Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

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Rick Shenkman is the editor of HNN. 

How Hamilton Uses History ByJoanne B. Freeman

With its inventiveness and energy, its witty meld of past and present, its catchy and moving music, and its skillful word craft, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit Hamilton is near irresistible. Deeply traditional in its praise of an American founder, yet radical in its reinvention of that founder as an immigrant in a multicultural, inclusive world whose lingua franca is rap, Hamiltonembraces both poles in polarized times; it is a play that everyone can love. 

Miranda’s version of Alexander Hamilton is also lovable—a product of the play’s humanizing focus on Hamilton’s vulnerabilities and ambitions. He’s a complex character—though not as complex as his historical counterpart. The real Hamilton was a mass of contradictions: an immigrant who sometimes distrusted immigrants, a revolutionary who placed a supreme value on law and order, a man who distrusted the rumblings of the masses yet preached his politics to them more frequently and passionately than many of his more democracy-friendly fellows. Hamilton smooths over such inconsistencies, and for good reason. Hamilton’s striving, hungry spirit is the play’s heart and soul; it speaks to the present. His realpolitikqualms and fears dilute that message.

75 Years After Steinbeck Sailed, a Boat Is Readied to Go Back to Sea 

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — Rule 1 in the world of working wooden boats, since the days of dugout canoes and fishing skiffs, has been that when they are no longer of use or they are lost at sea, people build new ones and move on. Sentimentality and fussy restoration are rarely in the tool kit. 

The Western Flyer, a sardine fishing boat made famous by the writer John Steinbeck, is now on a path to breaking that pattern, as it has so many others before. Seventy-five years after Steinbeck and a scientist friend chartered the Flyer and sailed it from California to Mexico — and into literary legend in the book Steinbeck wrote about their adventures — the heavily damaged, derelict vessel is being refitted in a boatyard here with the idea of putting it back to work. 

Finding Alice’s ‘Wonderland’ in Oxford 

Fantastic as it was, “Wonderland” was rooted in the place [author and mathematician Charles Lutwidge] Dodgson lived and worked: the city and environs of Oxford with its ancient university, its “dreaming spires” and its surrounding countryside. Oxford is a city teeming with tourists and traffic, whose shop windows, in the sesquicentennial year of “Wonderland,” overflow with Alice merchandise; but if one listens closely, if one ducks through stone arches, opens creaky oaken doors, and descends to quiet riverside paths, one can still find the Oxford of Charles Dodgson and Alice. 

 “Bridge of Spies” — The Nuremberg lawyer the movie is based on

From John Barrett: 

The new film “Bridge of Spies” reports, in on-screen text, that it is “[i]nspired by true events.”  Tom Hanks plays a character named James Donovan.  He is a 1950s New York City lawyer.  He represents insurance companies in policy coverage controversies—in one, the issue is whether his client, the insurer, is liable for the damages that an automobile driver caused by hitting five motorcyclists…. 

Seventy years ago, the real James Britt Donovan indeed was a young but senior and very significant member of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s U.S. prosecution team before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg.  This post sets forth—including as background for your viewing of “Bridge of Spies,” which I recommend highly—some of Donovan’s life story, including his Nuremberg work.

SkyPad draws visitors into the history and future of the Space Needle 

SEATTLE, WA - Planar Systems, Inc today announced a one-of-a-kind video wall installation at Seattle’s Space Needle, where the Space Age heritage of this World’s Fair icon is seamlessly integrated with leading-edge digital signage technology of today.
Named SkyPad, the 135-square-foot interactive Clarity Matrix MultiTouch LCD Video Wall showcases the history and evolution of the landmark spire as it provides visitors an opportunity to become part of its future. The result is a stunning visual immersion that highlights both past and present, educating visitors as it enhances their connection with the Pacific Northwest’s best-known architectural landmark. 

Amazon’s new show asks what life would be like if the Nazis had won 

It is the second best show that Amazon has ever made, which I mean both as a compliment—it’s pretty watchable!—and faint praise: It’s pretty watchable. Based on the Philip K. Dick novelThe Man in the High Castle has a gripping alt-history premise—what if Germany won the second World War?—upon which it riffs acceptably, if not virtuosically. The showis yet another entrant in the fast-growing category of TV good enough to watch and enjoy, but not quite good enough to make specific time for. These shows are the TV equivalent of the microwave burrito: tasty, but best consumed in the absence of options. 

Set in 1962, The Man in the High Castle imagines an America divided between the Germans and the Japanese. The East Coast has become the Greater Third Reich, the West Coast the Japanese Pacific States, and a buffer “neutral zone” runs between them, down the spine of the Rockies, all of which is illustrated by an artful opening credit sequence. As the show begins, the fuhrer is ailing. When he dies, his successors are likely to make a move on Japan and its territories.

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