“It’s all happened so quickly,” says Oliver, who feels unhappy not only about the poster but, in the British style of ever-decreasing circles of self-consciousness, unhappy about the ingratitude his dislike of the poster might be said to show his employers. “Which I know is bizarre to say, 11 years later, but I don’t feel I’ve come up for breath on any of this yet.” He grins with the boyish incredulity that has become a large part of the appeal of his show. “The fact there is a poster of me in Times Square is absurd.”
It has been a strange thing, particularly for British observers, to watch Oliver transform from Jon Stewart’s vaguely Beatles-like young sidekick into a middle-aged man with the heft – both figuratively and literally – to drive his own hit series. Last Week Tonight, in which he and his team use comedy to animate stories either too complicated or too dull to excite rolling news interest, is a relatively small product in the HBO canon, but clearly a big source of prestige. Watching Oliver land jokes about nefarious town planning, or tease from Edward Snowden confirmation of when the National Security Agency can look at pictures of his penis, not only makes the viewer feel smart, it has the giggly sense of laughing at things we’re not supposed to find funny. At its best – and when it most often goes viral – Last Week Tonight is that rare thing, a highly entertaining show with a measure of social utility (at its worst, it has the over-anxious air of someone trying to tap-dance life into the unmentionably tedious). “We’ve done some really boring things,” Oliver says, with the delight of a man who has bucked every commercial principle in his industry and still come out victorious.
This is how I found myself crying early one morning in January: For the three weeks I had been living in a studio apartment in Daytona Beach, Fla., I had gone running four times a week. On that particular day, I ran down to the beach, turning right when I hit the sand so that I would see the sun rise.
The sight wasn’t new, but on that day I felt so good and warm and light that, just as the sun crested over the waves, that well-worn line from “Annie” blasted through my mind: “The sun will come out tomorrow.” And I burst into tears.
In an effort to outrun more than a year of depression and grief, and the seasonal affective disorder that swamped me most winters since childhood, I had become a 37-year-old snowbird. The tears that morning were a mixture of joy and relief because, in pointing my car — packed with three duffel bags of clothes and a box of books — south for most of January and February after the worst year of my life, I had finally started to feel whole again.
What Langlands is advocating for in his book is more widespread knowledge about the time when craft was integral to daily life. In the era he studies, activities like beekeeping weren’t escapes from reality, but essential to it. He also smartly notes that neither “craft” nor “craeft” is a synonym for “working with one’s hands.” At its root, the word “manufacture,” which is associated with mass production, means “to make by hand.” Most of the cheap goods we buy are made at least in part by people. The reason assembly isn’t “craeft,” to follow his logic, is that the final form of an assembled object is predetermined, requiring no ingenuity or material wisdom.
Lagerspetz’s book is an investigation into what we mean by “dirt” and whether it is an actual quality of the world or, as most current theoretical work would have us believe, a subjective idea projected on to reality. Lagerspetz deconstructs the easy reductionism of theorists for whom “dirt is not really dirt but something else”. This includes such luminaries as Mary Douglas (for whom dirt was merely “matter out of place”) and Julia Kristeva, who he says has banished dirt “to the misty regions of symbolism”. He believes this is a mistake, one that has arisen because “matter is not perceived as strange enough”.