Sunday, March 10, 2013

Suggested reading: Kerry Howley, Hilary Mantel, and Andrea DenHoed

Arthur Schopenhauer, age 58, 1846
Another in the occasional series of links to some of my favorite recent articles and reviews:  

Kerry Howley imagines a conversation between pastor Joel Osteen, the toothy writer of inspirational best-sellers such as Become a Better You, and Arthur Schopenhauer, the author of Studies in Pessimism, conducted in alternating quotes from their works ("Hope Against Schope," Bookforum, Feb/Mar 2013):
"JOEL OSTEEN: Arthur, I’m so glad you came to join us at Lakewood Church today. We love you. You are one of a kind. You are a masterpiece. You are a prized possession. When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, instead of getting depressed, instead of saying, 'Oh man. Look how old I look. Look at this gray hair. Look at these wrinkles,' you need to smile and say, 'Good morning, you beautiful thing. Good morning, you blessed, prosperous, successful, strong, talented, creative, confident, secure, disciplined, focused, highly favored child of the most high God!'
ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER: This world is a scene of tormented and agonized beings, who only continue to exist by devouring each other, in which, therefore, every ravenous beast is the living grave of thousands of others, and its self-maintenance is a chain of painful deaths; and in which the capacity for feeling pain increases with knowledge."

Hilary Mantel meditates on Kate Middleton, Princess Diana, the wives of Henry VIII, and our fascination with royalty ("Royal Bodies," London Review of Books, 21 February 2013):
"The royal body exists to be looked at. The world’s focus on body parts was most acute and searching in the case of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. No one understood what Henry saw in Jane, who was not pretty and not young. The imperial ambassador sneered that ‘no doubt she has a very fine enigme’: which is to say, secret part. We have arrived at the crux of the matter: a royal lady is a royal vagina."

Andrea DenHoed writes about the viral YouTube video (posted below) in which actress Mila Kunis is interviewed by Chris Stark, a novice BBC reporter. Stark starts out by confessing that he's "petrified," and then "quickly veers off-script" to talk about his pub mates and their favorite drinks, the soccer team he follows, and pre-wedding bachelor rituals. Kunis, obviously heartily sick of robotically mouthing the same answers over and over, "encourages Stark to stay away from his planned questions" ("Mila Kunis and the Lad Interview," The New Yorker, 8 March 2013):
"Great interviewers often describe their craft as something between a dance, a seduction, and a magic trick. You have Truman Capote spinning webs of trust and charisma around his subjects. You have Joan Didion, dependent on being 'so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.' You have Janet Malcolm using the fine touch of her 'Japanese technique' to elicit information and draw people out of themselves. And then you have Chris Stark, talking about eating chicken, scoring 'massive lad points,' and 'dropping trou' at his friend Dicko’s wedding. And it works. The result is great. Good for him."
This interview is highly enjoyable, and it reminds us that when stars are interviewed they are on the job for the studio's publicity department. Kunis's 30-second monologue where she spouts every press-release cliché that she's been instructed to hand out to other interviewers is hilarious.

But I hate to break the news to Andrea DenHoed: the interview didn't "veer off-script." Chris Stark had clearly planned everything he was going to say; in essence, it was shtick, and probably shtick that was pre-approved by his bosses. Nonetheless, Kunis was charming, and graciously rolled with it in classic Hawksian woman fashion (as she did with Sgt. Scott Moore's video request that she attend the Marine Corps Birthday Ball as his date in 2011). Seeing her relieved and spontaneous responses to Stark is a reminder of just how tedious being a star must be most of the time. If you haven't already seen it, here's the interview:

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