Friday, June 29, 2012
My latest piece for the Daily Banter expands on what I mentioned briefly here yesterday: the GOP's absolute unwillingness to take no for an answer.
Here's the opening shot:
"Hungover from all that celebrating in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act? Well, with the cold light of a new day, hopefully, comes the realization that this little victory doesn’t in any way mean that the overall battle is over when it comes to trying to provide Americans with health care that won’t either leave them to die or just kill them with bills..."
Read the Rest Here
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Healthcare and the Supreme Court for the Full Hour; Right-Wing Justices Attacking the 20th Century; Conservative Reaction; Cable News Flubs; Americans Don’t Know What’s in the Law; Confounding Healthcare Poll Results; Capitulating to Republican Tantrums; Everything We Didn’t Get To will be Featured on The After Party Tomorrow; and much more. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.
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It almost goes without saying that the great Bobby Womack's first record of all-new material in almost two decades, The Bravest Man in the Universe, is one of the best albums of the year.
Here's the first single from it.
This is Whatever Happened To the Times?
Thursday, June 28, 2012
"Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional."
-- Talking Monkey Rand Paul
Of all the statements being made in connection with today's historic Supreme Court ruling on the ACA, this for me is the reaction that's the most salient -- because it so perfectly sums up the right-wing mindset and illustrates where their blind outrage comes from and how it will continue to manifest itself. It's all there: the complete ignorance as to how our government works; the arrogant belief that any reality that challenges conservative demands, be it a decision by the voters or the highest court in the land, can be casually dismissed as illegitimate; the unwavering obstinacy and vow to fight on no matter how many times they're told that they can't have it their way.
This battle isn't over for them. It'll never be. Not until they're satisfied on this issue and every other one and until they're given back complete control of our government. This is simply the way the Republicans are these days. Give them what they want and no one gets hurt. A complete refusal to accept any way other than their own -- anyone other than themselves -- as valid and legal.
I'd say that it's like dealing with hijackers or hostage-takers -- but it's really more like dealing with children.
Why am I choosing to go with the image of CNN getting it wrong and stating on-air that the individual mandate portion of the ACA had been struck down, and not Fox News, who did the same thing? Because from Fox News it's expected that they'd giddily jump to the anti-Obama conclusion, pounce without reading the entire ruling and not mind deliberately misleading their audience of aging, resentful reactionaries. CNN should've done better.
On the plus side, given CNN's ratings lately there's a pretty good chance no one saw this screw-up.
Adding: Great quote on this from Mother Jones: "CNN has its 'Dewey defeats Truman' moment. Fox News just has a moment."
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
"For most people who act, getting a television (show) is the end product. It's the destination. For (Disney), it's the launch pad. In my mind it's: 'You’ve landed a TV show, now what’s the consumer products opportunity? The film opportunities? The Disney channel movie? The crossover episode? The book you’re going to write?' So they become Disney stars because they intersect with Disney in many ways, and that’s by design."
-- Gary Marsh, president of Disney Channels Worldwide
Lest your takeaway from this statement be that Gary Marsh is a sociopathic monster and the company he shills for, Disney, is nothing more than a ruthless corporate leviathan that considers kids no better than chattel, he goes on to say that there is a downside to this business model: when the manufactured young stars in question occasionally crack from the pressure, spiral downward and flame-out spectacularly and publicly, Disney's good name gets associated with the wreckage.
Re-read the above quote and understand something: It's not just the show that's the "product" -- it's the kids themselves.
And with that, I'm handed the perfect opportunity to bring back something from the archive -- or maybe, in Disney parlance, a classic from "The DXM Vault."
"Montana Über Alles" (Originally Published, 11.20.07)
Let me make something clear right off the bat: I don't normally go around taunting small children.
About a month or so ago, a friend of mine was in town -- a guy I hadn't seen since the two of us were a couple of kids watching The Wrath of Khan for the 130th time and trying to concoct viciously creative ways to destroy our neighborhood via a seemingly bottomless arsenal of fireworks. Eager to catch up after all these years, we made the decision to hook up for dinner on a Saturday night at one of my favorite local restaurants, Balthazar. Having traveled to New York City quite a few times in the past, he'd made a slew of new friends up here and asked if one of them could join us; I of course had no problem with it and when I arrived at the crowded upscale bistro -- after a hearty hug from my old partner in crime -- I was promptly introduced to a guy named Jeff who bore a somewhat frightening, doppelgangerish resemblance to Scrubs star and wuss-music connoisseur, Zach Braff.
The similarities were so striking in fact that after successfully emptying several glasses of fantastic red wine, I decided to have a little fun at the expense of the table behind ours. I had noticed the three slightly mousy middle-aged women decked out in full Dress Barn gear discreetly craning their necks in our direction since we first sat down. Every so often, they and the little girl at their table would steal a quick glance over their shoulders -- their faces registering slightly quizzical excitement -- then titter away to each other in hushed sybilance. Finally, I flashed a warm smile at them -- one that I hoped said "Why hello sisters from Michigan making your first trip to the big city! Welcome! Have no fear; I have no intention of robbing or violently raping you or your child!" -- and blurted out what they no doubt wanted to hear.
"Hi ladies, do you know who this is?" I said, gesturing toward Jeff/Zach with my wine glass.
"We were wondering --" one of them came back sheepishly.
"Yes," I said, cutting her off. "It's Zach Braff -- you know, from the hit NBC television series Scrubs?"
The second woman spoke up, stifling a giggle. "We're from Wisconsin." Close enough. "We weren't really sure if it was him."
This immediately made me wonder if the television reception was somehow inferior in Wisconsin, and if so, why the FCC hadn't seen to the problem.
A moment later, having wrapped up dinner, our new friends were up from their table and headed for the door, but not before stopping to get one last look at the famous face of my dining companion -- the focal point of a brush with greatness that would no doubt provide endless excitement at the next Junior League meeting or church pot luck dinner.
Jeff smiled demurely, giving off an almost supernatural level of Braffitude.
"Are you on TV, too?" the little girl practically shouted into my ear, her braces gleaming in the candlelight; she was smiling so wide that I was concerned her rubber bands were going to snap.
"Me?" I said. "Nope, sorry. I work in television but I'm not actually on TV."
And that's when it happened -- the moment that, if you know anything at all about the pre-teen set these days, you could've seen coming light years away.
"Have you ever seen Zac Efron?"
Ah, Jesus, that kid from the fucking Disney High School Musical thing.
The look in her wide eyes was positively feral. She looked like she'd just mainlined an entire bag of sugar.
After a brief pause -- "Actually, yeah."
"YOU HAVE?!?" She literally jumped. I was concerned she'd slip on the puddle forming directly beneath her.
"Yeah sure," I deadpanned. "I just saw him a couple of days ago on the cover of Rolling Stone. Something about him being the 'next teen hearthrob' I think."
Everything about her seemed to spontaneously slide downward five inches or so. Her face deflated. Her smile drooped into a desolate frown. Her shoulders collapsed. You'd have thought I'd just told her that her entire family had been killed when their plane collided with Santa's sleigh.
"Congratulations, kid. You're officially the youngest girl whose heart I ever broke," I muttered, downing a giant gulp of wine.
"Good meeting you -- sorry about Garden State," Jeff said with a wave to the backs of the dejected little rugrat and her family, who were now making as quick an exit as possible.
If Zach Braff has received any confusing hate mail recently with a Wisconsin postmark, I apologize.
It's probably right about now that I should mention how much I hate Disney.
I hate the Walt Disney Company for roughly the same reason that a seemingly normal Midwestern pre-teen came very close to experiencing her first orgasm in the middle of a pricey French restaurant in SoHo: because the cult of Disney has exerted and continues to exert an almost undefinable form of mind control over America's kids, hypnotizing them into swallowing wholesale an inexhaustible supply of cleverly marketed but wholly mediocre crap.
I hate the Walt Disney Company because it's somehow also able to cast the same strangely anodyne spell over America's adults, cynically brainwashing a group of people who should know better into ignoring the decades of misdeeds the company has been guilty of in favor of buying into the eerily Stepfordesque image it expertly perpetuates.
I hate the Walt Disney Company because the heartless barons behind it expect you to believe that it isn't a company at all -- that it's still just Mickey Mouse and not guys like Mickey Eisner and Mickey Ovitz.
I hate the Walt Disney Company because everything about it is a lie. It sells phony perfection -- and we happily buy it.
Disney is the definition of bullshit.
About ten years ago, troublemaking Miami Herald columnist and best-selling author Carl Hiaasen wrote a brilliant, hilarious and entirely terrifying little book called Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. Having grown up on Hiaasen -- his muckraking spirit was part of what inspired me to become a journalist -- and being lucky enough to have met him several times while in Miami, I looked forward to every new book of his; this particular one, though, was like a revelation. Hiaasen managed to sum up the palpable unease I felt when it came to Disney, and he offered more than a few examples of the malignance lurking just behind the carefully constructed facade that the company showed to the world.
Just from a mischievously miscreant point of view, Hiaasen's assertion is that Disney's prime evil lies in its constant quest to improve upon reality.
"Disney is so good at being good that it manifests an evil; so uniformly efficient and courteous, so dependably clean and conscientious, so unfailingly entertaining that it's unreal, and therefore is an agent of pure wickedness. Imagine promoting a universe in which raw Nature doesn't fit because it doesn't measure up... Team Rodent doesn't believe in (things like) sleaze, nor in old-fashioned revulsion. Square in the middle is where it wants us all to be, dependable consumers with predictable attitudes. The message, never stated but avuncularly implied, is that America's values ought to reflect those of the Walt Disney Company, and not the other way around."
Now before you begin chalking such indignation up to nothing more than sour grapes, general misanthropy or a lack of fairy dust sprinkled in one's hair, best to keep in mind that Disney has, throughout the breadth of its hegemony, engaged in corporate malfeasance so goddamned abominable that all the wishing upon a star in the universe couldn't put it right. Again, the goal of much of it has been nothing less than the creation and perpetuation of a strange Utopia which doesn't exist in nature but which Disney believes should.
Disney has a script and it will force any and all under its governance to adhere to that script word for word. There ain't no room for ad libbing when Chairman Mouse is in charge.
This is the company that drilled and dug into the fragile wetlands of Central Florida and deforested a massive area of land surrounding Walt Disney World, all to ensure that the water in the park's Bay Lake was the correct shade of deep blue.
This is the company that found itself accused of quietly poisoning and beating to death a group of federally protected large black buzzards that had the bad form to make a home atop one of the hotels on its Orlando property, potentially endangering Disney World's most salient ingredient, the one tourists from around the world have come to expect with the certainty of a morning sunrise: absolute, inoffensive predictability.
Likewise, this is the company that needlessly killed hundreds of lemmings during the filming of its Academy-Award winning 1958 nature "documentary," White Wilderness.
Oh yeah, you didn't hear about that?
The story of White Wilderness is by now as legendary as the mass lemming death march that the film purports to show. Unfortunately, only one of the two tales -- that would be the former -- is true. Put another way, lemmings don't in fact throw themselves off cliffs; it's a myth that persists to this day thanks mostly to the good folks at Disney, who, during the making of White Wilderness, managed to capture this incredible, impossible migration on film. The movie's crew had heard the rumor about the sad fate of those suicidal lemmings and decided to travel to Alberta, Canada to see it for themselves. When they arrived, they found that not only was the story a bunch of nonsense, but that there weren't even any lemmings in Alberta, Canada -- they live almost exclusively above the Arctic Circle -- nor was there even a nearby ocean. Undaunted by such minor factual hurdles, the crew bought hundreds of lemmings from a group of Innuit schoolchildren in Manitoba -- no doubt mesmerizing them with images of Mickey Mouse, the way a child molester might -- and hastily constructed a snow-covered turntable which they then put the lemmings on top of and rolled cameras. The lemmings essentially ran in place, with only the background moving.
Once that was done, it was time for the money shot.
The film crew went to a nearby river, once again made sure the cameras were rolling, and then threw lemmings into the icy water by the handful. The poor lemmings of course drowned, but hey, Disney got its movie -- and an Oscar for that matter.
Knowing this story, it should surprise no one that Disney was responsible for creating a series of pro-American propaganda films that were aired all over Iraqi television -- it obviously has no issue with the innocent dying for a lie.
There are so many more examples of questionable corporate behavior: from strong-arming local governments that stood in the way of Disney World and Disneyland's "progress," to eventually creating its own puppet government -- the Reedy Creek Improvement District -- in Orlando, in charge of its own police force which answers strictly to the whims of the Mouse, to the purchase of a Caribbean island notoriously popular with drug-smugglers which the company benignly rechristened as a family friendly stop for its Disney Cruiseline, to the suing of a daycare center in Hallandale, Florida which dared to paint images of Disney characters on its walls. (The company claimed the daycare was violating its intellectual property rights.)
But Disney's true villainy lies, once again, not in what it's doing behind the scenes, but in the innocence of the scenes it's created to hide behind. Disney has what could be the largest and most offensive gap in the corporate universe between its image and its reality.
And most of that image is aimed at snaring your kids.
It's the perfect, self-perpetuating marketing technique -- literally raising the company's own consumers from birth.
Disney grabs your children right out of the womb, enticing them with colorful banalities and nurturing them through product placement and its own televised propaganda wing -- Cap Cities/ABC TV -- until brand name recognition is practically Pavlovian. As they grow, Disney plays the role of their BFF, growing alongside them and responding to the very wants and needs that it's surreptitiously insinuating into their consciousness.
In effect, creating its own demand for dreck like High School Musical.
Or -- God save us all -- Hannah Montana.
I don't envy parents of young girls right now. I would probably consider going the Disney-approved-lemming route if it meant that I could avoid having to indulge a screaming 'tween desperate to lick the sweat from Miley Cyrus's ass crack. The High School Musical craze was utterly surreal to me; this Hannah Montana shit is just flat-out baffling. I'd like to think that the pre-teen worship of the young Miss Cyrus is at least amusing to most parents, who unlike their kids remember a time when her father Billy Ray was the most ridiculous man in America. Of course that's assuming that most middle-American moms these days would be unwilling to admit to their complicity in the God-awful "Achy Breaky" craze -- the one which held this country hostage for what seemed like an eternity during the early 90s.
Now, proving that Billy Ray Cyrus's sperm would indeed mutate exactly as many had feared, his daughter has taken her rightful place as the new Gozer the Gozerian of popular culture.
She's Blossom without the nose. She's Hillary Duff without the idiot from Good Charlotte. She's Hannah Montana!
And she's turning millions of girls below the age of 14 into little Veruca Salts, angrily demanding that their parents drop everything to buy them CDs, DVDs, concert tickets, lunchboxes and anything else adorned with the image and featuring the painfully average vocal ability of Miley Fuckin' Cyrus.
It's gotten so bad, what with Christmas (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company) approaching and all, that people are now joining in a class-action lawsuit against Miley Cyrus's online fanclub because they feel that they were lured into buying up memberships with seductive promises of a first crack at tickets to the sold-out Hannah Montana tour.
Let me say that again: People are suing because they couldn't get tickets to see Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter. Who needs the striking late night writers? That kind of comedy gold writes itself.
Meanwhile, in Tampa, a 35-year-old man hung on to a nine-foot-tall statue of Hannah Montana's golden calf-esque likeness for six days to win tickets to a sold out HM show. "I'm ecstatic. It's like a dream come true," he said just moments after the final challenger died of shame, releasing her grip and ensuring his victory.
Look, I'm the first one to agree that the mitigating factor of a phenomenon like Hannah Montana is that, for most young girls, it likely represents the final relatively harmless stop on the pop culture line before MTV gets its hooks into them and graduates them to full-blown sluthood with noxious crap like The Hills. But even MTV -- which is owned by Viacom -- is either unable or unwilling to make use of the kind of full-spectrum corporate synergy that Disney brings to bear when it comes to marketing pabulum like Hannah Montana and High School Musical to America's kids. The onslaught from film, broadcast television, cable TV, DVD, publishing and music outlets is simply unavoidable. A child has almost no choice but to hop on the bandwagon.
Which of course is exactly the way Disney wants it, because for those engineering another generation of consumers -- Imagineering, if you'd like -- Hannah Montana is just the next phase in a lifelong strategy.
I have no doubt as to what that little girl from Wisconsin is already bugging her mom for this Christmas.
Sure, it's a small world after all -- but it's all Disney's.
"I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive."
"When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh."
-- Nora Ephron, 1941-2012
She was a brilliant, insanely funny lady who will be sorely missed.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
My latest piece for the Daily Banter is now up -- it deals with Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series, The Newsroom. The show has many of the very good hallmarks of a Sorkin production, as well as more than the usual number of very bad ones. The important thing, though, is that it tries to bring West Wing-style nobility and heroism to the world of modern TV news -- and given what we all know about TV news these days, that's a pretty comical conceit that requires a hell of a suspension of disbelief. What the NBC suits are now doing to Ann Curry proves it.
Here's the opening shot:
"Like just about anybody who’s spent a good portion of his or her career in the TV news industry, I watched Aaron Sorkin’s new show, 'The Newsroom,' on HBO a couple of nights ago. I did this because, like anybody who’s spent a good portion of his or her career in the TV news industry, I desperately seek the validation of strangers, love talking and hearing about myself and especially enjoy anything that paints the profession I chose years ago in a light other than thoroughly, hostilely negative."
Read the Rest Here
Once You're Done with the Piece, a Few Extra Thoughts on The Newsroom, in No Particular Order (Beware of Spoilers)
1. One complaint I can tell I'm going to have with it is one I always have when Sorkin writes a show with any sort of "political" content: since, as I said, every character acts as some sort of surrogate for Sorkin himself and exists mainly to preach the gospel as Sorkin sees it, they'll all be varying degrees of liberal. This isn't necessarily a problem when there are characters on-screen who openly display progressive political tendencies, but it'll be noticeable when, say, Will McAvoy claims to be a Republican. In Sorkin's world, liberalism is the only political opinion espoused openly and Republican "conservatism" is centrist and reasonable. In other words, Sorkin paints Republicans not as they are these days but how he, as someone who's liberal, believes they should be.
2. I have to imagine that at least a couple of the characters on the show are based on real people within the TV news industry -- e.g. McAvoy's personality lines up almost perfectly with that of Keith Olbermann except for the fact that McAvoy's not clinically insane -- and with that in mind I'm almost positive I know who Don Keefer, the youthful, brash, arrogant, sort of asshole-ish former EP of News Night, is supposed to be. While he certainly has the kind of attitude and view of himself that grows up out of the carpeting in most television newsrooms, there's one very well-known figure in the business who mirrors his personality and mannerisms almost flawlessly. He's a former high-powered executive producer in cable news who's now very high up the network food chain. Good guy, overall -- but especially years ago? Yeah, that was him.
3. I feel sorry for Alison Pill. I really hope her character develops into something better than it is now. That said, there actually are thousands upon thousands of kids just like "Maggie" toiling away thanklessly in TV newsrooms these days. Some are talented as hell, some are in way over their heads, but they do exist. And I very much appreciated the moment when McAvoy looked her in the face and simply acknowledged her by saying her name. I remember the first time that sort of thing happened to me, two decades ago, and the feeling of validation is something you hold onto for a very long time.
4. Loved it when Mac playfully put her foot down and let McAvoy know who's really in control while the show's on the air. The relationship between the producer or EP and the talent is always one of trust, with each side having to rely on the other and know that he or she has the best interest of the show and the other person at heart. That kind of trust is integral for the daily high-wire act that is a TV news show -- whether it's at the local or national level. But I'll never forget one of the earliest stories from my time coming up in local news. I had a story break in the middle of a show and attempted to get one of my anchors to read it live; for whatever reason, he refused to, wanting instead to wait on it a few minutes. When I tried to get his co-anchor to do it, she also refused as a show of solidarity with the guy sitting next to her on the set. I was maybe 22 years old, it was one of my first times out and I was admittedly letting them manhandle me because I was afraid of them, their popularity and their authority. So I picked up the phone and called downstairs to my EP. Her response: "I don't want to see either of them for the next two blocks. Kill any face-time they have." And so I did. We wiped between stories; went right into full reporter packages; even killed tosses to weather, instead coming right up on the segment without an intro. My EP's advice to me when I came down after the show? "They need to know at all times that you are in charge and if they forget, remind them." There's a reason it's called the control room.
5. The news consultant on the show is Nancy Bauer Gonzales, former long-time news director in Los Angeles and a truly terrific lady. She's the one who hired me at KNBC in 2000 and I actually had dinner with her and some old friends from that era a couple of weeks ago. Despite the fact that by the end of my tenure at KNBC I was hiding a nasty little drug habit, Bauer is kind enough to still look upon me pretty fondly and I couldn't be more proud of that given that I respect her very much. She's a great choice when it comes to advising on the technical aspects of working in a newsroom and covering breaking stories.
6. On that note, while it's true that a cable news outlet would have hundreds more people than just those within one small room working a big story -- even as proprietary and competitive as the individual shows can often be -- it was thrilling to watch the "breaking story" unfold in the last quarter of the show. It made me miss it. Covering breaking news is, admittedly, a thrill you never quite get out of your system.
Adding: This bit of brilliance...
As straightforward rock bands go -- the kind that record mostly anthems and songs that seem engineered to be entrance themes for WWE wrestlers -- Welsh outfit Lostprophets are pretty decent. Their latest album also happens to be produced by one of my favorite people in alt rock -- Ken Andrews -- which is why it sounds so punishingly, gorgeously massive.
From the album Weapons, here's Bring 'Em Down.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012
Since my very minor tear against Ron Paul once again generated some decent feedback -- I say once again because every time anyone brings up "Dr." Paul in a negative light, his cult-like followers come out of the woodwork to bombard the heretic with e-mails -- I figured I'd bring something related back to the main page. This quickie diatribe from August of last year generated more Facebook "likes" than anything that's ever been published at DXM -- 348.
It was the first time I really bothered to bring up Ron Paul and his fawning, deluded worshipers.
"If there's one thing I'm absolutely through abiding in this country it's these idiots who embrace Ron Paul as some sort of messianic figure come to save our great nation from itself. The draconian brand of libertarianism that Paul and his monkey son espouse is intrinsically anti-American because it reduces the notion of a "United States of America" -- particularly as a world leader -- to an afterthought, one that can and should be sacrificed in the name of each person doing whatever the hell he or she feels like with no sense of a collective responsibility to each other or the country as a whole. If Paul's vision for America had been in place since our nation's inception, America never could have accomplished the myriad astonishing things that made us a superpower.
The free market is not America. It couldn't fucking care less about America; it exists simply in the service of itself. It has no loyalty to anything but its own perpetuation and notions like patriotism don't even enter into the picture. Say what you will, but a government of duly-elected officials is the only system beholden to no one but the people. In theory, anyway. While I'm not sure our current model is working -- precisely because so many of our leaders are on the take in one way or another -- I hold tightly to the belief that the citizenry can actually change that situation for the better. We have the power, but only if we act in concert as Americans -- not strictly as individuals who don't give a crap about the other people who make this country great.
Ron Paul and his neo-libertarian acolytes want an America with no sense of cohesion; one that's at the mercy of a system of government that's no real government; one that doesn't care much what happens to you because it's either none of its business or it simply isn't cost-effective to give a damn; one that in many ways resembles a Third-World country.
I feel as strongly about this today as I did when I wrote it a year ago -- if not more.
Cesca brilliantly calls Ron Paul "a shibboleth for nihilistic hipsters." It's a perfect description of him and the inexplicable pull he has with the profoundly gullible.
Time once again for Ben Cohen, Bob Cesca and me to answer your serious questions with a lot of typo-filled half-assery.
This week, political movies, Glennzilla and how to avoid looking like a member of the Hollywood elite.
The Daily Banter Mail Bag
By the way, kids -- no podcasts this week due to a catastrophic system failure on Bob's end. Sorry.
"This is not what lawyers and judges do. Lawyers and judges deal with the real world. They deal with murder and greed and rape; they deal with enhanced interrogation and brutality and gruesome wounds; they even deal with vaginas (unlike some legislators these days). It is their responsibility as professionals to deal in a mature and straightforward manner with all sorts of unpleasantness. A lawyer representing a person accused of child sexual assault cannot refuse to confront the allegations because they make him squeamish. Like a doctor treating a mutilated child, they have to deal with the world as it is. Especially in a First Amendment case, lawyers and judges have to be willing to say the words out loud, even if it makes them uncomfortable. To do otherwise is to deny the realities of the case before them. It is to put their own sensitivities above their obligations to their clients and to the law. It is, in short, unprofessional."
-- University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey R. Stone on the fact that in a ruling yesterday in the FCC v. Fox Television Stations obscenity case, the justices of the Supreme Court refused to write out the actual on-air profanity that had been at issue, instead resorting to "f***" and "s***"
We'll close out our 80s theme week with something from the final year of that decade -- and from the most vital musical force to arise out of the 80s: hip-hop.
Here are the undisputed hip-hop heavyweight champions of the world, Public Enemy, with Fight the Power.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
I'm convinced that the title of Stephen Colbert's book, I am America (and So Can You!), is a subtle knock at Lee Greenwood's dumb-shit NASCAR national anthem, God Bless the U.S.A. -- the chorus of which is a hilarious butchery of basic grammar: "And I'm proud to be an American -- where at least I know I'm free."
Still, there's a debate raging over this ridiculous song -- in Brooklyn?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fox News's latest entirely made-up "national controversy" -- the War on Lee Greenwood.
News Hounds: Fox News Advances Lie About "Student Rally" in Response to Principal Removing Greenwood Song from Graduation/6.21.12
Cesca writes about this kind of thing all the time: Fox's propensity for aiming its considerable firepower at "non-combatants" -- like school principals.
Personally I think that the song should be banned from a kindergarten graduation ceremony because, again, it murders the English language. But if Fox News does actually exert enough pressure to get it put back in, might I recommend using it as a kind of test. Any kid who doesn't sing the chorus and immediately turn to a teacher and say, "That doesn't make sense" -- that kid gets held back a year.
The Quote of the Day is actually an entire conversation. Behold, just a small part of a larger exchange between the Huffington Post's Sam Stein and anti-federalism, anti-entitlement, Godfather of modern hardcore libertarian purity Ron Paul.
"STEIN: A bit of a personal question then, are you on Social Security? Do you get Social Security checks?
PAUL: I do.
STEIN: Well, I mean, is there -- you just told younger generations that they should ween themselves off this social contract.
PAUL: That is true.
STEIN: But you haven’t done it yourself... Don’t you think you chould have set a good example for the future generations. You’re not the wealthiest man in congress, I know that, but you have enough means to take care of yourself in retirement... Couldn’t you have set an example?
PAUL: No. I think the programs are so designed, just as I use the post office too, I use government highways, I do that too, I use the banks, the federal reserve system, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work to remove this in the same way on Social Security."
It would be easy to just write this off as a case of "Do as I Say, Not as I Do" hypocrisy, but really there's something much deeper at work here. The fact is that libertarian ideaologues like Paul -- as with objectivist clowns like Ayn Rand before them -- secretly realize that their belief system is impossible to put into practice. It all looks great on paper, but it's unfeasible to run a unified country or a moral society without realizing that everyone within it will have to at least partially accept responsibility for his or her fellow man. What's more, Paul's cop out that the system is in place so therefore he falls back on it -- that the temptation is just too much to take and apparently robs him of his burning desire to live truly independently -- is almost impossible to listen to without laughing out loud. For the record, Rand herself, talented grifter that she was, did the same thing, only she tried to hide it; unlike Paul, who comes right out and admits he's full of shit, Rand received both Social Security and Medicare as she became old and infirm, only she collected it under her husband's last name.
This is why the modern right, bolstered by a neo-Randian philosophy of which most conservatives understand pretty much nothing other than a few bumper sticker slogans, hates the notion of, say, single-payer healthcare: they're afraid of it; afraid that the temptation will be too much and that people will want to use it; even people who normally breathe fire at the mere mention of government assistance. The difference, of course, is that some of those people -- people like Ron Paul -- can afford to not be a "parasitic burden" on the system while others actually need the help just to eke out an existence.
But I guess when you get old you earn the luxury of being able to issue loud, ex cathedra rulings declaring that no one else is entitled to federal assistance -- while sucking as much as you can get from the government teat.
While lately quite a bit of what I've posted here has been gut-reaction stuff, the kind of thing written quickly and without the benefit of a lot of contemplation, the story of Karen Huff Klein deserved more; I knew that almost immediately after banging out my little screed on it yesterday afternoon, one which did nothing to exhaust the feelings I had about watching an elderly woman being bullied from my mind.
My new piece at the Daily Banter, which is up now, looks a little deeper into what happened to Klein on that bus in upstate New York, the anger over it, the backlash to it, the good that's coming out of it, and what it says not just about kids these days but, maybe, about the way certain kids have always been.
Here's the opening:
"I still remember the heartbroken look on his face as he stood at my doorstep in his little green-striped shirt and Toughskins khaki shorts. His name was Doug and he lived up the street from me — and for some reason he desperately wanted to be my friend. He was my age, maybe five or six, and he’d come by every afternoon to ask me if I wanted to play with him since he didn’t seem to have many kids willing to. His eyes would always be fixed on the ground in front of him, as if he were a dog that someone had beaten into a perpetually submissive stance; he was never anything less than a pitiful sight. But I didn’t take pity on him; I didn’t question why his parents never seemed to be around and why I would always see him walking alone to and from the playground at the end of the block; I simply told him to go away, that I didn’t want to play with him and didn’t want to be his friend and didn’t want him in my house. When my mother would show some decency and humanity and invite him in, I’d wait for her to disappear from sight, then press him toward the door and tell him to get out. I’d say those exact words just before slamming the door in his face: 'Get out.'"
Read the Rest at Here
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
"I need to say that it has been pointed out that cataloging racism is a sight below the standards of this blog. I sort of agree. But over the course of the Obama presidency I have become convinced that no single force exerts a greater pull on his presidency than white racism. Not white resentment. Not white populism. White racism. I don't know how else to explain a health care denounced as reparations, the rather continuous disrespect, the sense that he is a Kenyan illegitimate or all of the attendant theories. I do not know how else to explain a state like West Virginia, arguably the most racist in the country, where delegates are now refusing to endorse the president. There will be more on this in the coming months. I don't want to scoop myself. But my point is I can only stop talking about racism, when it ceases to be a significant force in our politics. When the mere act of being white gives Obama's opponent 'a home-state advantage nationally,' I can't stop. It would be deeply wrong to stop."
-- The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates
I gave Coates the Quote of the Day honor because I'd rather have his thoughtful and passionate rebuttal put front, center and above the actual repugnant comment he was responding to, which was this -- from Arizona conservative talk radio asshole Barbara Espinosa:
"I don't believe in calling (Barack Obama) the first black president. I voted for the white guy myself. I call him a monkey."
Are all Republicans racist? No, of course not.
But make no mistake: The GOP as an institution has fomented, tolerated, enabled or exploited racism within its ranks for far too long, and it's never been more blatant and sickening than during the past three-and-a-half years of the Obama presidency.
If you deny it at this point, you're either lying to yourself or you're an idiot.
Is it okay if I just continue to call them what I always have?
"Batshit Lunatics" has a really nice ring to it.
The Huffington Post: Southern Baptists Vote To Adopt New Name, Will Alternately Be Known as "Great Commission Baptists"/6.20.12
I'll freely admit that while there's a lot of cruelty and injustice that I let roll off my back -- because I firmly believe that you can't allow everything to get to you otherwise you lose the ability to function -- the things that eat at me really eat at me. We are who we are, we feel what we feel and we're affected by what we're affected by. That's just how it works.
So while I don't let myself get too outraged over, say, the desperation of all those political prisoners and refugees overseas, the plight of every single homeless person in America or the pain that some animals suffer before winding up on my dinner plate, I admit that I can be moved to the point of righteous fury over a ten-minute video recording of a bunch of asshole middle-school kids bullying, verbally abusing and essentially torturing with ridicule an elderly widow on a school bus until she cries. It happened recently in upstate New York -- and it makes me want to beat the living shit out of every one of the little bastards seen and heard in the clip.
The good news: The internet is already rising up in support of this woman and to condemn her tormentors.
I confess that I often wonder what would have happened to me and my friends in high school had we grown up in the kind of self-perpetuated Panopticon that society today has become; did our crimes against decency rise to the level of what these kids do but we were simply lucky enough for no one to ever get it on video and beam it out around the world?
God, I really hope not. Because if we were this cruel at any point, I'm not sure I could ever forgive myself.
The Huffington Post: School Bus Bullying Video Draws Outrage/6.20.12
I'm not sure there's ever been an image that's more flawlessly summed up everything that is Glenn Greenwald.
The choice of writing only from among his stable of four or five rotating topics. The indignant defense of Julian Assange. The involuntary lashing out at the evil, imperial U.S. for its unlawful and immoral persecution of the world's most saintly individual. The implication that everyone should agree with him and let Assange off the hook for trying to run off to a South American country -- sound familiar? -- and the almost certain implication that those who disagree and think that Assange is a coward who's evading the justice system because he arrogantly doesn't think he should have to face its potential judgment are jingoistic barbarians. The four -- four -- Aspergerian updates.
It's just all so -- Glenny.
I realize I'm violating my current policy of not even bothering to click the link whenever I see a Greenwald byline, but I'm glad I did this time. This kind of comedy gold is priceless.
As promised, my latest piece for the Daily Banter is up and it deals with MSNBC's comically transparent decision to hire conservative commentator S.E. Cupp.
Here's the opening shot:
"I happened to stumble across the very good 1994 movie Quiz Show on cable the other day. For those who haven’t seen it or don’t know much about it, the film dramatizes the television quiz show scandal of the late 1950s, in which 'Twenty-One' and other popular TV game shows were revealed to have been fixed by the producers behind them. The most infamous revelation during the scandal, and really the one that started the snowball rolling downhill, was that handsome and seemingly brilliant 'Twenty-One' returning champion Charles Van Doren — who rocketed to pop culture stardom because of his supernatural staying power and apparent wealth of knowledge on a broad number of topics — had actually been given the answers all along by TV exec Dan Enright and had initially won on the show only after the previous long-time winner had been ordered to take a dive. That previous champion, Herb Stempel — who admitted that he too had been handed the answers on the show during his extended run — was a somewhat schlubby dullard from Queens, while Van Doren was a youthful and engaging academic from a successful family."
Read the Rest Here
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
"They make you hire a certain number of chicks, and they’re always the least funny on the writing staff. If my daughter has a mediocre sense of humor, I’m just gonna tell her, ‘Be a staff writer for a sitcom. Because they’ll have to hire you, they can’t really fire you, and you don’t have to produce that much. It’ll be awesome.'"
-- Adam Carolla
That Carolla is a reactionary misogynist shithead isn't news; it's common knowledge by now. But for God's sake, would articles that call him out for it and that aim to disprove his Neanderthalic theory on women and comedy please avoid citing Lena Dunham as their very first example of a really funny woman.
Girls is overrated, mumblecore crap and Dunham is about as funny as colon cancer.
I can think of a dozen women off the top of my head who are funnier than almost any man alive -- certainly funnier than Carolla -- and Lena Dunham isn't one of them.
Our theme week looking at just a little of the good stuff the 80s had to offer -- provided you were willing to look past what was on the radio and what largely made up pop culture at the time -- continues with Siouxsie and the Banshees' 1981 album, Juju.
From that record, here's Spellbound.
Monday, June 18, 2012
"The thing that I worry about more is the media’s bias toward fairness. Nobody uses the word lie anymore. Suddenly, everything is 'a difference of opinion.' If the entire House Republican caucus were to walk onto the floor one day and say 'The Earth is flat,' the headline on the New York Times the next day would read 'Democrats and Republicans Can’t Agree on Shape of Earth.' I don’t believe the truth always lies in the middle. I don’t believe there are two sides to every argument. I think the facts are the center. And watching the news abandon the facts in favor of 'fairness' is what’s troubling to me... It seems very important that if someone on the right in the news screws up in a really bad way, that the media find someone on the left who screwed up in some kind of way so that we can have a 'One From Column A, One From Column B' kind of situation. And that if there are five from Column A, there can’t be only three from Column B, because then they’ll be accused of liberal bias."
-- Aaron Sorkin in New York Magazine Online's "Vulture" section
Jesus, I feel like I've heard this exact sentiment expressed somewhere before -- although nowhere near as articulately.
"Hey, on days when she has Michelle Malkin and Gretchen Carlson on as guests we can make a new 'Two Girls one Cupp' drinking game."
-- Huffington Post commenter "Fretslayer" on the announcement by MSNBC that it would be giving partial hosting duties for its new 3PM show to conservative commentator and cultivator of the naughty librarian look S.E. Cupp
For those of you who thought that MSNBC was politically progressive by nature or that its decision to lean left was the product of its executives' and hosts' true feelings, let this be a lesson to you. It was always about ratings and money. And so is this: putting a dingbat like S.E. Cupp on the air solely because she's ridiculously easy on the eyes.
The important thing to keep in mind is that this move won't win a single critic of MSNBC on the right over. Not a one.
I'll have more on this tomorrow at the Daily Banter.
Update: Sorry, kids, but the Banter post will go up tomorrow (6.20). Busy as hell today.
Okay, so I almost never do "theme weeks" when it comes to the Listening Posts around here, but with all the discussion of what was good and bad about the 80s to come out of my little post mocking Rock of Ages, I figured it might be time to look back at some of the good.
So, yes, over the next five days I'll be highlighting just a few of my favorite songs, albums, bands and artists to come out of the 80s. I still say that, overall, 80s pop culture really was crap, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot of great stuff out there as long as you knew where to look.
Anyway, let's kick things off with something from Peter Gabriel's brilliant 1986 album, So -- which you admittedly didn't have to look very hard for.
This is Red Rain.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
My prayers to the gods of quality entertainment have been answered.
The Hollywood Reporter: "Rock of Ages" Falls Flat/6.16.12
I'd love to think that this will break the cultural curse that is Adam Shankman's career, but I doubt I'm that lucky or that Hollywood is that wise. Either way, maybe somebody somewhere will think twice the next time he or she gets the urge to green-light a movie that the director swears will be "a musical that guys will want to take their girls to!" or really anything that features Tom Cruise shirtless in leather pants, talking to a monkey and singing Glee-ified versions of shitty 80s rock songs.
Speaking of which, can we finally just admit that the 80s sucked and put to bed all that misguided nostalgia for it?
Friday, June 15, 2012
Join the After Party
This week: Everything We Didn’t Get to Yesterday; NRA Sells ‘Stand Your Ground’ Insurance; Robots Are Strong; Old People Are Getting the Most From Obamacare and They Hate It; Preventative Care and the Donut Hole; Are Seniors Really All That Wise?; Our EPIC New ‘Most Hated’ Weekly Feature Launches with Our Most Hated Celebrities; Trump, Leno, Kardashian, Fieri, Cruise, and Many More; George Lucas Did What to Your What?; MSNBC Producer Loses His Shpadoinkle; and much more.
It's time once again for Ben Cohen, Bob Cesca and me to answer your very serious questions by making fun of you. Wait -- that's just me.
Anyway, this week's Daily Banter Mail Bag features a metric ton of weirdness, so feel free to take a look.
Read the Daily Banter Mail Bag Here
"I wonder if he was taking V... It'll make you crazy, the V."
-- Shepard Smith, completely derailing an interview on Fox News by suddenly deciding that he wanted to talk about HBO's True Blood
I really get the impression that Shep has just given up -- and for this I love him even more than I have throughout the very long time that I've known him. He either realizes that he can say whatever the hell he wants to on Fox and he'll still have a job or he's purposely trying to see if there's anything at all he can say that'll get him in trouble. Regardless, he's exercising his absolute authority and bulletproof-ness with giddy abandon.
Shep has basically turned into Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau over there. It's only a matter of time before he shows up on the air in white makeup wearing boxer shorts and a lampshade on his head and talking to a midget he keeps as a pet.
My latest piece for the Daily Banter is now up -- and it deals with a topic that's been discussed at length quite a bit at Banter over the past several days: Glenn Greenwald, the "professional left" and the progressive civil war they've been on one side of.
My column specifically focuses on one particular aspect of any left-leaning criticism of Greenwald -- and asks why it's necessary.
Here's the opening shot:
"So over the past week this site has turned into the 'Let’s Take a Few Shots at Glenn Greenwald' show, with two of its highest-profile columnists — Banter founder Ben Cohen and blogging machine Bob Cesca — penning pieces that take issue with Greenwald’s smugness and intransigence in the face of political reality. One of the essays that started it all actually quoted something I’d written months ago, but I’ve been loathe to step into the fray myself around here simply because these days I honestly regard Glenn Greenwald as a nonentity, having come to the conclusion quite a while back that the less I think about Greenwald’s insufferable sanctimony and ongoing propensity for childish tantrum-throwing, the better. I genuinely don’t read what he writes at all anymore; I see the headlines over at Salon, know in short order exactly what he’s going to say before he even says it, chuckle and shake my head for a second, then move on to something more informative, balanced and worth taking seriously.
With that in mind, though, I do think there’s one thing worth addressing when it comes to the discussion of Greenwald..."
Read the Rest Here
I've gotta hand it to Rock Star Games -- one of the qualities that makes the company so brilliant is the way music is used throughout the course of the games they design. Whether it's the radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto series, the flawless period music of L.A. Noire, the emotional resonance of Jose Gonzalez's haunting acoustic songs for Red Dead Redemption -- or this, the stroke-of-genius decision to enlist L.A. noise-pop band HEALTH to provide the soundtrack for Max Payne 3.
From that album, here's Tears.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Michigan Lawmaker Barred for Saying Vagina; Right-Wing Talk Radio; What Motivates Corporate CEOs; G. Gordon Liddy is Retiring; Bob’s Personal Confrontations with Liddy; Mitt Romney’s Biggest Gaffe Yet; Public Sector Jobs vs The Private Sector; Drowning the Government in the Bathtub; Santorum Has Romney Fever; Dylan Ratigan Leaving MSNBC; Everything We Didn’t Get To will be Featured on The After Party Tomorrow; and much more. Brought to you by Bubble Genius.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Michael Steele has lunch with -- I can't believe I'm even typing this -- Pauly Shore, at Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C.
This is why politics in this country aren't even worth getting pissed about anymore.
If they're not going to take it the least bit seriously I don't see why I should.
Labels: michael steele, pauly shore (the only time this label will ever appear here), picture of the day
Beware of Prometheus spoilers ahead.
Well, as promised I saw Prometheus again last night -- this time in IMAX.
Again, the visuals are so spectacular and immersive as to be worth the price of admission solely on their own. As for the story and the issues I had with it after seeing the movie the first time, many still remain, although I admittedly have a better feeling about the film overall having watched it carefully for a second time.
For one, I like David's character much better now and kind of let myself simply go with the flow when it comes to his motivations throughout the course of the movie. I think the giveaway when it comes to how David thinks and behaves comes when Charlie tells him, just before being dosed with alien goo, "You're not a real boy." David is at all times behaving like a curious child, one who does things simply to see what the outcome is; I'm not sure his agenda is much more complicated than that.
I actually found the storyline to be even more frustrating when trying to apply the lengthy analysis offered up by that one blogger who's now found himself to be the Rosetta Stone among confused Prometheus viewers. The bottom line is that in spite of all the mythological and religious inferences he gleaned from the film, the whole thing still didn't really make a lick of sense. And that's where I think the main problem lies -- in trusting in the meaning behind the movie. I'll put it like this: I like films that ask big questions and that don't provide complete answers. I like being made to think and feel and to even ponder endlessly and futilely. But I have to believe that I'm not simply being played -- that the writers and filmmakers had some idea what they were doing and weren't just throwing a lot of tenuously connected shit at the wall in the hope that something would stick and it would therefore all come off as intelligent and deep. I can't help but think that Lindelof's track record puts him in the latter category; I think he just grabbed onto a lot of quasi-Christian references (Shaw's cross and faith, the fact that it's Christmas, the Engineers being dead for 2,000 years, David washing Weyland's feet, etc.), metaphysical mythology (the prevalence of self-sacrifice, the dying king refusing to give up power, etc.) and references to the original Alien canon (the xenomorph mural, the early facehugger, the alien at the end -- which was admittedly still a lot of fun to see even if it made no real sense) and sledgehammered the story with them in an effort to seem profound even though he really had no idea what the hell he was doing or where any real connections were.
Finally, yes, the characters were as dumb, listless and unlikable as they were the first time around. Although I did consider that these qualities may have answered the question of why the Engineers want us dead.
Either that or they're just pissed that we've gotten to the point where we make movies like Prometheus and pretend that they're high art.
Our Lady Peace remain one of my favorite straightforward rock bands -- even though their last couple of albums have been pretty underwhelming.
Here's their latest single, the video for which was released just this morning.
This is As Fast As You Can.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
"I'll piss on fucking Radiohead, because of all this pomposity... Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is 'yes, I do,'"
-- Bill Corgan, of course
I've heard the new Smashing Pumpkins album, Billy. And the last five, for that matter.
No, you don't.
I'm still trapped in the middle of project hell at the moment, but Ben Cohen over at the Daily Banter published a piece a little while ago that takes on Glenn Greenwald for being, well, so Glenn Greenwald-y.
I got a pretty big mention in the column and I happen to agree with most of what Ben has to say -- I say most because, no, I don't respect Greenwald at all. I think he's actually a sanctimonious turd who's proven that he deserves to be paid almost no attention -- but that's just my opinion.
Anyway, read on before Glenn begins punching down to me and Ben on Twitter and his army of myrmidons joins in.
The Daily Banter: Tired of the Lecturing Left: A Message To Glenn Greenwald/6.12.12
My new piece for the Daily Banter is up. It deals with the possible return of Jeff Zucker to the world of the top-level TV executive -- and how it proves that there's no such thing as a lifetime of banishment once you've been crowned king, no matter how incompetent your reign was.
Here's the opening shot:
"Here’s a little something just about everyone in the television business knows: Once you become a high-powered executive, it’s almost impossible to fuck yourself and your reputation so badly that you’ll never work again.
Let’s say you’re some poor mid-level schmuck, doing whatever it is you do right now for a living, and you almost single-handedly make, let’s say, some gargantuan mistake that turns your company into a worldwide laughingstock and threatens to crater an upcoming multi-million dollar merger that’s going to make it the most powerful organization of its kind in the world — there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be radioactive for about the next hundred or so years. Not in television, though — and not if you’re an executive..."
Read the Rest Here
Monday, June 11, 2012
"Governor Romney is a tremendous improvement. I think we could have been even more of an improvement, but that's, you know, that's, that, that, that, that issue was passed. Uh, Governor Romney is an important and dramatic improvement, and that's why we're behind him."
-- Rick Santorum, endorsing Mitt Rommey, sort of
Cesca's been keeping track, in pretty hilarious fashion, of the ways in which "Romney Fever" is sweeping across the nation -- cataloging instance after pulse-pounding instance of Romney receiving effusive, full-throated support from Republicans.
Add this one to the mix.
Husky are an indie band out of Melbourne, Australia -- and I really can't stop listening to their debut album, Forever So.
From that record, here's Dark Sea.
Gonna be a really busy 48 hours for me so things may be a little bare around here. Sorry, kids.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
This piece is on Prometheus. Spoilers abound so beware.
There's a 1985 Tobe Hooper movie called Lifeforce, starring a very young and yet still oddly old-looking Patrick Stewart and a constantly topless Mathilda May, that's remained stuck in my mind throughout the years. The reason for this has nothing to do with it being any good -- on the contrary, it's an unmitigated piece of crap -- but more for the fact that for years after seeing it for the first time, I would find myself returning to it at regular intervals. The reason I'd continue to subject myself to something I obviously disliked intensely? Because I very much wanted to like it, and I always held onto hope that maybe at some point I'd hit on something I hadn't noticed before and the movie would click for me and fall into place. It was a great idea and I wanted it to be a great movie -- unfortunately, no matter how many times I saw it, it never became one. It just kept being the same piece of shit I remembered from the last time I saw the thing.
Ironically, the script for Lifeforce was written by Dan O'Bannon, the writer of my favorite movie of all-time, Alien, and that adds an interesting layer of synchronicity to my feelings about the nominal Alien prequel, Prometheus -- a film I've been waiting for in one form or another for 33 years.
I saw Prometheus on Friday night -- and I desperately wanted to like it; almost no other movie imaginable would receive the automatic benefit of the doubt from me as one that saw Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe. And with that in mind, I gave the movie that benefit -- over and over again as I turned it over in my mind in the few hours after leaving the theater -- only to finally realize that if the movie hadn't been Ridley Scott's return to a beloved canon, I wouldn't even have bothered trying to rationalize my feelings about it and to assign deeper meaning where I simply wasn't finding any. I just would've come right out and admitted that the film wasn't all that great.
Make no mistake: Prometheus is a visual feast; it's worth seeing strictly for how lovely it is to look at and for how masterfully the 3D optics are used. I would recommend the movie to anyone based solely on that. Prometheus also has a couple of truly spectacular set pieces and one or two very nice nods to the original Alien beyond simply the revelation of who and what the "Space Jockey" is and where it might have come from. Beyond that, though, it's a mess. A beautiful mess -- but a mess nonetheless.
I'm just going to throw out the issues in a stream of consciousness fashion and let anyone who's seen the movie and who feels like it discuss whether they were bugged by the same things.
1. Okay, a trillion-dollar expedition into space with the aim of discovering the origin of man, the most important mission mankind has ever undertaken, and the 17 people hand-picked for it are the dumbest and most unlikable people planet Earth has to offer. Scientists don't behave like scientists. The captain of the ship seems strangely disinterested in his crew's peril. Characters do unbelievably stupid things seemingly without reason and thoroughly against what we know of their personalities through the meager amount of set-up we're given. (The two terrified crew-members who suddenly decide to play with the pretty alien worm; the two jokey co-pilots who instantly and complacently volunteer to martyr themselves at the ass end of space because a woman they don't even know says somebody's going to have to.) Jesus, I cared more about the kids getting picked off by Jason in Friday the 13th VII than I did about anybody -- anybody -- aboard the Prometheus. And what's worse, I really get the impression that the writers and director didn't care about the characters either.
2. Maybe Noomi Rapace can carry an American movie -- but she didn't carry this one. Again, I didn't give a damn about her.
3. While the C-section scene is admittedly excellent, the fact that Shaw then immediately -- after pulling an alien squid the size of a football out of her -- runs, jumps, gets the shit knocked out of her and isn't doubled over in excruciating pain the entire time required a suspension of disbelief I kind of couldn't muster. Also, why did no one seem to notice that she'd just hacked herself open and why didn't she bother to tell anyone, "Oh, by the way, there's an alien squid in the med-pod bay -- might wanna go check on that," instead of pretending it never happened?
4. While David was absolutely the most interesting character in the movie -- and Fassbender's performance was a lot of fun -- can anybody explain to me the motivation for 80% of the crap he does? Why poison Charlie? Why revel in the fact that Shaw is pregnant with an alien? Why then reach out to her at the end? DXM regular Votar has a good theory, which is that David isn't actually taking orders from Weyland and has instead been programmed by someone else and that his mission is actually, keeping with Alien tradition, to bring back a specimen for bio-weapons. This is the only possibility that makes any sense.
5. If Captain Janek is supposed to be the audience surrogate -- or the closest thing there is to one among the characters -- and if he's indeed right that the planet they discover is nothing more than a weapons facility, then why the hell did the Engineers tell humans about it? Why try to entice them to come for a visit? On that note, if what the crew of Prometheus finds is indeed the remnants of an accident in which the Engineers' bio-weapon got loose and killed a bunch of them, that means this is the second time at least that this has happened, since the Space Jockey in Alien was obviously the victim of his own cargo. That makes the Engineers the most incompetent alien race to seed our planet imaginable. Although admittedly I appreciate it if that's the point -- that we're a bunch of assholes who aren't the product of God or an enlightened species of space men but were instead created by beings that are as angry, petty and stupid as we are.
6. In reference to all of these questions, I blame and kind of hate Damon Lindelof. Despite its popularity, Lost was annoying metaphysical tripe that masqueraded as intellectualism -- and Lindelof seems to have brought the same ethos to Prometheus. No, churning out a script in which you can almost hear your own voice saying to the audience, "Ah? See? Interesting, isn't it? That's a big question, right? Bet that'll give you something to discuss!" while smirking smugly doesn't make you a genius or your work high-minded. It's cheap and easy to ask questions you don't even try to answer and create chaos just for the hell of it.
7. There are vast stretches of the movie that are just boring as hell.
Again, it took me about an hour or so after seeing Prometheus to admit to myself that the only reason I was trying to give it a pass on the issues I had with it was that it was ostensibly an Alien movie. Upon any kind of close inspection -- really any inspection at all -- the whole damn thing falls apart, and that obviously disappoints me greatly.
I should say, by the way, that I'm going to see it again -- mostly to see it in IMAX and truly immerse myself in its visual splendor, but also because, as with Lifeforce all those years ago, I really want to like it. I want to find something I didn't catch the first time that will make it all come together for me. I'm not sure that's going to happen, though.
Friday, June 08, 2012
Okay, folks, one final reminder as we get ready to wrap up our quickie Welcome Summer Pledge Drive.
Hopefully you like the daily cavalcade of nonsense you get from DXM and from my other little internet endeavors enough to throw some money at me -- if so, now's the time to do it.
There are three ways you can contribute. The first is the easiest: Just click the Paypal electronic tip link in the right-hand sidebar of this screen and donate away. You can also use the Paypal tip jar to pay-what-you-want for a digital copy of my book, Dead Star Twilight, for iPad or Kindle. Go here to begin your instant download. Remember, it's a full length book -- 300-some-odd pages -- and it can be yours for whatever you feel like putting toward it. The last way you can give is by buying a physical copy of Dead Star Twilight from Amazon. To purchase the paperback, just click here. (By the way, buying the book gives the least amount of money to the site since I only get a small cut; I want to sell books but I know there are some people out there who would want to be made aware of that.)
Another quick shout-out to all the people who've already contributed to keeping things humming around here. Your generosity is truly appreciated. To everyone else -- thanks for reading and if you can afford to do so, please toss a couple of bucks into the DXM hat.
And now, here's ten full minutes of that "circus afro" song from the new Madagascar movie. See how long you can last. I made it about 25 seconds.
It's time once again for Bob Cesca, Ben Cohen and me to answer your serious questions with a lot of snark and half-assery.
It's the Banter Mail Bag.
This week: Is the end nigh? Should we be pursuing recalls of our elected officials? And is it time for a third party?
Read the Banter Mail Bag Here
Join the After Party
This week: Everything We Didn’t Get to Yesterday; Chez Goes To War Against Pot Activists; Is Pot Smoking a Civil Right?; Allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to Expire and Reducing the Deficit; Fact Checking the New Romney Commercial; Bush Spending Created Huge Deficits and Debt; What Bob Does At Parties; Bob Is Satanic; This Week’s Food Network Star; Eating with Roseanne; Taco Bell Doritos Tacos are Hugely Popular; Americans Are Poisoning Themselves with Food; More Cannibal Zombie News; Old School News Anchor Fight; The Totally Awesome Mr. Rogers Auto-Tune Remix; and much more.