The best things I’ve read recently (22/08/16)

This week: Marx and Corbyn, Democrats and Tammany Hall, and indecisive movie studios

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones – review by Oliver Bullough (the Guardian)

“Stedman Jones eventually comes to the conclusion that the pioneers of 20th-century socialism would have found Marx’s true dreams incomprehensible, since they were formed in a pre-1848 world that would have had little if any relevance to them. The eventual message is that Marxist ideology and Marx himself were very different things.

I couldn’t help noticing while reading the book, however, some clear parallels between modern leftist politics and the habits of the old man. Thanks to his obsession with minute points of ideological deviation, his determination to cling to leadership positions despite the increasing irrelevance of the groups he led, his conviction that victory was imminent despite near-overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and his repeated estrangement of potential allies for no apparent reason, Marx would surely have felt at home in today’s Labour party.”

Cinemautopsy: What Went Wrong With ‘Fantastic Four’? by Matt Singer (Screen Crush)

“History seems to have repeated itself this summer. Just 10 days ago Warner Bros. released Suicide Squad, another heavily hyped and very expensive comic-book adaptation with a massive identity crisis. Like Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad feels like two totally different movies sutured together. Some scenes are grim and cynical; others are colorful and jokey. Combined, the two movies suggest the beginnings of an alarming Hollywood trend: Studios greenlighting challenging takes on material, getting cold feet during production, then trying to backtrack to something formulaic and familiar after it’s too late to start from scratch.

With so much money on the line, it makes sense that executives would want to protect their investment (and, by extension, their own jobs). But I’m baffled why they don’t just play it safe in the first place. How do you start with a weird, serious Fantastic Four and wind up with the Thing punching Doctor Doom into a giant sky laser? I reached out to Jeremy Slater, one of the three credited screenwriters of the film, who offered a few insights into early versions of the script, and the thinking behind these massive tentpoles.”

Democrats Should Bring Back Political Machines by Kevin Baker (the New Republic)

“Politics, like any war, is best conducted by professionals. But liberals and the left continue to place their hopes in “outsiders” and “insurgents,” amateurs who rail against the system without the means to reform it. The Green Party, for example, has embarked on yet another presidential campaign to nowhere; as its presumptive nominee, Jill Stein, recently boasted to The Village Voice, “I’m a physician, not a politician.”

Stein seemed to consider this a point of pride. [Tammany Hall boss] George Washington Plunkitt would have set her straight. “Politics is as much a regular business as the grocery or the dry-goods or the drug business,” he observed. “You’ve got to be trained up to it or you’re sure to fail.”

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