Human optimization

From Kristin Dombek‘s essay in the July 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine. She’s referring here to The Happiness Industry by William Davies.

In Davies’s view, the language of good feeling and scientific utopianism are a cover for an older, more insidious goal: ‘a single index of human optimization’ that would reduce all human experience to qualities that can diagnosed, tracked, graphed, and, ultimately, controlled. The methods may be new, Davies argues, but this is what the architects of free-market capitalism have wanted all along.

The full essay is available on the Harper’s website (subscription required).



Casting Binx Bolling

In the Readings section of the December 2014 issue of Harper’s Magazine there’s an excerpt from Patton Oswalt’s latest book Silver Screen Fiend in which the comedian imagines “a month’s worth of titles to play in a netherworld movie palace.”

Here’s one entry from that book, in part:

The Moviegoer (1978, starring John Cazale).

In The Moviegoer Cazale’s searching, knowing eyes blink from too much time spent staring at a flickering screen, as he finally realizes that what he’s searching for lies in the real world, outside of his books and films.

Another entry has Terrence Malick adapting Blood Meridian, in 1988, into a film starring Gene Hackman, Barry Brown, and Marlon Brando (“The Comanche-attack sequence is both beautiful and nearly unwatchable…[t]he meteor showers that open and close the film were real.”) It’s the sort of funny little comedic divergence I have difficulty resisting. A serious reply might fantasize Malick making a filmed version of The Moviegoer instead.

It is said that Malick wrote a screen adaption of the Walker Percy novel years ago, but of course he never made the film. Maybe he got stuck on who might play Binx Bolling, the 30ish New Orleans stockbroker who is at the center of the story, stuck in a malaise and searching? John Cazale wouldn’t have worked, I think – blinking joke aside – as great as his five screen performances are (The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter). Cazale died in 1978 – the year of Oswalt’s imaginary Moviegoer.

He zeroes in on Cazale’s eyes in his humorous entry, and rightly so. They’re the honest eyes of open, honest characters. But the emotions Cazale evokes in those film roles are almost exclusively external, or somehow he subtly conveys for the audience the frailties of a person who feels everything too acutely. In any event, Cazale’s expressed emotions (verbal, physical, and otherwise) are inconsistent with the hidden and cynical disposition that embodies Binx Bolling, I think. Cazale also didn’t look the part. So there’s that, too.

In contrast Brad Pitt (ca. 1992-2003) would’ve been an excellent choice. And not just for Pitt’s physical appearance. Today a filmmaker could probably get away with a Binx who’s pushing 40 or 45 years of age. Pitt through the mid-2000s would have been the limit though, I think. A director would want to avoid the Pitt who appeared in Burn After Reading (2008), for example, in which he was clearly (and painfully) too old for the part he played. But if you’ve seen the Pitt of Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) – as well as many other fine performances – it is also obvious that he would have been great in the Binx Bolling role, at one point in time.

Here’s a listicle for this bloggicle – other suggestions to play Binx (with the appropriate year):

    William Hurt (1989)
    John Malkovich (1984)
    Paul Newman (1964)
    Christian Bale (2008)
    Jude Law (1997)
    Johnny Depp (1995)
    Alec Baldwin (1993)

Who else?

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I’m writing something (to be published here shortly) and it brought to mind these words from Richard Rodriquez. I remember reading them in Harper’s Magazine, and telling a friend that they could stand as the Quote of the Decade (if there were such a thing) for the Aughts:

“So what is lost? Only bricks and mortar. (The contemptuous reply.) Cities are bricks and mortar. Cities are bricks and mortar and bodies…Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a cafe table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the ‘New Establishment’ issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London; they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want five-star bricks and mortar and do not disturb signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (add to shopping cart), they will do it.”