Monthly Archives: June 2017

From the Archives: Peter Berger

Detail from cover from Penguin Random House.

Detail from cover from Penguin Random House.

It’s with sadness that we at The Hedgehog Review hear of the death of the sociologist Peter Berger, an occasional contributor to our pages and a friend to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

You can read his essay for our Globalization and Religion issue here, or his interview with Charles Mathewes here. Readers with institutional access might also be interested in THR publisher Joe Davis’s review of Berger’s memoir, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World without Becoming a Bore.

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Introducing the Summer Issue: The Meaning of Cities

Bearden_The Block II 1972 copy copy

The Block II, 1972, by Romare Bearden (1921–1988), The Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA, New York.

Whenever it pops up these days, and it does very often, the phrase smart city conjures up visions of a bright, bold urban future—a future that, to some extent, has already arrived. We are assured that through the mobilization of Big Data, the Internet of Things, robotics, and a host of other technological wonders, this “sweeping change” is not only inevitable but all to the good.

But are we reassured?

The answer depends on what we think is good not just for cities but about them—about what we expect of them as sites and incubators of commerce, creativity, and community, and, even more crucially, as places that form the minds and souls of their inhabitants. And yet, in this epoch of “the city”—when more than half of the world’s population inhabits cities, when so much thought and study have been devoted to the challenges of city life, and when so many expectations have been placed upon the city as the solution to a range of pressing national and global problems—surprisingly little attention is paid to the crucial purpose of cities.

As the pace of urbanization accelerates worldwide—with some projections putting 70 percent of humanity in cities by 2050—there is good cause to see our fate inextricably bound up with the forms our cities take. For that reason among others, the question of  the meaning of cities, the theme of this issue, has never been more urgent. We invite you to join our authors as they consider different aspects of that question.

We will be releasing a select number of essays and reviews from this issue on a rolling basis during the coming weeks, starting with the following two:

Here’s what subscribers can already read: Noah J. Toly’s “The New Urban Agenda and the Limits of Cities,” Marc J. Dunkelman’s “Next-Door Strangers: The Crisis of Urban Anonymity,” and Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein’s “Cosmopolitanism vs. Provincialism: How the Politics of Place Hurts America.” Other contributions include essays by Mark Edmundson, Donald Dewey, and Jackson Lears.

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The Groot Gang: Superheroes, Politics, and Art

Image from a film by Louis Feuillade. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Image from a film by Louis Feuillade. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, good guys die by disintegration. They flake apart; their death leaves confetti everywhere. This residue—sparkly, expensive-looking, soon gone—resembles the way the film exists in the memory.

As for the bad guys: They die, as in all Marvel movies, by extreme, cartoonish violence, of the sort one is supposed to find cutely amoral. In this case, it’s a glowing flying space arrow (don’t ask) that a character controls by whistling (don’t ask) and that carves beautiful arabesques on the screen as it disposes many dozens of henchmen. The crowd around me laughed, just as they laughed last year, when Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool killed eleven goons while dodging twelve bullets, or nine years ago, when Robert Downey’s Iron Man flattened those hostage-takers with the shoulder-mounted rockets. Superhero films resemble slasher movies, these days, in the cleverness and dexterity of their kills. In Guardians 2—as in the first film, which featured a space-jailbreak that presumably left hundreds dead—the audience is expected to go along with this violence, and largely does, because of the excellence of the heroes’ repartee. They’re bounty hunters and killers, but they’re cute, and one of them is a tree.

The amoral turn in superhero cinema—you can trace it to Iron Man, with Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990) as a fascinating precursor—is really a turning back. Historians generally attribute the distinction of “first superhero” to Superman, but this requires willful blindness to the great silent crime serials of Louis Feuillade—the Fantomas series (1913–14), Les Vampires (1916)—or their imitators: 1926’s The Bat, based on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s play; Fritz Lang’s Spies (1919). Les Vampires in particular, with its elaborately costumed, endlessly clever, undeniably sexy conspirators, in turn drew on the activities of the Bonnot Gang, an anarchist sect known for expropriating (though they never got around to redistributing) the goods of wealthy Parisians. Just as the first detective was a thief—Eugene Vidocq, a nineteenth-century thief-turned-fence-turned-informer, invented criminology and opened the first private detective agency—the first superheroes were supervillains. Continue reading

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