Culture Update 2/24/14: Academics, Coriolanus, and Capote

Some important articles and cultural considerations I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so:

Kristof: Exhorting PhDs to Get Involved

Silly, or true? From quickmeme

Silly, or true? From quickmeme

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column last week (“Professors, We Need You!”), carefully and respectfully  condemning academics for not being more involved in real-world policy development and implementation. He made an excellent point that the divide between academic scholars and the “real world” has widened over the past few decades, and he urges scholars to not allow themselves to be obsolete, for everyone’s sake.

Being in academia myself, the only exception I would take with the piece would be with Kristof’s simplistic characterization of academic writing. Yes, the writing is often unpalatable and difficult, and its limited audience reach is part of the reason I do not want to pursue a PhD myself. And yet it bears mentioning that complex thought requires complex writing. Too often, glib and reductive translations of research and real academic work end up hindering public consideration of information, distorting it almost out of recognition (“[Key nutritional element] is bad for you! Avoid carbs/fat/gluten at all costs!” “Climate change is only manifested as global warming, and therefore clearly not real!” “Evolution, just a THEORY, says humans descended from monkeys!” The list goes on).

Again, while I agree that much could be done to simplify the language of academic discourse, the general public would do well to remember that not all academic writing “glorifies arcane intelligibility” for its own sake. These people are trying to do harder intellectual work than most people ever will. So cut them some slack, even while we encourage them to branch out.

Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus

Coriolanus_2013_playI was able to see an NT Live screening of the Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA. For a summary of the play, check out my previous post here. Tom Hiddleston brings a quiet ferocity to the title role,  and has been getting great reviews; he is one of a few popular stars getting their Shakespeare on, including David Tennant and Jude Law. My compliments to Mark Gatiss, who plays a very excellent Menenius, the father-like counselor to Coriolanus.

Hiddleston and Gatiss in rehearsal. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Hiddleston and Gatiss in rehearsal. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman: Capote

There is no need for my voice to join the quite eloquent and heartfelt chorus of grief for the tragic death of one of America’s best actors (Dana Stevens, Slate’s film critic, wrote a particularly moving piece, available here). In honor of Hoffman, I decided to revisit the  film Capote (2005), for which he won an Academy Award.

Still from the film. From amazon.co.uk

Still from the film. From amazon.co.uk

Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote, the famed author of In Cold Blood, a “nonfiction novel” about the horrible murder of a Kansas family, is startling in its power and consistency. I was also surprised to see Catherine Keener playing Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird; I didn’t realize that when I saw the two of them in A Late Quartet (2012) (a film I mentioned here), that they had already worked on a film together before; turns out they had also played a married couple in Synecdoche, New York (2008). While we may mourn for what Hoffman may have achieved, I am very grateful for the trove of nuanced work he left for us to consider and praise, only praise.

A fantastic Hoffman and Keener. Copyright Sony Pics/Everett/REX

A fantastic Hoffman and Keener. Copyright Sony Pics/Everett/REX

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