Books postsFriday September 18, 2015
Michael Medved is His Own Best Critic
Finally reading “Hollywood vs. America” (1992), in which right-wing film critic Michael Medved argues that Hollywood makes the wrong movies for all the wrong reasons, and it's all Hollywood's fault. (As opposed to America's fault.)
What kinds of movies should Hollywood make? Medved brings up a few fondly remembered ones from his youth:
- The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), starring Fess Parker as a fearless Union officer who leads a daring raid behind enemy lines to steal a key Confederate train.
- The Buccaneer (1958), with Andrew Jackson and pirate Jean Lafitte winning the Battle of New Orleans
- The Horse Soldiers (1959), starring John Wayne and William Holden as Union cavalry officers in the Civil War
- John Paul Jones (1959), with Robert Stack as the great naval hero of the American Revolution
- And, of course, John Wayne's two-hour-and-forty-minute epic, The Alamo
Then he adds this:
I still recall every one of these long-ago entertainments with enormous affection, though I would never go so far as to offer them my blanket critical endorsement. Its easy to spot the artistic and historical shortcomings in such projects, to decry their jingoistic simplicity and to lament the way that America's enemies are callously reduced to two-dimensional bad guys. From a contemporary and politically correct perspective, one might well argue that my endless exposure to such blood-and-guts sagas between the impressionable ages of seven and twelve permanently warped my tender young mind by implanting the dubious proposition that our country's problems could all be solved on the battlefield. Nevertheless, I miss the energetic, flag-waving films of my boyhood and regret that comparable projects have found no place in todays movie mix.
Turns out Medved is a good critic after all.
Michael Medved movie night? Warning: prolonged expsure may cause jingoism and two-dimensional worldviews. But it's all in good, clean fun.
Michael Medved Quotes that Aged Poorly II
“Why is it inherently less valid for the American Family Association to try to pressure the networks to feature fewer homosexual characters on prime-time TV than it is for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) to try to pressure the networks for more such characters? Both groups are engaged in totally legitimate efforts to influence major TV producers to broadcast images that correspond with their own views of what constitutes a good society.”
-- Michael Medved, “Hollywood vs. America,” 1992; chapter 19, “The End of the Beginning.”
Sigh. American Family Association was trying to deny the humanity of an unprotected group of people (particularly back then), while GLAAD was trying to assert their own humanity through visibility. GLAAD won. I hope Medved's evolved in this area over the last two decades.
Michael Medved Quotes that Aged Poorly
“Surely even sun-dazed Southern Californians can look beyond their hot tubs every now and then and see the wreckage that family breakdown is creating in American life. There is only one way to stop the epidemic of illegitimacy and the resulting poverty among children—and that is to bring back the stigma of unwed motherhood.”
-- Michael Medved, “Hollywood vs. America,” 1992, Chapter 8
Books: Two Authors Rehabilitate the Reputations of Ty Cobb and Billy Martin
Billy Martin, with Cesar Tovar, at Met Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. in 1969.
It's been a good year for well-researched biographies on quick-tempered baseball players with tarnished historical reputations.
First, we got Bill Pennington's bio on Billy Martin, the fiery skipper of the '69 Twins, '71-'73 Tigers, '73-'75 Rangers, '80-'82 A's, and of course various Yankees iterations from 1975 to 1988. Almost every team he managed had a losing record before he arrived and a winning record once he began to run things. He turned teams around. Every time.
His stint with the Oakland A's may have been the most amazing. By 1979, the once-powerful A's had been depleted by owner Chuck Finley in a rebuke of free agency and fandom, and the team went 54-108. Then Martin got them, recognized the talent (including future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson), and, without much change in roster, the team went 83-79.
Pennington, in fact, argues that Martin may have been the greatest baseball manager of all time, but he spends most of the book trying to rehabiliate him. Martin was known as a drunk, a brawler (see: “marshmallow salesman”), a manager who abused the young arms of his A's staff, and according to some, a racist. Pennington's defense: 1) Martin was alcoholic, so 2) he spent a lot of time in bars, and as a famous scrawny guy with a fighting rep, rarely started fights. He also suggests, 3) was greatly exaggerated, and 4) was just Reggie Jackson and he was full of shit. Both Rickey Henderson and Rod Carew dismiss the charge out of hand.
Charles Leerhsen, author of “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty,” has the tougher task. Cobb's negative rep has grown so much in my lifetime that he's almost seen as a monster. The main strikes against him: 1) he was a dirty ballplayer (sharpening spikes, etc.), who was also 2) a virulent racist. Oh, and he might have killed somebody, too.
Leerhsen dismisses the first charge with quotes from Cobb's contemporaries who basically say he fought hard but within the parameters of the game. As to the second charge, Leerhsen breaks down each incident. He sticks to the facts and uncovers others from primary sources. Basically he argues that Cobb had both a high level of propriety and a quick temper. He expected service people, whatever their race, to keep their places, and when they didn't he got angry. He was EOC: an Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon.
So why did Cobb's rep get so besmirched? Because he tried to correct it. He didn't like being known as a spike-sharpener and agreed to a late-life autobiography to set the record straight. His publisher then chose as his ghostwriter a freelancer named Al Stump, who spent some time with Cobb, and who then delivered an autobiography full of wild inaccuracies. Cobb despised it but there was little he could do. He died a few months after publication. A few months after that, Stump published an article in True magazine entitled, “Ty Cobb's Wild 10-Month Fight to Live,” which later became the basis for Ron Shelton's awful 1994 film. In it, Cobb is a pistol-packing, pistol-whipping, booze-and-pill-swilling maniac. It's a lurid, sensationalistic tale befitting the magazine in which it appeared. But it took on a life of its own. In the era of “Ball Four,” it began to be believed.
What awful irony. In trying to correct the record, the record became completely unrecognizable. Cobb began to be viewed as the opposite of the Southern gentleman he always imagined himself to be.
There's a different kind of irony in Pennington's book—one the author doesn't remark upon.
Martin was raised in the “gritty, crowded, downtrodden streets of West Berkeley,” according to Pennington. They were “homes without lawns” with “tattered backyard fences.” Nearby, Pennington says, the hills climbed upwards until you arrived at more stately mansions. The kids from West Berkeley called the rich kids “the Goats,” and there was resentment both ways. Some of Billy's resentment fueled his career. He wanted to prove he was just as good, or better, than the kids who had everything. And how did he do this? I would argue he lent his talents, first as a player and then as a manager, to the richest, most stately mansion in Major League Baseball: the New York Yankees. Billy Martin succeeded by becoming a goat.
Both biographies are highly recommended, by the way.
Ty Cobb, with Don Newcombe, in the 1950s.
Did Neocons, Gun Nuts, Watch Too Many Cartoons as Kids?
At least some Popeye anyway.
The following is from Michael Medved's 1992 book “Hollywood vs. America,” during the discussion (or monologue) on whether what we see is what we do. I.e., Do repeated viewings of violent images, thousands of them in a young life, lead us toward violence ourselves? Or, for some, toward fear and paranoia?
Here's the quote. Or quotes:
“Young viewers who watch a lot of TV are more likely to agree that it is almost always right to hit someone if you are mad at them for a good reason,” Dr. Gerbner reports. ...
Dr. Thomas Radecki, research director of the National Coalition on Television Violence, points out that the destructive impact of the popular culture is “not just a kids' issue. There is overwhelming evidence that adults as well as children are affected by the glamorization and promotion of violence. TV-watching adults are more likely to purchase handguns, support military solutions to world problems, and overestimate the amount of violence in the real world.”
The oddity of this book is that I agree with a lot of Medved's battles but he's constantly losing the war with me. I do think, for example, that there's too much violence on TV and movie screens. I also agree that movie and TV images are influential. Just like anything in life but moreso. They're viewed, after all, a million times around the world.
I just don't blame Hollywood; I blame us. Generally, if these movies didn't sell, Hollywood wouldn't make them. But they make them because we buy them; because we want them. Thus far, Medved only blames Hollywood.