Italy: ‘Whoever Wins Won’t Govern’

Tim Parks

Silvio Berlusconi, himself barred from elected office until 2019, campaigning for his party, Forza Italia, in Rome, February 11, 2018

The Italians go to the polls on March 4, and from outside, it might look as though there are major, exciting, and, above all, dangerous developments in the offing: the return of the octogenarian Silvio Berlusconi, the rapid rise of anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the ever more aggressive rhetoric of the xenophobic Northern League. Yet the perception among most Italians is that the political system is simply too dysfunctional and blocked for much to happen at all.

Kingdom Come: Millenarianism’s Deadly Allure, from Lenin to ISIS

Leon Aron

Smoke from fires at the oil fields around Qayyarah, a city southeast of Mosul, set alight by ISIS fighters in an effort to prevent coalition airstrikes, 2016

A belief in predestination animated both the Bolsheviks and ISIS: the inexorability of the future, and thus of victory, as foretold in the sacred prophesies of Marx or Mohammad. They could not fail. Alive or dead, they won. Napoleon used to say that a battle was won or lost in the minds of the combatants before the first shot was fired. Is there an energy more powerful or a cause more mesmerizing and irresistible, or confidence in the inevitability of victory greater than the one generated by the ecstatic hope of liberating humanity from the miseries of daily life and ushering it into a conflictless Eden?

Love, It’s What Makes ‘Suburra’

Christopher Carroll

Giacomo Ferrara as Spadino and Alessandro Borghi as Aureliano in Suburra, 2017

Suburra: Blood on Rome, an excellent new crime series from Netflix and RAI, manages to combine the pacing of a thriller with an almost sociological diorama of Roman society, a slicker, abbreviated version of The Wire’s portrait of Baltimore. Even amidst Rome’s gaudy beauty, the staccato bursts of violence, and the elaborately choreographed sex scenes—particularly the show’s opening orgy, which resembles a tangle of deviant, writhing Bernini sculptures—the surprising and ultimately tragic intimacy that develops between Aureliano and Spadino stands out as one of Suburra’s great pleasures, setting it apart from the plodding, grisly portentousness of contemporary prestige crime dramas such as Narcos.

The Photographs I’ve Never Seen

Lucy McKeon

Rome, 1955

Today, behind the computerized shutter-click of a smartphone camera, I still sometimes sense in myself and in others the impulse to remember something before it’s over—to make some use of an experience even as it’s still happening. Some might explain this as the artist’s instinct to capture and transform. From another perspective, it’s the intellectual’s urge to analyze, to further experience the experience. Or is it a kind of compulsion—in its most cynical form, the capitalist’s need to consume the moment, to own it? One thinks of the tourist too busy photographing to see the actual living that is occurring all around him. He forces a fleeting present more quickly into the realm of that-has-been, and the local passersby laugh at his shortsightedness.

Iraq & the Wounds That Never Heal

Hoshang Waziri

Nori Sharif's daughter, Sarah, holding a bullet

The purpose of documentaries is often to bring us a step closer to understanding distant or alien realities, to give us a nuanced sense of what is going on in some particularly knotted human relations and complicated unfolding events. But Nowhere to Hide does more than that, pulling its viewers into the war, making us stumble over burned body parts. It’s not an explanatory lesson about war, it does not provide answers; rather, it deepens the questions.

Trump: Making Golf Horrible Again

Lawrence Donegan

Donald Trump at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, 2012

Golf’s leading figures have run straight into the arms of Trump, a man who embodies the culture that so narrowed the game’s appeal in the first place. There will be a price to pay for such stupidity and cowardice. A broad swath of America simply rolls its eyes at Trump’s golfing obsession. But if the indifference of the non-golf-playing public is understandable, the complicity of the golfing elite is unforgivable.

How Sweden Became a Symbol

Paul Rapacioli

Young refugees baking Christmas cookies with Swedish volunteers at a transit center for unaccompanied asylum seekers in Malmö, Sweden, 2015

When the march of progressivism seemed inexorable, Sweden was happy to play poster child and humbly let uninformed outsiders label the place a social paradise. Now that the spread of progressive values around the world is facing its stiffest test in decades, Sweden finds itself on the front line. And for the traditionalists seeking to reverse the liberal trend, to show that Sweden is failing offers an effective way to shortcut the argument.

Slavery and the American University

Alex Carp

The first enslaved African in Massachusetts was the property of the schoolmaster of Harvard. Yale funded its first graduate-level courses and its first scholarship with the rents from a small slave plantation it owned in Rhode Island. The scholarship’s first recipient went on to found Dartmouth, and a later grantee co-founded the College of New Jersey, known today as Princeton. From their very beginnings, the American university and American slavery have been intertwined, but only recently are we beginning to understand how deeply.

Caricature: Or, Guston’s Graphic Novel

Chris Ware

Philip Guston: Untitled (Poor Richard), 1971

The ongoing visual gag of the book, especially as Philip Guston finds his groove and really gets going, is Richard Nixon-as-dick, or Tricky Dick with chin as hairy scrotum and nose-dong—sometimes priapic, sometimes flaccid—though Nixon’s earliest appearances are almost certainly internalizations of Robert Crumb’s Flakey Foont, a sort of everyman character blindly shuttered by American lies and ambitions until his enlightened old Squirrel Cage pal Mr. Natural blows his mind with the cosmic truths, or at least tries to.