“The Ever-Evolving Standards of Wokeness”

(p. A6) . . . I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

. . .

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

. . .

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

For the full commentary, see:

Rob Henderson. “‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

When Khrushchev Voted With His Feet for Freedom

(p. A23) Sergei N. Khrushchev, a former Soviet rocket scientist and the son of Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader during the Cold War of the 1950s and ’60s, died on June 18 [2020] at his home in Cranston, R.I.

. . .

“I’m not a defector,” Sergei Khrushchev told The Providence Journal in 2001. “I’m not a traitor. I did not commit any treason. I work here and I like this country.”

Still, he said, he felt that becoming an American citizen had given him a new lease on life. “I’m feeling like a newborn,” he told The A.P. “It’s the beginning of a new life.”

. . .

Americans had a close-up look at the Soviet leader and his family in 1959, when he visited the United States at the invitation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

. . .

Sergei Khrushchev said years later, in the interview with The Providence Journal, that during that trip his family felt as if they had landed on Mars, seeing things they had never imagined. “It was palms, cars, highways, everything,” he said. He took home movies of it all, including Times Square.

They were especially baffled by the concept of Disneyland, then four years old but already a top attraction in Southern California. When told that his family would not be allowed to visit the park out of concerns for their safety, the premier exploded in anger: “What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place?”

For the full obituary, see:

Katharine Q. Seelye. “Sergei N. Khrushchev, 84, Rocket Scientist and the Son of a Former Soviet Premier.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 25, 2020): A23.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 24, 2020, and the title “Sergei Khrushchev, Son of Former Soviet Premier, Dies at 84.”)

“Very Smart People Doing Things in Half the Time With Great Urgency and Loving It”

(p. A15) As World War II gave way to the Cold War, jet engines and nuclear weapons increased the importance of radar and the strategic significance of countering it. Mr. Westwick fast-forwards through early, tentative attempts to do so, taking the reader to Southern California in the 1970s, where two defense contractors—Lockheed and Northrop—competed to develop modern stealth aircraft.

. . .

“Stealth” is leavened with plenty of anecdotes. One engineer designs a key curve for a stealth plane called Tacit Blue by fidgeting with modeling clay while on a trip to Disneyland with his kids. Another jury-rigs an F-117 by stringing a grid of piano wire over a hollow in its exterior to block incoming radar waves. It was meant to be a stopgap but ended up becoming part of the aircraft’s design. But Mr. Westwick’s main concern is to convey a sense of what it was like to work with such collaborative intensity. As one engineer recalls: “It’s very smart people doing things in half the time with great urgency and loving it. Absolutely loving it and in a way loving the people they work with.”

For the full review, see:

Konstantin Kakaes. “BOOKSHELF; Mission: Invisible.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, January 30, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 29, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Stealth’ Review: Mission Invisible.”)

The book under review, is:

Westwick, Peter. Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Mickey Mouse “Was a Beloved Little Guy Defying Authority, Beating the Odds”

(p. C8) “. . . like Mickey Mouse, Harry Houdini was a beloved little guy defying authority, beating the odds, standing up to the bully, making it on his own.”

For the full review, see:

Robert Wilson. “Houdini.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 14, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: the online version of the review was updated March 13, 2020, and has the title “Two New Lives of Harry Houdini.”)

(Note: ellipsis added. The line in quotation marks is from Begley, as quoted by Wilson. In the print version this line is part of a longer indented quote from Begley.)

The Begley book, is:

Begley, Adam. Houdini: The Elusive American. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.

“The Traveling Loner Who Helps Locals Fight off Bad Guys”

(p. A9) The Mandalorian is an inscrutable masked mercenary who wears a blaster on his hip, rides speeder bikes and giant lizards across desert landscapes, and has a bit of mysterious theme music, like the trill that once announced Clint Eastwood’s “man with no name” gunslinger on screen. All this helped endear the spacefarer to viewers who grew up with a lot of characters from the same template.

“I enjoy the hell out of it,” says 72-year-old Dennis Burdick of Las Vegas, who has deep-seated memories of watching shows like “Have Gun Will Travel” during the peak of the genre, when 31 prime-time Westerns aired in the 1958-’59 TV season alone. “They weren’t really great guys, they were just great with their guns. Same with the Mandalorian. He’s not looking to save anybody, but he’s there, and he can and he will,” Mr. Burdick adds.

Among TV tropes, the traveling loner who helps locals fight off bad guys has been a sturdy one.

. . .

Finally: Baby Yoda. That, of course, is the nickname the internet immediately bestowed on the breakout star of “The Mandalorian” after it appeared in the first episode’s final moments. The Child, as characters in the show refer to it, is a half-century-old toddler because of the slow aging process of its species. The bounty hunter was initially paid to capture or kill it, but something beneath his chest armor melted at the sight of the wrinkly green creature in a floating baby pram. Mando broke the code of his profession and became Baby Yoda’s protector.

For the full review, see:

John Jurgensen. “Old-School TV Tactics Propel ‘The Mandalorian’.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 26, 2019): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 25, 2019, and has the title “The Old-School TV Tactics That Make ‘The Mandalorian’ Tick.” The last sentence quoted above appears as in the print version, and not as in the slightly longer online version, of the article.)

“The Churning, Extravagant, Perfectionist Imagination of” Walt Disney

(p. A15) As understatements go, this one’s a doozy. Its source was Roy Disney, the less heralded, less handsome and—as gleaned from Richard Snow’s richly engaging “Disney’s Land”—less headstrong brother of Walt Disney. Since 1923, Roy had been the business brains of the Disney company was no stranger to his kid brother’s “screwy ideas.” But when he was informed after the war that his sibling had been, over his objections, slyly seeking funds to develop his own amusement park, Roy’s response was: “Junior’s got his hand in the cookie jar again.”

. . .

. . . when Roy first happened upon his brother’s maneuvering, amusement parks were passé at best, crime-ridden at worst and financial sinkholes at their core. Walt, having hired the Stanford Research Institute for a feasibility study, was told that he would fail if his park didn’t include such proven winners as a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and games of chance—none of which Walt wanted cluttering his dreamscape.

Joining the chorus of dissent was Walt’s wife, Lillian. She had tolerated her hobbyist-husband taking over her backyard rose garden with his steam locomotive, but she “raised the dickens” (Walt’s words) when her perennially boyish 52-year-old spouse told her that he had sold their desert vacation home and borrowed $250,000 against his life insurance so that he could seed his plans for the sort of enterprise that looked to be, as she put it, “not fun at all for grown-ups.”

. . .

Roy, Mr. Snow acknowledges, “never lost his calm understanding that the company’s prosperity rested not on the rock of conventional business practices, but on the churning, extravagant, perfectionist imagination of his younger brother.” For Walt’s part, he is quoted saying in 1957, just as Disneyland was making him rich, that “if it hadn’t been for my big brother, I swear I’d’ve been in jail several times for checks bouncing.”

For the full review, see:

Stephen M. Silverman. “BOOKSHELF; A Day in the Park With Walt.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, December 13, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Disney’s Land’ Review: A Day in the Park With Walt.”)

The book under review, is:

Snow, Richard. Disney’s Land: Walt Disney and the Invention of the Amusement Park That Changed the World. New York: Scribner, 2019.

YouTube Archives Can Reduce the Pain from Missing What Has Been Creatively Destroyed

(p. 10) When Robb Alvey, an amusement park fanatic, heard that Universal Studios Orlando was shuttering its beloved “Jaws”-themed ride in 2012, he made sure to grab a front-row seat for the closing day.

Using a hand-held digital camera, he filmed the six-minute boat ride: from the skipper Jacob welcoming passengers; to the “mayday” distress call; to the first sighting of the prosthetic shark; to the grenade launchers and exploding fireballs; and, finally, to the “high-voltage” cable that fries the animatronic beast.

Mr. Alvey, 49, who lives in Orlando, Fla., and runs a website called Theme Park Review, uploaded the footage to YouTube. Seven years later, the video has been viewed more than 160 million times.

. . .

That longing for expired rides is certain to increase in coming years, as America’s theme parks are renovated: In August, Disney announced that Epcot will undergo yet another major overhaul, while Universal Orlando recently revealed plans for a massive new park called Epic Universe.

And when parks make big changes, the charmingly antiquated rides are often first to go. In 2014, Walt Disney World shuttered its Studio Backlot Tour, a behind-the-scenes look at movie production, to make room for “Star Wars”: Galaxy’s Edge, a blockbuster attraction that opened this year.

“The backlot tour was over two hours long, and took up a big part of your day, but it showed you every aspect of filmmaking,” said Alicia Stella, 37, a journalist who covers theme parks on her website Orlando ParkStop. “I miss those kinds of attractions. A lot of the new ones are fast-paced thrill rides.”

Such expansions are a reminder that the parks are in a constant state of evolution, which makes the archivists’ efforts all the more crucial: You never know when your favorite ride could close for good.

For the full story, see:

Brian Raftery. “The Ride Has Ended, but It Still Goes On.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, November 3, 2019): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 2, 2019, and has the title “Where ‘Jaws,’ the Ride, Lives Forever.”)

Newsboys “Were American Icons–Symbols of Unflagging Industry”

(p. A17) Thomas Edison was one. So were Harry Houdini, Herbert Hoover, W.C. Fields, Walt Disney, Benjamin Franklin, Jackie Robinson, Walter Winchell, Thomas Wolfe, Jack London, Knute Rockne, Harry Truman, John Wayne, Warren Buffett and many more familiar names. Besides being illustrious Americans, these men shared a calling—growing up, they were newsboys, delivering newspapers to subscribers or, more colorfully, hawking them on the streets for a couple of pennies, real money in those days.

In their time, newsboys (girls were rare) were American icons—symbols of unflagging industry and tattered, barefoot, shivering objects of pity. They had their own argot and better news judgment than many editors, because they had to size up the appeal of every edition to determine how many copies to buy from the publisher.

For the full review, see:

Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; Street-Corner Capitalists.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 7, 2019): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Crying the News’ Review: Street-Corner Capitalists.”)

The book under review is:

DiGirolamo, Vincent. Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

If Steve “Jobs Had Lived, Disney and Apple Might Have Merged”

(p. B7) Mr. Iger believes that, if Mr. Jobs had lived, Disney and Apple might have merged.

. . .

He thinks that Mr. Jobs also could have helped steer Silicon Valley in a better direction. “Steve had quite a conscience.” Mr. Iger says. “It didn’t always manifest itself in his interpersonal relationships, but he had quite a conscience. Silicon Valley needs leaders.” The two men became so close that Mr. Jobs pulled Mr. Iger aside right before the announcement of the $7 billion Disney-Pixar deal to confide that his pancreatic cancer had come back and was now in his liver. Only his wife, Laurene, knew. Mr. Iger had to think fast; he rejected Mr. Jobs’s offer to back out of the deal.

For the full interview, see:

Maureen Dowd, interviewer. “The Slow-Burning Success of a Hollywood Nice Guy.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019): D1 & D6-D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Slow-Burning Success of Disney’s Bob Iger.”)

The book discussed in the interview is:

Iger, Robert. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. New York: Random House, 2019.

“A Disney Story for Young Socialists” Op-Ed in Wall Street Journal

My op-ed touches on a couple of the themes of my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. The URL for the online version of my op-ed piece is: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-disney-story-for-young-socialists-11570661652