John Powers

John Powers is the pop culture and critic-at-large on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He previously served for six years as the film critic.

Powers covers film and politics for Vogue and His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Harper's BAZAAR, The Nation, Gourmet, The Washington Post, The New York Times and L.A. Weekly, where he spent twelve years as a critic and columnist.

A former professor at Georgetown University, Powers is the author of Sore Winners, a study of American culture during President George W. Bush's administration.

He lives in Pasadena, California, with his wife, Sandi Tan.

When you hear the words "Russian novel," you probably picture something as big and heavy as an anvil. Yet ever since the fall of communism, we've seen the ascent of Russian novelists who are shorter-winded and jauntier.

I think everyone can agree that the Republican Party's search for its presidential nominee has been a long, strange trip. For me, one of the strangest things about it is that, after all this time, I barely know who's running Mitt Romney's, Rick Santorum's and Newt Gingrich's campaigns. You see, over the past 30 years, political strategists have gone from being shadowy figures to being celebrities in their own right.

There's a great moment in Tom Stoppard's play Jumpers when a husband tries to convince his wife that an election has been democratic. "I had a vote," he tells her, to which she replies, "It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting."

If you read the headlines, you know that the Mexican government is engaged in a long, deadly battle against the country's astonishingly powerful drug dealers, known as narcotraficantes or simply narcos. Hardly a day goes by without news of another shootout or massacre. Nearly 50,000 people have died in the 5-year-old drug war, the majority of them innocent citizens.

Over the past 30-odd years, we've grown used to thinking of Iran and the United States as enemies — from the Ayatollah Khomeini dubbing America "The Great Satan" to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, which has led President Obama to spearhead international sanctions and some of his Republican rivals to talk of bombing Iran.

When I was 12, I was hooked on James Bond, both Ian Fleming's elegantly pulpy novels and the cartoonish movies they spawned. One day, my friend's older brother, who went to Harvard, tossed a paperback onto my lap and said, "Here's the real thing, kid."

Earlier this year, the Harris Poll released its annual list of America's 10 favorite movie stars. There, among today's big names — Depp and Jolie and Clooney — was a lone name from the past: John Wayne. He finished third — 32 years after his death. Such enduring popularity served as a reminder that Wayne wasn't merely a towering movie star, he was one of the defining Americans of the 20th Century.

You can divide famous people into two broad categories. Those who find fame a burden and those who take it like a tonic. Roger Ebert is one of the latter. That rarest of creatures — a film critic everyone knows — he really enjoys being Roger Ebert.

Back in school, I was always amused to read about classics that were dismissed when they first came out — you know, how Moby Dick wrecked Herman Melville's literary career or how The Wizard of Oz was considered a disappointment when it was first released. I naturally assumed that, had I been around back then, I wouldn't have missed the boat like that.

But that was before I became a critic and discovered that, over the years, you wind up with a pocketful of unused tickets from all the boats you've missed.