The Sunday dozen

9th December 2023

John Wyver writes: It’s a long time since I compiled the weekly ‘Sunday links’ – indeed it’s a long time since I wrote anything substantial here. But with the changing circumstances for the company (see News, below), I’m minded, if I can find the time and energy, to start again. So for this weekend anyway, under a new title, here is a selection, supplemented by what I hope are useful additional links, of just twelve articles, downloads, broadcasts and podcasts that in the past week I found surprising and engaging and challenging. The order is entirely random.

I aim to make a similar selection each Sunday from now on, concentrating not so much on the mainstream, but rather on the cracks and crevices of our media world. And as far as possible I’ll choose things that are freely accessible, although some may require a free sign-up. See what you think, and if you find the selection useful, do please share on social – or just tell a friend. (For details of the glorious image above, see the second item.)

Donald Trump, American dictator: Thomas Zimmer’s essay for Democracy Americana is among the very best pieces I’ve read on the clear and present danger to the United States. It’s a response to another urgent piece, A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending, written by Robert Kagan for The Washington Post. Both demand to be read. Zimmer’s concluding paragraphs include this:

Those who take offense at the idea of Trumpian inevitability are correct: His victory is not preordained, America is not destined to sink into authoritarianism. I agree we must not surrender to fatalism. But the defense of democracy must be based on an unflinching diagnosis of where we are and how acute the threat is – or it will fail.

‘With an artist’s help, Paddington can go anywhere’: one of the few remaining joys of ‘X’ (ugh) is the daily post from @jaythechou, ‘I Photoshop Paddington into a movie, game, or TV show until I forget’. The past week saw the 1000th post, which featured the bear in the iconic doorway of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), which I have featured above; for background, see this delightful profile of maker Jason Chou by Scott Cacciola for The New York Times.

• How modern empire broke the empire mould: for, Priya Satia offers a brilliant account of how ‘In their particular preoccupations with materialism, territorial control, and managing social differences and similarities, modern European empires created the world anew.’ This is the very best kind of public history. Her 2022 Slate essay ‘One tool of “critical thinking” that’s done more harm than good’ is an excellent companion piece.

The silence is the loudest part of Renaissance – a Film: a rich, complex analysis of Beyoncé’s movie by Angelica Jade Bastién for Vulture:

For Beyoncé, a woman known to film her every move and house it in a temperature-controlled archive, everything is performance and each performance is merely a means of brand extension.

• Eugenics 1: Gene Genies and Eugenics 2: The Murderous Science : Origin Story from Ian Dunt and Dorian Lynsky is my favourite podcast of the moment (the links are to Apple Podcasts but it’s widely available elsewhere), and these two recent episodes demonstrate all the analytical, shocking and sweary strengths of the series that takes on ‘the real stories behind the most misunderstood ideas in politics’. Last month, the pair also did a great two-parter about John Maynard Keynes. There’s a Patreon page for the converted.

Ending Stagnation: clicking the title takes you to the executive summary of the major report on the state of Britain’s economy published this week by The Economy 2030 Enquiry. The full report, backed by the Resolution Foundation and the LSE, is a serious and substantial document that deserves to make a significant impact, as reported by the Guardian here and here. Amidst all of the noise of what passes for political discourse now, it’s too easy to pass over an initiative like this, but if we are to make any kind of difference in the coming years, we need to understand and engage as deeply as possible with the issues outlined here.

The strange death of private life: a wide-ranging essay by Tiffany Jenkins for Engelsberg Ideas that explores changing ideas of privacy from the 1960s onwards, bringing together the 1972 Younger Report, the late Paul Watson, anthropologist Edmund Leach, Lyndon Johnson and the ground-breaking essay by American feminist Carol Hanish, ‘The personal is political’.

The Enormous Condescension of Posterity: this past week BBC Radio 3’s The Essay has been devoted to E.P. Thompson’s great work, The Making of English Working Class. Five writers, including Christienna Fryar and David Aaronovitch, consider the legacy of the radical social historian’s great work, first published 60 years ago. A collective tribute and a clutch of critiques, this quintet of elegant responses is a fascinating listen, and at times, as with Sheila Rowbotham’s memories of her friendship with Edward and Dorothy Thompson, a moving one also. All five are available on BBC Sounds for over a year.

Die Hard revived: an entry revisited: it’s deeply concerning that this notice appeared this week on the greatest of all film blogs, Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Observations on Film Art:

David’s health situation has made it difficult for our household to maintain this blog. We don’t want it to fade away, though, so we’ve decided to select previous entries from our backlist to republish. These are items that chime with current developments or that we think might languish undiscovered among our 1094 entries over now 17 years (!). We hope that we will introduce new readers to our efforts and remind loyal readers of entries they may have once enjoyed.

Sending all good wishes to them both – meanwhile, enjoy this revival of an effortlessly erudite and dazzlingly illustrated post about the politics, structure, staging, style and use of ‘Scope in the wonder that is ‘a masterpiece of Hollywood filmmaking’ and my second favourite Christmas movie. (Do you have to ask? It’s a Wonderful Life, of course; tickets booked for the annual ritual family viewing at BFI Southbank on 23 December.)

At the dark end of the street: it is always a pleasure to highlight Luke McKernan’s writings, and this essay is of particular interest to me as it is concerned with Whitstable, the town on the north Kent coast where both he and I grew up. Reflections on what might be the lost town of Graystone, perhaps once located at the end of the remarkable bank of shingle at nearby Tankerton, lead to thoughts on growing up in the town (a few years after me, I think), the inevitable oysters, and the DFLs (read the essay if you don’t know).

Funhouse mirror: Christopher L. Brown for London Review of Books considers Eric Williams’ 1944 classic Capitalism and Slavery, now available as a Penguin Modern Classic:

The Penguin promotional material presents Capitalism and Slavery as a ‘landmark’, which it is, but it would be even more correct to think of it as the progenitor of almost all of the questions, problems, arguments and interpretations that have come to inform the study of slavery, abolition and emancipation in the British Empire… The book remains one of very few to offer a general interpretation of the rise and fall of slavery in the British Empire, and the only one, still, to focus on the question of economic interest, and what answers to that question might mean for the way the history of modern Britain is understood.

Should Labour be bolder about Brexit?: as I have noted on many previous occasions, Chris Grey’s weekly Brexit & Beyond post is an essential Friday read. This link is not to his latest, Immigration and asylum rows are another sign of Brexit’s total failure, which needless to say is also well worth a read, but to last week’s, which tackled in an informed and deeply thoughtful way a question that has been bugging me, as it has many others.

• and finally…


  1. Billy Smart says:

    This is a welcome return. (Although I’m not sure that ‘welcome’ is strictly the best word to describe the knowledge that I’m now going to be reading more dismaying articles about Trump).

  2. John Frederick Wyver says:

    Not too much Trump, Billy, I promise – and I want to find some lighter fare for the next edition. But given the state of the world that’s tricky.

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