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Wounded World November 4, 2009

Posted by monty in news, politics, TV.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

ParisHilton_Caulfield_8572072Part of me was ashamed to write about Jon Gosselin and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach the other day.  After all, a huge part of the problem with our celebutard-obsessed culture is that the media keeps giving them attention they don’t deserve.  Jon and Kate, Lindsay and Paris, the whack-job Mormon family who’ve mistaken Mom’s uterus for a broken gumball machine, the dimbulbs from The Hills, and the entire cast of the Twilight movies – they’d all be so much more bearable if their fame was proportional to their actual level of accomplishment.  That means I’d never know who Jon, Kate, Paris, or the Duggard family is, I’d know Lindsay only as the star of the Tina Fey-scripted Mean Girls, the Twilight cast would only appear in Entertainment Weekly articles I skip, and Heidi and Spencer and the rest of The Hills’ demon-spawn wouldn’t register on my radar until Joel McHale ridicules them on The Soup. There’s no earthly reason why any of these people show up on the news.  In a fair and just world, they’d be relegated to media oblivion.

sarah-palinThe same goes for Sarah Palin.  A full year after getting her ass handed to her by voters, she’s still hanging around, like the drunk who doesn’t realize the party’s over.  Her memoir, which we’re supposed to believe she wrote all by her widdle self in the space of a few months – despite the fact that she has yet to string more than three words together intelligibly in public – is currently ranked #3 on Amazon, which means that an unfortunate number of people actually believe she has something important to say about anything.  My guess is that the book will be good for either A) comic relief, or B) a literary drinking game, wherein the reader does a shot every time she uses the word maverick. Like all the names in the first paragraph, there is no reason, none whatsoever – and I’m quite serious about this – that she gets any media attention at all.  I don’t care if McCain chose her as his running mate in a cynical ploy to snatch vaginaed voters away from Obama.  She has yet to say anything of consequence about anything, and the fact that anyone is considering her a serious contender for the 2012 presidential election is testament only to how delusional a segment of this country remains.

There are exactly two choices for how the media should handle these people.  The first is to stop covering them.  It’s a simple solution, elegant and precise.  Don’t report on them, don’t show any photos or film, don’t tell us what they said.  They’re inconsequential, and every second you devote to them takes away a second you could be using to cover something that actually matters.

The other option – and I could conceivably throw the whole weight of my support behind this – is to reveal them as the buffoons they are.  If the NBC Nightly News were to include a 5-minute-long segment called “Daily Dickhead” where the likes of Spencer Pratt or Kim Kardashian were eviscerated through a montage of clips demonstrating their vacuous, selfish ways, I would tune in every night.  Seriously.  Any venture that encourages the American public to ridicule these self-involved twats is a worthwhile one, in my book.

And, incidentally, I would endorse this exact same handling of Sarah Palin.  Somehow we’ve arrived at the notion that being “fair” or being “objective” means treating both sides of an argument as equally valid.  As a result, we get serious news reporting of death panels and teabaggings and town hall meetings filled with angry white people who look like torch-wielding extras from Frankenstein. If the big news outlets were really worth their salt anymore, rather than report on these things as though they were legitimate news, they’d call bullshit on the whole enterprise.  The right-wing is going to paint the mainstream news media as a bunch of far-left pinko commie faggots anyway, so what would they have to lose if Brian Williams came to us on-air one night and said, “Sarah Palin said today in a town hall meeting that Barack Obama wants to kill your grandparents.  What a crazy bitch!”

I think it’s entirely fair to report on death panels and these teabag demonstrations or whatever else the right-wing concocts, but the Big 3 needs to have the smarts and the gumption to really report on them.  They need to show, for instance, how the right-wing is using lies and distortion and charged language to derail health care reform, as well as how Fox News and other Republican groups are organizing these supposedly “spontaneous” demonstrations.  The news bureaus feel, I guess, like they have to report on these things as serious phenomena, when the truth of it is, if they were really reporting objectively, they’d reveal all of it as a serious fraud to prey on voters’ fears of the U.S. turning into a grandma-killing noueveau-Cuba.

What we really need are more Matt Taibbis, the journalist who wrote the fantastic Rolling Stone article about the right-wing’s campaign against health care reform that I posted a month ago.  Taibbi wrote a terrific piece shortly after Palin stepped down as governor of Alaska, but he declined to publish it until now.  Here’s an excerpt:

Palin’s paranoid ramblings and self-pitying tantrums on the way out of office not only didn’t injure her chances for national office, they actually appeared to help, as polls taken in the week after her resignation showed that 71% of Republicans were now prepared to vote for her for president in 2012. Just as she had during the campaign last fall, Palin defied rational analysis by making a primal connection with the subterranean resentments of white middle America, which is apparently so pissed off now at the rest of the planet for not coddling its hurt feelings in the multicultural age that it is willing to embrace any politician who validates its insane sense of fucked-overness.

Nobody understands this political reality quite like Palin, even if she doesn’t actually understand it in the sense of someone who thinks her way to a conclusion, but merely lives it, unconsciously, with the unerring instinct of a herd animal. Palin’s supporters don’t judge her according to her almost completely nonexistent qualifications for serious office, they perceive her as they would a character in a Biblical narrative, a Job in heels with cross-eyes and a mashed-potato-brained husband who happens to spend a lot of time getting shat upon by Letterman and Maureen Dowd and the other modern-day Enemies of Christ.

On some level Palin understands better than any of us that what’s important to her base isn’t how well she does her job or even what she does with her time before 2012, but who her enemies are and how loudly she beats the drum against them – and when the news comes out that these foes have recently driven her to such distraction that she even started losing her hair (reportedly necessitating a recent emergency trip to personal hairdresser Jessica Steele), it elevates her conservative martyr credentials to previously unimagined levels.

As a national candidate she seems to us normal/rational observers mortally wounded, but as a conduit for middle American resentment she may actually have gained in stature, and don’t be at all surprised if she doesn’t emerge with the status of something like a religious figure when they roll the rock back for her inevitable candidacy three years from now.

This is exactly the kind of reporting we need now.  We need the news media to stop acting like every argument is pitched on a level playing field, and that every media personality needs to be treated with the same deference.  We need the media to do the heavy lifting and the critical thinking much of this country is unwilling to do itself.  And that means they need to be ready to point out the people, on both sides of the political fence and in all aspects of the media, that seek to do us harm.

True/Slant–Taibblog (11/02/09): Palinoia

*****

Current listening:

Talking heads true stories

Talking Heads – True Stories

Current reading:

BANR2005-full

Rattawut Lapcharoensap – “At the Café Lovely” (in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)

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Cold Days from the Birdhouse September 30, 2009

Posted by monty in TV.
Tags: , ,
2 comments

Yes, I know.  Another blog.  When it comes to online writing, I’ve had more false starts than even the most patient reader should be able to stand.  So I’m not going to explain or justify abandoning the old blog, changing venue, and starting a new blog (my 5th, if memory serves).  Suffice it to say, I’m here, and away we go.

*****

Skins

When it comes to music, I’m usually well ahead of the curve – the annoying nerd constantly raving about some band or album that’s only popular in England “because it won’t be released, you know, domestically for another couple months.”  The same is true, but a little less pronounced, with movies. Even when I haven’t seen everything, I’m aware of what’s coming down the pike, and at least have plans to see it when circumstances allow.

With TV, though, I’m usually one of the last to know.  If TV were clothing, I’d be the guy still wearing parachute pants and a Member’s Only jacket while everyone else was on to whatever new-fangled sartorial trend is hip with the kids these days.  Arrested Development.  Freaks & Geeks.  The Wire.  The State.  Spaced.  Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Lost.  Mr. Show. These were all shows I only came to after they were already off the air, or were well into their runs.

And so it is with Channel 4’s Skins.

I’d heard this show referenced for a long time in British music mags, and I knew Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel had been in the first couple seasons. Even though it’s been on my radar for a while, I’d never actually taken the plunge.  A couple weeks ago I finally arranged for the first disc of Series 1, determined to feed my jones for all things British.  I’ve plowed through Series 1, and last night I devoured the first episode of Series 2.  And the verdict?

I haven’t been this excited about a show since I first discovered The Wire. It’s incredible.  Each episode contains at least one moment where I laugh out loud.  Not because it’s funny (although it’s that, too), but because I simply can’t believe how good it is.  I don’t think I’ve ever clapped at a TV show before, but I catch myself doing that, too.  It’s sad and exciting, all at once.

For those not in the know, here’s the nitty-gritty.  Skins revolves around a group of British teens, doing the things British teens do.  Unlike shows featuring their American counterparts, Skins isn’t softened or sugar-coated.  There’s a lot of sex, a lot of drug use, a lot of violence, a lot of people doing unlikable things.  But also unlike some other American shows (The O.C. and The Hills come immediately to mind), the characters aren’t stupid, vacuous pieces of shit.  They’re real people, dealing with real people problems.  While there are definite arcs that span the entire first series, each episode zeroes in on one of the core characters:

Skins_TonyStonem_NicholasHoult Tony (Nicholas Hoult, the Boy in About a Boy, all grown up) is a manipulative, charismatic asshole.  The rest of the characters, for better or worse, revolve around him, and often the episodes that don’t focus on him involve incidents that were caused by him.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show where the main character is this potentially unlikable, and it’s to Hoult’s credit as an actor that we don’t completely turn from Tony in disugust.  Series 2 begins with him struggling to deal with a horrific incident that happened in the Series 1 finale, revealing another level of complexity to an already fascinating character.

michelle Michelle (April Pearson) is Tony’s girlfriend.  At first she simply appears to be another brassy young girl, confident in her sexuality.  As Series 1 progresses, though, we see her struggling to come to grips with and extricate herself from Tony’s various infidelities.  In the process, her insecurities come to the fore, and we see that her sexy confidence is actually a facade masking massive amounts of self-doubt.

Mike Bailey Sid (Mike Bailey) is Tony’s best friend.  In less capable hands, he could have been painted as just another in a long line of lovable, garden-variety dweebs, but on Skins he wrestles with his attraction to Michelle, his growing fondness for Cassie (see below), the fierce loyalty he feels for Tony (despite his best friend’s duplicity), and his parents’ split.  As portrayed by Bailey, Sid sidesteps cliché to become a complex, layered character who could have been ripped from the halls of any high school around the world.

cassie Cassie (Hannah Murray) is one of the saddest and most sympathetic characters on the show.  Suicidal and suffering from an eating disorder, she drifts in and out of care facilities, none of which seem to work.  She’s often ancillary to the main group of characters, but her attraction to Sid – for me at least – is the heart of the show, and their sweet, fumbling relationship is one of the most rewarding aspects of Series 1.

jal 2 Jal (Larissa Wilson) is Michelle’s best friend.  The more grounded and studious of the pair, she is often given the unenviable role of being the good angel on Michelle’s shoulder who attempts to talk her out of her more destructive impulses.  This character could run the risk of seeming like a boring killjoy whose only purpose is to be the “good girl.”  As with the other characters, Skins casts Jal as a real person with multiple dimensions, trapped in a family with a neglectful father who sees her as the embodiment of the woman who left him.

Chris Chris (Joseph Dempsie), is the closest Skins comes to a one-dimensional character. He is seen through most of Series 1 as an insatiable, drug-gobbling horndog with the heart of a romantic, and is known principally for having the hots for his Psychology teacher.  Toward the end of the first series and at the start of the second, though, we start to see hidden depths in his character as he struggles to come to grips with the realization that his feelings toward the older woman are real.  This culminates in a realization about her past that sends him reeling.  It’s a welcome development in what could have been just a joke character whose sole purpose is comic relief.

Maxxie

Maxxie (Mitch Hewer), resident homosexual and aspiring dancer, is another character who could have simply been portrayed as a flimsy stereotype.  Skins dodges this trap by focusing on the uncomfortable friendship between Maxxie and Anwar (see below).  Through these last two characters, Skins tackles The Big Issues, of religion and sexual identity and tolerance, and they do it in a way that never feels awkward or heavy-handed.  And at the start of Series 2 we see even greater depths to Maxxie’s character, as we learn more about his home life and the aftermath of what happens to Tony in the finale.

Anwar Anwar (Dev Patel) is, like Chris, a character who deepens in complexity as Series 1 progresses.  We first see him as a youth wrestling with the tension between his hormonal impulses and his desire to be a more devout Muslim.  Compounding this tension is Anwar’s friendship with Maxxie, and his realization that, if he follows the tenets of his religion, they can no longer be friends.  This conflict carries through to the end of Series 1, and becomes one of the most compelling relationships in the series.  It’s an issue that American television simply wouldn’t touch.

These tiny capsules only capture a fraction of what makes Skins so fantastic.  If it doesn’t sound great, it’s my fault as a reviewer and not the subject matter that’s to blame.  And for people who think, “Another show about teenagers?,” all I can recommend is that you give Skins a chance.  There are so many ways this show could suck – falling prey to mawkishness, cliché, and phoniness – but it manages to avoid all of them.  The acting is pitch-perfect, the dialogue crackles believably, and the storylines are rich and compelling (as opposed to being a bunch of hokey plots cooked up by 40-somethings trying to be hip).  Somehow creators Jamie Brittain and Bryan Elsley have successfully channeled their inner 18-year-olds to create a show that transcends age and nationality.  I was hooked by the end of the first episode.  Skins is, simply put, like nothing I’ve ever seen.

*****

Current listening:

Hush yankee

Hush Arbors – Yankee Reality

Current reading:

Eggers

Dave Eggers – What is the What

Last movie seen:

pandorum

Pandorum (Christian Alvart, dir.)