Things, 6.12.22: Delightsome Democrats, Great Guards, and Superheroes’ Right To Exist
It’s time for me to write here more consistently, and on an actual day. The short-story author George Saunders claims that we all go through stories with a cart called “Things I Couldn’t Help But Notice.” So, this summer, I’m going to experiment with Things, a weekly roundup of phenomena that I just couldn’t get out of my head before it was time to write. For the first week, here’s a special meaty tripleheader of things that got stuck in my head last week. Next week, this column will be a little more focused, and it will come in on Friday.
Red-State Democrats’ Delightsome Dealings
Remember how progressives in Texas nearly threw away a House seat over Rep. Henry Cuellar’s… reservations about abortion rights? It looks like they’re mostly alone: Cuellar still beat Jessica Cisneros — bless her heart — in the Democratic primary, which means Democrats still have a chance to maintain a congressional outpost in Cuellar’s heavily-Catholic, heavily-conservative, heavily-Hispanic slice of the nation’s second-largest state.
It’s not just Texas, either. In Utah, the Democratic Party made the delightsome decision not to nominate a candidate at all. (That joke will fly over your head if you didn’t watch Under the Banner of Heaven.) They could have churned out a candidate who backed single-payer healthcare and wanted to expand access to abortion — you know, good, progressive policies. Instead, the state party threw its weight behind an independent Never Trump conservative named Evan McMullin — you know, someone who can actually unseat the person holding the seat right now, an archconservative named Mike Lee.
There’s no need to sugarcoat this: Unless Republicans get the itch for a Roy Moore remix and send a slew of accused criminals to do battle in November, Democrats are probably going to lose their majorities in the House and Senate. In most cases, they’ll fall to the yes-men who stock the House Republican caucus, two-thirds of whom voted to reject the results of the 202o election the day of the Capitol riot. But, every once in a while, they’ll have a chance to lose to someone who still believes in free elections, or an old-school conservative who doesn’t rock with Replacement Theory. Those opportunities may well be far more important than any public policy wish list.
My wildest dreams for the 2022 midterms — Biden and Pence endorsing Liz Cheney! Democrats clearing the field for Adam Kinzinger in Illinois! The California gubernatorial race tightening up enough to give the Left pause on homelessness! — probably won’t come true. But they could limit the fallout from the fall’s congressional races if they, frankly, put less Democrats on the ballot and back moderate (or even vaguely pro-democracy) Republican expats instead.
Steph Curry, in the parlor of the greats
In the 3rd quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ win in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Dubs guard Stephen Curry got some airspace.
Airspace is remarkably hard to come by in the NBA playoffs, even harder in the Finals, and dang near impossible to find against the Boston Celtics’ league-best defense. Curry, a three-time champion and two-time MVP — not to mention the greatest shooter of all time — found some airspace anyway, the tiniest sliver of room between a pair of Celtics big men. At the time, it might have looked like a mild defensive miscue. Against Curry, there’s no such thing.
Curry flicked the basketball into the air as his defenders closed the window. As he returned to the ground, the human window above him crashed shut, and Steph had to tumble forwards just to avoid smacking into one of Boston’s best. All the while, his eyes tracked the ball — out of his hands, into an elliptical orbit, and right through the net.
It wasn’t the first time Curry hit a shot like that, or the last time he did it that night: He made off with 43 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists as the Warriors evened their championship grapple with Boston at two games apiece. Now, if Curry and his teammates can pull off two more wins (they’ve got up to two more games coming up at home, coincidentally), he’ll have notched his fourth championship, a number that puts him ahead of Larry Bird, level with LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, and one shy of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and even Magic Johnson.
Are we ready for that?
The players I just named are largely in a league of their own — ahead of legends like Elgin Baylor and Dirk Nowitzki, trailing the sextuple champion Michael Jordan. Curry, with four titles, a pair of MVP awards (one of which was given to him unanimously), and a Finals MVP? After shepherding a dynasty from two years of wilderness into another ring? Stephen Curry’s resumé would absolutely belong among the greatest of the great, and more. After all, none of them transformed the way basketball was played at every level. Steph, by the sheer volume of three-pointers he took and the sheer frequency with which he hit them, had every team in the league playing copycat within months of his 2015 MVP/championship season.
There’s so much more I could say about Curry, and just how singular he is among the NBA’s greatest. (His joy! His unselfishness! His glorious inability to perceive his own limitations!) But I’ll save all that for whenever the Finals wrap up.
MARVEL’s almost figured it out
Ms. Marvel’s first episode is incredible. For philosophical reasons.
One question I’ve (seriously, honestly) not been able to shake while watching year after year of superhero cinema was: Are we sure this is ethical? No, I don’t have any kind of objections to MARVEL movies’ cartoon violence, or some sort of Pentecostal objection to their heroes’ use of strange gods and even stranger spells. (Trust me, this isn’t new territory. I grew up watching Bibleman, a person who occasionally yelled at the sky for superpowers in the hopes that God would hear him.)
My problem was even sillier: In a world teeming with real-life heroes, people who deserve our attention and support in their oft-lonely fights for good, can we feel okay about investing time and attention into made-up comic book moneymakers like Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther? (Especially Captain America and Black Panther. I’ll explain this in a future piece.) Our embrace of superdom seems to suggest a pessimism about ourselves, powerless as we often feel to combat the evils in our own world, and I’m not sure it’s good for MARVEL — or any company, for that matter — to feed into our visions of powerlessness when we are can do so much good together.
Disney’s latest superhero series puts a human face to my qualms in Kamala Khan, a Jersey City teenager born to Pakistani parents who is obsessed with the Avengers — namely Captain Marvel. But — spoiler alert — Khan’s love of fantastic flying fighters puts her at odds with her teachers, classmates, and even her family, since none of them can quite understand why she’s rarely, you know, in the real world. Thanks to a truly bizarre super-ensoulment at the end of Episode One, I think it’s safe to say that the tension between Khan’s fantasy and her reality is probably the straw that stirs Ms. Marvel’s drink, from here on out. How the writers decide to put a bow on Khan’s conflict will almost certainly dictate the quality of the entire series — for me, anyway.
Maybe they’ll end with a redux of what Kamala Khan’s mom suggested at the end of the first episode: That, interesting as the super world is, it’s still time for Kamala to worry about her own, unempowered self. Or, maybe, they’ll declare that you can balance your responsibilities as a human being — the little ones as well as the big, existential ones — with your responsibilities as a figment of Stan Lee’s awesome imagination.
Well, there’s only one way to find out.