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Ed Driscoll

Hollywood, Interrupted

Then Came Dave

April 13th, 2014 - 7:13 pm

“Letterman was a turning point in American cultural history,” Michael Long writes at NRO. His article went online after I wrote my piece on Letterman, Leno, Colbert, and HBO’s Late Shift, or I would have certainly excerpted it there. But it’s worth reading the piece in full, for a reminder of how Letterman’s original late night show at NBC in the early to mid-’80s was the beginning of Weimar-esque irony absolutely permeating the American media’s overculture. To the point where even the New York Times published a piece late 2012 titled “How to Live Without Irony.” For which they found themselves pilloried for even suggesting the idea, by leftwing Websites who wish to remain permanently trapped behind the Irony Curtain.

OK, sorry about that last pun; here’s how Long’s piece concludes:

Before Dave, irony was like that little jar of allspice your mom got out once a year for Thanksgiving. Dave decided it would go well with everything, and it turns out we agreed. We live in Dave’s world now, communicating by sarcasm, and not liking him doesn’t make it any less true. Dave dragged a narrow, curmudgeonly worldview from obscurity to majority. Not even Carson pulled off anything that big.

Unless you have seen Letterman in his most amazing, early days — those desperate, late-night NBC shows where he built on Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen by narrating the sidewalk traffic as a passing parade, or broadcasting his program in Spanish, or pestering people just to ask “What’s in your bag?” — he’s just a grumpy old man to you now, in the same way that Leno’s early (lantern-)jaw-dropping talents are forgotten in favor of his later vanilla appeal. (Another lost fact: It was Letterman who made Leno a star, and together they defined the cutting edge of comedy in the 1980s.) But Dave was a giant, bigger than even Jolson and Hope, whose achievements were, relative to Dave’s, parochial and of their time. Letterman’s mark is on culture and language, and is so ubiquitous that few even know we used to speak and act some other way. But that’s how giants do it.

But as the policeman who found Lenny Bruce immediately after he shuffled off to the great night club in the sky was quoted as saying, “There is nothing sadder than an aging hipster.” Though perhaps even more pathetic are aging ironists, as their worldview becomes insular and reactionary, and their performance becomes freeze-dried and formulaic.

Of course, as far as formulaic at 11:30 PM at CBS, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Three Days of the Captain

April 12th, 2014 - 12:46 pm

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is reviewed by John Podhoretz in the Weekly Standard:

Captain America, newly freed from the block of ice in which he has been frozen since the end of the war, must now deal with his failure to rid the world of the Nazi threat. As one character asks him, “How does it feel to know you died for nothing?”

That’s quite an interesting message for a superhero movie. Since coming into existence as a genre of its own with Superman in 1978, the comic-book movie has served as the successor to the classic Western—a moral pageant in which a classic white-hatted hero faces off against a black-hatted villain who has upset the moral order. The white hat sets things right and then rides off to do more good deeds.

In the late 1940s, after a generation in which more westerns were made than any other kind of movie in Hollywood by a factor of two, directors and writers began to tire of the formula and looked to broaden it. They made villains out of characters who would have once been heroes, like Henry Fonda’s martinet officer in Fort Apache (1948). And they made heroes out of former villains, like the Indian warrior Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950).

The superhero movie is Hollywood’s dominant fare. And now its makers—in this case, the gentlemen behind Marvel Studios, the Disney-owned behemoth—have had enough, in the same way that John Ford and Howard Hawks and other western-makers had had enough by the late 1940s. Those men incorporated liberal themes like tolerance and a more complex view of the uses of violence. In keeping with the more radical tenor of our times, Marvel Studios has bypassed that kind of mushy liberalism and gone straight to far-left radicalism.

Meanwhile at National Review, Armond White notes that the film’s title isn’t likely a coincidence, given that “in today’s Hollywood the idea of an honest, uncomplicated fighting soldier is more foreign than a Prius:”

This fact makes the latest installment of Marvel’s Captain America franchise oddly insincere and unconvincing. It vitiates that sometimes disingenuous phrase “I support the troops.” Instead, the film’s subtitle recalls the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, in which Vietnam veterans repented their battlefield violence. Such disillusionment now infects even a comic-book franchise, so that the Captain America idea stops short of nationalist fervor. As Rogers takes his daily superhuman run around the basin of Washington, D.C., he introduces himself to another morning runner (and us) with the repeated look-out phrase “On your left . . .” Not a coincidence.

Through modish reinvention, Captain America — a dated, sanctimonious brawler-innocent — represents the undeniable fantasy of a particular political perspective. Leaning to the left, he prevails over internal threats to U.S. security (in the form of a neo-Nazi underground called Hydra, whose members include a senator and a State Department honcho played by Robert Redford). Yet the motivation for his intrepidness isn’t deep; it lacks a certain conviction. The fanboy audience (including adults), which has more dedication to the comic-book genre than to the Selective Service, may cheer him on with hollow enthusiasm while falling for Hollywood’s imaginary patriotism. Ignoring the complexities of realpolitik, moviegoers respond to formulaic CGI action scenes as if saluting the flag.

Whenever I hear the words “Winter Soldier,” I immediately think of the 2004-era Website that illustrated the radical timeline of John Kerry in the 1970s; and to add to the ’70s paranoia atmosphere of the film, Robert Redford, matinee idol turned star of such paranoid ’70s potboilers such as Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men has a supporting role.

Which also reflects Podhoretz’s take that the superhero movie has become “Hollywood’s dominant fare” in much the same way that westerns were in the 1940s and ’50s. Marvel gets a name that adds cache on the film poster; Redford gets a pop culture boost in the wintery twilight of his own career. It’s a well-timed one to boot, after The Company You Keep, his disastrous brush with radical chic last year, which in the same sort of macabre synchronicity that Bill Ayers could appreciate, promoted the Pentagon-bombing Weathermen just in time to coincide with the Boston Marathon bombing Tsarnaev brothers.

By the way, the question asked of the Captain regarding his service in World War II, “How does it feel to know you died for nothing?” also seems like yet another attempt by Hollywood to reduce World War II down to meaningless nihilism.

Which seems a particularly odd and depressing turn for the Hollywood superhero genre.

For a more positive take on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, check out the latest edition of PJTVs Trifecta, with my friends Steve Green, Bill Whittle, and Scott Ott:

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Meeting of the President’s Elite Palace Guard.

We’ll get to CBS’s decision to replace David Letterman with Stephen Colbert in a couple of minutes, but first, some backstory, as they say in Hollywood, for why this all has a feeling of deja vu about it.

After an article at Vulture.com last week on David Letterman’s retirement mentioned HBO’s 1996 TV movie The Late Shift, based on the best-selling book by the New York Times’ Bill Carter, I rented the movie from Netflix (on DVD, not streaming, alas.) As Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture writes, “I know showbiz journalists and a good many regular viewers who can recite every twist in Carter’s narrative the way Greek children used to be able to recite the highlights of the Peloponnesian war. (Remember when Leno hid in a closet and eavesdropped on his bosses?)”

It’s a fascinating curio of a (made for TV) movie, once you get through the uncanny valley effect of the actors playing Letterman, Leno, and Johnny Carson. Physically, John Michael Higgins, who plays Letterman is actually pretty spot on, but you’re always aware it’s an actor in a Letterman toupee imitating Dave’s many tics and neuroses. Daniel Roebuck, playing Jay Leno is as stiff as plywood, and wears what looks like the prow of the Titanic as prosthetic fake chin covered in a layer of smeared-on make-up, phony looking even in the standard definition video I watched. And appearing at strategic times in the films, Rich Little plays Rich Little playing Johnny Carson. (Which must have been loads of fun for Little as payback: he was performer non gratis in the last years of the Carson Tonight Show for reasons never explained to him, despite his many appearances on the show in the ‘60s and ‘70s.)

But that’s the challenge when making any film about real-life celebrities known by millions. For the audience, if you can suspend disbelief and get past the waxworks leads, behind them are arguably the real stars of the film. These are the performers playing the behind the scenes chessboard manipulators, including Kathy Bates as Leno’s ball-breaking first manager, Helen Kushnick*, Bob Balaban as NBC executive Warren Littlefield, and Treat Williams as then-Hollywood power broker Mike Ovitz. (Who has since, as John Nolte of Big Hollywood writes, run afoul of what Ovitz called “the Gay Mafia,” in a very different cautionary tale than the main topic of our post.)

Of course, what ultimately makes The Late Shift work as a TV movie is the taut script, based on Bill Carter’s source material, which runs from a discussion between two CBS executives who want to steal Johnny Carson’s thunder by stealing away Jay Leno from the network, followed by Kushnick planting a “tip” in the New York Post that NBC was planning to replace Carson with Leno, followed by an aging, peeved Rich Little playing an aging, peeved Johnny choosing to retire at the top rather than face a bruising power struggle with NBC. NBC’s executives, Warren Littlefield, played by Balaban and Reni Santoni (“Poppy” the restaurant owner on Seinfeld) as his lieutenant, John Agoglia, both like Leno because he’s an easygoing team player, and not a petulant head case like Letterman. Once Letterman knows he won’t get the Tonight Show, he turns to Ovitz, who first helps him to break his contract with NBC, then lands him his deal with CBS, and a boxcar-sized payout.

What particularly makes The Late Shift such an interesting film is that when it was originally shot, it looked like CBS got the better of the deal, with Letterman dominating the ratings. As it turns out, according to the Internet Database:

Subsequent airings after the initial release have added an additional epilogue on how the Hugh Grant interview boosted Jay Leno’s ratings past David Letterman’s.

Thus Littlefield and Agoglia, despite being portrayed as Machiavellian manipulators on massive scale, end up looking like rather smart guys, in spite of themselves. Perhaps unintentionally, the film contrasts the difference between Letterman and Leno in the way they treat their production crews. Letterman, as big a neurotic backstage as in front of the cameras, barks at his staff after what he thinks was a bad show. An hour into the film later, when NBC decides to fire the bruising Kushnick as executive producer of the Tonight Show, Leno issues a “we’ll be OK gang, we’ll all get through this together” speech to console the troops.

As portrayed in The Late Shift, the young Leno appears fairly comfortable in his skin — offscreen, he’s a shier, more puppy dog like version of his stand-up comic persona. Letterman, as numerous critics wrote in the 1980s, is essentially an actor portraying a talk show host, trapped in the middle of the goofy whirling vortex of the first postmodern talk show that poked fun at all of the  gimmicks of Big Time Network TV at its hokiest polyester worst. Late Night picked up the baton from the recently-concluded original Lorne Michaels-era of Saturday Night Live (hence the appearance of Bill Murray on Letterman’s first show). It was new and fresh and plenty of fun at 12:30 at night in the mid-’80s, particularly as a contrast to the phone-it-in final years of the much more staid Carson-era Tonight Show.

But by the 21st century, Letterman appeared to be continually bitter at first George W. Bush, then Sarah Palin, then the Tea Party, then Mitt Romney. Concurrently, since 2008, Letterman has played supine Palace Guard to Barack Obama — a kindred spirit; another postmodern impressionist of a sort. As a result, Letterman’s shtick eventually became as freeze-dried as the talk shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s he used to parody. While Letterman was born in Indianapolis, in escaping flyover country for a career in New York and Los Angeles, the hungry young comedian turned surly old man lived out a variation of the warning voiced a decade ago by Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard: “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.”

Leno, taking his cue from Johnny Carson, while very much a “Progressive” himself, is smart enough not alienate his core audience, and departed with enormous goodwill when he was pushed out by NBC this past February.

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“Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you,” Flannery O’Connor famously said was her motto, and certainly Kathy Shaidle’s writing lives up to that ideal. As she told me during our new interview, “I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, being born in the ‘60s, and in those days, it was all about free love and women should be able to have sex just like men and casual sex is great.  And let’s all read Cosmo’s sex tips and ‑‑ and sort of recreate Sex and the City in our actual lives,” the author of the popular Five Feet of Fury Blog, and a frequent contributor to PJ Media, Taki’s Magazine, and other Websites says.

Kathy’s new book, Confessions of A Failed Slut, an anthology of several of her related articles, “is my story of having tried and failed to live up to these social messages that were just everywhere when I was growing up, and finding that deep down, I wasn’t really temperamentally or morally, shall we say, cut out for a life of nonstop, no-fault, casual sex, and just sleeping around and pretending not to care, and doing the walk of shame and all that stuff.”

During our 29-minute interview, Kathy will explore:

● How the Love Boat, that weekly video voyage of the Hollywood damned, caused Kathy to begin seeing the world is “though a Gen-X filter of self-defensive snark.”

● Why Glen Close’s character in Fatal Attraction is “one of the most misunderstood females on film.”

● Why today’s women in rock and pop make the first generation of women in punk rock seem positively chaste by comparison.

● How TV’s Dr. Phil caused a Twitter storm when his show tweeted, “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?”

● In a pop culture obsessed with sex, why does it seem like the male metrosexual is so…asexual?

● Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean somebody of the opposite sex isn’t out to meet you: Going undercover in the 9/11-“Truther”-themed InfoWars Internet dating site.

● How to break free of the Nanny State’s crushing group hug.

And much more. Click here to listen:

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(29 minutes and 7 seconds long; 26.6 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 8.32 MB lo-fi edition.)

If the above Flash audio player is not be compatible with your browser, click on the video player below, or click here to be taken directly to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.

Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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Sacramento Democrats: Breaking Badder

April 6th, 2014 - 3:57 pm

“Legislators in the Golden State make Breaking Bad seem mild by comparison,” Steve Greenhut writes at Reason, who notes that the fictional teacher turned meth dealer Walter White was a small-timer when compared to the allegations against stranger-than-fiction Democrat Leland Yee:

In the FBI document, Yee is described having conversations with an undercover agent about providing large stockpiles of firepower: “(The agent) asked Senator Yee for his commitment. … Senator Yee asked (the agent) if he wanted ‘automatic weapons’ as opposed to semi-automatic weapons.” Yee allegedly said that he didn’t care about people getting guns because “People want to get whatever they want to get.”

In addition to being charged with a conspiracy to traffic firearms, Yee was charged with trading official favors—e.g., promising a Senate proclamation praising a Chinatown fraternal organization whose leader has a long rap sheet, and offering meetings with legislators for a medical-marijuana business—for campaign cash. Yee was running to be California secretary of state, but mercifully withdrew from the race on Thursday.

“We express our anger and our revulsion at today’s events,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, at a press conference on Wednesday. He reminded the media that these are only allegations, but called on Yee to “resign, leave, don’t burden your colleagues in this great institution with your troubles.”

But ironies and hypocrisies abound—not just regarding Yee, but with the leadership’s controversial handling of the ethical and legal problems of two other senators. Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has been indicted on bribery charges. Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, has been found guilty of eight felonies related to his not living in the district he represents. Both men have been on voluntary, paid leave—and Steinberg has refused a floor vote on expulsion.

After a heated exchange Friday, the Senate voted to suspend with pay those three members and Steinberg announced plans to conduct an office-by-office ethics review. Sen. Joel Anderson, the El Cajon Republican who had unsuccessfully pushed for a Wright expulsion vote, said the Senate leader’s talk “falls woefully short of being meaningful.” He compared suspension to paid vacation, and said that “If you reward bad behavior, you can get more of it.”

Yet Anderson’s remarks drew an irate response from expected incoming Senate leader Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who complained about “sanctimonious, Puritanical behavior” and “political opportunism,” which he said was the equivalent of burning down the greatest legislative house in the nation.

De Leon’s rhetoric was oddly grandiose, considering that FBI agents had descended on the Capitol earlier in the week. Are these leaders as out of touch as they seem to be?

Gov. Jerry Brown, at least, weighed in with a tough stance late Friday.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases—and today’s unprecedented suspensions—the best way to restore public confidence is for these Senators to resign,” the Democratic governor said in a statement issued by his office.

When Jerry Brown is the voice of reason, you start to understand how royally screwed is the state of California.

CNN anchors are currently losing their minds trapped in a Flight #370-induced Mobius Loop; this seems like the perfect story to break the cycle, and possibly begin to at least make the nightly ratings losses against Fox News at least somewhat competitive. To ask yourself why CNN isn’t obsessing on the sensational charges against Leland Yee as a change of pace is to answer the question.

Stupid Interviewer Tricks

April 4th, 2014 - 2:42 pm

David Letterman, 67, announced on Thursday that he’ll be retiring sometime next year. But it’s been an interesting, if raw and painful decade for the chat show host leading up to his decision, particularly after he did something that Johnny Carson never did on air: he dropped the mask and revealed his misanthropic inner self to the world.

We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, some background. As Rob Long writes in his review of Henry Bushkin’s biography of Carson in the new issue of Commentary, a nightly talk show host with a lengthy career has a particularly challenging assignment maintaining his on-air facade:

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.

Presumably, a man who has made his living for a quarter century interviewing famous people in front of millions should have banked plenty of methods along the way to artfully duck a question. The smartest politicians and celebrities share the ability to say nothing while saying it beautifully. So it’s ironic — particularly given that irony was how he built his career — that David Letterman’s luster was permanently scraped away on October 27th 2006, with just one question from a very different television interviewer who happened to be on his show, Bill O’Reilly:

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.”

Ironically, in February 2006, just three and a half years prior, Letterman shared this exchange with another famous newsman, Tom Brokaw:

On Thursday’s Late Show on CBS, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw told David Letterman how people in Iraq “are afraid to say anything because the wrong thing gets them not only in trouble, but probably executed.” Brokaw related how when he was in Baghdad in December, a man approached him and in a loud voice praised Saddam Hussein and promised to fight American invaders, but in a quiet voice he expressed hope that the Americans would arrive before Christmas since “we’ll be very happy to have them come here as quickly as possible.”

That arc, and that length of time, from believing, at least on some level, in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein to diminishing the American war effort, follows the timeline of another CBS legend, Walter Cronkite, who during the course of the mid-1960s, went from a true believer in the policies of JFK and LBJ to declaring the Vietnam a failure. But while Cronkite in 1968 declared Vietnam “a stalemate,” to the best of my knowledge, he never actively wished for America to lose.

And that’s where Dave miscalculated. It’s one thing to question a war — Americans question political and foreign policy goals all the time — but openly wishing on the air for American failure at war is inexcusable, even from a dedicated postmodernist like Letterman. In the mid-’80s, Letterman’s misanthropy defined itself in mocking the titanic egos of his fellow stars. Twenty years later, those same misanthropic impulses were causing Letterman to wish for American defeat, and tacitly, along with it, even more American and Iraqi bloodshed.

After O’Reilly’s question exposed him, Letterman seemed to be an increasingly cranky and bitter man; the nadir was attacking Sarah Palin’s 14-year old daughter in 2009.

Last night, Palin got a modicum of revenge, during a segment with Sean Hannity. Tony Lee writes at Big Hollywood that when told of Letterman’s upcoming retirement, “‘It’s cool,’ Palin said tersely. ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’” a particularly delicious retort to a man who works in an industry obsessed with maintaining a youthful façade.

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Citizen Carson

April 1st, 2014 - 4:51 pm

Rob Long reviews Johnny Carson, the new book by longtime Carson confidante Henry Buskin, in the latest issue of Commentary:

It’s all gone now, of course. The American television viewer is a silo’ed creature, binge-viewing on cable dramas or watching clips on Hulu—the second screen of the smartphone always there, demanding attention—and with hundreds of channels to choose from, who can blame them? They even have plenty of late-night talk-show choices, too: There are Kimmel fans and Letterman fans and people who claim to be Team Coco, and all those guys do a pretty good job serving their small slice of the late-night audience. But nobody owns it all. Nobody commands an audience the way Johnny Carson did.

That’s why reading Johnny Carson has a slight Sunset Boulevard vibe to it. It’s not just the parade of 1970s celebrities that Bushkin trots out—your Joyce DeWitts, your Tom Snyders, your Sherman Helmsleys—it’s about the kind of man, and the kind of business, that doesn’t really exist anymore. Carson’s successors are either cranky weirdos like Letterman or giggling boys like Conan and Fallon. It’s a very different kind of man who sits in the big chair these days. There’s nothing emotionally remote about Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Kimmel isn’t cool and detached. When David Letterman has a bad day, every single viewer knows it. If anything, the guys who sit at the desk at 11:30 (and later) are all exposed nerves, all beta male, guys who drive their kids to school and show up at soccer games.

And that’s an improvement, of course, for those who live with them and love them. But it somehow makes the job seem less important.

In Sunset Boulevard, when Joe Gillis recognizes Norma Desmond for the first time, he says, “You used to be big.”

“I am big,” she replies. “It’s the pictures that got small.”

In the television business, it’s the opposite. The pictures have gotten huge—some screens are 60 inches across. They just seem small because they have Jimmy Kimmel on them.

I haven’t read Bushkin’s Carson bio yet, but last summer, I re-read on the Kindle King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, Laurence Leamer’s earlier biography. As I wrote at the time:

We think of William Randolph Hearst and the fictional Charles Foster Kane as media tycoons encasing themselves in living mausoleums as old men, but Johnny Carson was basically entombed the minute he was hired by NBC to replace Jack Parr as the host of the Tonight Show, except that we were invited to tune-in and watch every night. As an audience, particularly during the blow-dried bell-bottom polyester lacuna of the 1970s, we were lucky Johnny was as cool as he was, a byproduct of the early 1960s Sinatra, JFK, Miles, Steve McQueen definition of cool, not the Brando/Fonzie primitive angry young greaser definition of the word. When Marshall McLuhan defined television as a cool medium in the mid-1960s, Johnny personified it – both cool and television. Especially the latter half of the equation.

Or as Kenneth Tynan wrote in his epic 22,000-word(!) 1978 New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson, “I once asked a bright young Manhattan journalist whether he could define in a single word what made television different from theatre or cinema. ‘For good or ill,” he said, ‘Carson.’”

But all transactions involve tradeoffs. While Johnny’s net worth soared as the most popular man on the most popular medium of the mid-20th century, Johnny paid a terrible personal price himself.

Today, the rest of us pay the price, now that all of those who made mid-century show business so watchable have left the stage. My home theater includes a Roku box, a Blu-Ray player, Sirius-XM, and all of my CDs, via the Amazon Cloud. It’s all instantly accessible via a few button pushes.

It’s a 21st century bleeding-edge electronic mausoleum for a dead culture.

Two Michael Moores in One!

April 1st, 2014 - 12:03 pm

He is large, he contains many politically expedient multitudes:

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested and made to pay for their pre-meditated decision to take human lives for a lousy ten bucks.

* * * * * * * *

I hope someone in the Obama administration will get out the handcuffs, the SWAT teams, or the U.S. army if need be, march into GM headquarters in downtown Detroit and haul away anyone who is there who had anything to do with this. And if they already left town, hunt them down and bring them in to face justice.

—”Michael Moore: Hunt Down and Execute GM Officials Behind Ignition-Related Deaths,” Big Hollywood today, quoting from Moore’s Facebook page.

Michael Moore, filmmaker and unabashed right-wing-basher, also took to Twitter to post: “When Palin put crosshairs on a map w/ Rep. Giffords & 19 other Dem congressmen/women, she urged followers to “reload” & “aim” for Democrats.”

“Sarah Palin ‘Targeting’ Blamed for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson Shootings,” Yahoo, January 8th, 2011.

“If a Detroit Muslim put a map on the w/crosshairs 20 pols, then 1 of them got shot, where would he b sitting right now? Just asking,” Moore also tweeted that day.

Possibly on the Democratic National Committee, who also used plenty of target clip art and rhetoric, since it’s standard for all political campaigns. But having ranted about civility, clip art, and gun language in 2011, Moore makes it very easy to point out the left’s hypocrisy when they quickly resumed their own use at hyperbole so quickly after calling for an era of new civility.

Oh and speaking of which, at least as of today:

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Or to put it another way: “Because narrative.”

Ronan Farrow Bested by the Ghosts of NBC Past

March 31st, 2014 - 12:02 pm

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Ronan Farrow Daily “has been a ratings ‘disaster’ since its premiere in February,” Jeff Dunetz writes at Ben Shapiro’s Truth Revolt Website, linking to this article in the (left-leaning) New York Daily News:

The NY Daily News is reporting that Ronan Farrow’s new MSNBC talk show is facing cancellation because of poor ratings. “He sort of stinks on TV,” said an MSNBC source. “He hasn’t turned out to be the superstar they were hoping for.”

MSNBC believed they had the makings of a television superstar on their hands, a face that might prove to be the face of the news outlet. The son of actress Mia Farrow and Woody Allen (though much speculation surrounds the possibility that Frank Sinatra might actually be his biological father) seems to have not only the genes but the intellectual and ideological makeup of the perfect MNSBC host. But as NY Daily News reports, “Ronan Farrow Daily” has been a ratings “disaster” since its premiere in February.

“Nielsen rated Wednesday’s show 708th among all programming in total viewers in the crucial 18-49 age group,” Dunetz adds. “As the Daily News notes, the show was beat out by a ‘Golden Girls’ rerun on the Hallmark Channel.”

Which makes sense, given that the Golden Girls was a product of the earlier, funnier, more competent era of NBC, when Brandon Tartikoff still ruled the roost. Not my cup of tea given the subject matter and even more sclerotic recombinant sitcom themes, but my parents loved it — and Tartikoff gets credit for noticing the graying of TV’s audience, a trend that has only accelerated as the rest of us decamped to the Internet. But the Golden Girls, which was already in its second season when Farrow was born in 1987, boasted a talented, veteran cast, a staff of professional writers, and a competent production crew, all of whom are increasingly in short supply at the beleaguered peacock network and its spin-off channels. In sharp contradistinction to the earlier days of NBC, a competent technical crew in particular has been in very short supply at MSNBC in recent years, resulting in numerous Chyron disasters throughout the MSNBC programming day, and Ronan’s stillborn series is no exception.

Update: From the photo atop his post onward, Jim Treacher really sticks the shiv in, to use language that for 30 seconds was considered non-MSNBC approved. Writing, “Young Mr. Farrow, who’s a dead ringer for his dad Woody, is taking things in stride with his trademark sense of dry humor,” Treacher links to Ronan’s tweet that he’s “Waking up to another crushing day of not being Oprah.”

“Face it, kid, you’re not even Estelle Getty,” Treacher savagely quips — although to be fair, she had much better writers than Getty. Not to mention much less of a sense that the world owed her a living simply because of her name.

Or as Drew of Ace of Spades adds, “Somewhere in the great beyond, Frank Sinatra is telling everyone there’s no chance this no-talent loser is his kid and if he were he’d smack the smirk off the kid’s face.”

It Puts the Lotion in the Basket

March 31st, 2014 - 11:11 am

“Rachael Ray To Joe Biden: ‘You Have The Most Glowing, Perfect Skin Of Any Person I’ve Ever Seen:’”

ABC’s Rachael Ray hosted Vice President Joe Biden for a pre-taped interview which aired on Monday March 31 to push people to sign up for ObamaCare before the midnight deadline.

Ray began the segment by beaming that Biden had “The most glowing, perfect skin of any person I’ve ever seen” before telling the Vice President “I really want to know what moisturizer you use. I love moisturizers, my husband is a moisturizer as well. Would you tell me what moisturizer you use?”

“As the segment concluded,” Jeffrey Meyer adds at Newsbusters, along with the video of the whole sickening affair, “Ray once again begged her audience to sign up for ObamaCare by promptly doing the White House’s bidding: ‘Please guys go to Healthcare.gov. You can sign up today. Get on that line and get your extension.’”

Has anyone checked to see if Ray’s eyes were blinking T-O-R-T-U-R-E during the interview? Because if ever there was a brilliant strategy to turn people off of signing up for Obamacare, drooling over Joe Biden’s dewy-fresh, exceedingly well-moisturized skin during the set up would do the trick brilliantly, with plenty of plausible deniability of your true intentions.

In 2009, Fred Siegel, in the midst of writing the articles that were the rough draft, and in retrospect also expand upon his terrific recent book, The Revolt Against the Masses, dubbed H.G. Wells “The Godfather of American Liberalism” at City Journal. But Wells could also be called — perhaps even more so — the Godfather of British “Liberalism” as well:

By 1932, a frustrated Wells found his superior wisdom bypassed time and again by the superior mass appeal of fascism and Communism. In a talk at Oxford provocatively titled “Liberal Fascism,” he called for liberalism to be “born again.” After his customary denunciation of parliamentary politics as an anachronism, he let out his frustrations, calling for fascist means to serve liberal ends by way of a liberal elite as “conceited” and as power-hungry as its rivals. “I suggest that you study the reinvigoration of Catholicism by Loyola,” Wells said. “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti.” It was also to Communism that “we shall have to turn—we outsiders, that is, the young people with foresight for enlightened Nazis; I am proposing that you consider the formation for a greater Communist Party; a western response to Russia.”

Flash-forward 82 years, and as Kathy Shaidle proffers at the PJ Lifestyle blog, “Meet the Famous British Liberals Who Support Government Control of the Media:”

Within living memory, plays could only be performed in London if they’d been approved by the Lord Chamberlain.

Naturally, that regime was pulled down in the late 1960s; it may surprise some to note how many of the names on the Hacked Off petition are “Swinging London” era artists who led, and benefited hugely from, the battle to abolish that and other restrictions on free speech.

That very surprise is what surprises me.

By now, doesn’t everyone know that many of the leftist Baby Boomers who led the 1960s and 1970s “revolution” were always totalitarian hypocrites?

* * * * * * * *

Salman Rushdie is one of the signatories, too.

(“How much tax-payer dosh was spent protecting HIS ‘freedom of speech’?” asked one commenter.)

So are JK Rowling, Maggie Smith, Richard Dawkins, Russell Brand, Tom Stoppard, Bob Geldof, Stephen Fry and Steve Coogan (above.)

When I got to the bottom of the list without seeing the name of anyone I still give a damn about, I literally let out a sigh of relief and slumped in my chair.

The rest of you may have to spend part of your weekend weeding your collection of books, records and DVDs, however.

Mike Hume sums it up perfectly:

Some 80 years ago, George Dangerfield wrote his famous history, The Strange Death of Liberal England. Today, it seems we are witnessing the strange suicide of liberal Britain, as those who like to think of themselves as free-thinking radicals and champions of human rights publicly declare their ‘weakening of the desire for liberty’. They have effectively signed a death warrant for liberal Britain by tossing away the most fundamental liberty of all, freedom of expression and of the press.

Remember their names, and the next time any of these illiberal liberals tries to claim that they are radicals, rebels or freedom fighters, let us remind the world that they are fully signed-up supporters of an unfree press by order of the Crown.

The ghost of Oswald Mosley gives his blessing to the entire endeavor, the natural conclusion to a nation that toppled National Socialism only to immediately begin nationalizing and socializing their own country. Read the whole thing.

Update: Here’s the list of names; Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd was one of the signees. It’s not an entirely “unexpected” development, but naively, I thought Gilmour, one of my teenage guitar heroes, was less obsessed with totalitarian control than his bandmate Roger Waters. Between Gilmour’s willingness to sign off on the concept of a state-run media and Waters’ escalating rabid hatred of Israel, increasingly I start to wonder, half-seriously, if perhaps songs like this from The Wall weren’t meant to be ironic:

Note that in the above video, the odious lyrics from “In The Flesh, Part II” are being sung by Bob Geldof, the star of the movie version of The Wall, who also signed off on the notion of state media control.

“Think of the Democratic Party as what it really is: a criminal organization masquerading as a political party,” my friend and fellow PJM columnist Michael Walsh wrote in 2009 in the guise of his leftwing alter-ego, David Kahane.

Certainly, at a minimum it’s safe to say that Democrats were rather active on the nation’s police blotters today. Since this is one narrative the MSM will never assemble (as they’re in on the fun), it’s up to the Blogosphere — so here we go.

First up, the password is Swordfish Shrimp Boy:

“BREAKING: Anti-Gun CA Senator Leland Yee Charged With Gun Running,” reports The Truth About Guns:

It what would surely place his likeness prominently on the Mt. Rushmore of hypocrisy if the allegations are proven in a court of law, famously anti-gun California state Senator Leland Yee has been charged with, in addition to bribery and public corruption…yes…gun running. Specifically conspiring with known organized crime lord Kwok Cheung “Shrimp Boy” Chow to illegally import firearms and sell them without a license . . .

The affidavit charges that the $2 million worth of weapons to have been secreted into the country from the Philippines included rocket launchers and machine guns, some of which Yee himself had fired while on Mindanao. A portion of the weapons Yee conspired to bring into the U.S. through New Jersey were to have been forwarded on to North Africa via Sicily.

At NRO’s Corner, Tim Cavanaugh adds, “California State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat representing San Francisco, was arrested Wednesday by the Justice Department in an apparent sting that involves a famous Chinatown criminal, local media report“:

Yee is the third Democrat in the California state senate facing criminal charges. The other two are in Los Angeles County. Rod Wright of Inglewood is taking a leave of absence after being convicted of perjury and voter fraud related to charges that he lied about his residence when running for office in 2008. Monetebello’s Ron Calderon is also on leave while fighting 24 felony counts related to bribery in exchange for steering legislation.

The Democratic Party has 28 out of 40 seats in the state senate. Wright’s and Calderon’s absences have already left the Democrats without the two-thirds supermajority they often claim to need, presumably so they can stand up to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, the Democratic-controlled State Assembly, and the Democrats who hold all statewide elected offices.

Like the Truth About Guns Website, Rush Limbaugh is also having a schadenfreude overdose:

The reason that I stopped everything to take your call — and clearly, folks, he didn’t call for this reason — is Leland Yee is the California politician who attempted to get me fired and disbarred and dismembered and dis-whatever else’d after I impersonated the ChiCom premier. The ChiCom premier was here and having a joint press conference with Obama.

I did an interpretation of the ChiCom premier speaking Chinese. (interruption) Yeah, it was one of my best shows. Leland Yee and these people had an absolute fit! They thought, “This is exactly the kind of racism and the bigotry and the insensitivity and what else” that I, El Rushbo, am known for.  And that’s why I took the call. So here this guy who wanted me thrown off the air for racism and bigotry is now having his offices raided by the “feebs” because of possible corruption while in office.  I just love it!

CALLER: (chuckling)

RUSH: These guys, they sit up there all majestically in their royalty, and they try to eliminate their opposition.  All the while their hands are in the till and they’re engaging in corruption I couldn’t even dream of.  So I’m actually glad, Chris, that you called, and I’m actually glad that you got through. ‘Cause otherwise Leland Yee’s name probably would not have come up today.

Beyond Yee, as I said, today was quite a day for Democrats and the police blotter. Democrat Charlotte NC Mayor Patrick Cannon resigned today after less than six months in office, “just hours after he was arrested and accused of taking more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen who wanted to do work with North Carolina’s largest city,” the Blaze reports:

Cannon submitted his resignation letter to city manager Ron Carlee and city attorney Bob Hagemann, Charlotte spokesman Keith Richardson said in an email. The 47-year-old Cannon is charged with bribery and public corruption. The Democrat took cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment as bribes and solicited more than $1 million more, according to a criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Cannon said in his resignation letter that the pending charges “will create too much of a distraction” for the business of the city to go forward. He said it was effective immediately.

Keith Farnham, 66, a Democrat Illinois state rep, resigned today. In an article dated Monday, but updated to reflect Farnham’s resignation today, the Chicago Tribune reported:

Reports that federal agents were looking for evidence of child pornography when they seized computers from the Elgin district office of former state Rep. Keith Farnham shocked local officials who said the lawmaker was well-liked and active in the community.

“I couldn’t even fathom it. I was stunned,” said former Elgin Mayor Ed Schock, adding that Farnham always worked on the city’s behalf.

Farnham has not been accused of any crime.Federal agents were searching for documents “pertaining to the possession, receipt or distribution of child pornography” as well as computer files, copies and negatives of child pornography or any documents that depicted minors “engaged in sexually explicit conduct,” according to a search warrant released Friday.

And the hits just keep on coming.

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One of the basic rules of American series TV is that a successful show’s best episodes occur in its first one or two seasons, and then it’s all downhill from there, as both the exhausting production pace of a weekly series overwhelms a show’s writing and technical crew, and its renewal and reliance of what become audience-beloved clichés diminishes the need for brilliance. (Hence the phrase “phoning it in.”)

Mad Men has been no exception — the first couple of seasons were quite fascinating, as its slick production design and relatively untapped era — the Rat Pack, JFK, cool, swank, bourbon and Marlboro-scented early 1960s — made for some hypnotic viewing.

But the inertia of the show coupled with its entering the period of the 1960s that’s been canonized by the Boomers has seen a steady decline in watchability. Most episodes have one really solid dramatic scene (and the shock moment that AMC requires be inserted into each episode to generate viral “buzz” and YouTube clips), but getting there is, all too often, is a tough slog.

Which in a sense seems sort of paradoxical, given the transformation of the era — as the Boomers remember it — from the Eisenhower/JFK early ‘60s to the Technicolor LSD-soaked craziness of the Summer of Love and the non-stop horrors of the following year.

But this clanging moment in “showrunner” Matthew Weiner’s interview today with the Internet Movie Database previewing the show’s last season (which AMC will split into two years, ala the split final season of Breaking Bad) may illustrate why Mad Men seems rather moribund these days:

A lot of reasons that I started the show in 1960 was because it was so much the height of the ‘50s. I felt that there was a sort of constricted social environment based on manners that we’ve watched disintegrate and erode throughout the decade. The weirdest thing about getting to the late ‘60s is that it feels more like today. Other than saying “groovy” once in a while…there is not, in either watching the movies, or reading books, or reading interviews, or watching the news, it does not feel even slightly anachronistic. There is nothing to laugh at by the time you’re in the late ‘60s. It is very similar to right now, with the exception of technology.

Really? Nothing to laugh at? From the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to Radical Chic to The Me Decade, culminating in his Purple Decades Anthology, Tom Wolfe spent the late ‘60s and entire 1970s having lots of fun mocking the Weimar-esque excesses of the New Left and the damage they wreaked upon society. P.J. O’Rourke’s entire career has explored similar terrain with often even zanier results.

But helps enormously to maintain some distance between yourself and your subject – and a fair amount of skepticism as well. And to “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you,” as Flannery O’Connor once said. Otherwise, as Umberto Eco wrote almost a decade ago:

G K Chesterton is often credited with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it* — he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.

It’s fascinating to watch a man who’s pose is that of being cool and skeptical about America drop the mask and admit his outrageous credulity, that he’s a true believer, baptized in the Electric Kool-Aid of the 1960s.

* As Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society wrote in 2005, decoding the convoluted history of this brilliant aphorism, “the source is still Chesterton. Except he didn’t say it.”

Related: Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968.

Update: No sooner did I publish this post than I came across this: “The culture war isn’t religious versus secular. It’s a clash of two faiths,” from Timothy P. Carney’s article in the Washington Examiner tonight titled, “Peace in the culture wars — if the Left wants it.” Although considering, to extrapolate from Weiner’s quote above, that the left’s worldview has been freeze-dried and hermetically-sealed since 1968 (QED), neither side is holding their breath waiting for the armistice.

Recognition Symbols

March 13th, 2014 - 1:57 pm

David Mamet is interviewed by David Masciotra of the Federalist:

Mamet believes that it is liberal political correctness that erases the indigenous story from American history. “Totalitarian thinking”, his nickname for political correctness, “reduces them, along with black Americans, to one fact – they were victims.”

His study of the Native Americans, which began with an article for the Smithsonian National Museum on Buffalos and the “national shame” of American atrocities toward Natives, led him to the discovery that “One sees how a primitive society has all the elements of ours, which is just another primitive society with a lot more technology.”

Christopher Hitchens writes in his memoir that his mother taught him, “There is nothing worse than boring people.” The worst sin, therefore, of America’s slouch into slovenliness might be that it creates a culture of boredom.

Less drive, aggression, and energy lead to less excitement, fun, and variety. If there is one element of life that should forever live with immunity to boredom it is sexuality, yet America has managed, against all the odds, to make sex boring. Pop culture’s predictable vulgarity, along with young Americans’ rejection of romance and fear of intimacy, leads to laughable events like “Sex Week”, a sexually instructive and controversial event that takes place annually at college campuses across the country.

That can happen as a society transforms into the second coming of the Weimar Republic.

(Via Ace.)

There is No Hell, There is Only the 1970s

March 13th, 2014 - 9:44 am

Free to be You and Me, the craptacular 1974 ABC special is explored by Kyle Smith of the New York Post:

Billionaire “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg praised “Free to Be” and says she plays the album for her children. Its star and developer, Marlo Thomas (of the sitcom “That Girl”), accurately said last year in a blog post that the show “became a coined phrase — a cultural touchstone — that spoke of the times in which we lived.”

And what times they were! Times of hokey “message” entertainment, singing jocks, humorless cartoons and revolting sweaters.

The show, which is of course unwatchable today except perhaps in states with generous attitudes toward self-medication such as Colorado and Washington, was an hour-long special that meant to tell little girls they could be anything they wanted, and little boys they could be anything they wanted too, provided that what they wanted was to be girls.

The program’s most searing and indelible moment was the horrifying sight of Rosey Grier, a huge man once known as one of the most ferocious players in the NFL, strumming a guitar, smiling like a brain donor and singing “It’s All Right to Cry.”

And that’s the Weimaresque 1970s in a nutshell: every man became Alan Alda for a few years — even Rosey Grier.

The horror. The horror.

Two Weinsteins In One!

March 8th, 2014 - 3:44 pm

Past performance is no guarantee of future results:

“There’s no reason for us not to shoot here, except when you do the numbers here and when you do the numbers in New Orleans, it is much more attractive financially,” Weinstein said in the Q&A on Saturday.

He cited the example of “Southpaw,” directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, as project that could have shot in Los Angeles were it not for the generous tax incentives in the Big Easy.

But Weinstein said that Los Angeles and California “doesn’t even have to give the same discount” to remain competitive, noting the cost and hassle of having to locate actors and other talent in New Orleans is an added expense despite their generous tax incentives.

“Please, whatever you can go with the governor,” Weinstein said to Ziffren, a friend of California Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown has not said whether he would sign proposed legislation to expand the state’s incentive program.

—”Harvey Weinstein to California: Expand Production Tax Incentives, ‘Please,’” Variety.com, Saturday.

While we are on the subject of Piers Morgan, Harvey Weinstein was on his show last night, talking about his support for President Obama and the fund-raiser he held for him at his home last week. Weinstein echoed Warren Buffett’s call for the wealthy in the country to be taxed more — and said that he considers it an investment in the country, not an unfair burden.

—”Harvey Weinstein: I’ll Gladly Pay More Taxes,” Variety.com, August 7th, 2011.

Huh — I wonder what changed his mind on the topic. In order to keep Harvey’s standing amongst his fellow limousine leftists in Hollywood, we need to help him keep his original word and ask him to simultaneously fight against tax incentives for Hollywood studios, and additionally, to help campaign to repeal the Hollywood tax cuts. Not to mention help him to keep this promise as well.

A for Agitprop

March 7th, 2014 - 8:01 am

A couple of weeks ago, a Slate authoress noted, somewhat astonishingly, that she had never seen Schindler’s List until very recently. As she wrote, it’s far easier to simply stream something light and fluffy than to rent something dark and serious:

Why did it take me so long? The reasons will be familiar to anyone who’s ever let a worthy but difficult film languish in its red Netflix envelope. You keep meaning to watch the movie, but when it comes time to nestle into your couch on Sunday afternoon, confronting the depravity of human nature somehow isn’t what you’re in the mood for. Why not put on The Grey instead and confront the depravity of computer-generated wolves?

Hey, if someone at Slate, where the highbrow pose is always in evidence, can cop to never seeing Schindler’s List, then I can confess to never having seen V for Vendetta until last month, when I rented it on blu-ray from Netflix.

Considering its popularity with the far left Occupy gang in the fall of 2011, I thought that I needed to take one for the team and finally watch the damn thing. (Spoilers to follow, but I don’t really feel too worried about giving away plot points from an eight-year old film.

I was actually surprised at how bad it was. I gave David Zucker, the director of 2008′s conservative American Carol plenty of grief — how did we get from the laugh-a-second seemingly effortless Airplane to this turgid piece of agitprop? But V for Vendetta is a painful reminder that forgetting one’s storytelling skills to grind out political agitprop isn’t just limited to the all-too-rare film from right. Vendetta was produced by the Wachowski brothers (err, actually brother and sister now….) who had previously created The Matrix, at least that film was loaded with kinetic energy and motion.

V featured loads of static shots as Hugo Weaving (the cheerfully sinister Agent Smith who guards the Matrix) under his immobile white polystyrene Guy Fawkes mask, recites pages after page of dialogue, which sounded like it was lifted whole from Howard Zinn textbooks.

John Hurt co-stars as Britain’s “high chancellor,” the film’s Big Brother-style Maximum Leader, an obvious nod to his role as Winston Smith in the movie version of Orwell’s 1984, and Natalie Portman plays The Girl, which adds to the feeling, as John Podhoretz perceptively noted in his review of V for Vendetta at the Weekly Standard, of the film being “an Atlas Shrugged for leftist lunatics:”

And just like Atlas Shrugged, V for Vendetta is an exercise in didactic propaganda in the guise of an adventure story meant to appeal to teenage boys and their narcissistic fantasies about being at the very center of the universe. Both works prominently feature a cool, beautiful, and skinny chick who throws in her lot with the nerds. In Atlas Shrugged, it’s the railroad manager Dagny Taggart who joins with Galt. In V for Vendetta, the beauteous waif Natalie Portman plays Eevy, who throws in her lot with V and falls for him even though he wears a ludicrous wig, minces about like the Olympic skater Johnny Weir, hands out flowers like Ferdinand the Bull, and is horribly burned.

Speaking for any adolescent male who feels self-conscious about his skin, V tells Eevy that she needn’t see his scars, because the face under his mask doesn’t represent the real him. V can go anywhere undetected and do anything, but oh, how lonely he is, sitting alone in his basement lair watching The Count of Monte Cristo and listening to music all by himself on his old jukebox, wearing his mask even in solitude. V for Vendetta began its journey to the screen as a comic book, and V is the ultimate comic-book protagonist–the Superhero loser.

Having recently re-read the Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens’ bracing 1999 book, which describes postwar socialist England as morphing into the decadent second coming of the Weimar Republic, it’s was impossible for me to accept the premise of V for Vendetta. Astonishingly, the 2006-era Wachowski brothers apparently see England in a few decades as turning into a Handmaid’s Tale/1984 style dystopia, in which Muslims, lesbians, and gays are rounded up and placed into Nazi-style camps for extermination and/or torturous experimentation, or both. V wears his ridiculous mask, we are told, because he was tortured at some point in one of these camps, and hideously burned beyond recognition in the process. (Naturally, he gets his revenge upon his chief tormentor midway through the film, who willingly accepts being murdered by V as penance for her past sins.

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What’s the Matter with Animal House?

March 3rd, 2014 - 11:59 am

File this one under questions nobody is asking: What does Thomas Frank, the far left author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? think about the oeuvre of the late Harold Ramis? But “For Anyone Who Wonders What Thomas Frank Thinks of the Films of Harold Ramis,” Jesse Walker of Reason has you covered:

And Frank gets off a clever line when he writes that “the fraternity at Dartmouth which served as one of the models for ‘Animal House’ has of late become a kind of pipeline into the investment-banking industry” right after he quotes one of the movie’s most famous bits of dialogue—the part where one of the Delta House crew says, “You fucked up. You trusted us.” You can see the seeds of an interesting comparison there: If Animal House blurred the boundary between anti-authoritarian fun and entitled assholery, there are people on Wall Street whose rhetoric blurs the boundary between desubsidized deregulation and subsidized moral hazard. Frank, alas, isn’t keen on drawing that distinction either.

But this really is a classic case of “you f***ed, you trusted us,” as there’s a direct pipeline between Goldman-Sachs and the Obama White House — but then, who’s surprised that Frank gets Ramis’s films as wrong as he did, oh, Kansas, to name one of the 57 states at random?

L to R: Breitbart, Glenn Reynolds, Driscoll at 2008 GOP convention.

Today is the second anniversary of the death of the ultimate happy warrior, Andrew Breitbart. I met and interviewed Andrew on several occasions from 2005 until his death in 2012 at age 43, which was the very definition of the phrase “untimely passing.” That year, shortly after he passed away, I dusted off the cassette tape of the first interview I had with Andrew, recorded a couple of weeks after meeting him for the first time at the PJM launch in Manhattan on November of 2005. We discussed his first book, Hollywood Interrupted, for quotes and background material for an article on Tinseltown’s woes that I was writing for Tech Central Station. What follows below is the post I wrote in 2012, when I originally ran that interview.

* * * * * *

Early on in Chris K. Daley’s new e-book, Becoming Breitbart: The Impact of a New Media Revolutionary, there’s a great quote from Mickey Kaus, on the power that Andrew Breitbart had quickly acquired, very early in his career:

In retrospect hitching his star to Drudge was a brilliant decision. This was hardly a given in 1995. Political blogger Mickey Kaus, someone who understood the power of the Internet, recalled, “I first met Breitbart when he showed up at a panel I was on at UCLA. He told me he was the guy who posted items for Matt Drudge, and I immediately realized he was the most powerful person in the room. Nobody could understand why I was sucking up to the crazed hippie kid in shorts.”

The power of Drudge Report comes from the large audience it has generated. By 2007 it was regularly attracting over three million unique visits. The average visitor spent an incredible one hour and six minutes on the site, an eternity in Internet terms. The average visitor went to the site 20 times a month. The Washington Post, a popular link for Drudge, noted in 2006 that its “largest driver of traffic is Matt Drudge.”

And not coincidentally along the way, as a headline at Andrew’s Big Journalism site gloats, “Newspapers [have become] America’s Fastest Shrinking Industry.”

Flash-forward to the fall of 2004, and Andrew’s behind-the-scenes power was very much in evidence, this time changing the face of television news. As Scott Johnson of Power Line noted at the start of the month:

I learned in the course of [my week-long visit to Israel in 2007 with Breitbart] that it was Andrew who changed my life in 2004, linking to our “Sixty-First Minute” post early that afternoon with the screaming siren on Drudge. He confided that Matt Drudge did not like blogs, but that he (Andrew) was a fan. On September 9, 2004, he was following the action online. Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for everything.

But along the way, Breitbart also took detours into other ventures, such as helping to build the architecture of the Huffington Post, and co-writing, with Mark Ebner, their 2004 book Hollywood Interrupted. As I mention in the podcast below, I met Andrew in person for the first time the week of November 14th 2005, during the launch week of PJ Media in New York. After we both had returned to California, on November 28, 2005, I interviewed him by telephone for an article I was working on for Tech Central Station, now called Ideas In Action TV.com, about Hollywood’s box office woes, which was published a week later and titled, a la Woody Allen, “Hollywood Ending.”

I loved Hollywood, Interrupted, and I was certainly aware of Andrew’s backstage work at the Drudge Report and the celebrity-oriented Huffington Post. So I definitely wanted to get his take on how the movie industry, a medium that we both loved, had been utterly transformed, and not necessarily for the better, since its golden era of the 1930s through the mid-1960s.

This interview was originally recorded onto a cheap mono tape recorder, originally for the purpose of pulling quotes for my Tech Central Station article. And while I’ve done a considerable amount of restoration work (employing both extensive amounts of Izotope’s RX audio restoration software and the noise gate plug-in built into Cakewalk’s Sonar program), it’s still much cruder sounding than the podcasts and radio shows I’ve produced for PJ Media in the years since. But with Andrew’s passing, I thought it would be worth sharing. So apologies for the sound quality, but I think hearing Andrew riffing on the topic of how the Hollywood of old became, as he would say, Interrupted, is well worth listening to.

There are several observations that Andrew makes here that have withstood the test of time. Early on, there’s a grimly hilarious remark by Andrew concerning his ailing grandmother, who emitted a piercing primal scream of terror, whenever anyone attempted to change the TV channel from her beloved CBS, the only channel she apparently ever watched, in sharp contrast to today’s world of hundreds of cable and satellite channels and millions of Websites and blogs. At about 17 minutes into the interview, he mentions the punitive liberalism and growing nihilism of Hollywood’s product, the latter of which being a topic I discussed extensively with Thomas Hibbs last month, the author of the definitive look at Hollywood nihilism, Shows About Nothing. And two minutes later, Andrew makes a great observation on the popularity of today’s show-biz-oriented reality TV shows as a sort of payback by the American people for today’s drug-addled screw-up stars abandoning the glamour they maintained during Hollywood’s earlier era. Near the end of the interview, you can sort of hear the Big Hollywood Website starting to coalesce in Andrew’s mind; a topic he and I would discuss a few years later on PJM’s Sirius-XM radio show in 2009.

A transcript of this interview, which I originally typed up in 2005 as raw material for my Tech Central Station article, and thus paraphrases some of Andrew’s more stream of consciousness remarks, follows on the next page.

Click below to listen to the podcast:

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(28 minutes long; 26 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this week’s show to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 8 MB lo-fi edition.)

Since in the past, a few people have complained of difficulties with the Flash player above and/or downloading the audio, use the video player below, or click here to be taken to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.

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Say, Maybe TMZ Could Open Up a Branch in DC

February 27th, 2014 - 1:12 pm

At the risk of agreeing (slightly) with Alec Baldwin, he actually may have been onto something, but given his own raging anger at stewardesses, Starbucks baristas, his former fellow MSNBC employees, the Blogosphere, Henry Hyde, and anybody who’s ever looked at him funny, he’s not quite the right messenger. But at the 25 minute mark in a recent “GLOP” podcast (Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long and John Podhoretz) at Ricochet, the infinitely more genial Rob Long and John Podhoretz pointed out the flip-over that’s occurred in the way that show business and politics are covered by the media.

First, Podhoretz mentioned that in the 1930s and ‘40s, Hollywood benefited from being on the opposite coast from New York, then as now the central hub of American news. News traveled much slower, and Hollywood agents could hand out press releases about their stars, stage publicity photos, and carefully control their image. The studios also employed “fixers” such as the MGM duo of Howard Strickling and Eddie Mannix, who helped tamp down damaging stories concerning stars through a variety of generally unsavory methods.

There was no Blogosphere and Twitter, which Baldwin has used so effectively to shoot himself in the foot. And there weren’t paparazzi at every corner photographing stars pumping gas, coming out of gyms, or drunk at bars, and engaging in non-Hays Office-approved activities in general. As Rob Long noted, and he’s right, today, Hollywood stars and fashion models are covered far more brutally than people with real power — politicians — are in Washington:

What’s interesting is that the adversarial relationship with press right now in Hollywood – not the press so much, but the tabloid-y, TMZ-style press is pretty strong. It’s a weird world – you go out to dinner here, and you walk out of dinner and there are dudes standing on the curb, or sometimes in cars across the street with giant telephoto lenses, and it’s weird. You get a sense of how strangely adversarial that relationship must be. And you’re right – back in the old days, it was very cozy, and in fact the press felt like another arm of the studios. But you want to talk about politics – you go to Washington DC right now, and it’s the other way around. It’s like the old Hollywood press when they’re writing about this president – it’s fawning, and controlled, and the big studio, which is the White House, sort of lets them know what they’re supposed to say, and keeps all the bad news away.

Plus the media view themselves in as loving terms as Hollywood celebrities once did. As we noted yesterday, Ronan Farrow is about to receive “the Walter Cronkite Award” after hosting his MSNBC show — ostensibly a news and opinion show — for three days. Today Ace links to a recent post by Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, headlined sarcastically, “American journalism, brimming with once-in-a-generation talent”:

 The Post announced the hiring of the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell and called her “one of the smartest, most original journalists of her generation.” Uh-oh — she may have to compete with Politico’s Todd Purdum, who at the time of his hiring was “one of the most perceptive reporters and elegant stylists of his generation.” Politico is full of generational leaders, too, as Editor-in-Chief John Harris said of “Playbook” author Mike Allen: “One of the most exceptional journalists of his generation.” (Allen has a more humble view of himself as “one of Washington’s top journalists.“). Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser was feted upon her hiring last year as “among the most respected thinkers and editors of her generation.” As opposed to Steve Coll, who was hailed as “one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation” upon being selected as dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Coll has written a great deal about the war on terrorism, so he’s doubtless familiar with the work of Gregory Johnsen, who, upon his selection as a BuzzFeed Michael Hastings fellow, was celebrated as “one of his generation’s wisest and most original voices on national security.” Both Coll and Johnsen, in turn, would be familiar with the work of John Pomfret, who over a quarter-century, per a Post memo, became ”one of the great foreign correspondents of his generation.”

Much more after the page break, including cameos from Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and Ted Nugent.

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