Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Protect The Adults, Rob The Kids

"Monday Night Football's" cross-promotion with "Desperate Housewives" garnered the mass outrage/attention that was surely expected (Nude White Chick jumps in Black Jock's arms is a guaranteed button-pusher). The corporate spectrum, from Rush "This is too close to this Kobe Bryant situation for comfort" Limbaugh to Frank "Opportunistic ayatollahs on the right have been working overtime to inflate this nonmandate into a landslide by ginning up cultural controversies that might induce censorship by a compliant F.C.C." Rich, set the official parameters of discussion, followed-up with the inevitable Newsweek cover story.

So the bit's been played, till the next cultural mini-eruption.

Now, aside from commercials, I've seen very little of "Desperate Housewives." Not my kind of show. But I find it hard to believe that this HBO Lite offering is all that offensive. Promiscuity and adultery in a primetime show aimed at grown-ups? What's fresh or outrageous about that? Especially in a period filled with corporate/political corruption, imperial war, torture, videotaped beheadings and general theocratic madness? I would think that "Desperate Housewives" would be comic relief in comparison.

If we must stick to pop culture offenses, then surely last year's "Cat In The Hat" is far worse than ABC's current hit. When the film came out, my then 7-year-old son wanted to see it, being a fan of the Dr. Seuss books and the 1971 cartoon co-written by the great Chuck Jones. After reading several uniformly bad reviews, I told him no, that he would be very disappointed, that it wasn't the same "Cat" he loved, and so on. But recently, HBO's been airing this wretched thing, and my son, now a robust 8, caught maybe 20 minutes of it before turning it off and telling me, "You were right, Dad. That movie stinks!"

Curious, I later watched a larger chunk of the film. What a soulless, cynical marketing mindfuck it is. Mike Myers is truly awful, the gags reek, the whole spirit of Seuss is just beaten to the pavement and kicked in the teeth. And what children's film would be complete without castration jokes and a Paris Hilton cameo? If you want an indictment against contemporary Hollywood, here it is.

Yet, it's obvious that millions of American parents had no problem with Myers's "Cat." Indeed, its domestic gross stands at $101,018,283, guaranteeing that this "Cat In The Hat" will come back, grabbing even more ready cash from Moms & Dads willing to expose their kids to the lowest, vilest denominator.

Where's the outrage here? As far as I can find, there is none. I still see "Cat In The Hat" merchandise with Myers's prosthetic feline face plastered on them. It saddens me that for a great many children, this classic, subtly subversive tale is synonymous with this boorish imposter. Even sadder are those parents who buy into the corporate lie and pass it on to their kids.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Guy Grand Guignol

Terry Southern refuses to die. His physical form may have passed in 1995, but that hasn't stopped him. Southern's absurdist, sometimes dark takes on the human condition are not only timeless, they were usually well ahead of their time.

Consider Guy Grand. In the 1959 novella "The Magic Christian", Southern's Grand is a mad, practical joking millionaire who, among other strange pursuits, offers big bucks to those willing to publicly debase themselves. And of course, this being America, there's no shortage of applicants.

Well, Tip Top Ter anticipated more than I'm sure he then realized. In addition to the countless "reality" shows that celebrate and reward the lowest, foulest behavior, we have our own Guy Grands in
Donald Trump and Richard Branson.
Peter Carlson makes a convincing case, backed up by Southern's son:

"Southern is unavailable for comment, but his son, Nile Southern, says he's noticed the similarities between The Magic Christian and the billionaire shows.

"The Rebel Billionaire -- isn't that Guy Grand incarnate?' he says, laughing.

"Southern, 43, edited Now Dig This, a 2001 collection of his father's writings and recently published The Candy Men, a book about the strange story of Candy. He can imagine how his old man would react to the billionaire shows.

"'I think he would look at them and he'd say, "Wow!" . . . I think he's gathered around with the ghosts of Michael O'Donoghue and Lenny Bruce and looking at all this with astonishment. And chuckling.'"

And doubtless Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are hovering near, equally astonished and appalled.

Thanks to Nile Southern's efforts, a new generation of writers and humorists are being exposed to his father's work and legacy, like these bright young things in Chicago:

If you crave the full Terry Southern, spend some time here. And might I recommend this lovely CD produced by my friends Nelson Lyon and Hal Wilner? It's filled with Southern reading some of his, um, racier bits, and inspired performances by Jonathan Winters and Marianne Faithful. Perfect for the holidays. Guy Grand would approve!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Beyond Theo van Gogh

Another round of self-flagellation is underway on parts of the web, this time for alleged liberal indifference to the Nov. 2 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Seems Blue Staters are too busy drawing pictures of Bush as Hitler and wailing about voter fraud in Ohio to condemn van Gogh's killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Moroccan who shot van Gogh to death on an Amsterdam street, then slit his throat. This was the brutal reaction to van Gogh's short film "Submission," his collaboration with Hirsi Ali where a Muslim woman's abuse at the hands of Islamic men is recounted through literal and metaphorical statements and imagery. This, along with van Gogh's crude public slams of Muslims as "goat fuckers" certainly didn't endear him to that segment of Dutch society (van Gogh said equally harsh things about Christians and Jews).

Now, it's obvious that van Gogh's murder is an outrage, an assault on free speech by a theocratic nut and must be condemned by anyone committed to an open society. So I condemn his murder. I don't care what he said or filmed, no one deserves the death penalty for nasty, insensitive statements. His murderer should receive a fair trial and if found guilty, should be punished to the full extent of Dutch law.

Now that I've performed my required act of public outrage, what say those like Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan about the ongoing murder spree of journalists in the Philippines and Latin America? For all their banging on about van Gogh's death, you'd think they might shed a tear or two about Arnel Manalo and Roger Mariano. Or how about a few words denouncing the free-fire zone for journalists in Colombia (a state pumped up with US military aid)? Seems these people, and the many more like them, would garner some public sympathy from those who cannot contain their rage when a European filmmaker meets a similar fate. Indeed, given that these are journalists who died in the field, you'd think the condemnations would be even harsher.

Then again, maybe not.

Selective outrage, esp the kind that reinforces the domestic political status quo, is always in fashion among our media elites. It also flatters those outraged, which is very important for those navigating the NY/DC media waters. How else do you think they can appear on cable chat fests without wincing from pure shame?

There are many Theo van Goghs. Typically, our corporate moralists feel pain for only one.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


For retro-football helmets.

For 70s TV shows that would never see air today (un-American content).

For my wife and kids.

For Shemp.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Brawly Brawl

Everyone's weighed in on the lovely display that took place last Fri night at The Palace in Auburn Hills, including me on a Baltimore sports radio show last night (sorry you missed it -- insights galore). And while it's easy to dismiss the ravings of, say, Rush Limbaugh, whose idiotic take last year on Donovan McNabb provided laffs aplenty, the ex-junkie is on to something about the current state of the NBA:

"We have a sports culture that practically encourages [violence] and promotes it, by rewarding the most obscene behavior with the most television time and the most attention, and the most appearances on the highlights reel, and so one thing feeds off the other. So I don't know what they're going to do to get hold of it."

This is the first time that I've ever agreed with Limbaugh. Indeed, I wrote pretty much the same in my book "American Fan." The present American sports culture is based on strutting, preening, braying, trash talking, humiliating one's opponent while celebrating, as loudly as possible, one's victory. Not only do we see this on Sports Center and related shows, you can find this behavior re-enacted in various sports video games. That's just for the young jocks to emulate. Fans are encouraged to act as crazily as possible, to lose emotional control at the mere sight of a camera lens, to paint face & chest and emit tribal grunts & screams as a means of supporting the home team.

And thanks to ESPN, among others, such extremism is seen as quirky, funny, the very beating pulse of the red-blooded American fan. So it's no wonder that we saw what we saw last week. And we will see more. Much more. After all, as Limbaugh should appreciate, the market dictates, and the media-driven roles for both athlete and fan have proven most profitable.

That's as far as I can go with Head Rush. But typically, he went further:

"Just rename the city of Detroit to New Fallujah, Michigan, and then what happens at the Palace of Auburn Hills will be understood by everybody who goes there."

Dunno if Rush knows that the areas surrounding Detroit are home to the largest Arab-American population in the US, which includes a fair number of Iraqis. Surely they'll get the "New Fallujah" joke, especially in light of what we've done to Old Fallujah, a blood-soaked bit that I'm sure kept Rush laughing into the wee hours.

Good God

I've finally taken the plunge. Don't know how long I'll stay with this, but given my winning personality and fairly accurate perceptions, the ride alone should be worth it.