The Bourne Masculinity: Matt Damon’s hyper-aggressive, emotionally fragile “good guy with a gun”

Jason Bourne

Matt Damon in “Jason Bourne” (Credit: Universal Pictures)

“Look at us,” Jason Bourne says to the man meant to kill him. “Look at what they make you give.”

It’s 2007 and the “they” in question is the Central Intelligence Agency — and, more covertly, a U.S. government so committed to counter-terrorist measures that it recruits and transforms its own citizens into veritable killing machines. As the invincible hero of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third installment of the 2002–2007 trilogy, Matt Damon slays, saves and anguishes. When he isn’t kicking ass as an amnesiac spy on the run, he’s dolefully ruminating on the aftermath of the said ass-kicking in his past. “I can see their faces — anyone I ever killed,” he confides to rogue hacker Nicki Parsons (Julia Stiles), who takes his battered hand in her own. Evidently, it isn’t easy ending the lives of others, even those who pose an ostensive threat to national security, survive a five-car collision or mildly resemble Drake.

Nearly a decade later, the flip phones and cybercafés of “Ultimatum” feel almost quaint, as does the notion that a good guy with a gun should carry one in the first place.

“You Know His Name” warn many a black-and-white poster papering city streets and subway tunnels — part of a promotional series for “Jason Bourne,” the latest chapter from director Paul Greengrass debuting today. In one version of the ad, a harsh key light cuts diagonally across Damon’s brow and cheekbone, one of the few spots in which the details of his body are scrutable. The other place, of course, is his cocked SIG pistol, pointed to the left as though aimed at passersby. It’s a riveting image — perhaps due most to the patent lack of wrath in Damon’s expression. His look is grave, unruffled, par for the course. It is the look of violence that has become mundane, officious versus malicious.

It is also a look that comes too close for comfort to current troubles that no marketing agency could have foretold. From the rising homicide rates in Chicago, St. Louis, and Atlanta; to the massacre in Orlando; to the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; to the slaughter of no less than eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, this summer is one of the bloodiest in recent U.S. history — rendering Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” the song that has concluded every Bourne film since 2002, chillingly prescient.

So it is no surprise that those who don’t know his name, who haven’t followed the movies, and who don’t give a hoot about Matt Damon’s offhand endorsement of Australia’s ban on assault rifles, see the newest film and its promotional campaign as yet another pro-violent, hyper-masculine affair. The most outspoken (or well-publicized) among the naysayers is Lena Dunham, who recently joined in protest against the guntastic images. When Tami Sagher, co-executive producer of “Girls,” suggested on Twitter that they “get rid of the guns in the Jason Bourne subway ads,” Dunham gamely echoed, “Good idea … Let’s go!” posting an image of a poster with its pistol peeled off. With more somber reservations, a friend of mine from Baton Rouge shared that whenever she sees the ads in Brooklyn, she imagines a black person beyond its borders, “waiting to be shot.”

So much for the Bourne “Legacy.”

What this disjunction reveals is a serious rift between the onscreen Bourne and growing anxieties over masculinity that convulse beyond the aspect ratio. Does it matter that, after fleeing the agency, Bourne’s character renounces violence in cases that are not self-defense? That he was indoctrinated at a young age by remorseless CIA officials? That he feels he had, and has, “no choice”? What is choice in an age in which practically the same explanation can justify the shooting of an unarmed black man? As my father told me when I was drafting this piece, “Bourne doesn’t kill when he doesn’t have to.” My dad (of course) has a point, but then, who decides what kind of violence is justified, or when it is (ever) mandatory?

The grand irony of Bourne 2016 is that a protagonist meant to represent the psychological ravages of violence has become a public emblem of uncontested (and unapologetic) white masculine power. I happen to think it does matter that in “Ultimatum,” our conflicted protagonist kills not one character through the use of a firearm — and that in the three crucial opportunities he has to shoot, he declines after terse deliberation. It also matters that in “Jason Bourne,” the majority of carnage comes in the form of efficient jiu jitsu and driving skills rather than from the barrel of a gun. Part of the pleasure in watching Bourne is witnessing a single agent out-fight and outwit U.S. “intelligence,” no number of PTSD flashbacks successful in stifling his abilities. Indeed, for as much as Bourne visibly suffers trauma, such trauma surfaces at the opportune time — seconds after he’s swatted off a pack of assailants, knocked out a Berlin anarchist or intrepidly steered himself out of harm’s way (body count of motorists advisedly unknown).

It might just be the savviness of the Bourne brand of violence that renders it less off-putting — specifically to fans, such as myself, wary of macho grandstanding yet willing to accept that a ripped Damon clocking brutes isn’t all that bad. And we, of course, are not alone. “Obviously, there’s an incredible amount of violence going on in the world and in the United States right now that’s devastating,” Julia Stiles admitted in an interview, “but this movie’s perspective is not one that glorifies or makes heroic the idea of being violent. In fact, it’s the opposite.”

But is it? For as much as he seeks a peaceful existence, that existence requires constant battle. As Mary T. Hartson argues in her essay “The Bourne Refusal? Changing the Rules of the Game,” “[D]espite Bourne’s apparent paradigm shift toward a kinder, gentler form of masculinity, his behavior on screen remains essentially that of a violent warrior … Not allowed to simply become a feeling, non-violent masculine being … this action hero must continue to use his body in ways he was trained.” In a lot of ways this lack of interior equivocation is what makes “Jason Bourne” the Bournest of them all — he doesn’t think, talk, reflect. He does. And this doing recalls a bygone masculinity to which arguably few men today have recourse.

“This character always feels like he’s running through the world we’re living in,” Damon put it in a recent interview, “that it’s torn from the headlines, and that’s the fun of it.” But when torn from his diegesis in a season where the headlines themselves are as violently spectacular as the 170-car pileup at the new movie’s climax, Bourne starts to feel as much omen as entertainment.

That is, for however out of touch with the films any Twitter-fueled pull-and-peeling may seem, the protest exposes a real collective concern for the effects of toxic masculinity on our cultural psyche. In light of the sheer volume of firearms that show up in the films, Damon’s recent support for a ban of assault weapons has been lambasted by both the right and the left as simple hypocrisy, but seems to me something much more complicated, representative of a broader trend in depictions of manhood across visual media: a “manic masculinity” polarized into hyper-aggression on one end and paralyzing self-doubt on the other. The Damon-Bourne franchise presents a figure at once incredibly competent and emotionally crippled, a mascot for a time in which a masculine identity has no reliable parameters — one in which we fetishize the jacked male body more than ever, all while rates of middle-aged men committing suicide have skyrocketed.

In his 2014 “Who’s the Man? Hollywood Defined Masculinity for Millions,” NPR’s Bob Mondello charts the transition from unquestionably heroic modes of masculinity to more “varied … human and unambiguously authentic” fare — from Apatow bro-pals and Doubtfire dads to, yes, the tormented Jason Bourne. While gesturing to the historical contexts that catalyzed this shift, Mondello ultimately claims that the turn from John Wayne to Iron Man isn’t “such a stretch.” After all, he argues, “They’re icons both, standing tall, fighting for the greater good.”

But how tall are they standing these days? What Mondello’s piece doesn’t consider is the extent to which that “greater good” is more uncertain on both an individual and national scale — an issue that the Bourne films, the newest one especially, negotiate across a subterranean maze of puddles and grime. Amidst rising tensions between left and right, security and privacy, liberty and state control, “Bourne” hosts a banquet of binaries that leaves one just as hungry as when she arrived. Whip pan after whip pan of relentless hunting, and we’re really no closer to the truth of it all.

Which feels, if anything, apropos. American trust in its government has dropped to record lows, with both Trump and Clinton woefully unpopular among a huge swathe of citizens. Despite plummeting unemployment rates in every state and a dramatic expansion of affordable healthcare, as of late 2015, 68 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track, the highest such figure in more than two years. To use Mondello’s phrase, when it comes to “who’s the man” — in terms of power, integrity and overall resolve — the fact is that many men (and women) aren’t so sure any more. Redemptive masculine qualities that have historically defined leadership can seem the stuff of yore; sociologist Michael Kimmel has demonstrated that definitions of being a “good man” differ starkly from being a “real” one. Where virtue and legitimacy fail to meet, one has to question the road itself.

In 2003, a year after the release of “The Bourne Identity,” Damon told the Sunday Herald, “I actually hate guns. They freak me out.” At the time, the actor looked more like the dimpled quarterback Charlie Dillon of 1992’s “School Ties” than the chiseled warrior knuckling through this year’s “Jason Bourne.” Like Hugh Jackman before him, Damon’s body mid-forties is preternaturally ripped — a less-rabid “Wolverine,” Tyler Durden with a conscience. The new Bourne launches with a jarring nihilism fitting for the realm of Palahniuk. “It doesn’t matter,” our hero tells Parsons, who, after years of separate hiding, has found him prizefighting on the outskirts of Greece. “All that matters is survival.”

Urging him to join her in exposing yet another state conspiracy, Parsons pleads, “But it does matter.”

And, so, to the fabled birthplace of democracy, they pack up their guns and go.

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Danny McBride puts the Homer in homeroom: “‘The Odyssey’ finds its way into everything we do”

Danny McBride

Danny McBride in “Vice Princpals” (Credit: HBO)

In HBO’s new dark comedy “Vice Principals,” Danny McBride finds himself once again in the unenviable position of being perpetually unenviable. McBride’s uptight, insecure Neil Gamby is the star of the show, which was co-created and co-written with his longtime collaborator, Jody Hill. Born in Georgia and raised in Virginia, McBride’s take on Southern culture is less the bucktoothed yokel in a burlap sack and more the cross-regionally relatable angry man on a mission. In similar fashion to his role as everyone’s favorite horse’s ass-slash-former major league pitcher Kenny Powers in “Eastbound & Down,” Gamby is tired of everyone’s shit. However familiar they may be to each other, though, each of his characters is like a McBride case study on the far-reaching and hilarious impact of social and cultural ineptitude.

Roles in comedies like “Tropic Thunder,” “This is the End” and “Pineapple Express” have seen the 39-year-old take the lead in virtually every scene, due in no small part to the fact that his be-mulleted and forever embittered disposition is so damn believable. To that end, McBride’s instincts have offered a much-needed respite from the manufactured comedic tropes of zany person meets square meets unexpected situation. On “Vice Principals,” McBride just goes with what he knows, which has been, and continues to be, reliably batshit hysterical. Salon recently spoke with him about the show and how his own Southern identity comes into play in portraying his characters.

Does being a Southerner yourself bring a sort of obligation to be especially sure that all of those complexities are there?

[Laughs.] Well, usually, when you see Southern characters in stories, they’re written as this stereotype of someone who’s ignorant or someone who’s a moron who’s there purely for comic relief. I think with Jody and I, since we grew up in the South, to us, we didn’t really ever see guys that fit that stereotype all the time. We always found humor in other things in the South, like the idea of a Tae Kwon Do studio in a strip mall. Those are the kinds of things that made us laugh. People walking around like idiots wasn’t really what we were seeing where we grew up. There’s all different types of people in the South and not just the stereotypical Billy Bob or whatever. I think, with all of these characters, it’s easy to write them off like oh, they’re assholes, or whatever, but we look at them like these weird, complicated Southern men that hold on to these weird values and old ideas of masculinity and how those things are so outdated when you look at them next to the rest of the world.

Right. The comedy’s less about setting and more about the situation and individual, which isn’t always the case with this type of character.

With us, we never really write our stuff for punchlines or anything. All of our stuff comes from the idea of the more real the world feels, the funnier the comedy usually lands, because with a lot of these characters, they’re in very recognizable situations, but they’re behaving in a way which none of us would behave. I think in order to get that, you have to really make the world feel normal and feel right, and that’s something that we strive for in the formula for comedy. I think in doing so, we also end up making a picture that’s more relatable for people and especially people from the South. It’s just a way of seeing your neighborhood or your street or your shopping center not portrayed as some gigantic joke or clichéd statement about everyone shopping at Walmart. [Laughs.]

Do you see your own childhood experiences finding their way into the writing?

For sure. I mean, I was the weird kid in school. When we read folk tales or something like that, I’d get really into it. I can remember when we read “The Odyssey” in high school. Everyone else was just sleeping through it. We’d read it every day, and I was the only one walking in saying, “Fuck, I can’t wait ‘til we get back there today. Ulysses is about to smoke everybody.” [Laughs.] It’s funny, too, because “The Odyssey” finds its way into everything we do. It’s all over “Eastbound & Down” with Mackworthy as The Cyclops. There’s all sorts of strange little things we put in there from the weird knowledge we have, ranging from pop culture to Homer.

How much of yourself do you see in a character like Kenny Powers or Neal Gamby?

That’s the thing. [Laughs.] People think that I’m really like these guys, but I couldn’t be any more different. I’m a kid who in high school was into drama and went to art school for college, so I feel like these guys were the ones I saw growing up. Even though I wasn’t like them, I sort of understood where they were coming from, easier than maybe somebody from Los Angeles or New York would if they saw that same person. And I think a lot of it comes from just being from the South and understanding the things about it that people from the big cities trip out on, but also understanding those things about the South that people from the big cities don’t even stand to realize goes on. [laughs] I think, in the writing, it’s always been about playing with that weird dynamic of giving people what they kind of assume already about the culture. I mean, with Kenny Powers, we were talking about it the other day, and I told Jody, “If I’d seen the poster for [“Eastbound & Down”] and not known anything about it, I don’t think I would’ve watched. A sports show featuring a guy with a mullet?” [Laughs.] But you know, I think that’s what we really liked about it. You take these things that on the surface might appear broad, and then you try to find some kind of weird depth to it.

These characters are pissed off and bitter, too, but they’re also weirdly magnetic.

It’s funny, and I didn’t really realize this until we started looking at everything, but what they all have in common is that they’re dreamers. They all have these grand visions of how life is gonna turn out, and for each of them it doesn’t really end up the way they thought it would. It’s that hopeless sort of anger that arises from when there’s really not anyone to take that out on, so the times that there is, it’s usually yourself. That creates this dilemma — how do you right it, if you’re the one who got you there? As a kid growing up in Spotsylvania, Virginia, talking about how I wanted to make movies when I got older, it was basically a lifetime of people going, “Yeah, sure.” [Laughs.] Because of that, I think we’ve carried that cross before, of being somebody with a big vision [and] nobody else is onboard. I see that in a lot of these characters, for sure. 

That sounds more along the lines of drama. Is that idea of going to the left of comedy something that drives your writing?

The thing that’s weird about it is that when people ask us stuff like what comedies we were into growing up, honestly, our biggest influences aren’t even comedies. It was growing up on [Martin] Scorcese and [Francis Ford] Coppola and all of these amazing filmmakers from the ’70s. That’s what was really the touchstone for us, more than any sort of comedy, really. We don’t even approach them as if they were comedies, honestly. We approach them as if they were dramas that just have really fucked up funny parts in them. [Laughs.]

I mean, if you watch “Goodfellas,” Henry Hill is a murderer, but you still like him and root for him, and I think those are the kinds of rules we apply to this. I think that’s what really bored me about comedies back in the day is that a lot of them were, like, here’s this guy who’s unlucky in love or he’s just gotten over a breakup or something. It’s just all of these clichéd things, and the guy’s got a heart of gold from the beginning, and you can just see where it’s all going. I think, if you start off with a character that isn’t as easily recognizable, you cause a little bit more confusion, where the viewer’s thinking, “What’s supposed to happen? What do I even want to happen to this guy?” I think that’s what makes this more interesting to write [for].

A lot of it also just plays off of the fact that we’re in a culture now where we’ve grown up on movies. Every year, hundreds of new movies are coming out, and everyone has seen these stories a million times, and I really feel like to keep people on their toes. It’s half playing with what people expect just from seeing movies and being familiar with these stories, and then it’s half surprising people and turning those concepts on their head when they come up. I mean, for me, when I see a movie where the guy gets broken up with at the very beginning, I feel like I already know exactly where the movie is going. But if I see a story that starts with this vice principal losing his job and then burning someone’s house down, I’m gonna be like: What the fuck? Where’s this going? We write the stuff that we would want to see, and I feel like what I get bored with the most, when I go to the movies, is just predictability. That’s what we’re ultimately trying to do. It’s just about trying to find a way to get people to engage in a story that they don’t see coming.

Speaking of unpredictability, how much of the show is improvised?

We improv a little on this show, but on “Eastbound” we did a ton. It was one of our main ways of fleshing out a scene. We’d do maybe a take of what was on the script, and then we’d just riff the whole time, and we loved that. But because “Vice Principals” is really so story-driven, anytime we’d start to improvise it just felt like it belonged somewhere else. I also feel like I see improv in so many comedies now where you can almost sort of see it coming, so we would improvise a little bit but not nearly as much as we used to.

Of course, working with Walton [Goggins], anytime it was just he and I, there’s just a comfort between us where it wasn’t too hard to find that rhythm. It’s funny, too, because when we wrote the character, Lee [Russell], we knew it was a very specific kind of Southern guy, and when we were auditioning for it, nobody had it. Everybody was turning him into this sort of cartoon, and it was like no, it’s not that. It’s a dialed down sort of manner, where he seems almost effeminate but he’s not. Lee’s like a metrosexual before the South even had a word for it, and when I sent [Walton] the script, he called me back, and he just had it. He was like, “I went to high school with a guy just like this. I know exactly who you’re talking about.” He’s just a lovely person, too. We’ve kind of become best buds through doing this together. He’s just an incredibly funny guy who’s heartfelt and genuine.

Did the writing process involve you interviewing actual teachers and principals?

I was a substitute teacher for a little while, so I’d seen it there, but yeah, when we were writing this, I actually went around to a few different schools and interviewed department heads and vice principals and principals. Without anyone really selling out the other side, it became instantly apparent that at most of these schools, there was a rift between administration and faculty. [Laughs.] I just thought that was so interesting because I never really saw them as separate entities.

Going from a show as successful as “Eastbound” to what’s just started for “Vice Principals,” were there new challenges as far as meeting your own standards?

The biggest challenge is always just getting someone to say yes. While we were drafting this story we definitely wanted it to be something where an “Eastbound” fan wouldn’t instantly be turned off, but then have the story morph into something completely different. On this show, it’s the same crew of people that I’ve worked with all along, and it is interesting to see how everybody has grown and gotten better at what they do, and how we all have a better understanding of how we work best. I don’t think we’re in a place where we think we’re so comfortable that we’ve got it made. We still have to hustle and convince people to say yes to what we wanna do next.

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Allison Janney opens up: On being “fragile but tough on the outside” and the questionable things she’s done for love

Allison Janney

Allison Janney in “Tallulah” (Credit: Netflix)

As Margo, in “Tallulah,” Allison Janney is adrift in her life, hiding out in an apartment she is not supposed to have. Margo is a marriage expert whose husband (John Benjamin Hickey) has left her for another man (Zachary Quinto).

She also has not seen her son Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) in several years. Then Nico’s girlfriend Tallulah (Ellen Page) shows up, broke and with a baby — allegedly Margo’s grandchild — needing a place to stay.

Unbeknownst to Margo, Tallulah has made a wrong-headed decision to do what she thought was the right thing, and has kidnapped an infant from Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard). As Margo helps Tallulah with her situation, Tallulah helps Margo find her value in life.

Writer/director Sian Heder’s (“Orange Is the New Black”) feature debut reunites Janney and Page almost a decade after they played mother and daughter in “Juno.” The film is a fascinating character study of these very different, very troubled women, and Janney’s performance in particular is outstanding. Margo allows the great character actress to play both steely and vulnerable — often in a single scene, as when she tries to seduce her apartment building’s doorman (Felix Solis).

Janney chatted with Salon about playing women who are awkwardly comic, intimidating or have control issues.

Margo is a character who is frustrated with her life. How did you connect to and express her tension and anxiety?

I was very struck by the film’s metaphor of gravity disappearing and whether or not you decide to hold on or let go. I was struck by Margo’s character wanting to let go in the beginning. She’s at an impasse. Her connectivity to the world is gone. Her family is shattered and she has no control over it. I’ve felt that — where I’ve wanted to let go — both as an actress and as a human. I have moments when I just can’t deal with it and I want to go and run away.

Through her experience with Tallulah and the baby, she’s found a new reason to stay. As an actress, I wanted to show that arc. I thought it was beautiful. I had an image of a friend going through a divorce and I was struck by her bed: where her husband use to sleep were her books. When I met with Sian, we put that in the movie. I think the humanity of Margo really resonated with me. I wanted to portray her.

Margo’s relationship with Tallulah is complex; she is caring for this stranger one minute then ready to kick her out the next. Can you talk about how you balanced the chaos and control?

I love how people come into your life for a reason. This is the worst thing in Margo’s life, Tallulah. Margo tells her, “You’re ruining my life!” She doesn’t want this. But she comes to realize how incredible this meeting was. It opens her up. It makes her express and feel things and the advice she gives to Tallulah helps her realize what she needs in her life. Their relationship is a healing thing that changes them. All three women in the film [Margo, Tallulah, Carolyn] have fractured families. All the women characters are well fleshed-out, and the story was fascinating. Sian’s subject matter is about mothers, and that perhaps not everyone should be a mother. Sian approached this not from a place of judging. I thought the characters were beautiful. I knew I wanted in. 

You’ve worked with Ellen Page before in “Juno.” You have a wonderful rapport in a park scene …

I greatly admire Ellen. It is very easy to work with her. We both are very open to being present in the scene, listening and answering in the simplest way. In that park scene, Tallulah is the only person Margo has spoken to like that, because Margo is so outside of her life. Tallulah is the person Margo feels safest talking to because it’s the first time Margo is asked what she wants. She wanted to be married and have a family. She wanted to be a mother, and to love and be loved. “How’d that work out?” Tallulah asks. “Not very well,” Margo admits. She’d never said it to anyone before.

What I liked about the dynamic between Margo and Tallulah is that Margo is less interested in asking Tallulah about her son and more interested in getting to know and learn from this stranger. It is as if combating her loneliness is more restorative than reuniting with her family. Why do you think that is?

Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s true. Margo has lost her son and husband and there she is having to deal with her loneliness. And Tallulah makes Margo face that: her choices, and what she’s holding on to. The painting scene is a wonderful breakthrough. It’s the beginning of her letting go and being at peace and happy. Tallulah makes Margo face that, and she starts to see a life outside of who she is. She finds a new way to be. I know when she meets the baby she’s not sure it’s her grandchild, but that possibility — the chance it could be — makes her take this girl in.

There is a comic/dramatic scene in which Margo seduces her building’s doorman. You excel at making these awkward moments funny and sad. Can you describe your ability to find humor in pathos? And will you ever get a proper love scene?

Oh, you’re so funny! I prefer the love scenes that are funny and real. Most of the time things don’t work out the way they do in movies. That’s why I love this one: it’s not a typical love scene. I was happy that they kept it in. It propels my character’s story forward but it’s tangential. It’s great to see Margo taking these baby steps. I love playing things that go wrong, and having … sorry, I’m sort of speechless … the way he kisses her and immediately her old self comes back. All she wants is to be loved by someone, and she fucked it up. This feeling that she might actually be someone who can be loved by someone else is so important to her. The seed that she’s desirable is planted. 

Margo talks about not always being a goody two shoes, and doing crazy things, like smuggling heroin in her crotch. What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Well, Gary, there are many things that are not fit to print. I would probably raise a few eyebrows about some of the choices I’ve made in my life to fit in. Everyone has those moments in life when they make a decision … I’ve never tried to smuggle heroin, but I’ve done questionable things to hold on to someone’s love. I’ve done things I’m not proud of, but I’m still trying to be my best self and I love to play characters who are trying to look at themselves and move forward.

It’s hard to accept change and let it in to our lives. I don’t know why. All life is is a series of changes but we are reluctant to change! People stay in relationships for [the wrong] reasons. Why do we stay in them? Because of what we want them to be and not because of what they are. In my own life, I’m trying to face what life is and how to be able to change and embrace it. Holding on to what I think I need. Margo spoke to me for that reason. She made me want to open myself up and to change and have hope. I think the characters in “Tallulah” are ones you have mercy for and compassion. 

Margo appreciates Tallulah for “being who she really is,” though audiences know she’s not. What can you say about playing no-nonsense characters? That’s a quality many of the characters you play have.

I like the duality of the complexity of people. We are not just one thing. As an actress, the more difficult the character, the more my job is to find the humanity. What is their dirty little secret? What makes them human no matter how despicable they are? It usually comes from a wound. Some, like Betty in “The Way Way Back,” drink to anesthetize their problems. Margo drinks, but her problem is she hides in this apartment that she isn’t supposed to have. She’s desperately trying not to let anyone know her reality. She doesn’t know who she is anymore.

Being six feet tall and walking in a room, people think I’m tough and confident. I can make you think that, but underneath, I’m insecure. You want to show you’ve got it all together in public, then you go home and sob. But that’s what I love to play. I understand wanting to hide things from people and being fragile but tough on the outside. We all come from the same place and put it out there.

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Mike Pence slams Obama for describing Trump as a “demagogue”: “I don’t think name calling has any place in public life”

Gov. Mike Pence

Vice Presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana points as he sits during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/John Locher) (Credit: AP)

Donald Trump has spent considerable amount of time fighting back embarrassing reports that he attempted to nix his own selected running mate in the final hours before his campaign officially announced its pick of conservative Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Since his selection of the conservative who backed Trump rival Ted Cruz in the primary, there have been countless reports on the significant policy difference between the pair. Still, Trump has attempted to tamp down any talk of potentially problematic ideological rift.

Well, we can now add name calling to the growing list of areas the two running mates disagree on that includes: trade, a Muslim ban, racist attacks on judges or the need to punish women who seek abortions.

“I don’t think name calling has any place in public life,” Trump’s running mate told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday. Asked about Democrats attack on Trump during this week’s Democratic National Convention, Pence complained that President Obama was wrong to call the GOP presidential nominee a “demagogue.”

“I thought that was unfortunate that the president of the United States would use a term like that, let alone laced into a sentence like that.”

While Pence decried the state of politics on the Democratic side, Trump was in the midst of his latest Twitter rant, lashing out former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg and retired four-star Marine general and former commander of American forces in Afghanistan, John Allen:

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In what is quickly becoming the age of Prime, why do investors still hate Amazon?

Trump Bezos

FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, billionaire Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos talks about the history and character of the Post during a dedication ceremony for its new headquarters in Washington. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told Fox News in an interview on May 12, 2016, that Bezos was using the Post to help Amazon avoid taxes. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (Credit: AP)

For the first 20 years of its existence, Amazon was a difficult company to appraise. It increased its dominance of online retailing without actually making a profit, banking on future market shares being worth more than cash at hand — and its strategy worked.

That dominance has not translated into its stock prices, however, as even now investors seem unsure how to evaluate Amazon’s business model — or refuse to trust its CEO. Despite reporting on Thursday that its second quarter revenue was up 31 percent to $30.4 billion, and its net income was up 835 percent to $857 million, Amazon’s stock only rose 2.2 percent, far below what experts would expect with such gains.

Forbes’ Peter Cohan argued that the reason for this low valuation could simply be that investors want the company to focus on its most profitable commodities — Amazon Web Services and, perhaps, Prime — instead of following CEO Jeff Bezos and continuing to invest heavily its own infrastructure.

“It invests capital in warehouses, inventory, delivery networks, and computer systems that give it the ability to keep prices low and spread those fixed costs over a huge number of orders,” Cohan wrote. “Amazon also keeps inventing new products and services that it can sell customers to increase even more the number of orders over which it can spread those fixed costs.”

This philosophy is reflected in the company’s earning statement, which focused on Amazon’s investment in Alexa and its third-party apps; the introduction of an all-new Kindle; the success of the Amazon Dash Button; and the critical acclaim for Amazon Studios’ original programming.

Of more interest to investors, Cohan suggested, would be the launch of Amazon Prime in India or a more comprehensive account of how the company plans on capitalizing on Prime’s increasing market share.

As Michael Levin, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, told Quartz’s Alison Griswold, “Amazon talks about [Prime] as a principal driver of success, with just about every financial release talking about new benefits, new programs, or how much better Prime has done — yet, Amazon doesn’t elaborate in a way that investors can use, and specifically that investors can incorporate into forecasting models.”

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WATCH: Father of fallen U.S. Muslim solider trolls Trump with a copy of his pocket Constitution at DNC


(Credit: AP)

“We are proud to stand here as parents of Captain Khan and as proud American Muslims,” the father of a fallen U.S. solider said Thursday night.

Khzir Khan stood with his wife ,Ghazala, on stage at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to deliver the most powerful statement of the entire Democratic National Convention: Donald Trump’s campaign of bigotry will not define the spirit of this nation.

“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son the best of America,” Khan said of his son, who was only 27 when he was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in June 2004.

“Our son had dreams too,” Khan’s father told the gathered Democrats, “but he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life.”

“Donald Trump, you have sacrificed nothing,” Khan then said, turning his attention to the Republican presidential nominee.

“Donald Trump you are asking Americans to trust you with their future.

“Let me ask you,” Khan continued. “Have you even read the United States Constitution?”

“I will gladly lend you my copy!” Khan said, pulling out his pocket Constitution:

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar slams Trump by introducing himself as “Michael Jordan”: “I said that because I knew Donald couldn’t tell the difference”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

FILE – In this July 9, 2015, file photo, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles. The death of Muhammad Ali last week sent Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, and Jim Brown, a four-time NFL MVP, strolling down memory lane, back to June 4, 1967 and a sunny day that they spent together in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) (Credit: AP)

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar strode on-stage at the Democratic National Convention and informed the crowd that he was “Michael Jordan,” and that he was there to support Hillary Clinton.

The crowd initially seemed confused by his comment, until he explained that “I said that because I knew Donald Trump couldn’t tell the difference.”

Abdul-Jabbar then launched into a moving speech about Muslims serving in the armed forces, including Captain Humayan Khan, who died in service after 9/11. His family had emigrated from the United Arab Emirates, and Abdul-Jabbar claimed that the kind of ban on Muslim immigration that Trump proposes is “the very kind of tyranny [Thomas] Jefferson abhorred.”

He compared Jefferson’s defense of religious freedom to “the ‘religious freedom’ acts like those signed by [Trump running mate] Mike Pence, which are the very opposite, because they encourage religious discrimination.”

“At [their] core, such acts are the result of fear,” he said, concluding that Americans need to stand up and say “not here, not ever.”

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Civil rights advocate Rev. Dr. William Barber: Faith shouldn’t be used “to serve hate, fear, racism, and greed”

DEM 2016 Convention

Rev. William Barber speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Civil rights activist Reverend Dr. William Barber II brought down the house with his sermonic speech on the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. Heavily referencing scripture, Barber pleaded with Americans to practice racial and ideological inclusion.

“I don’t come tonight representing any organization,” Barber said. “But I’ve come to talk about faith and morality … I know it may sound strange, but I’m a conservative because I work to conserve a divine tradition that teaches us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our god.”

Barber said he’s concerned with “people who say so much about what God says so little, while saying so little about God says so much.”

“In my heart, I’m troubled,” he said. “And I’m worried by the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism, and greed … And when religion is used to camouflage meanness, we know that we have a heart problem in America.”

“I say to you tonight that some issues are not left versus right or liberal versus conservative,” he added. “They are right versus wrong.”

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“We want a progressive party that speaks to us”: DNC protesters in their own words

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Protesters, fueled largely by the anti-establishment vigor of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign, flooded Philadelphia this week for the Democratic National Convention. As of Thursday morning, the mostly peaceful protests had resulted in 103 citations and 11 arrests.

In an original video for Salon, We The People Live host Josh Zepps took the the streets to take the pulse of the anti-Clinton crowd. The atmosphere Zepps found around Philadelphia’s City Hall was somewhere between a political rally and the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show, complete with David Crosby lookalikes on stilts, shirtless children playing bongos, and members of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Watch the full video above to hear protesters explain why they won’t support Hillary Clinton in the general election and who they’ll be voting for instead.

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We’re not even at Peak Drake yet: This is what celebrity looks like in an era where we want more for less


Drake (Credit: Reuters/Dan Hamilton)

For being the saddest man in rap music, Drake sure does have a lot to celebrate.

The rapper (née Aubrey Graham) celebrates a mammoth 11th week atop the Billboard for “Views,” his fourth proper studio album. That’s the longest such run by a male artist in 24 years, since Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Some Gave All” back in 1994. (You might remember it as the record that launched “Achy Breaky Heart,” the syrupy country ballad America still can’t wipe from its brains.) Graham has additionally spent 22 weeks atop the Hot 100, despite the fact that we’re only 30 weeks into the year. First, there was “Work” (9 weeks), the lead single off Rihanna’s “ANTI,” and then “One Dance” (10 weeks), which was recently dethroned by Sia’s first chart-topper “Cheap Thrills.”

Drake’s success is unprecedented: He’s one of the few artists to have both the number-one album and the number-one song for 10 weeks, as well as holding the record for the most tracks to chart on the Hot 100. In May, he shattered the previous benchmark, held by Justin Bieber of all people, with 20 songs on Billboard at the same time.

In the streaming age, that kind of chart ubiquity often signifies that an artist just dropped an album, like when all of the tracks from Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” appeared on the Hot 100 the week following its surprise release. What’s unusual is that nearly three months after “Views” dropped, 10 Drake tunes are still charting—which include “Controlla” (no. 18), “Too Good” (no. 20), “Pop Style” (no. 72), and “Child’s Play” (no 92). He also enters the Hot 100 as a guest on DJ Khaled’s “For Free” (no. 19), the aforementioned “Work” (no. 23), and French Montana’s “No Shopping,” among others.

Such domination is both an incredible achievement and utterly exhausting. The artist who originally came to fame playing a wheelchair-bound middle-schooler on TV’s “Degrassi” has promised to drop another mixtape this summer. This will be his fourth release in just two years, following two successful EPs released in 2015: “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” and “What a Time to Be Alive,” the latter a collaboration with the rapper Future. To release any more songs at this point is more of a threat than a promise.

Drake’s current output is dramatically redefining the limits of overexposure in an era where we demand increasing amounts of content from celebrities. To be a musician of Drake’s caliber is not merely a matter of working on material, polishing it in the studio, and putting it out once every few years. It entails a steady flow of viral bait that amounts to a PR onslaught—appearing on “Saturday Night Live,” going through the motions of your own celebrity feud, and maybe even becoming a meme or two (see: “Drake-ing Bad,” which is precisely whatever you think it is). Drake, perhaps more than any celebrity of his era, understands the economics of fame in an age where we want more from celebrities for less.

That savvy has served him well in the past. “Hotline Bling,” the lead single off “Views,” features a video that was designed to be endlessly GIFed. Helmed by the ridiculously named Director X (he’s big in Canada), the five-minute segment features Drake, wearing an owl sweatshirt, slow-jamming against a series of monochromatic backgrounds. The mise en scène is like a cotton-candy “Tron: Legacy” filtered through his emo musings on female autonomy. That video has been viewed nearly a billion times.

The massive commercial and critical success of “Hotline Bling,” tapped as the winner of the prestigious Pazz and Jop poll in 2015, announced the dawn of Drakemania. Drake, of course, had always been successful. His first-ever track on the charts, the comic and playful “Best I Ever Had,” reached no. 2, while its parent LP also peaked at the sophomore slot on the album charts. But while announcing a new peak in his creative gifts, 2015 also defined his release strategy: When the surprise release “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” dropped on Billboard, every single track charted. During the record’s first week in stores (or wherever people buy albums these days), Drake may as well have owned the music industry.

The first act to flirt with that kind of success was The Beatles, the U.K. rock-and-roll group that made a nation threaten to lock up its teenage girls when the “British Invasion” came to America in 1964. On April 4, the Paul McCartney-fronted band boasted the top 5 songs on the Billboard Hot 100: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” To capitalize on that success, The Beatles released nine LPs and EPs that year, unfathomable today.

In a biography of Frank Sinatra, Spencer Leigh notes that The Beatles’ releasing strategy broke every rule of how pop acts are usually promoted. “No record company wants to promote more than four or five singles by the same act in a year,” Leigh writes in “An Extraordinary Life.” “What took place was saturation marketing gone bezerk and any promotion man would fear that the public had been turned off by the over-exposure.” Although the group is revered today, that’s precisely what began to happen. In announcing The Beatles’ record-breaking chart success, Billboard moaned, “Just about everyone is tired of the Beatles.”

At their peak powers, many artists have pumped out a massive volume of content. Between 1979 and 1985, The Cure released a new album nearly every year. Guided by Voices put out nine records in the ‘90s and hasn’t slowed down since. The Ohio-based group, which consists of Robert Pollard and whoever can stand to be around him at the time, debuted six albums between 2012 and 2014. Another just hit stores this April. Until recently, Rihanna followed the same strategy. Starting with 2005’s “Music of the Sun,” the Barbados-born singer churned out seven albums in seven years, which included “Loud,” “Rated R,” “Unapologetic,” and “Good Girl Gone Bad.”

Quantity doesn’t always mean sacrificing quality—until it does. Although The Cure released “Pornography,” the band’s darkest effort, during its prolific period in the early ‘80s, Rihanna’s actual albums have often felt perfunctory, a kind of necessary evil. Rihanna has spent more weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 than any artist not named Mariah Carey, but until 2012, she’d never had a chart-topping record.

The four-year break Rihanna took making “ANTI” did a great deal to change that. The singer has often been viewed as more of a singles machine than an album artist — the kind of musician who can deliver an accomplished, fully fleshed-out production. “ANTI,” though, hints at a more thoughtful and reflective side of Rihanna, especially on tracks like the gospel-influenced “Higher,” which showed off the increasingly impressive vocal range she displayed on “FourFiveSeconds,” and the synth-rock ballad “Kiss It Better.” Rather than pushing through yet another record at any cost, the singer spent years tinkering with the production and tossing out songs that didn’t work. That dedication shows.

Drake’s recent work, in contrast, has been mired by a feeling of redundancy. There’s little on “Views,” his worst-reviewed album to date, that Graham didn’t express on either of the mixtapes he released last year—monotonous feelings of longing for an anonymous and unattainable girl, the shapely silhouettes he chases in “Hotline Bling.” As Slate’s Jack Hamilton points out, there were multiple tracks on “Nothing Was the Same,” considered by many to be his best album to date, devoted to the emotional etiquette of texting.

The artist’s relentless need to stay on top at the expense of his artistry isn’t just a matter of braggadocio, despite what he claims on “Forever.” (“Last name greatest, first name ever.”) It’s also a matter of economics. “The album as a format isn’t as important as it once was,” writes The Guardian’s Derrick Rossignol. “Music sales don’t bring in the kind of money that they used to, so they have effectively become another piece of merchandise, like a concert T-shirt or a tour poster. Bands don’t sell their music anymore: They sell themselves.” That’s why Beach House put out two albums in 2015 (“Depression Cherry” and “Thank Your Lucky Stars”), as did Death Grips and Mac DeMarco.

Rossignol is right: Services like Spotify and Apple Music have completely changed the model of how artists make money in an era driven by streaming platforms. When promoting “ANTI,” Rihanna even gave away a million free copies of the record as part of a licensing deal through Samsung. Unless you’re Adele, who markets to the one group who still manages to buy music the old-fashioned way (e.g., the elderly), you have to make your own rules—like Rihanna—or play a game someone else controls.

That’s perhaps why Drake isn’t just the voice behind every song on the radio. He’s absolutely everywhere. Graham has his own whiskey company. He starred in a Sprite commercial, in which he struggles to sing “Forever” before taking a sip of an ice-cold cola, thus finding his voice. Drake also has been at the center of campaigns for Nike Air Jordan and a T-Mobile commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. He even popped up in “Anchorman 2” and  “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” In the latter, he appears with two other musicians who were just there for the paycheck—Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez. Most recently, Graham took time out of his schedule made to get in the middle of the Kanye West-Taylor Swift feud.

If you think we’ve reached peak Drake, Aubrey Graham is clearly just getting started.

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