On Monday, The New York Times named Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land” one of the 10 best books of 2020. Previously, the paper had listed it as one of their 100 annual “notable” books, a more uncontroversial claim: a 700-page memoir from a recent president is, if nothing else, at least notable. To deem it one of the best books of the year, however, reeks of grading on a curve. It’s good, considering that he’s a famous politician rather than a professional writer. It’s good, considering how much policy detail he needed to include. It’s good, considering.
But isn’t this the refrain of the Obama presidency? All things considered, it was pretty good; no point in caviling at the flaws. Volume one of his presidential memoir takes this as a central theme: When all is said and done, he’s satisfied that he did the best he could.
In “A Promised Land,” Obama does set himself a hefty challenge. There’s no shortage of raw material to cover. He begins by glossing quickly through his personal history (from his childhood to his stint in the U.S. Senate), spends over 100 pages on his 2008 presidential campaign, and then documents his eventful first three years in office in dogged detail.
“What I’m trying to accomplish in this book is both history and a story,” he told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “I think what ended up taking a long time was trying to do both.” At some points, Obama explained, he sacrificed narrative flow in favor of policy detail; at other points, he padded his pages with “really nice description[s]” he refused to cut. (Pity the editor tasked with killing Barack Obama’s darlings.) He hoped, he writes in the book’s introduction, to blend history with a “sense of what it’s like to be the president of the United States,” and with an inspiring personal story of his discovery of purpose in public service.
Perhaps he could have trimmed his 700 pages down by nixing some of the more eye-wateringly dull policy explanations, or by reining in his tendency to wander into poetic riffs on his family, the seasonal charms of the Rose Garden, and the long arc of history. Certainly, he insists, he did not set out to write a two-volume memoir. “Despite my best intentions,” he writes, “the book kept growing in length and scope.” Even after eight years in the Oval Office, he was not yet immune to mission creep.
Opening “A Promised Land,” like electing Joe Biden as president, is an uncomfortably nostalgic experience. The first 200 pages of the book revisit Obama’s political origin story and the electric rush of his 2008 presidential campaign ― his star-making turn at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, his cleverest soundbites and most adroit campaign stratagems, his soaring rhetoric, his decisive victory. There’s a subdued, diminished sort of comfort in calling up the memory of something that once thrilled you before it disappointed you.
Obama, a more-than-capable stylist, renders his campaign vividly, sculpting it into a lively narrative. Each campaign stumble is an opportunity to recount a witty reprimand from one of his more seasoned advisers, and to lay the groundwork for a cathartic moment of triumph when he avoids a similar pitfall later. He overcomes poor performances at a health care forum early in the campaign and in early debates with the help of David Axelrod. “Take whatever question they give you, give ’em a quick line to make it seem like you answered it … and then talk about what you want to talk about,” Axelrod advised. “That’s bullshit,” said Obama. But it’s bullshit that works; he realizes that his job is to “perform while still speaking the truth,” and surges back with sharper showings at later debates. He fondly remembers shutting down Hillary Clinton with his response to a question about why he had so many former Clinton officials advising him if he believed the country needed change: “Well, Hillary,” he commented, “I’m looking forward to you advising me as well.”
By the time he recalls election night, the electric rush of his campaign crackles off the page. It was almost difficult, with the unfamiliar sensation of optimism rising in my chest, to remember what happened next. But, as Mario Cuomo once said, “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.” Narratively, the book slams into a wall of policy minutiae and nonstop crises. For historical purposes, one understands the value of documenting Obama’s perspective on every beat of appointing Cabinet members and moving the health care bill out of the Senate Finance Committee, but it has the undeniable effect of resembling a briefing book rather than a literary memoir.
Not that he doesn’t keep trying. In his bid for literary readability, Obama offers neat scenes, snappy dialogue and even cliffhangers, which can feel almost comically genre-ready. After several pages describing Muammar Gaddafi’s bloody crackdown against Libyan protesters in 2011, the escalating global pressure to intervene, and the downsides of instituting a no-fly zone over Libya, he ends the chapter with a line straight out of an action movie: “I think,” he tells the team gathered in the White House Situation Room, “I’ve got a plan that might work.”
Obama also has a taste for characterization akin to that of a seasoned feature writer, summing up world leaders with a few revealing lines. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he writes, looks “like a figure out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting”; Russian President Vladimir Putin has “pale, watchful eyes” and “a casualness to his movements, a practiced disinterest in his voice that indicated someone accustomed to being surrounded by subordinates and supplicants.”
In his interview with Goldberg, Obama explained that his care in describing high-level politicians and foreign leaders was intended to “remind people that these are humans and you can understand them and make judgments.” It works; by humanizing figures like Putin, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he diminishes the mythic aura that can surround powerful leaders.
But humanizing also has the effect of inviting empathy. Obama can be harsh on occasion ― correctly assessing Sarah Palin as having “absolutely no idea what the hell she was talking about” ― but even his toughest critiques are gentle at their core. Ignorance, after all, is a kinder frame than viciousness, and he rarely ascribes to greed or cruelty what he can ascribe to obliviousness. The bankers who drove the American economy off a cliff are “people who had no doubt worked hard to get where they were, who had played the game no differently than their peers … They gave large sums to various charities. They loved their families.” He claims that he can’t understand the bankers’ outrage over proposed Wall Street reforms, but he spends more time trying to empathize with them than he does condemning them.
In one notable scene, driving to his 2009 inauguration with former President George W. Bush, Obama bristles at protestors lining the streets. “I felt quietly angry on his behalf,” he writes. “To protest a man in the final hour of his presidency seemed graceless and unnecessary.” Throughout the book, he describes his efforts to stay focused on those who need him as a champion ― ordinary Americans who lack health care, who face discrimination, who are under water on their mortgages ― but he often bridles at the audacity of those who make him, and other powerful leaders, too uncomfortable in demanding redress.
Obama’s gift for self-reflection can be a balm, contrasting as it does with our current president. Without wallowing in doubt and shame, he offers insight into his own points of weakness ― a tendency to get bogged down in technocratic details, a seed of selfish ambition ― and often follows his own most troubling admissions with a bit of self-reproach. After describing his noble anger at Bush’s inauguration protesters, he admits to “a trace of self-interest.” After all, soon he would be the one facing protests.
Yet when it counts, Obama often seems to leave things out. In his dramatic recounting of planning for the raid that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden, he emphasizes his concern that a targeted missile strike on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, would risk collateral damage: “I was not going to authorize the killing of thirty or more people when we weren’t even certain it was bin Laden in the compound,” he recalls. However, the second part of the sentence, though less noble, was likely the operative one: He wanted to be absolutely sure they got bin Laden. Just a couple of pages later, he makes a glancing mention of “U.S. drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets” which “had been generating increasing opposition from the Pakistani public.” When he revisits his counterterrorism policy, it is with grim satisfaction; his only regret is that he has no choice but to order the deaths of hardened young terrorists rather than save them with education and training. Self-searching and moral high-mindedness about the civilian death toll of his expanded program of drone strikes are tellingly absent.
The memoir genre has long inspired debate about the ethics of using the lives of others — which necessarily intersect with that of the author — as fodder for art (or, if not art, for a product to sell). What if that author is a president whose legacy includes inflicting misery on innocents? Should he profit by selling a book defending his exploits? Those questions have hovered around discussions of a possible future Donald Trump memoir: A fat book contract would be quite the reward for his four years of incompetence, bigotry, corruption and cruelty. “A Promised Land” offers a thought-provoking foil; it’s undoubtedly better, more humane and more illuminating than a Trump memoir would be, and yet there’s something unsettling about seeing a 700-page defense of a former president’s decidedly mixed record touted as one of the greatest books of the year.
Perhaps there’s an upper limit on the value and quality a presidential memoir can really offer, just as — as Obama so often argues in this book — there’s a limit on how much good a president, constrained by the vast fragility of the American economy and global politics, can actually achieve in office. Maybe “A Promised Land” is as good as we could ever expect. Maybe his presidency was too. But maybe that doesn’t mean good enough.
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New ‘Scooby-Doo’ Film Makes It Official: Velma Is Queer
Popular “Scooby-Doo” character Velma Dinkley has come out of the closet after 53 years.
The newest “Scooby-Doo” movie, “Trick or Treat Scooby-Doo!,” shows the brainy sleuth developing a serious crush on a female costume designer named Coco Diablo, as you can see in the clip below.
The news isn’t exactly shocking: Velma’s sexual orientation has been the subject of speculation almost since the first “Scooby-Doo” series debuted in 1969.
And it wasn’t just the viewers who suspected Velma wasn’t straight.
Variety pointed out that “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, who wrote the script for the 2002 live-action “Scooby-Doo,” and Tony Cervone, the supervising producer on the “Mystery Incorporated” series, both confirmed Velma liked women, but were never able to make it an official part of her character.
Cervone revealed on Instagram back in 2020 that the other people on the show “made our intentions as clear as we could 10 years ago,” and added, “Most of our fans got it. To those that didn’t, I suggest you look closer.”
The new film debut is available on Amazon Prime and will air on Cartoon Network on Oct. 14.
Many Twitter users were happy about the news, but not necessarily surprised.
Although this long-standing question has been resolved, there is no word on whether there are plans to answer another rumor by depicting Shaggy and Scooby-Doo as stoners.
Jennifer Lopez Is A Grenade-Toting Bride In New ‘Shotgun Wedding’ Trailer
Real-life newlywed Jennifer Lopez is a bride held hostage in the first trailer for “Shotgun Wedding,” unveiled Tuesday.
Due out Jan. 27, the rom-com stars Lopez and Josh Duhamel as Darcy and Tom, an engaged couple who are bringing their loved ones together for a destination wedding on a tropical island.
Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Darcy’s ex (Lenny Kravitz) pops by. Then, a band of international pirates descends upon the island, throwing the pair’s dream ceremony into chaos and leading Lopez to toss a grenade while zip lining, among other action-packed scenes.
The film’s starry cast also includes recent Emmy winner Jennifer Coolidge as Carol, Darcy’s future mother-in-law. “Shotgun Wedding” is directed by Jason Moore, whose credits include 2012’s “Pitch Perfect.”
Over the course of her prolific career, Lopez has demonstrated an affinity for wedding-themed films, including 2001’s “The Wedding Planner” and 2005’s “Monster-in-Law,” which co-starred Jane Fonda.
She most recently donned a wedding gown to appear opposite Owen Wilson in “Marry Me,” released in February.
Duhamel joined the “Shotgun Wedding” cast as a replacement for Armie Hammer, who exited the production last year after being accused of sexual abuse by several women.
In May 2021, Duhamel told People that filming on location in the Dominican Republic was “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had working.”
He also said on “The Tonight Show” at the time that the chance to star alongside Lopez felt like “rekindling an old friendship with an old friend.”
Still, he joked, “I’m not sure we’re going to look like the perfect couple half the time because I’m this sweaty mess, and she’s, well, J. Lo.”
Try Guys Will Edit Ned Fulmer Out Of Future Videos After Cheating Scandal
The YouTube comedy quartet The Try Guys, now down to three after firing founding member Ned Fulmer for cheating on his wife, said they’re editing Fulmer out of unreleased videos and trashing others “due to his involvement.”
In a video uploaded Monday, the group’s three remaining members explained Fulmer’s departure to their nearly 8 million YouTube subscribers and sought to provide what member Zach Kornfeld said was “some transparency into our decision making.”
“Ned Fulmer is no longer working with The Try Guys,” Kornfeld said in the clip, alluding to the flood of publicity about Fulmer’s workplace affair with a producer.
From cooking without a recipe to eating everything on a fast food chain’s menu, The Try Guys’ stunts have amassed a huge YouTube audience. Fans noticed in recent days that Fulmer was absent in the group’s new uploads and had been erased from older clips.
“There are several videos that we’ve deemed as fully unreleasable,” Kornfeld explained. “You will never see them, and that is due to his involvement. And that’s a decision that has cost us lots of money. We will not be able to recoup that money, but it’s a decision we stand by proudly.”
Member Keith Habersberger explained that the crisis escalated when people saw Fulmer “engaging in public romantic behavior” with a colleague over Labor Day weekend. Fulmer admitted to the affair when other members of the group confronted him, leading to his exit, public apology and a statement from his wife.
This “was obviously very shocking to us,” Habersberger said in the video. “We just want you to know that we had no idea this was going on. All of that information was just as shocking to us as all of this has been for you this week.”
Member Eugene Lee Yang, whose scowl during the video betrayed a deep frustration that went viral on Twitter, explained that a three-week review of Fulmer’s actions included lawyers, human resources advisers and publicists. He assured fans they “refused to sweep things under the rug.”
“This is not who we are,” Yang said.
“We were obviously very shocked and deeply hurt by all of this,” said Yang. “This is someone who we’d built a brand and a company with for eight years. We feel saddened, not just personally, but on behalf of our staff and our fans who believed in us.”
Kornfeld added that they’re “losing a friend.”
“I’m sure many of you feel the same way,” he added. “It’s weird. We’re sorry that this ever happened and we don’t know what more to say.”
The group said they signed documents on Sept. 16 removing Fulmer as a manager and employee of their production company, 2nd Try.
Stephen Colbert Gives Trump’s Ugly ‘Death Wish’ Threat A Brutal Reality Check
A Trump spokesperson later clarified that it was a “political” death wish. But Colbert wasn’t moved.
“Okay, but it’s never great when you have to clarify that your death wish is a metaphor,” Colbert said, then offered up an example to show the absurdity of it: “I want this mob to march on my opponent’s house. Figuratively. Which is metaphorically at 471 Pine Cone Road, and leave a severed horse’s head in his bed ― as an allegory for his head.”
The “Late Show” host also spotted some “overt racism” in Trump’s latest post in his Monday monologue:
Florence Pugh Rocks Another Sheer Valentino Look After Nipple Hoopla
The “Don’t Worry Darling” actor stepped out at Paris Fashion Week in a stunning two-piece sheer ensemble embellished with gold sequins. She wore nude briefs beneath the Valentino skirt and nothing under the matching top, finishing off the outfit with gold jewelry, bronzed makeup and a wet hair look.
In July, Pugh wore a see-through Valentino design to the brand’s haute couture show in Rome, attracting negative and sexist comments about her exposed breasts.
Responding to the reaction at the time, Pugh told critics to “grow up.”
“Listen, I knew when I wore that incredible Valentino dress that there was no way there wouldn’t be a commentary on it. Whether it be negative or positive, we all knew what we were doing,” she wrote on Instagram at the time.
“It isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time a woman will hear what’s wrong with her body by a crowd of strangers, what’s worrying is just how vulgar some of you men can be,” she wrote.
“I’m very grateful that I grew up in a household with very strong, powerful, curvy women. We were raised to find power in the creases of our body. To be loud about being comfortable. It has always been my mission in this industry to say ‘fuck it and fuck that’ whenever anyone expects my body to morph into an opinion of what’s hot or sexually attractive. I wore that dress because I know.”
“Fuckingfreethefuckingnipple,” she signed off the post.
Both looks were put together by Pugh’s stylist, Rebecca Corbin Murray.
Here’s Why Cecily Strong Was Absent From ‘SNL’ Opening Credits
Season 48 of “SNL,” which premiered Saturday, got off to a rollicking start thanks to host Miles Teller and musical guest Kendrick Lamar. Still, Strong was notably absent from both the show and its opening credits, prompting many to question whether she’d departed the comedy show without fanfare.
Turns out that’s not the case. An “SNL” cast member since 2012, the comedian is currently appearing in the play “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” which opened last week at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
“SNL” creator Lorne Michaels is a co-producer of the one-woman comedy, which concludes its run Oct. 23. Entertainment Weekly and TV Insider confirm that Strong is expected to resume her “SNL” duties in New York shortly thereafter.
Fans’ concerns regarding Strong’s future on “SNL,” however, were justified. Michaels previously hinted that Season 48 would be a “transition year,” and he wasn’t kidding.
Cast members Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon and Kyle Mooney collectively announced their exit from the series at the conclusion of Season 47, which wrapped in May. Last month, it was confirmed that Aristotle Athari, Alex Moffat, Chris Redd and Melissa Villaseñor were also leaving, bringing the tally of departing cast members to eight.
As a 10-season “SNL” veteran, Strong is one of the longest-running cast members in the series’ current lineup.
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Will Smith Returns To The Big Screen In Gripping First ‘Emancipation’ Trailer
Will Smith’s next film will be released this year after all, with Apple Studios announcing that “Emancipation” is arriving in theaters next month, just in time for the upcoming awards season.
The historical drama from “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua will now open in theaters on Dec. 2 and be made available to stream on Dec. 9, contrary to reports that claimed the film would be delayed until 2023.
“Emancipation” is Smith’s first major project since he walked onstage during the Oscars ceremony in March and slapped presenter Chris Rock over a joke the comedian made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
Since then, Smith has apologized for his actions and voluntarily resigned from the Academy, which banned him from attending the Oscars for the next decade. However, he can still be nominated for an award should his Hollywood peers deem him worthy of one.
The release of “Emancipation,” which completed production just a month before the infamous awards show moment, was initially delayed in the fallout from Smith’s altercation with Rock, upending plans for a major awards season push behind Smith’s performance, which is already drawing praise.
But Apple Studios, which acquired the film for a record-breaking $120 million, has apparently changed course — and the gripping first trailer makes a powerful case as to why.
Inspired by real-life events, “Emancipation” stars Smith as Peter, a man who escapes slavery in Louisiana, journeys north and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Photos of his whipping scars, including one known as “The Scourged Back,” become some of the most widely circulated at the time and ultimately help expose the brutality of slavery to the world.
The trailer unveils Smith’s powerful performance in the film, which also stars Ben Foster, Steven Ogg and Charmaine Bingwa.
“I will not be afraid. What can a mere man do to me?” Smith says in the clip amid flashes of Civil War battlefields and his character evading slave hunters through the swamplands. “I will look in triumph at my enemies.”
During a private screening of the film over the weekend, Smith gave his first comments about the period drama to a crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference.
“Throughout my career, I’ve turned down many films that were set in slavery. I never wanted to show us like that, you know, and then this picture came along, and this is not a film about slavery,” Smith said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a film about freedom. This is a film about resilience.”
The screening was the “King Richard” star’s first major public appearance since he broke his monthslong silence earlier this summer in an apology video regarding the Oscars slap.
Watch the trailer for “Emancipation” below.
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