We live in an era of disposable pop culture. All around us we see vapid reality series, uninspired (and uninspiring) music, movies that are little more than retreads of other bad ideas, and starlets who are famous merely for being famous. Of course, this stuff is not necessarily bad in and of itself – in fact, mindless pop culture can make for some great “guilty pleasure” moments.
The truth is, when any form of entertainment achieves excellence, we notice. Television programs like Mad Men and Friday Night Lights, music by artists such as Mumford & Sons and Zac Brown Band, and films like Lincoln and Les Miserables attract attention because they raise the bar in their genre.
The idea of excellence as something for which to strive goes back to the Bible. Jewish and Christian believers alike are aware of the admonishments in Scripture to give our all. In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon advises:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
And the Apostle Paul encourages the believers in Colosse:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Walt Disney himself felt the pull to achieve excellence, in part because his name was on every product the Studio created. He once said, “Anything that has a Disney name to it is something we feel responsible for.” He instilled the value of excellence in his staff as well – he once hailed his staff as “the ones who insist on doing something better and better.” A sign on a construction wall from my last trip to Walt Disney World expresses this value.
Over the course of the next couple of pages, we’re going to take a look at how this value of excellence shows up throughout Disney culture.
Leave aside the fact that the second episode in the relaunch of the Starship Enterprise should have been called Star Trek: Into Derpness. Try to get past the fact that Bones McCoy kind of looks like Dan Rather and speaks in Rather’s bonehead country-fried metaphors, or that Uhura keeps whining at Spock for not being a caring enough lover (what’d she expect when she started dating a Vulcan), or that the filmmakers don’t even pretend to come up with a valid reason to show curvy blonde actress Alice Eve (who plays a new character) in her underwear, or that a fratboy actor as lightweight as Chris Pine would have had a hard time nabbing a role as a private first class in a 1940s war movie.
Let’s get to the issue none of the liberal writers will touch: What does this movie tell us about Hollywood and the War on Terror? First, that la-la land thinks the war is over. And second, the filmmakers now feel the coast is clear to resume their normal anti-American propaganda.
The far-left stance of the movie is fairly overt. Things gets rolling with a terrorist attack in London launched by a mysterious rogue officer (Benedict Cumberbatch, whose acting is so superior to everyone else’s that it’s like watching John Gielgud do a guest shot on Friends). Wedged amongst the reams of techno-gobbledygook in the script, here are four ways the movie is infecting young minds with left-liberal rubbish. (Mild spoilers follow, but I’ll keep it vague.)
1) The Voice of Reason and Morality Warns that It’s “By Definition” Immoral to Kill a Known Terrorist on a Foreign Battlefield Instead of Bringing Him to Trial.
On a mission to hunt down the murderous Harrison (Cumberbatch), Spock (Zachary Quinto) tells the hotheaded Kirk (Chris Pine) that assassinating the terrorist — whose lethal acts Kirk and others have eyewitnessed — would be obviously wrong. Director J.J. Abrams and his team of hack screenwriters (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof) are striking a stance on the demise of Osama Bin Laden so extreme that no one to the right of Michael Moore would dare utter it. But because the message is concealed in a noisy blockbuster, the filmmakers are hoping they can get away with it.
As an early teen in the early ’80s, it was just about impossible not to like Michael Jackson’s music. It was certainly impossible to avoid it. With Thriller, Jackson and producer Quincy Jones set out to make the ultimate crossover album — one that would gain black and white audiences in equal measure. And equal airplay, too, back when radio stations were even more racially targeted than they are today.
And boy, did they succeed.
But Michael Jackson the person? It was pretty obvious even then that he was one strange dude. What happened though is what happens to too many child performers: The weirdness went up and up, while the quality of the performances went down and down. By the time Dangerous came out in 1991, the magic was pretty much gone. It sold in the millions, yet nobody was buying it. And by that I mean, nobody was buying Jackson’s pseudo tough/tender/ladies man act anymore. The weird was just too weird.
Then came the obligatory-yet-somehow-disappointing greatest hits collection, the horrifying-yet-believable stories about his sleepover parties with kids…
I shudder even to think about it. His last studio album, ironically named Invincible, came out after years of delays and way over budget — and to a tepid response.
It was around this time he was dangling babies off balconies and looking like a bad drag queen version of Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, and he’d somehow managed to go broke buying giraffes and rollercoasters and stuff. The music had hit bottom and the weird was at the top of the charts.
The amazingly talented and abused little boy who never had a childhood, never really had an adulthood, either. There’s so much blame to go around, you barely know where to start.
[There are updates at the end of this post.]
Well, look, when the left-wing media lands a punch, you got to take it, fair and square. Turns out one of the few open conservative activists in Hollywood has been hiding a past life as a Holocaust denier. He once recanted, but it was fake. He’s still mealy-mouthed on the subject. This is from the Guardian, a socialist newspaper in the UK:
To those who knew him, or thought they knew him, he was a cerebral, fun-loving gadfly who hosted boozy gatherings for Hollywood’s political conservatives. David Stein brought right-wing congressmen, celebrities, writers and entertainment industry figures together for shindigs, closed to outsiders, where they could scorn liberals and proclaim their true beliefs.
Over the past five years Stein’s organisation, Republican Party Animals, drew hundreds to regular events in and around Los Angeles, making him a darling of conservative blogs and talkshows. That he made respected documentaries on the Holocaust added intellectual cachet and Jewish support to Stein’s cocktail of politics, irreverence and rock and roll.
There was just one problem. Stein was not who he claimed. His real name can be revealed for the first time publicly – a close circle of confidants only found out the truth recently – as David Cole. And under that name he was once a reviled Holocaust revisionist who questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers. He changed identities in January 1998.
Yuck-o. And bad for the cause of freedom too, because you know full well the media will try to tar us all with it. That’s how it works. Oliver Stone makes a documentary rationalizing a Soviet Union that slaughtered gazillions in the name of oppression; Sean Penn kisses the backsides of tyrants like Castro and Chavez — hey, no problem. They still work and win praise — and certainly no one tries to pin their foolishness on run-of-the-mill Hollywood Democrats, nor should they. But one creepoid on the right, and we’ll soon start to hear, “Well, that’s what they’re all like, deep down.” See if we don’t.
We tend to think of Hollywood as a bastion of leftism, and rightly so. Books like Ron Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood demonstrate the deep-seated left wing dominance of the entertainment industry. Even with the leftism prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age, many unabashed conservatives found success without compromising their principles, including one of the most creative minds in the business – Walt Disney.
Several biographers and writers that I’ve read have tried to declare that Walt Disney was apolitical, but I find this conclusion not to be true. Diane Disney Miller once said that her father was “kind of a strange figure” politically, and Walt admitted his own political naiveté:
A long time ago, I found out that I knew nothing whatsoever about this game of politics and since then I’ve preferred to keep silent about the entire matter rather than see my name attached to any statement that was not my own.
But plenty of people surrounding Walt Disney knew the truth: that he was conservative to his core. Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” said that Walt’s right-leaning politics made him uncomfortable and that politics drove a rift in their friendship in Disney’s later years. Radical writer Maurice Rapf, who worked on several Disney films, including Song of the South, said, “He was very conservative except in one particular – he was a very strong environmentalist.” However, Walt Disney’s conservatism did not manifest itself until after he had been a businessman for several years.
Walt Disney’s early exposure to politics came from his father, Elias, who was a Socialist – in particular, he followed the philosophy of J. A. Wayland. Wayland created a unique strain of Prairie Socialism in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Daniel J. Flynn, in his book A Conservative History of the American Left, tells of how Wayland “reached Americans with the message [of Socialism] that had been heretofore explained in a German, Yiddish, or Russian accent, but never with a Bible-belt twang.”
Today is the one year anniversary of the death of New Media pioneer and American patriot Andrew Breitbart. In his memory I’m reprinting the article I published a year ago in response, explaining the impact he had, originally titled “Immortality: Andrew Breitbart’s 5 Gifts to Generation Y Conservatism.”
My wife called him the wizard, for he could conjure up anything at any time with limitless energy.
As an enthusiast for pop culture’s fruits, perhaps Big Hollywood’s founder would allow a Harry Potter reference to describe the impact he left on American political culture and the lives of those who knew him.
During the final years of his life Breitbart transformed into the Bad Guy, a political assassin in the vast right-wing conspiracy who could fire lightning bolts to sizzle political careers and collapse Marxist organizations. He became the dark lord Voldemort, the great Boogeyman masterminding the Tea Party New Media Revolution.
And as with the horcrux relics of J.K. Rowling’s fantasy, Breitbart planted pieces of his soul everywhere. Now that he’s gone his spirit will exert greater influence. His seeds will continue to grow and everyone will see his touch from beyond the grave.
What will come? Here are five directives Breitbart imprinted on the next generation of conservatives.
5. Focus on the Right Culture War.
As children growing up during the Clintonian Age, “culture war” meant baby boomers obsessing over sex and fantasy violence: V-Chips for TV, abstinence sex education, Monica’s stained dress, Ellen DeGeneres and Mortal Kombat. With an economy booming and twin towers standing, the maintenance of Millennial innocence dominated parental political priorities. And so the conservative media critique remained for a generation.
With Breitbart’s rise, a new generation began to shift culture war to something else. Not Christian morality vs secularist hedonism, but universal American values vs cultural Marxism.
To see the Breitbart principle in action, consider Big Journalism’s recent fight to hold accountable Keith Olbermann for covering up the sexual violence of Occupy Wall Street. (Minimizing the severity of criminal behavior remains a preferred cultural Marxist tactic in the effort to initiate greater societal destabilization for revolution.)
A practical danger hides within Olbermann’s meme. Bad ideas have real-world consequences. How many future victims will think, “Well if Keith Olbermann says this rape-at-occupy stuff is more crap from this racist Breitbart then we might as well go…”?
That’s why the culture war matters. These ideas destroy lives. They must be stopped. But to do that we need to know their origin. And here too Breitbart led the way.
For 2013 at PJ Lifestyle we’re going to try to organize the seemingly endless abyss of “Lifestyle” topics with a general theme each day. These appear on the About Us page and include links to some of the articles we’ve published this past year:
We try to blog on seven general subjects each week from a variety of perspectives that do not always agree. The topics include:
Every Tuesday, we post career advice, self-improvement tips, product reviews, and how-to guides as well as blogs on entrepreneurship, disaster preparation, gardening, and self-sufficiency.
The middle of the week requires some laughter. That’s why every Wednesday we’ll have humorous pieces featuring satire, viral videos, goofy images and amusing photoshops, cute animals, slideshow galleries and other memes from across the Web.
On Thursday, PJ Lifestyle is your go-to place for the latest info on pop culture – ranging from movies, TV, novels, music and celebrities – as well as posts about other cultures – like military culture, counterculture, California culture, traditional culture, international culture, odd subcultures, geek culture – and more.
Spend Saturdays finding new recipes and cooking tips, learning about new ways to exercise and stay healthy, reading medical stories, and keeping up with sports and outdoor life.
And on Sundays, you’ll find content featuring interfaith dialogue, religion-based commentary, and posts on spirituality, ethics and morality.
One of the most important contributors to PJ Lifestyle this year has been Charlie Martin. His Thirteen Weeks diet and and exercise regimen has been an inspiration. This past fall Charlie has updated us every week on his progress to improve his health and live a long, long life. We’re going to try to provide more content like this — but on all seven subjects. Not just blog posts pontificating on what should be, but articles documenting what we do. Too often as writers and bloggers we forget that these New Media tools aren’t the end. They’re merely the means to whatever end we want to pursue and achieve. And at PJ Lifestyle that end is a happier, more fulfilling, richer life appreciating all the possibilities of what it means to be free.
I’ve decided on 7 New Year’s Resolutions this year, each corresponding with one of these themes and inspiring my daily blogging. I invite others to join me and offer their suggestions.
The second season of Shahs of Sunset started airing on December 2. I know I’ll be the skunk at the Iranian-American garden party after admitting that I love the show. But I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging my fellow ex-pats (or anyone else for that matter) to refute any of the important points I’m about to make in defense of the flamboyant Reza Farahan and his Tehrangeles set.
To elaborate, I should explain that numerous Iranian-Americans, who seem to have even less objectivity after 30-plus years in exile, have whined about this show being an insult and/or a misrepresentation of Iranians-Americans: a Kardashianized disgrace, fabricated by the sacrilegious and intellectually challenged Hollywood producers.
In ’79, Iranians just flocked to Los Angeles and turned it into the hub Iranian enclave. They came because there had already been a thriving little Iranian community there since the ’40s; and also because the weather is nice. This is very likely what Iran would have looked like had the Khomeinist hordes not occupied the country. It’s basically Iran outside Iran, Tehran through the looking glass, a non-plus ultra.
It turns out that professors — even the ones with the authority to hire other professors — watch schlocky basic-cable programming. And from the Midwest to New England, curious members of hiring committees wanted to know: Does the show, which follows six Iranians in their 30s living in Los Angeles, accurately reveal what Iranian-Americans are really like?
Well, yes. This show offers so much more than just a snapshot of Iranian culture. It offers a glimpse of well-assimilated and prosperous Iranians.
In fact, I don’t see anything in the show that I don’t already know or cannot recognize as pretty darn Iran-American. In fact, some of these people could be my cousins and a perfect depiction of the Children of Cyrus, a man (the Achaemenids in general) who himself paraded his era’s bling-bling, not via reality TV but on bas-reliefs in the family “crib,” Persepolis!
Iranians are hostage to their own set of dizzying dichotomies and paradoxes, and our long history adds a hefty helping of the maudlin and precious. We learn at a tender age to surf Persian social riptides and chart crosscurrents like an art form, deconstructed by a few like Omid Djalili.
Like peanut butter and jelly, like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager were meant to be together. Their on-air, on-stage chemistry works because it was meant to work. It’s supposed to work.
I am simply the one who made it all happen.
But unlike a coming together of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of cold milk, the union of the foul-mouthed atheist comedian Carolla and the erudite religious conservative Prager was not something as plain as the delicious smell wafting into the nose on your face. There was preparation and man-hours involved. There is a backstory.
Here it comes.
In 2005, while sitting on the roof of a house whose shutters I was painting to make some side cash during my senior year of college, I heard for the first time the commanding voice and demonstrable wisdom of Dennis Prager. In spite of the poor sound quality my small boombox offered, I heard the intellectual mentor for whom I’d been searching. Although the work I was doing at that exact moment was mundane and thoughtless, the monologue Prager unfurled had a zeal and depth that made one want to drop the paintbrush in order that he might go read an important book or start a charity or help an old lady cross the street.
Or, at the very least, do the best job of painting a shutter that one possibly could.
Like greater men such as Andrew Breitbart and David Mamet before me, I “found” Dennis in much the same way Gary Cooper in Sergeant York “found” religion.
To be fair to the Cooper-Breitbart-Mamet analogy, conservatism already coursed through my veins, but up to that point my political appetite had been fed primarily by the red meat served up daily on cable news shows and in Sean Hannity’s books. I believe in Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, and so please understand that I mean no disrespect to any of the fine people who represent my values in the media, but it was then, finally, that I heard in Dennis’ presentation a voice of strength and breadth and insight that I had secretly craved.
A man of substance. A man of thoughtful inquiry. A man of big ideas.
This was my introduction to what I affectionately call “Prager Conservatism,” and from that point until today I haven’t gone more than a few days without listening to his nationally syndicated radio show or reading his discerning weekly columns. Eventually, after graduating from college, my friends and I began hosting “Prager Hour” nights twice a month where a bunch of guys in their 20s would come over, enjoy a cigar if they so chose, hear a pre-selected segment or two of The Dennis Prager Radio Show’s podcast, and engage in lively discussion and debate for a couple of hours. Dennis was Obi-wan to our band of Luke Skywalkers.
Thankfully none of us have had our hands chopped off with a light-saber by a scary man who claims to have sired us…yet!
Where have our brains gone? It’s true, humans have short memories. Case in point, the re-election of Jerry Brown as the Governor of California. (Quick reference; Village News Jerry Brown’s past performance should not be overlooked.) But when did we become so mindless, making reality television such a large source of our entertainment? Of course it’s not just television and film media, it’s the printed media as well. There are very few places you can go where one of your senses is not assaulted by some sort of reporting about yet another mindless event or story.
Rag magazines have been around for years reporting on UFOs and on things such as assassination attempts or conspiracy theories. Those stories are becoming more of the past, which would be fine if they weren’t being replaced with stories such as the size of Kim Kardashian’s tush. Do we really care, and if so, why? Why is there even a discussion about whether she has had tushie enhancement or not? Honestly, doesn’t that sort of journalism make you feel as if you’re getting a bum deal when spending your money on this magazine or others like it?
It seems to me that as our economy continues to spiral downward, the search for a quick, easy buck has also reached an unenviable low…. reality TV. Forget the game shows. Those garner the contestants one shot at a prize that may or may not include money, and there’s always a catch. The catch here is that you have to win the game to win the prize. If you don’t, too bad, so sad. You’ve wasted a day and have nothing to show for it except possibly a little humiliation.
Ah, but with reality t.v., a person can become famous even when lacking any kind of extraordinary talent or skill. It’s as if today’s television show producers have found a way to bring back the circus sideshows that were banned so many years ago.
How did Honey Boo Boo become America’s darling? The show has been great for the cheese ball industry, but probably not very encouraging to those watching the show and trying to stay on a diet. Is it possible to watch that show without a bag of cheese curls in hand? Watching as Honey Boo Boo’s mom lifts her multiple chins to show the camera the crust that has accumulated under those folds of fat is more nauseating than when she’s feeling sexy and throws kisses to the viewers, yet the number of viewers continue to rise. As a matter of fact, Honey Boo Boo’s August 29th episode drew more adult viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 than did the Fox News coverage of the Republican National Convention. Trying hard not to be out done was the September 5th episode which tied in viewership with CNN’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention.
Reading my friend Laer Pearce’s book Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State – How California is Destroying Itself and Why it Matters to America made me crazy. Laer is a wonderful writer with straightforward, prose, a witty sense of humor that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and a commanding mastery of facts about California’s politics, business, education, and public policy. In theory, I should have galloped through Crazifornia in three hours. In fact, it took me three days to read.
Why did I have a problem with this fascinating book? Because, when I started I did not know how deep the Crazifornia rot ran in the state, nor was I aware quite how infectious the insanity is when it comes to the rest of America. To keep up with the deluge of evidence proving that California is indeed crazy, I repeatedly stopped reading so that I could scratch out little notes to myself: “California’s all-powerful bureaucrats are an army of Leftist Rube Goldberg’s with guns.” “This is a perfect example of voter credulity and bureaucratic overreach.” “California takes a legislatively created energy crisis and makes it worse with more legislation.” The scariest note I wrote was also the shortest: “As California goes, so goes the nation.”
That last note is why you should read the book — and give it to friends and family — in the days remaining before the election. California isn’t just a basket case, it’s a proselytizing basket case, with its environmental zealots, community organizers, and wishful economic thinkers aggressively selling their ideas to other states and to the federal government. As Laer demonstrates, while the recession is slowing the other forty-nine states from buying into California’s governing philosophy, the Obama government is an enthusiastic supporter. Another four years of Obama, and California won’t be the only bankrupt crazy place in America.
Unlike the federal government’s swift, Obama-driven belly flop into bankruptcy, California actually has a long and occasionally honorable history of Progressive politics. Crazifornia explains that back in the early years of the last century it was California Progressives who helped bankroll the movement across the United States. These early ideologues were actually fighting some legitimate battles, most notably against San Francisco’s utterly corrupt alliance between railroad moguls and local government. Take away these honorable battles, though, and you learn that the early California Progressives were exactly the same as today’s California’s Progressives: they were the rich and the educated, which meant that they could fund their ideas and pass them on to subsequent generations.
Because California had long been blessed with enormous natural resources and a vital, growing population, it had the wealth to keep the impractical Progressive dream going for decades. It could abs0rb the enormous financial and human losses from almost heroic bureaucratic ineptitude (Chapter 5); laws and regulations that suck the life out of both new and established businesses (Chapter 6); ridiculous educational experiments and an all-powerful teachers union that has little interest in student well-being and education (Chapter 7);* environmentalism run amok (Chapter 8); and public sector unions and pensions that have managed to go wherever one ends up when “amok” is a distant memory (Chapter 9).
Lately, though, things haven’t been going so well for California. Part of the problem is the national recession. The other part is the fact that California’s collection of Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators, and Reporters, whom Laer collectively christens “the PEER axis,” have destroyed the state’s ability to tap into her resources, both natural and human. Take, for example, the Prop. 50 fiasco, which is one of a huge subset of fiascos generated by a California citizen’s right to vote on legislative ballot initiatives.
Related stories at PJ Lifestyle: