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North Star Podcast

Sep 19, 2018

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My guest today is Derek Thompson, a Senior Editor at The Atlantic who writes about media, culture and economics in America today. 

I first discovered Derek’s writing while researching the state of Hollywood for an essay I was working on last year. Derek cultural observation has stuck with me ever since. Derek wrote that Hollywood audiences are ignoring movies that aren’t a sequel, adaptation, or reboot. This statistic stuck with me: In 1996, none of the top 10 movies were sequels. Twenty years later, in 2016, more than half of the top 10 movies were sequels, adaptations or reboots.

In this episode, Derek talks about his background in acting and his love for Hamlet. Together, we nerd out on the magic of theater and the surprisingly large differences between what happens in the theater and what happens at the movies. Then, we explore taste and culture. We talk about Stewart Brand’s “Pace Layers” theory of architecture, Japanese Emperors, what fashion can teach us about the world, and the history of impressionism. We investigate how blockbuster success isn’t a matter of chance, but a fascinating intersection of power, network science, art, and sheer brilliance. 

Here's my conversation with Derek Thompson.


Derek’s Twitter Account

Derek’s Articles

Derek’s Podcast

Derek’s Book — Hit Makers

Show Notes

3:45 Derek expresses his appreciation of theater 

5:51 Derek explains why Hamlet is one of the greatest plays in history

7:08 What made Shakespeare so great?

9:30 Derek discuss the features of Shakespeare’s writing that make it so timeless 

9:53 What makes a perfect movie? 

11:00 Derek discusses some of the best movies and plays written over the last several decades 

12:15 The key differences and difficulties of getting theater to a screenplay

15:00 The cannon of art has a different meaning now. The real question is “what is the best?”

17:23: “We often conflate familiarity with fact.” Derek speaks about familiarity and its influence on our perceptions of facts and quality.

17:50 How our modern perception of cannon has changed as we have begun to question and challenge its history and validity

19:30 Our sense of “good taste” and how it’s defined in the contemporary age

20:19 “Cultural Capital” and “Cultural Omniscience”

22:47 The shift of culture from valuing scarcity to valuing familiarity

23:45 Modern celebrity and the rise of “manufactured intimacy”

25:50 Formality, and how its quickly losing its reverence and relevance in modern culture. Why is the world becoming more formal?

28:00 Derek takes a closer look at how informality has affected modern culture, specifically in the case of presidential speeches

31:45 The blurring line between work and home

32:20 How taste is trained or influenced

37:59 “M.A.Y.A- Most advanced, yet acceptable” 

38:56 The sweet spot of familiar and surprising

42:02 Derek picks a point in history he would go back to if he had the chance

50:00 The over-looked and under-rated importance of art history

55:39 Derek delves into the concept of nature vs nurture and the influential and guiding elements of personal development

57:47 Derek talks about his favorite authors.

59:35- How should writers explain complicated ideas?

1:12.04 - Non fiction and journalism compared to the ironic honesty and realism of fictitious writing.

1:07.57 Derek’s take away thoughts on the craft of writing and shares his strategies for learning and information consumption.


5:53 Hit Makers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction

21:30 Jon Bellion, The Making of Luxury

25:18: A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change

37:03: Raymond Lowey

44:06 Louis XIV

47:28: Beowulf

57:50 Philip Roth

58:39 Jonathan Franzen

58:45 Donna Tartt 

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