Culture Crash 18-15: Roger Ebert’s Legendary Criticism

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Roger Ebert died 5 years ago this month. Ebert was probably the most famous and influential movie critic of all time, thanks to his sharp wit, passionate perspective, and yeah, his TV show.

If Ebert loved a film or a filmmaker, he’d champion it for years. In 1994, Ebert watched a documentary called Hoop Dreams, which followed two youth basketball players in Chicago as they navigated turbulent home lives and violent neighborhoods while hoping to one day play in the NBA. The movie was the product of documentarian Steve James. Immediately, Ebert loved the film. His review of it begins, “A film like Hoop Dreams is what movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and makes us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.” The final two words of that quote, “life itself,” later became the title of a memoir by Ebert…and then, fittingly, the name of the documentary about his life released after his death that was made by, who else? Steve James.

Famously, though, Ebert was prickly. And if he didn’t like your movie, he’d also let you know. He even wrote a book called I Hated Hated Hated This Movie and another called Your Movie Sucks. His 2005 review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo cut to the chase right in the first paragraph, saying “Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes.”

It was these passionate praises and brutally honest take-downs that endeared Ebert to the masses. He said what he believed, and he would fight for it for as long as you had the time to listen to him or read his work.

Our current age of criticism has been boiled down to numbers and percentages. We don’t relate so much to a single critic or a single perspective, but to the aggregate. We don’t really care what any one review has to say, but rather, what percentage of critics liked a movie on Rotten Tomatoes, or what the average rating is on MetaCritic.

Ebert, though, inspired a connection. People would read his reviews and consider his perspective. He reviews would shed light on the film, the filmmaker, and even the fim’s connection to Ebert’s own life. Readers trusted Roger, in some cases, they trusted him more than they cared about the general consensus.

Whenever I finish a movie made before his death in 2013, I like to find his review of it and see what he thought of it. I don’t always agree, but there’s always some merit to his words.

You can read Roger Ebert’s reviews on Roger Ebert dot com. Steve James’s documentary about Ebert, Life Itself and Ebert’s own memoir Life Itself are both available now.

I’m Evan Rook.

Coming Up On Viewpoints 18-15



The Rise of Confrontational Politics

Politicians have always stirred up controversy as a way to get ahead. But no politician has ever done it as often, or as successfully as Donald Trump. What is the attraction to these high-conflict politicians, and how do they argue their ways to the top?

The Overblown Importance of What College You Attend

When a high school student isn’t accepted into the college of their dreams, it can be devastating. But we look at whether college choice really matters as much as we may think, and how students can thrive at smaller schools.

Culture Crash: Roger Ebert’s Legendary Criticism

Movie criticism these days typically boils down to numbers and general consensus. But when Roger Ebert was alive, he cultivated a following that considered his opinions and perspective above all else.

18-14 Segment 1: A Peek Into the Minds of Real Life Con Men


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Have you ever been conned by a con artist? Chances are you probably do not know. That is why so many con men are able to get away with their scams because people simply do not know that they are being deceived. Maria Konnikova, psychologist and author of The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time, explains that con artists are often hard to recognize because they are charismatic people who come off as just being really friendly. Yet, this is far from the truth for many con artists.

When it comes to personalities, many con men seem to have a few similar traits. These traits are categorized as the dark triad of traits–psychopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism. Konnikova explains that a con artist often has at least one of them, but sometimes, they may have all three. If an individual is psychopathic, they lack empathy, which makes them incapable of feeling remorse. The second trait, narcissism, forces a person to believe that they are more important to the world around them than they really are. And the final trait, machiavellianism, is the ability to persuade someone into doing something that they usually would not do, but making them believe that they are doing it willfully. If a con artist possesses at least one, if not all three, of these traits, then they are highly likely to be successful at conning someone.

Not only do con artists often possess certain personality traits, they usually have a plan that they follow. Konnikova states that there are three steps that con artists use to help them understand the person they are scamming in order to learn how to deceive them. The first step is called the put out which is when the con artist figures out what the person’s weaknesses are. Konnikova explains that this psychological profile is the most important step because it tells the con artist how they will be able to sell the person on the scam. In the next step, the con artist uses their storytelling skills to get the person to become emotionally involved which affects their ability to perceive any red flags that would indicate that they might be being scammed. The final step of the con artist’s plan, explains Konnikova, is to make the pitch which is when they ask for the thing they want, such as money. While many think it would be easy to identify when a con artist is at work, it is actually a lot more difficult because the con artist embodies aspects of the dark triad and knows how to use them within this plan.

Why are these con artists so successful? Konnikova explains that people tend to be persuaded by con artists because they want to remain consistent with their beliefs, so they will rationalize the situation even if it does appear to be a scam. Furthermore, research has shown that people are more likely to be deceived by a scam if they are at a point of vulnerability in their life. Even if the transaction with the con artist falls through, the mark will continue to rationalize the situation by convincing themselves it is simply a matter of bad luck. Since people who get conned tend to believe it was just bad luck, Konnikova states that very few con artists get reported, and those that do are often able to talk themselves out of charges, or at least minimize them. Since con artists are rarely reported, many are able to just continue conning people.


  • Maria Konnikova, psychologist and author of The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It… Every Time

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18-14 Segment 2: Religious Strife and Refugees: The 1947 Partition of India

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The partition of India in 1947 is a historical event that often goes untold, despite being one of the largest mass migrations in the world. But, author Veera Hiranandani feels that it is important to talk about this time in history more now than ever. The author, whose book The Night Diary details the story of a young girl who lives in the midst of the partition of India, explains that this important event in history is losing the opportunity to be told by the people who experienced it because many of the people who were children during the partition are in their 80s and older. With this in mind, Hiranandani set out to write a book that focused on aspects of the partition of India that many people are unaware of.

Throughout the course of the novel, this event is told through the eyes of a 12 year-old girl which was done purposefully in order to convey a few points. Hiranandani wanted to honor the pain experienced from the amount of violence at this time without focusing on it too much due to the intended audience of her book. Another important point brought up by Hiranandani in The Night Diary was the division of religious beliefs at the time. She explains that these prominent divisions make it difficult for people to understand and overcome these differences. Finally, she wanted to address how the events of this history are still relatable today. The novel works to humanize refugees by depicting the character as typical 12 year-old that is worried about average everyday experiences. Hiranandani explains that she does this in order to help people look at the refugee as a young girl instead of othering her. In order to learn more about the partition of India, listen to this weeks show and pick up a copy of Hiranandani’s book, The Night Diary.


  • Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary

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Culture Crash 18-14: Concerts

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The first concert I ever attended was a  Collective Soul show. I went with my family during the 1997 Taste of Chicago. I was 4 years old, so forgive me if my memory is a little hazy, but I do remember it being really, really hot and having a good time, even if i probably was a little confused as to why all those adults were dancing so strange.

Since ’97, I’ve been to my fair share of concerts. I’ve gone to Lollapalooza and been evacuated in the middle of a lightning storm. My friends and I saw a free Mumford and Sons concert in Austin, Texas over spring break. My wife and me trekked through a blizzard to see Hozier at a small club in Chicago right as his song Take Me To Church was blowing up.

I’ve seen Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and Paul McCartney just…not all at once.

What I’ve learned in all my trips to concerts from dive bars to sold-out stadiums full of people is that there really is something special about being a part of a crowd and watching live music.

There are very few feelings in the world quite like the excitement that runs through your body when the first few notes of your favorite song come on and you know you just get to revel in it for the next 4 or 5 minutes.

You may not be much of a screamer, but once you feel the elation of finally see your favorite artist walk on stage and start playing, you can at least understand what was going on in one of the most famous live music clips of all time, when all those fans lost their minds for The Beatles at the Ed Sullivan show back in 1964.

With summer just around the corner, there will surely be a few bands coming to town you’d love to see. So whether that means buying a ticket to Camila Cabello or Chris Stapleton, splurge a little for the good seats and try to let yourself get carried away half as much of those Beatles fans did 54 years ago.

I’m Evan Rook.

Coming Up On Viewpoints 18-14



A Peek Into The Minds of Real Life Con Men

When you think of a con man, do you picture a charmer, like George Clooney in Ocean’s 11? Our guest discusses what con men are like in real life. She takes us through some of the most famous cons from the past and the techniques that make us all vulnerable to being swindled.

Religious Strife and Refugees: The 1947 Partition of India

In 1947, India was split into two countries: India and Pakistan. Now, author Veera Hiranandani is telling the story of the partition in her young adult novel, The Night Diary. She talks about the history of the partition and how that history is still tragically relevant in 2018.

Culture Crash: Concerts

Summer is getting closer, which means concerts are selling out across the country. We discuss the magic of live music and what makes it such a memorable night out.

18-13 Segment 1: A Spy in the Civil Rights Movement


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The Civil Rights Movement was a momentous period in the history of the United States. Iconic photos of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Emmett Till Trial, and many other important events that occurred during the movement cover pages of history textbooks and articles honoring their work in changing the country.

But, who took these famous photos? The photographer was a man named Ernest Withers who learned how to take photos during his time serving the army in World War II. While many of Withers’ photos are widely circulated and well known for their effectiveness in rallying people to join the Civil Rights Movement, there is an aspect of his life that has been less popularized over the years. Marc Perrusquia, author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement, explains that Withers was recruited during this time to be a spy for the FBI. Perrusquia states that he was an appealing recruit for the FBI due to his outgoing personality, photography skills, involvement in the community, and time spent in the military and the police force. Despite working in favor of the Civil Rights Movement, Withers helped the FBI to identify and keep track of a number of individuals that they believed were being influenced by Communist beliefs, some of which were very involved with the movement. While his work for President Hoover and the FBI who thought that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movements were dangerous can be seen as controversial in accordance with his other work, Perrusquia explains that he does not believe that Withers’ work for the Civil Rights Movement should be viewed as any less important.

In order to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Ernest Withers involvement, listen to author Marc Perrusquia as he joins us on this week’s show. For more information, purchase a copy of his book A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement.


  • Marc Perrusquia, author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement

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