Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

hear ye hear ye

July 8, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Janet Jackson Super Bowl Case

Okay, so it’s not in the same league as the ACA ruling, but considering what a chilling effect the fine had at the time, it doesn’t deserve to go under the radar either. When conservatives bitch about the feds telling us what to do (that fine was levied by the FCC when it was being run by some of Dubya’s most primitive apparatchiks), why don’t they care about hysterically prudish actions like this one, or self-censorship imposed by a gun to the head like the MPAA ratings board? Don’t worry, I know the answer: our discomfort about sex gets to trump everything, including common sense. I’m just sick of the double standard.

Thanks But No Thanks

February 3, 2012

Just because they ran it doesn’t mean we have to read it.

Charlize Theron On Meeting Kristen Stewart: “It Was Instantly Amazing”

Costa Concordia Passenger: Titanic Theme Played As Ship Hit Rocks


What is the Upper Deck of a Ship?

Could Mitt Romney be America’s first Hispanic president?

What should I do if my kid eats dog poop?

Sandusky wants to see grandkids


See All of Bill Belichick’s Best Hoodies

Why Should Women Wash Their Hands After Urinating? They Don’t Touch Anything Icky

Small Breasts: Could they make a comeback?

The Symbiotic Fucked-Upness That Is Sarah Palin & the Press

June 1, 2011

Y’know, I gave up writing about Sarah Jane Mabel Ann Palin a long time ago because there’s no percentage in it, but her latest move is just too good to be ignored. The ex-gov is apparently in the middle of some kind of hobo bus tour which may or may not have something to do with running for president (that whole part of it’s unclear), but the beauty part is this: Palin announced today that she’s no longer going to tell the press where she’s going.

When you think about it, this is exactly what we’ve been praying for—a Sarah Palin traveling incognito to Tea Party rallies which nobody even knows are happening—and this might’ve been the perfect opportunity for American history to finally give her a big wet kiss goodbye. Except that the press, of course, won’t stand for it. No, by golly, they’re just going to keep on following Sarah Palin, and keep on reporting about her, and if the country’s sick to death of her and she herself does nothing but show them her ass all day, well, that’s tough. We’re getting more Sarah Palin stories whether we want them or not.

As a result of the announcement, the two parties have fallen into a Borgesian roundelay about who should be be held responsible on the inevitable day that some vanload of stringers, rushing to catch up with Sarah Jane, takes out a group of schoolchildren. Will it be Palin, whose announcement is an obvious ploy for even more of the “lame-stream” media attention she claims to despise, or will it be the masochistic and gutless press corps, which’d let itself be manipulated by a dog so long as a few bucks were there in the end? The scary thing is, the media is so easily entranced by its own behavior and memes that all it will take is one good chase for the whole mess to become observable from the outside, and then the pursuits themselves will become the story. After that, it’s “Katy, bolt the door”—a reality show can’t be far behind. It wouldn’t surprise me if the first one’s happening now.

It's okay with me

January 21, 2010

Neurotic but interesting interview with Elliot Gould on The Long Goodbye.

I give you…

November 23, 2009

…the cast of Rod Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs:

You Said It

November 8, 2009

Man, today’s NYT story about Roland Emmerich is full of quotable quotes:

“This is my last, quote-unquote, action-disaster movie,” Mr. Emmerich…said in a telephone interview from his home in London. “I know I can’t destroy the world again. That would be kind of a joke.”

“You know what you’re getting when Roland Emmerich calls,” said Amanda Peet….“You’re not going to be like, ‘Can we go into my childhood in this?’”

Not lost on Mr. Emmerich was the potential outrage from showing realistic disasters…Still, he pressed ahead with annihilation as usual: “If I cannot destroy a big high-rise anymore, because terrorists blew up two of the most famous ones, the twin towers, what does this say about our world?”

He razed Rio de Janeiro; Rome; California; Washington, D.C.; Tibet; Las Vegas; Yellowstone National Park; and more but decided against destroying Islamic symbols. “My co-writer, Harald” Kloser, “said, ‘I’m not writing this to get a fatwa on my head,’” Mr. Emmerich said. “We have Jesus falling apart in all kinds of forms…”

“I think we have become more and more pessimistic about the future,” he said. “I see it in myself. In ‘Independence Day’ the world was something worth defending. In ‘Day After Tomorrow,’ the message was, ‘We’ll go down if we don’t stop what we’re doing,’ and in ‘2012,’ ‘We’re going down no matter what.’”

Enter the ancient Maya, the bogeymen of “2012,” who some believe predicted the world’s demise as falling on December 21, 2012. They’re only a minor reference point in the film, but they’re all over posters and trailers…“It is not the end of the calendar, by any stretch of the imagination, and the Maya never said anything of the sort,” Dr. David Stuart, a professor in the art and art history department at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied the Maya since he was a teenager, said in a phone interview….Dr. Stuart said he expected to be dealing with Mr. Emmerich’s misuse of Maya history for his whole career.

Roman & the Know-It-Alls

October 12, 2009

At a key point of the movie Chinatown the main villain, Noah Cross, a man who’s raped both the land and his own daughter, gives private investigator Jake Gittes a classic piece of advice: “You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t.” That’s a humbling bit of wisdom even when it’s coming from a monster, yet the Roman Polanski case is dredging up memories of both the O.J. trial and Monicagate for the tsunami of shrill certainty that it’s generated. Every four years the Winter Olympics come along and our co-workers become overnight experts on the Triple Lutz, and whenever one of these celebrity morals cases comes down the pike, we suddenly become authorities on events we didn’t witness involving people we never met.

If there’s anyone who I’m happier not to be than Polanski right now, it’s Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post columnist who’s spent much of the last two weeks taking it on the chin for her blog posts defending the director after his arrest in Switzerland. The first one, published under a headline that reads like a kick-me sign—“The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski”—was greeted by a shit-storm of jeering mockery, and that was the polite response. Most of Applebaum’s readers contented themselves with draping giant Day-Glo arrows and smiley-faces around the weak points in her post (it was, as they say, a target-rich environment), but a number of them walked out to the point of wishing that Applebaum—or even her daughter—might receive some moral tutelage in the form of being raped. Applebaum fired back with a spectacularly counterproductive second post whose mealy-mouthed rationalizations of her first post only gave rise to another round of cat-calls and ill wishes. The blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, meanwhile, zeroed in on the factual shortcomings in her arguments, torching each of them in turn and burning them to the ground.

Elsewhere in the Polanski Thunderdome, Salon followed up their earlier takedown of the pro-Polanski documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired with a white-hot Kate Harding article under the unsubtle headline Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child. Whoopi Goldberg unhelpfully offered the idea that Polanski hadn’t committed “rape rape,” Woody Allen unhelpfully signed the pro-Polanski petition, and the rightwing unhelpfully did what it always unhelpfully does: it tried to turn the whole issue into the Antietam of the Culture Wars, except that this time they had a point. Finally, Cokie Roberts, a woman who’s probably thought about Polanski for all of twenty seconds in the last thirty years, but who knows red meat when she sees it, reacted to the sound of his name by suggesting out loud that we “just take him out and shoot him.” Her graceless laughter after her quip didn’t make her look any less inhuman.

The folks who want to string Polanski up alternate between around-the-clock all-caps outrage and wallowing in the pornographic details of the photo shoot on Jack Nicholson’s deck, while his defenders act like frightened octopi, squirting ink in every direction as they dart backwards from the case’s central facts. One side wants to only discuss what happened on a single afternoon 32 years ago; the other side wants to talk about everything except that day. Yet both sides exhibit a breathtaking amount of moral certainty for a case that’s riddled with U-turns and unique circumstances, the most recent being a former D.A.’s astonishing announcement that he lied in the documentary about a critical discussion. The end result is that neither the straightforward nor the complicated elements of the case can give anybody pause because everyone’s having too good a time Being Right, like a dog rolling in its own crap. The Polanski haters think that yelling HE RAPED A LITTLE GIRL should trump everything, even when his victim just wants everyone to get over it already; meanwhile, his defenders never tire of reminding us that PEOPLE GET AWAY WITH MUCH, MUCH WORSE STUFF EVERY DAY. The idea that Dick Cheney—the closest thing to a living, breathing Noah Cross we’re ever likely to see—will never do the perp walk is a galling thing indeed, but that has fuck-all to do with Roman Polanski.

So much of the debate has focused on whether Polanski should have been arrested it’s obscured the fact that he has been arrested—and so where do we go from here? Do Applebaum, Goldberg & Co. really believe he should just be given a handshake and turned out on the street? I have to say, my own feelings on the subject have moved a great deal in the last week or so, largely for the same reason I think it was wrong of Bill Clinton to lie in his deposition no matter how rigged it was. It’s pretty clear that Polanski’s arrest resulted from a series of events—the documentary, the motion to dismiss—which the L.A. District Attorney’s Office looked on as nose-thumbing dares to bust him, but now that he’s in custody I don’t see a viable alternative to extraditing him. He had his reasons for fleeing, sure, but all felons have their reasons, and usually without the chance of getting off with a 90-day sentence. At this point it’s all come down to one of those baseline “What do we expect of our society?” questions, such as “Is it okay for a president to lie under oath?” It doesn’t matter how you get there; once you’re there, things have to go a certain way or you need to junk the system altogether. America’s criminal justice system is wonky precisely because its scales are so perpetually out of balance; letting a 30-year fugitive (and confessed rapist) off the hook isn’t the way to address the fact that the L.A. justice department has some shitheads in it. In fact, letting him go wouldn’t address it at all.

But that’s just me. Chinatown remains a great film—we still agree on that much, don’t we?—because it’s the truest, coldest picture there is about the world’s failure to live up to our ideals. No happy endings awaited Jake Gittes despite his best intentions, and the likeliest outcome facing Roman Polanski can’t help but leave a bitter taste in my mouth. My best guess is that he’s headed to prison, quite possibly for the rest of his life. You’re soft in the head if you think he didn’t bring it on himself, but if seeing a great artist come to such a tawdry end makes you want to whoop and crow, I don’t know what to tell you—it’s probably not anything good, though. Beyond that I’m not hazarding any guesses. That way lies Chinatown.

Roman Polanski Romans Circus

Signs o’ the Times

September 19, 2009

The last few days I’ve been following—well, at least as far as my stomach will allow it—the “national debate” about whether the rightwing’s protests against Obama are racially motivated. The discussion has grown somewhat blurry because one of the things kicking it off—Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting “You lie!” during Obama’s healthcare address to Congress—also helped to ignite a separate but equal debate about the loss of civility in society. Of course we could have had that debate at any time since the first Vince Foster rumor started flying around, but what the hell—better late than never.

One comment in the racial “debate” (read: “media-generated doo-da”) did make me do a mental double-take. It was delivered during one of The Lehrer News Hour’s drowsy-making roundtables in which a handful of scholars and wonks work overtime to cancel each other out. One of the panelists (most of whom were black, if it matters) opined that the current debate is not racially motivated because none of the markers he’d expect to see in such a case—a lot of noise about affirmative action, f’rinstance—are actually present in it. This begs the question, of course, that Obama, drawing fire from all quarters for his activities on any number of other political fronts, has barely said boo about affirmative action since announcing his candidacy for the White House. It also ignores the fact that racial markers can be seen in debates where they don’t belong, a perfect example being the phony siren call that Obama’s plan will provide healthcare to illegal immigrants—which, of course, was the very point under discussion when the clock began running on Joe Wilson’s 15 minutes of fame.

Obama foodstamp Signs o the Times

In any case, the current round of iffy behavior only builds upon the last round of iffy behavior—that series of racially skuzzy emails and tweets that magically emanated from only Republican congressmen—and on backwards to such savory treats as the “Obama foodstamp” which appeared during the presidential campaign. Things don’t happen in a vacuum, we’re always told, and in this case I believe it.

That News Hour segment did provide its viewers a glimpse of that sorry picture of Obama in witch-doctor drag, a work which absolutely tortures the concept of “plausible deniability.” (That phrase may be musty but it never seems to lose any relevance.) Of course it wouldn’t matter a whit if it was Marcus Welby, M.D. who had a bone stuck through his nose—such a picture would still have a racial component thanks simply to America’s complicated history when it comes to blacks, to Africa, and to Third World societies in general. Some things just aren’t possible in White America, such as the idea that we can dress up cartoon figures in, say, sombreros and serapes, and make them funny-talking people who only want to take a siesta, without it echoing all of our historical biases against Mexicans. And, of course, it isn’t Marcus Welby in the witch-doctor picture, but a sitting U.S. president who, as the saying goes, “just happens to be” an African-American. In what may be the most damning fact of all, none of the picture’s admirers seem to mind that a witch-doctor is off-center as an expression of their ostensible criticism of Obama’s policies. The rightwing’s primary complaint against “ObamaCare” has had little to do with medical acumen; it’s mainly revolved around the bogeyman’s plan to enslave America by taxing our asses to death for generations to come. Given the chance to forego the racist baggage and pick a symbol which actually addressed their stated concerns, they decided instead to shame their children and go with the witch-doctor, all for the sake of a cheap cracker laugh.

obama witchdoctor Signs o the Times

The vision of Obama as totalitarian golem can’t get any lower than it does in the various drawings, posters, flyers, etc., that depict him as a modern-day Hitler. Do you really think there’s no racial component in those works just because Hitler was Caucasian?  (Not that we claim the dude with any pride.) The second most visible historical figure on anti-Obama literature is Osama bin Laden, and whenever Adolf or Osama need a break—this political allusion stuff is hard work!—yet another mass-murdering anti-Semite, Uncle Joe Stalin, is ready to step in and spell them. If the rightwing’s objections to Obama center around his tax policies, then why all these comparisons to history’s worst monsters? Why overreach and garble your own message? Exactly which group is it that Obama has targeted for scapegoating and murder? If you start out by comparing tax-and-spenders to Adolf Hitler, who can you use as a panic-button if a dictator bent on genocide actually comes along?

obama hitler Signs o the Times

All of this makes sense if we just remember the whisper campaign—or rather, the stage-whisper campaign—about Obama being a closet jihadist. The Hitler posters aren’t intended to reference the Third Reich’s economic policies in any meaningful way; their only point is that Obama, somehow, for some reason, wants to “destroy America.” They play on all the what-if rumors of his secret birth in Kenya and the notion that, as an agent for radical Islam, he’s the best positioned Fifth Columnist in the history of espionage. Boo! Unsurprisingly, these jackass hallucinations fit hand in glove with the more artfully phrased dementia issuing from the Kristols and the Kagans of this world, folks who are glad to exchange support with any dimwit quarter, even if it’s Princess Chuckles of Wasilla and her nutty rants about “death panels.” Invoking the Hitler-Stalin-bin Laden triad really makes no sense when you consider what other historical models are available out there. You don’t need to be Will Durant to think of King George III, Mr. No-Taxation-Without-Representation himself, and a figure who left a Sasquatch-sized footprint on our national identity. It’d be pretty hard for liberals to yell “Racist!” about a picture of an overfed Obama draped in ermine and sporting a powdered wig (they might even find it funny), and as a protest against his tax policies it hits the bull’s eye without the overkill Holocaust vibes. But expressing himself in a cogent, proportionate way is almost always a low priority to the rightwinger, who’s usually most concerned with feeding his cherished sense of victimhood no matter how destructive the results are.

At least the wingnuts’ artwork is more polished than it’s ever been, consisting as it does of a lot of Photoshopped propaganda posters. Socialist Realism was an eye-catching art form if ever there was one, but today’s crop of work is just a little too ugly, a little too raw and stupid, to inspire anything other than revulsion right now. Someday I hope to view it with the distanced and bemused incredulity evoked by the old “Loose Lips Sink Ships” posters of World War II, but that day isn’t here yet. It can’t get here soon enough.

Things We Won't Be Reading Today

June 26, 2009

Jackson dies, almost takes Internet with him
Would the Moonwalk Be Easier To Do on the Moon?
World’s tallest dog loses leg to cancer
What Is Jeff Goldblum Doing on Law & Order?
36 Hours in Cork, Ireland

Things We Won't Be Reading Today

June 2, 2009

Conan O’Brien takes over ‘Tonight Show’
Susan Boyle gets advice from the stars
Beatles make comeback in ‘Rock Band’
Family meets dead soldier’s dog
Is Jay McInerney a Great American Writer?
“Ocean” – A weekly poem, read by the author

When accountability still meant something

May 10, 2007

I spent this afternoon watching the last half of something I forgot I even had, the 250-minute documentary about Nixon’s second term simply called Watergate that BBC and The Discovery Channel put together about 15 years ago. I have about five documentaries and specials about the mess but this one is the mother of them all. That’s partly because it isn’t fixated on The Washington Post’s role the way the others areWoodward and Bernstein make an appearance alright, but they’re onscreen just a tad longer than Tony Ulasewicz, and they get a helluva lot less face-time than Dean or McCord or that bow-tied dandy known as Archibald Cox. Another thing that makes it great is that the filmmakers somehow put all the subjects at their ease, with Haldeman and Ehrlichman in particular showing hitherto hidden human faces. Nixon himself is present only in the form of generous excerpts from the David Frost interview in ’77, and when describing the meeting in which he fired Haldeman, Nixon describes his old chief of staff, spitting the words out as they come to him, not as some Germanic…Nazi…stormtrooper, which does pretty much nail the public’s perception of the guy, but as a decent public servant. That last phrase might be stretching a point but Haldeman comes off well. With his hair grown out a tad and wearing a plaid shirt, khaki pants, and a pair of half-glasses, he comes across like an uncle at his favorite fishing lodge. And he’s not alone. Ehrlichman, Liddy, Dean, Magruder, Colson, Mardian, Porterdamn near all of themspeak out with a surprising openness and lack of rancor, and the way their interviews are woven together makes us feel for once that everyone’s telling the truth.

There are exceptions. John Mitchell, who died years ago, isn’t on-hand, of course, but you get the feeling that even if he was he wouldn’t have been interested in opening up to a film-crew for a documentary narrated by Dan Schorr. He’s the one who bluntly told the Ervin Committee that he considered Nixon’s re-election so important because of what the other side was putting up that he would’ve done anything to accomplish it, and he’s also the only one who failed to see the humor in his exchange with Sam Dash. When Dash asked Mitchell why he hadn’t thrown Liddy out of his office while Liddy was describing one of his hare-brained (and highly illegal) schemes, Mitchell, pipe in hand, evenly replied, In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t just thrown him out of my office, but that I’d thrown him out of the window. With a professional’s timing Dash let the answer hang in the air before prefacing his next question with, “Seeing as how you did neither… As the caucus room rang out with spontaneous guffaws, the camera zoomed in on Mitchell who, judging by his expression, looked as if he were trying to decide whether it would be more fun to kill Dash by roasting him on a spit or throttling him with his bare hands.

Still, the man who comes off the ugliest isn’t named Mitchell or Haig or even Richard Milhouse Nixon. It’s E. Howard Hunt, the reputed “spymaster who did us all a favor by dying and going to Hell just a few short weeks ago. Hunt, it will be recalled, led the planning for the break-in along with his co-mastermind Gordon Liddy, and it was he who began squeezing his former bosses for hush money after his arrest. Hunt, too, appears in contemporary interviews, but where even the likes of Colson, Magruder, and Ehrlichman mellowed with age, and managed to recognize the tawdriness in their own souls somewhere along the way, Hunt gazes into the camera as one might regard a bottle of cyanide as he talks about the “considerations” he felt were due him. It’s a disgusting, even disquieting, performance.

A Few Words from Our Sponsor

March 4, 2007

Thanks to my friend Chris Lanier, I wound up appearing on Steve Lambert’s show on UC Davis’ radio station a couple weeks back. (Chris can also be heard on the program, recounting with Homeric splendor the mighty Battle of the Pine Needles.) Steve’s ostensible theme was “Fist Fights and Violence” but that didn’t stop me from saddling up some of my pet hobbyhorses—Peckinpah, The Sopranos, the corruption of feminism—and riding them into the ground, thus boring an audience much wider than my close circle of friends for a change. You can hear the show on Steve’s website by scrolling down to Episode 10 and clicking on the sound bar. There aren’t any earth-shaking insights, but I did I get to tell a couple of my circus stories (though I unconscionably neglected to give shout-outs to the two horses I handled, Pancho and Frosty), and Steve did a really nice job with the editing. That post about Dority’s fistfight also got cannibalized for a contribution to The High Hat a couple of issues ago. That issue was intended (in part) as a tribute to Robert Altman (who died unexpectedly about 24 hours after it came online, making me think that a special issue about Dick Cheney might be in order), and also includes my take on California Split—still a piece of relevant (and hilarious) filmmaking 30+ years after the fact.

Dem Bones, Dem Bones

October 18, 2005

A couple days ago a local big-time criminal defense attorney found his wifes body in their home she had the ol multiple blunt trauma to the head thing going and the TV media here, smelling another O.J./Laci epic in the offing, have gone absolutely nuts. They lead off every newscast with the story (what Iraqi referendum? what fascistic special election?), refer to the victim exclusively as Pam, keep reminding us of the money factor by endlessly re-running chopper footage of the Xanaduesque hilltop mansion that the couple was building, bring on FBI profilers whom they then machine-gun with leading, lurid questions (Does the fact that Pam was in her T-shirt and panties indicate that she knew her attacker well?), and otherwise openly flirt with the line between showing proper sympathy for a grieving husband and accusing the bastard of outright murder. Ill probably never mention this case again, but just know that for the next year or so Ill be banging my head against the wall whenever I stumble across the 10:00 news.


October 6, 2005

The baseball playoffs are running a Bud Light ad that makes it look like Babe Ruth was actually pointing at a beer vendor in the stands when he supposedly called his homerun in the 1932 World Series. Even when Budweiser has a clever (or, in this case, possibly clever) idea, and they don’t overload it with smarm and jiggle, they still manage to offend just by being so damn lazy. You can tell that Woody Allen and Orson Welles had a blast capturing the look of old documentary footage in Zelig and Citizen Kane, but this Bud Light thing just looks like shit. The ad-men were content to just shoot it in B&W, cut out a frame here and there to make it jumpy, and draw some scratches on it that dont even remotely look like the product of time. Maybe they’ll put more heart into it when they do an ad showing Morgana running out to give Ty Cobb a buss on the field…

I don’t mean to jinx the man…

October 3, 2005

…but tonight I felt a real rush of sadness that Robert Altman just can’t be with us that much longer.

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