Tag Archives: Fox News

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

“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.

Continue reading

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Filed under Feuds, Media, Middle East, Religion, TV

“Avatar” Makes Me Blue Over Our Dumb Discourse

Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana in "Avatar."

Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana in Avatar. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

When I launched this blog a year ago, one of my hopes was that it would support the tendency of our popular culture to serve as a medium of discussion through which people of all ideological stripes comment on issues of the day. Unfortunately, it seems that pop culture is no longer serving this function. Rather, according to a recent Newsweek cover story, our movies, TV, music, and books have ceded this function to our ongoing obsession with celebrities’ private lives.

The article’s author, Neal Gabler, who wrote despairingly of this trend a decade ago in his book Life the Movie, seems entirely too sanguine today about conceding that the morality plays that make up celebrities’ personal lives have become more compelling to us than movies or TV or books as a way of having a national conversation about what matters to us. According to Gabler, our tendency to privilege celebrity gossip is more a function of our fascination with new media (and our boredom with old media) than a reflection of increased shallowness on our part, or on the part of our professional storytellers. But it seems to me that even our best storytellers have fallen down on the job here, and exhibit A is James Cameron’s visually stunning, well-meaning, ultimately unsubstantial message movie Avatar. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts, Media, Movies

Finding Myself in the Awkward Position of Defending Glenn Beck

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AOL asked me to write a blog post this week on all the comic invective directed recently toward Glenn Beck, knowing that both his defenders and detractors would come out of the woodwork to wage war in the comments section.* And come they did, by the tens of thousands, thanks in part to a headline on the AOL welcome screen that overstated my concern about some of the more below-the-belt spoofs. (“Attacks on Beck Crossing the Line: Our Writer Says Recent Parodies Are Anything but Funny: Skits Under Fire”)

Now, I’m not a Beck fan, as even a cursory reading of the article would make clear. If anything, the assignment gave me an excuse to embed videos of several Beck-lampooning sketches, some of which I think are perfectly fair. The best of these was the Stephen Colbert monologue embedded at the top of this post, which perfectly mimics Beck’s performance style, calls him on his BS, and does so without resorting to ad hominem attacks. What I objected to was those sketches that got personal — Jon Stewart appearing to make fun of Beck’s recent health woes, Andy Cobb taking Beck’s icky incest fantasy from his book The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland out of context to imply that Beck really meant it (he did not; he was merely making an offensive analogy to gay relationships), and The Onion wishing for Beck to die a violent and gory death (a video that contains some NSFW language). Continue reading

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Filed under Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, Saturday Night Live, TV

O’Reilly and Olbermann Muzzled

Tiresome as the Bill O’Reilly-Keith Olbermann feud has become, the two are within their rights to criticize each other and each other’s employers. Now, however, their respective bosses at Fox and MSNBC have forced them to silence their mutual criticisms so as not to rock the boat for either corporate parent. This New York Times story lays out how, despite the fact that the feud was ratings manna for both channels, their CEOs decided that it had become an embarrassment to both corporate parents, so each side agreed to muzzle its own attack dog.

There are often complaints that the mainstream media are too biased toward the left or the right, but they’re really biased toward the corporate interests of the companies that own them. Usually, journalists working for big media outlets don’t have to be told by their bosses what news to downplay or ignore so as not to embarrass the parent company; they simply do so automatically. It’s rare for the bosses to have to admonish the reporters directly; rarer still for them to acknowledge such self-censorship in the pages of, say, the New York Times. Remarkably, the Times story presents its account of the gag order as if it were a sports or gossip story, about the feud between two colorful personalities, rather than as a cautionary tale of how two big rival corporations, out of mutual self-interest, shut down the free expression of each other’s employees and silenced possibly newsworthy criticism of each other. Well, maybe it’s not that remarkable; the Times, too, is pro-corporate, so it’s not going to present the story in a way that recognizes that the free expression rights of reporters at all major media outlets, including the Times, are at risk. Continue reading

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Filed under Censorship, Feuds, Media, TV

Awaiting a Matt Damon-William Kristol Smackdown

Photo by Siebbi on Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Photo by Siebbi on Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Any doubt that political punditry has now turned into pro wrestling should be dispelled by William Kristol’s challenge to debate Matt Damon for calling him an idiot on such issues as the Iraq War — not to mention new blog Big Hollywood‘s offer to bankroll the $100,000 cage match. (How will they come up with the money? I smell another unfunded mandate.) As entertaining as it would be to see the two Harvard-educated experts engage in erudite repartee, it sounds like a lose-lose for both of them. If Kristol gets whupped, he’s lost a political debate to the guy who made Stuck on You; if he wins, well, big deal, he’s beaten the guy who made Stuck on You. If Damon (pictured) loses, he looks like a typical know-nothing Hollywood actor for his initial remarks, but if he wins, he’s only beaten a guy mercilessly ridiculed in the left blogosphere for being so wrong about everything all the time that even the New York Times let him go with an unceremonious don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out notice on Monday. (Moments later, Kristol landed a new sinecure at the Washington Post. Like the Weekly Standard editor/Fox News contributor needs another outlet for his underexposed opinions? Dude’s got more platforms than Elton John.) Damon should let this double-dog-dare slide (if he’s even aware of it) and go back to making kick-ass spy thrillers and recording Howard Zinn audiobooks.

The reaction over at Big Hollywood is instructive. The site, which launched earlier this month, seems to want to be the conservative answer to the Huffington Post (a mix of celebrities, political experts, and people no one’s ever heard of, all opining on pop culture and politics), but it clearly has disdain for the opinions of most celebrities, and so do the 1,100-plus people who’ve commented on the Kristol-Damon item so far. The Big Hollywood bloggers see themselves as an embattled minority within liberal Hollywood (shouldn’t they call themselves “Little Hollywood,” then?), even as they claim Hollywood’s biggest successes as their own (Did you know The Dark Knight was a right-wing parable about supporting the Bush War on Terror? Neither did I.) while dismissing the folks who actually have lucrative gainful employment in Hollywood as out-of-touch liberals whose propaganda fails to move the populace. (Obama fan Tom Hanks, you’re no everyman — unless you decide to make Forrest Gump 2: Gump Harder.) They think the marketplace should favor conservative movies, but since that’s not happening, they’d apparently like some quotas in their favor. They don’t understand why, if the market is the ultimate arbiter of what’s art, the marketplace is so full of movies that pander to the lowest common denominator and promote ideals that make family values conservatives aghast. And of course, they don’t realize that, if their supposedly deep thinkers like Kristol want to engage the entertainment arena on the level of spectacle, they’ve already ceded the moral and intellectual high ground. Once you turn a political debate into an episode of Hannity and Colmes, or a YouTube video to be shared via e-mail. you might as well let Vince McMahon be the moderator.

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Filed under Feuds, Movies