Saturday, December 09, 2006

Chew This Over

After almost fifty years of promising, and failing to deliver, "no child an unwanted child," the acolytes of Margaret Sanger have a new weapon in their arsenal: chewable mint flavored birth control pills.

I am a little nonplussed at the fanfare surrounding this development. Having come late to Holy Mother Church and Her theology of the body, I have had a certain amount of experience with these products, and I can state from personal knowledge that your average birth control pill is about one-third the size of a Tic-Tac and could be swallowed by any mammal the size of a guinea pig with no complications. Why a chewable version is more appealing is lost on me.

It does occur to me, however, that there were howls of outrage when Eli Lilly compounded a liquid peppermint version of Prozac. They were called drug-pushers and child abusers, even though the liquid formulations of both Prozac and competitor Paxil had been designed for senior citizens who do often have trouble swallowing pills.

We all know what's going on here. Just put the stuff in bubblegum and be done with it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gibson's Apocalypto

Mel Gibson directs Apocalypto

Upon hearing that Mel Gibson was filming a story set at the end of the Mayan empire and performed in an ancient foreign tongue translated into subtitles, one might well have wondered what possessed Gibson to undertake such an odd task. Indeed, many people wondered exactly that.

Well, now we know, as Apocalypto premiered today in theaters across the United States. The film tells the story of a young father, Jaguar Paw, from a small tribe who is taken prisoner after a Mayan attack force destroys his village and takes the adult survivors back to the city to be sold into slavery or sacrificed to some alien "god." After a miraculous deliverance from the sacrificial blood altar, he escapes, pursued into the jungle by a Mayan SWAT team. At this point Gibson begins a remake of Cornel Wilde's 1966 film The Naked Prey, and the action sequences are as good as in most such films.

What is interesting about the film is how neatly it fits into Gibson's career and the themes of his previous films. At the center of Apocalypto is a man on the run trying to protect his family from an oppressive, violent, decadent regime, as is the central story of Braveheart, The Patriot, Signs, and others, or a surrogate family as in The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, We Were Soldiers, etc. And of course the theme of self-sacrifice for the good of others is the central idea of The Passion of the Christ.

In the case of Apocalypto, Gibson's choice of a story set in a distant time and place and spoken in an unfamiliar language strips away contemporary concerns and points us toward the central question of what exactly it is that causes people to do such violence to one another and exploit each other so routinely.

The film positively bursts with ideas. Gibson begins the film with a quote from the philosopher Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Gibson suggests that the Mayan civilization fell not because the Spanish we so powerful but because the civilization was itself so weak and decadent, a condition he makes clear in the scenes in the Mayan city. He also makes sure to draw out similarities between the Mayan civilization and contemporary Western society.

But he does not appear to do so simply in order to suggest that our society is decadent and that the real danger to us is not from Islam but from left-wing atheists (although he undoubtedly believes that to be true). No, the point is to bring out the universality of this human impulse to exploit and destroy. As an elder of the small tribe states in a campfire story early in the film, there is a hole in Man that causes him to take all that he can until the earth can give no more.

Gibson would call this hole Original Sin, and he clearly sees it as universal among human beings. But there is an antidote, he makes evident, and it too is universal, at least in availability. That is love. For it is Jaguar Paw's love for his wife and child that motivates him to escape and return to his village, in hope of rescuing them from a pit in which they were hiding from the invaders and are trapped.

Hence we see the familiar Gibson themes of self-sacrifice and the fight of the individual against a corrupt society. On the political level, the classical liberal idea of the home, family, community, and religion as superior to the state is as important in Apocalypto as in Gibson's other politically oriented films. The notion that social decadence and widespread self-indulgence lead to political oppression is another familiar Gibson theme evident in the film.

Expressing the film's religious foundation, Gibson provides images symbolizing baptism (two prominent ones) and a scene representing a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection. Religion is at the center of this film, and that religion is Christianity, despite the setting in a pagan civilization.

It's impressive indeed to see what is basically a silent film present so many interesting ideas. Gibson is most certainly a hghly talented and inventive film writer and director, and Apocalypto is a stirring example of what intelligent cinema can achieve.

From Karnick on Culture.

The Bane of Conservative Cultural Criticism

The Achilles heel of most conservative cultural critics is their tendency to characterize repugnant works of pop culture as establishing that society as a whole, or some great swath of it, is irredeemably corrupt. In commenting, for example, on Carol Iannone's scathing review of the pro-homosexual and apparently exceedingly vulgar and imbecilic British film The History Boys (written by the overrated and immensely asinine author Alan Bennett), Lawrence Auster of View from the Right claims that "the British elites despise their country, their culture, their history, and secretly or openly wish to have done with it all."

Auster says that this movie shows that Britain is on a "path to national suicide."

One play, of course, does not a culture make, and Auster can undoubtedly claim his point is that The History Boys is not conclusive in itself but is revealing as part of a massive chain of evidence of corruption. Auster, however, writes, "by the time the movie ended, the realization hit me that the British elites that created a movie like this, that praised and recommended a movie like this, seek with cold and deliberate malice the destruction of their country."

Now, that is surely wrong, and it is why conservatives so seldom gain much traction in discussions of culture. The "irredeemably corrupt society/elite" argument is simply an unsophisticated, incorrect, and uninteresting critique.

There is undoubtedly a significant proportion of the British elite that is as corrupt as Alan Bennett, and there is surely a goodly portion that is sympathetic to them although they cannot bring themselves to go that far. But there are also certainly a great many who don't accept the premises of Bennett and his ilk. That's the Omniculture: Everything happens.

A shot from TV program Footballers' WivesLook at the BBC and other British television, for example, and you'll find a good deal of material that is repugnant to the sensibilities of a reasonable, spiritually and mentally healthy person, and you'll also find much that is sensible and good. Even in openly sleazy shows such as Mile High and Footballers' Wives there are highly traditional assumptions and moral lessons to be derived. It all depends greatly on the viewer's own point of view.

Things are just a lot more complex than Auster appears to be willing to recognize. It seems clear to me that people are struggling, in England and the United States alike, to find a wordview, mentality, and culture that makes sense after the post-World War II demolition of American society's shared values. It is a process that is ongoing today, and no one can say where it will ultimately lead, whether toward destruction, regeneration, or a perpetual unhappy tension between the two. It is simply not ours to know at this point.

The fact is, anybody can cherry-pick a few especially vivid examples of popular culture on either the wilder or more traditional edges of the Omniculture and claim that things are getting worse or getting better. But the creation of simple dichotomies and the demonization of one's cultural enemies will get us nowhere. False and/or simplistic, Manichean statements simply undermine one's credibility and that of one's allies in the struggle to redeem the culture.

From Karnick on Culture.

TRC Emeritus Alan Reynolds' New Book

I don't know if Alan is still active one way or the other with TRC, but his new book is apparently out and it sounds like great stuff. Even though I've handed in my TRC retirement to blog with American Spectator, I'm just sentimental enough to plug Alan's work here at his (and my) old stomping ground. Here's what National Review's Rich Lowry had to say about it:

If you don’t yet believe that we live in a de facto caste system, just wait until the new Democratic economic populists take over Congress. They will rely on the usual myths to portray the American economy as an engine of inequity and dispossession, benefiting only the very rich.

In advance of this onslaught, Cato Institute scholar Alan Reynolds has written a new book, Income and Wealth, that explodes much of the downbeat conventional economic wisdom.

The key difference between the richest and poorest households, Reynolds finds, is simply work: “Most income in the top fifth of households is from two or more people working full time. Most income in the bottom fifth is from government transfer payments.” According to the Census Bureau, there are almost six times as many full-time workers in the top households as in the bottom, and 56.4 percent of the bottom households didn’t have anyone working at all in 2004.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Civil War? So It’s Not Just a Matter of Semantics After All

An Army Maj. General who studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College should know, and from everything I can see I agree. Iraq is not currently in a Civil War. Does it matter? You bet it does.

Let’s call them the Humpty Dumpty press (to add to the growing list of mainstream media epithets). As you will remember, the egg like fellow appeared in a famous story by Lewis Carroll and made the following comment:

“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

I cannot think of a better description of the hubris of the modern mainstream media. When they say a thing you had better not question them. They determine reality, and what they say it is, is what it is, nothing more nor less. Of course we know that the goal of our esteemed press is to make President Bush look bad, so anything that will do that is what they will do. Civil War is a bad thing, Iraq is in Civil War, Bush started the war; Bush is bad. Irrefutable logic.

But let’s look at a few facts as our Army Maj. General puts them:

I don't see a civil war in Iraq. I don't see a constituency for civil war. The vast majority of the people want hope for their families, not to massacre their neighbors or divide their country. A poll conducted in June by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan group that promotes democracy, found 89 percent of Iraqis supporting a unity government representing all sects and ethnic communities. No wonder no "rebel army" steps forward to claim credit for vicious car bombs and cowardly executions of civilians.

I see debates among Iraqis -- often angry and sometimes divisive -- but arguments characteristic of political discourse, not political breakdown. The Council of Representatives meets here in Baghdad as the sole legitimate sovereign representative of the people, 12 million of whom braved bombs and threats last December to vote. No party has seceded or claimed independent territory. . . .

I studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College. I respect the credentials and opinions of those who want to hang that label here. But I respectfully -- and strongly -- disagree. I see the Iraqi people suffering from overlapping terrorist campaigns by extremist groups combined with the mass criminality that too often accompanies the sudden toppling of a dictatorship. This poses a different military challenge than does a civil war.

That last point shows that words actually mean things. They aren’t, a la the mainstream media, only for making impressions to push their political agenda.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Paris Hilton, Scary Godmother

Our own estimable and wise Jay D. Homnick, in a post below, properly excoriates Paris Hilton for evangelizing Eurotrashiness to the American starlet class that includes Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. The difference between them and Ms. Hilton is that as an heiress, she gets her sleep, whereas Mses. Spears and Lohan* have two conflicting clocks to punch, partying and working for a living.

Now, I'm sure this isn't a flattering photo of Ms. Lohan, but she looks a matronly 50 years old. She's 20. But perhaps her new mentor can at least instruct her on how to leave a good-looking corpse.

Lord save us from easy early success and the hard living that goes with it. (He has already spared me, for which, upon further review, I'm deeply thankful.)

(*Bet you didn't know "Mses." is the plural of the neologism "Ms." Neither did I 'til I looked it up a moment ago. Then again, I just learned the correct spelling of "Britney" and "Lindsay" too. All of which makes me feel good, not bad, although admittedly closer to 50 than 20.)

Culture and Nature: Animals Gone Wild

Our friend and fellow classical liberal Ilana Mercer has a very interesting and well-argued article in today's American Spectator, on how a powerful and widely held cultural idea has actually changed the natural world, and for the worse. Mercer points out that the often laudable effort over the past couple of centuries to discourage mankind from harming animals has had an awful unintended consequence: many animal species are losing their fear of human beings and are increasingly attacking humans.

Mercer argues:
While Western man works to rid himself of the most basic ethical instincts, like defending his kinfolk, animals remain true to their nature. Wild beasts intuit that their teeth and talons are meant for tearing flesh -- any flesh, the easier the better. It makes perfect animal sense to attack a thing that is docile, slow, and passive, like the not-so sapient Homo sapiens.

It has been decades since animals were aggressively repelled from human habitat, and they now brazenly make themselves at home in manicured suburbs. It used to be that men killed and hunted encroaching creatures. Thanks to decades of cultural and legal emasculation, they no longer have the urge or license to protect home and hearth. Instead, they robotically intone the Sierra Club's subliminal propaganda: animals are the true homesteaders of the planet.

The handful of honest experts left admits that attacks are up because politically correct policies have bred fearless critters. The Pavlovian response to aversive treatment has been bred out of the wild animal population. Mary Zeiss Stange, author of Woman the Hunter, says that hunting ultimately has less to do with killing than with instilling fear in animals that have placed us on their menu. If animal rights activists possessed a dog's smarts, they'd understand the perils of such a program, for an unafraid animal is a dangerous animal; an unafraid human an endangered fool.
Certainly we should never be cruel to animals, Mercer agrees, but killing animals is part of our human condition, and in an attempt to become hypercivilized and suppress the parts of our nature that our intellects consider less savory, we become in fact less than fully human and upset the balance of nature:
This wildlife worship is thoroughly antediluvian, down to its human sacrifice component. Human beings should care for and be kind to animals. That's ethical (if not compulsory). But people's safety and survival must always trump that of animals. A society that reverses this ethical order is philosophically primitive, base, and ultimately immoral.

"Arm yourself with knowledge when you go out into the wilderness," advised one guru, following yet another perennial, ritual, human sacrifice to the Goddess Gaia. Wrong: apply your knowledge and arm yourself!
Good advice from a very wise woman.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Christmas Treat from Roy Wood

Cover image of Wizzard BrewHere's a treat for you—a video featuring Roy Wood. Wood is one of the great — and most unfairly underappreciated — rock music composers of all time. He was the leader of the terrific 1960s band The Move, started the Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, moved from there to form the rock-oriented band Wizzard, and created in his solo albums some of the best pop music albums of the past three decades. His solo albums Boulders and Mustard, in particular, are absolute classics. Roy still tours Great Britain but hasn't made an album in many years. There's always hope, however.

Boulders is not available at all on CD at this point, which is an absolute pop culture tragedy, but the rumor is that it will soon be released by a British company. The good news is that Wizzard Brew, which I consider to be the best album by Roy Wood's Wizzard, has just been remastered for CD and is now available with eight superb bonus tracks. It's a must-have, and you can have it here.

One of the bonus tracks is Roy's huge Christmas hit "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day." Here's the video, from YouTube. I hope you'll enjoy it:

From Karnick on Culture.

Hugging, Mugging, or Simply Bugging?

From the snow covered sidewalks and overheated shopping malls of Minneapolis comes the latest evidence that Western Civilization is falling down some dark Wonderland rabbit tunnel and will eventually land on its butt in a pile of discarded dreamcatchers, stuffed pandas, and other faux-spiritual kitsch: people who come up to total strangers in public places and hug them. How do such things come to be?

I was sitting around thinking, 'How can I make a difference?'" says Carrie Rupp, a 22-year-old pool-maintenance worker from Minneapolis and "instigator" of the Hug Brigade.

There's one clue. A pool maintenance worker in Minneapolis has about eight months of downtime per year, since they're typically used as skating rinks from October to May. That much time on your hands, you're bound to think up some goofy stunts.

Some people approve of this in-your-face Leo Buscaglia aggression, others object. The Mall of America told the Hug Brigade to get lost after a couple of hours of harassing shoppers.

You know what this is? It's G-rated hooking up. Our culture has become so confused by materialist metaphysics that it mistakes the outward signs of emotion and affection for the real thing. Young women believe that having sex with casual acquaintances will give them satisfaction without complications. They don't understand that sex is only emotionally meaningful because you it is something you do only with some you trust so thoroughly that you are willing to open the door of your most secret, most sacred room and let him in. The reason a hug makes you feel better is because there is someone in your life who cares about you enough to give you a hug. The hug is a signifier for a relationship of interdependence and mutual concern. Believing a hug from a stranger makes life better is a triumph of the artificial over the real.

Upon Further Review, It Sure is the No Fun League

I still like the NFL, especially when my hometown Philadelphia Eagles are playing, but it's just not the same anymore.

These days, the NFL players call it the "No Fun League" because it's a 15-yard penalty if you celebrate a touchdown or a great play too much. But things were getting a little extreme, like a guy planting a cell phone in the goalpost so he could do his act if he scored, so I have some sympathy for the league trying to put it all in perspective. It's not like V-J Day or anything.

But I hate the Instant Replay rule, where the officials take a couple minutes to review the TV replays in order to certify their decisions, and here's why:

Several years back, the Eagles were in the playoffs. It was about 10 AM Pacific, when the games from the east coast start out here. I was still lazing in bed, as is the only civilized custom for a Sunday morning, but I'd ordered the help to bring me breakfast early as I wanted to catch the game.

The Redskins took the opening kickoff and proceeded to march decisively downfield. Around the Eagles' 15-yard line, they fumbled, and an Eagle defender scooped up the football and ran it back 85 yards. The official trailing the play, his two arms so beautifully extended toward the heavens, signaled touchdown, Birds. From impending disaster to triumph in the space of ten seconds. It doesn't get any better than that in sports.

I threw the breakfast tray off my lap, leaped out of my quite warm and comfy bed, and did the finest shimmy you ever saw since your sister Kate's.

Then the words of doom from the TV filtered into my fevered mind---"The play is under review." I didn't see what I just saw. I unfelt what I just felt.

Of course, the touchdown was taken away. The official with his arms upraised was wrong---the Redskins runner was "down by contact" before the fumble. So instead, it was first and ten deep in Eagles territory, Redskins. The 'Skins scored a TD, the Birds lost, and that was that. I haven't felt the same about anything I've seen in an NFL game since. You always have to wait for the other shoe to drop, and even when it doesn't, there's still either an uneasiness or a downright emptiness.

So when the Eagles saved the game with an interception in the end zone with 7 seconds left on Monday Night Football this week, I felt nothing. My brain permitted my face a smile, but put my heart on hold. They took all the fun away.

Intercepted! Yes!!!! No??? Maybe so?

The play was reviewed, as is the rule, and yes, two minutes later when it finally passed replay muster and the feet were adjudged inbounds, the NFL allowed me to feel and perhaps even celebrate. The Eagles had won. But I didn't dance, let alone shimmy. Yay, I said, with as much enthusiasm I could.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lowlanders Tiring of Smutty TV

Who would have thought that the merry Dutch, world pioneers of mass-marketed pornography, would eventually tire of all the smut flowing into their neat and tidy homes? Yet it has happened, according to a Reuters/Hollywood Reporter (HR) story:

Despite a long tradition of television that pushes the boundaries of the acceptable in the Netherlands, Dutch viewers are being turned off by a wave of controversial programs.

Some weeks ago, Rotterdam-based columnist Hugo Borst was watching the daily news on family channel RTL with his 11-year-old son while having dinner. At 6:45 p.m. -- with no warning -- father and son were witness to excerpts from a home video showing the goalkeeper of a Dutch professional soccer team being introduced in embarrassingly intimate terms to a sex toy by a girlfriend.

Furious about the unexpected images, Borst called the program's editor for an explanation. The response was that the sex video was considered a news item because it was placed on the Internet that day by the goalie's vengeful ex-lover.

Borst's reaction was to write a column under the headline: "Have they lost their minds at RTL?"

Maybe they have, but until recently such programs drew big ratings. That appears to be changing, however. Citing a "less explicit—but nonetheless controversial" program called The Golden Cage, the Reuters/HR story notes, "The storm of publicity surrounding the Talpa program has not resulted in high ratings. Since its October bow, the show has lost nearly 66% of its original 1 million viewers. This may indicate that the Dutch are no longer impressed by taboo-breaking programs."

An innoccuous image from the Dutch TV program Spuiten en Slikken
That may be because all the taboos have already been broken. As the Reuters/HR story observes,

Another show raising eyebrows is "Spuiten en Slikken" (Shooting and Swallowing), on which every sexual persuasion can be found. It broadcasts on the youth-oriented public broadcaster BNN, currently the most risque station in Holland. The program, which claims to have an educational purpose, caused a scandal even before its first episode. One of the presenters experiments onscreen with all kinds of soft and hard drugs. The program also features the exploration of sexual activities, including S&M, swingers clubs, squirting female orgasms and prostate milking (shown in full detail), leading to a flurry of political disapproval.

The Dutch have had their fair share of tasteless television in recent years. Considered by some as the nadir of gutter TV, "Patty's Fort," which aired in 2004 on RTL, saw minor Dutch celebs led by former pop singer Patty Brard gather for a colonic irrigation session in a health spa, with the scatological results shown to the audience.

How such things can be considered either educational or entertaining is a true mystery to this analyst, but that the Dutch are tiring of such fare certainly is an interesting news item with real implications. Perhaps leaving a little mystery to such things really is a good idea.

From Karnick on Culture.

What's Good About Ultimate Fighting

Still photo from an Ultimate Fighting bout
I know a couple of fellows, perfectly reputable sorts, who follow "ultimate fighting," the relatively new spectator sport that combines boxing, kicking, and grappling techniques. The impression one gets from the media is that the sport is an outlaw thing, even less rational than boxing and professional wrestling. The increasing appeal of ultimate fighting, however, is based on the fact that it is actually a good deal more sensible than either of these.

USA Today has published today an excellent article analyzing the appeal of ultimate fighting. Here are some excerpts:

"Boxing is boring. Brawls are not," says Stephanie Cassidy, 24, a sixth-grade teacher from Fairfield whose husband got the $400-a-pop tickets for her birthday.

Which is pretty much all you need to know about how this salute to Rome's Colosseum has evolved from cultural pariah to mainstream hit. . . .

Signs of success include the fact that UFC's Spike TV reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, often outdraws NBA and baseball games among the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic. Its pay-per-view bouts are estimated to pull in eight figures, and has doubled its traffic, to 2 million unique visitors a month, in the past year. . . .

Far from being a lone oddity, UFC has spawned five other MMA leagues (mixed martial arts, which combines a variety of striking and grappling techniques), one of which, Pro Elite, just signed a deal with Showtime. . . .

To judge from all the couples in attendance, you'd think this was a concert or a movie megaplex.

Beyond the surprising abundance of women, there's also a range of races (only African-Americans seem in short supply), professions (from shelf stockers to stock brokers) and ages (from the occasional gray hair to the blond tresses of a 5-year-old). . . .

• Far from being barroom brawlers, UFC toughs often have college degrees, and some boast winning careers as boxers, jujitsu fighters, Muay Thai practitioners and collegiate wrestlers.

• Boxers have died in the ring, but so far not one UFC fighter.

• Football and baseball may be American pastimes, but for a high-tech generation weaned on immediacy, such sporadic action doesn't compare with UFC's short and definitive flurries of violence. . . .

For a populace jittery about the threat of terrorism at home and a costly war abroad, that tough-by-association cocktail can be hard to pass up. "Much of life feels out of control right now, so to see these gladiators fight your fight for you — it's somehow comforting," says Mike Voight, a lecturer on the sociology of sport at the University of Southern California. "It used to be boxing that gave us that escape." . . .

That many UFC fighters look and sound like everyday people — compared with figures like Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan — is a powerful part of the sport's popularity.

Matt Hughes was a four-time All-American wrestler at two Midwestern colleges who likes to talk about how his bouts "are chess matches that require immense dedication and discipline." More to the point, far from being Goliath, Hughes is a compact 5-foot-9. . . .

"I love how many of these guys are my size. It makes it something I can relate to," says [actor Robert] Patrick, molten co-star of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and CBS' The Unit.

As the lights dim and the arena goes on the boil (metal music thrashing, crowds screaming, ring girls wiggling), Patrick's eyes widen. "I suppose all this is some kind of reflection on our society," he says. "But there's also just a great nobility to being a great warrior."

That's UFC as sociological mirror, a link to our roots as creatures bent on survival. But there's another UFC, the one that's just a heck of a way to rage with old friends. . . .

What UFC is can be wrestled into this: an upscale street duel elegantly marketed to the masses. And the masses are loving it.

I suspect that the morality and normality that the USA Today writer identifies at the center of ultimate fighting are probably central to its appeal and a big reason people are increasingly gravitating to it. In a time of war and fear, it's comforting for people to look to champions who are very much like them but so greatly skilled that they can defeat seemingly invincible enemies. Hence the appeal of ultimate fighting may well have a highly positive aspect.

I'll take a look at this interesting phenomenon and report on it in future.

From Karnick on Culture.

Fox's 24 to Get Even Darker

Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer on Fox TV series 24I've mentioned on several occasions the turn toward "darker" programming on network TV this year, and one of the pioneers and models for that approach, the Fox series 24, will become even darker this season. An article in USA Today notes that protagonist Jack Bauer will reach a new low to begin the season:

Central character Jack Bauer isn't dead, but he's feeling that way going into Season Six (premieres Jan. 14, 8 p.m. ET/PT), said Kiefer Sutherland, who won an Emmy in August for his portrayal of the stoic counterterrorism hero. Bauer, whose kidnapping by Chinese agents closed last season, returns in the premiere, set 20 months later, as a haggard, beaten man.

"Jack's at his darkest place. He's dead inside. Even in Season Two, when he was terribly mournful at the loss of his wife, he was feeling pain but he was alive. (Now), there's an indifference which is almost primal. It's absolutely a new place to start with the character," Sutherland said on the red carpet.

As I've noted earlier on this site, "darker" new series primetime programming has had a bad run this year, as viewers have not responded favorably in general to the new shows that tried this tack.

The reason 24 has had such success is that even though the stories are full of interlocking conspiracies and betrayals, at the center of the show we have unabashedly good characters, led by Jack Bauer, a real modern-day hero. That's what makes this show so special, and as long as Jack doesn't turn "complex," meaning morally compromised (which he never has been, despite the awful things he has regularly been forced to do), the series will retain its central warmth and decency that ultimately dissipate the darkness.

TV producers and other genre writers would do very well to remember this simple fact.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The V Dialogues

The V in the title does not stand for peace.

Unless you have been residing in some other galaxy this past few weeks, you must be aware that Paris Hilton has taken Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan under her wing, and that each of these three has allowed the paparazzi to shoot their panty-less privates as they left cars or boats. Their plan to push the envelope has clearly worked. The envelope has been thoroughly pushed and can never again be used to send shy valentines to the sweet girl across the street.

Hilton and Lohan are well removed from conceptualization, so they may never conceive. But Spears has two children who will perforce grow up a Google click away from their mother's gynecology close-up.

There is a lot to be said here, most of which my Jewish gentility precludes my saying. I will however aver that I blame Hilton for bringing the type of lowlife decadence that only the born-rich can sink to and corrupting our more wholesome breed of American got-rich types. Britney Spears started her career as a Mouseketeer at Disney; now the Eurotrash from EuroDisney is trying to turn her into a rat.


Was severely tempted to join the crowd commenting on Frank James’s posting, “How Could this happen to a citizen?” on the Chi Trib “Swamp” blog by its Wash. correspondents — “Beyond the headlines, beyond newsprint.” James wrote about how badly suspected terrorist Jose Padilla was treated, as reported in NY Times. But why should I help Chi Trib sell its web site when I can help sell my own, highly lucrative, site?

So here’s what I would have written, on this, my own, highly lucrative site:

Frank James’s grandson to Frank many years hence: “And what did you do in the War Against Islamo-Fascism, Grandpa?”

Frank: “I did what I could to turn the populace against the Bush admin’s efforts to subvert our constitution, which my colleagues and I all consider a suicide pact, Frank the Third.”

I write this though my heart goes out to James, who found the pictures of Padilla “deeply disturbing.” Indeed, James wrote,

On seeing these photos and reading the story, many Americans will likely ask, how can it be that an American citizen with due-process rights under our Constitution, a citizen who has not been found guilty of the allegations against him by a constitutionally sanctioned authority, was subjected to such treatment? What if he's innocent?

Yes. The beauty of blogging is its capacity to bring out deep feelings entertained by those we rely on to tell us what’s what in the world in fair and balanced fashion. Way to go, Frank! Up the blogosphere!


Ostensibly picking up on gospel notion of not being distracted by lesser concerns, preacher digs up tried and true chestnut, list of woes of rest of world compared to us, offering exercise in guilt-tripping for one of your most guilt-prone of audiences: sunday churchgoers, especially those eager beavers who show up at early mass.

It's like telling a dirty joke at Vegas, easy way to get a laugh; so here it's easy way to get attention. Cheaply. It's a double win for preacher, who fills his need (a) to get our attention and (b) to promulgate his sense of what's right and wrong with the world.

Meanwhile, as to being caught in a trap, which is the gospel message, one in which Christians are too often caught is that of self-flagellation. But the preacher prefers to see us in that trap and in fact facilitates it.


Reader D. adds:  You can't beat the Lutheran Hour (half-hour), Sundays, 6-6:30 a.m. on WGN [“began in 1930, is the world's longest-running, Christian outreach radio program”].  Often the topic is the Gospel of Sunday's Mass, plus a well-sung hymn by a decent choir and a Q & A.  I consider the Lutheran Hour high church -- then I go across the street to my low [RC] church, except of course, we have the Eucharist, which is sort of checkmate.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The New Avant-garde: Clean Comedy

I guess if you live long enough you pretty much see everything, but I never thought I’d see an article I read on the front page of Friday’s Weekend Journal. (I can’t link to it, because it requires a subscription--I get the dead tree version--but I can steal a few quotes.) The article’s title drew me in: “Comedy Comes Clean: In a backlash against racy and gross-out material, some comics are turning to still-biting but less salacious jokes.”

Who would have ever imagined that post-Lenny Bruce, the cutting edge of comedy would be comics who refuse to utter vulgarities or refer to bodily functions?

Since I’m not a connoisseur of comedy I had no idea such a thing even existed. Sure I’ve heard about a few comics who refuse to throw the F-bomb to get a laugh, but I would have thought they are few and far between. One of the reasons I think that I’m not a big fan of comedy is that vulgar amorality just doesn’t appeal to me. I would be the first to agree that a good curse word at the appropriate time is not a bad thing at all, but appropriate is the key. Seeing somebody stand on a stage and have vulgarity flow like a river out of his or her mouth isn’t my idea of a good time. Sounds like there is hope for folks like me.

Jeffrey Zaslow, the author states:

It’s no joke. Those in the funny business are saying that, despite all the explicit sitcoms and mean-spirited Internet humor, there’s a quite countermovement toward clean comedy. Some comedians are deciding they’re tired of using profanity as a crutch. Others find clean comedy can be more lucrative.

It’s a backlash, 40 years in the making, in which some comics say it’s time to redraw the line between edgy and unacceptable. “Blue comedy is so commonplace, it’s no longer counterculture.” Says Brian Regan . . . .As he sees it, today’s twenty somethings grew up clicking through cable and pay-TV channels, absorbing a steady diet of nonchalantly raunchy comics and sexually explicit sitcoms. To them, inoffensive humor can seem refreshing.

Zaslow quotes an amazing poll:
According to a [Zogby] poll released yesterday, just 6% of 9,065 respondents say they want edgier, more-sexual entertainment programming; 51% said they want more shows with positive messages, and even references to God and the Bible.

Well, maybe it’s not so amazing. Americans have been exposed to an ever-increasing amount of “edgier” content in every kind of entertainment medium. It makes sense that, in the inexorable laws of economics, that the supply of something determines its cost. The ubiquitous sex, vulgarity and just plain old tastelessness has cheapened the value of such stuff so much that most people over the age of 14 simply don’t find it all that valuable any more. This bodes well for the vast majority of Americans who simply want entertainment that actually entertains.