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

“Dancing With the Stars”: The Mama Grizzly Votng Bloc

Bristol Palin (and Brandy) on "Dancing With the Stars"It’s always instructive to me when a firestorm erupts over one of my AOL posts. In this case, plenty of people, both pro- and anti-Palin, are up in arms over the controversy of Bristol Palin’s continuing presence on Dancing With the Stars after the elimination of many undeniably better dancers, including this week’s apparently shocking ouster of Brandy.

In my TV Squad post, I noted the many conspiracy theorists (including some closely affiliated with the show) who believe that Tea Partiers are stuffing ballots to vote for Palin simply because they’re political supporters of her mother. I note the evidence for fraud marshaled by Jezebel, only to reject it as inconclusive. Nowhere in the post do I discuss Bristol’s character, attitude, looks, or unwed-teen-mom status, only her dancing skills. Nonetheless, just for bringing up the possibility of vote fraud, I am apparently a liberal hack who has besmirched Bristol’s sterling reputation with my unfounded smears.

In the thousands of comments that follow my post, there’s a lot of gratuitous insult-trading going on, a lot of mean-spirited comments about Bristol and Sarah Palin, and inevitably, about Barack Obama and Harry Reid and other Democratic politicians who have nothing to do with Dancing With the Stars except that no derogatory remark about the Palins is allowed to go unanswered by the Mama Grizzly bloc. As for whether or not there’s a conspiracy here, no one can say — and I don’t think it even matters — but the support for Bristol does tell me a lot about the way Tea Partiers think politically.

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‘Unstoppable’ and the Politics of Movie Credits

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in "Unstoppable"

A query from a reader asks an interesting question: why does established, A-list star Denzel Washington have to share above-the-title credit with relative newbie Chris Pine on the new thriller Unstoppable? Does it have anything to do with race? Do the producers not think that Washington can carry a movie all by himself, without having to share top billing with a white star of lesser stature? If Washington were white, wouldn’t he get the marquee all to himself? Continue reading

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Immigration Backlash Over “Machete” in 5…4…3…2…

Danny Trejo in "Machete"I’m just waiting for the right blogosphere, the op-ed pages, and the folks at Fox News to  get riled over Robert Rodriguez’ surprisingly fiery take on illegal immigration (shorter Rodriguez: powerful business and political interests are cynically exploiting the issue for their own gain, though racism is also a factor) in his otherwise cartoonishly over-the-top (but cathartically enjoyable) Mexploitation film Machete.

Okay, well, maybe not Fox News, since News Corp. has a vested interest in this movie’s success, as it did with Avatar,  another movie that presented an easy political target but which Fox News largely avoided out of apparent deference to its parent company. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect Fox to distribute a movie this politically radical, unless you figure the company doesn’t fear that the film will have any real impact on the issues it addresses.

At any rate, I’ve written an in-depth analysis of Machete, the political firestorm it seems eager to spark, the actual likelihood of such a firestorm igniting, and the potential chilling effect on free speech for filmmakers in Texas (whose film commission is currently mulling whether or not to deny Rodriguez state incentives because Machete paints an occasionally unflattering portrait of the Lone Star state). It’s live now at Moviefone.

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“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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“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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