The Fighter’s Cruel Art

Joyce Carol Oates

Paramount Pictures

The Fighter might more accurately have been titled The Fighter and His Family: it’s a boisterous, brilliantly orchestrated ensemble piece at the paradoxically near-still center of which is an Irish-American boxer (Mark Wahlberg), whose once-promising career, like his grim hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, is on what appears to be an inevitable downward spiral. Just nominated for seven Academy Awards—including best picture and Christian Bale as supporting actor, the current favorite in that category—the film is based on the life and career of former junior welterweight champion Micky Ward, most famous for his three brutally hard-fought bouts with Arturo Gatti in 2002–2003. It is also a group portrait of working-class Irish-Americans in a blighted, postindustrial landscape: the brawling, clannish, emotionally combustible Ward-Eklund family for whom Micky is the great hope and from whom, if he wants to survive, let alone prevail as a boxer of ambition, he must separate himself.

Mubarak, Mubarak, What Have You Done?’

Yasmine El Rashidi

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 1, we headed to Tahrir Square for the “million man” march with some apprehension. After a week of growing protests, the military, which had arrived on Friday, had increased its presence in downtown Cairo, and the perimeter of the square was now completely barricaded with concrete blocks and metal barriers. Just two narrow entryways had been left—each manned by a dozen soldiers and just as many civilian volunteers. Despite the soldiers’ promise not to use force, many of us who entered the square wondered if they would trap us inside, and then, perhaps even shoot. By 4 PM however—well after the 3 PM curfew set by the military—we knew no harm would come, and the protest turned into something of a festival.

The army and the protesters worked together to weed out infiltrators trying to stir up trouble, and the crowd began chanting about the people and army being one. Estimates of the turnout varied, from one million to three. There was barely an empty square foot in the entire square and adjoining streets; people sang, played cards, shared meals, and later in the evening, began to talk of holding a soccer tournament, together with the army. One Al Jazeera correspondent compared it to a rock concert. People spoke of feeling pride at being Egyptian, some of them for the first time in their lives.

ElBaradei and Egypt’s Nuclear Future

Jeremy Bernstein

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

The current turmoil in Egypt and the prospect of the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime apart from everything else raise questions about the country’s nuclear program and where it might be headed. This is particularly interesting since a leading candidate to head the new opposition appears to be Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who has been critical of the Egyptian program in the past.

Saving Alexandria

Ingrid D. Rowland

Located near the site of its ancient predecessor, in the heart of historical Alexandria, the remarkable Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new Library of Alexandria, which opened in 2002, has been uncomfortably close to the turmoil that now wracks Egypt, and especially Egypt’s cities. First a suicide bomber attacked one of Alexandria’s Coptic churches on New Year’s Eve, killing 21 Egyptian Christians and injuring a hundred (including several Muslims worshipping at the mosque across the street). Now, for the past week, tens of thousands of young Egyptians have taken to the city’s streets, calling for more freedom, more jobs, lower prices, and democracy, unfazed by a harsh government crackdown and episodes of violence in which some three dozen Alexandrians have been killed. So it was a great relief to read the message “To our friends around the world” from Ismail Serageldin, the director of the Library, who reports that when unrest broke out on Friday, a cordon of young people rushed to surround the Library complex (which includes conference halls and a planetarium) and protect it from vandalism.

Tomorrow, to Tahrir Again’

Yasmine El Rashidi

Yasmine El Rashidi

On Thursday evening, January 27, activists in Cairo were on Twitter discussing the second wave of protests, which were supposed to begin after Friday’s midday prayer. Two days earlier, tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets and, despite a violent response by police and thugs, succeeded in occupying Tahrir Square; this time, it was hoped, many more would join in the peaceful revolt.

Obama, Incorporated

David Bromwich

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address was an organized sprawl of good intentions—a mostly fact-free summons to a new era of striving and achievement, and a solemn cheer to raise our spirits as we try to get there. And it did not fail to celebrate the American Dream. In short, it resembled most State of the Union addresses since Ronald Reagan’s first in 1982.

Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?

Timothy Snyder

La Documentation Francaise

In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans were taught to see both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as the greatest of evils. Hitler was worse, because his regime propagated the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust, the attempt to eradicate an entire people on racial grounds. Yet Stalin was also worse, because his regime killed far, far more people—tens of millions, it was often claimed—in the endless wastes of the Gulag. For decades, and even today, this confidence about the difference between the two regimes—quality versus quantity—has set the ground rules for the politics of memory.

Hosni Mubarak, the Plane Is Waiting’

Yasmine El Rashidi

Pierre Sioufi

Cairo on the morning of January 25 felt like something of a ghost town. Few civilians were to be found on the streets, most stores were shuttered, and the typically heaving downtown was deserted. It was a national holiday, and in the central town square, named Tahrir, or Liberation, even cars were scarce, and parking spaces—always sparse—were in abundance. The only conspicuous presence was that of Egypt’s police and state security. Rows of their box-shaped olive-green trucks lined thoroughfares and narrow side-streets, in some cases blocking them off for miles. Beside them were battered cobalt blue trucks—the ones used to whisk away prisoners and detainees. Throughout the downtown area and in neighboring districts, police and informants (easily identified by their loitering presence, darting eyes, and frequent two-second phone calls) were gathered around the otherwise empty major arteries of the city. Hundreds of them. Many wore black cargo pants, bush jackets and clunky army boots. Many more were in plain clothes—standing on street corners, at calculated intervals on sidewalks, in building entrances, on bridges, and in the few cafes open on a day when almost everything was closed.

Hollywood’s Royal Stammer

Martin Filler

There is nothing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves more than movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (or addictions). If the afflicted protagonist also happens to be royal, so much the better, for a suffering crowned head bestows an extra touch of class on Hollywood’s uplifting formula of brave triumph over cruel adversity. Not surprisingly, this year’s leading contender for Oscar glory is Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, which was nominated Tuesday for a dozen Academy Awards.

The Long Exposure of Francesca Woodman

Elizabeth Gumport

George and Betty Woodman

Given that her complete catalogue is composed almost entirely of work she produced as a student, the posthumous critical esteem for American photographer Francesca Woodman is astonishing. Unlike music or math, where precocious displays of talent are not uncommon, photography tends not to have prodigies. Woodman, who committed suicide in 1981 at age 22, is considered a rare exception. That she has achieved such status is all the more remarkable considering only a quarter of the approximately 800 images she produced—many of them self-portraits—have ever been seen by the public.