October 15, 2018

The President of Stranger Things

President Donald Trump on Sept. 7. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

A full moon ambushed me the other morning.

It was pasted on the sky like a crafts project, too flat and too burnt orange, and too close to Beverly and La Brea, to be real.

I wasn’t, How beautiful! I was, How strange.

How strange there’s a four-and-a-half billion-year-old rock rotating around me; how strange that this disc rising from Blick Art’s roof gets its crayoned glow from nuclear fusion 93 million miles away; how strange that its whole Juney moony existence is indifferent to, and makes irrelevant, the satellite radio voices in my car channeling my anxieties about Donald Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump goading himself into nuking North Korea, Trump giving Vladimir Putin a pass on gaming the election Trump won.

I don’t usually live on cable news time and in geologic time at the same time.  When I drive to Trader Joe’s, the Big Bang typically gets no attention from me. But the other morning I was blown away by the strangeness of being simultaneously in Newton’s solar system, where space is space and time is time; in Einstein’s universe, where everything is spacetime, and it’s warped; and in the TJ parking lot, where a ridiculously narrow space takes forever to find.

“Your happiness,” behavioral scientist Paul Dolan writes in “Happiness by Design,” “is determined by how you allocate your attention…. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention.”

If I allocated more attention to the sound of rain than to the sound of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I’m sure I’d be happier. But I don’t allocate my attention to her. She steals it. Like her boss, she’s contemptuous of a free press, and she gets away with it. I have to watch – it’s disaster porn, and its victim is American democracy.

I’m not the only boss of my attention. I run the conscious, intentional executive function of my brain, but attention is involuntary, too, vulnerable to hijacking and noticing whatever it wants, whether our judgment intends it or not.

“We’re hooked on the dopamine squirts we get from likes, shares and comments.”

Daniel Kahneman, the behavioral psychologist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, describes two kinds of thinking, fast and slow. System 1 is fast, automatic, emotional, subconscious. System 2 is slow, effortful, logical, conscious.

System 2 behaves as though our free will allocates our attention, but actually it’s System 1, bombarded by inputs, that impulsively calls the shots and gets System 2 to reverse-engineer reasons for what we notice.

What pitches does System 1 fall for? Danger, sex, play, novelty and stories are especially good at grabbing attention. They’re what entertainment uses, and news, politics, commerce and culture, too. Social media platforms are all that in one, and we gladly carry them around on our phones. They captivate us; we’re their attention slaves. It’s not our fault if we Instagram a total eclipse or live-tweet a string quartet: We’re hooked on the dopamine squirts we get from likes, shares and comments. #MozartIsDaBomb

Industries are built on this. When we practice meditation and mindfulness, the distractedness of our monkey minds isn’t attributable to human nature alone; it’s also a casualty of the battle to sell our eyeballs and data to advertisers.  We may want to infuse our days with reverence and gratitude, but some random commercial sighting – a picture of a beautiful body, beach or burger – can kidnap our attention and brainwash us with a yearning we can slake solely by spending money.

Paying attention to Trump is inevitable. Well before he became a candidate, he was an accomplished tale-teller, which is catnip for System 1. His tallest tale is the story of himself. He has one subject, Trump, and one object, our attention. Now that our Little Caesar bestrides the world like a colossus, we may persuade ourselves that being rapt by his awfulness is civic vigilance, not rubbernecking at the apocalypse. But that’s just System 2 rationalizing the prurience of System 1.

I love a good media detox, and there are times I’ve been able to unplug for a week. But day-to-day, Trump’s mastery of the horror genre makes getting my attention a cheap date.

I can’t stop Trump from stealing my attention, but I can try to switch where it takes me. Not, How scary. No — I want that burnt orange face to make me mindful of my Crayola moon. How strange.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for
Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com

Sophie Levy: Lights, camera, college

Photo by Paul Takizawa

AGE: 17
HIGH SCHOOL: Wildwood School
GOING TO: Barnard College

Sophie Levy remembers practicing religiously — not for her bat mitzvah but for a cameo opposite Hugh Jackman in the 2011 film “Real Steel, ” which was directed by her father, Shawn.

Levy appears in the opening minutes, asking Jackman’s character, a former prizefighter, for an autograph.

“I was so excited about it — I think I was 11 at the time. I think I got to wear a cowboy hat, and I was pretty thrilled with my two lines,” Levy said. “I was so nervous it would get cut, but it made it and I was so happy.”

This wasn’t the last time Levy, 17, a senior at Wildwood School, appeared on the big screen — she appeared in two “Night at the Museum” sequels, also directed by her father (an executive producer of last summer’s Netflix hit “Stranger Things”).

But perhaps more meaningful, Levy has had a starring role elsewhere — at The Righteous Conversations Project, a Los Angeles-based Holocaust remembrance organization that pairs high school students with Holocaust survivors. Participants in the program create public service announcements based on survivors’ stories and focus on other issues like Syrian refugees and neighborhoods lacking access to healthful food.

Levy, who will attend Barnard College this fall, said she appreciated the opportunity of working with survivors.

“These people are all pretty old and late in their lives,” she said. “My generation is the last one to have the privilege of hearing their stories.”

Her lifelong passions include poetry and theater — she has appeared in school productions, including “Grease,” “The Sound of Music” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Her poems have addressed survivors’ stories in works called “Cold,” “The Chambers” and “Then & Now.”

“I thought it would be a cool art form to get these stories out there in my own personal way,” said Levy, who draws inspiration from Sylvia Plath and Tina Fey.

Her family belongs to Kehillat Israel, a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Pacific Palisades. She attended Hebrew school and became a bat mitzvah there.

Levy has three younger sisters, Tess, Charlie and Coco, ages 15, 10 and 6. The family is so close that it might follow Levy after she moves from Los Angeles to New York, she said.

“We are so incredibly close, we sweetly all agreed if one of us is gone, everybody else has to follow.”

Still, Levy said she hopes she gets a little time to settle in before anything like that happens, if it ever does.

“I know it’s super important to have my own independence and make my own mark there without them as a backboard,” she said. “And at the same time, it would definitely be nothing to complain about.”

Levy plans to study literature at Barnard, her mother Serena’s alma mater.

She credited her family, which she described as a “strong, passionate, loud Jewish family,” for instilling in her an appreciation for her heritage.

“I have grown up in a family that is not necessarily super religious but has always emphasized celebrating Jewish holidays and recognizing why it is such a special group to belong to,” she said. “We are always supposed to remember where we come from, how fortunate we are to be here, and from a young age, my parents told my sisters and I about the Holocaust and why it is a monumental event in our history, and why as Jews it is our job to spread stories of survivors to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I always felt this tremendous responsibility.”

5 burning questions we have about ‘Stranger Things’ Season 2

Our prayers have been answered: Netflix has renewed the summer smash hit “Stranger Things” for a second season, premiering in 2017. Here's the trailer that came with the announcement.

As you can see, we're not working with much here. We have nine cryptic titles—presumably corresponding to the nine confirmed episodes of season 2. We know the action starts in the fall of 1984. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, season 1's writers and directors the Duffer Brothers revealed some vague details: old characters will return and new characters will be introduced, some action will take place outside of Hawkins, we will (yikes) be returning to the Upside Down, and director James Cameron will be a major influence.

Well, OK, but here's what we really can't wait to find out:



This question has captured the public imagination, as well as its outrage, more than any other part of the show. When we last saw Nancy's glasses-wearing best friend, she was in the Upside Down, with nasty-looking worms coming out of her mouth. Is she dead? As we know from Will, miraculous comebacks from the Upside Down are possible. So, will we finally get #JusticeForBarb this season, even if it's just a confirmation of her death? Will anyone in this godforsaken town – other than Nancy – finally show some interest in her disappearance?

2. Will Eleven be back?

Will she reunite with her mom? Please, oh please let the answer be YES. Just one season of Millie Bobby Brown as everyone's favorite Eggo-eating, superpower-wielding little girl was not enough. It seems like, in destroying the monster in the finale, Eleven herself was destroyed. But if that's the case, why was Hop leaving out Eggo waffles in the forest, like some kind of offering? We have a feeling that this won't be the last we've seen of Eleven.v

3. Is Will… OK?

That looked like a nasty hallucination/flashback in the bathroom at the very end of the season 1 finale. Plus, he's still coughing up worms. Has all that time spent in the Upside Down had an effect on Will that's yet to be fully realized? We think so.

4. Will Nancy stay with Steve?

It seemed like things were heating up with Nancy and Jonathan, but then Steve proved he was actually a good guy, and the finale showed them snuggling on the couch. We are obviously team #Jonancy, but Steve does have some seriously amazing hair.

5. Will the evil scientists be brought to justice?

Especially Eleven's sadisic “papa.” Or are they merely cooking up another horrible experiment for season 2, undeterred by season 1's events?

As always, let us know what you think in the comments, and keep an eye out for more season 2 updates.

This story was originally featured on The-Line-Up.com. The Lineup is the premier digital destination for fans of true crime, horror, the mysterious, and the paranormal.

Summer TV: A host of Jewish stars shine in new and returning shows


David Schwimmer follows “The People v. O.J. Simpson” with “Feed the Beast,” about two friends’ struggle to open a Greek restaurant in the Bronx (AMC June 5 at 10 p.m.; Sundays). Ellen Barkin plays the matriarch of a dysfunctional crime family in the drama “Animal Kingdom” (TNT, June 14 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). Winona Ryder portrays the single mother of a young boy who has disappeared in the supernatural mystery “Stranger Things” (Netflix, July 15). Sketch comedy veteran Maya Rudolph joins forces with Martin Short in the variety show “Maya & Marty” (NBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.).

Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things”


Shiri Appleby  in “UnREAL”

Mark Feuerstein stars in the eighth and final season of the concierge medicine series “Royal Pains” (USA, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), with Ben Shenkman and Henry Winkler in supporting roles. Howie Mandel is back at the judges’ table for the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent” (NBC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m.). Scott Wolf deals with thorny personal issues as chief surgeon at a Texas hospital in Season 3 of “The Night Shift” (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.). Shiri Appleby faces more moral dilemmas as the producer of a “Bachelor”-like reality show in Lifetime’s “UnREAL” (June 6 at 10 p.m.; Mondays). And Rashida Jones reassumes the title role in the spoofy TBS  cop show “Angie Tribeca,” (June 6 at 9 p.m.; Mondays). 

James Wolk in “Zoo”

Michaela Watkins returns in Jason Reitman’s brother-sister comedy “Casual” (Hulu, Season 2’s two-episode premiere on June 7; Tuesdays) and Eric Dane gets a promotion to Chief of Naval Operations in the pandemic drama “The Last Ship” (TNT, June 12 at 9 p.m., Sundays). David Duchovny reprises his role as an LAPD detective investigating Charles Manson in “Aquarius” (NBC, June 16 at 9 p.m., Thursdays). Jill Kargman juggles career and motherhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in season 2 of “Odd Mom Out” (Bravo, June 20 at 10  p.m.; Mondays). James Wolk is still dealing with an outbreak of mysterious animal behavior in “Zoo” (CBS, June 28 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). 

Michael Rosenbaum in “Impastor”

Moran Atias in “Tyrant”

Power plays and family intrigue continue for Moran Atias in Season 3 of “Tyrant” (FX, July 6 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays), set in a fictional Middle East nation. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are BFF New Yorkers navigating life, love and showbiz in the second season of “Difficult People” (Hulu, July 12). Still on the run from loan sharks, Michael Rosenbaum continues posing as a gay priest in TV Land’s comedy “Impastor” (June 26 at 10 p.m.; Sundays) and Carly Chaikin is back in USA’s cyber-hacking drama “Mr. Robot,” (July 13 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays). Corey Stoll fights a vampire epidemic in the third season of “The Strain” (FX, Aug. 28 at 10 p.m.; Sundays.).


Seeking to escape their ho-hum lives, Adam Sandler and his buddy (David Spade) fake their deaths and assume new identities in the comedy “The Do-Over,” now streaming on Netflix. Comedian Ben Gleib’s stand-up special “Neurotic Gangster” premieres June 3 on Showtime. Paul Rudd plays a writer-turned-caregiver on a road trip with his teenage charge in “The Fundamentals of Caring” (Netflix, June 24).