Last week’s New York Magazine was yet another argument for Adam Moss as the editor of our time. First up, Scott Brown’s conversation with script doctor Damon Lindelof which takes a tour through the his trade and dissects the world of the summer block buster through a hypothetical retelling of the story of John Henry. Here’s a gem:
“Probably, that wouldn’t be far enough. So the next writer is going to come in and have to pitch some variation of some scene where John Henry has always had these abilities for reasons that he does not entirely understand. And as, like, a 20-year-old man, he discovers some sort of mystical Obi Wan figure who’s been following him around, and that character sits down with him and says to him—and this will be in the trailer—‘John Henry, you’re not who you think you are.’ He works for the Vatican, so he should definitely have an accent. You know, ‘I went into this secret room in the Vatican, and the scriptures revealed that you would be born somewhere in Louisiana.’ Let’s go with the Buffy kind of iteration: Once every 75 years, someone is born into the world to restore humanity’s balance when it’s in danger of tipping into the abyss.
“ ‘But now this is your job. And I have some bad news for you, John Henry. It’s great that you have these powers—but you will die. You know, this is the arc—Jesus did it, so it’s, like, you’ve kind of got to, too.’
“And then John Henry says, ‘I don’t want this responsibility, I don’t want to die. I love this girl. I don’t want the fate of humanity on my shoulders, especially given my past.’ And then the guy says, ‘Well here’s the thing, John Henry: You have free will, you can choose. Many have denied the mantle in the past, and following those periods of denial, well, you know, the Black Plague happened, and the Crusades,’ and he basically runs down all these [catastrophes].
“So now we’re setting up this great choice that John Henry has when he realizes this contest that’s going to take place in the third act is literally going to save the world. It’s not just, ‘Will I beat this machine?’ If he doesn’t do this, then the cosmic balance, which he was born to preserve, tips. And history as we know it will have an entirely different outcome.”
And there it is: John Henry, Superhero. Shaped by Story Gravity.
And then there was Benjamin Wallace-Wells’ look at Chris Christie’s New Jersey. Wallace-Wells boils it down to this:
For Christie, Newark is always both a nostalgia and an aspiration tour, a way to stress what the city has in common with the rest of the state rather than what keeps it from catching up. “If he were really concerned about Newark, he’d be like [former Republican governor] Tom Kean. He’d spend his time in the South Ward, the Central, the West Ward, where the minorities live and where there is gangbanging, and he would address the criminal-justice problem,” says Newark state senator Ronald L. Rice. “He just does not do it. He doesn’t care.” But Christie does not need to convince suburbanites, as Kean did, that the inner city is a controllable problem, that the watch stations and barracks are in place. What he needs from Newark is something more modern, something that explains his intense connection with Booker: He needs to be able to prove to a more liberal state that a historical loop has been closed and that his own anger can become a politics of hope.
Didion for our time? Two weeks ago this was his feature:
What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?