Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dear God in Heaven, Whatever You Do, Please Oh Please Don’t EVER Let Me Hear That Song Again…

I swear, all I wanted was to see a movie tonight.

So I went to the Arclight Cinemas, to see a low budget movie that’s all the rage, called “Once.” And believe me, that was plenty.

My first time at the Arclight—oops—the ArcLight, Hollywood’s upscale movie theater. The one that has a card you can read called “What’s Different about ArcLight.”

I love the upscale, so why not. Besides, it’s the only place to see “Once.” I enter the theater, ask for a ticket, and the salesperson, with the shoulder length dyed-black hair isn’t printing the ticket at all. He says, “Are you a member?”
I say, “A member? You mean of the movie theater?”
He says, “Yuh.”
I say “No.”

I’d love to know what the benefits of membership are or what it costs, but before I can ask, he’s saying, “Frmsnatkabsnk!”
I say, “What?”
He says, louder and faster, “FRMSNATKABSNK!”
I look around. I say, “Look, I’m sorry, I have no idea,”
He says, “Frontcenterorback?”
I say, “Center.”

He prints a ticket with a reserved seat row and number: L 23.

I’m early. I walk into the theater. There are no letters marked anywhere on the rows, or on the seats, except for a random distribution of A’s. L being the 12th letter in the alphabet, I count back 12 rows, and sit in the twelfth, or back row of the theater.

Later, more people come. Now there are ushers seating people. I’m just going to sit here and see what happens. Finally, another audience member sits up in my row. I ask him what row number he has. He says “Y.” He says only the ushers know which row is which. Ah. Excellent idea. Let’s not spoil the surprise by letting the person who bought the ticket find their own seat.

But I’m not moving. No worries: the theater was about a quarter full.

The previews come on. The sound is terrific, the picture quality excellent. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Unfortunately the feature begins. “Once” is promoted as a sweet and simple movie about a young man and woman who meet on the streets of Dublin, and write songs together. Somewhere toward the beginning of the film, we begin to hear a slow, goopy song called, “Falling Slowly.” I found out the song title later, online, because we hear a dozen songs during the film, all of which sound similarly goopy and slow.

Like having molasses that looked lovely in the jar being poured over your head endlessly. The songs themselves are very repetitive—this writer gets a hold of a three or four word run of notes or words and marries them forever and ever. They all sound like “feeling bad is such a bad feeling I don’t want your hurtness to resound.”

Aw, gee. I really wanted to like this movie. And I especially wanted to like the theater. ArcLight gets a second chance. But I’ll sit wherever I wanna. Because I’m trouble.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Brazen; Unconscionable

Brazen, adj. : bold; impudent; shameless.

Unconscionable, adj.: conscienceless: lacking a conscience; "a conscienceless villain"; "brash, unprincipled, and conscienceless"; "an unconscionable liar"


A lobbyist whose main job was to obstruct, delay, or circumvent the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Michael Baroody of the National Association of Manufacturers, has just been appointed by President Bush to run…anyone? … anyone? That’s right—the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, when he leaves the NAM, they’re going to give him a severance check, so he’ll make the same income this year:

A senior lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers nominated by President Bush to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission will receive a $150,000 departing payment from the association when he takes his new government job, which involves enforcing consumer laws against members of the association.

The lobbyist, Michael E. Baroody, wrote recently to the commission’s general counsel that the severance was an “extraordinary payment” under a federal ethics rule, requiring him to remove himself from agency matters involving the association for two years. Under the rule, a payment is “extraordinary” if an employer grants it after learning that the employee is being considered for a government position and it is not part of an established compensation or benefits program.

Mr. Baroody said in the letter that the payment would not prevent him from considering matters involving individual companies that are members of the manufacturers’ association, many of whom are defendants in agency proceedings over defective products or have other business before the commission. Nor would it preclude him from involvement with smaller trade groups like those representing makers of home appliances and children’s products that have alliances with the association.

As chairman of the commission, Mr. Baroody’s salary would be $154,600. With the severance payment and an additional lump sum of $44,571 for unused leave time, Mr. Baroody would receive $349,171 this year. That amount, which excludes Mr. Baroody’s pension and retirement payments, nearly matches the $344,607 salary that Mr. Baroody earned as the second-highest-paid executive at the association last year.

Read more about this latest Bush appointment

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

IMUS Sides 5:

"Let’s double-lock that barn door"

When I heard about the Imus remarks and the uproar, my first reaction was, “NOW you’re upset? NOW there’s going to be a public firing?”

To be more specific, Howard Stern plays gunshots on the air to commemorate the death of Selena, DJ Star (in New York) goes on the air with jokes about the plane crash death of Aaliyah, “Bob and Madison in the Morning” in North Carolina tell listeners to throw empty bottles at bicyclists, the “Hot 97” morning show does a comedy song about tsunami deaths, the “Greaseman” goes on the air in Washington, D.C. in ’85 and says, about Martin Luther King Day, “they should shoot four more of them and give us a whole week off,” and years later comes out of a Lauryn Hill recording saying, "and they wonder why we drag them behind trucks," and NOW you’re upset?

Gwen Stefani, role model for girls everywhere, who puts out her own line of dolls, records a song calling herself a “stupid ho”, and singing, “it’s my s**t, it’s my s**t, it’s my s**t…,” movie ads on television, morning noon and night, advertise the best way to torture people—usually women, and, never mind Janet Jackson’s nipple, how about her song on over a thousand pop radio stations, with her expressing her need to “ride that package tonight” Destiny’s Child saying “you gotta be gansta if you’re looking for me” and now, NOW you find we’ve crossed the line?

This is like a Minnesotan cowboy in Tierra del Fuego complaining that they’ve crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

I believe that, no matter how inventive we are with technologies, no matter how innovative we are with our ideas, we always have the opportunity to create a country, and a world, where we meet with respect for each other. We just have to want it enough to insist on it.
But, if Imus is the straw that broke the camel’s back, that’s one strong camel. Because there was a ton of straw already in place.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Imus Sides 4:

“It wasn’t funny”

Of all the opinions I’ve read and heard about the Imus incident, this one, which I’ve encountered all over the place, has to be the oddest.

Funny is subjective. If we’re gonna castigate people and fire them, let’s pick a more objective standard. If everyone gets fired for "not funny," well, for starters, it'll be a much shorter broadcast day. It's the content, not whether anyone laughs. Though, being tasteless AND unfunny is rotten, I'll grant you that.

Consider: Years ago, working as a comedian in New York and New England, there was one comedy bit I’d hear time and time again from successful comics: the one about drunk driving. “Be sure to quiver when they take your license picture, so the cop who stops you will think he’s drunk too.” “Thank God the new Hondas have the beer holders where you can reach them.” And various jokes about walking straight lines, drive through windows to get loaded, and so on.

All of these jokes absolutely killed in every club I heard them. Uproarious laughter. Comedians had to stop to wait for the laughs to finish, before adding the next drunk driving joke.

These weren’t prison audiences. These were ordinary folks, coming in for a laugh at the end of a tough workday. Ask any one of them, this stuff was wonderful. Meanwhile, at that very moment some drunk driver is plowing into someone out there.

In the workplace of years ago, racial and ethnic putdowns were often part of the daily conversation—excused because the jokers and the listeners thought the stuff was killer material. The same for the crude jokes about women.

Perhaps in some other world, “The Philadelphia Story” “Punk’d” Sara Silverman, Chris Rock, Dom Irrerra, Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, Peter Schickele, Wanda Sikes, David Letterman, “Borat” and “I Love Lucy” are of equal value. They all belong to the category funny. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks they all are.

What Imus said wasn’t funny to me. But you can bet it was funny to someone. The good news is, that way of thinking doesn’t rule our time.

IMUS Sides 3:

"Welcome to the Edge"

In the showbiz world, over the past 10 years or so, you’ve heard one word, or a variation on it, oh-so many times: “edge.” (see also: “edgy”)

As in, “she’s a soccer mom, but with an edge,” or “he’s an edgy Jimmy Stewart”.

Edgy—a little dangerous, certainly not sentimental. Busy pushing toward goals, not worrying about how everyone feels about it. So there.

That gradually became,” “the bleeding edge.” Clearly, more dangerous than just the edge, because the cutting edge can just sit there and be edgy, but now we’re talking about blood, so dangerous bordering on creepy.

Even if folks were talking about toilet tissue (which is notoriously soothing) or theme music for a talk show (rarely involved in direct combat), we’d talk about getting on that edge and staying there.

How’d the culture get to the edge?

Maybe it was the half-century of “biggest nights in television history,” “number ONE car dealers,” “happiest places” in our hyperbolic ads. Or maybe it was the treacle of easy resolution to problems on our tv shows.

A new generation of media savvy kids were burned out on happy by age 7. They needed new stimulation. So, the edginess. Or maybe they were edgy already from all that sugar. No matter. Here we are at the edge.

The formula for edge goes something like this: take your content—screenplay, song, tv spot, what have you—and remove the compassion, ratchet up the selfishness, and if you can manage it, threaten your audience.

If you can actually injure others, that’d be sweet, too, but most importantly—be indifferent to the pain of others. There! Now you’re in the zone!

Which is where Mr. Imus was, or believed he was, making his living. On the edge. Quite an achievement for a guy from the Moxie generation.

For Imus, the edge came from several sources—his generations-younger alpha male staff, (including show producer Bernard McGuirk, who brought up the word “ho” in the first place,) from Imus’s own cranky (as in “why the hell did you kids wake me up for this”) demeanor, but most valuably, from Imus’s deep well of skepticism about the powerful.

Imus’s regular audience loved his raucousness, but they also loved his conversations with politicians, journalists, and other opinionators, because he had zero tolerance for windbags. The famous and powerful, accustomed to having their behinds smooched, understood that in this one interview, there’d be someone slicing through their boiler plate baloney. And for a few minutes, they’d have to account for themselves in public.

Which we vitally need in an age of “mistakes were made” “we’re making real progress” and “you’re doin’ a great job, Brownie.” That part of the cynicism—the impatience with bloviators, that’s the part of the show that has real nutritional value. The rest is just

Maybe, on Implosion Day, April 4, 2007, Imus, edgy cantankerous Imus, heard the word “ho”, and responded with the meanest crankiest thing he could think of.

Because it’s 2007. He’s getting older every day. And he can’t afford to lose his edge.

IMUS Sides 2:

"I think I get it, but how can I?"

You are a compassionate person. You believe that the injustices of racism continue to this day. Where there is a call to action, you give money; you march.

You understand that, for many people of color, as in any gymnastics or skating events, many achievements merit an even higher total score, because of the degree of difficulty created by our society. It’s not just how much you achieve—it’s what you had to go through to achieve it.

So, when Don Imus says those three words, being a person of compassion, you feel qualified to gauge their impact, to think of what a measured and proportional response to those words might be.

But, like me, you are wrong. “Nappy-headed” is a loaded term, a term that reaches back before rap, before “gangsta,” to the days of humans owning other humans, and appraising their value on the auction block, the way you’d judge livestock.

So, in trying to understand, there’s always this cultural/historical chasm that’s impossible to traverse.

It’s amazing that, with such an economy of words, Imus has put so many of us in a position where we feel unqualified to grasp or measure the impact on our brothers and sisters of color.

IMUS Sides 1:

"There-- Problem Solved"

A Brief History:

In 1640, in Bournemouth England, the Most Reverend Archibald Imus approached the Queen Mary Virginia Trading Company, Ltd, with an intriguing proposal—that the “vessels currently transporting rum to our shoures (sic) might be used to transport African slave labour to the new world.” -- Historical Archives

Over a century later, "...the framers of the Constitution were, as a group, fed up. For months now, through bitter cold, and now, worse, sweltering malarial humidity of a Philadelphia summer, they had wrangled over this document, which settled most controversies by refusing to address them. Now, a town crier from Tennessee, Dennis Imus, was proposing that slaves be included in the constitution as property.”

Less than forty years after the Constitution became law, the Missouri Compromise Bill, which insulted all parties on the issue of slavery while resolving nothing, seemed doomed from the outset. The call for the admission of both free states and slave states wouldn’t change the long-running battle over abolition; it would just make both sides louder. The coalition for passage was a fragile one; Northern and Southern leaders recognized it as a feeble measure—an all but certain precursor to war. Allegiances proved fickle; senators went to bed advocating one side, and woke up the next morning on the other.

Just then, a pamphlet circulated, entitled “Sanity,” urging passage “to display our willingness to unify despite our differences.” That message carried the day. The bill was passed. The author of this notorious argument wisely chose anonymity, signing his work with in Latin, “Donaldimus.”

Now, after nearly 400 years of oppression, America has exiled broadcaster Don Imus, who, in this past century, segregated our schools, buses, restrooms and lunch counters, and launched the meteorological forces that resulted in hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Huzzah, America! We are healed at last.

I come from radio. Since the day Imus imploded, different ideas have been arguing inside my head. I started jotting notes.

So I'm just going to put it all down in ones and zeroes, and see if any of this adds up for anyone else.

Welcome to "Imus Sides."

Enjoy. Or print one up and read it when you can't sleep.

Either way, enough with the yelling in my head.