong; the documents released so far show no such thing. In October 2020, when the laptop story broke, Joe Biden was not president. The Democratic National Committee (which also asked for Twitter to review tweets) is not an arm of the government. It’s a private political party. Twitter is not an arm of the government; it is a private company.This matters for a simple but profoundly important reason. The First Amendment regulates government conduct. It does not regulate private actors. The text of the amendment itself says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” That restraint on Congress has since been extended to apply to the U.S. government at all levels—local, state, and federal.Activists have tried to argue that large social-media companies essentially function as the government, citing a line of cases that treat private parties as government actors when the private parties perform functions that are “traditionally and exclusively governmental.” Examples include running elections, private prisons, and so-called company towns. But, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently explained, “hosting speech on a private platform … is hardly ‘an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed.’” Social-media companies are not the government.This means the First Amendment protects Twitter, the Biden campaign team, and the Democratic National Committee. The “TWITTER FILES” released so far do not describe a violation of the First Amendment. Instead, they detail the exercise of First Amendment rights by independent, private actors.One can certainly agree or disagree with the way in which they exercised those rights. Twitter’s decision to delete pornographic pictures of Hunter Biden was entirely justified and appropriate. Its actions to suppress the New York Post story about Hunter’s laptop were far less defensible. But they were Twitter’s decisions to make, and no amount of misguided rhetoric can transform a Twitter story into a government scandal.The distinction is crucial. Twitter is but one participant in a marketplace of ideas. Twitter couldn’t truly suppress the Hunter Biden–laptop story. Instead, its censorship launched a national debate that’s still not over. It fueled countless stories across the length and breadth of both mainstream and right-wing media. Arguably, Twitter’s suppression gave the laptop story more attention than it otherwise would have received.But if the government were involved, the story would change dramatically. As powerful as Twitter is, it cannot match the reach and strength of the federal government, and if the government does coerce a private company into doing its bidding, then the First Amendment is implicated. But finding coercion is key. The government can ask private corporations to take action without implicating the First Amendment. In fact, Taibbi last night said that Twitter “received” and “honored” deletion requests from the Trump White House.But there’s no evidence of any such coercion (at least so far) in the Hunter Biden story, and unless and until there is, the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop is the story of private individuals making decisions they were entitled to make. It is not the story of a government run amok.
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theatlantic.com
America, the Naive
This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.One of Gregg Berhalter’s charms is that he can’t be bothered. Unshaven, attired in the uniform of Team Schlub, he loped along the sideline as if it were still the height of the pandemic and he was enjoying his newfound freedom from showering.Standing in the technical area opposite him was the Dutch coach, Louis van Gaal, looking very much like an uptight high-school principal eager to reprimand Berhalter for his aggressive indifference. Van Gaal is one of the most experienced and meticulous coaches in the game, wise to the ways of tournament soccer and a shrewd pragmatist.As a young man, Berhalter played soccer in Holland, and he has molded his team to classic principles of Dutch soccer—where dominance comes in the form of short passing and players arraying themselves in tidy triangles. For decades, the United States lacked an identity, and Berhalter has imposed one on the team. He’s picked an attractive, aggressive style, which suits the youth and athleticism of his rosters. It’s an aesthetic that has made the U.S. irresistibly likable, even to the eyes of neutrals who have historically sneered at American soccer.Confronting one of the greatest soccer-playing nations on the planet, Berhalter stuck to his principles. He did nothing to bend to his opponent. And for the first 10 minutes of the game, it was exhilarating. The United States attacked without fear, and it supplied the match’s hinge moment, when Christian Pulisic scuffed a shot that the goalkeeper Andries Noppert buried in his arms. What if … what if … what if …Where the United States made no concessions to the Dutch, Louis van Gaal understood how a few tweaks in his team could neutralize his opponent and exploit its weaknesses. All tournament long, the America midfield had been a whirling display of energy and ingenuity. But by tightly marking Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie, the Dutch rendered the American attack inert.Van Gaal also saw how the fullback Antonee Robinson would bombard up the field without sufficient attention to the space he vacated. In the past, Robinson’s pace had allowed him to compensate for the moments he found himself marooned in the wrong part of the pitch. But today, the Dutch brutally picked on him. On each of the three goals, the Dutch ruthlessly exploited Robinson’s tactical indiscipline. Because the dynamic was so apparent to the viewer at home, it became painful to watch. And in the end, the Dutch scored classic team goals, swinging the ball from wingback to wingback, elegantly leaving it for runners arriving late in the box.This iteration of the U.S. men’s team was indeed its most gifted. Many of the components for a team that can go deep in a World Cup are in place—and young players will measurably mature. But the leap in collective quality also revealed the areas where the United States has failed to nurture talent of the caliber to compete with the likes of the Netherlands. For some mysterious reason, the United States hasn’t been able to produce a world-class striker. (My humble suggestion: Recruit this guy.) Our central defenders are lovably gritty, but not quite fast enough to keep up. American success in the 2026 World Cup will hinge on whether talent emerges in those positions. It will also hinge on the tactical evolution of Gregg Berhalter. It’s always fun when a nation’s soccer style channels clichés about the country’s essential identity. (For example: Holland, the nation of Mondrian, landscape painting, and canals, are masters at rearranging space.) The wrap on the United States is that its exuberant faith in its own values makes it hopelessly naive, dangerously idealistic. That’s how the team played today. To take its next step forward, it will have to add a touch of old-world sophistication and realism to its approach, the maturity that comes from being dented and battered.
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theatlantic.com
How Vast Are the Cosmos, Really?
This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.There are billions of planets in our galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the observable universe. Those numbers are impossible to picture, but NASA’s newest space telescope is helping us see the universe’s depths in unprecedented detail. Still, there’s one big mystery that humans might never be able to solve: How vast are the cosmos, really, and what do they contain?If humans were to find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, it would be a scientific marvel, but also an emotional and spiritual one, the physicist Alan Lightman noted in an essay earlier this fall. Our questions would multiply: “Where did we living things come from? Is there some kind of cosmic community?”Lightman explains why life in the universe is likely really, really rare. “We living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules,” he writes. But these questions aren’t just about other planets and galaxies; they’re also about us, here on Earth, and why we may want to believe that our lives and our stories are one of a kind. What follows is a reading list on why things are the way they are—from life on Earth down to creepy coincidences at the coffee shop—and how we deal with the unknowable.The Cosmic Dice Erik Carter / The Atlantic; Getty Life Is an Accident of Space and TimeBy Alan LightmanEven if life existed on every planet that could support it, living matter in the universe would amount to only a few grains of sand in the Gobi Desert. Zoë van Dijk Why Earth’s History Appears So MiraculousBy Peter BrannenThe strange, cosmic reason our evolutionary path will look ever luckier the longer we surviv Hein Nouwens / Shutterstock / Kara Gordon / The Atlantic Coincidences and the Meaning of LifeBy Julie BeckThe surprising chances of our lives can seem like they’re hinting at hidden truths, but they’re really revealing the human mind at work.Still Curious? Don’t be afraid of the multiverse: A scientist gets quizzed on the idea that different realms of the universe have different properties of physics. (From 2018) Shifting beliefs in fate and chance: Ancient dice were often visibly biased, but to gamblers who believed in divine intervention, that might not have mattered. (From 2018) Other Diversions A pocket-size time machine Dolphins might have elite spice tolerance. The mobster who bought his son a hockey team (From 2018) P.S.I’ll leave you with an interesting tidbit from Julie Beck’s article on coincidences: Beck cites research showing that certain personality traits are linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing coincidences. People who self-describe as religious and people who seek meaning, for instance, are especially prone to finding coincidences in their daily lives.(One group that might not see as many coincidences? Residents of the U.K, according to one professor Beck spoke with. “Coincidences never happen to me at all, because I never notice anything,” he said. “I never talk to anybody on trains. If I’m with a stranger, I don’t try to find a connection with them, because I’m English.”)— Isabel
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theatlantic.com
The Truth in a Violent Santa
Sparkly tinsel, fresh-fallen snow, a nutcracker, a Christmas-tree sculpture, a tree-topping star: These are some of the objects used as weapons in the most heartwarming holiday film of the year. Violent Night, the dark comedy that premieres this week, features David Harbour as a Santa Claus who has stopped believing in himself—and who, on Christmas Eve, happens to be on the scene when a group of military-grade thieves takes a wealthy family hostage. Thankfully for the Lightstones, this new version of the jolly old elf knows his way around a war zone. Like John McClane swathed in blood-spattered furs, the St. Nick of Violent Night yippee-ki-yays his way across the Lightstone property, fighting greedy foes at every turn. “Ho, ho, ho-ly shit!” he exclaims gleefully while picking off the people on his “naughty” list.They say that monsters are culture-wide fears cast screenward. Frankenstein’s creation gave shape to panic about technological anarchy; Godzilla’s breath of fire captured the terror of atomic weapons; poltergeists and other formless demons suggest the dangers of a digitizing world. Holiday movies can do the same kind of work, but from the other direction: They reflect what people most fear by making claims about what they most value. It’s a Wonderful Life, premiering in the 1940s, considered both economic and achingly personal depression—and argued that each could be dissolved through the heady warmth of community. Home Alone’s story of a boy abandoned and then lovingly reclaimed by his family arrived during a time when “latchkey kids” were media bogeymen. More recently, an era of loneliness and unpredictability and cynicism has brought the ascendance of the Hallmark-style rom-com: a genre that centralizes love, fetishizes formula, and refuses to apologize for its sugar-sprinkled earnestness.[Read: The mournful heart of It’s a Wonderful Life]How fitting, then, that 2022 has reached into its bag and delivered a Santa who slays. Violent Night’s title is not joking around: Its characters meet their ends by way of burnings, beheadings, grindings, impalings. Its scenes depict the varied viscera of the human body so graphically that they could be taught in medical school. And the agent of all the killing is typically St. Nick himself. Before Santa was merry, the film reveals, he was militant. In a flashback, we see him clad in a metal helmet, wielding a hammer named Skullcrusher, covered in other people’s blood.Made jolly through unclear means, the Santa of the present day blends elfin magic (he’ll tap his nose and whirl up chimneys) with the scars of human war. That fusion differentiates him from other subversive renditions of Claus: The gore here is not an exception to all the seasonal cheer. It is, instead, integral to the film’s definition of holiday spirit. In a moment when violence infuses American politics and culture, here is a Santa whose capabilities as a killer help him believe in himself again.Claus, at the start of the film, is disillusioned and indignant and suffering from a centuries-long case of burnout. We see him trudging from house to house, greeted with gift requests that say CASH and Amazon Prime boxes clustered around Christmas trees. Even the treats people leave for him have lost their flavor. (“Ugh, skim,” he mutters, as he gazes forlornly at a glass of watery milk.) In his despair, he has turned to drinking. He has taken to calling kids “little shits.” He has considered quitting. After a visit to a pub, he boards his sleigh, drunk and hungover at the same time. He swoops across a city skyline, before a glowing moon—and then vomits onto a woman below.The Santa of Violent Night is not transcendent in his magic. He lives in the world, somehow, rather than above it, and is keenly aware of its politics. The guy whose purpose is to deliver presents growls, at one point, “This whole planet runs on greed.” The question that animates his story—and his movie—is not just the familiar Can Santa save Christmas? It’s also Can Santa himself be saved? The violence is a vehicle for those anxieties. Santa is a reluctant warrior—he happens to be at the Lightstones’ home during the attack because he fell asleep in a massage chair—but once he realizes that his fight for Christmas has become literal, he springs into action. A series of theatrical killings ensue. The film is so deeply devoted to gore that even a wide-eyed 7-year-old takes part in it. Trudy Lightstone, played wonderfully by Leah Brady, finds herself in an attic outfitted with potential weapons (ladders, bowling balls, glue, nails). She repurposes them as booby traps. She is inspired by Home Alone, which she has just seen for the first time; her efforts, though, make Kevin McCallister’s sadisms seem quaint. The girl is justified in her brutality, we’re supposed to think, for the same reason that Santa is. The two are defending themselves, and others—but they’re also defending something bigger than themselves. They’re killing people to save Christmas.One way to read all the carnage is as a metaphor made manifest: The culture wars long ago came for the holiday season, and few things express that better than a Santa who merrily defenestrates his foes. But Violent Night sends the same basic message as Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story: It insists that the holidays are meaningful not just commercially, but morally. The phrase ’tis the season reflects the hope that, this month, people might be warmer and kinder and happier than they are in every other. It is a form of magical thinking. Violent Night’s hook-kicking Kringle both questions and endorses all of that aspirational holiday cheer. The mastermind of the attack on the Lightstones, played with deadpan panache by John Leguizamo, calls himself Mr. Scrooge. He is greedy and sadistic. But his primary flaw is that he has stopped believing in the magic of Christmas. “Bah humbug, motherfucker,” he growls at one point, referencing multiple holiday classics with one economical line.[Read: 20 movie families to spend your holidays with]And so Violent Night offers up a timely amalgam: It is torture porn that is also a morality play. It is as self-consciously values-oriented as any saccharine holiday film, but it expresses those values through violence. The movie, if you can tolerate all the blood, can be delightful. In spite of itself, though, it traffics in cynicism. It reflects a culture so thoroughly permeated with violence that brutality is becoming one of Americans’ shared idioms. On social media, anger expresses itself through death threats. In the world of flesh and blood, the phrase political violence is becoming redundant. Amid all this, a Santa who finds purpose through weaponized tree-toppers isn’t as rebellious as Violent Night thinks he is. The stereotypical values of the season—love, joy, peace—cannot exist, in this film, without violence to enforce them. Santa, too, is a reflection of his time. And this version of St. Nick, for all his merry heresies, doles out a series of concessions. Yes, there is a Santa Claus, the film whispers, before presenting another beheading. Every age gets the holiday movie it deserves. Ours features a Santa who, having lobbed a grenade at his enemy, hangs around just to watch the explosion.
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theatlantic.com
The Gorgeous, Graphic Nudity of Netflix’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence’s infamous 1928 novel about an upper-class woman’s extramarital affair with her gamekeeper, was considered so obscene that it was banned in multiple countries for years. But as much pleasure as the author took in describing, well, pleasure, he wasn’t distasteful, just bold for his time. When writing clandestine trysts, Lawrence detailed every motion, thrust, and caress with relish. He especially liked equating desire to a flame—a warmth that guided his titular aristocrat out of her ennui. Lady Constance “Connie” Chatterley’s sexual awakening, he wrote, was like a “curious molten thrilling that spread and spread.”Netflix’s adaptation, which started streaming yesterday, takes a different route to illustrating lust. Unlike many previous onscreen versions, this film eschews the soft glow of Lawrence’s words for a more haunting aura. The director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre drenches her cast in a blue tone, transforming what could have been another titillating period piece into something more mesmerizing. The naked actors often look like figures from a painting—surreal and sumptuous rather than merely erotic. Seen through shaky-cam shots, Connie (played by Emma Corrin) and her paramour, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), appear as wild, breathless creatures. The film updates the book’s treatment of sex, presenting the act not just a “molten” force, but a miraculous one.[Read: The soft radicalism of erotic fiction]Connie and Oliver, after all, aren’t merely having an illicit fling. When the former arrives at Wragby Hall, the Midlands estate that her husband, Clifford (Matthew Duckett), has just inherited, she’s begun to fall out of love with him and with her privileged life. Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down after being injured in World War I, and he becomes dependent on her not as a wife, but as a nurse and an audience for his egotistical lectures. Their previous fondness is replaced by a brutal, cold intellectualism. Because he needs to produce an heir, Clifford callously suggests that Connie should find a mate to secretly impregnate her. When she protests, he encourages her to think of such a rendezvous as a “trip to the dentist.” In the face of Clifford’s growing cruelty—toward Connie and toward the workers at his coal mines—Connie grows ill and wary. She wanders the dark halls of Wragby like a living ghost, purposeless until she meets Oliver. In Lawrence’s book, her changed relationship with Clifford proves that the mind alone cannot sustain intimacy between a man and a woman. The movie pushes this idea further: Sex becomes necessary for the survival of Connie’s soul.The approach is provocative, and its effect is perhaps akin to that of the novel’s first release: Readers were scandalized by Connie and Oliver’s untamed escapades in the woods, which blurred class lines and challenged England’s postwar, industrialist attitude. De Clermont-Tonnerre understands that the lovers’ behavior and Lawrence’s social commentary no longer spur much pearl-clutching, so instead, she surprises viewers by adding uncanny elements to her most explicit scenes. Gorgeous tableaus of Connie and Oliver having sex against tree trunks and in grassy fields shock for how dreamlike they appear amid the most grounded settings. At times, the score blends scratchy strings with static, a sound more likely to accompany a horror movie than a costume drama. Even the conventional setups—the pair in bed, legs and fingers tangled together—come with an eerie sheen, saturated in shadows.One frame in particular has lingered in my mind, of Connie and Oliver reclining nude atop a bed of moss. The shot is sideways, so that the couple appear to be vertical, with the sky to the left and the ground to the right. As idyllic as the moment is, this world, the film suggests, is off balance—and tragically so. Connie has limited agency despite her station; though she finds escape with Oliver, he’s still her husband’s employee. Their relationship is impossible, given the rules of English society. Frolicking in the forests with flowers in their hair does not make them free.[From the July 1959 issue: Lady Chatterley in America]But the shot also highlights a message in Lawrence’s work that has been clouded by salaciousness in most other adaptations: The stakes are high, not just because of the class boundaries, but also because of the liaison’s postwar setting. A little hope has blossomed—like a verdant blanket of fresh moss—between two people, despite the surrounding hardships. “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically,” reads the opening line of the novel, an admirable but painful outlook Lawrence attributes to Connie. These characters are caught in an era of transformation; a grief-struck England was becoming even more mechanical and less pastoral, while dealing with high levels of unemployment and debt. Passion, however pure, could risk throwing off the level-headedness needed in such turbulent times. De Clermont-Tonnerre’s film threatens, in some scenes, to become a tad too romantic. Oliver can be coarse and mocking in the book, but in this version, he’s gracious while servicing Connie until she climaxes, making him the ideal object of her affection. Connie, meanwhile, is playful toward her lover from the start, seducing and teasing him; she’s the opposite of the “quiescent” woman Lawrence describes during the characters’ first encounters. Late in the film, as the plot forces Connie and Oliver apart, a friend observes that what has happened between them “is a love story.” The line is overly saccharine and far too on the nose.Still, the otherwise thoughtful adaptation entranced me. Corrin and O’Connell embrace their liberated, sensual characters with a vitality that contrasts magnificently with the film’s moody atmosphere. The blue-hued images force the eye to adjust, to look more closely at the lovemaking, and to find unexpected insights in those enigmatic tones. These scenes are not just hot, but also sublime for the way they portray the characters’ intense yearning. The film captures the subtle arc Lawrence was tracing beneath his “obscene” scenes: Lady Chatterley’s gentle, gradual enlightenment. His working title for the book was Tenderness. It’s only right that his story should be retold with the same delicate touch.
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