Friday, December 14, 2012

Sandy Hook: Elementary Observations

I didn't learn about the shootings in Newtown, CT until about an hour before I had to go out and pick up my kid at school.  I'm still stunned, like most of the country, about this awful tragedy.   But I don't like hearing people on the radio referring to it as "unspeakable." 
We have to speak.  We have to talk.   And we have to face realities:

Twenty children were slaughtered today by one lunatic with a pair of handguns.

Children are being killed in countless acts of violence worldwide:  horrific wars in Africa, with children becoming soldiers; drones striking from the air, killing innocent civilians;  millions dying of willful neglect by adult leaders not motivated enough to provide clean water, access to education, food, and medical care.

And in a very odd crisis, attacks similar to what we've seen in America have happened recently in China.  Consider this rampage

Twenty-two schoolchildren were injured when a man wielding a knife attacked an elementary school in the Henan province, even though the Chinese government has increased security presence because of a spate of similar kinds of attacks dating back to 2010.

Here's an important observation:   none of the children attacked in this latest incident died.  Only nine were sent to the hospital.  

It makes me think of Molly Ivins' great gun-control line:  "I am not anti-gun.  I'm pro-knife."  Meaning:  it's a lot harder to kill with a knife than it is with firearms.  

To be fair, other incidents in China where men have attacked with knives have in fact led to deaths of children.  So to blame what happened in Newtown on weak-gun-law America is unfair.

But it isn't necessarily foolish, either. It's a pretty obvious fact that the EU has more restrictions on handguns and fewer people die from them -- about ten percent of the number of Americans who do so. 

But sure, in America, we have the Second Amendment, and a lobbying group that makes it political suicide for those seeking national office to take too strong a stance on regulating who gets firearms in this nation.  

A lot today has been made of the state of our mental healthcare system, which is just as screwed up as the overall system.  I saw someone tweet that we should tax the sales of guns and ammo and fund mental health care services. 

Of course, you also have to get people to accept the idea of going to get such help.   We're generally not good at that, especially guys, and of course with mental illness the individuals afflicted aren't always aware of what's going on in their heads. 

We can also blame a larger materialistic culture that glorifies violence, that features visually stunning videogames that allow us to kill without actually facing the consequences.  We have a society that's pretty wound up; toss in a general anxiety about life in the twenty-first century, with over-stimulated, info-saturated, multi-tasking people struggling to make ends meet, and it's not surprising that people are reacting as these shooters have. 

What I don't like is that some people want to treat these incidents like the weather, as if there's nothing that could have been done to prevent it, and nothing that can be done to prevent others in the future.   That's too nihilistic for me.

Even accepting the difficulty of stopping raging lunatics in a free society, we can make changes that can protect all of us from such horrors.

I don't accept the suggestion that having more guns at  schools would help.   It is a fair point that one of the reasons such madmen choose schools is that they know that they are gun-free zones, but I think having teachers and staff packing heat in the classroom is a recipe for more disaster.  

I think that we still need to make it harder to buy a gun; I think we need to require that people get trained in how to use them.  The people who respect the power of a firearm are those who have spent years in military or law-enforcement training: they have the discipline and consciousness of how dangerous guns are.   (That doesn't mean they are less susceptible to snapping and going on a rampage, of course.)   Can civilians achieve similar levels of discipline?  Only if they are dedicated to it.   I think that we need to bring back the assault weapons ban; few of us really need to carry military-grade weaponry to protect our persons or our property.

 I think we need to examine what our priorities are as Americans, as parents: is the idea of "greed is good" or "get rich or die trying" really what we want to teach our children?  Do we want them to have fun playing brutally violent games or watching brutally violent films without fully understanding the consequences?  (I'm not talking censorship here: I'm talking awareness, mindfulness.  I grew up on Tom and Jerry cartoons and I cherish the First Amendment as much as the NRA does the Second.) Do we want them to have more respect for athletes than for teachers by glorifying the big contracts the jocks make while most of their teachers won't make one basketball player's daily wage for an entire year?  Do we want them to fight hard to make the 1 percent or to find a way for the 99 percent to live in dignity?

Controlling access to guns is a band-aid, yes.   But children are bleeding.   It's more than our love of guns that's getting kids killed.  A culture that continues to divide and to drive us into the ground except for a handful of lucky ones reaps what it sows.   We need to evolve.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The More Things Change, The More the Attacks are the same...

In the early fifties, tv was perceived as a potential threat to Hollywood.  Though the broadcast networks had worked very well with Hollywood for a generation of radio, tv was more problematic, because it had a visual element that radio did not.  So Hollywood went on the offensive, with movies like Murder by Television, and also generally found ingenious ways to put the "little guy down."  I emphasize little here because tv is what made Hollywood fully invest in widescreen technology and color film: with movies bigger and brighter than ever, the studios thought they would remain the number one form of entertainment.  Indeed, one slogan of the era was "Movies Are Your Best Entertainment.  (Of course, that slogan didn't last; look at the acronym created by it.)

Without question, the most brilliant attack on tv was careated by Frank Tashlin for his Madison Avenue and stardom sendup, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?  Here's the scene, where Tony Randall steps out from behind a curtain to announce a "tv" break.

(Kids have grampa explain why the little tv set was doing funny stuff. they all did back in the days before cable.) 

Now, Flash-forward some sixty years.  It is the Emmys, and Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother -- and also the internet sensation Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog -- is hosting.  And suddenly, as we are about to have the voting tabulation process explained....

Yes. What goes around comes around.  

Film Friday: Young Deconstructionist

I guess I was doomed to be a deconstructionist when I was about 13. 

I didn't know that I was doing it.  It all seemed just kind of stupid.  But then, suddenly, I'm in college, and the prof. is telling us to determine how many times the word shit appears in a David Mamet play. It took me years to recover. 

Okay, deconstructionism is not just counting words -- or even totally empyting them of their meaning. (The latter does feel like a byproduct.)  And so what if the low point of deconstructionism resulted in the L.A. riots of 92, after the attorneys for the cops who beat Rodney King deconstructed the video to make it look like King beat himself up.   It was still kind of fun.   If dangerous. 

And what was that film that I watched a ton one summer, when it was on my local premium cable movie channel?  Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke.  Yep.  This was the end of the seventies/early eighties, and their high times were about to end. (Corsican Brothers, anyone?)  And being young and stupid, we thought this was a classic.  and we counted how many times the word "man" is said.  We gave up right around the point where Chong discovers that the judge's water is "fuckin' vodka, man!"  We were overwhelmed.  

The funny thing is: while we all laughed hysterically at the dope jokes, I don't think it made us any more or less interested in doing weed.   It was the seventies; every comedian and comedy show made dope jokes.   Even some sitcoms featured it: remember the barney miller  episode where they eat hash brownies?  Remarkably, we still thought Up in Smoke was funny, even though we were straight.  Probably, we thought it was so cool to be watching Cheech and Chong. 

I'm almost four times as old now as when I first saw it.  When I think back on the film, I do find it amazing that I thought it was funny.  There are some nice parts for Strother Martin, Stacey Keach, and Mills Watson (who seemed to be in every other tv show in the seventies).  And yeh the song "Earache My Eye" is a classic in its own way.  I couldn't share with you much of the plot: basically the boys get stoned a lot, form a band,  and have fun at the expense of Sgt. Stadanko, who had been an invention of the boys on earlier comedy albums.   You had to be there. 

Thanks to youtube, deconstruction has a new life! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ACORN stole the election AGAIN???? Poll says...

The organization Public Policy Polling  conducted a post-election survey, asking similar questions they had put to voters after the 2008 election.  (Actually, about a year afterward, but post-election nonetheless!)  This article, giving us the highlights of the recent poll, suggests that the Republicans remain opposed to reality. 

The most glaring example: 49% of Republican voters said that they believed that ACORN, the controversial community organizing group, helped the President steal the election.   This is down from 52% in 2008.

The problem, as many many lefties have had fun with since the announcement of the poll, is that ACORN does not exist. Attacked in the media by falsified video evidence, ACORN nevertheless lost its federal funding and ceased to exist in 2010.  So, you'd think that it would be kind of impossible for a nonexistent group to help steal an election. 

And so the left had much fun with the reality-denying GOP.  And okay, such turkey-shoots are fun, I know.  But assuming that the pollsters asked the questions last month in the same way that the asked in 2009, then it's worth pausing about that figure. 

Respondents were asked their opinions of ACORN and then were asked, do you think that Obama legitimately won the election or that ACORN stole it for him?  that's a pretty damn provocative question, and leads you into an interesting problem.  You can say he legitimately won it, or you can say ACORN stole it, but what if your answer is different?  Okay, then say, "not sure."  But who really likes to admit one's own ignorance or insecurity?  And maybe you believe the victory was caused by other forms of fraud instead of anything about ACORN.  Polling is often reductive that way.

What makes the 2012 poll more problematic is this:  If I ask you if you think ACORN stole the election for the President, wouldn't you, at first "glance," assume that ACORN exists?  After all, why would a pollster ask you a question about a nonexistent group?   And again, if the poll question was worded the same way, and you're a Republican who might believe that Obama didn't win the election fairly, you have a choice: either you say you're not sure, OR admit that a group that doesn't exist helped him win. There's no button you can push that says "excuse me ACORN does not exist but I think the President cheated anyway."  

Do I think that many Republicans still believe ACORN exists, as many believe the President was not born in Hawaii, that global warming is a myth, etc.?   Okay I probably do, though of course it's easier to make fun of ignorance.  I'm mean-spirited that way.  But I can't help thinking that if you ask a loaded question, it's going to "rig" the answers.  And after all, 8 out of 10 people say you can't trust  polls. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Scalping for Sandy

As you probably know by now, the 12-12-12 benefit concert at Madison Square Garden is a pretty big deal...especially if you're old.  (I think Alicia Keys is the youngest performer scheduled.  Or maybe Kanye.) Paul McCartney, The Who, Springsteen, the's like one big Super Bowl halftime extravaganza!

Tickets cost a fortune, of course, but at least the money is going to a good cause: the Robin Hood foundation, which is sending all the proceeds to provide relief for victims of Sandy in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.  (Rumors that the foundation is going to provide the money for the massive upgrade of Long Island's electrical grid are probably exaggerated.)  But there's an interesting twist to money angle.

The secondary ticket market -- the legal places where people buy and sell unwanted event tickets -- often provides big business to ticket brokers and other shrewd individuals who seek to profit from their abilities to phone in or log on to buy tickets with the intent-to-sell.   But the organizers of the concert -- and a few other outsiders, including New York Senator Charles Schumer -- have called for people not to sell their tickets at outrageous profits, because it's inappropriate under these circumstances.  The related problem of brokers getting to buy tickets even though electronic ticket-sellers like ticketmaster have elaborate programs designed to stop them is exacerbated here, since some fans are complaining that they are unable to get a fair shot at the tickets because of such vultures.

StubHub, the largest secondary ticket marketplace in cyberspace, decided that they would allow people who wished to sell their concert tickets to do so, and would not place restrictions on pricing. (Representatives from the company did not believe they have legal grounds to do so.)   It was a difficult decition, but the company decided that it was better that StubHub be the main locus for such selling -- because StubHub is donating all fees from the sales of 12 12 12 concert tickets to the charity.   If a person is going to sell his/her tickets, it's going to happen, so the argument goes.  At least some more money gets to go to help the people who need it. 

I applaud StubHub's pragmatic generosity under complicated circumstances.  No question the vultures will seek to gouge the public.   The real question of leveling the playing field for the fans, however, is a much tougher one to address.   let's face it: there's going to be a demand for big name acts no matter what the situation, and when the demand is that high, promoters, venues, cable networks, and scalpers are going to get what they want.   It's not the fairest system.   But I also think it's worth calling attention to what the scalpers are doing in this case, because even though it's perfectly legal, it just feels like an uncool thing to do.   It's not the sleaziest thing I've heard of in recent years -- frankly, sports teams that jack up the prices even after lousy seasons are more despicable -- but it's one of those things that makes you frown.

What would be a really cool thing is if anybody from the worst hit areas could get a chance to go to the concert, or even backstage, or be invited to a post-concert party (which in this case would probably have the prune juice flowing instead of cocaine).  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Film Friday: My Favorite Christmas Movie

The tube is loaded with Christmas movies and tv programs, as you know.  They start around Halloween and just build to Christmas Eve, finishing off with the Yule Log.  It's always fun to see those old Rankin-Bass specials like Rudolph, the ancestors of the Aardman animated shorts with Wallace and Gromit.   And with every passing year, It's a Wonderful Life keeps returning to its status as a film noir. (Occupy Wall St's efforts notwithstanding, we all know that Mr. Potter has won.)  

There are a handful of movies that are set at Christmas time but whose plots are not ostensibly about the holiday season.   The first Die Hard -- yes, kids, there is a reason why Bruce Willis keeps making these movies -- feature a terrorist attack on an office building where many of the employees are getting wasted at the Christmas party.   It was great fun.   Terry Gilliam's Brazil -- an overwhelmingly designed dystopian vision of bureaucratic totalitarianism -- also takes place around the holidays.  Joe Dante's Gremlins gives us the most horrible Christmas story ever told, as Phoebe Cates explains what happened to her dad when he literally tried to be Santa.   It also is directly responsible for the resurrection of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," as beautiful and heartbreaking a pop song about the holidays as has ever been written and recorded.  (And every year, the season really begins when she makes her appearance singing it on Letterman, which she's done since 1986.)

But my favorite of these movies is the first one I ever saw, on the tube, before any of the above films had even been made: Billy Wilder's Stalag 17

Adapted from a stage play (one of the playwrights appears in the film), Stalag 17 tells the story of American POWs in a German camp at Christmastime 1944.   This is a rough crowd of a American airmen, all sergeants, used to yelling.   But they also do their best to survive under the conditions which are muddy and cold, though no doubt sanitized to some degree by Paramount Pictures relative to the real thing.   The men sneak a radio around the compound to try and get news about the war. They play cards and gamble on mice races.  They also dig tunnels and try to escape.  

When two men are caught outside the compound, the men begin to suspect that there's a stool pigeon in their barracks.   Pretty quickly, the prime suspect is a man called Sefton, played by William Holden (who would win the Oscar for this role).  In the underground economy of the POW camp, he's a sharp trader: he wheels and deals for the parts to make a distillery; he's the "commissioner" of the mice races; and he runs the "observatory": a makeshift telescope where the men can see as far as the Danube river -- or peep into the showers of the Russian women's prison compound.  How does he pull this off? It's not just that he's trading sharper: he's willing to trade with the German guards to keep his operations afloat.   He pays them essentially protection money to look the other way, and also will trade cigarettes for better food and bedding.   (In one great scene, the entire barracks watches him fry a fresh egg on the stove.)  Most outrageously, he bribes the guards into letting him go to the Russian women's compound for an evening of partying.  

The rest of the men are digusted by Sefton; when the Germans force the men to fill in the escape tunnel, confiscate the radio, and even find out about a new arrival's act of sabotage, they believe that Sefton isn't just giving the guards cigarettes, but information.  

Despite the seriousness of the situation, the film is also very funny, in Wilder's famously sardonic way.   Two clown figures who also try to fool the guards are played by actors who did the original play: Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss, as Harry Shaprio and Stanislaus "The Animal" Gusava.  They are brilliantly funny but also pull off moments of pathos, as when Harry gets letters from the finance company, telling him they are collecting his car back home, or when Animal, in his drunken state, thinks that Harry is Betty Grable, dances with her, and discovers that it's just Harry. 

Needless to say, Sefton is not the stoolie, but I won't tell you who it is.  Wilder paces the slow revelations of the real rat -- actually a German spy posing as an American -- perfectly.  (Pay attention to the light bulb cord over the chessboard!)  Sefton's exposure of the real informer is a great denouement, leading to one more desperate escape attempt.

Wilder's script is first-rate, alternately sharp and poignant. (One man reads a letter from his wife, who tells him that "you won't believe it but" a baby was dropped on her doorstep who looks just like he; as he keeps repeating, I believe it, I believe it, the painful truth sinks in about the baby and his wife.)  The acting is top stuff; Otto Preminger is great as the Commandant of the camp. (He's got Wilder's favorite scene: the Colonel, with his boots off, is talking with the new prisoner, but as he does so he's preparing to take a phone call from his superiors... and so must put his boots on so that when he's on the phone he may click his heels in salutation!)   There's a moving scene on Christmas Eve of the men signing "Silent Night," decorating their tiny Christmas tree with their dog tags.   Despite the heroism of the end, Wilder undercuts this with a number of sardonic lines that I won't share with you so as not to spoil things.    It's the first Wilder film I ever saw, and in many ways still my favorite. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What makes "The Invaders" Episode of The Twilight Zone Great TV and Bad TV

In a remarkable second-season episode of The Twilight Zone, Agnes Moorehead stars -- indeed she is the only actor in the film -- as a woman who lives alone in some dark-woods home when suddenly a spaceship lands right on her roof. Unlike the stereotypical flying saucer from fifties sci-fi films, this ship is small; it must be to land on this woman's cabin! Two spacemen come out from the ship; she is terrified, and so begins a life and death struggle between the invaders and the woman.  

The primary weakness in the show is that the spacemen look like toys next to Moorehead, and the design looks silly, like a mini-Michelin man.  Now, of course, the point is that they are supposed to be much smaller than the woman, but author Richard Matheson had originally conceived the story as one where the audience would never see the little men: they'd be moving too fast, and all you'd have is Moorehead's reaction to them. 

That said, despite the non-threatening look, these dudes cause some damage: they have a powerful raygun that marks the woman with what are either welts or burn blisters; they cut and blast some holes in her home; and on two separate occasions they cut her deep, once in the foot, and once in her hand. Moorehead's reactions are brilliant.  You believe that this assault is terrifying her.  She grunts, she screams, she walks about fearful and suspicious. It is a brilliant piece of acting, and she never says a single word. 

The only dialogue heard in the episode comes at the very end. The woman has managed to catch one of the spacemen and destroy him. She then takes an ax or a club and smashes the ship to pieces.  The other spaceman is aboard ship, sending out a warning message back to his home planet, warning them not to continue with plans to explore because this planet is populated by a race of giants.  (The voice of the spaceman is that of the episode's director, Douglas Heyes.)  The classic twist-ending is revealed in the final shot of the story, which I'll let you discover for yourself.  This link will give you options for where you can stream the video at whatever your preferred commercial medium is: iTunes, amazon prime, netflix, etc. 

"The Invaders" is a tour-de-force for Moorehead.  A generation before, she'd starred in a classic radio drama, "Sorry, Wrong Number" for the program Suspense: a story of a neurotic woman who overhears a telephone conversation about someone plotting murder -- she thinks the wires got crossed, and as she desperately tries to get help, she suddenly realizes that she herself is the intended murder victim.   It is a masterpiece of voice acting.  Here in "The Invaders," Moorehead is able to express terror and desperation through her body language and in her cries and screams, but with no words to speak.  

Heyes wanted Moorehead for the part because he thought it would be a great contrast between the two media and the gifts that one actor could bring.   Heyes believed that because television is, after all a visual medium, a deaf person should be able to watch a program and have a pretty good idea of what is going on, even without hearing music or dialogue.   If a blind person, on the other hand, sits through a program and can tell others what an episode is about, then the tv show is a failure, in Heyes' view.   From an artistic perspective, there is much truth in what Heyes says; after all, it is called tele-vision.   But from the institutional perspective, an episode like "The Invaders" is not successful. 

By "institutional," I don't just mean the corporate culture that makes tv shows, or the "mass audience" arguments about television.  I really mean the entire cultural experience of television.  Because tv is a domestic medium -- or at any rate, one that does not utilize the facilities of movie theaters -- and because American tv is fueled by advertising revenue,  we watch television with much less attentiveness than we do films in theaters.  We are more likely to be distracted while watching television.   Sound becomes a crucial component of the television experience: the dramatic music cues, or the suddenly excited sports announcer's voice, cue us in that something exciting is happening, and if we're not in front of the tube, we're going to miss it.   "The Invaders" does offer very dramatic music (a score by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith) but because there is no dialogue, the distracted home viewer may miss a lo while preparing dinner or texting to friends.

In this sense, "The Invaders" is "bad" television, since it does not use the aural aspect of the medium to its practical effect.   Of course, try telling that to the youtube fans who have it in their top episodes lists and mashups.   

Haiku: After the rain

Mud-green goose poop stains
the faculty parking lot
behind baseball field

                                --December 4, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Film Friday: Is Wreck It Ralph a game-changer for Disney?

We saw Wreck it Ralph  last weekend, in a nice theater in Jersey, in 3-D.   Was lots of fun, clever, charming, etc.   But is it the beginning of another rebirth for Disney Animation?  

I'm not a whiz at forecasting.  Certainly there's a lot of marketing/branding potential in a movie about video games, but there's no way I can tell if the next Disney films will do as well.  What I can tell you is that, watching the film, I wasn't as blown away as I thought I'd be.  

The film's story is a very good variation on the midnight-in-toy-shop theme that animators have been using since the old days.  (Kids, that doesn't mean Toy Story.) Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the Fix-it-Felix Jr game villain, is a working-class Joe who, after two decades, is tired of being the outsider. All he wants, just once, is to get a medal, like the zillions that Felix has. Seizing an opportunity when a soldier from a military game passes out (in the Tap-It game's bar!), Ralph goes to the soldier's game, which involves trying to kill as many bugs as possible.  Seeing a medal in the bugs' next, Ralph seizes it, and eventually takes off in a military vehicle through the electric wire conduits that act like subway trains... and ends up in the ultra-sweet race-car game Sugar Rush, set in a land that makes Candy-Land look like Oatmeal-ville. 

Ralph loses his medal, and it's found by Penelope Von Schweetz, voiced with annoying charm by Sarah Silverman. She wants to participate in the game's overnight race to determine who will be visible in the next day's game. She uses Ralph's medal  as a coin to get herself on the board, but because she is a glitch, she's not supposed to race, and the rest of the community, led by King Candy, will do whatever it takes to keep her out of the race. Recognizing her as a fellow outsider, Ralph and Penelope become friends; he helps her build a go-cart, but then the worm turns: the King explains that if the glitch gets to be part of the videogame, the plug will be pulled from it.  (Ralph's own game is in danger of being unplugged, too, because of his disappearance.)  Ralph is forced to decide between giving his friend what he wants, and doing what he thinks is the right thing for the game community. 

There's also another wrinkle: Ralph accidentally brought a cybug with him into Sugar Rush, and it's been laying eggs underground that will lead to Armageddon for the game...and possibly the whole arcade! You know, like that.  

The videogame effects are terrific but not overwhelmingly so.   The old-school games are lovingly reproduced; the movements of the dwellers in the apartment Ralph wrecks move with hilarious simplicity.   Sugar Rush is dazzling, and the military game is spot-on, too.   It's a very good movie, and it might jumpstart an animation studio that has had some mixed success in recent years.  But Disney Animation is not in as bad a shape as it was in the 1980s, when The Little Mermaid began the Mouse's renaissance. Disney itself is a gigantic media empire now, with an entire animation studio under its wing in Pixar, whose founder John Lasseter is now running Disney Animation (and is responsible for Ralph).   The expectations are not as big for Ralph, but it was touted as a new  beginning, much the way Little Mermaid was.   I don't see that new beginning but I did see an enjoyable film.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baseball Hall of Fame: Let the Hypocrisy... I mean, VOTING! begin!

The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released Wednesday.  And on it for the first time, three figures notoriously associated with steroid use (I list them alphabetically):  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa.  And now, the hypocrisy begins. 

First, let's go with the obvious.  We all know that the Baseball Writers' Association of America members were among the biggest cheerleaders during the great home run chase of 1998 between Sosa and Mark McGwire, who has failed to make the Hall in his previous attempts.  So all their sanctimony about not letting steroid cheaters into Cooperstown is laughable.  At least, most of the writers -- and sportstalk hosts -- have admitted that they screwed up, not paying attention to what was going on, not asking the tough questions, etc. 

Truth is, the BWAA has a lot of holier-than-thou members, who think that they are the Divine Protectors of the Realm.   Five writers did not vote for Tom Seaver when he first showed on the ballot -- not because he didn't deserve it, but because they were protesting the fact that Pete Rose wasn't on the ballot. (Rose, in case you don't know, bet on baseball, which has been explicitly forbidden for almost a century. He's banned for life, and can't be on the ballot.)    There also apparently is this idea that some players are Hall of Famers, but some are first-ballot Hall-of-Famers.   So: you are good enough to make the Hall, but you can wait a year.   Or fourteen, in the case of Jack Morris.

(I understand that some players get evaluated differently in the passage of time.  It took forever for Phil Rizzuto to get in.  But seriously:  either you belong or you don't. )

The Writers can be petty too: Mike Schmidt didn't get a unanimous vote mainly because the guys who didn't vote for him didn't like him personally.   There will probably be a Boston writer or two who won't vote for Derek Jeter the first (and only) time out.   

But this steroids thing is going to bring it to a new level.

USA Today's Christine Brennan keeps it simple: no.  The steroid three, and anyone else tainted, don't get in.  On his weekly radio show, Daily News columnist Mike Lupica made it plain: if I think you did steroids, you're not getting my vote.   And, Lupica continued, I'm not going to go on the air and explain my votes after they are cast. 

We always knew that there's nobody more thin-skinned than members of the press, especially sportswriters.   They dish it out, but they don't like to take it.  

It doesn't matter that none of the steroid three ever failed a drug test.  It doesn't matter if any player from the steroid era did or didn't test positive.  If the Gatekeepers of the Hall "believe" that he did steroids, then Mike Piazza, or Jeff Bagwell, or Julio Franco (just kidding) is dirty and can't be in the Hall.   Lupica says, hey, this is not a court of law, I'm not ruling on anyone's life.   True enough, though you are ruling on someone's legacy in a sport that you hold to be sacred.

This is not unlike the Republican state legislators saying "I feel that voter fraud is going on, I can't prove it, there are actually no cases of it in my state, but I'm going to pass voter ID laws because I just feel it will prevent cheating that I can't prove has happened."

What we're going to see from more than a few writers in inconsistency and rationalization.  Bonds and Clemens, so the narrative goes, were already Hall of Famers when they started taking steroids.  (Because we know for sure when they started... even though Clemens denies ever taking PEDs and successfully defended himself against perjury charges on the subject, and Bonds admits nothing.)  Sosa and McGwire would not have their numbers if they had not juiced. 

And we know this how? The same way Bush knew Iraq had WMDs? 

(Digression: when the debates raged over Clemens' trial, why did that become a partisan issue? Why did the Republicans support Clemens and the Dems condemn him?  Really? )

In the fifties, if your name was in Red Channels, you couldn't find work in TV.   It didn't matter that you weren't Communist, that you didn't know any members of the Party, and that all you did was sign some petition about Spain in the thirties:  if the former FBI agents who published the book suspected you, you were done.  The only way to clear yourself: name names. 

I suppose it could be arguably just as wishy-washy to say, "we don't know who did what, let's just forget the steroids, put up a plaque, and hope for the best."    It's really not an easy job, and I don't know that it should be done on a case-by-case basis. 

What bugs me is that these selections seem to be done more on a whim than they are rooted in a specific experience.   And that to me de-legitimizes the process of voting even more than the presence of a Bonds in the Hall of Fame de-legitimizes the Hall itself. 

You're not going to vote for a guy because he was rumored to have juiced?  Such thought process is dangerous. 

I'm not blind or naive.  It's pretty evident that a lot of guys were using PED's    That said, I wish there were some way medical science could prove that people have never taken steroids, and that some guys who didn't get into the Hall because of the the Writers' sanctimony  can prove he never took the stuff. I'd love to see them crawling back and saying, "sorry"!  I'm not defending anybody who took PED's; I just want the writers to get off their horses and stop the hypocrisy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The New York Jets: Greatest Show on Back Pages

The real problem for the New York Jets is not the big-mouth head coach.  Sure, he should shut up more, and he really needs to re-think his philosophy of "ground and pound" in a league that goes out of its way to help the passing game.   It's not the GM, though he's probably better suited to manipulating the salary cap than in evaluating talent, and certainly the Jets botched the off-season by not doing anything to improve their passing game and actually taking a step backward offensively.  (This they did by firing their offensive coordinator and not bringing back their red-zone threat Plaxico Burress, whose height gave him great advantage in the end zone.)  It's not their quarterback, though he's been a disappointment.  

It's the owner, Robert Wood Johnson IV, aka Woody. 

If Rex Ryan loses his job at the end of this season, he will be the second consecutive coach to lose his job because the owner saw a bright shiny object in the window and said, "I want that." 

A few years ago, Johnson made it clear that he wanted Brett Favre, whose time with the Green Bay Packers was finally ending.  Though coach Eric Mangini wasn't too keen on bringing Favre in, Johnson got his wish.  Truth be told, the trade to Green Bay for Favre didn't cost the Jets much of anything, and bringing Favre in to replace Chad Pennington, who was coming off an injury, seemed like a good thing for eleven games.  

Then Favre got hurt, played through the injury anyway, looked bad, the defense seemed to blow games they should have won, and the Jets lost their last game, clinging to a hope for the playoffs -- to the Miami Dolphins, whose quarterback was... Chad Pennington, who was named Comeback Player of the Year as he took a 1-15 team and turned it into an 11-5 division winner.   Mangini was fired because of the team's near-total collapse after an 8-3 start.   (This was after three seasons, two of them with winning records, one leading to a playoff berth.) 

This past off-season, another shiny object appeared in Woody's view: Tim Tebow.   While publicly, the Jets speak about this being a collective decision, with everyone aboard, there's no question in my mind that the trade for Tebow was driven by the owner, who saw in Tebow a chance to make mucho dinero -- and once again steal the back page headlines from his stadium-mates, the Giants, who were too busy winning the Super Bowl to notice. 

The Jets are constantly talked about.  They are made fun of, debated, and everyone has something to say about them.   They sure grab headlines: players in trouble, players opening their mouths, coaches opening theirs, etc.  But they haven't won anything.  

The Jets screwed up this offseason every which way.   They didn't upgrade their offensive line.  They didn't get additional quality running back support.  They didn't bring in receiving talent to help their quarterback Mark Sanchez, who'd guided the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons.   But they did bring in Tebow, and the press continues to flock to his locker. 

Tebow has been a complete non-factor this season.  He's hardly been used, and I don't think offensive coordinator Tony Sparano really wanted to use him anyway, and doesn't know how.  He's pretty much wasting his time, but Woody says Tebow will be around next season.  "You can never have too much Tebow," Johnson has been quoted as having said. 

And this is why he needs to go.  Too bad we can't fire owners. 

Johnson has owned the team for about a dozen years.   He's on his fifth head coach and his third general manager.   The Pittsburgh Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969; no team has more Lombardi trophies.   The New York Giants have had three GMs since 1979; they have been to five Super Bowls, winning four.  See a pattern? Stability.  

Woody Johnson is not interested in winning championships.   He's interested in headlines.  And he's got them: even this week's ridiculous story of Fireman Ed's decision not to come to Jets home games anymore made the back pages, while their rivals just keep winning. The Giants and the New England Patriots have met in the Super Bowl twice in the last five seasons, and they could meet a third time this year too.  

But that's all right with Woody.  As long as the papers and the sportstalk radio-sphere is full of the ot air the Jets bring, he'll be happy. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Harvey Milk died 34 years ago today

I was a kid when Harvey Milk became the first openly gay public official, serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until his assassination by Dan White, who had also served on the board.  White had initially thought Milk to be an ally on certain issues, but when Milk voted against him, White became an antagonist, his instability and hatred coming through.  He actually resigned, then sought to take back his resignation, but Mayor Moscone refused to let him un-resign.   On this day in 1978, White entered city hall, shot Moscone and then Harvey Milk.

I remember a little bit about the story.   Open discussions about gay people were really only emerging in pop culture; mostly, such discussions had been jokes, ranging from relatively innocuous to blatantly bigoted.  The story in San Francisco also got a lot of attention because of Moscone's friendship with the Reverend Jim Jones, who'd recently taken his followers to Guyana, where they drank poisoned Kool-Aid in a mass-suicide/murder, just nine days before White's murders of Milk and Moscone.  

A few years later I saw the Rob Epstein documentary about Milk on PBS, excerpts of which can be heard in a play about the case written in the eighties (whose name escapes me at the moment).   One of the most impressive persons was the head of the local teamsters, who speaks seriously and respectfully about Milk's support of labor.   It was a clear instance of prejudices being overcome by virtue of a simple idea: get to know people.  

Harvey Milk would certainly be quite thrilled at many of the legal protections for homosexuals that are now in place, even as some states are rejecting such protections.  He would also be dismayed at the stories of teenagers committing suicide because of homophobia.  He clearly understood his position as the first one through the door marked "this way for the public sphere."   Without question, he became a martyr for equality, no less than Dr. King.    

I've always admired Harvey Milk, nice Jewish kid from New York who found happiness in the Castro district of San Francisco, and helped changed lives.    I'm sorry he's gone, but grateful to know he is not forgotten. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is a "Rich, Cultural Gift"?

A couple days ago, Anne Rice, the vampire writer (she created the moody Lestat), asked on Facebook the following question:  Can you name your top five picks for great films -- dvds you'd give to a young person as a rich cultural gift for Christmas? One of my friends asked me for my five.  Of course I ended up giving her fifteen, but that's not really the point, and I don't intend to do a list here; it's one of my principles for this blog: resist the urge to make lists.  

I wanted to know, from my friend and from Anne Rice, how are you defining a "young person"?   There are plenty of great films I could think of for the wee ones, some of which might interest the middle-graders, too.  Where is the line being drawn?   (Rice's choices gave me some indication of what age range she was thinking of, though my friend was looking at a slightly younger age bracket.)  Taxi Driver might be a rich cultural gift, but not for a ten-year-old.  

But then, after having made some suggestions, I began to think: well, what does Anne Rice mean by a "rich cultural gift"?   Is she talking about some kind of "uplifting" or "moral" film? Given that her list includes The Godfather, I'm not sure you can say the former.   Is it about the breadth and range of human experience?   Is it about films that demonstrate the great, evocative power of the medium itself, like, say 2001? (I'm leaving aside the fact that watching a DVD at home is not like watching a film in a quality 35- or 70-mm print -- especially if you can see Kubrick's film as it was originally screened, in Cinerama.)   And that got my anti-snob sensors on full-alert.   After all, the Abbott and Costello box set was in my shopping car at Amazon at the time.

I'm very happy that I've offered my kids a decent mix of what Rice means by "rich cultural gift" and what I prefer to call "mindless entertainment."  There are plenty of films that might connect to young people's emotional experiences; none of them have anything to do with John Hughes, but Nick Ray's Rebel Without a Cause is as evocative of teen alienation as Hollywood ever made.   It's also nice to try and give them worthwhile history lessons: Gandhi and Amistad I think make great ones.   I'd also recommend pretty much every Billy Wilder film as an alternative to reading Catcher in the Rye.  (Ace in the Hole is definitive in its cynicism, but really, you can pick anything; my personal fave is Stalag 17, my favorite Christmas movie.) To understand the power of film, watch certain foreign classics like Wings of Desire or The Last Laugh -- or, if you prefer the English language, any works from the great Hollywood auteurs -- Hitchcock, Hawks, Ford -- are accessible and, at their best, brilliant.

But don't ignore the apparently silly business.   Airplane! is as much a rich cultural gift as Godfather II.   Likewise Monty Python and the Holy Grail.   Arthur Hiller's The In-Laws; the first Ghostbusters; and yes even the movies made fun of by Mystery Science Theater 3000: treasures all.   I'd put Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein right up there with many of the original horror classics from Universal.   And while Woody Allen's later films are beautiful masterpieces (Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Zelig, Hannah, Crimes and Misdemeanors), the "early funny films" are worth sharing with the adolescent crowd, flawed as they may be at times.

Nothing wrong with Fellini, Truffaut, or Ozu.   But young persons have to understand that rich cultural gifts come in very odd packages.   

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Memory Jump Start

Had to jump-start my wife's car, then drove it around for a while to charge it.  Eventually, I brought it to the service station where we had the battery replaced just a little while ago, and they tested the battery, and it was fine.  Before I got to the station, I took a drive along the highway, just really driving a couple exits, getting off, and getting back on and going home again.  

Driving along the water reminded me of the many rides I took with my children, mainly in an effort to help them take a nap .   My youngest especially always had trouble unless she was either nursing or on wheels.   (In bad weather I took to strolling her to sleep, around the living room table, on nights when my wife was working.)   Sometimes it seemed to take forever to get them to conk out.   More than once I'd exit the highway, only to hear them cry at a nearby traffic light.   I'd sometimes tell a story, or sing a song, or play something on the radio. 

This trip was quiet, and solitary.  Just me listening to the car's engine and watching for the police -- I found a car just beyond a curve, waiting to trap someone for speeding.  Good thing I'd got a glimpse early enough to make sure I was at the speed limit.  

My children are 12 and 9 now.   The rides we take are always boisterous, except late at night, from a party or a busy day trip.   Of course I'd rather they not fall asleep on the way home, since there's no way I can carry them anymore.   How small they once were, so soft to hold and gently put to bed after they fell asleep in the car.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Film Friday: One Thanksgiving Classic

Now, I know that for many of us, the greatest five minutes of Thanksgiving pop culture is the turkey-drop from WKRP in Cincinnati.  But this being Film Friday, I wanted to remind everyone of this classic. 

This is the trailer to Woody Allen's 1984 Broadway Danny Rose, which is to the Catskills-Borscht Belt entertainment scene what This is Spinal Tap is to heavy metal music and documentaries.  It's probably the funniest movie Woody Allen has ever made, and the last time you can really see him acting -- not just showing up and being "the Woody Allen character."  

The premise: Danny Rose is a small-time theatrical manager.  Very small time.  His acts? A blind xylophone player, a dancing penguin, an elderly balloon-folding duo; a woman who plays music from glasses filled with water at varying heights -- and has-been Italian singer named Lou Canova. Almost out of nowhere, a nostalgia craze kicks in, and Lou is in more demand on places like cruise ships. Problem is: he's got a big ego, a bit of a drinking problem, and he's fallen in love, even though he's still married.  

The crisis:  Milton Berle is going to see Lou's act at the Waldorf Astoria, and if he likes the act, Lou will get a spot on a tv special and be Milton's opening act at Caesar's.   But Lou wants Danny to bring his mistress, Tina, and pretend she's Danny's date until after Lou's wife goes home.   Danny reluctantly agrees, but finds that Tina doesn't want to go, because she thinks Lou is two-timing her. ("No, darling -- he's cheating only with you!" Danny pleads.)   Tina, a sharp-tongued interior decorator with some mob ties in her past, eventually leads Danny on a hilarious wild-goose chase that ends with them being kidnapped by hoodlums and escaping into the warehouse where the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are stored. This leads to this:

Yep. it's that funny. 

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I'll go back to the beginning: the entire movie is a flashback.  A bunch of veteran comics -- Will Jordan, Corbett Monica, even Woody's manager, Jack Rollins -- are sitting around a table at the Carnegie deli, talking about the life and remembering Danny, and telling hilarious stories.  Sandy Barron tops them all with the story of Danny and Lou and Tina.   During the story, we sometimes cut back to the comics in the deli.   The final shot brings us back to the outside, in a loving black and white tribute to Manhattan that's just as sweet as the one that finishes Allen's 1979 classic.  

What makes this movie so funny? It just seems so wonderfully believable.  Allen's Danny is a perfect schlep, full of confidence despite clearly being a failure.  He shows off a picture of "me and Frank," but he's not even in the picture, telling Tina, "I was just off the frame."   He gathers his clients together for a Thanksgiving feast -- of frozen turkey tv dinners.   When he speaks of acts who've gone to bigger and better things after leaving him, you can see the heartbreak despite his persistent optimism.   The mob types may be just that, but there is something so funny about them when you see them all at a party that Tina visits.  (Look for Michael Balalducco at the party -- he's tearing money, and he's got what's still my favorite line in the film.)   The music is also funny and touching; the original songs were written by the man who plays Lou, Nick Apollo Forte, a real lounge singer cast despite having never acted before.  (It is said that Danny Ailleo, who'd worked on one of Allen's plays on Broadway, lobbied to get the part, but Allen wanted someone who really was a lounge act; to make up for it, Allen wrote a part for Aiello for his next film, the part of the brutish husband Monk in The Purple Rose of Cairo.)  Nothing like a little "Agita" to get you through the night. 

Supposedly, Woody Allen stopped making howl-out funny movies in the late seventies; after Annie Hall, no more outrageous cartoony films like Sleeper or Bananas.   But Broadway Danny Rose is just as hilarious as those "early funny films," yet somehow manages to make what happens to Danny quite believable, and heartfelt.    The whole thing is still up on YouTube. Go get it!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Film Friday: Darth Disney

Okay, so you've all seen the goofy (no pun intended) pictures that have suggested the implications of Disney's buyout of the Star Wars franchise.  (Here's my fave:) 

But what does this really mean for the franchise that started out as an homage to the cheesy Flash Gordon serials of George Lucas's youth and became thanks to clever merchandising and Joseph Campbell's mythologizing the epic tale of the late twentieth century? 

Well, for one thing, Star Wars won't simply be a line of toys or amusement park rides; they will re-boot the series and presumably finish the tale, which Lucas had originally conceived as a nine-part serial.  (His original intention was to make the second trilogy, Episodes I through III, right after the first trilogy was finished, allowing the actors from IV through VI to get old enough to play their parts at the right time to film the last trilogy.  Obviously, that's not how it went down.)  

But Disney didn't buy Lucasfilm to profit from the creative forces behind the company, the way they did with Pixar.   The Star Wars deal is much more like its buyout of Marvel, or the Muppets: Disney gets a built-in brand with lots of possibilities to work with for a generation.  They're not relying on Lucas, who sees this deal as passing the torch.  

Disney is not just going to finish the final trilogy; it will produce additional films, possibly a tv series or two, and obviously, sell a lot of toys. Some of it will be great, and some trash, but I bet all will bring in a profit.  And in some respects, Disney will return Star Wars to its roots. 

At its heart, Star Wars is a Saturday afternoon serial, complete with cheesy dialogue and black and white heroes and villains.   Watch the original film on a small screen; it's pretty lifeless.   Part of the impact of the film is the experience of it on as large a screen as possible; there, it's overwhelming, and it makes up for the weak writing and uneven acting.   A lot of factors went into the film's becoming THE event of the summer of 77.   Joseph Campbell explained it through his understanding of myth, and a little old blockbuster  became an epic that "spoke" to an entire civilization.   Such mythologizing is ridiculous, of course -- for some perspective I recommend the writings of Robin Wood -- but one cannot escape the reality of the epic's influence.  

If Disney is serious about an all-out expansion of the brand, then Star Wars will no longer hold its place in a mythic pantheon of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.   It will be another piece of real estate, like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Muppets, and the all the tv networks it owns.   Yes, a special piece of real estate, but  still one that knows its place. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

O'Reilly's Traditional America: Losing Its Stuff?

It couldn't have been just me who heard the racism implicit in Bill O'Reilly's lament for America that supposedly passed for an analysis of the significance of Barack O'bama (sorry, couldn't help adding the apostrophe) being reelected despite all the confidence that Karl Rove espoused for weeks prior to the election.   (Note: the link above is merely to a Google search. Find the clip yourself.  Not going to give Fox the plug here.)

We know that the Stewart/Colbert fake news machinery got it, and you can find a few other locales where people are analyzing O'Reilly's remarks.  (I liked this one myself.)  While O'Reilly was one of the few who spoke publicly what was on a lot of the rightwing pundits' minds anyway,  he also represents one major aspect of the "analysis" rhetoric: the absolute refusal to look inward to understand how come your guy lost.   As I noted in a post from yesterday, the network's interests do not necessarily overlap the party's, and the talking heads are quite content to spew out distortions of reality that they know their audience wants, and for that audience, it's easier to believe that the liberal media lie to them, that people who support universal healthcare are commies, that the President is a Kenyan Muslim, etc. 

But what O'Reilly's remarks also reveal is another layer of the deeply felt white resentment at a perceived loss of power.   His comment on the slight majority -- enough to win a  Presidential election despite lots of GOP voter-suppression efforts -- as the side that just "wants stuff" was of course laughable, as Stewart pointed out, since the Fox audience also gets stuff too (like Medicare and for the very top of the food chain, obscene tax breaks).   O'Reilly doesn't specify much about what the traditional America was, but obviously, it is overwhelmingly white (recall how hard it was to see any people of color at the GOP convention), and it is also the hard-working "half" of the country.  It's not much different than Romney's 47 percent remarks, really.  Yep, that's right: we voted for Obama so that we can sit our our lazy black and brown asses and still get paid.  

There is something more insidious about "Traditional America."  It implies that before "we" did such "wrong" things like enfranchise blacks and women, offer degrees of amnesty to illegals, and stop stigmatizing homosexuality, America was this serene place where all good people can work hard and hope to reach a dream, even if it meant working 100 hours a week at a steel mill or coal mine.   "We went downhill when we began handing out money to the 25 percent of the population that went out of work when the Depression hit, further still when Lyndon Johnson tried to secure the rights of blacks promised by Emancipation AND create more welfare programs.  

It's a distorted reading of history, to say the least.  (This is not surprising, since O'Reilly is the guy who once tried to claim that the Klan started in the north and then said that its founder was a former Confederate general.)    The America O'Reilly imagines is one before Brown v Board of Ed, before Roe v Wade, before Stonewall, before the full recognition that people who are not white actually live in this country.  (It's worth noting that over a century ago, the Irish were not considered truly white Americans.  So much for traditional America, Mr. O'Reilly.)

We have to be wary about rhetorical evocations of a "traditional" past that more often than not never really existed.   I think sometimes about those who opposes changes in the rules of baseball, who are often called "purists."  I worry about that notion, because to be a purist 65 years ago could have meant opposing integration of the sport.  Just because it's the way it's "always been" doesn't make it right -- and that's especially the case when the way it's always been isn't really true to begin with.  

The stuff those who voted for Obama want is summed up nicely by xojane: 

 being able to marry who they want, and full autonomy over their own internal organs, and a well-funded educational system, and access to affordable health care, and taxes that don't fleece the middle class to benefit the rich, and a fair shot at success in this world. 

Oh, that's right, that stuff.   Somehow, O'Reilly, who tries to present himself as a working-class-hero, misses that point:  he thinks that if the Obama voters get more stuff, he has to give up more stuff.  Traditional America has lost something: its grip on reality, though "Traditional America" has little basis in reality, too. 

Film Friday: Hitchcock, anyone?

I'm a bit annoyed that I was in two hotels over the course of four nights, had HBO, and didn't get to see their film about Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren, The Girl.   I arrived at one hotel on Halloween, and it happened not to be on by the time I'd checked in late that night.   Then, the hotel I stayed in the following few nights didn't give me the new November HBO schedule so I'd no idea when it'd be on.   I was curious, knowing what I did about the troubled relationship between Hedren and Hitchcock.    Perhaps I'll make it a screening for my course next term on Hitchcock.

My class is under the umbrella title "Film/Media Authorship," which is broad enough to cover theoretical issues surrounding the idea of authorship in a collaborative medium like film but also to allow a focus on one or two directors over the course of a term.   Obviously, Hitchcock makes an ideal subject for both topics:  more has been written about Hitchcock than any other English-language film-maker.  

I was very pleased that my oldest daughter has taken such a liking to Hitchcock, though she's seen very few of the films so far.  Even so, she wanted to have an Alfred-Hitchcock-themed birthday party: her friends  came over and played my Hitchcock edition of Clue and later we watched Rear Window, which I thought a relatively safe choice since you don't see the murder take place, and it's probably a lot easier for 12 yr olds to follow than Vertigo.

But of course, now comes the making of the syllabus.

Recently when I taught a course in film adaptation, I used survey monkey to ask registered students what they might like to see in the class.  I'm not going to do that this time, since I suspect most of the students will only have heard of the films, and probably only seen one or two.   What this does mean is that I'm making a list, right here.

I don't want to make lists on my blog.  I just think it screams "GEEK!"  But  I'll try rationalizing it by saying it's not really a list as much as it is a bullet-item list of possible films to screen.  I get I think thirteen weeks to show stuff, which somehow, seems apropos for Hitchcock.   Here are my thoughts:

  • The Lodger (everyone begins with this one important silent film that he made)
  • Blackmail (again, crucial in UK film history as first sound film) 
  • Murder! (important themes)
  • Sabotage (defining suspense -- Sylvia Sidney's kid brother carrying the bomb...) 
  • Rebecca ("If you covered him with garbage/George Sanders would still have style.." -- Ray Davies, "Celluloid Heroes," truer words never did he write; a brilliant cast top to bottom)
  • Suspicion (maybe this is why I'm lactose-intolerant: Cary Grant bringing up the scariest class of milk in movie history)
  • Shadow of a Doubt (incredibly important Freudian stuff)
  • Notorious (dangerous, sexy, and Claude Rains, too)
  • Rope (important if failed experiment)
  • Strangers on a Train (Robert Walker's greatest role, CRISS-CROSS!) 
  • Rear Window
  • Vertigo
  • Psycho  
The last three are obvious, but  there are so many others I want to get to: Marnie is a favorite of mine, and though I don't remember Frenzy  well, I know enough writers have championed it that it's probably worth looking at, too.  The Wrong Man also seems like a great case study in the politics of race and representation, and how does one not show The Birds?   A student can do a research paper comparing the two versions of Man Who Knew Too Much, so I feel fine leaving both out.   I love Lifeboat, wishing I could get to that.  North by Northwest is so much fun, and on the other end, I Confess is quite serious.   

If I recall my own undergrad Hitchcock course correctly, we only covered I think three British films, the rest being Hollywood.  It was there that I first saw Marnie, and because the class was taught by Dana Polan, we watched his only comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  (You can see Polan's essay on the film in a number of anthologies.)    It's always difficult to narrow down.  Even going with what I like -- usually the best pedagogy anyway -- is hard to do.   At least with Orson Welles, you're dealing with a relatively smaller body of work.   And in the age of home video, pretty much the entire corpus of Hitchcock's work is out there for the students to screen privately.  

The "easiest" organization is chronological; it allows one to examine the context of film history at the time of the given film. Because the course also concerns authorship, it might make sense to address the matters thematically: representation of police, blondes, voyeurism, transference of guilt, etc.  Or, given the question of authorship, consider the collaborators, too: there are books associated with the various script-writers out there now; many essays address the roles of his various cameramen and editors; some concern the influence of his wife Alma; and most famously, the role of composer Bernard Herrmann has been very thoroughly considered.  

So many possibilities.   I suppose there are worse problems to have: though I live in the Sandy-zone, I never lost power, and I have enough gas in my car for now to get to work one more day.  If anyone wishes to suggest a film or two, feel free, but I hope you explain why, even if it's something that's so obvious (like, for example, The Birds really is).   

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Global Village gets Whacked by Sandy

In my freshman seminar, we've been reading Marshall McLuhan's most famous book, Understanding Media.   Ironically, this past week's reading assignments concerned chapters that covered modes of transportation: roads and paper routes (chapter 10); wheel, bicycle, and airplane (chapter 19); and motorcar (chapter 22).

McLuhan speaks, as most media scholars know, about the social consequences of these various "media."  (His definition of a medium is a bit broad: it refers to any extension of the human body or, in the case of electric media, the central nervous system.)  Societes organize themselves differently as they adapt to newer media.  The old Roman roads were central to a specific mode of political organization; the airplane creates a different kind of city planning, etc.  The car itself is without a doubt the most crucial invention of the 20th century; structuring cities around the automobile has had a profound impact on daily life in America.   The scandal of the tearing down of the public transit system of Los Angeles by General Motors (alluded to in, of all movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) led to the city becoming the smog capital of the nation.   As Ken Burns' documentary on New York City pointed out (with assistance from Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses), the hitching of the city's future to the automobile, and the building up of highways and gutting of whole neighborhoods (like those in the Bronx that were destroyed by the Cross Bronx Expressway) transformed the postwar landscape and in its own way contributed to the kind of bleak image New York had in the sevnties. 

As you all know, all these systems basically were shut down when Sandy hit the Jersey shore and didn't really leave for about 48 or so hours.  Many people lost power and/or heat; trees fell on cars and homes; airports were shut down (and many airlines canceled flights even when the airports re-opened). Even after the storm passed, fuel became a prized commodity; most gas stations were either drained of gas by panicked motorists or had been shut down because of a loss of electrical power.  (You can't pump the gas if the pump has no electricity.)  For the past two weeks, many citizens in the Northeast have been disconnected from the global village that elecrticity provides for them.  

(Please note: I am not specifically talking about those who lost their homes, especially in the Rockaways.  Nor am I referring to the lives that were taken by Sandy. Such losses are of a tragic proportion beyond the focus of my blog post.) 

When circumstances like these arise, one can see the way that indeed our extensions of ourselves are really part of a central nervous system.  Without these various media at our disposal -- car, airplane, etc. -- we become immobilized.  

The mobile phone (McLuhan's chapter on the telephone was also on our list this week) did allow us to keep connections -- but only so long as one had power to use it.  If you couldn't recharge your phone anywhere, you were off the grid completely when your battery died.  

Obivously, a storm like Sandy generates new questions about the status of our infrastructure; in many ways the grids that we use -- electrical, road, water, natural gas, oil -- are several generations old.  They were not meant to handle this much volume.   Whatever specific energy sources we use, we need to fully rebuild the networks that transport these sources to us, or we will become stuck again the next hurricane that comes our way.  But as we do this, let's think in the long-term about what are the social implications for these various extensions of ourselves.  

Fox News and the Election: Paying for Mark Fowler's Toaster

In the 1980s, the deregulation of American Broadcasting began full-tilt.  Many of the rules that restricted forms of ownership and content were altered to allow for greater consolidation of corporate power and fewer requirements for broadcasting content "in the public interest, convenience, or necessity" (the phrase used in the old books about licensing).

Now, American broadcasting has always been a predominantly a commercial medium, when compared to, say, the BBC in the UK.   The quiz show scandals of the 1950s ended the sponsors' direct control of programming content, and broadcasters were obligated to varying degrees to provide content that served the greater public good.  One crucial requirement, always a controversial one, was the Fairness Doctrine, which required that broadcasters present a fair and balanced (stop laughing) representation of important issues relevant to their broadcasting community.   Broadcasters had often opposed such a rule, but the courts held up the FCC's rights to enforce it, though in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC wasn't required to.

When Mark Fowler became chair of the FCC in 1981, he set about dismantling the regulations that have led to, among other things, the massive consolidation of media into a handful of conglomerates, the proliferation of infomercials, and the rise of partisan talk radio.   Requirements about station ownership were relaxed; not only could networks actually own more numbers of affiliate stations, but now individuals could speculate in buying and "flipping" stations. (Previous rules required that a broadcaster had to own a station for at least three years and in order to obtain a license had to demonstrate clear financial solvency.)    Rules were relaxed to allow media cross-ownership; this allowed Rupert Murdoch, then owner of the New York Post, to make WNEW his flagship station for his planned Fox Network. (Rules also were bent regarding citizenship to allow Murdoch to do this.)

Fowler's arguments were that television should be seen not as a public trust, but as a commercial entitity.  Most famously, Fowler described television as an appliance, like any other: it's "a toaster with picutures."  Using that reasoning, Fowler dereulagetd the industrty and made it even more commercial than it had been before.  In eliminating the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC (at that time, 1987, no longer chaired by Fowler) effectively removed any requirement that broadcasters had to present a range of viewpoints on political issues.   All these factors led to the emergence of right-wing talk-radio blowhards, whose views stirred up listeners and drove ratings, which dominated programming decisions even more than before 1981.

Which brings me to Fox News and the 2012 election.

As my old high school friend and columnist  Gil Smart blogged recently, one of the most important causes of the failure of the Romney campaign -- aside from, well, the flip-flopping, the 47 percent comment, and the threats on Big Bird -- was the role that Fox played.   While the network was created by former Reagan aide Roger Ailes, it's not quite fair (or balanced?) to say that the network is merely the mouth of the Republican party.   As Gil points out, Fox News is a business, and their interest is in in generating audience numbers first and foremost.   And in a media landscape where information has become a commodity, the network succeeds by giving its audience what they want, regardless of its relation to reality.  

Gil cites a post by Connor Friedersdorf,  which focuses on the harm Fox News did to its political patrons.  By not presenting its audience a picture of what was really going on, especially in terms of the polls, Fox News did the party and its audience a dissservice.   By continuing to have "journalists" who present out-of-whack information as facts, the network generates lots of money and interest, but there are still enough people in "the reality-based community" who go out and vote against those who have idiotic thoughts about rape, ostrich-like opinions about climate change, etc.  

This state of affairs is in many ways what News Corp wants, because controversial loudmouths make lots of money for Murdoch.  And it is precisely the point of Mark Fowler's idea of tv as a toaster: news is just another commodity that is sold; give the people what they want, regardless of the truth.  

For intelligent conservatives who can present reasoned arguments against Obamacare and tax hikes on the rich, let the lesson sink in: irrational ideas might reap in the profits, but they are sinking the party.   And this is what deregulation of broadcasting wrought.  

A busy two weeks: Sorry!

I'm sure you've all been waiting for the latest post, and I'm sorry to have bailed on y'all.   There were two basic events keeping me from getting here.  First, as I noted a week before, I was working on producing a paper to present at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association conference in Pittsburgh; second, Sandy came and kept me busy, not so much with issues like loss of power -- we were fine -- as with keeping the kids entertained for the time they had off from school.   This left with me less time to prepare, which is why i was still working on the damn thing in the hotel before I presented.   (As it also turned out, I ended up driving instead of flying, because the airline canceled my flight. I enjoyed the trip, but it was obviously time-consuming.)

So what have I missed?  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

iPhone, Blackberry, and the physical nature of the Smartphone

Even before the Times ran its story about how BlackBerry users were feeling the shame, I often would tease my wife about hers...except when we were in out-of-the-way locales and she could get a signal when my Android phone could not.    I've been a Droid user for about three years now, and I'm quite happy with it. (Translation: my carrier doesn't have the iPhone.)  I like the browsing, the apps, the games, the store, it's fun.  When we were abroad last summer, and my SIM card died (it was really old), I had to use my wife's Blackberry and I just got so confused by it. 

yesterday on my way to work, I listened to ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning; co-host Mike Greenberg was discussing his change from BlackBerry to iPhone.   In fact, he told a "shame" story that was the final push sending him to Apple: while traveling with co-host Mike Golic, former Notre Dame lineman and current parent of three student-athletes at South Bend, Greenberg took out his BlackBerry on the plane.  Golic's wife Chris looked at him and basically asked, you're still using one of those?  That was it for Greeny; less than two weeks later, he got the iPhone.

And he got nervous as hell, as his tweets indiciated.

On air, Greenberg complained that he could not text or send e-mail easily on the iPhone; the auto-correct functions create bizarre texts that read like dadaist poetry. the tiny keyboard icon of the iphone, without the physical bumps of the similarly small BlackBerry keypad, does not appeal to Greenberg, or a lot of still-loyal Blackberry users.   (There are still about 90 million of them.) 

And therein lies a crucial distinction that Marshal McLuhan would have loved to consider.  The iPhone is essentially a visual/audio experience; you check your location on the maps, watch video, listen to music, play games that involve sliding your fingers on the screen rather than punching arrows one way or the other like in old computer games.  (No wonder I'm not so great on the PacMan apps for Droid and iPad: the joystick of the old arcade came gave me the feel of a throttle that sliding one's finger cannot possibly duplicate.) 

The BlackBerry, on the other hand, is a tactile experience. No one uses it to watch videos -- hell, when I send youtube links or videos to my wife, she can't see them! It's not a music player; the only real audio function is, of course the phone.  its central resource is the tactile one of typing tiny keys to send e-mails, texts, and their famous BBMs -- BlackBerry Messaging, which allows all these "shamed" BlackBerry users to send free messages to each other.  It is certainly true that a physical keyboard makes for easier message-ing, but that's largely, I think, a function of the tactile nature of the device.  

(I suppose their might be a sensual as well as sensory component to this...some people like touching, some like watching...? )

My point here is simply to consider the smartphone environment from a relatively different point of view.   Lastly, I should note I feel I've got both worlds working well for my Droid: a functional touch-screen and a slide-out real keyboard.   Yes, it's probably a bit  bulkier than either the iPhone or the Blackberry, but I believe I get a lot of the features of Apple with the easy, tactile-textual strength of the Blackberry. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The interpretation less traveled by? High School teachers and Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"

One of the most enduring poems in American high school English classes is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."  The speaker describes seeing two paths as he walks in a wood and briefly debates which path to take. 

The last stanza of the poem describes the speaker having apparently made his choice: "I took the road less traveled by/and that has made all the difference."   The classic interpretation of the poem, the one pretty much every kid who studied it in high school knows, is that "we" should not take the path that everyone else has taken; we should find our individual voices and doing so will make all the difference in our lives.  

First, let's appreciate the irony of such a reading being posited -- or, I suggest, imposed -- in one of the greatest conformity factories on the planet: the American high school.   If it's not the teachers who are imposing their wills on those who might be different, the students themselves do a fine job of policing, with their constant drive for exclusivity.   Individuality in such a locus is a dangerous thing, as guidance counselors were reminded of after Columbine.   And here the kids are sitting in English class being told to follow their own path!!! Fabulous.   (Good chance to teach the concept of "irony," eh?)

Second, look at the poem carefully:  In the second stanza, the speaker makes the point that while it might have appeared that the road he was taking was less traveled by, the truth is: "the passing there/had worn them really about the same."   Thus, the speaker is not really choosing the road less traveled by.  It's also worth mentioning the title: it's "The Road Not Taken."  Is Frost talking about the road that he did not take, or is he again referring to the road that the speaker did take but he's now representing it as less traveled in the final stanza?

And let's look again at the last stanza.  Frost shifts time here; he has the speaker speculate that "somewhere ages and ages hence" he (the speaker) will be telling this story to someone.   Remember that, because what he imagines himself to be telling of the story is in fact a lie.   He did not take the road less traveled.   That is a myth.   His imagined future telling of this incident is going to perpetuate a fictional account, and indeed an account that is now perpetuated by high school English teachers all the time.  

And it's still perpetuated; when I was in high school, that's the interpretation we got, and in fact when we graduated two years after I first studied Frost's poem, "the road not taken" was the theme, and we had speeches by  several of our classmates on the subject -- including yours truly. I was a sucker for that interpretation, too. (I will admit it today: I basically wrote the speech so I could sneak in a quote from the Violent Femmes' first album.  Thrill of my life: meeting Gordon Gano after a gig and telling him so. And no, I didn't quote from "Add it Up." )   But such an interpretation doesn't really hold up.

In teaching Frost's poetry to my college students, I asked about their prior experiences with this poem, and indeed one student said that in high school, he pointed out the fact that the roads were worn basically the same.  The result? He was just told he was wrong.  He suspects that his teacher didn't want to complicate matters for the rest of the class.  (Amazingly this kid still came to college to become an English major!) So much for choosing roads or interpretations less traveled!

Can we please please please make this point in 10th grade instead of waiting for college?   It's time we stop perpetuating literary lies! The poem is much richer than our secondary education teachers gave it -- and us -- credit for. 

Eli: Washing away my childhood traumas

I grew up a Giants fan in the seventies.  At different times, the team had great defenses, but almost always putrid offenses, culminating in The Fumble in November 1978.  But beyond how basically dreadful the Giants were, we had to sit and watch as America's Team kept dominating the NFC East (why were they in the East in the first place, for chrissake? New York, Washington, Philadelphia...and Dallas?  The Cardinals were in St. Louis, and that certainly didn't make much sense either).   In the seventies, they went to five Super Bowls, winning two.   They were led for most of the decade by Roger Staubach, whom we simply referred to as "him," kind of like Red Sox fans would refer to "Aaron Fucking Boone" when speaking of the hero of the 2003 ALCS.  

Staubach was famous for his late-game theatrics, building his reputation in the 1975 NFC division playoffs on a last-second touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings, that became known as the "Hail Mary" pass because, after the game, Staubach told reporters that just before he threw the pass to Drew Pearson, he said a quick Hail Mary prayer. (The name has stuck to any such pass thrown in desperation at the end of a game.)   In truth, Staubach only had little over a dozen 4th quarter comebacks in his career -- John Elway has twice that many -- but it sure as hell seemed like he had more, and as I became more involved a fan, I understood that no lead was safe against the Cowboys; in his time Roger Staubach owned the last two minutes of a game the way that Elway would a generation later. 

As Staubach's career ended with the decade -- his career started late because of his service in the Navy, where he'd won a Heisman trophy -- the Giants' luck turned.  NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in to stop the feud between the patriarch of the team (and in many respects the league itself) Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim, telling them to trust his judgment and accept George Young from the league offices, to run the team.   His first draft pick was Phil Simms.   He also drafted Lawrence Taylor.   The result: within eleven years, the Giants had won two Super Bowls.  

Since Young retired (he has since passed on), the Giants have had two General Managers, Ernie Acorsi and Jerry Reese.   Acorsi put together the team that went to the Super Bowl in 2000 (they got crushed by the Baltimore Ravens), and Reese has been in charge of the teams that have won two Super Bowls in the last five seasons.   Acorsi's stamp is stil very much on this current Giant team, because it was Acorsi -- at Reese's recommendation, as Reese was Acorsi's top scout -- who made the trade with the San Diego Chargers that brought Eli Manning to New York.  

And Eli is rapidly become the Staubach of this era.  No lead is safe against him.  

Mike Lupica's column in today's New York Daily News tells it like it is: this is not only a fun time to be a Giant fan, it is the most fun time ever. Steve Serby's column in the Post makes a similar declaration, focusing on Eli himself: He declares Manning the best QB in the league right now.  

Is there anyone else in the league you'd want to bring your team back from a fourth quarter deficit?  Philip Rivers?  Big Ben? Aaron Rodgers? Drew Brees?  Even Tom Brady and Eli's big brother Peyton?   Nope. Even before his first Super Bowl triumph in the final minutes against Brady, Eli had a knack for success running the two-minute offense.  It was the one thing everyone on Sportstalkradio could agree with about him.   Eli was very cool under pressure, though at times that coolness was translated as a deer-in-headlights look.   Since that great finish against Tom Brady, who was going for history in the desert in January 2008 (the Patriots were 18-0, looking to cap a perfect season, and Brady was going for his fourth Lombardi Trophy, which would put him in very short company alongside Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana), Eli has simply been money in the fourth quarter, as he was this past weekend against the Redskins (who have a helluva young quarterback themselves, and as a Giants fan I can only hope he's more reckless running the ball and takes too much of a beating to have as great a career as I think he's gonna have).  

Let's not kid ourselves: Big Ben in a foxhole is great, tough as nails, and he's proven he can do it on the big stage. (He's 2-1 in Super Bowls.)   Brees and Rodgers are are gifted quarterbacks in the classic mold, and they've each one a title and probably will win more.   Brady is Brady, and Peyton has managed to get the Brady-monkey off his back, winning one title and losing another Super Bowl (to Brees and to Saints coach Shawn Payton's gamble of starting the second half with an onside kick).    But Eli right now tops them all.   Will he be higher on the All-Time list than his brother, or Brady? Probably not.  But Giant fans have to be thrilled at the way their organization is run: five Super Bowl appearances since 1979, and right now the best quarterback they've ever had is in his prime. 

Oh, and the nice part:  Eli has already surpassed "him" on the list of most fourth-quarter comebacks. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Film Friday: Toward a reading of Disney's "heroic" Jews?

One of the things I'm trying to do as a parent and academic is to justify all those hours watching Disney content with my kids.  (When they were younger, yes, it was Sesame Street; I still think I should go back and write about the sense of space created by the show, but that seems over for me, at least.)  And as an academic parent, I don't really let them just sit back and accept all the rhetoric that most of the Disney films (and many of their series, Phineas and Ferb excepted), so they do have a reasonably critical sense of understanding. 

One of my favorites from years ago is the Lion King sequel Lion King 1 1/2. My kids thought it was hiliarious, and I am continually knocked out by it.  On a formal level,  this straight-to-video sequel attempts to deconstruct not only the original film's story, but also the very process of both story-telling and story-experiencing.  It is as playful a text (in the sense that scholar Robert Stam uses the concept of play) as you might expect from the Disney factory.   If the original Lion King is an odd re-telling of Hamlet, then this sequel is an odd version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, sifted through the lens of Borscht-belt humor and Fiddler on the Roof.  

And that's what I'm working on right now: a consideration of the Jewish narrative in a number of Disney video sequels.  

Now, we all know that Disney's narratives follow a fairly consistent structural pattern.  (Here, I'm speaking of the feature animation films; the pre-Snow White shorts cut a larger path, and even many of the popular Goofy shorts of the fifties offer more cultural satire than you might think.)   Heroic characters, patterned in the Classical Hollywood mode, travel down paths that challenge their resolve, but ultimately succeed, reinforcing the dominant cultural norms of white heterosexual normativity.   (Douglas Brode, in his book about Disney and the counter-culture, does suggest that it's not so simple, but I'm inclined much more toward the  critical assessments rooted in feminism and critical race theory.)   This is very clearly the case with The Lion King, which rather brutally presents us a world where subordinates bow before their leader -- who, when conditions are right, will eat them.    (Matt Roth, writing in Jump Cut, offers a scorching assessment of the film, seeing it as fitting right in with Walt Disney's own anti-labor and anti-Semitic ideologies as it attacks the liberal politics of the inclusive welfare state that neolib Bill Clinton worked hard to dismantle.)  Simba's path will exile him from his community until he rediscovers his true self (instead of the lazy slob he's become hanging out with two outcasts who adopt young Simba as their own, Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog).  Simba's uncle, Scar, is an unfit leader: conniving and deceitful, he is clearly coded as unmasculine and interested in only the nominal power that being king brings.   His allowing of the hyenas (stand-ins for Blacks and Latinos, voiced as they are by one of each -- Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin) to "move into the neighborhood" brings down the property values of the pride lands.  (The lionesses, Roth continues, apparently are unable to challenge Scar, despite their obvious collective strength.)  All the usual emotional buttons are pushed, all at the service of the same fundamental sets of values Disney has come to be connoted with. (This remains the case even when the songs have been written by two gay men and the studio is now run by Jews.)  

But Lion King 1 1/2  is a rather different animal (as it were).   First, the very titling the sequel as a half suggests something is off.  (A "straight" sequel, The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, had previously been released on video, to mixed critical success. Though many copies have been sold, I actually don't know any child who has seen it.)  I suppose, for some of us arthouse types, such a title evokes Fellini's masterpiece 8 1/2, but something else is afoot here.   The premise of this sequel is to re-tell the first film from the points of view of Timon and Pumba, who do not appear in the original until halfway in.  But the setup makes it a bit more complicated.

At first, the film opens much as the original does, with the famous Swahili chant that announces "The Circle of Life" and the sun rising on a new day.   Suddenly, a voice screeches in tune to the chant: Whaaaat's on the menuuuu?"  It is Nathan Lane's Timon, announcing his presence, and soon we are aware that he and Pumba are about to sit down to watch the original film, their silhouettes indicating their presence in a screening room, much like those of Mike and the bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (another likely inspiration for the filmmakers).   And before the song can fully kick in, Timon, after agreeing with Pumba on the emotional pull of that opening chant, begins to fast forward the video images! He wants to skip ahead to the part where he and Pumba come in.   (That's the half of the film he cares about.)   But Pumba points out that "we" were there in the first half of the film, but that the audience of the original does not know it.   So informed, they decide to tell their side of the story, which must take them back to "before the beginning."  

"Our side" is really Timon's side, and we discover that Timon is a Jewish meerkat.  He is a failure in the schlemiel tradition, inept at digging tunnels, unable to avoid causing accidental harm, Timon is forced to leave his family and "friends" behind, much to the chagrin of his overprotective mother (voiced by the most famous cartoon mom in history, Julie Kavner).   The meerkats are subservient and live in constant fear; their connection to the Jews living in the diaspora of Eastern Europe is quite obvious.   Timon is a visionary of sorts, seeking a place (homeland?) where he -- later, they -- will not be hunted.   And while he does find such a place, he is unable to stay there after Simba arrives; TImon and Pumba "raise" the cub and Pumba follows Simba when he decides to return home to challenge Scar.  Eventually, Timon is able to help defeat the hyenas with the assistance of the other meerkats, who use their digging skills to create a trap tunnel.  Timon is given a chance to act heroically, but comically.   The meerkats' occupation of their new space obviously has some larger implications as to Disney's views on the Arab-Israeli conflicts.  

As I said, I was kind of stunned to see Timon "come out" as a Jew, and I think that his Jewish identity needs to have some further exploration.  I want to take this apart in terms of thematic issues and the film's formal qualities.  

But frankly, it's late, and I'm getting more root canal in the morning...