Recommended Reading: Cannes Heists, ‘Giovanni’s Room,’ and Late-Night Libs


Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, thought-provoking features on a Baldwin classic and late night comedy, a true crime tale on the French Riviera, and the story of a fake rally and a grizzly bear permit.

Miles Klee on the depressing drag of late-night talk shows.

“The brutal reality of lives destroyed and a region in chaos cannot be domesticated for your living room,” Klee explains in this thoughtful MEL Magazine essay, in which he attempts to understand the surface-level, self-congratulatory laziness that has infected late night in the Trump era – with some thoughts from (anonymous) insiders:

Another man in the industry (he describes himself as a “mid-level TV writer,” though not of the late-night sphere) tells me via Twitter DM that the skin-deep stabs at Trump aren’t intended to be apolitical — rather, they’re coded as courageous. “They think [joking about] ‘covfefe’ is brave,” he argues. “These are people whose version of ‘liberal’ just means not being white trash. And not calling their coworkers gay slurs.” Of course, that doesn’t stand in the way of their homophobic gloss on the Trump-Putin relationship. This derangement presumably stems from a refusal to face the America that propelled Trump to the White House. For all they hate him, they yearn, as he does, for a “lost” country that younger generations view with skepticism. “No one wants to confront the fact that they grew up in a time that was pretty sexist and racist because then they’d have to stop being nostalgic for everything,” this writer says. “See: Aaron Sorkin.” As such, the anti-Trump Boomers — faithfully catered to by the older, more powerful figures in TV while, allegedly, the newcomers there are told to shut up and use the tired playbook, because that’s what “works” — settle into a smug superiority that lets them vent their classist contempt. That’s true of some of the hosts and writing staffs, too. “Bill Maher isn’t actually liberal, he just hates people from Alabama,” the second writer says. When I reframe that idea as “‘I shop at Whole Foods, so I’m not a reactionary,’” he replies, “[This is] the politics of 75 percent of Hollywood writers.” And so that’s the ideology served.

Gabrielle Bellot on the “virtuosic shame” of Giovanni’s Room.

The recent resurgence of interest in James Baldwin – fueled by the timelessness of his nonfiction essays, the power of the biographical essay film I Am Not Your Negro, and Barry Jenkins’s astonishing adaptation of his If Beale Street Could Talk – leads Lithub’s Bellot to this thoughtful examination of his Paris-set novel Giovanni’s Room, which she shines through the prism of Baldwin’s biography, his queerness, and hers:

Like many queer readers, I remember my first time with Giovanni’s Room in almost sacred terms. It was daring, incredible, uninhibited. The moments where Baldwin’s language seems as virtuoso-like as Paganini on a violin were mind-blowing. On rereading the novel now, though, I feel something quite different. It is so heavy with shame that it hurts. Baldwin’s book is less an affirmation of queerness than an exploration of how much it aches to deny who and what you are and the way we damage both ourselves and our relationships with others when we try to fit parochial societal norms that don’t define us. And it shows, too, as the resonant final image suggests of the scraps of a torn-up letter from Jacques being blown back onto David, how we can never fully escape our pasts, no matter how we try in our present. Living as ourselves, Baldwin suggests, is no guarantee of rejecting loneliness; denying who we are is to make us feel lonely even when we believe we are surrounded by friends. Baldwin has captured his own early lifetime of shame and filtered it through the alembic of David’s own cave-journey. It is a solid shame, thick, heavy, cold, enveloping like a darkening star. Rereading it, I feel Baldwin’s agony, and—for all the novel’s beauty and bravery in depicting queer love in an era when doing so was risky and rare—it is almost unbearable in its deep-blue gravity.

Anthony Breznican on the Cannes jewel robberies.

The Cannes Film Festival is but a few short weeks away, and at EW, Breznican spins the yarn of two smash-and-grab jobs – one maybe legend, one definitely fact – at the luxurious Carlton Hotel, home base of the festival (and setting of Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief):

“A big diamond company wants to show off their wares, and they say they want to go to Cannes, because Cannes has a touch of magic and celebrity attached to it, because of the film festival, and because of the rich and famous who summer there,” says robbery expert Scott Andrew Selby, co-author of Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History, about a 2003 raid in Antwerp, Belgium, that netted $108 million in loot. “So you rent out a space that used to be a restaurant in the Carlton hotel, and you put on an exhibit about how great your diamonds are. That’s where you go to really get the buzz. Get the magazines to write about you, get the celebrities to see you, get the crazy-rich people to buy it.” Selby invokes the Depression-era American stickup hoodlum Willie Sutton to explain why Cannes was so vulnerable to earth-shattering smash-and-grabs. “Willie Sutton allegedly said he robbed banks because ‘That’s where the money is,’ ” the author notes. “These guys robbed Cannes because that’s where the diamonds are, that’s where the jewels are, because that’s where the stars are.” By the way, Selby adds, Sutton never really said that. The robber always claimed the quote was made up by the newspapers.

Anna Merlan on the anti-vax drugged bear rally that never was.

“A couple of weeks ago,” writes Gizmodo’s Merlan, “I thought I was working on a quick, weird story about an anti-vaccine activist in Florida who was attempting to hold a rally in her hometown featuring a drugged bear. As it turns out, that’s not the story at all.” In this rivetingly odd tale of working the weirdo beat, Merlan explains how she found herself in the center of (maybe?) an attempt to gin up a “fake news” story, featuring impersonation, trolling, city government, and, yes, a grizzly bear:

“She just suggested that we were trying to prevent her from using the bear because we disagree with the message of the event,” they wrote, a day or so after the initial email. “Tiptoeing towards litigious.” Not long after, they followed up, sounding even more concerned. “She’s now saying that she intends to appeal the no-bear condition, getting her attorney involved, claiming that our decision is unconstitutional. She actually said that our misuse of power is far more dangerous than a caged bear.” When I got her on the phone, Hawthorne’s city manager, Ellen Vause, seemed to confirm that the bear issue was getting sticky. “Our code does not allow a bear or wild animals at our recreation park,” she explained. “So according to our code of ordinances the bear would not be permitted. It’s just …” she paused, searching for words. “It’s not permitted.” Vause added that if Callahan paid her fee and submitted the other planning items required, she’d likely be approved for a special permit. “But for now she hasn’t done of any of those other things,” Vause added dryly, “bear or not.” Vause confirmed that the situation was unique in her eight years as city manager: “Every day is a new adventure,” she said, a little grimly, before we hung up the phone.