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Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sam Denoff, RIP

July 13th, 2011 - 12:00 pm

I have to put up a brief post to acknowledge the death of Emmy-winning TV writer Sam Denoff, 83.  With Bill Persky, he was one of the top writers on the famous Dick Van Dyke Show and created the Marlo Thomas vehicle, That Girl (who was “everything that every girl should be!”)

Before Persky and Denoff became famous, however, they worked at New York City radio station WNEW with my DJ father, Gene Klavan, his partner Dee Finch, and the famous noon hour DJ William B. Williams.  And among Persky and Denoff’s many successes, was a failed sitcom called Good Morning, World which starred Ronnie Schell and Joby Baker.   Although Willie B. got screen credit for the show’s title, based on his signature “Hello, World,” the show, which was about two morning DJ’s, one a kooky comic and the other a straight man, was clearly based on my father’s show Klavan and Finch.  In fact, I remember going to California once to watch my father film a walk-on as a drunken news man.

Finally, I’m pretty sure it was Denoff who, when I was a little boy, arranged for me to meet my idol, Bill Cosby.  I shook hands with the Cos while he was filming the hopscotch credit sequence to his first TV special and also got to watch him film a scene from my then-favorite show I Spy.  It was a big thrill for a little guy and I remain grateful for it.

Rest in peace.

On Liberty and Abortion

July 11th, 2011 - 7:00 am

I am by nature a libertarian.  It’s as much a matter of personality as philosophy. I’ve never lost a minute’s sleep over a stranger’s private morality. I think people should be able to smoke cigarettes wherever the property owner allows — the “dangers of second hand smoke” are largely a meddler’s lie.  I think drugs should be legal with the same basic restrictions as alcohol. If you were a pal, I’d tell you to stay off that poison, but in the end, adults have to choose for themselves.

As for people’s sex lives, I take my approach from Ebenezer Scrooge: “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business and not to interfere with other people’s.  Mine occupies me constantly.” I listen with seriousness to the arguments of my fellow conservatives and Christians when they tell me gay marriage will be the end of the world, but I’m personally expecting something more along the lines of a flaming meteor or maybe those octopus guys from Independence Day. As I say, it’s my personality: I just don’t care.

That’s why, for me, the issue of abortion has become a problem. I have always believed that Roe v Wade was an act of judicial tyranny — a dishonest interpretation of the Constitution that pretends to recognize a right while in fact stripping us of a far more important right:  the right to make our own laws in our own localities. I seriously believe Roe is the origin of the deep political divisions that currently bedevil us. Take away our right to debate and decide and we are left with no emotional recourse but hatred for the opposition.

For all that, I was for many years in sympathy with Roe’s argument: people have a right to privacy and abortion is a private decision. I now find it impossible to continue in that belief. This is painful for me not only because it seems to violate my natural libertarianism but also because a lot of the women I know and love have had abortions and it simply isn’t in my heart to condemn them — or indeed anyone — for what I know was a painful, sometimes devastating, decision.

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DVD: Sherlock!

July 8th, 2011 - 12:00 pm

Big Hollywood’s John Nolte put me onto this BBC production, and what a find it is.  Sherlock – Sherlock Holmes in the modern world – how can anything sound that terrible and be this incredibly good?  “Delightful,” overused as it is, is really the word for it.  Wonderful, wonderful writing and the cast is virtually perfect.  To be clear, the idea is not that Holmes travels in time or anything, simply that he is a man born in modern London rather than the Victorian era.

It’s hard to convey how well this is worked out imaginatively – plus I don’t want to give anything away.  But kudos to creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat for a seamless transition.  Part of the fun is watching how naturally, how completely Holmes fits in in our technological, culturally diverse, psychologically pathologizing world…  although it’s a little depressing that Dr. Watson is still a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan!  Don’t they ever end?

Anyway, the whole thing rests on the wildly engaging performances of the two leads, the startlingly-named Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman – who had a sweet turn in Love, Actually – as Watson.  The first three 90-minute episodes of this are available on instant streaming from Netflix, so if you’re looking for something to kick back and enjoy this weekend, try it out.

Show contains the usual murder story mayhem.  I can’t recall now whether there’s any cursing or not.  Some not-that-anything’s-wrong-with-that jokes about Holmes and Watson living together (no, they’re not gay).  Off-hand, I’d say it’s not for little kids, but over 13 or so should enjoy it, depending on what you generally let them watch.


Today I begin a randomly intermittent Klavan on the Culture feature entitled “Stuff Conservatives Should Actually Like” (SCSAL). This is an attempt in the spirit of bright goodwill to make the argument in favor of cultural endeavors – books, say, or TV shows or films – that I’ve heard conservatives complain about but that I think they should actually enjoy.

Those who continue to disagree with me will be hunted down.

Today’s stuff is Tina Fey. And okay, she’s not stuff.  She’s a living, breathing human being with hopes and dreams like the rest of us.  But let’s put all that nonsense aside for a moment.

Tina Fey frequently comes under attack by conservatives for her impersonation of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. This strikes me as unfair.  Sarah Palin is a public figure and what’s more, a public political figure. She should be subject to ridicule like the rest of them. What is, of course, deeply irritating is the fact that the rest of them are not all subject to ridicule. Specifically, lefties get off lightly throughout the entertainment world, and King Lefty Barack is treated by most mainstream comedians like some sort of handicapped child who has to have his self-esteem bolstered.

Adorable as only smart, neurotic girls can be!

What is doubly irritating is that the blithering idiots who are supposed to report the news have now conflated Fey’s imitation with the real Palin. This, of course, tells us nothing about either Fey or Palin, but only tells us that our journalists are, in very large degree, blithering idiots. But maybe I already said that.

Although Fey herself is an outspoken liberal, conservatives should actually like her for a couple of reasons. First, I personally find her physically attractive and my fantasy life is very important to me so leave her alone. But perhaps of more interest to the public at large, Fey is not only amusing, she’s a lot more fair in her political humor than almost anyone else out there. In its early episodes at least (I haven’t reached the later ones yet) her TV series 30 Rock makes no more fun of conservative boss Jack Donaghy (played by good actor/crappy person Alec Baldwin) than it does of the liberal Liz Lemon, played by Fey herself. In fact, to Lemon’s annoyance, Baldwin’s Donaghy usually turns out to be right about everything he says, and is obviously more of an adult than the neurotic libs around him.

Making fun of liberals and conservatives equally is not only fair, it’s deeply humane. We’re all pretty goofy when it comes down to it, and that’s why we have comediennes in the first place:  to make us laugh at our own silliness. Unlike The Daily Show, which arrogantly conceives of itself as superior to the conservatives it relentlessly attacks, 30 Rock is a funny and good-natured show that does an excellent job of skewering everyone.

That’s something conservatives should support, even if we can’t see Russia from our house.

The Real Flame-Throwers

July 5th, 2011 - 7:30 am

There are paranoid moments when I think Barack Obama’s rise to power was the trick of a conscious malevolence.  The timing of the financial crisis, the long-faltering war, Obama’s expert but empty rhetoric and the feckless stupidity of the Republican campaign seem to have combined with almost preternatural precision to lift him to the presidency.

But then I remember, no, it was everyday human misfeasance — in the form of dishonest media reporting — that really sealed the deal.  And it’s that, more than any supernatural deviltry, that continues to represent the most clear and present danger to the republic.

Obama is a radical, as his lifelong associations and statements amply demonstrate, and a radical leftist to boot, which means even if he were more moderate, he would still be wrong.  He is a narcissist with a dangerously overblown sense of his own understanding and capabilities.  And he is an intellectual, which makes him approximately fifty percent more likely than a simple man to be a fool.

He has spent massive amounts of our money to no effect and steamrolled over the Constitution and the majority’s protests to vastly expand government power.  He has been contemptuous of our allies, reckless and cynical with our military, and clueless in his reaction to the turmoil in the Middle East.  In facing the debt crisis, when he has not been obstructive, he’s been useless.

And yet now, as the opposition begins the process of choosing which candidate will, God willing, replace him, the media minions of centralized power —the New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC and the rest — have set about the business of attempting to destroy those candidates most likely to do what clearly must be done.

This past week or so, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been the case in point.  Since her strong performance in the most recent GOP debate made her candidacy viable, the administration’s media servants have attempted to portray her as “fringe,” a “flame-thrower,” “a flake,” gaffe-prone, and, in a genuine mangling of moral logic, a hypocrite for believing in small government while serving in government.  (Our journalists may be dishonest, but at least they’re stupid.)

I don’t know the congresswoman, but I’ve met her a couple of times and I’ve heard her speak.  Once, I wangled my way into one of these VIP gatherings where a small number of big shots had a private audience with her.  Speaking off the cuff and answering questions, she was impressively intelligent, straightforward, serious-minded, and well-informed.  As for her principles…

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A Film for the Fourth

July 1st, 2011 - 7:00 am

Here’s something cool for the long weekend.  On July 4th, you can go here and watch the touching documentary Lt. Dan Band:  For the Common Good.   It follows CSI: NY star Gary Sinise – who played Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump – as he and his band entertain our servicemen at home and in the war zones.  I’ve seen the film – directed by my pal Jonathan Flora – and it really is very moving, a tribute to a Hollywood actor who’s also a patriot and a dude.  Yes, there are still some of them left.

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When I was at Fort Bragg researching a story for City Journal, I was sitting in a Humvee eating an MRE when one of the soldiers poked his head in the open door and said, “Hey, you’re from Hollywood, right?”  I admitted this was more or less the case, whereupon maybe half a dozen guys surrounded the vehicle as the first man asked, “Who likes us?”  What he meant was:  which Hollywood stars did not have their heads so far up their own fundaments that they were able to appreciate the fact that they lived, worked and took drugs by virtue of the brave men and women who were willing to fight and die to protect them.

For a moment, I froze.  I couldn’t think of a single name.  Then it came to me and, with enormous relief, I said, “Gary Sinise.”  At which every single soldier surrounding the Humvee nodded gravely and murmured with great solemnity, “Lieutenant Dan.”

They love him and he deserves it and this film tells why.  Excellent fare for the fourth.  Oh, and it costs $3.99 and one dollar in four goes to support the Gary Sinise Foundation which “honors our nations defenders by supporting the USO, Operation International Children, Snowball Express, and other such charities and efforts that support the military, first responders and their families.”  Good deal.