It’s nearly over, but 2014 hasn’t totally packed it in yet. Here is your weekend reading, to get you through to 2015:
Real-life personages rendered on screen will naturally be subject to a lot of scrutiny, if only from the know-it-alls desperate for anachronisms to moan about. A mindless exercise in hum-buggery when applied to your ordinary citizen (e.g. “Actually, Jack Swigert wasn’t the womanizer Apollo 13 implied … ”), in the case of a genius, a little scrutiny is welcome. Not because of something inherent to the genius depicted, but rather because of our unfortunate artistic tendencies on the subject. The genius on the screen is easy to pick out; their brilliance is always contrasted with a tragic flaw, be it an impenetrable loneliness, psychosis, intensely antisocial personality, or whatever. It’s difficult, apparently, to portray genius absent a tragic foil to cast it in relief. In the case of Alan Turing, a definite genius and, by all accounts, complicated man, a new cinematic interpretation falls into this trap, with particular regard to Turing’s homosexuality. Here, “the filmmakers have managed to transform the real Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate.”
Whatever the depths of Turing’s genius, it’s difficult to imagine him predicting what his work has eventually wrought. I’m referring, of course, to the robot camel jockeys.
It’s been an unsettling year in word-related superlatives, from Time’s decision to include “feminism” on a list of words they’d like to ban to the Oxford Dictionary’s choice of “vape” as Word of the Year. Now Merriam-Webster’s has taken it a step further, topping the OED by christening “culture” itself. “Confusion about culture was just part of the culture this year.”
With Phil Klay’s National Book Award for Redeployment acting as a kind of punctuation, we might remember 2014 as the year the literature of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached full maturity. “Even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles with no clear ends in sight, they have given birth to an extraordinary outpouring of writing that tries to make sense of it all: journalism that has unraveled the back story of how and why America went to war, and also a profusion of stories, novels, memoirs and poems that testify to the day-to-day realities and to the wars’ ever-unspooling human costs.”
Finally, if you’re headed somewhere to celebrate New Year’s, or just returning home post-holidays, you might want to take a look at the CIA’s tips for a smooth experience at airport security. Thank you, Uncle Sam, and see you in 2015.