Saturday, August 12, 2006

Politics of Pop Culture Popularity

Dixie Chicks on Entertainment Weekly cover

There is a mad variety of entertainment choices available to the average American today, and celebrities would do well to remember that. Their popularity is always due in large part to a magical combination of talent (not always necessary in any great amount), guile, ambition (absolutely essential), and pure luck that creates a desire on the part of total strangers to welcome these people into our humdrum lives. The one thing that all celebrities have in common—the only thing they all have in common, in fact—is that a very large number of people like them, often for no readlly identifiable reasons.

Television network programmers know that this mysterious likeability is the number one factor in success in that medium, and it is true throughout the Omniculture. There are just so many choices out there that people can never be forced to accept something from someone they don't like. They can always go elsewhere.

That is why celebrities strive so hard to create and maintain a particular public image. And it is also why likeable celebrities do incredibly stupid things that make people cast them aside like yesterday's poop. They don't understand how fragile likeability really is. Apparently they entirely forget the lessons about human fickleness they should have learned indelibly in high school.

To wit . . .

Reuters reports that the pop country band the Dixie Chicks have changed their tour schedule to avoid "red states." As you'll recall, Natalie Maynes, the group's lead singer, said she was ashamed of being from the same state as President Bush, while onstage at a concert before thousands of people. Then the band appeared naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine with angry words scrawled on their bodies, then Maynes apoligized for criticizing the president, and then she took back her apology.

For some obscure reason, the band's fans decided they didn't want to support them any more and could do without their music. Reuters writes:

Country-pop trio the Dixie Chicks, still feeling a backlash for criticizing President George W. Bush, have been forced to mostly abandon the American heartland and Deep South on their latest tour

Facing lackluster ticket sales in many U.S. cities where radio stations had banned their music to protest the band's anti-Bush remarks, the Chicks' promoters have revised their tour with new stops in Australia and Canada.

Only four Southern U.S. cities remain on the newly overhauled 49-date concert itinerary posted days ago for the Chicks' "Accidents & Accusations" trek, their first major tour in three years.

Those four -- Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas and Austin, Texas -- were pushed back about two months to the end of the tour, now set for late November and early December.

Dropped from the original tour schedule released in May were 14 stops in the Southern and Midwestern regions that traditionally form the core of fan support for country music acts.

Cities stripped from the original itinerary include Indianapolis, St. Louis, Houston, Memphis, Greensboro, North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida.

The band and its promoter, Concerts West/AEG Live, say the overall number of North American dates remains the same.

But there is no question the Chicks are spending a lot less time in Dixie than they did during their 2003 tour, when Southern stops accounted for nearly a third of the 57 cities they visited.

According to the band's representatives as quoted in the Reuters story, radio stations have cut back on free promotions of the Dixie Chicks tour, which has resulted in the slow ticket sales in several Southern and Midwestern cities. They say the drop in sales is therefore the stations' fault, and not any decline in the band's overall popularity.

Of course, when those stations were giving the band free promotion, market capitalism was a very good thing indeed.

And the fact that instant wealth and worldwide celebrity tempted a young woman and her satellites to think that she was more than just a stupid singer had nothing to do with it.

Right.

From Karnick on Culture.

Did Condi (and John Bolton) Get the Goods?

Anything that issues from the snail-like UN leaves a trail of slime, so I'm sure that its latest Lebanon resolution leaves plenty of slipperiness for the slippery. For those so inclined, the nits-and-bolts analysis is best left to places like the excellent Belmont Club.

But I liked what I heard in our Secretary of State's address before the UN Security Council. Even though she apparently had to clear it all with France.

First, a pathetic UN force of 15,000 (all UN "forces" have been pathetic post-Korean War) will join the pathetic 15,000-person Lebanese Army in creating a demilitarized zone in southern Lebanon. So far, so good.

But what truly legitimizes a state or government, in principle and in fact, is a monopoly on the use of force. There will be an official embargo on all arms and war materiel entering the country that aren't approved by the Lebanese government. That's the good part. No more Iranian missiles to be imported by Hizbollah while the government and citizenry throw up their hands---a true first step in making the Cedar Revolution, which cast out the Syrian military presence and asserted Lebanese self-determination, a sovereign reality.

We, the West, have fallen into a moral/legal/political sinkhole since the Second World War. Whether we like it or not, the West, as claimant to being the conscience and moral arbiter of the "civilized world," has de facto accepted the proposition that a people is liable for the actions of its regime. Hitler set his terror V-2 rockets upon the British people; the Empire of Japan killed, raped and enslaved the civilians in its sphere of domination indiscriminately.

The Allies, namely the UK and US, responded with the terror bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and much more. The velvet glove of reason and its morality was off. In the end, there is only survival, a human truth that Thomas Hobbes stumbled upon.

Accordingly, the West has not technically declared war since World War II, because declaring war is now by our own precedent an acknowledgement and admission that we have entered into a death struggle, where there are no civilians and we are all combatants.

Of course, al-Qaeda and Hizbollah have already declared war. The West's only solution to its moral problem is to link them to statehood. Israel, whose moral tradition is far more linked to ethics than religion, is quite sanguine with the Palestinians electing a Hamas government. A crime committed by Hamas is a crime committed by the Palestinian people. Modern Israel, as a people and a nation, has been under that constraint for its entire existence, so placing Lebanon and the nascent (and inevitable) Palestinian state under that same hammer simply levels the playing field. A state and the people in it become liable for the crimes committed under the cover of their roof.

And so, even if the Bush/neocon experiment of shtupping democracy on Iraq has failed in creating a beacon of peace and freedom, it hasn't failed as an experiment in shtupping self-determination and moral responsibility, and their consequences, on the Arab/Muslim world. You play the game (and no one can avoid playing the game), you pay the price. Plausible deniability, and protestations of innocence, are dead.

On first blush, I think Condi and Bolton did damn OK.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Governor Of The Northern Province: Books: Randy Boyagoda,Nw

My friend Randy Boyagoda has published his first novel, Governor Of The Northern Province. Go and buy and enjoy.

NYC Fringe Festival

The New York International Fringe Festival opens today in the city that never sleeps, kicking off 16 days of theater in 20 venues. It's an offshoot of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which I wrote about recently in these pages. As I've noted earlier on this site (here and here), an interesting and essential aspect of the Omniculture is that "the counterculture continuously becomes the culture. If you want to know what is going to surround you tomorrow in American culture, look at what is on the fringes today."

Confirming this tendency of the counterculture to become the culture, the New York Daily News reports that "the Fringe Festival didn't start out as a breeding ground for the Great White Way. The Present Company, a nonprofit Off-Off-Broadway organization, began hosting festivals in Scotland in 1966 in order to showcase unspoken talent."

But the fringe has become increasingly absorbed into the mainstream:

Since then, the Fringe has exploded into a world-famous phenomenon, much to its founders' surprise. "To last 10 years as a cultural institution in this city is very impressive," says Lasko.

An important element of that absorption has been the effect on the Festival's content. With big theatrical producers, critics, media, and financial interests prowling the venues, the Festival has become a very effective place for playwrights and producers to audition their wares before people who can help them enter the real mainstream, moneymaking world of culture. That means that many of the plays presented will be not much different from what is already making money on Broadway and off. Or perhaps not at all different. For example, the Daily News story lists the following offerings the writers find most interesting:

"The Bicycle Men," a musical about an American who crashes his two-wheeler and ends up in a wacky French town.
Why we're psyched: It won a Fringe award for excellence a couple years back.

"Faded," about a tabloid reporter on the trail of a scandalous photo of a U.S. President and a sex goddess. (JFK and Marilyn Monroe, anyone?)
Why we're psyched: The author, Robert Dominguez, is a Daily News staffer.

"The Fan Tan King," a musical about a Chinatown gambling bigwig.
Why we're psyched: The book is by C.Y. Lee, who wrote "Flower Drum Song."

"Perfect Harmony," a mockumentary about a high-school a cappella group.
Why we're psyched: The high-school musical has never been a trendier genre.

"Only a Lad," a musical about a punk teenager accused of murder.
Why we're psyched: The score is based on songs by 1980s rock band Oingo Boingo - which gave us film composer Danny Elfman.

"Don't Ask," about an affair between a U.S. Army private and his superior in Iraq.
Why we're psyched: Several hot topics in one.

"Infliction of Cruelty," about some dark doings at a family reunion.
Why we're psyched: Secrets. Lies. Vengeance. Good times.

"Walmartopia," a time-tripping musical set in 2036 about a single mom who goes up against the world's largest corporation.
Why we're psyched: We dig an underdog story - even one that sounds this weird.

"Oblivious to Everyone," about a trashy Paris Hilton wanna-be.
Why we're psyched: Paris-bashing is always a kick.

"I Coulda Been a Kennedy," about an ambitious family scheming to get a kid into the Oval Office.
Why we're psyched: If only to see if there are bad Boston accents.

The Daily News story reports that "Tickets are $15 each at (212) 279-4488 or fringenyc.com, which has a complete schedule."

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stone's World Trade Center Movie

World Trade Center, Oliver Stone's film about the 9/11 attacks, is really about just one aspect of the events of that day. As has been widely reported, World Trade Center tells the story of two New York City Port Authority policeman who went into one of the Twin Towers, as part of a team of five, and were buried in rubble when the first tower collapsed. They survived the subsequent collapses of two other buildings in the seven-building WTC complex, and were rescued after enduring a long time pinned under the heavy debris while gravely injured. The rescue was the result of heroic and courageous efforts by many people whose desire to help others overcame their personal fears and self-interest. That, of course, is exactly what the two policeman and their comrades had done as well by going into that obviously dangerous disaster site.

The film is very skillfully made and is quite moving at times. It is probably best described as a disaster movie of very high quality.

It could have been more. The film resolutely avoids dwelling on the deeper causes of the disaster, downplaying the people behind the 9/11 attacks and the fact that they deliberately did this to innocent strangers. The film shows with apparent sympathy a Marine who decides to go to war against the perpetrators of the atrocity, and there are other occasional, fleeting references to the fact that the collapse of the Twin Towers was the result of a deliberate act of mass murder, but director Stone and screenwriter Andrea Berloff keep the focus firmly on the men in the rubble, their loved ones, and their rescuers. That keeps the film on the positive side of things, showing how good people live their lives and give of themselves to serve others. And to concentrate on that story is certainly the filmmakers' prerogative.

In addition, the film includes a large amount of Christian imagery and actions that add weight and context to the events of the story. That is all to the good.

However, the full story of 9/11 also involves the other side of things, a story of people who want the world to be their way regardless of what it takes to force it into their intolerant, hateful mold, who resent others' success and happiness, who actively work to hurt innocent people and are willing to give their lives in order to bring death to those they hate. That is the other side of the 9/11 story, and it is in fact what set in motion the events that brought out the love, hope, faith, and heroism of the people at the center of Stone's story. It is the side of things that makes the foreground events so much more meaningful. We bring that story to the theater ourselves, but World Trade Center would have been much more than a highly impressive disaster film if Stone and Berloff had been willing to bring out that contrast themselves.

From Karnick on Culture.

Democratic Party Advertisement: Weasels Wanted

I'm not a fan of weasel words. I think a man or woman should say what he or she thinks straightforwardly. Still, there's something we admire called statesmanship. Temperance, prudence, wisdom.

If I were an officeholder of the Democratic party, I might be tempted to say something like this:


"I congratulate Ned Lamont on his primary victory over Joe Lieberman, and I hope he becomes the next senator from the Great State of Connecticut.

As a committed member of the Democratic Party, I would vote for him.

But neither can I stand against Senator Lieberman, who's now running for re-election as an independent. My friendship, admiration, and respect for his conscientious service to our country, despite our disagreement about the Iraq war, forbid me to work for his defeat. And so, I will place my trust in the people of the state of Connecticut to make the right decision.

May the best man win."


Of course, only after the smoke had cleared (and not before), opportunists like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid didn't miss a beat, gleefully jumping on Joe Lieberman's grave as if boogie-ing to a Gary Glitter tune. Do You Wanna Touch Me There? Vultures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton predictably maneuvered themselves to Ned's side just in time for his victory speech.

Reminds me a bit of an infamous story where Don King started out on the heavily-favored Joe Frazier's side of the ring but had made his way to George Foreman's corner by the time Big George had totally demolished Smokin' Joe by the fifth round.

By comparison to the Don Kings and the current crop of Democratic leadership, give me a weasel over an opportunist anytime. Help wanted.

Word Up, Middle Eastern-style

Dear People of Lebanon:

The first sortie by our air force over your town isn't dropping bombs, but dropping this leaflet. We try to be good that way.

Congratulations on your latest attempt at democracy and self-determination that you called the Cedar Revolution, after your national tree. As you well know, Israel recently occupied your country for 20 years, but left of its own accord.

The Cedar Revolution kicked out the Syrian army. Good for you. Unfortunately, you let the stateless terrorist group Hizbollah into southern Lebanon, along with 10,000+ offensive rockets, all pointed at Israel.

That's unacceptable to us, and we hope you'll understand why. We know that you figured they were our problem, but we regret to inform you that Hizbollah is your problem, too.

Please leave town whilst we kick their ass.

Sincerely,
Your Neighbor Israel, Which Has a Lot of Jews in It



and...

Dear Jews:

Die. You are pigs and monkeys.

Love,
Hizbollah

P.S.---Here comes a rocket or six. They should touch down a few seconds after you read this. Don't say you weren't warned.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Stone's WTC Disaster Flick

I know, Oliver Stone's World Trade Center opens today, but I'm busy working, so I'll just save that one for later.

Does that seem crass? Is it an obligation on my part, as a critic and, much more important, as a citizen? Is this like church?

WTC poster image

I don't think so. I was very impressed with the earlier theatrical treatment of these events, United 93. It showed in microcosm the struggle that was to come in the War on Terror, and it was very moving and intense.

Stone's film, however, strikes me as just another disaster flick, like Poseidon or Earthquake.

Earthquake poster imageHow can I say such a beastly thing? What is the matter with me?

As Debbie Schlussel points out in today's issue of FrontPage magazine,

Who caused the attacks of 9/11? Who hijacked planes? Who flew them into the Towers? In "World Trade Center," it's hard to tell. Nicholas Cage's cop rescued from beneath the ruins speaks of "the evil"; a Wisconsin cop twice mentions the "bastards"; And a marine speaks about the need to "avenge this." But what is the evil? Who are the bastards? What needs to be "avenged"? Stone deliberately whitewashes the clear-cut answer to these questions—extremist Islam's attack on Americans. . . .
"World Trade Center" is more notable for what it leaves than for its content.
There isn't a single mention of Islam. Or Bin Laden. Or Mohammed Atta. Were there really 19 hijackers on the planes? No mention of them in this movie.

As Schlussel writes,

this one is like "The Poseidon Adventure," with concrete instead of water. And Nicholas Cage instead of Shelley Winters. Some unnatural force caused water to sink the ship and the World Trade Center towers to mysteriously implode upon themselves.

What is missing from World Trade Center, and what makes it a disaster film instead of a serious drama that deals with its subject from all the important angles, is a strong sense of why the disaster happened. Oh, we all know what happened and why, but Stone is careful not to tell us who is responsible. In a serious drama, there are people on both sides of the central conflict, as in United 93, and we know exactly who these people are and why they're doing what they're doing. But in a disaster film, the central catastrophe is simply a given; it just happened, and the story is about how people respond to it.

That, as the producers of World Trade Center readily admit, is exactly what Stone's new film does. And that is why we have no obligation to rush out to see it, any more than we should rush out to buy DVD copies of Poseidon or Earthquake.

To be sure, there are lessons about human character to be drawn from a well-made disaster film. Some characters respond heroically, some just follow the leaders, some do stupid things that worsen the situation, and some actively resist what is clearly right to do. But all are simply responding to a catastophe for which no one is shown to be fully responsible.

In limiting the scope of his film in this way, Stone misses an important opportunity to draw a serious distinction that would place his heroes' actions in context. For people to risk their lives to help others is surely among the most honorable things we can imagine. And for people to give up their lives in order to kill innocent people is, by contrast, among the most dishonorable, despicable things possible. Stone refuses to make this contrast, and in doing so he limits the meaning of what the emergency workers did. That is a serious flaw indeed.

The emergency workers and police officers who rushed into the Twin Towers on September 11 are impressive heroes. We should continue to honor them. And it is good to be reminded of their sacrifices and why they made them. But going to see a disaster movie that leaves out half the story is no way to do so.

From Karnick on Culture.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Culture and Population

The eminent poet and philosopher Frederick Turner provides some big-picture, civilization-level cultural commentary in an excellent article in TCS Daily today, thinking about why some societies die out and others manage to hang on or even thrive.

Turner's thesis: that people who have a sense of life beyond themselves tend to have children and build for a future they will probably not live to share. After demonstrating that birth rates, not environmental or social catastrophes, best explain population declines such as those of ancient Rome and contemporary Europe, Turner writes,

If we eliminate all external causes for population collapse, what is left is people's own reproductive choices. The reason people stop replacing themselves is, I would argue, cultural.

What, basically, persuades people not to have babies even when they have the political, social and economic stability to do so? Among the eras and nations where this phenomenon occurs or occurred one basic characteristic stands out: the loss of a transcendent future. What I mean by "transcendent" is some ideal or love or hope or faith that rises above the interests of the self, the practicalities of expected income, the security of predictable outcomes, and the lifetime of the individual. What I mean by "future" is that it is an ideal, love, hope, or faith that extends beyond the present and is not satisfied with an instantaneous and eternal reward in the now.

Religion is the way that humans attempt to put into language, stories, art and ritual their guesses about such things. As a species whose major and unique specialization is language, we are meaning-seeking beings, and when the buck of meaning has been passed around the various contents of the world about us, it ends up usually in the plate of religion. One hypothesis about demographic collapse that might be worth checking out is that it happens when a nation loses its religion.

Turner points out that human beings spend on religion an astonishing amount of time and energy that could be devoted to more direct pleasures:

[W]e might well choose the long golden afternoon of a culture in which the pleasures of food, gardening, education, lovemaking, sports, hobbies, art, fashion, and conversation would conduct us sweetly to a drugged and painless ending. We would be experts in enjoying the moment to the full. We could choose our sexual lifestyle. We would be living in a culture in which the opportunities, perspectives and pleasures of the two sexes would be fully shared and virtually indistinguishable. We might be as happy as any being can be that has a built-in dissatisfaction with the accustomed.

"Trevelyan at Casalunga", Marcus Stone illustration for He Knew He Was Right, Chapter 84Yet we don't do that—not here in America, that is, or at least not most of us. Although birth rates of native-born Americans are lower than in the past, they are still much above those of Europe and other developed nations such as Russia and Japan, which are well into population shrinkage that will increase in pace over the coming decades—to be replaced, it seems likely, by immigrants from poorer nations with faster birth rates (although it is important to note that birth rates in poorer nations are decreasing rapidly as well). Turner contrasts the two attitudes and their likely future in the final words of his article:

I believe that it is possible to have a high and reflective civilization whose transcendent love, faith and hope burn as hotly as that of the mullahs, and in which one can still hear the lovely din of a schoolyard at recess. But if I were still a European, as I once was, and not an American, as I now am, I might not be so sure.

As the immensely wealthy Louis Trevelyan says in Chapter 92 of Anthony Trollope's novel He Knew He Was Right, "The world must be populated, though for what reason one does not see." That is the European mind today, and that of the Russian, the Japanese, the Canadian, and nearly all the world's wealthy nations.

Turner is right. As long as we retain our belief in a transcendent order, we will continue to thrive. If we ever lose that, we risk ultimately losing everything.

And that is why the culture is so bloody important.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Program I Will Never See....

As I've pointed out before, in the Omniculture, everything happens. A particularly vivid current proof of that is the Fuse Network television program Pants-Off Dance-Off, "the only naked dancing game show on television," as Fuse describes it. The content is exactly what you might expect, given the title: "ordinary" people strip off their clothes, to the accompaniment of rock music, before the hungry cameras of an obscure music video channel. The participants are nonprofessional, and their naughty bits are tastefully covered with video "towels" when the ecdysiasm is complete

The venture doesn't sound particularly constructive or even interesting, but the reality is that whatever one might choose to put on TV or the net, somebody will watch. Of course, a good sophist could make the case that a program like Pants-Off Dance-Off does good by breaking down unfair socially constructed ideas of beauty, but a good sophist can make a case for anything. The fact remains that in the Omniculture, everything is permitted, but not everything is good.

From Karnick on Culture.

Cease Fire: It's National Brotherhood Week

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

---Tom Lehrer, "National Brotherhood Week," c. 1964

Re the current unpleasantness in the Middle East, I see everybody in the world except Israel wants a truce, a cease-fire. War is so danged messy. Can't we all get along?

But no talk of peace, is there? No one offering it, no one suing for it. Because when you want peace with Israel, you tend to get it. (You could ask Egypt and Jordan.) Cease-fires are for suckers, let's face it. Israel is Charlie Brown, the Arab/Muslim world is Lucy with the football. Land for peace? Peace for peace? War for peace?

Doesn't matter. No peace.

Modern Israel (post-1948, that is) for perhaps the first time in its history is without a strong leader, righteous peacenik or dirty warrior. Its people, on their own now, left, right and center, have come to the conclusion after 2000 years or so of nonstop persecution, mere survival can be the Jewish people's only realistic goal.

Today's Jews and their grandparents, fathers and mothers learned during the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler that non-Jews will never really protect them. To fast forward to the present day, there are/were "peacekeepers" in Lebanon per UN Resolution 1559, and Hizbollah brought in their rockets anyway.

Even in 1983, during the Reagan administration, after Hizbollah blew up 241 American servicemen who were in Beirut to get Israel's back, we, the US, fled immediately. The Jews, as they always have been, were on their own.

And neither will the "moral high ground" or the good will of "world opinion" help Israel a whit, because it hasn't at any time in their history.

Leaving the moral tut-tutting that the luxury of our living rooms affords us (living rooms on which no missiles are presently falling), the morality of the real world is that you don't let your children die while you fish for a diplomatic solution. Israel is quite aware of the morality of a comfortable chair thousands of miles away. But they are unwilling to sacrifice their children to it.

Nor is it reasonable to expect them to do so. This isn't about your morality, and it's not about mine. It's simply human nature to protect one's own, and any attempt at moral calculus that doesn't accomodate human nature is useless abstraction. Israel simply doesn't care what everybody else thinks, and I for one cannot blame them.

Because everybody hates the Jews. You could look it up. We all do what we must, and what we must do first is survive, and especially ensure the survival of our children. Anyone who doesn't understand that knows nothing of human beings.

Abraham was asked by his G-d to sacrifice his child Isaac to Him. The difference in understanding between the Torah and Hizbollah, militant Islam, etc., is that Abraham's G-d, in Genesis, duly appreciated the offer, but didn't accept it.

Because that would be inhuman. Sacrificing your own life and sacrificing your child's are two very, very different things.

Oil's Well That Ends Well

When I left government service to join Fred Smith's free market merry pranksters at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, my first assignment was an analysis of the costs and benefits of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and development.

The benefits were obvious then. The costs were either overblown or fictitious. That was 1989. ANWR is still closed.

This morning I wake up to the news that BP Amoco is taking Prudhoe Bay offline in the wake of a small spill and concern about corroding pipeline. The shutdown takes 400,000 barrels per day out of production. The markets respond with a 3% price rise in a matter of hours. Energy is already talking about tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Now I'm not complaining about the market reaction. That's what markets are supposed to do, and when an event is such a surprise that it can't be priced into the market gradually, then spikes are the natural result.

What I can't reconcile with today's events are the arguments we've been fed over the past 17 years that opening ANWR would have no meaningful effect on supply or price. We've been told, over and over, that ANWR would only produce six months supply at current consumption levels, or reduce our reliance on imports by a few percent.

Yet the lower limit projection for ANWR production is 650,000 barrels per day, more than 50% higher than today's Prudhoe Bay disruption. The mean projection is about twice that. And we're supposed to believe, simultaneously, that when Prudhoe Bay shuts down the effect is so extreme that we need to tap the SPR, and if ANWR were online our energy markets would be unchanged?

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Disaster or Not?

Dean Barnett, blogging over at Hugh Hewitt's new site, suggests that the idea that a Lamont victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman would be a disaster for the Democratic Party is nonsense. In one sense, I'm inclined to agree. Even to the degree that Lamont beats Lieberman and thus emboldens the peacenik side of the party [for lack of a better word], it's not clear what will change all that much. The Dems' 2004 Presidential nominee has already thrown his hat in with that side of things (though no doubt he has a few spares to throw in other directions should the political winds reverse) and of the prominent Democrat politicians (as opposed to policy advisors) that I can think of, only the Clintons seem to be resisting that trend. I mean, if they get Lieberman, who else are they going after?

On the other hand, it's also hard to see where this might stop. It's true that Lamont's candidacy is buoyed mostly by Lieberman's support of the Iraq war, but that's not the whole of it. There's also Lieberman's "moderation" on social issues (he at least seems troubled by the same things that trouble social conservatives, even if he rarely votes differently than the more liberal members of his caucus), and his willingness (sometimes recanted) to consider things like school vouchers, an end to affirmative action, etc. I just don't know - but read Barnett's post and see what you think.

ABC Family's New Direction

The current catch phrase for the ABC Family Channel is "A New Kind of Family"—a sure indication that the old kind of family channel wasn't making it. The channel has bounced around over the years, having been started by televangelist Pat Robertson in the 1980s. After building it into a solid ratings machine, Robertson sold the channel to Fox. Rupert Murdoch's people clearly had no idea what to do with it, and the station lost both viewers and its identity. Fox then sold it to Disney, which changed the name to ABC Family and created a mix of reruns (lots) and new programming (a little) evidently aimed at teenage girls and their moms in the American heartland. The movies and series had a heavy Eisner-era Disney feel, which is to say simultaneously snarky and smarmy. Not the sort of thing any reasonably sophisticated person would enjoy.

Some Falcon Beach actressThe current approach of the network is to get a little bit more adventurous in terms of program concepts. With Eisner gone, Disney has moved back pretty much exclusively into family fare at the movie studio. ABC Family looks to be going in a slightly different direction. Think of it as the Hallmark Channel with a bit of an edge.

Their self-description is humorously earnest and politically correct:

ABC Family is television for today's families –- connected by birth or by choice, diverse and multicultural, mirroring our changing attitudes and lifestyles. The movies, hits, holidays and originals of ABC Family feature relatable characters and coming-of-age stories, reflected with heart in the comedy and drama of the experiences of today’s families.

Fortunately, the actual programming does not seem to press this already cliched notion of multiculturalism too openly. Falcon Beach, for example, is a rather silly knockoff of the WB's sexy-teenager genre.

Kyle XY promo shotThe new series Kyle XY, by contrast, has an interesting premise reminiscent of Fox's John Doe series of a couple years ago. As in the Fox series, in Kyle XY a young man (in this case an adolescent rather than an adult) suddenly turns up naked and without any memory of his past. In the present case, he joins a typically quirky American TV family, and thus begins the challenge of identifying exactly who and what he is. It's an interesting premise, and the writing and producing do it justice. A few episodes have appeared on ABC Family thus far, and Disney has run the show on the main ABC TV network as well, a wise move that should create more interest in it.

Three Moons Over Milford promo shotPremiering last night was a new program on ABC Family, Three Moons Over Milford. This one has an equally interesting premise: it looks at life in an idyllic small Vermont town after the moon has split into three pieces after being struck by a gigantic meteor.
Scientists have concluded that a big chunk will inevitably strike the earth at some point, destroying all life on the planet with the possible exception of the cockroaches, and that it will probably happen very soon. How people react to this doomsday scenario reminiscent of evangelical interpretations of Bible prophecies is supposed to reveal much about those persons' character.

Elizabeth McGovern is the central character, a once-wealthy mom whose husband has left to pursue his dream of climbing the highest mountain on each continent, and whose inattention to business has driven their corporation to the brink of bankruptcy. In the premiere episode, the daughter of McGovern's character accidentally fulfills every child's dream of buring down the local public school, and a good deal of other plot and character arcs are set in motion. The idea that people will reveal their true selves as death approaches is probably a sound one, and the show seems willing to purse the matter without being overly cute or portentous. A new kind of Family Channel indeed.

From Karnick on Culture.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Fringe Phenomena in the Omniculture

Another hugely successful "fringe" phenomenon (see my Lollapalooza post immediately below) is the Edinburgh Fringe, which Reuters characterizes as "the world's largest and most irreverent arts festival." According to the Reuters story, this "fringe" phenomenon is a big business and highly influential on the culture. The festival's director "said the Fringe has sold about 20 million tickets over the past six decades 'and we hope this year to top the million mark again which we have done for the last three years.' "

Edinburgh Fringe performer

A common theme in this year's program reflects some current concerns, but with a typically quirky approach. As the Reuters story reports, the Edinburgh Fringe

. . . celebrated its 60th birthday on Sunday with religion the big theme being tackled this year by playwrights and comedians.

Fringe performers revel in controversy and 2006 should be no exception with "We Don't Know Shi'ite" about British ignorance of Islam and "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years."

"It is the most amazing barometer of world politics," said The Scotsman newspaper's theater critic Joyce McMillan, reflecting on the Fringe which last year tackled the subject of terrorism head on after the London suicide bombings.

Fringe director Paul Gudgin, overseeing 17,000 performers at the three-week festival of anarchy, said "I find it endlessly fascinating how a thread like this emerges.

"It's either about what is happening with radical Islam or reflects interest and concern over the influence Evangelical Christians seem to be having in the United States," he told Reuters.

The Edinburgh Fringe festival is another of those "fringe" phenomena, like the Lollapalooza Festival, that become part of the mainstream culture and redifine it, as is the way of things in the Omniculture. Another truth about the Omniculture is this:

In the Omniculture, everything happens.

The Edinburgh Festival is a fine example of this principle. As Reuters notes:

Wading through the Fringe program is a stamina test in itself, but picking the quirkiest title of the year can be fun.

Leading contenders are "Afternoon Tea with a Transvestite" and "Sit: The History of the Chair" but it is difficult to top "How To Explain The History of Communism To Mental Patients."

The reality of the Omniculture is this: If something hasn't happened yet, it will.

For a summary of what the Omniculture is all about, click here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Lollapalooza in the Omniculture

The Lollapalooza festival of "alternative" music is drawing huge crowds in Chicago this weekend. Reuters reports:

Thousands of concert-goers, mostly in their 20s, returned to Chicago's lakefront Grant Park on Saturday as the three-day music festival Lollapalooza resumed after drawing more than 50,000 people on Friday night.

Billed as one of the city's largest music events ever, the festival is expected to draw about 150,000 people by the time it ends on Sunday.

I put quotes around the word alternative because the very popularity of the music indicates that it is a mainstream part of the culture, no longer—if it ever was—some sort of fringe phenomenon. Scheduled performers such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, the Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, and Manu Chao are anything but obscue, and 130 music acts in total are scheduled to perform at the festival.

It's a great example of what happens in what I call the Omniculture, where the counterculture continuously becomes the culture. If you want to know what is going to surround you tomorrow in American culture, look at what is on the fringes today.

From Karnick on Culture.

Paris Joins Abstinence Movement

Here's a fascinating tidbit for you. The twenty-five-year-old actress/model/allegedlyunwillingpornstar/crazyrichgirl/humancuriosity Paris Hilton has decided to swear off sexual activity for a year. E! Online reports:

IParis Hiltonn an interview for the September issue of British GQ, the star whose oeuvre includes The Simple Life and One Night in Paris set out to dispel rumors that she's a sure thing when it comes to taking relationships to that next level.

"People think I sleep with everyone, but I'm not like that," Hilton told the magazine. "Kissing is all I do.

"I'm not having sex for a year. I've decided. . . . I'll kiss, but nothing else." . . .

The hotel heiress, who seems to change boyfriends faster than shoes, appears excited about the effect her vow of chastity could have on her personal life. . . . [S]he sounded as if there's some method to her madness--she has thought this one over and knows exactly what she's doing.

"I feel good about it," the 25-year-old told GQ. "I like the way guys so crazy when they can't have sex with you. If he can't have you, he stays interested. The moment he has you, he's gone. Unless he is really in love with you."

She went on to say that, as far as she knows, she only plans to walk down the aisle once and that, when she goes on dates, she prefers to be treated "like a princess."

It's interesting to see a such a prominent and highly . . . experienced young lady decide to become a renewed virgin. It is quite possible that this resolution will last only as long as anything else Miss Hilton has done, but we have to give her credit for thinking about the subject a little. One doubts that it will really strenghten the chastity movement among the nation's young people, but stranger things have happened in this world.

From Karnick on Culture.