Monday, September 29, 2008

What's Wrong with You?


There's a long-running debate about who influences whom when it comes to consumers and the media. Is TV news so superficial because that's what people want, or do people want superficial news because that's all they know?

I'm going to take a stand here. Right now, the media and the public are in a self-perpetuating downward-spiral death match to the finish.

Without question, I thought last Friday's first presidential debate marked the highest level of discourse I've seen yet in a televised political debate. Two candidates gave substantive answers to real questions. There were no obviously forced sound bites. There were no pre-planned gotcha stunts. There was no sighing or eye-rolling. Just two knowledgeable people actually presenting plausible arguments.

This is what we've been waiting for, right? But what did the media pundits say when it was all over? They whined: "You'd be hard-pressed to find a good sound bite from this debate." For its part, the electorate shrugged: "I need more."

Did anyone listen to the actual answers in this debate? Did the media cover those answers? Did anyone catch the fact that while McCain believes that Iraq was and is the central front in battling al Qaeda, Obama believes it's in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Did anyone hear McCain say that if we fail in Iraq, the whole war on terror falls apart, while Obama said that going to Iraq has fundamentally harmed our ability to win that war? Did anyone detect their vastly different views of diplomacy, or their definitions of "pre-conditions"?

I guess not. People are still more interested in elusive intangible qualities. The Dow is off 778 points today. We're using the China credit card to spend money we don't have, with the burden placed on people with a negative savings rate. Our entire infrastructure is emerging as a giant Ponzi scheme. Can we please evolve from wanting "the guy you'd rather have a beer with" to "the guy who's going to save your a** from Armageddon"?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Of the Highest Order

Whatever your politics, and whatever you think of Bill Maher, watch the last New Rule from last night (the other ones aren't bad, but it's the essay at the end I'm talking about).

If you can't agree that this piece represents meaningful satire of the highest order, well... I can't be your friend.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Suspending My Blog

In the spirit of patriotism, I am suspending Bye Bye Shadowlands to focus on the economy. I urge you to do the same.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nothing Is Worse

The cost of doing nothing to bail out Wall Street and maintain bank credit as the lifeblood of our economy is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing for AIG, Bear Stears, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to bring out universal health coverage is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to curb carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to reform Social Security and Medicare is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to clean up our rivers and lakes is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to improve our public education system is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to combat terrorism in the Middle East is higher than the cost of doing something.

The cost of doing nothing to invest in renewable energy sources or subsidize U.S. automakers is higher than the cost of doing something.

* * *

I don't doubt the veracity of all or most of these statements, I'm just getting a little tired of hearing them.

On every major issue in this country, I detect the same subtext: Because of your business and political leaders' insatiable greed, willful ignorance and addiction to short-term thinking, you're suddenly screwed.

Now hand over everything in the cash register.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Scratch That


Disregard the previous post. Things have changed. The aforementioned movie ("My Best Friend's Girl") did not do well at the box office in its opening weekend, and I suspect it might mark some kind of turning point in the "raunchy romantic comedy" trend. In that spirit, your talking points have now been revised:

- "My Best Friend's Girl" marks the end of the raunchy romantic comedy era.
- It's time to get back to basics.
- Plot conventions still work, but we need more heart.
- It's time to stop rooting for the Bad Boy and go back to rooting for the Underdog.
- It's time to stop making women look stupid and vacant and go back to making men look brainless and cowardly.
- It's time for Deadbeat Boyfriends.

Got it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Please see "My Best Friend's Girl," and please love it, and please tell all your friends about it. Why? Because the commercial appeal of my own screenplay hangs in the balance.

I was made aware of this movie almost a year ago--the same time I was made aware of its apparent similarities to mine. I went to the earliest possible showing today to check it out for myself. Here are the talking points:

- "My Best Friend's Girl" is destined to be the smash romantic comedy hit of the year.
- It has an original premise, plenty of raunch for the guys, and plenty of unexpected romance as well.
- If only there were a movie that took a high concept even higher, that centered on real wedding crashes, where it was the men being manipulated instead of the women, and that had a universal theme around the male's resistance to commitment.
- Oh, there is. It's called "Deadbeat Boyfriends."
- That movie should be made, because it would be the smash hit of next year, or the year after that... because the American public's appetite for this kind of movie is obviously insatiable.
- (Not to mention the huge potential foreign market...)

Got it?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Click After Reading


Six years ago, I sat in a small, quiet Hamline University conference room across from my graduate school adviser, and waited anxiously as she flipped through her notes on the first act of my thesis, a dark comedic screenplay called "Fake Your Own Death, Inc." After a micro-eternity, she looked up, cleared her throat and said, with an earnestness that only drove the stinger in deeper, "Okay, all of your characters are stupid. I mean, they're dumb people. Is that what you're going for?"

I was crushed. I thought I had devised a clever little movie idea. And my characters... well, they served the plot admirably. They weren't stupid--one of them was a was an economics professor, for crying out loud. So what was the problem? (The problem, as I later realized, was that she was right. When your characters do nothing but serve your plot, "stupid" is exactly how they appear.)

The new Coen Brothers movie, "Burn After Reading," reminded me of this story. The characters in the film aren't stupid because they're serving a plot; the purposely convoluted plot is actually there to serve the characters. The problem with the characters is that all of them are stupid pretty much all of the time, on purpose. And in such a scenario, as the great movie critic W.B. Yeats once said, "the centre cannot hold."

To be fair, the movie is definitely worth seeing. Any Coen Brothers movie is automatically better than 80 percent of its competition. There's much to like. Brad Pitt steals the show among the primary characters. John Malkovich remains the world's finest ranter. George Clooney is serviceable, if a little overly twitchy. But the normally outstanding Frances McDormand is actually the film's surprise liability.

The highlight of the film, as real critics have cited, is the two CIA officers played by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons. In fact, the movie's final scene sees this modern-day Rosencrantz and Gildenstern offer a such a clinic in comedic timing, it almost forgives the increasingly sketchy 45 minutes that come before it. This, coupled with two particular scenes with a narrow-eyed Brad Pitt, is worth the price of admission.

Almost.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

First Day of Kindergarten

A new era begins on the home front.

*Update* This movie was removed from YouTube for copyright on the music. Too bad. I thought it might have sold a few more Golden Smog CDs.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Palin in Comparison

This will be the last political post for a little while, but one final word before I turn to less abstract concerns, like the fact that I just watched my five-year old walk into a kindergarten class for the first time. (Yes, I was one of those obnoxious parents with a videocamera. Sue me. Look for the YouTube music video, coming soon.)

It's still hitting me every day how the choice of Sarah Palin for VP, her speech at the RNC and the words and actions of the party leaders and surrogates demand a complete reversal of what we've heard from the neocon wing of the Republican party over the last 10 years. If John Kerry was a flip flopper, then Sarah Palin is a Croc. Consider this:

- Bill Clinton was impeached because of a personal family matter (don't try to tell me it was really about lying under oath; we're not that naive). For Sarah Palin, personal family matters are off the table. (In fact, we've had to listen to the self-righteous Right go on a judgmental binge since Monica Lewinsky, only to see them look past such things with both members their own ticket. I say hallelujah, that's the way it should be, but what took you so long?)

- Barack Obama was the candidate of no experience. Now we're supposed to believe that experience doesn't matter... that being the governor of a tiny state whose issues and population have virtually nothing in common with the rest of the United States is a higher qualification for office than being a U.S. Senator.

- Sarah Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. And now we're supposed to believe that she's a resolute, tough-minded reformer. (P.S. She never gave back the money. She never gave back the money. She never gave back the money.)

- We're supposed to ignore the irony of a former beauty queen accusing the Democratic nominee of vanity.

- We're supposed to scoff at Obama's "celebrity" based only on "his ability to give a good speech." Palin is now an overnight celebrity based on her ability to give a good speech.

- We're supposed to love the fact that Palin doesn't present herself as a "victim," yet all her surrogates have done since the announcement of her candidacy is paint her as a victim of the media. (Speaking of that, we were supposed to believe that Hillary Clinton was a whiner for complaining about double standards in her media coverage, but that with Sarah Palin, the claim is justified.)

- After claiming for years that the left engages in "class warfare," we're supposed to engage in "culture warfare," believing that Sarah Palin is an authentic person because she hunts moose, while Barack Obama is an elitist because (gasp!) he lives in a city and went to Harvard Law School.

- We're supposed to value putting country first and serving our fellow Americans, just not as a community organizer.

- We're supposed to believe in the benefits of hard work and upward mobility, but not when it comes to a mixed-race person of modest means earning an Ivy League education, serving on the Harvard Law Review, then, in his first run for the presidency, running a campaign that defeats arguably the biggest machine the Democratic party has ever known. (That latter achievement alone is, to me, far more impressive than the ability to shoot a moose.)

P.S. She never gave back the money. She never gave back the money. She never gave back the money.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Satire Keeps Me Sane

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cattily Blogging the Palin Speech

It's not I-rack, it's i-ROCK.
She has an annoying voice, that's good.
A black person!
Track?
Willow?
Piper?
The youngest daughter is really cute.
Trigg? What is this, Narnia?
Your family has the same ups and downs as any other. If a Democratic family had the same situation, your party would be talking about their "failure of parenting" and the glories of abstinence.
Your husband is in a union! Hilarious!
It's "snowmobile," not snow machine. Isn't it?
She sounds like Marge from Fargo.
"They're always proud of America." Nice not-so-subtle dig.
Hockey mom. PTA. They hope "hockey mom" equates to "soccer mom."
Pit bull joke. Not bad. Good timing.
Your kids are publicly educated. Hilarious!
Our opponents look down on that experience? Who? Give me a break.
Community organizer line, give me a break. You wouldn't last two seconds on the South side of Chicago.
"John McCain is the same man." The one who hates Jerry Falwell or loved him?
"The Washington elite." Your running mate is a member of that elite. WTF?
Oooh, dig on the media. You're a white Christian American heterosexual victim.
You stood up to the oil companies? Doesn't your husband work for one?
You got rid of a luxury jet. I guess no more Air Force 2.
I'm sorry, bragging about reforms in Alaska just doesn't impress me.
The bridge to nowhere was an earmark from someone in your own party, no?
Nothing on the environment or climate change yet. Should I hold my breath?
i-RAHN, not I-RAN.
"We need to produce more of our own oil and gas." "We've got lots of both." That was a blisteringly ignorant statement.
Here comes the case for drilling...
Ah, finally some mention of non-fossil-fuel energy. Thank you.
Dig at Obama for authoring books and not bills. Good red meat.
Republicans are so fearless about the childish digs. Styrofoam Greek columns. Nice.
Here comes the "big government" fear-mongering.
No mention that Bin Laden hasn't been caught.
No mention of federal deficit.
No mention of Katrina.
Taxes. Taxes. Taxes.
No mention of the state of health insurance.
They really must have focus-grouped this "Obama is only about his career" thing. Are you doing this because you have no ego?
I wonder if she's ever been out of the country.
You sitting across from Putin... hmmm....
I love how when a black person wants the presidency, it's egotistical and "ambitious." But when you want it, it's not.
Green is not Cindy McCain's best color.
Not a great finish, kind of came out of nowhere.
I'm shocked that she didn't make a more direct pro-life statement.
She's great for the base. She's not for me.
The baby is really, really cute.
McCain's here. Just like what Obama did. Is that now mandatory?
I hate to just come out and say it, but with this crowd, "America" really is a euphemism for "land of white folk."
Here come the pundits. Ish.
Wow, they used to say the Democrats were the party of negativity and no ideas. What was that but a speech of sarcastic digs and no actual ideas?
This is clearly a person reared on talk radio as her primary source of information.
This is a person who screams the same toxic combination of "arrogance" and "ignorance." I don't really want four more years of that.

Wall St. vs. Wal*Mart

The RNC is in my town. It's time for another political post.

About three years ago, it hit me that there are really two types of Republicans: Wall Street and Wal*Mart. Today, they're more commonly known as "fiscal conservatives" and "social conservatives." They are united in their hatred of liberals--the former because liberals are tax-and-spend, welfare-loving anarchists; the latter because liberals are God-hating homos. (The party is really run by Wall Streeters who are pragmatic enough to know that they need the Wal*Marters to win elections.)

This somewhat uneasy alliance reached its peak under George W. Bush. In fact, Karl Rove can properly be called a political genius for recognizing in W. a rare individual who can appeal to both factions. His ancestors are pure Wall Street: extremely wealthy and Ivy-League educated (the latter now dubbed "elitist" when it comes to Obama). But W. himself, with his Midland accent and faith-based sobriety, also appeals to the Wal*Marters.

Dispute the elections all you want. It worked. The party got eight years to spread its ideology as far and deep as it could. But it paid a price. To appease the Wal*Marters, it filled hundreds of positions in the DOJ and elsewhere with Liberty University graduates and anti-evolutionists. As a result of that (and many other things), many of the Wall Streeters have backed away and fractured the party. All of the Wall Streeters I know quietly voted for Kerry in 2004.

Now, their supposedly "maverick" candidate has done the ultimate: chosen someone who appears to be a Wal*Marter to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. She speaks tonight about three miles from my house. The Wal*Marters already love her. I eagerly await the reaction of the Wall Streeters.