The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘popularity’

The Most Misread Poem in America

September 11, 2015 | by

Everyone knows Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”—and almost everyone gets it wrong.

Frost in 1913.

From The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, a new book by David Orr.

A young man hiking through a forest is abruptly confronted with a fork in the path. He pauses, his hands in his pockets, and looks back and forth between his options. As he hesitates, images from possible futures flicker past: the young man wading into the ocean, hitchhiking, riding a bus, kissing a beautiful woman, working, laughing, eating, running, weeping. The series resolves at last into a view of a different young man, with his thumb out on the side of a road. As a car slows to pick him up, we realize the driver is the original man from the crossroads, only now he’s accompanied by a lovely woman and a child. The man smiles slightly, as if confident in the life he’s chosen and happy to lend that confidence to a fellow traveler. As the car pulls away and the screen is lit with gold—for it’s a commercial we’ve been watching—the emblem of the Ford Motor Company briefly appears.

The advertisement I’ve just described ran in New Zealand in 2008. And it is, in most respects, a normal piece of smartly assembled and quietly manipulative product promotion. But there is one very unusual aspect to this commercial. Here is what is read by a voice-over artist, in the distinctive vowels of New Zealand, as the young man ponders his choice: Read More »

Big in 2014

May 7, 2014 | by


Stefan Zweig in 1900.

Last night, I attended a talk at the New York Public Library between Paul Holdengräber and George Prochnik, the author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World. Three different publishers were involved; the room was packed and attentive. In the mysterious way of such things, Stefan Zweig is, after some sixty years of obscurity in the United States, having A Moment. Wes Anderson helps, of course; Grand Budapest Hotel was a tribute to Zweig’s work, and is the cause of much of the renewed interest. But that someone like Zweig—once the toast of the international literati—came to Anderson’s attention in the first place shows signs of the mysterious forces that create such ebbs and flows. What makes a trend? Maybe it has a bit to do with something Prochnik said last night: no one can engage in the work of biography without at least some belief in ghosts.

Spiritualism aside, I am told that the trends for 2014 encompass everything: chocolate-chip-cookie milk-shots, dressing like superheroes, indie crossover R&B. There seem to be a great many cozy dystopias appearing in films. I won’t even speculate on apps. Or exercise.

I can’t tell you why these things have found such popularity. Certainly, I can tell you anecdotally that all of a sudden everyone seems to be reading Stoner, by John Williams. We appreciate good weather as we never have, but we are wary of being made fools of. It is hard to buy clothing, even cheap clothing, without filtering everything through something intellectual. It is okay to talk about insurance, sometimes. I don’t know if it is a product of these ghostly forces, but for the first time in my life I have felt an irresistible urge to drink sidecars. All I know is that in order for these things to take any kind of hold, they must feel like revelations to someone, if only for a moment, before they pretend that they knew all along and then have to reject it as obvious. Is that occult? Read More »