WHEN A WORD WALKS OUT

Just killed a word.

Put a gun against its head,

Pulled my trigger, now it’s dead.

Apologies for messing with Freddie Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and anyway, that’s not what happened.  The break-up came without my knowledge or approval. I killed nothing.

The truth: I lost a word today; don’t know how or why, or if this separation is final. I was taken aback; no foreshadowing. To borrow a line from the Dick Tracy comics I read as a boy: What the—?

If you saw my missing word, you’d think, What’s the big deal? But it means a lot to me, and I like having it around. I’d hoped to plant it—right about here—to give my writing some class. So already, I’m smarting from the loss, hoping I can locate it after a few more paragraphs or at least before I finish.

It’s my favorite word, you see, one I fling at my students to remind them they’re in college. It’s multisyllabic, I recall, and somewhat swanky, yet not pretentious or a gaudy word that would make you think I’m showing off. But using it makes me feel smart—and think that I sound smart.

I’m suffering now that my favorite word has fled like a lover tiptoeing out in the night, leaving no note, just a void and an impression in the pillow.

Oh, my favorite word, where have you gone?

Jewish Guilt rides me relentlessly over this, warning that if I don’t change my ways additional valued words will haul ass and walk out.

It’s your fault. A word doesn’t just vanish without a…well…a word. There has to be a reason. You must have done something to piss it off. You bozo, you must have misspelled it or used it in an ungrammatical sentence or as a verb when… quite clearly it’s a noun!

Aha, a clue. I now recall my missing word is a noun. Now we’re getting somewhere. And I do remember the word is about coming together, a union of some kind. Also, there’s a suffix, an osis. Psychosis? Fibrosis? Now I’m really lost.

And another thing...

That nag Jewish Guilt again.

What are you doing announcing this word is your favorite in the first place?  What if your other words get wind? Egos bruise easily. There could be a mass exodus.

Right. I do have other favored words. What if they, too, vanish? Yikes! is one I use often.

Some would say too often.

Yes, all right, but I can’t resist. I’d be severely constrained without Yikes! An exclamation point but no word?

And talk about overkill, there’s your repeated reliance on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as a metaphor. My God, man, throw in another play once in a while, if only to show you’re not totally illiterate.

So here I am, already well past the midpoint of this blog, and still no missing word, though I’ve showed I still care, allotting it this space          just in case it shows up.

This is so frustrating. It’s one thing to lose a word the way we forget names. My recurring fear is going blank on names I should remember at some soiree and trying to finesse it (well, my friend, long time no see) while knowing they know I have no clue. I’ve been losing names for decades, however, so no big deal.

But losing a word is scarier with geezerhood galloping toward you like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Losing a word could be the first step; you know what I’m saying? Jewish Guilt may be on to something. Will other words soon abandon me like rats on a sinking ship. Will I soon be reduced to communicating like a broken-nosed gorilla in a gangster movie? Or as tersely as one of the cemetery dead in Our Town?

A friend assured me that losing a word is not necessarily calamitous. Gone for a day or two, even a week, not to worry, he said, “as long as you ultimately remember it.”

Yes, that’s the ticket. So I’ve been laser-focusing on ultimate recovery, trying out numerous word fusions and coming-together phrases to jumpstart my memory, poring over synonyms and this and that osis as fast as my fingers can Google, while also hitting Webster’s and my thesaurus.

And yes, it’s coming…it’s coming…the veil lifting. At last I have it. The elusive word is back—to   stay, I hope. And just in time to crash my last sentence.

Yikes! Close call.

Jewish Guilt take a bow. Stormy, bickering adversaries in every way, we set aside our differences and collaborate when mutually beneficial. You might say, together we form a perfect symbiosis.

 

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BLOOD, SWEAT AND FIBS

I’m no big fan of Academy Awards telecasts (or any awards shows, for that matter). And when I see the Red Carpet—arrrgh—I fantasize vacuuming up these fawning media greeters as they pitch empty gab and flattery to preening celebrities rolling in like bottles on an assembly line.

I generally pop in and out, paying close attention to the telecast only if I’ve seen most of the nominated films, as I have this year. The best of the mostly-elite crowd is the mysterious and intriguing “Phantom Thread” with remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis. Don’t argue, my decision stands.

The worst—a minority view—is “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” despite Oscar-nominated Frances McDormand’s transcendence as the ferociously grieving mother of a teenage girl whose unsolved murder is a festering open sore. Her protests scream out from the billboards.

Hear, hear if McDormand wins. But how did director/writer Martin McDonagh merit an Oscar nod for a script that buckles under the tonnage of its numerous improbabilities and faulty logic?

On the positive side, “Lady Bird” is very nice; some others, too. And despite its gratuitously violent ending, “The Shape of Water” with memorable Sally Hawkins is another of my favorites, along with the tenderly romantic “Call Me by Your Name.”  In fact the latter’s Timothe’e Chalamet joins Day-Lewis on my lead actor pedestal.

The buzz meter, though, is tilting toward Gary Goldman in “Darkest Hour.” Now look, Oldman is a fine actor, and I wouldn’t fret terribly if he’s rewarded for screendom’s umpteenth take on Winston Churchill’s World War II years. He’s very good.

The bummer is screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s intermittent fantasizing.  it’s a real hoot, for example, seeing Churchill disappear from 10 Downing Street on a whim and fast-waddle to the London underground to query train-riding commoners about war strategy. Oh, those unbowed gritty Brits. Their defiant counsel: buck up.

The problem: this lengthy sequence is fiction. An accomplished historian, Churchill himself would have found it preposterous.

Nor does the guy who wrote it claim it’s true. “It probably did not happen,” McCarten acknowledged to The Wrap. “But something like it might well have.”

Hey, close enough, so put it in.

If this underground town hall had existed, moreover, Churchill might well have quoted these commoners in a speech to his entire Cabinet. But he didn’t, because they didn’t exist. Yet the non-existent speech, with its non-existent quotes, are in the movie, too, along with other fictions that stray well beyond acceptable dramatic license.

Look around. What we need least these days, in movies or TV or elsewhere, is misinformation. We get an abundance of fakery from the Internet and the Tweeting Twit in the Oval Office, to say nothing of his echo-chambering acolytes who will do anything to please him. More than ever, this is no time for filmmakers to twist the history they portray. Do we have to paint it on a billboard?

Time to buck up.

A GROUP BEFORE ITS TIME

“This is not the time to jump to some conclusion”—Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, responding to calls for stricter gun laws after 17 people were murdered at a South Florida high school.

Though essential to protecting our democracy, activism is time consuming.

I’ve told you about my affiliation with Making Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) and its decision that TWIT most suited Donald Trump. Now comes this.

As Delayer in Chief (DIC), it was my duty recently to chair the bi-annual meeting of the influential special interest group This Is Not the Time (TINT).

The meeting had been put off again and again, hard core members refusing to attend in the belief that to meet was premature. As one of them insisted, “This is never the time.”

TINT’s moderate wing argued that this strict interpretation of our mandate was carrying things too far, and I agreed. “Now look,” I said in a text defining the conundrum before us, “as your DIC, I appreciate that having a meeting exposes TINT to the risk of achieving something, but never meeting exposes us to the danger of irrelevance.

Following a rigorous back and forth, the other side was won over, agreeing to participate in a meeting when I arranged a compromise, promising that items of substance would be deferred and forgotten.

The meeting turned out to be pivotal.

Adhering to principle, the first item on the agenda was shelved by acclamation. The next item of business could not be addressed because it was unidentified. The agenda committee felt assigning it a name or category would serve no purpose because it never would be taken up.

Next came a discussion of our closely watched Person of the Year award, with the name of the winner to be inscribed on a trophy. “DIC’s prerogative,” I said, “my choice is Paul Ryan for advocating creative solutions to gun violence in schools, starting with arming teachers and having them wear bandoliers of ammunition.”

The applause was thundering.

“Objection, objection!” someone shouted when it died down. “We all agree this is an honor the speaker deserves. But the bigger honor—celebrating his zealous devotion to postponement even more acutely—would be to not honor him.”

“Exactly,” someone added. “Because this is not the time to honor him.”

“Hear, hear,” a chorus shouted in unison.

I added my endorsement. “And actually, there is no trophy because I felt there would be time to pick up one at a later date.”

Noting that we’d attained our goal of pointlessness, I was about to gavel the proceeding to a close when someone stood and shouted, “Item from the floor, item from the floor.”

This was highly unusual, and fraught with peril.  The longer we remained in session, the greater the risk of inadvertently doing something worthwhile. But in the spirit of democracy, I decided to allow it.

“All right, go on.”

“I challenge our existence.”

“On what basis?”

“On the basis that in meeting to form TINT—by that very act—the founders violated their underlying premise, in effect annulling what they were founding.  In other words, this was not the time to form a group whose predicate for existence was ‘this is not the time.’ Hence, there is no TINT.”

I objected. “I take your point, but as DIC I refuse to preside over the dissolution of this group.”

“There’s nothing to dissolve,” someone interjected, “if we don’t exist.”

He had me there. “I guess there’s nothing left for us to do but go home,” I said sadly. “But I implore you to keep faith and not waver from our credo even as Americans are gunned down in schools and elsewhere:

Timeliness is no virtue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FAKE NEWS OF THE YEAR

Time magazine has announced its 2017 “Person of the Year,” which qualifies as news only if you define news as anything that happens, like paint peeling, skin wrinkling and the sun rising and setting.

But tell that to the media minions who giddily treat this announcement, this annual microscopic speck of  history as cosmic—like a papal succession with throngs gathering outside Time’s New York headquarters to await smoke from the chimney.

Granting it this much weight and attention is “way out of whack” with the magazine’s atrophied clout, noted Brian Williams on MSNBC’s “11th Hour”—his own announcement adding to the fattened coverage. Not that a knot of chin-stroking Time editors proclaiming who “has done the most to influence the events of the year” should ever have earned a headline, even back in the day when Time was a major media player and not the footnote it is today.

Never underestimate media capacity for hyperbole, though. We are champs at sweeping generalizations; overstatement is in our DNA.

With the 24-hour news cycle shrunk to 24 seconds by the Internet, much of journalism is increasingly of the moment, failing to acknowledge the past and anticipate the future. For too many journalists, reality is only what’s in front of their noses.

Throughout the 20th century, for example, news entities oversold at least half a dozen courtroom proceedings as “the trial of the century.” The key words here—of the—are versatile enough to fit nearly every news scenario. Take entertainment reviews: how many times do kneejerk critics prematurely write “movie of the year” or “performance of the year” without knowing what awaits the rest of the year? These attention-seeking hacks do it because “of the year” tags, with their names attached, are catchy candidates for blurbs in movie and TV ads, generating fame for the critic.

We live in an epoch of gratuitous awards. More than a mere designation, of the is often attached to a tangible award the likes of  A & E’s “Biography of the Year,” Game Magazine’s “Game of the Year,” Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” Fire Chief Magazine’s “Chief of the Year” or the Canmaker Magazine –yes, it does exist—“Can of the Year.” If you’re interested, in 2017 that prestigious honor went to the Czech creator of Dove antiperspirant cans, which also earned “Gold” in the aerosol category.

But you’re not interested. Which is why “Can of the Year” earns zilch coverage, in contrast, year after year after year after year, with the equally faux news of Time’s “Person of the Year.”

Originally titled “Man of the Year,” it’s the 90-year-old granddaddy of this group and nothing more than a shrewd marketing strategy to sell Time and its advertising space. Enabled by fellow media, the strategy has worked, making the annual award an institution. Some years ago, CNN even created a behind-the-scenes “special report” on the Time editors’ deliberations, replete with man-on-the-street interviews responding to their choice.

The 2017 “Person of the Year,” by the way, is not one person but many—“The Silence Breakers” of the ever-widening #MeToo movement now exposing a decades-old culture of male-dominated sexual harassment.

And look, all glory to these (mostly) women (some of whom are on the current Time cover) for bringing to light antics ranging from serial butt pinching to sexual assault.

But the award description includes “…for better or for worse,” meaning it’s intended not only for heroes; Hitler earned it in 1938, Stalin twice. So get serious, sentiment aside, the prime shaper of news in 2017 has not been the “Silence Breakers,” however profound their influence and noble their cause. Hands down, that title goes to Time’s 2016 “Person of the Year.” Known also as the Doofus of the Year…

The Big Twit himself.

AMERICA’S TWIT

I just returned from an emergency meeting of Make Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) in Los Angeles (LA).

As chairman of MAGA’s Crisis Committee (CC), I called the meeting in response to a recent survey showing that most Americans believe Son of a Bitch (SOB) does not adequately define President Donald Trump. The debate was spirited—acronymists are famously passionate—and many members spoke their minds.

“SOB is much too narrow,” said a prominent linguist who’d flown in from D.C. “It addresses bad character but fails to take into account the buffoon’s low Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.).”

“Make it Stupid Son of a Bitch (SSOB),” someone cried out from the bar.

“Hear, hear,” echoed several others.

I banged my gavel with authority, quieting the buzz. “While we can all agree that Trump is a stupid SOB, let me suggest that keeping SOB within the new acronym will tend to confuse the public. To succeed, an acronym must deliver an instantly recognizable message that evokes a visceral response.”

I had everyone’s attention; all eyes were upon me. “As an alternative, may I suggest TWIT.”

There was a pause—as everyone took the full measure and absorbed the impact of TWIT—then thunderous applause and a celebratory clinking of glasses.

But I knew that wasn’t the end of it; not everyone was satisfied. “Let’s make it TWAT,” someone said, raising his beer mug.

I knocked that down. “TWAT takes us in another direction. TWIT is what we’re after.”

“No half measures,” an iconoclast argued. “Let’s make it evil twit. In other words, ETWIT.”

“I like amoral twit—ATWIT,” said his wife, who had spent the weekend leading a march in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “Let’s vote now.”

“Hold on there,” said a thoughtful pipe smoker wearing a tweed sports coat with elbow patches. “A vote would be meaningless without first defining TWIT. When an acronym is created before its definition, it’s a backronym, which violates our bylaws.”

He was right, we had to construct a new acronym and assign it meaning letter by letter. “Try this,” I began. “T is for terrible.” That earned a murmur of approval. “W stands for wicked, which resolves the ‘evil’ issue. I stands for idiot, which takes care of ‘stupid.’  And for the second T—“

“Twisted—make it twisted,” shouted a noted psychiatrist. A half dozen others in his mental health delegation took up the cry, and soon it grew to a chorus.

“TWISTED! TWISTED! TWISTED!”

I’d have settled for two-faced, but had to admit twisted was ideal, a perfect fit, and everyone seemed satisfied.

“One problem,” said a curmudgeonly grandmother known for her crispness of logic. “We’ve left out insane. You know deranged, demented, bonkers, sheer lunacy. Forget half a deck; this creep’s playing with no deck.”

Groans filled the room in recognition of this critical oversight. How had we overlooked this central component of the Trump psyche?  “Insane is in, idiot is out,” I said.

“You can’t do that,” someone protested. “Above all, the guy is a blithering idiot.”

“Ah, yes,” I responded. “But the entire acronym itself delivers that message, for what is a twit if not an idiot, blithering or otherwise.”

When I asked for a show of hands on upgrading SOB to TWIT, the vote was unanimous except for a man who advocated bumping insane for inferior, infantile or insidious. “These are worthy,” I said. “We’ll keep them in reserve.”

NOT READY FOR HER CLOSE-UP?

Shane, come back! Come back! Shane!

–Brandon de Wilde calling to heroic Alan Ladd in “Shane”

 

Can it, already. I’m back.

And plenty steamed. Give me a break here. I’m away only a few measly weeks with blogger’s block, and everything falls apart.

Where to begin…

How about here? Oh, please!

That’s my response to Megyn Kelly’s defense of her scheduled NBC sit-down with that creep Alex Jones, a raging, fringe-right conspiracy theorist who famously has questioned whether the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre actually happened.  No wonder Sandy Hook families and others are outraged, even threatening to sue NBC should the interview run.

This is Kelly’s second go in her new prime time series opposite “60 Minutes” on CBS. Not quite ready for her close-up, her recent marquee debut with Vladimir Putin didn’t even register on the Richter Scale.  Kelly now gets Jones, who is the worst kind of raging provocateur:  one with a radio show (on which, by the way, our yutz in the Oval Office was a guest in 2015).

Her goal with Jones, Kelly insists, is to “shine a light—as journalists are supposed to do—on this influential figure, and yes—discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity.”

My goal is to shine a light on her BS.

Her true agenda is a bit less lofty than advertised. It’s to dangle Jones’ notoriety as a bright shiny object to lure viewers and demonstrate she is a doyenne of daring who can kick ass. Never mind that in the process she will grant Jones his widest platform yet, without legitimate justification.  There is a cynical financial hook—ratings—but no news hook.

What, she’s going to expose him as a dangerous crackpot? The thinking world already knows.

This has familiar resonance. There was a time when Los Angeles newscasters and some national programs regularly granted Charles Manson camera access from prison during ratings sweeps periods, and then promoted his inevitable rantings to inflate their ratings. Stations would send a news anchor north for a tough-guy image reboot, and the camera-loving Manson, knowing his lines, was pleased to star in the role of murderous lunatic. In those days, you made your bones in local news by “boldly going one on one with Charlie.”

Inmates are now off limits to media in California, but the imagery endures, and Kelly hopes to make her bones going one on one in the same tradition.

Putin was Kelly’s bright shiny object in her opening show, and NBC’s promotion of it was thunderous, as if she would bring this shrewd guy to his knees. Oh, sure.  Instead, she asked, he answered, sort of like this:

–Do you? Nyet.

–Have you? Nyet.

–Will you? Nyet.

— Would you ever, ever? Nyet.

What, you really thought Putin would turn patsy and confess because his interrogator was Megan Bombshell? Yes, I screwed up your presidential election. Yes, all of Trumpdom is palsy walsy with me.   

The interview produced blotto, no news other than the news that Putin agreed to do it, a heavily hyped celebration of process over content, a growing media strategy of recent decades.  He said nothing, but what counts, it was to our very own Megyn Kelly he said nothing.

And why did Putin agree to this, as he did to filmmaker Oliver Stone’s strangely chatty and unthreatening multi-part interview now creeping along on Showtime? Because he wants to present soften U.S. public opinion toward him and present himself as good old accessible Vlad.  Will questioners like Kelly shake that image?

     Nyet.

I JUST READ A GREAT BOOK – MINE

Chris Hayes is one of the brightest, most informed, perceptive and incisive figures in news media. Hayes works for MSNBC, the largely Trump-trashing and least-watched—but arguably smartest —of the three major cable news channels. His early evening hour of interviews and commentary is “All in with Chris Hayes.”

Hayes, still shy of 40, has the gift of clarity, the rare ability to size up, deconstruct, strip to the bone, articulate and decode complex political issues so even I understand them.

As a bonus, he’s a kick-ass interviewer, a needle in the eye of anyone who ignores, evades or finesses one of his pointed questions.  Most TV interviewers are bricks; getting it right—especially live, without benefit of editing to make the questioner look good—is high art. With Hayes you don’t escape by pirouetting into a fog of obfuscation; he can be tenacious, no prisoners taken—overbearing at times, but mostly very effective.

When MSNBC splits the screen for his interviews, I’d swear his eyes are crosshairs as he revs up to reframe and rebut if he thinks the answer is crap or merely illogical. The expression on his face: Are you kidding me?

Time after time he asks follow-ups most TV interviewers wouldn’t touch: either they recognize and process bullshit too slowly or lack the courage to risk alienating a guest they may want to return.

As you can see, I like Chris Hayes a lot and wish there were more like him.

What I don’t like is self-promotion under the aegis of news. In other words—you should pardon the expression—fake news.

“Meet Chris Hayes,” headlined the Barnes & Noble ad in the Los Angeles Times last week. It was a signing, the New York-based Hayes in town promoting his freshly published non-fiction book, “A Colony in a Nation.”

I didn’t have to meet Hayes. I watch him almost nightly.

Nor did I have to meet his book. I’d been watching it almost nightly, too. Sort of, that is, if you count Hayes relentlessly plugging it on his news program various ways, at least once somehow sliding right it into a story he was reporting.

Book signings are one thing. They go with publishing and deliver exposure and potential royalties to authors, and bless em’ for it.

But presenting self-promotion under the broad umbrella of news, as Hayes has on his show, and with MSNBC’s blessing, is dishonest and indefensible. And oh, yes, sleazy.

As a Hayes admirer, I was stunned by this from someone too smart and insightful not to know he’d been crossing a line when plugging his book in news venues as if schmoozing with Jimmy Fallon. To say nothing of some of his fellow MSNBC hosts (Rachel Maddow, for one) joining in by setting aside small segments of their programs to blow him and the book kisses.

Hayes is no Chris-come-lately. For decades, SELF has been as much the soul of TV’s news culture as hair spray and richly paid outside consultants designing ratings strategies to promote messenger over message. And by far the most news anchor-centric venue on the planet is not MSNBC but CNN where Anderson Cooper is glammed and fussed over as if his image were carved into Mt. Rushmore. Plus locally, personality worship continues without constraint, as in Los Angeles where KCAL-TV’s consultant-driven anchors end evening newscasts by announcing: Here is my favorite story…

As we await, breathlessly.

MSNBC’s Hayes book hype fits this environment, with self-promotion—which many media rightfully find so disgusting about Donald Trump—now so ubiquitous in newscasting it’s become routine, likely desensitizing viewers to its ugly implications. “I just began the second week of my book tour,” he capped off his Monday program from Los Angeles before listing where he’d be signing books.

In the movie “Broadcast News,” fed-up TV reporter Aaron Altman aims sharp sarcasm at his own medium’s narcissism: Yeah, let’s never forget, we’re the real story, not them.