Just One Hello from my Neighbor

I want to tell you a story. Part of it is my story. But the important part isn’t mine. It belongs to a North African woman named Fatima. And to countless others like her.I first met Fatima at Dollar Tree. It was her bright clothing that caught my eye. A colorful piece of cloth called a malhafa was . . . . Continue Reading »

The Moral Universe of Hannibal

A woman lovingly plucks a dead pheasant. A man places a human arm on a cutting board with care, readying his chef’s knife. A woman sinks into a bathtub, seemingly dropping into an abyss. A corpse is lifted on high, framed by wings made of broken glass.All these images (horrific, gorgeous, . . . . Continue Reading »

Is Vice More Interesting than Virtue?

Since at least the age of Milton, whose Satan in Paradise Lost allegedly outmatches the other characters in depth and dynamism, artistic depictions of evil have often been associated with power and interest. So it’s not surprising that many critics approached director Kenneth Branagh’s rococo new version of Disney’s Cinderella on the stepmother’s side. “Bad always sizzles more than good,” Manohla Dargis proclaimed in the New York Times. Other critics noted with genuine puzzlement that the title character manages to be compelling in spite of her moral goodness. Where is the dramatic appeal, they wondered, in a conventionally virtuous character? Continue Reading »

Hitting the Gym

I am not attracted to the men at the gym; I just want to look like them. As for my wife, she’s attracted to me; she just wants me to look like them, too. There they are, pulling and pushing and sweating. Committed, compulsive—lifting in lines, running in rows, spurred on by the programs . . . . Continue Reading »

How a Decadent Culture Makes Me Think Like Sorokin

The more I am hit by the decadence and vulgarity of American culture, the more I return to the thought of Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968). Now out of favor in spite of his enduring scholarship and his central role in the development of academic sociology, Sorokin was already beginning to fade when I entered graduate school in the late-1950s. His stout anti-communism, critique of loosening sexual mores, and cultural conservatism ran squarely against the academic trends of the time. And it didn’t help that his life story gave him far more credibility than his colleagues to discuss the great ideological debates of the Cold War. Continue Reading »

On College Football (and Blaming ESPN)

The season ends in a few days, the first year of a playoff, and TV ratings will be astronomical. For real lovers of the game, though, the ones with an historical sense of things, it’s getting difficult to watch. How can you appreciate the contest when so much bad behavior by players happens? Continue Reading »