Category Archives: Media

Dog-Tired of Perception and Reality Games

In my field, it’s that time of year when best-movie lists are announced, and while sequels like Transformers 3 and Twilight 4.1 have dominated the box office this year, they’re not showing up on critics’ lists. Instead, critics are touting little-seen movies like The Artist or Beginners (both of which happen to feature scene-stealing Jack Russell terriers, as seen in the video above). That is, there’s a vast disparity between what’s popular and what’s actually good. This will cause a lot of handwringing, as usual, at the Academy, since they would love the popular and the good to be in sync so that more people watch the Oscar show. It will also cause grumbling among contrarians who would dismiss critics as out-of-touch elitists. But the idea that the most popular movie must also be the best is nonsense. If that were true, the People’s Choice Awards would be taken more seriously than the Oscars. In fact, why have awards at all? Why not just look at the box office chart and give the best movie prize to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II?

The notion that validity should be determined simply by popularity has infected our politics as well. There was a good example of this last week in the kerfuffle over Politifact rating the Democrats’ assertion that Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan would end Medicare as “the Lie of the Year.” It was a curious choice, since the finalists included other, more brazen lies, such as Sen. Jon Kyl’s assertion that abortion accounts for more than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activity, a claim Kyl’s own office said “was not intended to be a factual statement”) or presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s evidence-free assertion that the human papillomavirus vaccine can cause mental retardation. In contrast, the Medicare line comes down to, at best, a difference of interpretation. It’s a lie only if you buy the Republican argument that changing Medicare from a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance program for seniors and future seniors into a single-payer, guaranteed, cost-saving, government-provided health insurance voucher program for seniors and future seniors doesn’t actually end Medicare. Continue reading

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Filed under 2012 Election, Feuds, Health Care Reform, Media, Movies

Happy 30th Birthday, MTV, For “Shore”

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MTV, which marks its 30th birthday today, has changed a lot since I wrote this Boston Phoenix article marking the channel’s 10th birthday.But one thing remains the same: it’s still a channel that’s all about the search for identity. Well, maybe “search” isn’t the right word; “shopping trip” might be more apt. Continue reading

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Mark Twain, Sarah Palin, Tucson, and the Follies of Censorship

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Library of Congress No. LC-USZ62-5513)

Your elites don’t trust you. They don’t trust you to be able to read certain historical or literary documents, listen to TV and radio pundits, or even look at certain billboards and posters without getting the wrong ideas and letting them poison your mind to the extent that you turn to violence.

We’ve seen that a lot this month, with censorship efforts against a broad spectrum of source material, from Huckleberry Finn to the U.S. Constitution to Sarah Palin’s website, in the wake of the Tucson shootings. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts, Books, Censorship, Media, TV

Farewell to a Focked-Up Year

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in "Little Fockers"Visiting Colorado this week, I was chatting with a couple, family friends, who remarked that I was the first person they’d met who admitted to having voted for Obama. Of course, where I live, in a New York City suburb full of elite media folk, no one will admit to not having voted for Obama. Except for the politics, we had a pleasant conversation, but it dismayed me that we continue to live in two countries with seemingly irreconcilable views, not only on which policies and politicians should govern, but on how to interpret real events we all experienced.

There’s Fox Nation, where Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are distinguished sages, where Juan Williams is rewarded for the thoughtless bigotry for which NPR punished him, where Obama is an alien bent on destroying capitalism, where Andrew Breitbart is the wronged party after he’s condemned for making Shirley Sherrod notorious and costing her her job, where a proposed YMCMA a few blocks from Ground Zero is a shrine to a terrorist victory, where the midterm elections are a sign of genuine populist rejection of the Democrats’ big-government agenda, and where white Christian male privilege is a sign of embattled martyrdom and not still at the centers of power in most places.

And then there’s the place where the rest of us live, a place that doesn’t even have a name because we’re too disorganized, disputatious, and dispirited to give it one (per Yeats: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity); call it Colbert Nation — a place where jesters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously because they’re the only media/political watchdogs still actually doing their jobs, where Obama is a  Wall Street sellout who’s been too deferential to implacable obstructionists, where the midterm elections are a sign that a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign beats an ineffectual Democratic party any time, and where the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the only sign that we’re not on the verge of a wholesale repeal of every positive social advance of the last century.

During my brief visit to Fox Nation, I found only a couple of signs of hope that an America riven into two seemingly irreconcilable camps can find something to agree upon. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Media, Movies, TV

“The Other Guys”: Goofy Comedy Hides Serious Anti-Corporate Critique

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As I wrote when Avatar came out, it seems futile to me for a filmmaker to try to embed an anti-corporate message in a film whose very financing and distribution are dependent on corporate largess. The bells and whistles of mainstream film production and marketing tend to overwhelm whatever message in the film runs counter to the complacent passivity that we’ve learned to ingest along with our popcorn. Nonetheless, give credit to The Other Guys for trying to drop some education about our current financial mess into what’s an otherwise deliberately absurd and silly Will Ferrell comedy.

Director/co-writer Adam McKay saves most of the critique for the end credits (embedded above), about which I’ve written extensively in this post at Moviefone. But he also gets a few subtler digs in during the film itself, in which NYPD detectives Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg pursue a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemer, played by Steve Coogan. (Spoilers follow.) Coogan’s character is also pursued by institutional investors who’ve lost billions, and who’ll stop at nothing, no matter how violent or illegal, to get their money back. Coogan is forced to find a new pigeon to make up the losses; that pigeon turns out to be the NYPD pension fund. Ferrell and Wahlberg foil the scheme and save their pensions, but Coogan’s biggest institutional client gets its money back anyway through a government bailout because it’s deemed too big to fail. So instead of looting one small union, the company gets to steal from every taxpayer in America. (End spoilers.) There’s also a bit where Ferrell meets with the Securities and Exchange Commission and casually rattles off a list of all the big Wall Street ripoffs the SEC failed to avert over the last decade, from Enron to WorldCom to Madoff to AIG. This got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with. People may not grasp the details of how they’ve been screwed over, but they know that someone was asleep as the foxes raided the henhouse over and over. Continue reading

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Filed under Economy, Media, Movies

“Lost” vs. “24”: A Tale of Two Americas

Ben and Hurley in "Lost" series finale, "The End"It’s fitting that both Lost and 24 should come to a close within 24 hours of each other at the dawn of new decade. Both summed up what it felt like to be an American in the George W. Bush era of post-9/11 existential dread. But they came at that feeling from opposite angles.

I’ve tried to make sense of the ‘Lost finale in this post at AOL’s TV Squad. Of all the other ‘Lost’ post-mortems I’ve seen, this one by the Washington Post‘s Hank Steuver is the one that has best addressed what 24 and Lost said about America. Of course, each show seemed to be speaking to a different America, which itself says plenty about our conflicted age.

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The Late-Night Wars: Politics by Other Means

No, I probably won’t be watching tonight when Jay Leno returns to the Tonight Show, but I’m still fascinated with how this whole mess is going to play out. Certainly, the late-night wars are far from over, with Jay once again going head to head with longtime-rival-turned-Super-Bowl-buddy David Letterman, or with the deposed Conan O’Brien possibly barnstorming America with a live show before his likely face-off against both Dave and Jay if he lands on Fox this fall. The struggle is still of interest because. as seemed clear during the depths of the public Jay-vs.-everyone-else battle that played out in January, this is about a lot more than which pampered white guy gets to tell jokes at 11:35 p.m. It’s about great fault lines criss-crossing both our popular and political culture.

Some of those fault lines are: Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, TV