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Vivien Chang

Before the Sex and the City

Carrie Bradshaw is back.In a touching, potentially star-making performance in Monday’s premiere of The Carrie Diaries, AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Soul Surfer) captures the beloved Sex and the City character’s essence -- the earnestness, loyalty, and idealism that have endeared her to fans since 1998.Physically speaking, Robb does not resemble Sarah Jessica Parker, who played Carrie in the long-running television series as well as the two rather lackluster movie sequels. On the contrary, she is reminiscent of a young Lindsay Lohan, all wide eyes, delicate features, and winning smile.Based on the 2010 novel of the same name, The Carrie Diaries is full of references to the ‘80s -- some oblique; some, not so much. At one point, Carrie gushes about Rob Lowe, who was a teen heartthrob back in the day, though for many Millenials, he is better known as the perpetually upbeat Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation. There is another scene in which Carrie’s internship supervisor voices her disapproval of Madonna, then a young and controversial up-and-comer (this is pre-Lady Gaga, pre-Nicki Minaj America). Wrinkling her nose at a dress that arrives for Carrie, she says: “It looks like something that singer would wear, you know, the one that takes Jesus’ name in vain.” It’s scenes like these that make The Carrie Diaries great. We are amused because we have the benefit of hindsight, and we are nostalgic because the past is always more richly hued than the present.For fans of the late John Hughes, this is a delightful breath of fresh air from the Millenial-centric shows of late. From the snobbish Upper East Side preps in Gossip Girl to the overanalytical 20-somethings stuck in perpetual adolescence in Girls, we are tired of entitled, self-absorbed young women in television. Robb is no Molly Ringwald. She has yet… Read More

Of Mad Men and Modernity

Last time we checked, Don Draper is in Hawaii and Peggy Olson is in Los Angeles (a makeshift Midtown, perhaps?) In typical “Mad Men” fashion, the show’s dedicated fans are subject to a torturous hiatus. As of now, a return date has not been confirmed. For all we know, it may be months before the highly anticipated Season 6 premiere. As we cope with this vacuum by brainstorming potential plot-openers and lashing out at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association over “Mad Men’s” Golden Globes snub, it is worthwhile to ponder where exactly the show’s appeal lies. For the millions of people who will eagerly tune in to the Season 6 premiere, it is in the character of Don Draper. But who is Don Draper? He is the fictional ad exec of “Mad Men”, the philandering womanizer and creative extraordinaire, the slick yet vulnerable protagonist that we love and hate, and sometimes love to hate. If all the men and women at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are “mad”, then Don is certainly the maddest of them all. From Cary Grant’s Jim Blandings to Mel Gibson’s Nick Marshall, Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is hardly the first ad man we swooned over. But somehow, his appeal is more complicated than simply his charm and good looks. He is a war deserter, an adulterer, and a hypocrite, yet he harbors mannerisms reminiscent of the Old World. By reprimanding disrespectful younger men -- he removes one such man’s hat in an elevator at one point -- and mentoring and promoting Peggy, he falls just short of becoming an antihero. Much like our fascination with Don, Mad Men’”s success lies in its very political incorrectness. This is an America before the civil rights and women’s movements, before the rise of the counterculture, before Watergate; a time… Read More

The return of the UN arms control treaty

The day after President Barack Obama’s reelection, the U.S. moved to back the United Nations’ call to reconvene talks over a potential Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).The Obama administration reversed the positions of the Bush and Clinton administrations in 2009 when it agreed to participate in the ATT negotiations. In July, however, the United States voted against the treaty. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that “more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue” and that “it needs further review and refinement”.It looks like the time may be ripe for "further review and refinement". As the lame-duck realities of the Obama administration set in, it is likely that President Obama wants to add global gun control to his legacy.But the treaty's potential to infringe on Second Amendment rights have proved unpopular to Democrats and Republicans alike. In June, 58 bipartisan Members of Congress drafted a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voicing their opposition.“[The] U.N.’s actions to date indicate that the ATT is likely to pose significant threats to our national security, foreign policy, and economic interests as well as our constitutional rights,” the letter espouses. “The U.S. must establish firm red lines for the ATT and state unequivocally that it will oppose the ATT if it infringes on our rights or threatens our ability to defend our interests.”Rep. Altmire, one of the drafters, says the treaty violates the underlying rights of American citizens as established by the Constitution. In an email, the Democratic Representative from Pennsylvania explained his position: “Our letter makes clear that the United Nations does not have the authority to restrict Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Any treaty that does not include firm protections of those rights is unacceptable.”Rep. Altmire is not alone in his concern for U.S.… Read More

The GOP: moderate or be marginalized

The results of last night’s election were no doubt disappointing to Republicans, but they also serve as a much-needed awakening – albeit a rude one. In the weeks leading up to the election, polls consistently showed Mitt Romney leading or trailing by small margins. That Romney ended up losing by 97 electoral votes came as an unpleasant surprise to many.What went wrong? Perhaps it was not all that unexpected.Sure, Hurricane Sandy -- or rather, the way President Barack Obama handled the superstorm -- played a role in his victory. Not only did it unsettle the Romney campaign’s momentum, gained after the President’s lackluster performance during the first presidential debate in Denver, it also restored a degree of confidence in the Obama Administration. Obama appeared presidential and bipartisan in the aftermath of Sandy, while Romney was forced to fade to the background, for propriety’s sake, during what was supposed to be his final week of campaigning.What really contributed to Romney’s defeat, however, is his lack of support among women, youth, and minorities, which prevented him from capturing several battleground states, including Colorado and likely Florida. This unpopularity is far from personal and instead stems from the GOP’s ideological stance. The so-called Republican “war on women”, though often exaggerated, alienated many female voters that might have voted for Romney on his fiscal policies alone. His failure to distance himself from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Richard Mourdock for fear of upsetting the conservative base hurt his long term efforts at courting the female vote.Hispanics, similarly, voted overwhelmingly for Obama. While this hardly came as a surprise, this ever-expanding electorate played an extremely crucial role in this election and would only be increasingly so in the years to come. It is important that the GOP take note of this trend and reform its… Read More

Bob Dylan: His First 70 Years

Once in a while, a person appears seemingly out of nowhere and transforms the cultural landscape so remarkably that the remnants of the past become just that – remnants. Bob Dylan is one of these gifted few.In the aftermath of his 70th birthday, the world he charmed half a century ago with Blowin’ in the Wind remains very much under his spell. Sure, on the surface, we have changed. We have witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union, traveled to the moon and back, lamented the premature deaths of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Princess Diana, among others. In short, we are no longer the naïve, homogenous flock we once were. And Dylan’s music no longer shocks us with its raw honesty.What, then, perpetuates his continued influence?Because we are still fascinated with him. His performance at the Grammy Awards early this year still ignited applause more thunderous than all of the others combined, not to mention the 2007 biopic which had him portrayed by a trainload of notable actors (and one actress).Simply put, it is the universal and timeless quality of his music. Like Holden Caufield of The Catcher in the Rye, Dylan speaks to the angst and idealism of each generation in ways more powerful than any of his contemporaries would dare. In a serious case of art imitates life, his music poses the unasked questions of the Zeitgeist and then answers their cries itself.That is why whenever I watch Dylan and his then-lover Joan Baez perform Only a Pawn in Their Game during the March on Washington on Youtube, peering at the faint black-and-white images in the solitude of my 21st century room, I am able to transcend the boundaries of time and place and understand that the bell tolls as much for us as the civil rights activists lining the steps of the Lincoln Memorial… Read More
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