The end of 2017 is nigh. And with it, the top ten lists, the retrospectives, the predictions. Rather than the Top Books Published in 2017 or the Best Films of the Year or anything like this, here’s my list of opinions, ideas, and arguments that I have not already written about in 2017 and would like to make sure I write about before the year is up and they become potentially irrelevant.
So, here we go.
The Literature Takes
One. Are we living in Vonnegut’s unfinished final novel?
I’ve already written about how painfully the current world resembles a Vonnegut novel. But as nuclear war ticks closer, metaphors invade real life, and madmen in decline occupy the highest positions of power, it’s worth wondering if we might simply be living in Vonnegut’s world.
According to his book A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut had an unfinished novel at the end of his life, a novel with little-to-no prospect of ever being finished. He called it If God Were Alive Today and describes it as
“…about Gil Berman, thirty-six years my junior, a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.”
Is it possible that this is where we are right now? Is Vonnegut writing our history from a different place? Is this idea really dramatically different than Elon Musk saying we living in a simulation? Or the suggestion made by philosopher David Chalmers that we are not just in a simulation, but one that is breaking? Wouldn’t it be at least more reassuring to think that we are in a Vonnegut novel, rather than a computer program that is slowly breaking down?
Two. If you didn’t know The New Yorker publishes fiction, you probably shouldn’t weigh in on the “Cat Person” conversation.
I will not recap all of it, but near the end of this year The New Yorker had a short story “go viral.” What added fire to the flame of this virality was a) the story was very good b) the story offended Men’s Rights Activists and other disturbed audiences, in the same way that Ghostbusters offended them in 2016 and c) many people did not recognize the short story as fiction, instead viewing it as an “article” or “essay.”
All of this is fascinating. It was exciting to see a work of fiction shared thousands of times across the internet, even if many of those sharing it were sharing it out of offense or because they failed to recognize it as fiction.
But what really bothered me were those on various sides of this Cat Person conversation who did not understand that The New Yorker regularly publishes fiction. One article in particular, called “Cat Person: Fact and Fiction” has over a thousand claps on Medium and a slew of comments while including this line:
Is this where we are now, as a society? You can write a hot take explaining “Cat Person” to the public, without even being aware that the New Yorker publishes fiction on a literal weekly basis? That it’s arguably the largest mainstream publisher of short fiction in the the literary world?
This is where are are today, it seems. Crank out your think piece, whether you have even the most basic knowledge of the subject or not.
Three. Lincoln in the Bardo is a great book but I don’t know who to recommend it to.
This novel won the Man Booker prize. It made quite a few lists of the best novels of 2017. I think it’s one of the best books I read this year. But wow, it’s a weird book. Confusing, bizarre, unconventional, unapologetic, inaccessible, at times impossible.
So yeah, maybe you should read it. But maybe you shouldn’t. It’s one weird book.
The Political Takes and Cultural Takes
Four. Singing “O Holy Night” in French is the best iteration of that War on Christmas yet.
One of the smallest and weirdest stories I read this year was about an angry conservative snowflake who stormed off the stage at a concert because Rufus Wainwright hurt his feelings. As described in the Star Tribune:
Reached by phone Monday morning, Laureano explained he was already mad that Wainwright “mocked” the performance of “Cantique de Noël” earlier in the show, aka the original French version of “Oh Holy Night.”
The singer made light of the awkward French-to-English literal translation of the song (he stuck to the French lyrics), and he seemed a tad put off to have to sing it at all, saying, “One of the requirements for this evening’s performance was I had to do a Christmas song.” The concert was sold amid this year’s holiday programming.
What can’t become a weapon in the War on Christmas, when even commenting on the translation of lyrics can help push a man out of his trumpeting seat?
Five. We should be nice to Barron Trump because, if archetypes have taught us anything, he will end up being our hero.
Perhaps I will have to write more about this. I almost certainly will. But one thing I’ve seen since that terrible day in January when America’s villainy became official is this argument about whether we can make fun of Barron Trump.
Now, I say we can but that we shouldn’t. He’s a child. The child of a monster and a tragic woman, yes, but he’s still a child.
But in addition to that argument and all the other obvious ones, let’s also remember that Luke Skywalker is the son of Darth Vader. Tyrion is the son of Tywin. Zeus overthrew his father Cronos, Star Lord fought Ego, Shadow fights Mr. Wednesday. It’s a classic trope (called the Archnemesis Father on TV Tropes).
If we mock young Barron, he will never see the light. He will never turn from the dark throne. He must be brought into the resistance with open arms.
Six. If I did a top ten list of ads of 2017, this Burger King PSA would be on it.
It’s really something:
Seven. It is not enough to never meet your hero. Perhaps our culture should finally move past the very concept of celebrity.
At the end of 2016, I wrote at length about how we should never meet out heroes and 2016 was the year that proved it. I don’t have the energy to write about it again, but is it perhaps time for us to abandon the idea of celebrity? Is there anything good that comes to our culture from admiring strangers without knowing them?
Within the last year, a disturbed reality show clown came to power while horrifying scandals rippled through every celebrity-obsessed industry. Is this not enough for us to turn away from our obsessive celebrity society?
The Film and Television Takes
Eight. Did Darren Aronofsky make the film mother! just to get everyone talking about Death of the Author?
Whether you like that film or not, you had to admit that it’s frustrating to see its creator going around telling everyone that they don’t understand it. He literally mansplained his entire film to various websites.
And for what? A little bit of forgiveness from the critics and the audiences? I am a major believer in Death of the Author and I don’t think that a better argument for it can be made than watching mother! and then reading Aronofsky’s explanation for what he thinks his own movie is about.
It’s even a bit sad. C’mon, Darren. You don’t have to explain your movie to us. Unless you’re just giving us a cautionary tale for what happens when artists explain their art. In which case, bravo.
Nine. There is a difference between fan fiction, fan theories, and plot predictions.
Surely I’ll be writing more about this one soon. But it’s worth reiterating for one time that there are fan theories, fan fiction, and plot predictions. These are not all the same thing and should not be mistaken for one another. The new Star Wars was not hurt by fan theories but by the fan fiction created in certain circles of the internet.
It is one thing to say what you think a film was about. It’s something else entirely to say what you think it should be about, and therein lies the distinction between fan theories and the rest of the junk.
Ten. Can Harrison Ford get a requel where he’s happy?
In Star Wars, he has lost the love of his life and is murdered by his own son. In Indiana Jones, his personal relationships have crumbled and he’s slowly becoming physically incapable of doing his job. In Blade Runner he lives alone in a nuclear Las Vegas and holds the skull of his dead replicant lover.
Maybe next, we could see an Air Force One sequel where he’s just takin’ it easy, watching Rangers games and painting dogs. Or a Witness sequel where the Amish kid is happily grown up and credits it all to Detective John Book.
This is the trouble with requels, of course. Just like Independence Day II and Jurassic World and every other franchise that has been only half-rebooted, in which the characters from the original die onscreen or are already dead, the Harrison Ford requels run the risk of tainting the originals. Blade Runner 2049 gracefully avoided many of the flaws and challenges of other requels, but it still begs the question of whether a requel is worth the risk.
Eleven. It is incomprehensible that a paid film critic could mistake Guillermo del Toro for Benicio del Toro.
This is madness. #FireRexReed before he does it again.
Also, for other thoughts related to Benecio (sic) and his mistaken identities, check out a) this No Country for Old Men review, b) these Heineken commercials and c) these notes.
Twelve. I’m going to miss The Leftovers but I hope it never comes back.
The ending was everything it needed to be. Nothing more to say.
Thirteen. The Trial of Tim Heidecker is the best television of 2017.
If you have not seen it yet, watch it. The Trial of Tim Heidecker is one of the most ambitious, funny, and intelligent things I’ve seen, on the internet or otherwise.
But first, maybe start at the beginning of On Cinema and take it from there.
Fourteen. The TV episode of 2017 that everyone should watch is the Nathan for You finale.
It’s a masterpiece. Don’t believe me? Read Errol Morris’s opinion.
Fifteen. Why isn’t everyone referring to Christopher Plummer as Plumm Dogg Millionaire?
It’s the nickname he deserves. Especially now, during the Plummerssaince.
Takes about this blog’s takes
Sixteen. This blog was right that a) Trump would be banned from Twitter in 2017 and b) Wonder Woman would be pretty good.
Sadly, the Trump ban was temporary.
All my other 2017 predictions didn’t come true, but don’t seem off the table. Let them eat freedom fries.
Seventeen. This blog may have outlived its name.
For now, the name and the domain will remain the same. But when we are surrounded by stories of controversy and scandal and the dangers that come from celebrity worship, maybe “What Would Bale Do?” is a tonedeaf name. This is not to say it’s changing or anything, at least not right away. Just something I’m pondering. At the very least, I may need to write something that better explains the origins of the name and how if manifests itself today.
Enjoy this read? Check out more thoughts on Fan Theories or The Moonborn.