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The production of three-volume novels may have dried up, but their place has been more than adequately taken by the Netflix/Amazon Prime market. Just as readers of the past found it hard to put down a really good novel, so today it is impossible not to click the “next episode” box once an episode is over. Or binge-watch a season in a sitting.

I was recently persuaded to watch The Looming Tower, an adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s excellent 2006 book on the run-up to 9/11, having resisted because of a presumption that it would not be perfect for any down-time. Yet the series is not only well scripted and acted, but also — as with much of the best art — constantly throws light on recent events. One came from the reminder about the amount of time the world — and America in particular — spent in the 1990s talking about Monica Lewinsky.

It is easy to portray those days as halcyon in retrospect. A film adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain once made precisely that error. In fact the episode felt at the time, as it was, tawdry, demeaning and suggestive. That the nation which had saved the world from destruction three times in a century should finish its great century in such a fashion seemed at the time — as now — to be emblematic of some greater falling away.

Yet what attention and energy was expended. The makers of The Looming Tower do not over-focus on it, but the thought is placed each time a television flashes in the background with a discussion of “that dress” that if people had not been focused on other matters, worse things might have been averted.


It is unprovable, of course. Besides which fact, democracies — and democrat — need to be able to multitask. But in recent weeks the feeling does occur that this era might recur. Anderson Cooper’s interview with the porn star Stormy Daniels was treated like, and trailed as, one of the big political interviews of yore. Every day’s news seem similarly stuck on the gleeful pile-in onto whatever is that day’s scandal. Even those stories which should give pause — North Korea, the use of chemical weapons in Syria — swiftly degenerate into a “what did X (usually the President) say about Y on Twitter?”. One wonders what it would take to shake us out of this.

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Ambrose Rookwood
May 16th, 2018
6:05 PM
It's funny, but I don't recall Cambridge Analytica telling me how the EU was deliberately constructed to resist democracy, not enhance it, which was my main reason for voting 'Leave'. I don't recall them telling me about the huge trade deficit we 'enjoy' with the rest of the EU, which makes the crocodile tears about the Single Market/Customs Union ridiculous. They didn't exist in 1975, when I first (reluctantly) voted 'no' to the old EEC. Some people need to distinguish between principle and quagmire, and it is not my fellow BREXITers.

Lawrence James
May 9th, 2018
9:05 AM
These arguments are peripheral. A story has emerged that Cambridge Analytica tampered with the electoral process in defiance of electoral law. It is under investigation by the proper authorities. The Brexiteers, already struggling in a quagmire of their own making, are desperately attempting to forestall or discredit this process of scrutiny. One has a whiff of stinking fish.

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