For a few years, I listened to the NPR comedy game show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me – a tongue-in-cheek program that features a panel of dubious celebrities answering current-events questions to win prizes for members of the audience. The host is the razor-sharp Peter Segel. Sure, the condo prog politics bubbled under the surface; it’s NPR, after all. But it was generally so good – and so in line with what passes for political comedy these days – that it worked.
But lately – not coincidentally, for the past year and change – Wait Waiot‘s shots at President Trump have gotten flabby, predictable – really, cringeworthy. The sound of a staff of writers taking the cheap easy laugh, over and over.
…the Trumpian option in their comedy has rendered [Bill Maher, Steven Colbert, Seth Meyers and others] charmless while strikingly limiting their audiences to those who share their politics. I recently wrote a book on the subject of charm, in preparation for which I asked a great many people to name five persons in public life they thought charming. No one could do it. In a political time as divisive as ours, a public figure loses roughly half his following—and hence his charm—just as soon as he announces his politics. For an entertainer to do so is perhaps even more hazardous.
While smoking the happy weed is the latest libertarian distraction, the term “Marijuana” is suddenly on the outs:
Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry, but a vocal contingent prefers the less historically fraught “cannabis”. At a time of intense interest in past injustices, some say “marijuana” is a racist word that should fall out of use.\
Bu then, by that same token, isn’t smoking ganja (I’m swtiching to appropriating Jamaican culture, thanks) itself appropriative? Aren’t all those lilywhite honky weed activists stealing the recreation of all those Mexican immigrants and black jazz musicians?
And as long as we’re going to start policing the language for appropriation – shouldn’t we scupper the word “Jazz”? Originally a New Orleans black term for the horizontal mambo, it was originally adopted by white critics to disparate “negro” music.
Isn’t it time for a more complete linguistic housecleaning?
I mainaged to get through the nineties without seeing more than an episode or two of Frazier, Roseanne,Seinfeld, and of course the big sitcom icon of the era, Friends.
But thanks to the miracle of Netflix, I managed to binge my way to currency in the NBC classic sometime over the past year.
And when I watched it, I thought “what an almost quaint throwback; it almost felt like a seventies sitcom” – which, in many ways, it was; a transition between the manners of 70-s and ’80s TV and what we have today.
Having been given a new life on Netflix two decades after it debuted on NBC in 1994, Friends is being seen by a suspicious new generation with beady new eyes. Those eyes are more determined to find something to be offended by than anyone was in the 1990s, when the Paul Reveres fighting the political-correctness revolution were already warning you, “The idiocy is coming! The idiocy is coming!”
“Millennials watching Friends on Netflix shocked by storylines,” ran the headline of a piece by Ilana Kaplan, writing from New York for the Independent. Examples of the kinds of things Millennials apparently find shocking: “New audiences claimed that Rachel would have been fired for sexual harassment because she hires an assistant who isn’t qualified for the position because she wants to date him.” Fat jokes — “Some girl ate Monica!” cried Joey (Matt LeBlanc) — are also now out of bounds, the Independent huffs. Using the royal “we” for extra authority,
Cosmopolitan writer Katie Stow says “the show is getting ripped to shreds for its ‘problematic’ content and — even as hardcore fans — we can’t help but agree,” scoring the sitcom for “chucking offensive and inappropriate hand grenades all over every episode.” This must be the first time in recorded history that anyone compared Friends’ cutesy banter to hand grenades.
I can not wait for the millennials to have teenagers and twentysomethings of their own.
I suppose it’s nice that St. Paul still has a Poet Laureate, but I can’t find a website of her commissioned works. Last poem I recall her writing for St. Paul was “Ode to the City Budget” or something like that, from about 2006. You’d think a government worker would be more productive.
Wait, what am I saying?
On the one hand, a person might be forgiven for thinking that awarding the Poet Laureate title to a poet who produces no poetry, was simply an excuse to shovel a little graft to a Party insider. It is St. Paul, after all.
On the other hand, awarding an honored title in exchange for doing nothing is a long-standing Democrat tradition, see, for example, my congresswoman, Betty McCollum, “The Phantom Rep”).
A Laureate Poet in Saint Paul
Accepted her government’s call.
She looked once and laughed
at her office’s graft,
and then walked away with a haul.
Full disclosure: I’ve loved Prairie Home Companion since the first time I heard it. While Garrison Keillor’s politics were…not ones I share – I (like a lot of conservatives) can put politics aside for good art and entertainment. Which, if you grew up small-town and Scandinavian, Keillor was.
But I also remember his reputation as a boss in the eighties – let’s just say in an industry (radio in general) where people are dysfunctional, socially “unorthodox” and frequently lack conventional social skills (present company excepted, but I know you know what I mean, Bob), and where success breeds rock-star-like entitlement, Keillor was a standout. Not in a good way.
Keillor has to be a non-fictional character – because if you wrote a fictional smug, entitled, presumptuous, arrogant, hypocritical limo liberal like Keillor, you’d be accused, fairly, of going past satire straight to caricature.
Minnesota Public Radio and its parent organization American Public Media said Wednesday they’ve cut all business ties with Garrison Keillor as they investigate a report of “inappropriate behavior” by Keillor involving someone who worked with him…The allegations relate to Keillor’s conduct while he was responsible for the production of “A Prairie Home Companion.” They came to the company’s attention last month and were referred to a special committee of its board for investigation, APM chief executive Jon McTaggart said.
We don’t know all the details – but remembering Keillor in his heyday, nothing would really surprise me, in my humble but not-utterly-uninformed opinion. .
It was over a year ago that we carried the story of the Pillsbury Foundation’s buyback fiasco. Which doesn’t narrow it down much; while the buybacks last year in Minneapolis were very poorly organized, their effect on crime was the same as any other buyback program.
But this buyback was different in one way; unlike other buybacks that just sell guns for scrap (allowing criminals to dispose of crime guns without leaving a paper trail), the guns gathered were doing to be donated to “artists” to do “art” that was supposed to “raise awareness” about “gun violence”.
This weekend, for example, Warner Bros. is putting out a white flag on “Blade Runner” after three tough weeks. They’ve cut the number of theaters showing Denis Villeneuve’s beautiful film by 855. So far, “Blade Runner” has made just $66 million. Audiences have not clamored to it. And now, week by week, Warners will quietly take it away.
Warner’s isn’t alone. Universal is pulling Tom Cruise’s “American Made” from 539 locations after a month in release. The Doug Liman directed thriller has made just $43 million. Good reviews haven’t helped push Cruise fans to theaters. One problem was lack of promotion since Cruise wasn’t available. Also, audiences may have just soured on him after “The Mummy” and other flops. With both studios, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
It could be that America has just discovered it has options to be lectured by out-of-touch coastal millionaires, be they on the silver screen, a news program set, or the silver screen…
Variety does a two-part cover story on Bruce Springsteen. And it’s worth a read, if you’re an uberfan.
And I guess I am.
Others are not – and among this blog’s audience, that’s in large part due to Springsteen’s limo-left politics. I’ve always figured I care as much about musicians’ politics as I do about politicians’ iTunes playlists; I’ve also noted that if I limited my music by politics, I’d be listening to nothing but country-western and Ted Nugent.
I’m ambivalent about … sort of getting on a soapbox. I still believe people fundamentally come to music to be entertained — yes, to address their daily concerns, and yes, also to address political topics, I believe music can do that well. But I still believe fundamentally it’s an affair of the heart. People want you to go deeper than politics, they want you to reach inside to their most personal selves and their deepest struggles with their daily lives and reach that place; that’s the place I’m always trying to reach. I’d never make a record that’s just polemical, I wouldn’t release it if I did. To me, that’s just an abuse of your audience’s good graces. But if I’m moved, I’ll write, say, something like “American Skin” [inspired by the 1999 shooting death of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police officers — who were later acquitted]. That just rolled very naturally for me, and that’s as good a topical song as I’ve ever written. And when it comes up, I write ’em. If I felt that strongly, I’d do it now. But I watch myself, because I think you can weigh upon your audience’s indulgence in the wrong way.
Roseanne, Will and Grace and Curb Your Enthusiasm are coming back.
Never really cared for any of ’em. I mean, sure, Curb was funny, but in the same way the UK version of The Office was funny; the long slow buildup of hatred for Larry David was hilarious, but wore thin, fast…
No word on Firefly or Freaks and Geeks. Both of which I finally binge-watched in the past eighteen months or so, and can finally see what all the fuss was about. Although one minor beef with Freaks and Geeks, which was set in more or less my senior year of high school, making it all the more cringe-worthy; while the final episode was at least in concept believable (I’m tiptoeing around spoiling things, here), did Judd Apatow really thing the Grateful Dead were relevant to high school seniors in 1980?
I caught the movie Dunkirk the Saturday before last.
I’ll be reviewing it in a separate piece later this week or early next.
In the meantime – this “Feminist” review of the movie is enough to make you wonder if we really saved western civilization at the end of WW2, or merely delayed its demise. It’s from “Marie Claire”, and it’s as bad as you might expect.
One extracted bit of foul written effluvia – by no means the worst:
But my main issue with Dunkirk is that it’s so clearly designed for men to man-out over. And look, it’s not like I need every movie to have “strong female leads.” Wonder Woman can probably tide me over for at least a year, and I understand that this war was dominated by brave male soldiers. I get that. But the packaging of the film, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it just screams “men-only”—and specifically seems to cater to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love nothing more than to explain to me why I’m wrong about not liking it. If this movie were a dating profile pic, it would be a swole guy at the gym who also goes to Harvard. If it was a drink it would be Stumptown coffee. If it was one of your friends, it would be the one who starts his sentences with “I get what you’re saying, but…”
The “writer” – one Mehera Bonner – is so tied to pop-culture cliches, I was tempted to think the whole thing was a McSweeneys level parody of “feminist” writing. Indeed, the title suggests “parody” with all the subtlety of a “Real Housewives” makeover: “I Think ‘Dunkirk’ Was Mediocre at Best, and It’s Not Because I’m Some Naive Woman Who Doesn’t Get It”
If that’s not parody, Ms. Bonner, then yes – your are precisely a naive, cossetted, hot-house flower “feminist” who does not, in fact, “get it”.
Feminists have a habit of obsessively dividing the world into teams — us, them. Ideas and even facts get considered in the light of whether they are good for Team Woman or not. Instead of seeing men and women as close collaborators in the human project, feminists often suppose that the sexes are rivals, opponents. This is sheer tribalism. Bonner looks at Dunkirk and is irritated that men like the film. She sees it as a celebration of manly courage and bravado, or at least manly endurance and grit, and this repulses her. Feminism means constant maintenance of an imaginary set of scales, and she fears Dunkirk adds weight to the masculine side, tipping the culture away from women. If Dunkirk — “Christopher Nolan’s new directorial gift to men,” she calls it — shows men at their best, it must therefore be bad for women.
At the end of a generally good review for the upcoming Dunkirk in USA Today, the reviewer writes (with emphasis added by yours truly):
The trio of timelines can be jarring as you figure out how they all fit, and the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way. Still, Nolan’s feat is undeniable: He’s made an immersive war movie that celebrates the good of mankind while also making it clear that no victory is without sacrifice.
Hm. In a war fought almost exclusively by men, in Northwestern Europe which was, in 1940, almost entirely white1, go figure.
 In fact a large part of France’s army was colonial troops – including many of their best and a significant part of the covering force that allowed the evacuation to happen at all,- were colonial troops from Chad, Morocco, Cameroon, Tunisia, Algeria, Vietnam and, especially, Senegal. It’ll be interesting to see if they turn up.
It’s all just wind in sails, of course; Urban Liberal Privilege means that there’s no penalty for violating PC codes when one is attacking apostates (and as an NYC plutocrat, who should be a “progressive” and was a Democrat, Trump is surely an apostate).
Honestly? Up until the last year or two, I’d have figured it would fly for the same reason that black people can drop the n-bomb or the Irish can call themselves “harps” but have license to pound the stuffing out of anyone else who does; I always figured Colbert was gay.
I’m told he’s not.
Now, I don’t care either way. I’ve seen a lifetime grand total of 40 minutes of Colbert. I don’t plan to add to it. Ever. Even if he has a late-life epiphany and becomes a conservative firebrand. His delivery, his style, and even the timbre of his voice annoy the living bejeebers out of me. Also, he’s just not very funny.
Forget for a moment that Orwell wrote the book as a satire of contemporary British far leftists snd their tendency to eat each other, not to mention the horrors of the Stalinist regime that they were busily sweeping under the rug at the time.
No. The funny thing, I’m going to bet, is that the “progressives” – who will no doubt need to buy two tickets to the screening to save a chair for their self-righteousness and indignation – after the election we just had, will no doubt will see themselves as Winston Smith, rather than O’Brien.
This fall, the Guthrie will stage Lillian Hellman’s “Watch on the Rhine.” The show deals with the rise of fascism on American soil at the start of World War II, but Haj says it feels startlingly relevant today.
“There’s a line in the play that says something like, ‘We don’t send people back — we’re Americans. That’s not what we do.’ And that line was written in 1941,” Haj said. “The reason we do the classics is not to look at plays or stories under glass; it’s to understand that many of these classic texts have absolute resonances to our current times.”
The Guthrie follows “Watch on the Rhine” with Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” which at first might seem like a non sequitur. But Haj explained that Noel Coward, a contemporary of Hellman, wrote the play at the onset of World War II.
The message – “we, the Guthrie’s artistic directors, believe we’re living in times just like 11933 Germany; we believe our audience is like the British of 1940, who need something to take their mind off being firebombed every night”.
But don’t dare accuse anyone of Trump derangement!
The upper-middle-class white liberal bias; the pretentious production style; the air staff’s frequently sloppy, mannered delivery; the unearned condescension to all other media; if you’re a radio person, the massive budgets and huge staffs combined with the often dismal state of practice of the radio craft; the complete inability to do a show off-script (listening to NPR reporters trying to ad-lib on the morning of 9/11 would have been funny under less dire circumstances) – I mean, Terri Gross is considered a brilliant broadcaster because…
…she can freestyle an interview (or at least be made to sound like she’s freestyling after repeated cycles of NPR’s obsessive editing).
It’s fun to make fun of public radio:
For all that? There are shows I do like. I enjoyed Prairie Home Companion while Garrison Keillor hosted it (while ignoring and mocking his puerile politics), and might like it even more with Chris Thile at the helm. MPR’s news does an adequate job of seeking balance – not perfect, not great, but adequate, which means if you grade on a curve against other media they rate an A. On Being with Krista Tippett can be an incredibly interesting show.
And then there’s been “Splendid Table“. For a couple decades, now Lynn Rossetto Kasper has been hosting the show – and by “hosting”, I mean “saving it from the suffocating, self-parodying cliches that are most public radio”. Rossetto Kasper brought an air of engagement, mirth…fun to the show, and to a subject that inspires all too much leaden foodie navel-gazing.
Rossetto Kasper is retiring from the show after 21 seasons. She’s being replaced by Francis Lam, former top foodie at NYTimes Magazine and an accomplished chef in his own right. He clearly knows his food.
I got my first, er, taste of Mr. Lam’s style this past weekend. And it’s dreadful.
I’m going to put part of the blame on whomever produces and edits the show – and being an American Public Media (the production spinoff of MPR) joint, God only kjnows who that is, since like most APM shows it’s got a staff list longer than a Michael Bay movie. But whoever it is who decided on Mr. Lam’s broadcast style seems to have given the directive; “Don’t just do public radio cliché; define and supercharge them!”.
A paraphrased, but typical, piece of a Lam interview:
LAM: So tell us about [whatever].
GUEST: I’m glad you asked. It’s really about [interesting explanation redacted]
LAM: Ah. […several seconds of exaggerated pause, apparently to connote depth and thoughtfulness…]. Interesting.
So yeah, the editing was dreadful.
But Lam himself comes across as…oh, drat, now I have to go into my thesaurus to find new terms to describe the clichés of the public radio delivery. Lugubrious? Disconnected? Stylized to the point of caricature? I don’t know.
Maybe it’ll improve. Maybe it was an isolated episode.
Or maybe, in the era of Trump, Public Radio is making a concerted effort to be more pompous, more caricaturish, and less accessible to the plebeians.