Tag Archives: George W. Bush

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

Conan O’Bama

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Remember when George W. Bush became president, and the pundits said that, at last, the grownups were now in charge? (And how did that work out, by the way?) It’s a lot easier to imagine that the grownups are in charge now that the cool, seemingly unflappable, roll-up-your-sleeves Barack Obama is president, and when he took office, I felt a surge of almost familial pride. At last, the reins of power were passing to someone roughly my age (Obama is about five years older than I am.)

I felt a similar emotion this week when Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson had made the forum into the voice of national consensus; Jay Leno tried to maintain that role even as consensus crumbled around him (we’re a much more fragmented, factionalized people now, not just in terms of our politics, but also in our tastes in pop culture and our countless entertainment options). Now that desk was passing to someone of my generation (Conan is four years older than I am), and it felt like a momentous, torch-passing occasion.

The president himself seemed to acknowledge the similarity between these two transitions in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams this week (see above video). It was a puzzling moment; Time columnist James Poniewozik seemed to find it crass that Williams spent valuable face time with the president getting Obama to plug an entertainment event on Williams’ network, and O’Brien himself wondered why the leader of the free world should be devoting any attention to Conan’s career move. But such pluggery is standard procedure these days for TV news (which is more entertainment than news anyway, with the cotton-candy puffery throughout Williams’ primetime special as just another example), and the fact that Obama responded to Williams’ prompt not by saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” but by deadpanning a good joke about it without missing a beat indicates that, not only is Obama as media-savvy a chief executive as we’ve ever seen, but also is thoroughly conversant with the ironic, absurdist humor that is Conan’s (and our generation’s) preferred mode of expression. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Late Night TV, Media, Movies, Music, TV

Film Criticism Is Torture

Twenty years ago, conservative scholars like Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch were complaining about the decline of cultural literacy; today, conservatives are on the other side, egging on anti-intellectualism. Witness the twin posts this week from John Podhoretz and Rod Dreher, who, noting the death of film criticism (a topic I’ve been writing about for the last couple of years as virtually every major newspaper and magazine critic not named Ebert has lost his or her job), gleefully stomp on criticism’s grave. After all, both seem to argue, film criticism is just snooty liberal elitists who care more about “the condition of Finnish cinema” than reaffirming populist taste by championing market-tested big-studio blockbusters. It’s a pretty strange take on the trade, especially since both Podhoretz and Dreher have worked as film critics themselves.

Podhoretz argues that all it takes to review movies is an “interesting sensibility,” not specialized knowledge. This very low standard, of course, opens up the field to anyone who wants to post an opinion at IMDB, but as anyone who’s read the reviews there knows, having an opinion is no guarantee of literacy, well-reasoned argument, expertise, persuasiveness, or even taste. (Then again, getting paid to write criticism is no guarantee of those qualities either, as Podhoretz and Dreher’s own reviews prove.) Podhoretz insists that amateur reviewers, writing out of pure love for film, are more reliable barometers than professional critics writing for a paycheck. If that’s true, I hope he’s writing his reviews for The Weekly Standard for free. At least then, Rupert Murdoch would get what he’s paying for. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts, Media, Movies

Obama’s ‘Special’ Visit to Leno

Not sure why, aside from his wince-inducing Special Olympics joke (about 20 minutes into the clip below), President Obama’s visit to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show last night was considered such a shocking breach of presidential protocol. It’s just like when the Republicans derided Obama, puzzlingly, last summer for being too much of a “celebrity.” As if America didn’t love its celebrities, or thought there was any big deal about a presidential politician appearing on a late-night talk show. I don’t remember such complaints when Arnold Schwarzenegger (who warmly embraced Obama yesterday) announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Leno’s stage, or when John McCain announced his presidential candidacy on David Letterman’s show. Yes, Obama is now a sitting president, not a candidate, but yesterday’s visit was certainly a campaign whistlestop, and one as canny as any media-op staged by Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Maybe old-school media gatekeepers are just as upset about this as GOP politicians are — after all, Leno is trespassing on their turf. But they ceded that turf to Leno, Letterman and other entertainers long ago when they allowed political chat shows (both the Sunday morning network interrogations and the nightly cable screamfests) to degenerate into pro-wrestling matches. Also, when they abdicated the role of tough, probing investigative reporter to the likes of Leno, Letterman, and Jon Stewart. The line between political journalism and entertainment has long been hopelessly blurred, and it’s awfully disingenuous to start complaining about it now. Hey, pols and press, do you want TV to take politics more seriously and stop treating it as a division of show business? Physicians, heal thyselves.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Media, TV

Obama Is President, At Last

Photo by Jay Tamboli at Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Photo by Jay Tamboli at Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

What was the most moving moment of Tuesday’s inauguration? Aretha Franklin’s song? (Or her hat?) The new president’s speech? The Rev. Joseph Lowery’s rhyming benediction? The helicopter departure of the Bushes? Dick Cheney crumpled up in his wheelchair, looking like Dr. Strangelove or some defeated James Bond villain? No, for me, it was watching the first couple dance as BeyoncĂ© sang “At Last” at the Neighborhood Ball. (See the video here.) Even Sasha Fierce herself was crying, and not just because she knows she can’t really do justice to the Etta James classic. It would have been hard for anyone watching not to shed a tear at the handsome couple and their romantic clinch, not to mention the omnipresent awareness of how far they (and others before them) had to travel to reach this moment. My overwhelming feeling all day was one of relief, and not just relief that this day ended in a slow dance and not a tableau from a Robert Altman or John Frankenheimer movie. The grown-ups are in charge, at last.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Music