Sunday, January 29, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Gosh that's a great idea – making a silent movie about making silent movies but using a little bit of sound. Where have I seen that before? Oh right, Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie." While several reviewers have mentioned "Singing in the Rain," nobody has given a nod to Brooks' brilliant effort.
It's kind of like how medicine has evolved over the years. We couldn't have the miracle of blood transfusions today had it not been for the leechings of yesteryear. But if your doctor told you he wanted to drain some of your bad blood to cure you, would you think his treatment was a charming homage to 17th Century doctors, or would you call the authorities?
I'm not saying you shouldn't see, "The Artist." I enjoyed it, and it is a cleverly crafted and well-acted film. All I'm saying is, everyone needs to calm down with the hoopla about this being The. Best. Film. About Films. Of All Time. As "Singing in the Rain's" Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) would say, "It ain't."
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Political discourse, by its very nature, can be a nasty business. And it's this last word that makes the difference: business. With so much money riding on each election, politics has become big business. And it's zero sum game: your loss is my victory. As such, there's very little room for an honest debate of ideas – there's too much at stake. If more people believe your idea than believe mine, I'm out of work. So discourse has continued its descent into the abyss and manipulation carries the day as they smugly mine the depths of intellectual dishonesty.
When I worked in Congress in the mid-90s as a press secretary I remember being apoplectic at some manipulative stunts President Clinton and his team pulled. The issue was the unsustainable growth of Social Security and Medicare (déjà vu anyone?). Republicans in Congress hammered out what they thought was a deal with the White House. They'd slow the annual growth of the programs from X% to .9X% (or some such fraction of the original). Then President Clinton went on national television and a hand-wringing tour of AARP hot-spots talking about standing up to the "draconian cuts in Social Security and Medicare" the Republicans were proposing.
Of course it was utter nonsense – the programs were not being cut, they just weren't going to grow as quickly as they had been. Since the future spending hadn't yet happened there was nothing to cut, draconically or otherwise. Then-Speaker Gingrich and other leaders didn't believe the President's manipulation of the facts would successfully scare senior citizens. They were, as Gingrich would say, "exactly and fundamentally wrong." The remarkably skilled President made us all eat a big sandwich of something that didn't taste very good. (I believe to this day Gingrich still has that taste in his mouth – part of the reason he comes across so angry.)
But that was 15 years ago. That kind of mere massaging of the facts would be welcome today. Just ask President Obama how he feels about Republican scare tactics that his health care reform included death panels to oversee the murder of senior citizens.
Both instances, and hundreds more between them are shameful manipulations. I mean "manipulation" in the true etymological sense. From manipulate – "control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously" (from the Oxford English Dictionary, emphasis added).
But is it unscrupulous to manipulate an argument for the common good? Forget about politics for a moment here – show me a politician who doesn't believe his or her entire career is "for the common good" and I'll show you somebody not actually in politics.
No, I mean would it be okay to manipulate a young person to, for example, prevent him from taking up smoking? Would it even be manipulation if you told him smoking damaged his lungs and could lead to his premature death. Those statements are completely accurate. It can't be unscrupulous to tell the truth, can it?
I vividly recall the terribly animated 1973 ABC After School Special "The Incredible, Indelible, Magical, Physical, Mystery Trip," starring Timer of "Time for Timer" fame. Timer, that Singing and Dancing yellow blob, booger, or piece of pollen, or whatever he was, shrunk two kids down to his microscopic size and took them on a journey through the body of their sleeping (passed out?) Uncle Carl. Carl drank and smoked and didn't exercise, and was generally unhealthy. Timer wanted the kids to see what Carl was doing to his body from the inside in the hopes that they would not follow down Carl's path, and maybe even convince Carl to change his ways before it was too late.
Like most ABC After School specials of the day, I was all over it. But when Timer brought the kids into Carl's lungs it was all over for me. You see, not only did Uncle Carl smoke, but my father smoked too.
Timer hammered the kids on the dangers of smoking and made it seem like Carl might not even survive the special. The smoking destroyed his lungs, thinned his blood, and was sending Carl to an early grave via the one-two punch of a heart attack and lung cancer. I was quite certain my father would be next.
I cried – no sobbed is a better description. And I remember imploring my father to stop smoking. My friend Dave and I even went so far as to steal our fathers' cigarettes. (To say they didn't care for that tactic would be like saying America dropped a few bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
I recall lying in bed at night for weeks after the special aired, unable to sleep and certain that every noise I heard from the other room was my father keeling over. I watched him like a hawk, sure that every cough was going to be his last, and that every time he paused while talking, he was having a heart attack.
I badgered him until he finally couldn't take it anymore and promised to quit smoking, which he did. For awhile.
The filmmakers knew just what they were doing. They preyed on my universal child's fear of losing a parent to turn me into what they hoped would be an effective lobbyist on their behalf. Even then my father knew smoking was bad for him. But he didn't quit/cut down until his teary-eyed son begged him to. So the special – the manipulation – worked. My fear was mongered, and the common good was had.
Flash forward to this past week when I would get my comeuppance.
After a particularly stressful and screamy evening, my twelve-year-old daughter was unable to sleep and we thought we heard her crying in her bed. I went to investigate and she was. Why? Well, the earlier screaming between her sister and mother and me, and the stress of her approaching Bat Mitzvah didn't help any, but what she was really upset about was that in school that day they had done a unit on alcohol and drugs.
Through sobs she explained to me that the teachers said even a little alcohol could kill a person and she was very worried about…me.
So here I was in my father's shoes from 39 years ago. He had sat at the foot of my bed trying to calm me down as I cried at him to stop smoking, and here I was at the foot of my daughter's bed trying to calm her down as she cried at me to stop drinking. Irony, you really know how to stick it to a guy.
Talk about a double-edged sword. Her thinking alcohol could kill her could be a good thing. But to the extent it got in the way of my drinking, well that might be a problem.
But what was I to do? Dash off an email to the teacher telling him to ease up on the anti-drinking rhetoric? May as well copy Child Protective Services so they could schedule the home visit.
So I walked a fine, logical line, explaining to her that if the teacher was talking about alcohol poisoning, the small amount of alcohol I drink, compared to my, ahem, body mass, couldn't do it. It might be dangerous to her and her friends, but I would be okay. We talked about not drinking and driving too, and all of it made sense to her and she calmed down.
Then I told her if she wanted to, she could take what was left of my bourbon in the other room and pour it down the drain. I figured she'd wipe her eyes and say it was okay.
Nope. The little minx cheerfully dumped it right into the sink. It took all I had in me to suppress a yelp, but I knew it would have been a red flag to her and we would be back to square one.
Eventually she fell asleep and I didn't pour myself another drink. (We were out of Sterno.)
(Just kidding, we had Sterno.)
But the incident did get me thinking. I had clearly been manipulated back in '73, as she was being manipulated now. But did the manipulation reach the same levels? Smoking in moderation isn't okay – it will still kill you. Drinking in moderation won't kill you, and may even have positive health benefits, we're told.
Is this blurring of the truthy line indicative of our decaying social discourse? Do teetotalers believe they can mislead kids because the end justifies the means? It's not wrong to want kids not to consume alcohol, but is scaring them with misinformation the right way to go about it?
When I explained to my died-in-the-wool Democrat grandparents in 1995 that the President was playing fast and loose with the facts on Medicare it made them angry. (Not angry enough to vote Republican, but they were a little disappointed in their President.)
So what happens when my daughter and her friends find out they can drink a beer and survive? That her gym teacher was maybe cutting some truth corners the way politicians do? I fear cynicism, already rising with each generation, could grow a little more with her generation.
And if their cynicism increases, it's going to take even more outrageous statements to get their attention. Which means the politicos will need to supe up their excavators and get digging as they hunt for rock bottom.
I'll keep an eye on the health syllabus at school, and in the meantime I think I'll try to ease back into my drinking in front of my daughter. I'll tell her I'm going to slow the rate of growth of my drinking. That should do the trick.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
For the past few months, there's been a mildly interesting lawsuit buzzing around the entertainment industry that looked like it might go away, but now may play out. Late last year, an actress anonymously filed suit against the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and parent company Amazon for revealing her actual birth date on the site. She alleged that now that producers knew her real age, she'd be excluded from certain roles, her career was damaged, and she wanted retribution or remuneration. (A million dollars to be exact.)
It made some headlines because the lawsuit was filed anonymously which led to speculation about who the actress might be. Could it be that Julianne Moore is in her 60s? Demi Moore is actually 71? Maybe it worked the other way? Maybe Dame Judy Dench is really only 32 and therefore obviously ill-suited to play the older matriarchal roles she has been?
If you put aside the potential star power and scandalous nature of the lawsuit, it does raise interesting privacy issues. The lawsuit alleges that IMDB looked at purchases the actress made on Amazon and pulled her age out of her credit card information. They then updated her IMDB profile with her exact birthday. Sneaky stuff. Not hacking into the mobile phone voicemail of a murder victim sneaky, but it seems pretty clearly an invasion of privacy.
"But what about the Amazon user agreement the actress agreed to, like everyone else, without reading," asks the unsympathetic Corporations Are People Too person?
Well, I'm no attorney, but I am a person, and an Amazon and IMDB Pro user. I think it's reasonable to assume Amazon will collect information on the products I look at and purchase, sell that information to a third party, who is then free to fill my Facebook page and email with ads for products that they've extrapolated I will want. (Although now that I think about it, I've never looked at Erection Difficulty for Dummies, so maybe they need to double-check their algorithm.)
Anyway, the lawsuit sounded interesting. But a Federal judge decided the lawsuit couldn't go forward with the plaintiff being anonymous. She dismissed it.
Then came the headline on MSN: "Actress Who Sued IMDB Reveals Name." Oh, excitement! The lawsuit was back on and we were going to learn the actual age of a real Hollywood superstar, one of those ageless beauties like Angelina, Jennifer, or one of the many Kates I can't keep straight. The trial would feature Hollywood elite versus internet wunderkinds. Producers and directors would testify about their views on age; studio execs would be called to task for ageist views when it came to woman, and actors and actresses would put on performances – breaking down on the stand to drive home the unfairness of it all. Someone might even develop a ribbon in time for the Oscars!
I clicked the link and saw a picture of an Asian woman I didn't recognize right away. Wait is that Ming Na from "ER"? Is it Lauren Tom from "Friends"? Nope. It's Huong Hoang.
Oh, perhaps you know her by her screen name. Junie Hoang.
Drawing a blank. What's she been in?
Well, let's see there was "Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust." (Trailer below!) She was also in the sequel, "Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver." (Different role, by the way.) She played Zombie Postwoman in "Z: A Zombie Musical," and if I'm not mistaken, Kristin Chenoweth is slated to reprise that role when the show comes to Broadway in the 2013 season.
Now yes, these titles are funny, and I'm sure the movies are horrendous, but Ms. Hoang actually has a nice career going. Or had. According to IMDB (which still lists her exact birthday) she's appeared in or voiced more than 70 films, TV shows, and video games over the past ten years. Not too shabby.
It's also worth noting that according to IMDB she had roles in "Big Momma's House 2" and "Tropic Thunder" but the scenes were unfortunately deleted. (Note that those carry real Hollywood paydays anyway, so good for her.)
So what has hurt Ms. Hoang's career more? Producers knowing her true age or appearing in "Hoodrats 2: Hoodrat Warriors?" Hard to say, but all joking aside, it certainly looks like Amazon and IMDB did snoop into Ms. Hoang's private information and then post it for all to see, and that's wrong.
If Ms. Hoang wants to reveal her age to her fans and potential employers, she should do so. But if she wants to keep us all guessing, she should be afforded that courtesy.
I hope the case continues and I hope the media pay attention – there's a great deal at stake. The larger issues of privacy, snooping, and personal information being passed around between companies with whom we do business and companies that want to do business with us is relevant to us all. And with the increasingly intrusive nature of websites, apps, and programs, and the growing sophistication of data mining companies, we should all be wary. Your employer probably doesn't much care about your age, and you probably have no problem revealing it to them. But how would you feel about them knowing all the websites you go to, what you buy, and how you pay for it? Unsettling.
Sunday, January 08, 2012
I've never been a regular "reader" of Playboy – it's too classy for me. But growing up, every few years someone very famous would agree to appear in the magazine – someone you weren't likely to see naked in this pre-TMZ, DeListed, X-Tube universe – and I would seek out that issue. I remember wanting to sneak a peek at Drew Barrymore, Demi Moore, and Madonna in the nude. I'm sure there were others over the years, though I can't really recall. I'm pretty sure Molly Ringwald never posed – I would have lined up like an Applista waiting for the next iThing for that one. (Who am I kidding, I still would.) In the end, the naked celebrities, and the "regular" women who appeared nude in the magazine, never made a lasting impression on me. No more so than the statues of Venus de Milo – they were, after all, "art."
Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a beautiful naked woman as much as the next perv—person, but I never found the pictures to be particularly titillating. I'm far too depraved in the recesses of my mind for that. Thank goodness Al Gore invented the internet to help satisfy my wanton curiosity.
And then late last year I learned Playboy had landed a great "get." Lindsey Lohan. She was the Kurt RusselI of a new generation, launching her career in a number of Disney films and shows. I remembered her fondly from "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday," and the Herbie remakes. And when she flexed some mainstream acting muscle in Tina Fey's "Mean Girls" I remember thinking, 'this kid's going to make it.'
Then the wheels came off and I stopped caring.
But now, as this round of her legal troubles seemed to be ending, she was looking at a classic Hollywood reboot – the Playboy pictorial. I admit I was curious. And let's be honest, a former child star, someone who's implanted in your memory at an age when it's not appropriate to see her naked ("Freaky Friday" – LiLo aged 17), now that's titillating! She may be 25 and drug-addled now, but in my mind, she's still that rebellious teenager, with her satin choker, fighting with Jamie Lee Curtis and learning meaningful lessons about the importance of family. I decided to invest $5, $6, maybe even up to $8 in my somewhat morbid curiosity – to see Double L naked before she is nominated for an Oscar or dies from an overdose.
I heard the hype about how the issue was going to set sales records, but it never dawned on me that I'd have a problem finding the issue. Like Lindsey getting out of a sportscar, I was wrong.
I went to my local 7-Eleven – just tattoo and car magazines. The next 7-Eleven I tried had a slightly more refined clientele – they had Self and Men's Fitness, but no "adult sophisticate" as I learned the convenience trade calls them. The next 7-Eleven I went to didn't even have any magazines at all. Just three-day-old USA Todays – and now it became a matter of honor to find the issue.
My local Borders had been a cornucopia of periodicals, but they were no more. My local Barnes & Noble, the only game in town now, didn't seem to have room on the shelves for any adult-oriented magazine – sophisticate or otherwise.
I was at a loss. And it made me realize the newsstands I grew up with in New York have gone the way of the record store. Magazines, like music, were soon going to have to offend nobody if you wanted to find it in a big box media store. In fact, it may already be too late for periodicals.
There's a gas station near my house where cab drivers hang out between shifts and there's kind of a large store attached. I thought they'd be the answer. But the question wasn't, "do you have cologne and phone cards I can use to call Eritrea?" so that was a bust.
I didn't know if the magazine had sold out quickly or if vendors were afraid to carry it, but I was certain that at this point that I had lost interest.
A week later, I found myself at a different, enormous Barnes & Noble and decided to stalk the magazines. Current Events, General Interest, Women's Interest, Hobbies & Collectibles, Men's Interest, and wait – was that a magazine in a plastic bag up in the far right corner? It was. Could it be? I slowly reached out, took hold of the thick dull plastic, and pulled the magazine out from behind a misfiled copy of Esquire.
Seriously? Penthouse. The degenerate gateway periodical to the truly twisted Leg Shows, Black Tails, and Barely Legals, here in the formerly respectable Barnes & Noble?! Well good for you, B&N Tysons Corner. Good for you standing up to the Puritanically righteous – and with several mega churches just a scowl's throw away on Route 7 no less! So freedom of the press, yes, but The Hef and LiLo, not so much.
I quickly decided two things. First, I was just not going to see Ms. Lohan naked – at least not in a classy way. Second, the Mass Media Distribution Caliphate still had some cracks in it – we could still find things in media superstores that some people found objectionable. Hooray us!
Two weeks later, a neighbor – the one who taught me the term "adult sophisticate" – brought me his colleague's subscription copy of the January/February Double issue of Playboy with Lindsey on the cover. The Promised Land was within my grasp.
Though I didn't get to support the system by paying into it, I was satisfied with my efforts to legitimately acquire my own copy of the magazine, so I flipped to Lindsey's pictorial with relish.
I was more let down than Lindsey's self-respect.
It simply wasn't Lindsey – not the one I wanted to see anyway. They chose to remake the famous Marilyn Monroe photo spread from the very first Playboy, and so they hid LL beneath a ridiculous Marilyn hairdo and copied those silly pin up girl poses. It looked nothing like Lindsey. Nothing. She retained her freckles, but the rest of her was lost.
We know and love (or hate) Lindsey with her straight hair, wry smile, and obscenities painted on her fingernails. This uber-glammed out woman in the pictures has as much to do with Lindsey as the other women in the magazine have to do with women you know. It was just plain silly. A total waste of my time and considerable efforts.
What's next? Will Playboy finally land that Molly Ringwald shoot and put her in a jet black Elvira wig? Sounds like par for the course. In the meantime, seems like there are actually articles in Playboy, so I'm going to read some and see if they can't redeem the issue for me. Who knew?