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.

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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.

DONALD WRITES SPEECH TO CONGRESS (FIRST DRAFT)

congress

Powerful opening: Greetings Congress—and Pocahontas—so overrated—and Schumer—terrible, terrible person. But I don’t hold grudges though I never forget. And greetings fellow legal citizens because if you’re illegal you’re so outa here—it’s happening right now—bad dudes gone—except Democrats, they’re still here but like Arnold’s ratings—way down. So sad. Think NBC misses Trump or what? Sad so very sad.

Build on powerful opening: I’m a very smart person—you know that—maybe the smartest ever (repeat elsewhere in speech for emphasis). And I have the biggest (apply to brain, heart, hands, crowds). Look at this crowd—I hope the cameras show it, maybe not—they don’t want Trump to look good—stretching  all the way—room is packed and people lined outside up in the… pick one later: (1) rain (2) snow (3) sleet (4) typhoon—can’t even get in. The Electoral College was, right, huh? Huge victory—just overwhelming.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Enforcement of emigration laws. So beautiful what’s happening. Just beautiful. Rounding them up in a very nice, very humane way (Sessions/Kelly fill in details). We’re showing Sweden how to do it. Sweden—so overrated. And the wall—getting it built. (smile—give thumbs up). So beautiful (send to McConnell/Ryan for fill on wall financing).

Topic: Leaks. The leaks—fake news from the… pick one later: (1) dishonest press (2) very dishonest press (3) very dishonest and ridiculous press (4) devil press. Leaks about Gen. Flynn—great patriot, folks—great, great patriot. And they’re all lies.—fake news. The failing New York Times-CNN-terrible people—enemies of America. We’ll round them up in a very nice, very humane way. And sources—they have no sources—made up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources. Am I right? Am I right? Sources are outa here. Gonna round up sources—send ‘em back to Mexico. And they’ll take ‘em. They’ll take ‘em.

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Insert hilarious joke: Maybe we should grab the media by the…pick one later (1) pussy (2) balls (3) pussy and balls. (read attitude of crowd before delivering).

Alternative hilarious joke: Shall we take a leak on the leakers? (join Congress in chant: Take a leak! Take a leak!).

Topic: Affordable Care Act. A disaster. Just a disaster. We’re repealing it and replacing it with something much, much better. Really beautiful. You’ll love it. Doing it…pick one later: (1) next year (2) next month (3) soon (4) tomorrow. (5) Already done. (have McConnell/Ryan fill in how this is doable).

(Reminder to self: If bored while speaking, disguise yawn, don’t fidget).

Topic: National Security. We’ll be so safe. We deserve it, huh? Don’t we deserve it? Trump will make you so safe. (Bannon fills in why we’ll be safe).

Topic: The economy. Jobs (repeat ten times). And Gross National Product.  Why do people—and it’s just people who don’t like Trump—don’t want America to win—why do they say our national product is gross? Give me a break—give me a break, huh? If it’s gross, that could hurt our balance of trade situation. Sweden would love that. Unfair, so unfair (Google to see if I’m right on this).

Topic: My secret plan to defeat Isis. We’re starting that tomorrow. So beautiful. Isis is history (ask Mattis/Bannon to come up with something).

(Pause for Pence standing Bravo!)

Topic: Peace in the Middle East (Jared fills in).

Topic: Transgenders and bathrooms. I love transgenders. Gotta be nice to our transgenders—but not the ones here illegally. Pouring over the border. Get ICE going on this, huh? No illegal transgenders, right? Get ‘em out. (join in chant: Get ‘em out! Get ‘em out!)  And Jewish transgenders—I love Jewish transgenders (acknowledge Jared and Ivanka giving thumbs up). Caddie transgenders, too. At Mar-a Lago, they’ll tell you we get along. Trump gets along with everybody—I’m really a likable guy. And the bathroom thing—an easy fix. I’m very good at fixing things—maybe the best ever. And the Electoral College agrees, right? Huh, right? (pause for standing ovation/check to see if Melania is awake).  So here’s what we do—give transgenders their own bathrooms. But make ‘em pay for ‘em, huh? Gotta pay, and they will. Believe me, they’ll pay. (join in chant: Make ‘em pay! Make ‘em pay!).

Topic: Spending on infrastructure (Miller/Bannon will do this and rest of speech—so boring).

Reminder to self: After speech, tweet Vlad for response.