» Hollywood, Interrupted

Ed Driscoll

Hollywood, Interrupted

When the trailers for Tomorrowland played at my local theater and made the rounds on the Internet, I admired the glittering digital effects, but waited to read the initial reviews before seeing it, as I knew that anything starring George Clooney had to be packing a huge leftwing sucker punch in there somewhere. And of course, it turned out to be the obvious one — global warming. (Shocker!) As Rick McGinnis writes at The Rebel (H/T: Kathy Shaidle), “Tomorrowland chokes on a big, fat Green pill:”

The damning verdict on mankind’s self-sabotage is delivered in a bombastic, furious speech by Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix, the film’s affably caustic villain. But hold on – by Tomorrowland’s logic, aren’t we the real villains, snuffing out the future as we despoil the planet despite the warnings subliminally beamed to us by Nix from Tomorrowland’s cosmic wifi?

As Pogo the possum said in Walt Kelly’s comic strip, “We have seen the enemy and he is us,” and it is still some kind of heavy s***, apparently.

Laurie’s speech – and the whole clanking ecogeddon conceit – sits astride the film like a colossal choking bolus, a sour, finger-pointing jeremiad that kills the hurtling action dead, and forces anyone who doesn’t worship the gospel of Green and its sackcloth truisms abruptly out of the story and into an eye-rolling frenzy.

If you’re looking for some kind of internal logic, give up now. Our loss of faith in the future and the technology that was supposed to take us there is the tragic condition that Bird and Lindelof make their film’s foundation. And yet the same technology that harvests energy and improves crop yields, enables travel at once-implausible speeds and makes cities denser yet healthier places to live than they ever were is the villain that robbed us of that future.

Ponder this message for a minute, and then wonder that no one who read Tomorrowland’s script ever drew a red line through Laurie’s big scene and said, “OK – right here. You’ve lost me.”

There is, to be sure, a great film – still unmade – about our loss of faith in a better world we imagined so fervently in the shadow of two world wars. But a new kind of faith – the gospel of Green and all of its logic-busting assumptions – has clouded reason and, almost like collateral damage, ruined what could have been a great little film about wonder and optimism and scientific inspiration.

At the Washington Post, Sonny Bunch adds that the filmmakers have met the enemy and he really is us. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht’s legendary quote about socialism (see also, previous post on Bernie Sanders), Disney and their fellow Democrat stenographers with media bylines seem to think it would be easier to dissolve the audiences and elect another, after “‘Tomorrowland’s’ dour brand of optimism proves a hard sell:”

As is usually the case when something flops pretty hard, the Hollywood press is searching for answers. This time around, the wheel of blame landed on “audiences.” “As much as people claim they love fresh and unique movies, they’re more likely to shell out money for sequels and reboots,” writes Brent Lang at Variety.

* * * * * * * *

Allow me to suggest, though, that “Tomorrowland” had bigger problems than a recalcitrant audience. Moviegoers didn’t shy away from Clooney’s latest picture because it was an original property or because they were in search of “noisy thrills and dumb jokes” (of which “Tomorrowland” certainly had plenty). They avoided the film because Hollywood didn’t know how to sell its rather scolding message of spiritual uplift.

Lang hints at this problem. “Disney may have erred in keeping too many of its secrets close to the vest,” he writes. “Aside from a magical pin, Clooney as a crusty inventor and a few sequences of spaceships hurtling through what appeared to be a cornfield, it wasn’t always clear what the movie was about.”

After seeing the flick, one can understand why the Mouse House obscured the plot: “Tomorrowland” is less a kid-friendly action-adventure flick than a moralizing tale that demands we as a society shed our pessimism and embrace a more optimistic outlook — or die horribly.

There’s another issue at work, which John Nolte of Big Hollywood has written about for years: George Clooney is beloved in Hollywood because he’s a great looking guy and outspoken “old-time liberal and I don’t apologize for it,” as he once described himself in an interview. Which is why, other than his all-star Oceans 11 caper franchise, he’s not quite the surefire box office draw that Hollywood believes he is. There are some actors whose myriad personal quirks and idiosyncratic beliefs can be overlooked because audiences are reasonably assured that for their $10+ ticket and a similar amount for popcorn and a Diet Coke, they’ll likely receive a solid two hours of stuff gettin’ “blow’d up real good,” as legendary film critics Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok used to say. (I’m looking at you, Tom Cruise.) But with Clooney, the reverse is true, which is why he’s often a recipe for under-performance at the domestic box office.

But still isn’t that for the best, considering that the less movie theaters in operation, the less air conditioning being used, the less DVDs being sold (as enviro-obsessive James Cameron once told an interviewer while hawking his own DVDs!) and the less people attending the related theme park rides. Plus, smaller payoffs for the One Percent. Too bad in this case the One Percent turn out to be socialist Hollywood stars and executives, but hey, I’m sure for a price, Giorgio Armani’s Beverly Hills boutique can custom-tailor a fine hairshirt.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

May 24th, 2015 - 11:02 pm

A $190 million summer blockbuster starring George Clooney based on an area in a Disney theme park hits theaters, presumably hoping to rake in at least that much at the box office. Its narrative goal, however: to get you to stop caring so much about the vapid capitalistic things that are ruining us all and instead maybe do something to make the world a better place.

“George Clooney’s Global Warming Shaming: George Clooney’s new summer blockbuster shames us for our roles in global warming and a potpourri of other earthly calamities,” The Daily Beast, today.

As the Insta-Professor likes to say, I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis start to act like it’s a crisis themselves. Since Clooney and Disney’s corporate management apparently believes that “global warming” and other “vapid capitalistic things are ruining us all,” but lack the conviction to eliminate their carbon footprints by shutting down down their theme parks and ceasing production of $190 million dollar movies, then the next best thing would be to shun their products until the corporation ceases “shaming” its customers. (Given the film’s poor ratings from both critics and audience members at Rotten Tomatoes.com, it sounds like there are far better ways to spend your time than watching Clooney’s hectoring new film.)

Oh, and given that Disney is ABC’s parent company, what say you, 105 million dollar Disney corporate spokesman George Stephanopoulos?

Escaping the Shaming Spiral

May 23rd, 2015 - 7:48 pm

Chris Pratt, the actor starring in the upcoming Jurassic World, the umpteenth sequel to the venerable Steven Spielberg franchise has a novel approach for dealing with the Twitter mobs — he’s proffering a pre-outrage pre-apology for whatever he says during a press conference that will trigger the mob:

I want to make a heartfelt apology for whatever it is I end up accidentally saying during the forthcoming ‪#‎JurassicWorld‬ press tour. I hope you understand it was never my intention to offend anyone and I am truly sorry. I swear. I’m the nicest guy in the world. And I fully regret what I (accidentally will have) said in (the upcoming foreign and domestic) interview(s).

I am not in the business of making excuses. I am just dumb. Plain and simple. I try. I REALLY try! When I do (potentially) commit the offensive act for which I am now (pre) apologizing you must understand I (will likely have been) tired and exhausted when I (potentially) said that thing I (will have had) said that (will have had) crossed the line. Those rooms can get stuffy and the hardworking crews putting these junkets together need some entertainment! (Likely) that is who I was trying to crack up when I (will have had) made that tasteless and unprofessional comment. Trust me. I know you can’t say that anymore. In fact in my opinion it was never right to say the thing I definitely don’t want to but probably will have said. To those I (will have) offended please understand how truly sorry I already am. I am fully aware that the subject matter of my imminent forthcoming mistake, a blunder (possibly to be) dubbed “JurassicGate” is (most likely) in no way a laughing matter. To those I (will likely have had) offended rest assured I will do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen (again).

Sonny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon, who mocks the left’s highchair-banging outrage industry mindset by posing as a perpetually p.o.ed leftie at his Everything’s a Problem blog awards Pratt’s witty post with the maximum four problematics:

Oh, how cute. Chris Pratt thinks our outrage is something to be mocked. Chris Pratt thinks our hurt is something for you to play with. I cannot even with this. FFS. In some ways this is worse than Marvel’s Dude Bros acting all Dude Bro-y. Pratt’s implicit mockery of outrage culture for choosing to seize on any little dumb thing he might say is an incredibly marginalizing tool of oppression.

Apology NOT accepted. We’ve got our eye on you.

I give the transgression of making fun of outrage culture four problematics.

Heh. As Hans Fiene wrote last month at the Federalist, “We’re Addicted To Judgment Porn”; kudos to Pratt for simultaneously heading off the mob before they attack, and for subversively mocking their tactics.

In an article titled “The Shaming Spiral” in the new issue of Commentary, Christine Rosen reviews the recent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. From the various reviews I’ve read, it sounds like Ronson’s book is a flawed by still useful look at a rapidly growing trend, as torch-wielding Frankenstein mobs search the Web and especially Twitter for the latest outrage to burst their blood vessels over. This passage from Rosen’s article features sums up one way to fight back — to simply choose to avoid being outrageously outraged over the outrage!!!!! surrounding you, although the person featured is someone who sounds like a rather flawed messenger to deliver it:

Ronson’s most interesting case study is the story of Max Mosley, a British Formula One racing executive well known mostly because his parents were Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, and Diana Mitford, one of the dazzling Mitford sisters (Joseph Goebbels hosted the Mosley’s wedding, which Hitler attended). Having unrepentant Fascists for parents is difficult enough; but in 2008 the tabloid News of the World published grainy photos of Max Mosley engaged in what they called a “sick Nazi orgy” at an S&M dungeon in London.

Such a revelation might have spelled doom for someone else, but as Ronson notes, Mosley immediately went on BBC4 Radio and acknowledged that he had a kinky sex life (Princess Dolore would approve) and stated that he had done nothing wrong. “If our shameworthiness lies in the space between who we are and how we present ourselves to the world,” Ronson writes, “Max was narrowing that gap to nothing.” Mosley successfully sued the now-defunct News of the World for claiming his activities were Nazi-tinged when in fact they were not (the evening merely had a martial theme, he noted). Mosley told Ronson that he refused to feel ashamed by the exposure. “As soon as the victim steps out of the pact by refusing to feel ashamed,” he told Ronson, “the whole thing crumbles.”

In her review of Ronson’s book at Bloomberg, Megan McArdle writes that “Twitter makes it absurdly easy to shame someone:”

 You barely have to take 30 seconds out of your day to make an outraged comment that will please your friends and hurt the person you’ve targeted. This means it is also absurdly easy to attack someone unfairly, without pausing to think about context — or the effect you are having on another human being much like yourself. No matter what that person did, short of war crimes, you probably would not join a circle of thousands of people heaping abuse upon a lone target cowering in the center. But that is the real-world equivalent of what online shame-stormers do.

This sort of tactic may buy silence, though it is likely to be the most effective on people who already agree with you and simply said something infelicitous. What it cannot buy is community, beyond the bonds that build between people who are joined in collective hate. With the exception of Lehrer — who clearly realized he’d done something wrong without needing to be told — the people whom Ronson interviews do not think that they were the victims of perhaps excessively harsh justice; they think they were victims of abuse. They often recognize that they did something stupid, but they don’t think they deserved to be fired after having their lives dissected and their character impugned by thousands of people who had never even met them.

And perhaps this satisfies the shame-stormers; they may want to change hearts and minds but be willing to settle for silence. This sort of shaming has costs, however. If you haven’t changed someone’s mind, you haven’t changed their behavior, only what they say. If they do harbor the bad beliefs you accused them of, those beliefs are now festering in private rather than being open to persuasion. And you haven’t even necessarily changed what they say in a good direction, because people who are afraid of unjust attacks aren’t afraid of being punished for saying things they know they ought to be ashamed of, but of being punished for saying something they didn’t know would attract this kind of ire. So they’re afraid to say anything at all, or at least anything more interesting than “Woo, puppies!” That’s not norm enforcement; it’s blanket terror.

But it helps, as Marc Fitch noted last month at the Federalist, to return a sense of proportion by placing the angry mob to scale:

It is often quite easy to feel that you are greatly outnumbered and that the entire world is against you, particularly if you have the gall to air your beliefs in the public realm (or be caught in it, in this situation). Social media can seemingly explode with anger at your mention of a political or cultural position that goes against whatever the Video Music Awards are advocating this year. You are beset by Legion.

But are you, really? Two thousand people is a drop in the bucket of the overall population, but when they all turn and look at you it can feel overwhelming. While outrage is nothing new in cultural or political fights, the Internet’s ability to allow individuals to reach people they have never met or places they have never been perpetrates an illusion. Memories Pizza was deluged with one-star ratings by people who had never been to the establishment or sampled its pizza.

It was recently revealed that nearly 70 percent of the criticism lobbed at Rush Limbaugh (which is ample) comes from a small group of activists that have devoted their lives to attempting to make his miserable. However, to view coverage of Limbaugh in television and Internet media, you would think that the entire country is listening and vastly offended at everything he says. You would see and hear what appear to be great swaths of civilization amassing against this radio host. But this is an illusion born of spirit, not of substance, and it is meant to influence the spirit of others. It is necessary to separate the corporeal reality from the illusory zeitgeist.

Few people have time to be so incensed, and those that do should not drive culture. Their offense is an illusion. Their feelings may matter to them, but need not drive discussions and certainly shouldn’t attain such grandiose proportions. Ideas can be debated and talked through, and individuals who maintain a decorum of objective detachment can often find common ground. But fight with a spirit, with irrational rage, and there is no way to find commonality.

The anonymity of the Internet allows this illusion to truly reach its greatest power as a single individual can assume any number of Internet personas that can spew any amount of nonsense and vitriol with no accountability or personal reflection whatsoever. The pseudo-anger and the Internet’s ability to instantaneously connect users can often give the impression of widespread outrage, when really hardly anyone has noticed.

The first time one encounters the Internet outrage mob, the pressure can feel overwhelming. But when the virtual mob is perpetual, such tactics begin to lose their force. Perhaps Pratt’s deft preemptive strike is another sign that the power of the outrage mob is hopefully, becoming diluted.

(Unless you’re a business owner with a physical storefront, alas.)

Letterman’s departure is 15 years too late,” Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post, tracing Letterman’s shift over the years from midwestern anti-comic like his doppelganger Bill Murray to hack showbiz insider:

When Letterman got a new job at CBS in 1993, it was even better. Now he was on at 11:30 p.m. instead of 12:30 a.m. I’d miss fewer shows, plus my new job (I started at The Post the day after he launched “Late Show”) meant I didn’t have to get up until noon. I saw practically every episode, for years.

But, somewhere around the turn of the century, I lost interest. The show became less and less surreal. Real celebrities started showing up, and I winced as Dave would suck up to them. Suddenly, everyone had a perfectly polished, self-deprecating anecdote — invariably meant to prove the utter fiction that Celebrities Are Just Like Us — that sounded suspiciously crafted by a team of writers. Suddenly, each episode had as many as three celebrities, with Letterman being unctuous and insufferable and fake-laughing his way through every minute.

At times Dave would turn depressingly earnest, particularly when he thought he had a Deep Political Point to make. He had George W. Bush on during the 2000 campaign and started grilling him about capital punishment. It was crushingly wrong for Dave to turn into a finger-wagger, especially since he seemed woefully out of his depth on any issue. His comedy started to sound like everybody else’s, with the same potshots at the same easy targets. His act sounded less like dada, more like Dad.

Letterman was the barking dog who caught the car, was invited in, and curled up delightedly on the seat. He was the outsider who joined the very club on whose doorstep he used to leave a flaming sack of dog poop. He was the cool guy who became Mr. Big-Time Showbiz Personality. Letterman shouldn’t retire. He should just continue doing his shtick. In Vegas.

Shortly thereafter, just as Vietnam and other events of the late 1960s cleaved American pop culture in two, 9/11 had a similar effect, alienating much of show business from its potential audience, including (especially) Letterman, who was far less adapt than Jay Leno at bridging the gap between the worldview of his fellow leftwing show business elites and Red State America.

CBS’s response to Letterman’s finale? They’re literally kicking his show to the curb, another article at the Post notes:

​Just hours after Letterman said farewell after 33 years on late-night TV, Ed Sullivan Theater crews hauled off blocks of blue stage and hacked up pieces of the iconic New York City bridges that made up the set of the “Late Show​.”

Fans and passers-by gathered around a police barricade cordoning off the Ed Sullivan to watch workers unceremoniously chuck red theater chairs into an overflowing Dumpster and ​take reciprocating saws to his miniature Brooklyn Bridge.

“It’s an end of an era,” commented onlooker Alex Lafreniere, 24, a fan visiting from Oklahoma.

The complete breakdown of the set is expected to take about a week.

No word yet if Cosmo Kramer will discover the remains of the set moulting away in a garbage skip and launch his own talk show from his Upper West Side apartment:

And as John Nolte adds at Big Hollywood, that’s not the only element of Letterman’s show that CBS is tossing into a dumpster:

Despite all the hype and hoopla and nostalgia around Letterman’s finale, CBS will not be filling his old timeslot with “Late Show” reruns.

Until Stephen Colbert arrives in September, CBS believes reruns of the CBS drama “The Mentalist” will attract more viewers than reruns of Letterman.


Did the door hit Letterman on the way out?

Probably not, it was already in the dumpster.

Sounds like the brass at CBS is as eager to be rid of Letterman as the rest of us.

Update: “One Final Insult: Leno Beats Letterman In Finale Ratings” — Leno’s last Tonight Show attracted “almost a million more [viewers] than Mr. Letterman’s [finale] did.”

Ace of Spades calls out lefty Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, after the latter man plays the moronic “Is David Letterman a liberal? It’s surprisingly hard to say” game. No it isn’t — you could ask him, as Howard Stern did last year at the conclusion of his half-hour interview with him, which Roger Friedman of ShowBiz 411 accurately calls “Letterman’s Most Revealing Interview.” Click on the above clip to go straight to the relevant bit about Letterman’s politics, or go to Friedman’s post to hear the whole thing. And as Ace writes:

You could compare his extremely hostile interviews with Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh — in one he snapped, without smiling, that what O’Reilly was saying sounded like pure “bullshit” — with his fawning, Tell Me More interviews with Rachel Maddow and undisclosed (but obvious) liberals like Brian “Chopper Warrior” Williams and Tom Brokaw.

Not to mention the 2006 interview with O’Reilly in which Letterman admitted to essentially be rooting for Al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS:

In now a famous “You Tube” moment, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel, went on Letterman to be the recipient of the host’s rude and sophomoric antics. As the segment shifted into high gear, O’Reilly asked Letterman a pointed and direct question: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?”To the surprise of no one but his sycophants, Letterman could not or would not answer the question. When pressed by O’Reilly to answer, the best he could do was to play to his mostly left-leaning audience for cheap debating points and say, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

But that segment of Ace’s post is really the least interesting aspect, as everyone who is honest knows Letterman is on the left, and everyone who isn’t is lying about him, as Cillizza attempts to do. What’s really fascinating is this:

One of the types of comedy Letterman has long been far too enamored with is Time-Wasting Anti-Comedy. In the early days of his show, Letterman got a lot of laughs by doing pointless, time-wasting (and sometimes budget-wasting) stunts.

The best of these were things like Throwing Objects Off a Fifth Floor Roof, or throwing himself, in a suit of Velcro, at a Velcro wall to see if he would stick. (He did, in fact. Science!)

The worst of these was Letterman just wasting time, having pointless chats with Schaeffer (Letterman would probably claim the pointlessness *was* the point, or some stupid meta-comedy conceit like that), or, as Norm MacDonald wickedly parodied him, just repeating the same word over and over, believing that if he said “Ehhhh…. Got some gum?” enough times, it would become funny.

Letterman got away with this in his early days because the show’s conceit was that the whole thing was an elaborate prank on the network, that they had no business being on TV, and that they were wasting the network’s time and money by staging this deliberately stupid, pointless show.

It made you think — if you were young, and fan — like you were in on the joke, and that you were right there alongside Dave wasting precious Network Minutes and Dollars for this lame thing.

Here’s what the Oscars did, though, at least for me: Letterman’s time-wasting nonsense — his “Oprah… Uma” introductions (between Winfrey and Thurman) that went on for two minutes and then was repeated later in the show — finally made me see the light:

Letterman wasn’t just wasting The Network’s time with this sort of so-unfunny-it’s-funny (but actually not) non-material.

He was wasting my time, too.

All long I thought I’d been in on the joke.

Suddenly, I realized: No, I was not in on the joke. I was in on one joke, the superficial one about vengeance against the network, but definitely not in on the deeper joke, the real joke.

The real joke is that while Letterman’s show was gleefully slapdash, I was still a prisoner of it five nights a week, and voluntarily so.

The real truth was — and perhaps Letterman intended us to understand this; and perhaps he should be praised for trying to make us understand this — was that if you were watching TV, you were wasting your time.

In the previous post, I quoted longtime Johnny Carson head writer Raymond Siller, who noted that “Johnny was a lot more sarcastic than his on-air persona, but he couldn’t bring himself to ridicule his fans.” But for Letterman, it’s an illustration of how his postmodernism was ultimately a vicious circle: Letterman’s early schtick was that he was doing cheap gags that made fun of the pointless nature of TV; so what does that say about the people who watched it religiously? No wonder Dave seems to have such a tortured relationship with his audience.

Or in recent years, the increasing lack thereof.

Earlier: ‘After Losing to Jay Leno, David Letterman’s Bitterness Cost Him His Indiana Soul’ and from last year, Colbert Replaces Letterman; CBS Forgets the Lessons of The Late Shift.

When NBC and Jay Leno took the dream of hosting the Tonight Show away from David Letterman, “the sweet, charming, irreverent Indiana kid became the angry, bitter, lazy New York asshole.” Spot-on take from John Nolte at Big Hollywood on how David Letterman lost his midwestern soul and alienated so many potential viewers, beginning with losing the Tonight Show to Jay Leno in 1992:

It was sometime around 2003 when I began to realize Letterman didn’t like me anymore. His anger was no longer subversive and clever, it was bitter and mean-spirited and palpably real. He was a jerk playing to his loyal audience — urban, cynical, elite, Blue State jerks. The humble, self-deprecating Dave had become the nasty, arrogant Letterman, an unrecognizable bully who reveled in pulling the wings off those he saw as something less.

Chris Christie’s weight; Rush Limbaugh’s personal life; everything Bill O’Reilly; Bush, Cheney, Palin, and the last straw, a statutory rape joke about Palin’s 15 year-old daughter. Suddenly you were a dangerous idiot for protecting the most Indiana of things — your gun.

The man who could make you laugh at yourself now wanted to hurt and humiliate.

Letterman’s politics were never the issue. You can’t share my passion for show business and movies and let politics get in the way. Carlin was probably to the left of Letterman, but Carlin was funny and thoughtful and smart. Watching Letterman berate and hector and attempt to humiliate conservative guests over guns and the climate and the brilliance of Obama was boorish. Describing Mitt Romney as a “felon” was just sad.

The American Heartland had disappointed its own Indiana son, and for more than a decade the son was out for payback.

Or maybe Letterman was just so scared and insecure about losing what little audience he had, that he sold out his genius and Midwestern decency to bitterly cling to them? He certainly never again displayed the courage to challenge them, or to make them feel in any way uncomfortable.

Night after night the man who became my hero for biting the hand was now licking the boot — and convinced while doing so that he’s superior to the rest of us.

How I pity him.

While I rarely watched Letterman on a regular basis by the mid-naughts (especially beyond the Top Ten List), all it took was one question from his guest Bill O’Reilly in 2006 that caused Letterman to drop the mask, and caused me to permanently tune out his show:

In now a famous “You Tube” moment, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel, went on Letterman to be the recipient of the host’s rude and sophomoric antics. As the segment shifted into high gear, O’Reilly asked Letterman a pointed and direct question: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?”To the surprise of no one but his sycophants, Letterman could not or would not answer the question. When pressed by O’Reilly to answer, the best he could do was to play to his mostly left-leaning audience for cheap debating points and say, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

I don’t think it was anything in the water particularly at CBS; all of the Big Three are filled with equally cocooned and equally smug leftists. But Peggy Noonan, who began her career working for Dan Rather, had a revealing profile of what caused both his warped worldview and ultimately his self-destruction in 2004. This passage also rings true of Letterman; just substitute Indiana for Texas:

Ultimately this is what I think was true about Dan and his career. It’s not very nice but I think it is true. He was a young, modestly educated Texas boy from nowhere, with no connections and a humble background. He had great gifts, though: physical strength, attractiveness, ambition, commitment and drive. He wanted to be a star. He was willing to learn and willing to pay his dues. He covered hurricanes and demonstrations, and when they got him to New York they let him know, as only an establishment can, what was the right way to think, the intelligent enlightened way, the Eastern way, the Ivy League way, the Murrow School of Social Justice way. They let him know his simple Texan American assumptions were not so much wrong as not fully thought through, not fully nuanced, not fully appreciative of the multilayered nature of international political realities. He swallowed it whole.

He had a strong Texas accent, but they let him know he wasn’t in Texas anymore. I remember once a nice man, an executive producer, confided in me that he’d known Dan from the early days, from when he first came up to New York. He laughed, not completely unkindly, and told me Dan wore the wrong suits. I wish I could remember exactly what he said but it was something like, “He had a yellow suit!” There was a sense of: We educated him. Dan wound up in pinstripe suits made in London. Like Cyrus Vance. Like Clark Clifford. He got educated. He fit right in. And much of what he’d learned–from the civil rights movement, from Vietnam and from Watergate–allowed him to think he was rising in the right way and with the right crew and the right thinking.

That’s also a reminder of something that Christopher Caldwell wrote a decade ago at the Weekly Standard on the motivations of small town liberals:

There are basically two kinds of people in small towns–those who assume, as Shaw put it, that the customs of the tribe are the laws of nature; and those who have sussed out that there is a big and varied world beyond Main Street. This division used to have little to do with politics. But small-town politics in its Norman Rockwell variant–all those democratic battles over school bonds and ousting the crooked sheriff–is not what it was. Now, all politics is national. Political ideology, for most people, is a matter of whether they prefer to have Bill O’Reilly or Diane Rehm console them for their impotence in the face of events happening elsewhere.

At some point, Democrats became the party of small-town people who think they’re too big for their small towns. It is hard to say how it happened: Perhaps it is that Republicans’ primary appeal is to something small-towners take for granted (tradition), while Democrats’ is to something that small-towners are condemned for lacking (diversity). Both appeals can be effective, but it is only the latter that incites people to repudiate the culture in which they grew up. Perhaps it is that at universities–through which pass all small-town people aiming to climb to a higher social class–Democratic party affiliation is the sine qua non of being taken for a serious, non-hayseed human being.

For these people, liberalism is not a belief at all. No, it’s something more important: a badge of certain social aspirations. That is why the laments of the small-town leftists get voiced with such intemperance and desperation. As if those who voice them are fighting off the nagging thought: If the Republicans aren’t particularly evil, then maybe I’m not particularly special.

When Tom Landry retired from the NFL after coaching the Dallas Cowboys from their birth as an NFL franchise, his then-recent losing seasons were quickly forgotten, and as Skip Bayless wrote in his biography, Landry was free to become his own legend. The many losing seasons that Letterman racked up at CBS will similarly be forgotten, and what will be remembered will be the breakthrough of his early NBC years. Its empty postmodernism ultimately sewed the bitterness of Letterman’s unwatchable last years, but for a time, his willingness to puncture all of television’s most beloved tropes sure made for great viewing, didn’t it?

Related: “Johnny Carson Worried David Letterman Would ‘Self Destruct,’” former Tonight Show head writer Raymond Siller notes at Big Hollywood:

In ‘95 I invited Johnny to lunch for his 70th birthday at a restaurant in Malibu. Letterman, having lost The Tonight Show to Jay Leno, had begun The Late Show at CBS. Johnny had hoped he’d inherit his job, but NBC chose Jay. The helicopter dad in him was critiquing his protégé.

David’s on self-destruct and it may be too late to pull out. He’s consistently two ratings points behind Leno. People won’t want to say they watch him among their friends and he’ll never get them back. He’s changed since he went over to CBS. He makes his staff stay after the show each night to analyze it. And the way he makes fun of people. I could never do that.

Johnny was a lot more sarcastic than his on-air persona, but he couldn’t bring himself to ridicule his fans.

“I didn’t like how he handled hosting the Oscars. You’re at their event. You have to respect it”.

Then on the Letterman reclusiveness. “I’m private, but David is secret”.

Last year, when he reviewed former longtime Carson confidant Henry Bushkin’s memoirs at Commentary, veteran TV producer Rob Long praised Carson’s incredible acting skills:

It was Carson’s mother, according to the unlicensed psychoanalysis of Henry Bushkin, who was at the root of his emotionally distant, even cruel, behavior. “As long as [Ruth Carson] lived, he strove to win her love, and he never received it. He was the child of an emotionally abusive mother—no matter how strong or successful he became, he was a child whose trust had been betrayed.”

Others agreed. “‘She was selfish and cold,’ Johnny’s second wife, Joanne, once told an interviewer. ‘No wonder he had trouble dealing with women. Mrs. Carson was cold, closed off, a zero when it came to showing affection.’”

And when she died, he called Bushkin with the news: “The wicked witch is dead.”

None of this is really news, of course. We’re all primed to hear stories of movie stars and celebrities and their creepy emotional problems. But for actors—who, after all, appear only on screen, in character, or in a few carefully stage-managed publicity appearances—it’s easy to cover up the seams of a psychotic or broken-down personality.

But Johnny appeared on television every weeknight. He was playing himself—or, rather, an idealized version of himself: jovial, chummy, witty, warm. The strain of that kind of acting must have been monumental. It’s no wonder that real movie stars—Jimmy Stewart, Michael Caine, a whole bushel of A-listers—respected him so much. In one of the best stories in a book filled with great stories, when Johnny arrives late to a very exclusive industry event filled with movie stars, he lights up the room. He wasn’t just the king of late night television. He was the king of managing not to appear like the rat bastard he clearly was.

Given Carson’s own legendary anger issues off the air, Letterman’s palpable on-air burnout in recent years is a reminder of what a brilliant performance Carson gave pretending to be himself while the cameras were on, even as, like Letterman, his life became increasingly insular and isolated. But then, knowing what we now know about Carson’s inner demons, in an odd way, perhaps Johnny was personally far better at being a practicing the on-air art of postmodernist distancing than Letterman ever was, as he delivered nightly what Kathy Shaidle once dubbed “Carson’s cool-warmth — that charming-yet-menacing mien.”

Mad Men Blessedly Comes to a Conclusion

May 17th, 2015 - 9:00 pm

On Sunday, I watched an overlong, over-budget, exceedingly pretentious production about insensitive, inarticulate men in dark suits, fedoras and skinny ties whose upbringing left them unable to cope with the fast-changing urban milieu in which they toiled for their living.

But enough about the Blues Brothers movie, which I saw at the local Cinemark theater as their weekly revival showing. I think this was the first time I saw it on the big screen, after seeing it on TV a zillion times.

At two and a half hours long, The Blues Brothers was a huge, over-weighted Hindenburg of a film, but filled with terrific music numbers, a killer band, and in retrospect was the last great movie John Belushi made before substance abuse on a massive scale did him in.

As for Mad Men, having watched it religiously from its very first episode, it has been the most frustrating TV series I’ve ever consumed. Loved the concept, loved the setting, loved the production design, loved the costumes, and loved the cast, but the glacial pacing of the series and the missed opportunities have made it so painful to watch. With traditional TV fare, the writing and the series were inseparable. But I would have loved to have seen a series in which this cast and this setting were better employed.

Mad Men could have been the perfect show to comment on what drove the fast-paced radical change of the 1960s, just as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street explored the financial industry of the 1980s, but instead, producer / creator /primary writer Matthew Weiner was far more interested in the interpersonal relationship of his characters rather than social commentary. Which seems odd, since an ad agency by its nature would have to know what’s driving the changes in the media overculture in order to exploit the current trends with effective advertising for its customers.

But on Mad Men, particularly once the show left the comparatively cool and exotic early JFK-era ‘60s for the Beatles-era ‘60s that Boomers have made the history of the decade, what drove that era was virtually ignored.

Take the Beatles themselves. When they touched down in New York in early 1964, this Newsweek description summed up the conventional American wisdom of the times:

Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah!”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.

Inside the cocoon they quickly built to protect them from their crazed fans, the Beatles were four remarkably talented young musicians with an equally gifted record producer. They didn’t simply magically parachute in one day to then-newly-renamed JFK airport; as Kathy Shaidle recently noted, Capitol records spent “$50,000 in New York City alone to promote their first American visit — ten times the amount usually budgeted for new bands.” That’s the equivalent of $375,000 in today’s money, “which buys a lot of Beatle wigs and bobble heads.”

How significantly did Capitol get behind the Beatles? Mark Steyn tells the story of Nat “King” Cole, who helped put Capitol on the map as an American superstar in the 1950s, calling up his record label in 1964 and recoiling in disgust when the receptionist answered the phone, “Capitol Records, home of the Beatles.”

That would be a great advertising story, but instead, the Beatles and Stones simply magically begin to appear in the Mad Men universe once Kennedy is shot.

(And Kennedy’s Cold War assassination was the signature moment of the 1960s, which the series dealt with in surprisingly rote fashion with one of their most conventional episodes, instead of exploring the ripples of change and cognitive dissonance amongst America’s left his death at the hands of a Marxist true believer set in motion.)

Another advertising story never told occurs in one of the series’ last episodes, set in 1970, which revolves around Betty Draper learning that a neighbor’s son, who had a serious crush (and a seriously creepy one) on Betty in the show’s first season, is now of college age and about to serve in Vietnam.  The episode ends with Betty’s youngest son running through the kitchen playing with a plastic toy machine gun, which she grabs and throws into the garbage bin in anger and disgust. As a metaphor, that shot reflects the early political correctness that the toy industry was wrestling with at time — knuckling to leftwing activists, Mattel stopped producing its toy version of the Army’s M-16 rifle. And while Hasbro’s GI Joe action figure got to keep his guns, the toy manufacturer recast him and his sidekicks from patriotic pro-American fighting men, to paramilitary adventurers and a rescue force largely absent from the battlefield, lest young children thought that helping President Nixon fight communism in Southeast Asia was a good thing.

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Spike Lee Defends ‘Chiraq’

May 16th, 2015 - 12:56 pm

Well, it’s an interesting premise for a movie, but see if you can spot some of the flaws in the reasoning here:

The title of Spike Lee’s new movie might not sit well with some, but the filmmaker was not backing down from calling his upcoming film on Chicago’s gun violence “Chiraq,” as he defended his controversial work on Thursday.

Lee plans to set his movie in Englewood, one of several violence-plagued neighborhoods that have earned the nickname “Chiraq.” Some feel that name—a blend of Chicago and war-torn Iraq—furthers negative perceptions about the city.

The label has been slapped on the city by rappers and spread through social media because of gun violence in some Chicago neighborhoods including Englewood, where Lee plans to set his movie.

* * * * * * * *

Lee said his film will hold a mirror up to reality, like the spate of violence on Wednesday, when more than a dozen people were shot, three of them fatally.

“We have to stop the madness. This is insane,” he said. “This is nothing to do about Chicago losing tourism. This is not about Chicago losing business. Let’s not put the loss of property and profit over human life.”**

He said, like early critics of his film “Do The Right Thing,” those who have criticized “Chiraq” will “look stupid and be on the wrong side of history.”

But Chicago has had draconian gun control laws for decades that prevent law-abiding citizens from defending themselves, and (not coincidentally) has had a monolithic block of Democrat mayors since 1931.* What would Spike do differently?

* Which is probably why critics loathe the title of his film.

** Let’s not dox innocent people, either, eh?

Asking the Important Questions

May 12th, 2015 - 3:53 pm

“Whatever happened to Peggy’s baby in Mad Men?,” asks Rick McGinnis at the Interim:

A summation, for those who need it: Mad Men’s first season ended with the sudden hospitalization of Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss,) whose pregnancy was somehow hidden from her and everyone else by a massive weight gain that coincided with her character’s rise from the secretary pool to junior ad copywriter, under the tutelage of the show’s main character, Don Draper. If this seems implausible (though it’s neither medically or psychologically improbable,) keep in mind that despite its quality cable trappings, a show like Mad Men is at heart a melodrama, different from a daytime soap or a Latin telenovela only in its production values and insistence that actors don’t need to deliver each line in a fit of rage.

The baby’s fate was revisited at the end of the second season when Peggy told Pete Campbell, the feckless account executive with whom she’d had a brief fling, that they’d had a baby together, and that she’d “given it away.” In a flashback during that season, we see Don visiting a catatonic Peggy in the hospital; he gives her the advice that he uses to govern the whole of his life – that she forget all about it and “move forward.”

“It will shock you how much it never happened,” he tells her.

Apart from the odd glance, loaded remark or pregnant pause, we have heard nothing about Peggy and Pete’s baby since then, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we never do, and though a part of me longs for some acknowledgement of this absent child, I’m not holding my breath.

As a child of adoption, I suppose my reasons are clear enough, though that doesn’t mean they’re simple. Like nearly every adopted child, I live with a longing for acknowledgment from my birth parents, and the near certainty that it will never come. This is the emotional scar that adoption leaves on everyone involved, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a criticism of adoption or an invalidation of its worth; for most of us, being taken in willingly by a new family is a consolation beyond value, mitigating everything but the lingering ache that, contrary to Don’s advice, we can never forget happening.

And beyond Peggy’s baby, all the lonely people, where do they all come from?

(H/T: Kathy Shaidle)

Citizen Welles

May 11th, 2015 - 2:07 pm

On the centennial of Orson Welles’ birth, Mark Steyn looks back at his greatest achievement:

Directing-wise, I prefer Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and A Touch of Evil. And acting-wise, of course, his Harry Lime turn in The Third Man. Yet Citizen Kane is the great film of all great films — the one that from the Sixties on would reliably come in at Number One whenever anyone compiled a Top 100 Films Of All Time list. But, if you were a 25-year-old radio director given carte blanche by a Hollywood studio, what would you do? Orson Welles knew it wouldn’t be enough just to hand RKO a nice little movie: he had to make a splash; he had, at the very least, to top his own War of the Worlds for the Mercury Theatre Of The Air. And, in topping himself, he managed to top everyone else, too. And yet, for all that, the more you watch Citizen Kane, the more Welles’ sense of it as a great film threatens to overwhelm its greatness.

It’s about Charles Foster Kane, who’s really William Randolph Hearst, up to a point. Welles planted the thought with his cast, and sure enough, just before Citizen Kane was to open at Radio City Music Hall, Ruth Warrick (who plays Kane’s first wife) carelessly gave it away in a publicity interview: “He’s a composite of the kind of men that Americans make into heroes, when, really, they are despoilers,” she said.

“Like who?” asked the reporter, reasonably enough.

So she told him. He dropped his pencil. “I’ve gotta make a phone call,” he said, and never came back. The next day, Radio City canceled the opening, Hearst’s papers banned all advertising and news coverage of the film, and Hearst himself sued. Miss Warrick outlived almost everyone else in the cast and became better known to American audiences as Phoebe Tyler, the queen of Pine Valley, on ABC’s long-running daytime soap “All My Children”. After the director’s death in 1985, she would tell people that Welles, a master of magic and misdirection, knew he could rely on her to give the game away: the fuss over War of the Worlds had got him the RKO gig and taught him the importance of a big commotion.

As a huckster himself, Hearst might have appreciated the stunt. But that’s hardly important now: these days, no one knows or cares who William Randolph Hearst was; he lives on in America’s collective memory only as the pretext for an Orson Welles performance – which is a shame, as the real Hearst was a more complex and fascinating figure than Kane, or Welles. But, in the simplicity of its trajectory – precocious child to empty genius – Welles wound up prefiguring his own autobiography. Which you sort of feel he knew as he was making it.

One huge problem for new audiences discovering Citizen Kane is that we’re watching the history of the movie industry backwards, and it’s virtually impossible for most audiences to understand the worldview of the 1941-era audience that Kane was aimed at. Seeing Kane today would leave many new viewers wondering what the fuss was about, because so many of the film’s innovations — the deep focus photography, the elliptical plot, the multiple points of view in which the characters see Charles Foster Kane from their own worldviews, the incredible optical effects (and those so subtle they remain invisible to all but the most skilled Bletchley Park-level cinephile cryptographers) — became either de rigueur in movies to come, or simply fly past the heads of the audience. I imagine a young kid raised on the eye-popping CGI of today’s zillion dollar assembly-line Marvel products would look at Star Wars (let alone its prototype, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as equally innovative a film as Kane) and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Of course, far left film critics aren’t immune to this phenomenon, either: consider all of the modern-day critics who laugh at Charlton Heston playing a Mexican policeman in Welles’ last American directorial effort, 1958′s Touch of Evil, without the knowledge that Heston, at the height of his career as a box office superstar, insisted to Universal that either Welles directed the film, or he wouldn’t star in it. And how in-your-face a gesture it was to American audiences for Welles to cast the WASP-y Heston as a sympathetic Hispanic figure of authority.

As Mark writes, “These days, no one knows or cares who William Randolph Hearst was,” which makes understanding Kane that much more difficult. Not the least of which is grasping the scope of San Simeon, Hearst’s real-life prototype for Welles’ fictional Xanadu. It’s none too too shabby an estate either — and far more warm and human than the gothic grotesqueries depicted in Kane. San Simeon’s many religious artifacts came from Europe in the 1920s, for which Hearst paid fire sales prices as the Continent began its great PC clean-up, anticipating the real “Progressive” fire sale to come shortly before Kane went into production.

“James Franco’s Stock Just Shot Up,” Rd Brewer writes at Ace of Spades: 

Until this morning, I wasn’t much of a James Franco fan. Seth Rogen has the erroneous belief that shock = humor, and Franco keeps doing that kind of movie with him. Shock is self-oriented, self-indulgent; it’s more about the shocker than the shockee, so to speak. Shock humor gives the shocker a chance to laugh at the reaction of the person or audience targeted, and I think it’s easy to mistake that inward amusement for something that is funny for everybody. A little of it works, sure, but a little of it goes a long way. Rogen, Franco, and whoever they’re working with, however, appear to think a movie can be filled with it.

* * * * * * *

Anyway. Franco wrote an article for the Washington Post today, McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was. It’s about his experience as a fast-food employee and the value of McDonald’s as an employer.

McDonald’s sales have slumped. Maybe the public wants healthier food. Maybe there’s too much competition. Maybe people aren’t into the chipotle barbecue snack wrap. McDonald’s leaders have vowed to reverse the downturn by recommitting to “hot, fresh food,” by selling off certain outlets to independent owners — which would reduce the number of corporate-covered employees with a newly raised minimum wage — and by cutting $300 million in costs. How this cost cut will affect jobs remains unclear.But I want the strategy to work. All I know is that when I needed McDonald’s, McDonald’s was there for me. When no one else was.

. . .

Someone asked me if I was too good to work at McDonald’s. Because I was following my acting dream despite all the pressure not to, I was definitely not too good to work at McDonald’s. I went to the nearest Mickey D’s and was hired the same day.

. . .

I was treated fairly well at McDonald’s. If anything, they cut me slack. And, just like their food, the job was more available there than anywhere else. When I was hungry for work, they fed the need.

And speaking of the venerable fast-food chain, Ann Althouse catches the New York Times writing, “Who could have guessed in the mid-1980s, at a pair of otherwise forgettable McDonald’s restaurants some 20 miles apart, that two bushy-haired teenagers working the burger grills would become Wisconsin’s most powerful Republicans?” As Glenn Reynolds responds to the Times’ subtle digs at Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, “Well, for one thing, the fact that they had real jobs might have been a tip-off.”

But what of McDonald’s future? While Ryan and Walker look to advance Wisconsin beyond its century old “Progressive” box canyon past, Steve Green writes that the new (British!) McDonald’s CEO is about to take a giant step backwards, vowing to build a “modern, progressive burger company.” Because that’s the world needs more of: “Progressive” fast-food. Pass the tofu and arugula, please!

The Urban Dictionary defines the British word “blagger” (and yes, I reflexively typed it with an “o” before correcting myself) as a salesman “who could sell ice to the Eskimos.” The London Daily Mail reports, “A blagger pretended to be part of Leonardo DiCaprio’s entourage to get ringside at the ‘fight of the century’ and was even defended by Floyd Mayweather after he was rumbled by security:”

Steve Carruthers, 24, from Hull in East Yorkshire, put on his best suit and waited outside the MGM Grand Garden Arena ahead of Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather’s big fight on Saturday.

When he spotted the A-list actor he followed behind his team straight into the VIP bar, where he mingled with the likes of Christian Bale, Donald Trump, Michael Keaton and Paris Hilton.

Even after the fight he thought he’d try his luck once more in a bid to meet the fighting legends and joined journalists filtering past security teams and waiting outside their dressing rooms.

But the business graduate, who is on a six-week trip to the U.S., was caught out by the MGM security team when he asked Mayweather for an autograph.

He thought his luck was up but to Mr Carruthers’ surprise Mayweather turned to one of the guard’s and said ‘I’ve got him’, before inviting him to his press conference and posing for photos.

It’s all fun and games when you’re backstage and partying with the Hollywood stars, until you have to apologize the next day to Raquel Welch.

How Will Mad Men End?

May 4th, 2015 - 11:13 am

After its initial PR splash for its first season on AMC in 2007, the audience for Mad Men these days is a bit like the audience for the Velvet Underground. As Brian Eno was quoted as saying in the early 1980s, while the Velvets’ first album only sold 30,000 copies, everybody who bought one started his own rock group. (Guilty as charged.) Based on its ratings, it seems like Mad Men only has about 30,000 viewers left — and the ones who are left are blogging about it and on Twitter. (Again, guilty as charged. Thanks for indulging this post.)

With two episodes left, how will the series end? Its cryptic last scene in yesterday’s episode offers all sorts of possibilities to be resolved in the final two weeks. Don drives his sharp mid-’60s Cadillac through what looked like the highway that divides the cornfield with the murderous crop-duster in North By Northwest (with Cary Grant as the prototype for both James Bond and Don Draper). He picks up a hitchhiker who looks a cross between late period Jim Morrison, Charles Manson, and maybe a touch of the symbolic Indian in Oliver Stone’s weird biopic of the Doors. Filthy hippie gets in and the two drive off — to the music of David Bowie’s epochal “Space Oddity.” Does Don get mugged? Fall asleep and crash the car? Steal the filthy hippie’s identity and proceed to spend the rest of his days walking the earth like Samuel L. Jackson at the end of Kung Fu? (I may be mixing up my pop culture metaphors on that last one.)

Or does he go off to head up McCann’s new office in St. Paul? Tune in again next Sunday, Same Don-Time, same Don-Channel.

If you’re still watching as well, what’s your take on how the series ends? Let me know in the comments below.

Our Source was the New York Times

May 1st, 2015 - 12:54 pm

First class journalism and/or photo editing there, fellas.

“Riot-Plagued Baltimore Is a Catastrophe Entirely of the Democratic Party’s Own Making,” Kevin D. Williamson writes at NRO. Kevin is spot-on as usual:

Would any sentient adult American be shocked to learn that Baltimore has a corrupt and feckless police department enabled by a corrupt and feckless city government? I myself would not, and the local authorities’ dishonesty and stonewalling in the death of Freddie Gray is reminiscent of what we have seen in other cities. There’s a heap of evidence that the Baltimore police department is pretty bad.

This did not come out of nowhere. While the progressives have been running the show in Baltimore, police commissioner Ed Norris was sent to prison on corruption charges (2004), two detectives were sentenced to 454 years in prison for dealing drugs (2005), an officer was dismissed after being videotaped verbally abusing a 14-year-old and then failing to file a report on his use of force against the same teenager (2011), an officer was been fired for sexually abusing a minor (2014), and the city paid a quarter-million-dollar settlement to a man police illegally arrested for the non-crime of recording them at work with his mobile phone. There’s a good deal more. Does that sound like a disciplined police organization to you?

Yes, Baltimore seems to have some police problems. But let us be clear about whose fecklessness and dishonesty we are talking about here: No Republican, and certainly no conservative, has left so much as a thumbprint on the public institutions of Baltimore in a generation. Baltimore’s police department is, like Detroit’s economy and Atlanta’s schools, the product of the progressive wing of the Democratic party enabled in no small part by black identity politics. This is entirely a left-wing project, and a Democratic-party project.

When will the Left be held to account for the brutality in Baltimore — brutality for which it bears a measure of responsibility on both sides? There aren’t any Republicans out there cheering on the looters, and there aren’t any Republicans exercising real political power over the police or other municipal institutions in Baltimore. Community-organizer — a wretched term — Adam Jackson declared that in Baltimore “the Democrats and the Republicans have both failed.” Really? Which Republicans? Ulysses S. Grant? Unless I’m reading the charts wrong, the Baltimore city council is 100 percent Democratic.

Because there’s no way for the left to process that, let alone admit it publicly, news anchor Brooke Baldwin of Time-Warner-CNN-HBO is blaming military vets for the Baltimore riots, as John Nolte writes today at Big Journalism:

In a pathetic suck-up interview with Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummins, Baldwin never once had the moral courage to ask the failed Baltimore City congressman if the left-wing policies ushered in by a half-century of a Democrat monopoly in Baltimore might have something to do with the city’s ills. Instead, she said of young military veterans who become police officers, “I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they are ready to do battle.”

The context was a discussion about increased training and retraining for the Baltimore police.

There’s no question Baldwin is hoping to launch a narrative with that smear.

This is pure CNN; throwing out anti-science smears towards the best people this country has to offer while it is in reality the rioters who are “doing battle.” It is savages who are looting and burning and causing anarchy, not the police. But it is the Baltimore police who have 15 wounded among their ranks. It is the Baltimore police who calmly did not do much battle during Monday night’s riots.

Meanwhile, David Simon, the creator of the Time-Warner-CNN-HBO series The Wire blames “reactionary governance” — again, despite Baltimore’s last GOP mayor having departed nearly 50 years ago:

Here’s what Simon really means, from Brett Martin’s best-selling 2013 book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad:

As much as Simon was devoted to the romance and art of journalism and, more important, to nonfiction, even he had to concede that fiction film and TV were the primary communication media of his era. “To get a best-selling novel on the New York Times Best Sellers list, you need to sell a hundred thousand copies. A poorly watched HBO show is going to draw three or four million a week. That’s ten times as many people acquiring your narrative.” And that mattered because, to Simon and his partner, Ed Burns, The Wire was explicitly a piece of social activism. Among its targets, large and small, were the War on Drugs, the educational policy No Child Left Behind, and the outsize influence of money in America’s political system, of statistics in its police departments, and of Pulitzer Prizes at its newspapers. The big fish, though, was nothing less than a capitalist system that Burns and Simon had begun to see as fundamentally doomed. (If Simon was a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, Burns practically qualified as Zapatista; by ex-cop standards, he might as well have been Trotsky himself.)

Because yeah, that’s what’s driving the riots in Baltimore, too much wide-open laissez-faire capitalism.

At the risk of comitting the cardinal sin of “riot shaming,” here’s an Allahpundit-esque exit question, which will never be explored on any Time-Warner-CNN-HBO channel:

Update: Remembering Martin O’Malley’s anti-gun law. As with Detroit, Baltimore is a leftwing dream come true.



Lawrence Meyers at the wonderful Breitbart site Big Hollywood had an excellent takedown of David Simon last week. Simon, author of the brilliant book Homicide and creator of the excellent television show The Wire, is also, according to the book Difficult Men, a self-obsessed and bullying leftist. Recently, he attacked conservatives and, indeed, the U.S. Constitution they are trying to defend. Simon says:

If original intent included the sadism and degradation of human slavery, then original intent is a legal and moral standard that can be consigned to the ash heap of human history. Hardcore conservatives and libertarians who continue to parse the origins of the Constitutions under the guise of returning to a more perfect American union are on a fool’s journey to decay and dishonor.

I leave it to Meyers’s strong piece to take down this nonsense, as indeed he does.

But here’s what bugs me. The Wire (which is, to some extent, based on the year Simon spent with the Baltimore Homicide Squad while researching Homicide) takes place in a city without conservatives, even without Republicans. There has not been a Republican mayor of Baltimore since 1967. And much of the show’s genius lies in its depiction of the brutalized life of black people in the city’s ghetto.

So we have a writer who has seen for himself, and who has shown us, the effects of Democrat governance on a city, the dehumanization of the poor that is the direct result of leftism and the corruption that inevitably springs from it. And yet Simon blames conservatives!

“The Unbearable Blindness of David Simon,” Andrew Klavan, November 10, 2013.

Related: Meanwhile, in another entertainment/propaganda division of Time-Warner-CNN-HBO:

“Last night’s interview with Bruce Jenner by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20 turned out to be very revealing … in a much different way than many thought,” Ed Morrissey writes at Hot Air. “By this time, a relentless series of media reports had made it quite clear that Jenner had embraced a transgender identity, at least privately. The big reveal turned out to be that Jenner also identifies as a conservative Republican:”

When Sawyer asked if Jenner cheered when Obama became the first president to even say the word “transgender” in a State of the Union address, the 65-year-old replied that he “would certainly give him credit for that.”

“But not to get political,” Jenner continued, “I’ve never been a big fan, I’m kind of more on the conservative side.”

“Are your a Republican?” Sawyer asked in response, to which Jenner replied, “Yeah! Is that a bad thing? I believe in the constitution.”

“Do you think that would be an unsettling thing for some people in the conservative wing of the party?” Sawyer asked.

“I’ve thought about that,” says Jenner, adding that neither political party has a monopoly on understanding.

“Tolerance? Not so much. Prior to the interview airing, progressives on Twitter offered lots of support for Jenner, and plenty of predictions about how conservatives would heap scorn on Jenner. After Jenner truly came out, their tone changed considerably, as Twitchy documented,” Ed adds.

Back in 2009, in the depths of ”We Are All Socialists Now” chest-thumping triumphalism of the Obama administration and their media operatives, former liberal turned conservative author Harry Stein wrote a book titled I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican, which documented the “tolerant” left’s reflexive knee-jerk freak out reaction when actually confronted by ideological diversity:

My favorite tale in this regard comes from a friend who lives in Park Slope. She reports creating level-red discomfort, when the talk on a recent evening turned to gay marriage. Everyone was for it, of course, including my friend. “But wouldn’t it bother you if your own children were gay?” she added, all innocent curiosity. “After all, isn’t it natural to want your kids to mirror your experience? To have a traditional marriage and raise children in the traditional way? I can’t think of anything that would make them more foreign.” She reports that, hearing this, the liberals around the table “got very flustered — because of course they feel exactly the same way. There was a long silence, and then someone said: ‘I would be much more upset if my kids were Republican,’ and that let everyone off the hook.

That same year, comedian Paul Rodriguez described a near identical experience:

I remember many years since, trying to contemplate the idea of joining the Grand Old Party, and I said I better run this through Mom. I said, “Ma, Dad, sit down, I want to talk to you.” Before I could go any further, they said, “Oh, my God, he’s gay. (AUDIENCE LAUGHTER) Ay, Dios mio, he’s gay.” I said, “No, no, no, Mom, I’m thinking of being a Republican.” She said, “I wish you were gay. (AUDIENCE LAUGHTER) Please look, what have we done?”

And right on cue:

If I could pick one tweet to symbolize the intolerance of the left, I might pick this one. pic.twitter.com/LdB01grg2P

— Ken Gardner (@kesgardner) April 25, 2015

Don’t ever change, reactionary leftists.

Lambert and Stamp: The Men Who Made The Who

April 25th, 2015 - 1:43 pm


In 1979, The Who, at the peak of their career, released the documentary summing up the band’s first 15 years, The Kids Are Alright. As veteran rock critic Dave Marsh wrote in his 1983 biography of the group, Before I Get Old, published to coincide with the band’s “first” farewell tour that year:

Kids is one of the most anarchic documentaries ever assembled, running two hours without a shred of narration and with not so much as a subtitle identifying characters or dates. Kids was the perfect cult item, and Who fans flocked to it. Hardly anyone else did, however, so even though it remained a staple of the midnight movie circuit, part of every kid’s introduction to the verities of the Rock of Ages, the film had little impact outside of the Who’s cult. The Kids Are Alright is, nevertheless, one of the great rock and roll movies, capturing all of the Who’s sass and humor and taking the wind out of the band’s pomposity at each and every opportunity.

Naturally, Keith Moon stole The Kids Are Alright, which became a summation of his career as the Who’s anarchic drummer, who passed away nine months before its release, choking on an overdose of the pills he was prescribed to battle his alcoholism.

This year, filmmaker James D. Cooper released Lambert & Stamp, a documentary about the Who’s first managers, a  film that can be thought of as the liner notes to The Kids Are Alright. If you’re a fan of the band, you owe it to yourself to see this film while it’s in the theaters (I saw it last night at a sparsely attended showing at the Camera 3 in San Jose), to get a sense of two men who did so much to shape the group in the 1960s. How much you know about the Who will shape how much you enjoy this new documentary, which is built around a lengthy series of interviews with Chris Stamp (1942-2012), the younger brother of veteran actor Terence Stamp (Superman II, Wall Street, The Limey), who also appears in the film, along with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Daltrey’s wife Heather, and other Who insiders.

Instant Party

The Who were one of the most unlikely of bands; Pete Townshend, art school devotee and later follower of Sufi mystic and guru Meher Baba, was essentially the timekeeper of the group, even though he was the rhythm guitarist. Keith Moon’s anarchic surf-music-inspired drumming provided brilliant percussive colors; but keeping time was not his metier; he was not a man in search of a simple backbeat on the 2 and 4. With his fluid single-note runs, John Entwistle was in many ways the band’s lead guitarist, despite being the bassist. And Daltrey, the founder and nominally the frontman of the group, was forced to fight for attention as singer as his three innovative sidemen roared away alongside him. Somehow it worked — brilliantly — in spite of themselves.

Similarly, Lambert and Stamp were the most unlikely of rock managers. They hadn’t really planned to be managers at all. Kit Lambert (1935-1981) was the son of composer/conductor Constant Lambert, who sought to make a name for himself in the shadow of his famous father, who died, as Wikipedia notes, in 1951 “two days short of his forty-sixth birthday, of pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes complicated by acute alcoholism.”

Britain didn’t legalize homosexuality until 1967; the upper-class Lambert was very much gay during that era. And the handsome, modish Stamp was equally aggressively heterosexual and working class, the son of a tugboat captain. The two originally didn’t want to be managers; after meeting while both were working at Shepperton  Studios in the early 1960s, they were looking for the perfect rock group to feature in a documentary on the exploding British rock scene in the wake of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, when they stumbled into the Railway Hotel in Harrow where the Who were playing Motown songs to an overpacked room crammed mostly with hundreds of young Mod men. As the documentary explains, Lambert and Stamp were instantly convinced they had found the perfect group for their film; the band was instantly convinced they were the authorities, about to close down the gig as a fire hazard. While they did shoot some early footage of the group, Lambert and Stamp decided instead they’d rather be Brian Epstein than filmmakers, and quickly began managing the group.

Keith Moon brilliantly summed up the tone of the two men in the early days in his 1972 Rolling Stone interview:

Kit Lambert came to see us playing at the Railway ‘Otel in ‘Arrow. We had a meeting. We didn’t like each other at first, really. Kit and Chris. They went ’round together. And they were . . . are . . . as incongruous a team as we are. You got Chris on one hand [goes into unintelligible East London cockney]: “Oh well, f**k it, jus, jus whack ‘im in-a ‘ead, ‘it ‘im in ee balls an’ all.” And Kit says [slipping into a proper Oxonian]: “Well, I don’t agree, Chris; the thing is . . . the whole thing needs to be thought out in damned fine detail.” These people were perfect for us, because there’s me, bouncing about, full of pills, full of everything I could get me ‘ands on . . . and there’s Pete, very serious, never laughed, always cool, a grass-’ead. I was working at about ten times the speed Pete was. And Kit and Chris were like the epitome of what we were.

Lambert was a brilliant ideas man; he shaped The Who’s image as sharply-dressed mods, encouraged Townshend and Moon’s guitar and drum smashing, and hired a graphic artist to design The Who’s iconic “Maximum R&B” poster (a copy of which is hanging behind me in my home office as I write this). Lambert also moved Townshend into Lambert’s flat in the posh Belgravia section of London, giving the band a veneer of success far beyond what they were earning as working musicians. Meanwhile Stamp was largely funding the band’s early days via his work as a second assistant director on the Kirk Douglas WWII movie, The Heroes of Telemark.

Lambert fueled Townshend’s composing skills, convincing him to link together several short, incomplete songs into one nine minute number in 1966 called “A Quick One,” which the two called “their mini-opera,” and which Townshend credits for inspiring some of the ideas on Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles’ landmark concept album the following year. That album would go on to inspire the Who’s double album “rock opera,” Tommy, released in 1969.

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“There’s a new movie called Ex Machina whose message can be summed up as ‘don’t fall in love with a robot,’” John Podhoretz writes in the Weekly Standard:

Nobody actually calls Ava, the titular machina of Ex Machina, a robot. That would not be cool, and the film’s writer-director Alex Garland wants Ex Machina to be cool, above all things. All but the opening two minutes and the final 30 seconds are set in a spectacular underground mansion that’s part Bond-villain lair, part Apple Store. (It was filmed at a resort in Norway that you’ve probably already toured from your couch during a World’s Hottest Hotels special on the Travel Channel.) She is the construct of a billionaire who is half Zuckerberg and half Jobs, an oddly sybaritic recluse played by the wonderful Oscar Isaac. He refers to Ava solely as an “A.I.,” because those two letters are cooler than Capek’s original five letters, and these days you can buy a robot with free shipping from Amazon Prime that looks like the 1970s memory game Simon and will attempt and fail to vacuum your floors. Who would want to spoon with a Roomba anyway?

But you can’t fool me. This A.I. may have a glowing translucent brain, but she’s also got titanium arms, things whirr and click when she moves, and she’s drop-dead gorgeous, so of course she’s a robot. She is played by the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who will be in five other major movies this year, which is not surprising, because she speaks English beautifully and as a visual object she’s practically perfect in every way.

And this brings up the other thing. Let’s face it, the whole female-robot scenario is a deeply disturbing one, since it’s basically a creepy wish fulfillment about a woman with no personality who will do everything and anything a man tells her to.

Didn’t we all see this movie 30 years ago?

My work in the Time-Life Book Division was not exactly onerous, since the manuscript was in good shape and whenever one of the researchers asked me, “What is your authority for this statement,” I would look at her firmly and reply, “I am.” So while Man and Space progressed fairly smoothly thirty-two floors above the Avenue of the Americas, I had ample energy for moonlighting with Stanley Kubrick.

—Arthur C. Clarke on his visit to New York in 1964, which led to his co-writing a little super-8 home movie four years later called 2001: A Space Odyssey, as described in Clarke’s 1972 book, Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations.

But unless you actually invented the communications satellite and co-wrote a epoch-shattering movie with Stanley Kubrick, citing yourself as your own source of authority can lead to trouble if you hold yourself out as an objective journalist. At the Federalist today, Matthew Schmitz describes what can go wrong “When [the] Critics A Reporter Cites Are The Reporter:”

When it comes to reporting on contentious issues, perhaps no journalistic shortcut is more prone to misuse than the phrase “critics say.” Used well, it usually precedes a quotation from one of those critics that allows the reader to judge them in their own words. Used poorly, it becomes an opportunity for the writer to put words in the mouths of people he doesn’t like in order to discredit their position or insert his own view into the story. All of a sudden, “critics say” just what the reporter happens to think.

Usually, reporters are careful enough there’s no way to prove this has happened. Occasionally, they’re sloppy enough that we can see the editorializing at play

When the Critic Is the Reporter

Take a recent story written for Religion News Service by David Gibson on a donation from the Koch brothers to the Catholic University of America. Gibson gives ample space to the view of certain “critics”:

Critics of the CUA gift say it is ironic that the school would seek such massive support from a social liberal when Catholic charities are not allowed to take any money from any person or group that supports abortion rights or gay rights.

Curiously, he does not name any critics or offer any examples of that kind of argument. Why not? If critics said something, there should be critics to name and statements to quote. Did Gibson just make them up?

Well, no, as it happens. There is a critic who has made this exact point about CUA and Gibson has heard him do so. The week before he published his story on the Koch gift, Gibson participated in a debate where one critic had this to say:

For years, conservative Catholics have been arguing the very same thing: that CCHD, Catholic Charities, and Catholic social groups cannot take a dime from somebody who has even the remotest connection to the gay rights agenda or Planned Parenthood. This is like Planned Parenthood funding a Catholic bioethics center.

This is exactly the criticism that Gibson was referring to. It came in a public forum on a radio show that aired the day before his story was published. So why not quote the statement and name the critic?

Perhaps it is because the criticism was offered by Gibson himself. The unnamed and unquoted people in the story weren’t made up—they were the reporter himself. He is the critic who had something to say.

Some say this is a bad journalistic practice. And regarding the similar “some say” tic, a decade ago, Elizabeth Scalia dubbed it the journalistic cliche of the year:

My personal choice: “some say…” Used continually by Katie Couric, David Gregory and oh, basically anyone in the press who wanted to advance their own personal opinion or the general concensus of the fourth estate: “Some say President Bush is trying to undermine our civil liberties,” “Some say Iraq is a quagmire,” “Some say America is a world-bully,” “Some say if only the Kyoto treaty had been recognised…”

Just once, I would like to hear a politician come back with, “WHO says? WHO exactly SAYS, Katie, David, Tim, etc”

They’d never spill the true answer, though, “why, WE say, WE in the press!”

There’s a great clip of Margaret Thatcher pushing back against the “some say” cliche in 1980. I’d like to see more conservative politicians employ this when faced with a critique from a strawman named Mr. Somesay:

Related: “News media’s sloppy week,” Glenn Reynolds on their spectacular cluster-fark last week, though the headline could be recycled 52 times a year. It’s a Scooby Do Mystery Machine-size quandary as to why this keeps happening to the DNC-MSM!