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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 3/10/21

Good morning,


I’ve been thinking this for a while. Gone are the days when we had a “loyal opposition,” when the party out of power would be generally cooperative, attempting to fashion legislation to be as favorable as possible to their position and move on. In effect, they would be saying:

“You won the election. You can set policy. I will argue all the way and try to reshape your more extreme policies to be as palatable as I can to my point of view. But I want you to succeed (any success will bring with it failures, so I’ll always have something to run on). Next election cycle, the people can vote on your policies.”

Now, the conversation, most notably articulated by Mitch McConnell, is:

“You won the election. It is my job to stop you in your tracks, to do everything possible to make it as difficult as possible for you to achieve anything whatsoever—even though it is not in the best interest of the country for me to do so. In the next election cycle, I will run on your inability to get anything done, motivate my base to believe you are the anti-Christ and do what I can to ensure that your base can’t vote.”

The idea of a “loyal opposition” is that it is loyal to the greater good and will allow the duly elected leadership some latitude to enact the policies their supporters expect—all while standing in opposition to the extremes of those policies. The idea is that the loyalty is to the nation and to the people. At this sad point in our nation’s political life, it’s all “opposition” and not much “loyal.”


Jesse Sharf recommends The History of Time Travel, and with good reason. It is as close to a Nova special about a scientific phenomenon that has never occurred can be. It has all the feel of a documentary, with interviews, scientific explanations, and historical anecdotes and asides, to make this feel like a PBS special explaining how we learned to travel in time. The meta-conceit of the enterprise, which I will not divulge until you watch it, makes it an even more delicious treat. A great balance of genre parody, storytelling and riddle. Not to be missed.

As most of you know, I love time travel movies and I love Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s Memento remains one of my favorite movies. The Batman trilogy, Inception, and The Prestige are outstanding. Dunkirk (notwithstanding its lack of focus on the citizen navy of that monumental enterprise and unwillingness to identify the Nazis as the enemy) and Interstellar are close behind these extraordinary films. Nolan is one of the most intelligent filmmakers of our time.

Then there is Tenet. The film is well made. Its set pieces are good. Washington’s performance is laudable. While I usually enjoy Kenneth Branaugh (check out Henry V for him at the height of his talents), he’s not that believable as an evil Ukrainian. And while the conceit of the time travel basic premise is interesting, the motives of those in the future and the manner in which this haphazard complex plot plays out is unsatisfying. I’ve read several reviews that suggest that watching the movie multiple times will tease out some of the plot twists, virtually all left confirming that the intent of the movie is not to entertain or challenge, but crush the viewer. I’m not smart enough for this movie; and I’m not watching it again.


Pity poor Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. This young Dutch author, winner of the International Booker Prize last year, has stepped back from the commission to translate Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch. The crime committed by this non-binary white poet is that she and her publisher had the audacity to suggest that a non-Black translator should be allowed to translate the work of a black author.

Ms. Rijneveld was excoriated for accepting this assignment, accused of having “no experience in this area.” The “area” is that Ms. Gorman’s work has been colored by her experience as a Black woman. Ms. Rijneveld was quoted as thinking it was “a great and honorable assignment” to translate “The Hill We Climb,” Mr. Gorman’s poem written for President Biden’s inauguration. I’m not sure why the background of color or condition is a necessary precondition for an author to adequately (and poetically) translate a work and incorporate its essence for a foreign reader. Dutch poet declines to translate Amanda Gorman after outcry

On this basis, are we not allowed to have a Latina author translate the works of an Asian man? Should I, as a Jew, object to Rachel Brosnahan, an Irish-American actress, not having “experience in the area” of being a New York Jew, playing one in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”? Can a creative Shakespearean director reverse the races of Iago and Othello in some future production? For that matter, can a Jamaican Black actress play an African-American character?

I’m not suggesting we go back to the days of Yul Brynner and Ricardo Montalban playing every “ethnic” character in the movies. But why has it become a crime against nature for a member of one ethnic community to play a character from another community? Why is it wrong for a distinguished and decorated young non-binary Dutch woman to translate the work of a binary Black-American woman—to give life to her words and ideas (ideas that, presumably, are universal in scope) in another language?

And what of negative stereotypes? Can only Jews play Shylock? Blacks play Othello? Can only nerdy Jewish guys play in Woody Allen films? Is a straight person unable to play a gay person? Is Neil Patrick Harris banished from playing womanizers a la How I Met Your Mother? Are not Bridgerton and other period pieces enhanced by their multi-culturalism? Or, for that matter, Hamilton?

My point is that, not only is there not a problem with people playing those from other cultures, belief systems, or personal condition, but it actually is laudable and should be welcomed. It makes the stories more transcendent, and the pain, struggles, and successes of those who are unlike ourselves (or even the audience) more believable.



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