Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinion | ‘Barbenheimer’ is a fun meme about humans destroying Earth

Opinion | ‘Barbenheimer’ is a fun meme about humans destroying Earth

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Welcome to the ‘Barbenheimer’ Epoch

This week, two very different major motion pictures — Greta Gerwig’s candy-colored fever dream “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s solemn biopic “Oppenheimer” — are opening in theaters, and the memesters have gone nuts, mashing up Mattel’s classic blond plastic toy and the father of the atomic bomb into jokey mid-century-themed merch. On the face of it, Barbie and Oppenheimer don’t have much in common, beside looking good in hats.

But, writes Tyler Austin Harper in an op-ed (with fantastic graphics by Amanda Shendruk), “The two movies actually have a fundamental, and disturbing, common ground.” This mass-consumed doll made out of petroleum products and the deadly atomic weapons used to end World War II are both symptoms of an era in which humans have dramatically reshaped the planet we live on, an era that scientists now call the Anthropocene.

Harper, an environmental studies professor, traces how, in the past century, plastic and nukes both transformed our world, with implications that we are still only beginning to understand. The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon taps into our ambivalence about what we’ve wrought, Harper writes: “Perhaps the most substantial difference between ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ lies only in their respective approaches toward their common subject matter — a difference in attitude that ultimately reflects our own.”

Chaser: The news side’s incredible interactive from last month letting you dive deep into Crawford Lake, which scientists say holds a remarkable record of Anthropocene change, is not to be missed.

See ya, ‘vibe-cession’

Reflecting some good economic news, columnist Heather Long says maybe we can finally stop awaiting the recession that, for years now, has always been supposedly about to arrive. It’s felt so imminent that it’s been a vibe — a “vibe-cession” — even while failing to actually meet the criteria.

That’s not to say things have been great, Heather writes: “It’s becoming clear that Americans really don’t like inflation.” But, she notes, in May and June, wages “finally grew faster than inflation for the first time since early 2021.” Although economic signs are still far from perfect, Heather sees consumer sentiment starting to improve. Whatever that means for the 2024 election, it’s undeniably good that Americans feel they’re starting to get ahead again.

Sure, sure, people get old enough to vote all the time. But Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and documentary film producer Mac Heller have a theory about why 2024 is different: Gen Zers, born between 1997 and 2012, are 25 percent more likely to vote in their youth than the previous generation. (Based on one just-turned-18-year-old in my household who cannot wait to finally get some say in this joint, I believe it.)

So, as 20 million eligible voters depart our political squabbles for the sweet release of death, they are being replaced by a more educated, more diverse, surprisingly policy-driven demographic who are also relatively likely to turn out. As Lake and Heller say, that suggests lessons for both Democrats and Republicans trying to win these young citizens’ support.

Chaser: Columnist David Byler takes an intriguing little data dive into voters who change their racial identity — and discovers that multiracial Trump converts (i.e., 2016 supporters who did not vote for Mitt Romney in the previous election) were also disproportionately likely to say they now identify as White.

Sometimes, I feel almost bad for topics that roll under the eye of resident satirist Alexandra Petri, like a mouse scurrying in front of a cat. This time, it’s Donald Trump’s not-so-secret plan to consolidate power (that’s the nice way to say it) during a second term, which recently fell into the hands of reporters.

“Are you really the president if you never get to have a big parade with tanks? Are you really the president if you live in a country where dissidents are permitted to thrive?” Alex writes. “Being forced to admit that if the people vote him out, he will have to go is mortifying and makes him look weak, like a renter.”

  • Columnist Ruth Marcus takes on what she finds to be the uncool phenomenon of GOP presidential candidates jockeying to impress voters with lists of ever-more-draconian potential justices and judges, underscoring “the continued, even enhanced desire among conservative activists to harness the court in service of their ideological and partisan goals.”
  • For our Post Pandemic series, writer and artist Andy Field describes the allure of finally going dancing again: “We might never quite dance the way we did before. The memory of the pandemic now lives in our bodies. But it was reassuring to know this ecstatic refuge existed.”
  • Columnist Josh Rogin has an interview on foreign policy with former vice president and 2024 candidate Mike Pence, who tries to show there is daylight between him and Trump on Ukraine: “It’s a Russian invasion, not a territorial dispute. Putin is a war criminal, not a genius,” he tells Josh. “I’m ready for this debate.”
  • Even firmly antiabortion columnist Hugh Hewitt thinks Sen. Tommy Tuberville ought to release the hundreds of military nominations and promotions he is holding up in protest of Defense Department abortion policy.

It’s a goodbye. It’s a haiku. It’s … The Bye-Ku.

Death, the destroyer of worlds

Have your own newsy haiku? Email it to me, along with any questions/comments/compliments/complaints. See you tomorrow!

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