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Commentary By Steven Malanga

Notable & Quotable: What We Need Now

Culture Culture & Society

‘Apparently, the Age of Trump is so distressing that we need emotional support from storytellers.’

Steven Malanga writing at, Feb. 8:

Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation two decades ago to pay tribute to those who had to come of age during World War II, a time “buffeted by winds of change so fierce that they threatened not just America but the very future of the planet.” If anyone understood the stark contrast between what that generation confronted and what America today is like, I would have thought it would be Brokaw. But several weeks ago, I saw some posters for a new Broadway show, Come From Away, that’s pitching itself as an inspirational take on the days after September 11, which came with a blurb from Brokaw: “We need it, especially now.”

More recently, I saw ads touting a very different musical, Once on This Island, a love story set in the Caribbean. Again, the blurbs from critics proclaimed that the show was “Just what the world needs now.” Sensing a trend, I began counting up the “We need this now” references and quickly accumulated dozens of them. Apparently, the Age of Trump is so distressing that we need emotional support from storytellers, encompassing a broad range of genres and motifs—melodramatic TV escapism, dark dystopian fiction, gender-bending protest film, inspirational Broadway musical, unacknowledged 1970s sci-fi classic, World War II historical drama, gangster movie, and more besides. . . .

I’m not the only one to notice this trend. Tired of reading movie reviews employing the “what we need right now” phrase, a Guardian writer admonished critics . . . to stop categorizing every movie they like in this manner, because believing that films can change an apparently awful reality is just “wishful thinking.” I can see how he would be pessimistic; he admits that he saw the popularity of The Hunger Games as a signal that “Americans were finally ready to fight back against our oligarchic leaders and oppressive culture of wealth and celebrity.” He clearly misjudged the films’ success, which obviously signaled that America wanted to elect a Reality TV show host as president. All of which puts me in mind of The Apprentice. Now there’s a show that we need right now!

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal's Notable & Quotable


Steven Malanga is the George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a senior editor at City Journal. This piece was adapted from the Winter 2018 Issue ofCity Journal.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal