Friday, October 30, 2015

Flashback Friday: Why do we choose sides?

Rod Dreher wonders why we feel compelled to pick a side in Ukraine:

Do you know who the good guys and the bad guys are in Ukraine? I do not. In Egypt, I was not sorry to see the Morsi government overthrown, but one should not be under any illusions that the Egyptian military are the good guys. Why do we have to pick a side? Are we sure we know enough about what’s going on there to do so? Some of us might; one of this blog’s readers is in Kiev, and he has clear and firmly held opinions about the Yanukovych government. I respect that, but it is clearer to me that America does not need to be picking sides in this fight than it is which side we should pick.

Well, the first thought that came to my mind is that we choose sides because we live in a culture today that forces us to choose sides.  The mentality is everywhere.  We love our sports, and we apply its terminology to everything.  Politics becomes a horserace, and it matters less whether a candidate can articulate an issue than it does that he’s scored points, he’s landed the knockout punch, he’s pulling away from the field or falling back into the pack.  Nobody wants to know about the substance of what’s discussed – they just want to know who wins and who loses.

ESPN’s motto on many of its shows is “embrace debate.”  Doesn’t matter what the issue is, there have to be two sides, and they have to be heard out – often at the top of their lungs.  Even if you don’t have a strong feeling one way or another, you take a side, because that’s what makes good television – and good entertainment.

Reality programming dominates television.  And what is it about reality shows that most often appeals to the viewers?  You have a winner and a loser.  And the viewer must take sides; no sane individual would watch a show like Survivor without developing a rooting interest for or against someone – for that’s the other side of the coin.  If you can’t find someone you like, someone to root for, find someone you hate, and root against them.  It’s just as much fun – try it.

Everything is personal.  You either agree with me, or else.  Whether it’s politics, religion, sports, restaurant cuisine: if you disagree with me, it invalidates not only your opinion on that issue, but on everything else as well.  See it on Facebook, read it on Twitter, it doesn’t matter if it’s your battle or not – the important thing is to choose a side, and make sure everyone else knows which side you’re on.  And if they’re on the other side, judge them for that.

Given all this, is it any wonder that we feel compelled to take sides?  Armed conflict is, for us, another form of entertainment.  War is a spectator sport, to be viewed on television in-between highlights of the Olympics and scenes from the most recent argument on Capitol Hill.  We take sides on those, why not on war as well?  It’s a zero-sum game; there has to be a winner and a loser, and Americans love a winner.

Remarkably, for a culture that seems reluctant to view morality in terms of black-and-white, we seem to have no qualms about doing just that when it comes to choosing sides.  It’s hard for us to believe that both sides in a conflict can be “the bad guys.”  The Egyptian rebels fighting to bring down Mubarak must be right; after all, isn’t Mubarak supposed to be a dictator?  So let’s support them, and the fact that there are some pretty bad dudes among them – well, we’ll look the other way on that.

We abhor a vacuum.  Even in a situation such as Vietnam, where antiwar sentiment was rampant, it’s not as if people refused to join sides.  Many of the antiwar activists were openly rooting for the Vietcong, and the conflict between pro- and antiwar sides became as much of a battle as the war itself.  Not choosing a side – there’s just something un-American about it.

We lead with our hearts, not our heads.  We’ve Oprahfied the way we look at foreign policy every bit as much as we have everything else in our world.  Who’s the scrappy underdog, which side has the most malnourished refugees, let’s cheer on the plucky rebels raging against the big bad machine.

You see how absurd this all is?  So when Rod asks this question – and I think it’s a very good one, a very telling one – why should we be surprised at what the answer is?  It is, after all, the world we created for ourselves. And after all - it's just entertainment, isn't it?

Originally published February 21, 2014

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Auditions of game show hosts . . . you'd be surprised!

When CBS debuted three game shows in 1972 (The New Price Is Right*, The Joker's Wild, and Gambit),  the oddity of CBS Daytime executive B. Donald Grant's moves were in play.  CBS wanted Bob Barker to host The New Price Is Right, but Barker wanted The Joker's Wild instead.  CBS considered Wink Martindale, but he chose Gambit.  The network effectively was forced to have Jack Barry (though he had baggage from the quiz show scandals) host it when Barker accepted Grant's deal for New Price instead of his want of Joker.  We know the result for 35 years.  Then, when CBS attempted to audition a replacement for Barker in 2007, the network auditioned Todd Newton, Mark Steines, George Hamilton, Mario Lopez, Dave Price, John O'Hurley (who was hosting a syndicated game show at the time), and Marco Regil (Spanish language personality who hosted Mexican versions but was wanting for an English language break).  The surprise was when a summer primetime series game show host, who had semi-retired from television after the end of his sitcom and his US version of a British comedy show, was given the chance without an audition.  The rest, as we know, is history, though Drew Carey has proven he isn't afraid to be a team over me person, especially after Rich Fields' firing (which according to Fields, led to a Season 39 taping day lunch after Carey learned of his brother's death where Carey and Fields spent a considerable amount of time together that proved skeptics wrong).

That reminded me of a commentary on the Classic TV History blog, and you wonder what would have happened 41 years ago had he been given that chance.  The drunkenness of Edd Byrnes when he hosted pilots of an NBC Daytime show that would replace the long-running Jeopardy! was highly inappropriate.  Thankfully, he wasn't given the chance to do the show, but the host of the first pilot, which was considerably different than the show we now know, Chuck Woolery was, and lasted nearly seven years.  The rest, as we know . . .

When the show was still a daytime show, NBC was trying to audition replacements for Pat Sajak in 1988.  We know NBC went with a former Chargers player.  But who was on the auditions list? You'd be surprised who was auditioned by Coca-Cola (then owned Merv Griffin Enterprises) and NBC:

*The "New" tag was used until the summer of 1973, the show's first season.  The reference was made during the show's Season 44 Premiere Week, which featured throwback door designs shown on the giant monitor behind the audience except for the current decade, which used the new Season 44 pattern.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wish I'd written that

There's writing and there's not writing. The latter time is spent preparing for the former."

- James Lileks, right as usual.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Flashback Friday: It's not what he said, but what it says about us

Let's start with this, from Bernard Goldberg yesterday.

But now that [L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling's] gone, I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.

Rest assured, I’ve never ever said anything that might even vaguely be construed as politically incorrect.  But I’ll bet you have.

And I’ll bet a lot of players in the NBA have.

I’ll bet a lot of politicians have, too.

I’ll bet white people have and black people have and Latino people have and straight people have and gay people have.

So what lesson should we take of the public flogging of Donald Sterling, as deserved as it was?

How about this:  If anyone – an accountant, a garbage man, an MSNBC host, a college professor, an attorney general, a president, a truck driver … anyone! … says something racist in the privacy of his or her home, and if it somehow becomes public information, that person should lose his or her job and his or her livelihood – because racist words cannot be tolerated in America, not in 2014.
Exactly.  I'm no friend of Sterling; he's been one of the worst owners in sports for a good long time, and the recent success of the Clippers seems more in spite of rather than because of him.

But just where do we draw the line?  Is everything that everyone says, public or private, now subject to review?  And by whom?  And why stop at the spoken word - after all, the First Amendment absolutists assure us that burning the flag is an act of free speech, so shouldn't other acts be liable for our distain as well? Goldberg goes on:
I am confused, however, about why there is no universal condemnation of athletes who father children in every city in the league.  Or of athletes who beat up their girlfriends.  Or of athletes who drive drunk and kill people.  I guess none of those things warrant the moral outrage that bigoted words uttered by a foolish old man in private warrant.

But let me be clear:  I’m outraged over what Donald Sterling said.  Really, really outraged.  I say this because if anyone thinks I’m less than really, really outraged because of anything I’ve written here, I might get in really, really big trouble.
Let's suppose, for example, that I'm outraged by an owner who "had discriminated against Hispanics, blacks, and families without children in housing."  He said, among other things, that "black tenants smell and attract vermin.”  Mind you, he didn't stop with saying things; he acted on them as well.  Well, that owner would be none other than Donald Sterling - back in 2009.  Why suspend him now?  As Ben Shapiro notes in that article, "words speak louder than actions."

What about an owner who was recently spotted at a game wearing a "necklace medallion for the Five Percent Nation, which sees black men as gods and white people as devils."  And who freely uses the "N-word" for fun and profit?   Try Jay-Z, sports agent and former part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

And then there was at least one owner who publicly supported the right to abortion, including the grizzly partial-birth procedure, and even voted against requiring that a woman view an ultrasound before having an abortion?  That's former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who supported those issues while he was also owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.  I know abortion is a polarizing issue, but that stand sure as hell offended me.  It's one thing to talk down to your fellow man, to dehumanize him with insult and discrimination - but is it worse than killing him?

But why limit the discussion to sports?  If you're looking for people who know how to denigrate through their speech, we could cite virtually the entire on-air staff of MSNBC, some of whom have in fact lost their jobs over their comments, while others - cough-cough-Al Sharpton-cough - continue to thrive.  And I won't even get into that whole kerfuffle about Brendan Eich - I can only expect my blood pressure medication to do so much, after all.

The line between public and private, already blurred beyond recognition, is pretty much gone at this point.  In order to be really safe, to make sure that nothing you say can ever come back to haunt you, the best thing is probably to say nothing.  At all.  Ever.  Even in the bathroom.  Just keep your mouth shut.  As Rod Dreher points out when talking about the latest - whether or not the DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, should be in trouble for funding ads in marriage referendum states - "Error has no rights."

I'll close this mild screed with a quote from Ben Stein, who after saying that "I hate, hate, hate racism," adds this:
But I also love individual liberty. I would much rather have a system where people are free to hate me because of my race as long as they don’t lynch me than one in which the government or the media tell me who I can and cannot hate. I loathe Donald Sterling for his comments and I do not want him near me. But I am terrified that a man can have such a level of media rage directed at him even though he violated no law. He expressed a hateful opinion and that’s a bad thing. But in a world where there are as many horrible things going on as in our world, the private conversations of one drunken old man would not seem to me to be worth this level of fury. Isn’t this “Thoughtcrime”? Does it scare you? It scares me. And I am really terrified that “anti-racism,” like “saving the earth” and “income inequality struggles,” will legitimate any level of anger. Isn’t there such thing as “the law”? Aren’t we supposed to be more worried about violence than private nutty conversations?

I can sum this up easily: Isn’t Mr. Sterling being punished for his privately expressed thoughts and not for any action? Isn’t this deeply unsettling? When did privately expressed thoughts become fair game for punishment? Where does it end? In “1984.” 

That's it.  What the Donald Sterling fiasco provides us is not a glimpse into him, but into ourselves, and an America that with every passing day seems to stand for nothing at all.  Donald Sterling has served his purpose - he's given us the opportunity for our Two Minutes Hate, and now we're ready to move on, feeling just great about ourselves.

Until we find the next person to hate, and a spare couple of minutes.

Originally published April 30, 2014

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The finest moment from the Pope's trip to America

I don't deny that I've had my share of bones to pick with Pope Francis over the years, but I found this clip from his recent trip to America absolutely charming.  I'd meant to get to it earlier than now, but as someone once said, better now than later.  If you look closely, you can see the Pope bent backwards with genuine laughter - but then, who among us wouldn't be taken with a cute baby dressed up to look like you?

As I've said, I've been critical in the past, but this is not the time for that. I'll just note something that I've said before, which is that if I were lying critically ill in a hospital, I could do far worse that to have him sitting at my bedside comforting me. It has nothing to do with ideology or theology or the governance of the Church, but everything to do with how one interacts with people, and this is a pretty good indication of that.

KKKKKKKK proves McFly was wrong!

On the day that people celebrated McFly's predictions . . .

KKKKKKKK Proves McFly Was Wrong!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Joe, we hardly knew ye

Well, I have to admit I'm surprised that Joe Biden's not running for president. I suppose it might have something to do with Hillary's debate performance last week; I didn't see it, but the pundits said she'd done well, so there's that.  It's also possible that Joe discovered there wasn't as much support for him out there as he'd thought.  In any event, I would suspect this removes the last real obstacle to Clinton winning the nomination.  I don't presume to know where things go from there.

It's too bad, really, about Biden. Not that I was planning on supporting him; far from it. But I had this nice theory all worked out, you know - similar to the one I did on the Republican contest four years ago. Looking back on it, I still think that was a good analysis; I wouldn't change a word of it. And I was prepared for another good one for this campaign, one that coincidentally also hearkened back to the 1960s. (But then, doesn't everything?)

The way this one worked, Hillary Clinton was Lyndon B. Johnson - the presumptive nominee. Heavily favored, an experienced Democratic insider, but also highly controversial. Bernie Sanders was Gene McCarthy - the rebel outsider, the one daring to take on the party establishment. Thought too far out there to be a real contender, but picking up surprising support, especially with the young. And I had Joe Biden as Hubert Humphrey - presuming that Sanders took out Clinton in the same way that McCarthy did Johnson, and with an assumption by the party establishment that Sanders was too liberal to win in November, the party would have turned to Biden - a sitting vice president - in the same way that they did Humphrey. For if the conditions had existed in which Biden would jump into the race, I thought he would probably win the nomination.

There's really only one character remaining in this morality play, and that's Robert F. Kennedy. And here is where the analogy ends, unless things get more complicated for Clinton than they appear to be at this point. In looking at a candidate to model after RFK, one searches for someone who can tap into the emotion of a large wing of the party, one who has been urged to run but has refused, one who has the liberal credentials to command support without the same minuses of the others. (Notwithstanding some minuses of their own.) Hopefully, this wouldn't extend to being assassinated following the California primary, and I don't say that as a joke, because it appears that just about anything can happen in this country nowadays.

Bill Kristol was thinking along the same lines as I was, apparently, because a while back he'd come up with much the same scenario. (Another reason I should have done this earlier, but whatever.) His answer to this question makes sense, and so I'll plug it in and go with it: today's Robert F. Kennedy would have been Elizabeth Warren. And when you think about it, it does make sense, doesn't it?

Alas, with Biden's announcement today, unless he's really playing hard-to-get, I think we've seen the last of the analogies to the 1968 campaign. It's one of the most interesting campaigns of the 20th Century, by the way, and if you want to know more about it, I'd suggest one place to start is Theodore White's The Making of the President 1968. There are better historians than White, but few of them are as readable, and as an introduction, it gives you a vivid sense of where this country was almost 50 years ago.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Who knew?

When Andre Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant, was twelve years old, he was banned from riding the school bus because he was already the size of a large adult.  So in order to get to school, he had to depend on rides from their neighbor, Samuel Beckett.  Yes, the "Waiting for Godot" Samuel Beckett. (Is there another one?) As Brian Phillips notes, even if you're the author of a world-famous play, "It’s still useful to have a truck."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: change of Seasons (?)

Area Man Disappointed By "Jersey Boys" Four Seasons"Those little punks sounded nothing like Vivaldi"

(MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- April 16) Local theater enthusiast Sherman Fedwick came away from the latest Broadway-touring production in Minneapolis a bit confused and more than a little disappointed.

"I hear Four Seasons and I think classical, cellos, violins, Vivaldi, you know, the whole nine yards," Fedwick was overheard remarking to a companion after emerging from the Orpheum Theater, where the popular musical was playing. "I pay big money and what do I hear? Four teenagers in t-shirts and jeans singing on a street corner about crying girls and walking like a man. And using four letter words, no less. What's up with that?"

Walters expressed hope that his next theater ticket for the upcoming production of “Mama Mia" will meet his expectations. "You can always bet on Italian opera to deliver the goods,” he said.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Opera Wednesday: The sacredness of life

There are a few operas that, in an oblique way, make reference to contemporary issues even though they were written decades, or centuries, ago.  One such example is Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman without a Shadow), the magnificent 1919 opera written by Richard Strauss, with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.  The crux of the story centers around an Emperor and Empress who are unable to conceive; this is symbolized by the fact that she is without a shadow. The King of the Spirit World decrees that unless she gains a shadow before the end of the twelfth moon, "she will be reclaimed by her father and the Emperor will turn to stone."

As the story progresses, a scheme unfolds to obtain the shadow by stealing it from a peasant woman, thus depriving this woman of motherhood.  The peasant woman is urged to "sell her expectations of motherhood, dissolve her marriage [to a husband who desires children] and pursue a life of individual self-fulfillment."  As this article indicates, the notes accompanying productions of this opera generally relate the moral of the story as being "one person's happiness cannot be bought at the price of another's," yet it is clear that a major component of the story - and its moral - concerns the ability of a woman to conceive, the glories of motherhood, and the existence of the souls of unborn children

[Spoiler alert!] The opera concludes happily, odd enough for an opera; the Empress decides to reject the stolen shadow ("I will not rob humanity from someone else"), the peasant woman's shadow is returned to her, and for her act of generosity, the Empress too receives a shadow.  Both couples  - the Emperor and Empress and the peasant couple - sing of their joy and humanity, and praise their unborn children.  On occasion, the chorus assumes the guise of unborn children, making the analogy even stronger.

Ten or so years ago, the Los Angeles Times, one of the worst newspapers in the United States, committed a hilarious error by changing a review of the opera, which the critic had described as "an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean," replacing the term "pro-life" with "anti-abortion." One hardly knows where to begin with this comedy of errors; the mindless policy in the paper's style sheet, which apparently dictates that all references to pro-life should be changed to emphasize the negative; the blatant inaccuracy of the edit, since the abortion message in Frau is inferred when transposed to today's times and there is in fact no discussion whatsoever of abortion in the libretto; or the idea that being pro-life should be assumed to refer to abortion only and exclusively. You can read more about it here.  Idiots.

The point is, Die Frau ohne Schatten does not deal with abortion directly; it deals with the sacredness of human life and the importance of being open to its creation.  And while it is not an anti-abortion screed, as some might think, is explains one of the fundamental reasons why the sacredness of human life is important and why, among other reasons, abortion is wrong.

Anyway, enough with the politics.  Regardless of what you think, there is glorious music in this opera, which in the video below is provided by the famed Sir. Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic.  You can get other videos that include subtitles, through which the power of the story becomes even more apparent, but you won't find many guided by better than Solti.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Not quite when hell freezes over, but...

From Charles Pierce at Grantland, an instructional aid as to when one should start worrying about the end of the world:

According to some very reliable crazy people on the Internets, the world was supposed to end Wednesday night. It was something to do with the blood moon and the prophecies of an old Christian radio host. Proving that something beyond human understanding was afoot, the Chicago Cubs won a wild-card, win-or-go-home playoff game in Pittsburgh. But the odds are that fate or the universe is just playing us all for suckers. The world will not end until the Cubs are one strike away from winning the World Series. The last pitch will be halfway to the plate and the asteroid will come to call. Blood moons and superannuated radio preachers are one thing. The Chicago Cubs and postseason baseball are a whole different and deeper level of cosmic burlesque.

Is this the year that this story becomes obsolete?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Flood thoughts

While in the Flood of the Century here it seems, I've thought for a while about voices in singing, and even songs that discuss vocal parts.

Straight No Chaser, which does "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the 500, has their own take on "All About That Bass," making it a song about a vocal part in their own a capella style.  I am no fan of bad pop music, but it made me laugh about this version because as a tenor myself, note the putdowns on the tenors by the basses!

And of course, while the boys talk about low men, there is a song for girls about the low women.  And this lament is one that could make some of them unsuitable for Fox News, if you understand the network's dress code, and they want to be on Fox News!  Ben Moore wrote this song, "(I Can Be a) Sexy Lady" for Susan Graham, a mezzo lamenting her roles in opera.  It is part of the mezzo's repetoire, and often sung at recitals, as I've learned.  The first time I heard it was Kelsey Harrison in her recital (since Serena LaRoche had a part in that recital), and I wanted to know what the song was -- and it was a lament.  Now think about "(I Can Be a) Sexy Lady" and "All About That Bass (No Tenors)" and think of their low voice songs.

Hoosier Hysteria Retirements

So one "gospel" singer who has performed the National Anthem at the 500 in 1992, ironically the year that a famous motor racer who never won at the Brickyard despite seven career starts presented her that trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year for an 11th consecutive year.  Neither won in that premier class in their careers after that year.  The presenter retired after 2000.  That singer just announced she is on her farewell concert tour.

Add to that another Hoosier, a motor racer, with 20 years in major motorsport, who is hanging it up after 2016 too, and unfortunately, he fits in the same role as Doug Sanders, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, and Colin Montgomerie do in golf.  He is the best driver in motorsport to never win a major, though he has won championships and other races, he never won an official INDYCAR or NASCAR Sprint Cup major.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Opera Thursday: The musical that belongs in the opera house

A trend over the past few years has brought increasing numbers of musicals to the opera house.  I'm not talking about a road show performance or anything like that; after all, plenty of non-operatic entertainers perform in opera houses.  What I'm talking about is the inclusion in the regular opera season of musicals that in no way fall under the general category of "opera": Show Boat, Passions, The King and I, and other Broadway standards are among the works that have seen significant stage time at various world opera houses.  “The vast majority of musicals are not appropriate to opera companies, but there are a small number of titles that are enhanced by the skill and scale of an opera house,” said Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago. “I see it as an inherent part of our output. I don’t see doing ‘The Sound of Music’ with any less professionalism than in doing ‘La Traviata.”’  The Lyric is one of the major promoters of this trend, staging Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, Carousel, The King and I and South Pacific over a five-season period, but lest you think this a strictly American move, European companies are doing it as well: the Volksoper in Vienna has added Guys & Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate, while musicals such as Miss Saigon and Sunday in the Park with George have featured at other European houses.

In the interview with the late Jon Vickers to which I linked a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned how one of the main differences between opera and musical comedy is that "entertainment, for the most part, deals with the superficialities of life, and works usually become extremely dated because they relate to a certain society and a certain framework that has developed in a certain society."  Musical comedy, in Vickers' opinion, qualifies as "entertainment," and "If opera degenerates into entertainment, I would far sooner go and watch a good production of My Fair Lady or Brigadoon because I think it's much better entertainment than opera is."  In other words, you have to be very careful mixing the two genres, and Vickers felt that a true American opera would never develop out of the Broadway musical.

This is all appropriate, because in today's AV Club there's an example of the one musical that I think might be the exception to the rule, the piece that I'd have no trouble staging in the opera houseThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg, written by Michel Legrand and brought to the cinema by Jacques Denny.  I'll let you read A.A. Dowd's article to get the full flavor of Umbrellas, but two things have always stood out in my mind as justifications for staging this as an opera: its true-to-life subject matter recalls the verismo school of opera, and there is no spoken dialog - everything is sung as "a series of recitative song conversations."  To my mind, that alone puts it far ahead of the My Fair Ladys and Guys & Dolls's of the world.*

*You're probably wondering where that leaves something like singspiel; well, to tell you the truth, I think both The Merry Widow and Die Zauberflöte would profit from having their significant amounts of dialog converted to recitative.  As for Carmen, I've always preferred the version in which recitative replaced spoken dialog.  But then, that's just me.

I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg included in the occasional opera season, but not often enough.  You've heard me complain frequently about the habit of commissioning new operas (many of which are never heard from again after their initial productions) when there are plenty of underperformed ones lying around; the same goes here.  If you've got The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, why bother with The Sound of Music?  This is not to criticize the great musicals which the American theater has given us, merely to point out there's a place for everything, and the opera stage is not the place for most of them.  No, the bigger question is this: am I making an exception for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or is that where it belonged all along?

You may not think you recognize any of it's music, but I'll bet you do: here's the justifiably famous theme, "I Will Wait for You."

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...