Tuesday July 07, 2020
Common Sense by Thomas Hanks
“The idea of doing one's part should be so simple: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands. That alone means you are contributing to the betterment of your house, your work, your town, your society as a whole. And it's such a small thing. And it's a mystery to me how that has been wiped out of what should be ingrained in us all. Simple things. Do your part.
Tom Hanks, who contracted Covid in March, on the ”Today" show this morning.
Monday August 05, 2019
‘How Did Any of Us Walk Away Unchanged?’
In the wake of the mass murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this weekend, Joe Posnanski wrote the following poem and posted it on his site, where he usually writes about sports. This piece is called “This Isn't Sports.” It begins this way:
Didn't a little piece of you die in Newtown?
A little piece of me died there.
They were just babies.
Cut down like wheat
Six and seven years old
Still learning how to read and write
Big block letters
Unicorns and baseball cards
Jumping in front of a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle
A Glock 20SF handgun
Hoping to save one
How did we not all die in Newtown?
How did any of us walk away unchanged?
It's that last line that got me. How did the NRA/GOP get away with it? They evoked Hollywood (“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun...”), whom they also attack. They also made asinine suggestions like arming teachers. There's this thing that kills people, see, so the way to reduce the killings is to make sure more people have this thing that kills people. It's Illogic 101.
Yet they got away with it. We let them get away with it.
Joe goes on to mention other places now marked as places of mass murder: Tucson, Vegas, Virginia Beach, Chippewa Falls, Sebring and Aurora. He goes through Yountville and Paintsville and Nashville and Asheville. He ticks off so many places, so many tragedies, for which we did nothing. Half of them I'd already forgotten. That's how often it happens here:
In Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit
Just as in Lutcher and Gravette and Ascension Parish
In a Pittsburgh Synagogue
And a Charleston church
And a Sutherland Springs church
And an Annapolis newspaper office
And an Orlando nightclub
And Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
And an El Paso Wal-Mart
And just outside a Dayton Bar
How do any of us walk away unchanged? Yet bit by bit we are changed. For the worse.
Friday March 15, 2019
Greatest Banksy Ever
OK, maybe a close second to the one at the end of this 2010 review.
Tuesday September 04, 2018
Just came across this. From a week ago Monday. Classy tribute.
Neil Simon was a clutch hitter. When we needed the punchline on Your Show of Shows he delivered. He also delivered 32 plays and over 20 movies. He was one of the sweetest & least jealous writers you could ever work with. For all who knew him, this is a truly sad day.— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) August 27, 2018
Thursday May 11, 2017
My Impossibly Snobbish Salon Piece
The “Seven Samurai” photo Salon used confuses the issue, but I like the old “Jaws” paperback cover. This was everywhere in the summer of '75.
While I was in Rochester, Minn., last week I had another article on Salon: “Lost in translation: How often does Hollywood turn a great book into a great movie?” It's a piece that grew out of a Facebook conversation. As for my answer to the question in the subhed? I'd go with “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” but mostly throw up my hands. The bigger point is that it doesn't happen often.
The piece generated a lot of comments, which I thought it would, since most people have an opinion on the subject. What I didn't see coming but should have? The commments inspired by this graf:
I was a bit thrown by the second category of answers because it's not what I had in mind and it's not in my wheelhouse. They're great genre novels that have been turned into great movies. Think sci-fi/fantasy (“The Lord of the Rings”; “Blade Runner”), westerns (“Shane,” along with two Coens: “True Grit” and “No Country for Old Men”), and crime (“L.A. Confidential”). I don't really read genre novels, so you can assess for yourself the greatness of those books.
I was saying “I don't really read genre novels” with a kind of shrug, not to mention laziness (I didn't want to read all those books just to write the piece), but that's not how it was interpretted. Here's the first comment, from a dude in Chapel Hill:
“I don't really read genre novels.” Reminds me of the woman on an episode of the '60s classic The Dick Van Dyke Show, who says snootily: “I don't own a television machine”.
Others piled on. It's kind of fun reading through them: “The snobbish dismissal of...” “This article is impossibly pompous...” Etc. etc.
Here's the sad part: These people don't know they've won. The movies they're championing, “Lord of the Rings” et al., are everywhere in the culture, while great authors like E.L. Doctorow and Norman Mailer are nowhere. We've become a candyland culture. If I'm snobbish, if I'm dismissive, it's because I think this is a problem.
Friday August 05, 2016
Your Olympic Moment
From George W.S. Trow's “Within the Context of No Context,” about American culture/pop culture, which was originally published in The New Yorker in November 1980:
The most important programming deals with people with a serious problem who make it to the Olympics. It is the powerful metaphor of our time—babies given up for dead who struggle toward national life and make it just for a minute. It's a long distance to come. People feel it very deeply and cheer the babies on.
That's dead on, prescient even, since coverage of the Olympics was fairly straightforward back in 1980. One wonders, though, if this Olympic moment is still the most powerful metaphor of our time. In some ways, it's been usurped by Simon Cowell and the “X's Got Talent” showrunners, who play down their talent, let it stand before Cowell's withering gaze, and then let it shine (and watch Cowell melt, with dollar signs in his eyes). The most famous of these is Susan Boyle. The most extreme version is probably from “Korea's Got Talent”: the homeless boy, abandoned at an orphanage at 3, who fled the beatings there at the age of 5 and lived on the streets, selling gum, and now doing manual labor; he makes the pretty lady judge cry with his western opera. It's a long distance to come.
Thursday December 31, 2015
The Man Standing Beside the Men Who Applied for the First Same-Sex Marriage License in 1970
As the year ends, I'm clearing the digital house and I came across this photo that I meant to post earlier. It came to me via my sister, Karen, an editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who got it from a colleague. It shows the two men who first applied for a same-sex marriage licenese: Jack Baker and James McConnell. It happened in Hennepin County, Minn., in 1970. They were denied, of course, sued, and were further denied by 1) the Court of Appeals, 2) the Minnesota State Supreme Court, 3) the U.S. Supreme Court. This last one, I assume, didn't even bother to hear the case.
This year, of course, the Obergefell decision, just six short months ago, recognized a federal, constitutional right to same-sex marriage. We've come a long way, baby.
And the man standing beside the men applying for that 1970 marriage license? My father, Bob Lundegaard, reporting for The Minneapolis Tribune.
“Yeah, that's me,” he said when Karen and I asked him about it. “Always in the front lines of history. No, I don't remember anything about it. Who knew it was such a big deal?”
Front lines of history.
Thursday November 12, 2015
When is it OK for an Actor to Play Someone of Another Race?
Crossing a line? On the one hand, without Depp's interest in playing Tonto, the movie wouldn't have been made; on the other hand, the movie wouldn't have been made.
In a recent New York Times piece called “On Acting, Race and Hollywood” actor-comedian Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) recounts his first experience seeing an Indian actor on a movie screen; it had a profound effect on him. Years later, it had a more profound effect on him when he discovered the actor wasn't Indian. The movie was “Short Circuit 2,” and the actor was Fisher Stevens. So Ansari’s first movie encounter with his own kind was a fraud. It was a white guy in make-up using a funny accent.
That’s his initial complaint about acting, race and Hollywood, and it’s two-fold:
- How come we don't see more Indian characters on screen?
- When we do, how come they’re not played by Indian actors?
Then things gets trickier.
At one point, Ansari wonders why Max Minghella, “a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor,” was chosen to play Indian-American Divya Narendra in “The Social Network.” If I were a struggling Indian actor I’d wonder that, too, but it raises a whole host of questions—the usual questions, to be honest—about acting and border crossings and what constitutes racial theft.
Essentially: When is it OK for an actor to stretch and when is he/she engaging in a modern minstrel show?
Here are a few follow-ups to try to narrow things down:
- Is it OK for Chinese to play Japanese, and vice-versa?
- Can Italians play Spaniards, and Spaniards Mexicans, and Mexicans Iranians?
- Was it cool for Robert De Niro, an Italian-American, to play a Jewish gangster in ”Ca$ino,“ or Javier Bardem, a straight Spaniard, to play a gay Cuban poet in ”Before Night Falls,” or Al Pacino, an Italian-American, to play a Cuban gangster in “Scarface”?
- What about all the white actors and opera singers who have played Othello over the years?
- How South do you have to be to play someone from the South? How Boston do you have to be to play someone from Southie?
I’d be curious where Ansari puts up his own artistic border guards. It’s a trickier topic than people admit.
Tuesday September 22, 2015
Messaging of Cocktails, and Other Notes from the Culture's End
This afternoon I read Lizzie Widdicombe's piece on entrepreneur (I guess) Bethenny Frankel, who has parlayed a gig on “The Apprentice with Martha Stewart” into a regular turn on “The Real Housewives of New York,” on which she began to promote her Skinnygirl products: margaritas and other adult beverages, as well as chips and popcorn and salad dressing. It's not my thing—none of it—but it's a good window into the world that runs things now.
Here's Frankel with her assistant, Alexandra Cohen, blonde and 26, in a black SUV on the way to a promo appearance:
Frankel would be meeting a group of life-style bloggers who had been hired by [Jim] Beam to act as “influencers” for Skinnygirl Cocktails. “These are ten bloggers who are going to share with every single follower that they met you, and that you're inspirational,” Cohen said. She added, firmly, “It's important that you message the right things to these people. Because these people have a ton of followers.”
“O.K.,” Frankel said. “Why did they only pick ten, though?” She's active on Twitter, but the nuances of social media sometimes escape her. (An agency called DM2 manages most of her social-media accounts.)
“Because they're the most influential.”
“Influential of what?”
“Messaging of cocktails,” Cohen said.
Amid the awfulness, comedy.
Monday August 24, 2015
The New Clod Worship Isn't New
I read this last night in Michael Medved's “Hollywood vs. America,” from 1992:
“Welcome to the new clod worship, a pop culture deification of the asinine,” writes Jan Stuart in a recent issue of FanFare. “Been to the movies or theater lately? The joint is jumpin' with blowhard anti-role models who combine Trump-size arrogance with the grace of Al Sharpton ... turning the ethos of the jerk inside out until jerkiness becomes a kind of heroism... By and large, that behavior takes as its ideal the iconoclasm and unformed moral code of adolescent boys.”
Meet the new clod worship; same as the old clod worship.
Here's Evan Osnos on Trump, the GOP frontrunner. (Great illustration, btw, by Christoph Niemann.)
Sunday July 19, 2015
Other Things Donald Trump Likes
- Fireman who didn't die on 9/11.
- Soldiers who didn't die or get wounded in Afghanistan, Iraq, et al. Also captured, of course.
- Yankee teams that didn't lose the World Series. Not like those 2001 bums. And just when the city needed them, too.
- “Rocky II,” “Rocky III” and “Rocky IV.” Go the distance, my ass.
- Kreese. None of this wax-on/wax-off shit. I pay people for that.
- Old men in the sea who know how to land a fucking fish.
From his comments yesterday about John McCain's war hero status: “I like people who weren't captured.” Feel free to add your own.
ADDENDUM: Jon Stewart, of course, did it better. On his show Monday night, he played the above clip, and said, as Trump, “And if I may ... fuck cancer survivors, too. Hey, let me just say this. I like people who don't get cancer.”
Thursday July 16, 2015
Why the Love for Bryan Cranston's 'Your Mom' Slam?
I do not understand all the love “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston is getting for his “your mother” joke at the San Diego Comic-Con this past week.
Here's the video.
And here's the conversation:
Nervous teen: How was [Albuquerque]? Cuz it's ... my hometown, So I just want to know, how'd you like it? Did you have fun there?
Cranston: Yeah, I'd go and visit your mother once in a while!
The audience erupts in laughter and applause, and Cranston basks in it before feigning a mic-drop.
Is there a context I'm missing? Is it Bryan being Walt or Bryan being Cranston? More importantly: Why does the kid deserves this slam?
Since then, the applause has continued on most major (or at least ad-heavy) web sites. It's as if Cranston has just delivered an Oscar Wilde-ian bon mot instead of the most adolescent of comebacks. It's a line worth of apology, not a mic-drop.
This culture sometimes, I swear.