All in Culture

In a recent episode of ABC’s new primetime hit comedy Modern Family, audiences were treated to a familiar scenario. Three of the show’s characters—Jay Pritchett, his thirty-something son, Mitchell Pritchett, and the former’s preteen stepson, Manny—go on a trip to the great outdoors for some stargazing and male bonding, but unexpected events soon lead the evening hilariously awry.

“The system must be completely overhauled,” said Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2008, as the world economy was in the midst of a startling decline. A few months later the cover of Newsweek announced “We Are Socialists Now.” These were just two signs of the surprisingly mainstream consensus that the global financial crisis had marked a significant rupture with traditional economics and politics.

A few months ago, I was standing in line at the Gap when I overheard a mother talking to her young daughter. “Buying this shirt will help us to save Africans,” she said, smiling as she waved a child-size shirt that read “INSPI(RED)” across the chest. I wondered if this could possibly be true.

Frank Lloyd Wright had a useful hint for the contemporary urban planner: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” As sentimental as this advice might sound, the role of nature in the context of the built environment is no light concern in the minds of policymakers and planners today. In a nod to the spirit of these “green” times, two current New York exhibitions are exploring the realities and potentials of this role—and in so doing offer two contrasting ways of approaching an understanding of the relationship between the built form and its underlying ecosystem.

I am at the Polish Pavilion on the Venice Biennale, an art festival which takes place over the course of six months. The Biennale occurs every two years and attracts international and contemporary artists who wish to showcase their work in art’s global epicenter. This year, it will remain on display until November 22. The central theme binding all the works together, “Making Worlds,” is quite open-ended.

With her new novel, A Gate at the Stairs, Moore takes an unexpectedly blunt political turn, eschewing the wit and grace for which she had been appreciated. Moore’s literary odyssey demonstrates that there’s no better way to become a legend than by staying out of the limelight, and no worse way to disappoint than by stepping forward and revealing you have nothing to say.

The art exhibit “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul,” put together by the National Geographic Society and currently touring North America, offers an excellent introduction to that colorful history and a chance to view some extraordinary art.

How free is democracy? How do raids perpetuate apartheid? Is economic competition the result of an innate human viciousness? The answers to these and other political questions, framed as a series of short essays, allow J.M. Coetzee to expose the fragility and incoherence of strong political opinions in his latest novel, Diary of a Bad Year.

Having directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) and having served as the Consulting Producer for Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) and Executive Producer for No End in Sight (2007), Alex Gibney has found a formula to refresh the politico-documentary genre and penetrate Hollywood’s mainstream distribution.