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Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is a regular panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics, and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

Over the course of his career, he has spent time as a theater critic, a science writer, an oral historian, a writing teacher, a bookstore clerk, a PR flack, a completely inept marine biologist, and a slightly better-ept competitive swimmer.

Weldon is the author of two cultural histories: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, McSweeney's, and more; his fiction has appeared in several anthologies and other publications. He is the recipient of an NEA Arts Journalism Fellowship, an Amtrak Writers' Residency, a Ragdale Writing Fellowship, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Fiction.

Has abject misery ever been such fun to watch?

Has soul-sick dread ever looked so gorgeous?

As depicted in Robert Eggers' hauntingly hilarious new film, the life of two keepers who maintain a remote lighthouse — time and place unspecified, but most likely the late 1800s, off the New England coast — is one of ceaseless, back-breaking toil.

When a joke would bomb — or rather, when an audience would fail to join him in laughing uproariously at a joke he'd just finished — Rip Taylor would switch off.

For just a second, he'd drop the merry mirthful maniac bit: He'd stop laughing and frown, his handlebar mustache would droop, his woolly-caterpillar eyebrows would knit. He'd look out at the audience, mock-annoyed.

"Folks, I don't dance," he'd say. "This is it. This is the act."

Or

"You'll get these when you get home and laaaaaugh."

Or

In the comics and cartoons — and on film, as played by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and (checks notes) Jared Leto — the Joker, Batman's archenemy, is an agent of chaos.

The premise was simple. Clean. Direct. If one were feeling uncharitable, one might even say thin.

In a series of 21 videos posted to Will Ferrell's Funny or Die website, comedian Zach Galifianakis played a version of himself, interviewing celebrities. That was it. Now: It was a pinched version of himself. A bored, distracted, irritable Zach Galifianakis, lobbing questions that were condescending and dismissive at best, and jaw-droppingly insulting at worst.

There is nostalgia, and there is Downton Abbey.

Nostalgia bathes the past in a golden light that falls patchily, shining clear and steady on what was tidy and genteel, while leaving an era's ugliest, most brutal recesses sunk in shadow.

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