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How Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President

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Dwayne Johnson The Rock.jpg

My friend, the novelist/fabulist/media inventor Robin Sloan, has a charming new short story that imagines how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President, first by playing the role in an imaginary movie. Along the way, there are some poignant thoughts about the nature of our political imaginations, the role of new media like Instagram in shaping public perception, and the ways leadership can, spell-like, be brought into being.

Here is the meager gift tucked into the disaster that is Donald Trump: now, anyone can be elected president, so anyone will be elected president. We might never have another lawyer in that office again. Donald Trump broke the seal, but Dwayne Johnson will fulfill the prophecy.

Can you imagine him on the debate stage? The way he’ll look alongside his opponents in the primary? A line of normal, rumpled humans, and then this towering figure. A political revolution: his suit will fit.

If he runs, he will win, and he will run, so the question isn’t, will Dwayne Johnson be president; rather, it’s: what kind of president will Dwayne Johnson be?

“Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth,” said Archimedes, maybe. With this book, we’ll set our feet and push.

The story and its narrator are so cynical and idealistic at once that it’s hard to characterize. Wasn’t the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” a self-invention of sorts? the story’s narrator asks. Couldn’t a new myth, a new colossus, reanimate that central idea, that openness to all peoples and possibilities, again?

The fact that on the one hand, America is “a nation of Presidents,” creating its own institutions, rules, and leaders, and a nation that could swoon for The Scorpion King because his Instagram videos are just so damned good, just illustrates one of hundreds of central contradictions about this place.

Are those contradictions hindrances to us? Do they fuel us? Or are they just unavoidable, constituent elements to the place and its peoples?

I don’t know. But I’m glad this story is poking those contradictions with a stick.

Tags: Dwayne Johnson   Instagram   politics   The Rock
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vpatil
7 days ago
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Worth the read
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wreichard
14 days ago
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Hah!
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vpatil
15 days ago
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StunGod
15 days ago
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I'm incorporating this for my captchas from now on.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

On Liking Stuff (or not)

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So, back when Ancillary Justice was essentially sweeping that year’s SF awards, there was some talk from certain quarters about it not really being all that, people only claimed to like it because Politics and SJWs and PC points and Affirmative Action and nobody was really reading the book and if they were they didn’t really enjoy it, they just claimed they did so they could seem cool and woke.

My feelings were so hurt that I wept bitter, miserable tears every time I drove to the bank with my royalty checks. I mean, those people must be right, it’s totally typical for non-fans who don’t actually like a book to write fanfic or draw fan art, totally boringly normal for students to choose to write papers about a book that just isn’t really very good or interesting, and for professors to use that boringly not-very-good book in their courses, and for that book to continue to sell steadily five years after it came out. I totally did not laugh out loud whenever I came across such assertions, because they were absolutely not ridiculous Sour Grape Vineyards tended by folks who, for the most part, hadn’t even read the book.

Now I am sorry–but not surprised–to see some folks making similar assertions about N.K. Jemisin’s historic (and entirely deserved) Hugo Threepeat. Most of them haven’t read the books in question.

But some of them have. Some of them have indeed read the books and not understood why so many people are so excited by them.

Now, Nora doesn’t need me to defend her, and she doesn’t need lessons from me about the best way to dry a tear-soaked award-dusting cloth, or the best brands of chocolate ice cream to fortify yourself for that arduous trip to the bank. Actually, she could probably give me some pointers.

But I have some thoughts about the idea that, because you (generic you) didn’t like a work, that must mean folks who say they did like it are Lying Liars Who Lie to Look Cool.

So, in order to believe this, one has to believe that A) one’s own taste is infallible and objective and thus universally shared and B) people who openly don’t share your taste are characterless sheep who will do anything to seem cool.

But the fact is, one doesn’t like or dislike things without context. We are all of us judging things from our own point of view, not some disembodied perfectly objective nowhere. It’s really easy to assume that our context is The Context–to not even see that there’s a context at all, it’s just How Things Are. But you are always seeing things from the perspective of your experiences, your biases, your expectations of how things work. Those may not match other people’s.

Of course, if you’re in a certain category–if you’re a guy, if you’re White, if you’re straight, if you’re cis–our society is set up to make that invisible, to encourage you in the assumption that the way you see things is objective and right, and not just a product of that very society. Nearly all of the readily available entertainment is catering to you, nearly all of it accepts and reinforces the status quo. If you’ve never questioned that, it can seem utterly baffling that people can claim to enjoy things that you see no value in. You’ll maybe think it makes sense to assume that such people are only pretending to like those things, or only like them for reasons you consider unworthy. It might not ever occur to you that some folks are just reading from a different context–sometimes slightly different, sometimes radically different, but even a small difference can be enough to make a work seem strange or bafflingly flat.

Now, I’m sure that there are people somewhere at some time who have in fact claimed to like a thing they didn’t, just for cool points. People will on occasion do all kinds of ill-advised or bananapants things. But enough of them to show up on every SF award shortlist that year? Enough to vote for a historic, record-breaking three Hugos in a row? Really?

Stop and think about what you’re saying when you say this. Stop and think about who you’re not saying it about.

You might not have the context to see what a writer is doing. When you don’t have the context, so much is invisible. You can only see patterns that match what you already know.*

Of course, you’re not a helpless victim of your context–you can change it, by reading other things and listening to various conversations. Maybe you don’t want to do that work, which, ok? But maybe a lot of other folks have indeed been doing that, and their context, the position they’re reading stories from, has shifted over the last several years. It’s a thing that can happen.

Stop and think–you’ve gotten as far as “everyone must be kind of like me” and stepped over into “therefore they can’t really like what they say they like because I don’t like those things.” Try on “therefore they must really mean it when they say they like something, because I mean it when I say it.” It’s funny, isn’t it, that so many folks step into the one and not the other. Maybe ask yourself why that is.

This also applies to “pretentious” writing. “That writer is only trying to look smart! Readers who say they like it are only trying to look smarter that me, a genuine,honest person, who only likes down-to-earth plain solid storytelling.” Friend, your claims to be a better and more honest person because of your distaste for “pretentious” writing is pretension itself, and says far more about you than the work you criticize this way. You are exactly the sort of snob you decry, and you have just announced this to the world.

Like or don’t like. No worries. It’s not a contest, there’s no moral value attached to liking or not liking a thing. Hell, there are highly-regarded things I dislike, or don’t see the appeal of! There are things I love that lots of other folks don’t like at all. That’s life.

And sure, if you want to, talk about why you do or don’t like a thing. That’s super interesting, and thoughtful criticism is good for art.

But think twice before you sneer at what other folks like, think three times before you declare that no one could really like a thing so it must be political correctness, or pretension, or whatever. Consider the possibility that whatever it is is just not your thing. Consider the possibility that it might be all right if not everything is aimed at you. Consider that you might not actually be the center of the universe, and your opinions and tastes might not be the product of your utterly rational objective view of the world. Consider the possibility that a given work might not have been written just for you, but for a bunch of other people who’ve been waiting for it, maybe for a long time, and that might just possibly be okay.

____
*Kind of like the way some folks insist my Ancillary trilogy is obviously strongly influenced by Iain Banks (who I’d read very little of, and that after AJ was already under way) and very few critics bring up the influence of C.J. Cherryh (definitely there, deliberate, and there are several explicit hat tips to her work in the text). Those folks have read Banks, but they haven’t read Cherryh. They see something that isn’t there, and don’t see what is there, because they don’t have the same reading history I do. It’s interesting to me how many folks assume I must have the same reading history as they do. It’s interesting to me how sure they are of their conclusions.

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vpatil
25 days ago
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expatpaul
24 days ago
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It always amazes me that people find it so hard to understand that they might not be the intended audience for a given piece of fiction.

Also, re the footnote, I must go and check out C.J. Cherryh
Belgium
WorldMaker
24 days ago
C. J. Cherryh has some really good books in the pantheon of sci-fi classics. Including the Hugo Awards to prove it. The other thing that's useful about that footnote is that sci-fi has always been known as a dialogue between authors, and everything's strongly influenced by so many other things. In the early history of the genre that was often celebrated ("I love how you used this idea and took it a new direction." "I like what you had to say about this other author's worldbuilding idea." "Did you borrow that thing from other author? It's so cool" "Did you read other author's response to your response in their followup". Even: "I know you didn't get this thing from the other author, but it is cool how you both arrived at the same spot.") The dumb thing is seeing people today use that for gatekeeping ("You can't write an FTL novel until you've read this exhaustive reading list" or "Everything to be said about cryonics has already been said" or as simple, but damaging, as "Stop stealing ideas" as a useless critique). It is a stark contrast in what you see in today's Hugo coverage alone versus what you find in old classic Hugo discussions (some of the very early Hugo winners weren't even good books outside of the conversation they were a part of in that dialog zeitgeist). It's possible that the genre is too big now to celebrate as easily that weird idea that books can be naturally in conversation with each other, even accidentally, rather than use that as gatekeeping to distrust books that are "conversing wrong" (miss "required" reading lists or alternatively have new perspectives that are unwelcome because the old traditions are set in stone now/outside perspectives are less interesting now). It's a shame if that's the case, but maybe we can hope to rekindle that original spirit of the genre. Bringing things full circle, my personal discovery of C. J. Cherryh was in the early days of the internet when I was a high schooler posting sci-fi short stories to a predecessor to what we'd now call a "blog" and then called a "zine". I was doing some random internet searches and discovered one of the made up words in some of my stories was also a setting of C. J. Cherryh's, which lead to me reading some of her books. For whatever reason, in hindsight perhaps we'd call it Impostor Syndrome now, I wrote an email to her to apologize for using the same name in some of my stories, not expecting a reply back. C. J. Cherryh sent back a nice email that basically said that that's alright, somewhat common, and a part of how the genre works. Sometimes it leads you to interesting directions like reading interesting new-to-you authors because you both happened to pick the same random made up word for some stories.
duerig
25 days ago
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We aren't satisfied with being right. We also want to feel obviously right. So right that the people who disagree must be evil, stupid, crazy, or all three.

When something that we don't get turns out to be wildly popular, it is most comfortable to laugh it off or make negative claims about those who subscribe. But it is more useful to think very hard about what it brings to the table that you don't get. And to try to understand the perspective of those who find it delightful. As in so many things, comfort and truth pull us in different directions.

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jwz
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vpatil
28 days ago
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Pretty much.
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kbrint
28 days ago
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Agreed.

Inside Omarosa's reign of terror

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Want to know the secret behind Omarosa's wild, largely unchallenged, run in the White House, during which she would swan in and out of the Oval Office, secretly recording the president and his chief of staff?

It’s simple: Some of the most powerful men in government were terrified of her.


What they're saying:

  • "I'm scared shitless of her... She's a physically intimidating presence," a male former colleague of Omarosa's told me. (He wouldn't let me use a more precise description of his former White House role because he admitted he's still scared of retribution from Omarosa. Other senior officials have admitted the same to me.)
  • "I never said no to her," the source added. "Anything she wanted, 'Yes, brilliant.' I'm afraid of her. I'm afraid of getting my ass kicked."
  • Three other former officials shared that sentiment: “One hundred percent, everyone was scared of her,” said another former official.

The big picture: Trump has nobody to blame but himself for Omarosa's raucous book tour, in which she calls him a racist and a misogynist, and says he's in mental decline. Trump brought her into the White House at the senior-most level with the top salary.In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.

  • "She may be the purest of all the Trump characters," one told me. "She may be the most Trumpian. She knows media, she knows about physical presence, like Trump does...that's why I think he's rattled."
  • "The only reason Trump works is because he gives less of a crap than anybody in the world," the other source told me. "That's where she's at. She's totally undeterred by things that would freak out most people.
  • "She's out-Trumping Trump right now," the source added, before losing his train of thought in a fit of laughter.

Behind the scenes: Former chief of staff Reince Priebus made valiant efforts to keep Omarosa out of the Oval. And former press secretary Sean Spicer kept having to rebuff administrative officials who were lugging desks over to the West Wing to set up a personal workstation for Omarosa at her command.

  • But Omarosa answered to nobody. And senior staff told me last year they felt paralyzed because she was the only top-level official in the White House who was African-American.
  • On a weekend last April, Omarosa caused a security and ethics stir when she dropped into the White House in full bridal attire and with members of her bridal party to try to hold a wedding photoshoot in the Rose Garden and throughout the West Wing.

The bottom line: By all accounts except her own, Omarosa Manigault-Newman did little substantive work during her almost 12 months in the White House. But for much of her time there, she maintained decent access to Trump. And while the White House is now dumping on her credibility — and in many cases they have solid ammunition — the reality is that she only got the tapes because she was in the room.



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vpatil
40 days ago
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White guys with blind quotes about the scary black woman, and the white guys of axios passing them along, unexamined.
wreichard
40 days ago
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“In many ways, two former senior administration officials pointed out, what Omarosa is doing now is pure Trump.”
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Batman’s Wedding

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Batman (2016-) 050-024.jpg

Wonder Woman aside, DC’s recent movies haven’t been very good, but their recent comics have been extraordinary. In particular, writer Tom King has two contemporary masterpieces running side by side, the accessible-but-oh-so-intelligent Batman and the experimental/psychological war-and-family comic Mister Miracle.

Batman has been building beautifully towards Batman’s wedding to Catwoman, culminating in this week’s 50th issue. The ending was spoiled three days early in an article in the New York Times’ Vows column — Abraham Riesman has an interview at Vulture with the author, who regrets the spoilage — but the comic holds up beautifully, even if you know how it ends.

It’s filled with gorgeous artwork from artists who’ve played a key part in Batman and Catwoman’s history together, and each page acts as a kind of counterpoint to the one opposite it. (Writers and other important figures from the Batman mythos get their head nods elsewhere, as names of buildings, streets, and rooms in Wayne Manor.) And it has its share of moving moments, like this quiet embrace between Bruce Wayne and Alfred.
Batman (2016-) 050-028.jpg
The real thrill is probably in the run-up, which you can read in trade paperbacks now. My favorite issue might be number 36, where Superman and Batman separately explain to Lois Lane and Catwoman, respectively, what they admire about each other. I mean, this is just superhero nerd gold.

Batman (2016-) 036-018.jpg

This is all to say: despite some blockbuster fatigue, I think we’re still quite far from exhausting superheroes as a concept. Every time I think we’re there, someone comes up with rich, thoughtful, emotionally moving stories that bring me right back again.

Tags: comics   superheroes
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vpatil
78 days ago
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"nerd gold"
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digdoug
74 days ago
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I bought a couple of Tom King trades this past weekend. Mostly because of how effing cool he is on twitter, and knowing this was coming. I guess I should call the shop and order the rest of them.
Louisville, KY
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