Thursday, January 26, 2006

Spreading Democracy

President Bush's main foreign policy goal has not been the defeat of Iraq or the capture of Osama bin Laden. It has been the spreading of democracy. So recent elections are something of a watershed moment for Mr. Bush. The continued support of of the people of Venezuela for President Hugo Chavez and the inauguration today of the indigenous Bolivian Evo Morales, a cocoa grower who ran on a post-colonialist, anti-American platform, as the president of Bolivia--both staunchly anti-Washington and pro-Castro--show that in parts of the third world Mr. Bush's foreign policies have made America so hated that being seen as standing up to America is a formula for electoral success. The implication of Mr. Bush's position is, of course, that the only legitimate government is one that has been democratically ellected. But how then to deal with democratically elected governments that are stridently anti-American. Obviously, we have to recognize them as legitimate governments. Iran can be dismissed because restrictions on liberal candidates by the religious council that runs Iran made that election non-democratic. But not Boliva and not Venzuela.

Which leads me to Palestine. Mr. Bush ahs insisted all along that his policy in the Middle East, particularly the invasion of Iraq, will boost the Mid-East peace process. He has gone so far as to suggest that, abesent the weapons of mass destruction that were the original justification for the war, that removing sadam to further the peace process was justification enough. Never mind that the new democratically elected government of Iraq is skewing Anti-America.

But in Palestine.

The landslide election of Hammas, a group labled by Washington, by the EU and by Isreal as a terrorist organization, a group whose governing principal is the destruction of Isreal, a group which has been responsible for hundreds of suicide bombings, to the control of the Pallestinian Authority, the defacto government of the palestinian people, is the biggest revelation yet about hte problems of Mr. Bush's agenda of nation building. Of course, this election had much more to do with Isreal then it did with the U.S., but to think that American support of Isreal and the American invasion of Iraq, one of Hammas' staunchest allies, had nothing to do with it would be naive. "Death to America" is shouted as loudly as "Death to Isreal" among Hamas' supporters--which now clearly includes large majority of Pallestinians.

So, to recap, a fundamentalist, violent, terrorist organization has overwhelmingly been democratically elected to govern Pallestine. The question I want asked, and which I have seen no news organization ask so far, is this:

How will the democratically elected fandamentalist Christian administration of G.W. Bush deal with the democratically elected fundamnetalist Islamist administration of Hammas?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

So Long, C.J.

The other night I was watching a re-run of the Golden Globe ceremony. I wanted to catch Hugh Laurie’s speech. It was great. I also caught Gina Davis’ speech. It was nearly as good. I sat there watching her—she’s always been easy to watch—and I thought about what Shan used to say “It’s Gina’s world: we all live in her shadow.” Shan was right. I mean, look at the woman. What is she: eight feet tall? But as I watched her and remembered how sexy she was in Earth Girls Are Easy I said out loud to Hanna, “You know, I love Gina Davis but I’ve never watched her show.” … “Why,” Hanna asked. … “Because I’ve only got room for one president in my life, and my president is Josiah Bartlett.”

And the next day West Wing was cancelled.

It’s always sad when your favorite show gets cancelled. We all saw it coming, of course. The end of this season, when Bartlett leaves office, is the appropriate time to end the series. Few American TV shows have had such a clearly laid out time table and story arc as one about a sitting president. Term Limits will do him in the same way they got Regan and Clinton. The only way the show could have kept going was if Alan Alda’s character, Senator Vinick, won the election and they could show a Republican administration for awhile. But that was not on the agenda of the show’s creators and besides, I *SO* want Jimmy Smitts to be president. So it’s right that the show end. But still, it’s sad. Sunday night’s episode was one of the better ones. This is still the best written show on T.V. And now liberals will have no place on TV to turn to for such unabashed liberalism. In the era of G.W. Bush, West Wing was the only thing around that validated liberals in their beliefs.

Plus I will miss C.J. All the characters are great. Toby was the Jiminy Cricket of America. Josh was like Dennis the Menace in a suit and tie. Donna had to be named after Donna Reed. Leo was the rock of Gibraltar (rest in peace, John spencer). Has there ever been a feminist lobbiest sexier then Amy? Charlie was the American every person thrust into the halls of power—the person we all wish we could be just to see how power really works, and the boss’s daughter falls for him in true Horatio Alger style. Rob Lowe is what we wish every politician and staffer could be like and look like (I’ve got a friend who runs a congressman’s office in California, and he reminds me so much of the Rob Lowe/Michael J. fox/George Stephanopoulos type it’s scary). Abigail is the world’s greatest doctor. President Bartlett is a liberal Ronald Regan, the wise and kindly grandfather to an entire nation.

But C.J.: C.J. is sex in a Park Avenue suit. She is classic 1950s movie star sexy: Sexy and competent and independent and feminine. She reminds me of Megan, the woman I used to fight for in the S.C.A., only taller. C.J. is brilliant, funny, vulnerable at the right moments, strong in a crisis, and tall.

Just like Gina Davis.

Hey, wait a minute………

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Happy Birthday, Ben

Although it passed by without me making note, January 17 was Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday. Franklin, the 18th century's Hunter S. Thompson, has always been the wild card of the founding fathers, and therefore my favorite (I'm a Jefferson fan, too--Adams was a bit too severe for my tastes). The newspapers are full of quotes by Franklin these days, quips from Poor Richard's Almanac which todays media describes as "quaint" or "amusing," but I would like to recall something else Franklin said that is more germaine to todays America then that bit about the early bird. Everybody, say it with me now....

"Those who would give up an essential liberty for a bit of temporary security deserve nether liberty nor security."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Golden Globes Still Sounds Like a Porno Film to Me

It does! It's right up there with Lorenzo's Love Oil.

So I have to admit that I didn’t watch the Golden Globes last night. I was at the movies watching Brokeback Mountain instead. It’s a pretty good excuse. It’s a pretty good movie. I stand by my earlier statement that King Kong should win best picture, but I’m pretty sure it won’t. Brokeback Mountain probably will. It was a really good film.

But more about the Globes. I told my students that the contest for Best Actor would be between Philip Seymore Hoffman for Capote and Juaquin Phoenix for Walk the Line, and I’m happy to see the globes got that part right. My vote would go to Hoffman but the good money will stick with Phoenix in the more commercial movie. It also looks like a good year for Reese Witherspoon, Rachel Weisz, and George Clooney, although Will Farrell could sneak in come Oscar time for Best Supporting actor and, even though he wasn’t nominated for a Globe, I still think Jack Black should be considered for King Kong.

But for me the best thing about the Globes is that Hugh Laurie won Best Actor in a Drama series for House. The idea of Hugh Laurie, one of the best British comic actors, The Prince Regent from Blackadder, one half of Frye and Laurie, the absolute perfect, consummate, wonderful Bertie Wooster, should win an award as a dramatic actor is priceless. Most people who have seen the show probably don’t even know he’s English, let alone the best comic actor in the world not named Cleese or Atkinson. And, of course, the show is great. It deserves the props.

As for the rest; eh. Desperate Housewives is not a comedy and they should stop nominating it as such. Ang Lee is a great director, The Hulk not withstanding. It’s all just a big marketing ploy anyway. But Brokeback Mountain did win best picture and it should repeat come February.

Monday, January 16, 2006

On Martin Luther King Day, Everybody's Black!

Today is Martin Luther King Day, the day we celebrate the great Civil Rights Martyr. Dr. King is a mythic figure in America. Like Lincoln, he towers over his era and his accomplishments, a messianic, Christ-like image (though I’m sure, as a minister, Dr. King would be uncomfortable with that statement). Unlike Malcolm X or the Kennedys, King’s death sits symbolically as the redemptive sacrificial act of our culture in the sixties. Like Christ he expected to be killed. Like Christ his untimely and wicked death caused a profound change in the world (or at least in America). Yes, the Civil Rights movement was succeeding at the time—this is likely a big reason why King was murdered—but his death showed there was so much more to be done. And there is a collective guilt, sorrow and revulsion that this man of peace was so horribly and violently taken away from us. King, like Lincoln and Christ, died for all our sins.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and is extolling us to enjoy a “King-size celebration,” and offering a guide to “Events and restaurants for MLK Day.” The guide itself is labeled “African American Scene in your city,” and shows a picture of four smiling black folk that could practically be a poster for a minstrel show. The guide offers a list of local events and concerts (buy tickets here), including our own local “Martin Luther King Day in Historic Harlem,” plus a guide to "Hot Spots owned by Black Celebs" accompanied by a very nice picture of Diddy. As Jameson points out, in a market economy postmodernism turns everything into a commodity and every group into a potential market, so it should come as no surprise that MLK Day, like every other holiday, has been commodified. Perhaps this is where his dream leads after all, to a land where black people can be exploited in the same way white people are, a land where his children can be judged neither by the color of their skin nor the content of their character, but by the purchasing power of their money. It’s a type of freedom, anyway.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Vox Pop

This morning I became the sales manager for Vox Pop micro publishing, a print on demand publisher and leftist coffee shop in Brooklyn. This is a great place: the workers there are organized by the Wobblies (!). It may forever destroy my chances to one day win the Democratic nomination for president, but it is still pretty cool.

I took the job for a few reasons. The main one is money, of course. Adjuncting pays dirt. The bigger reasons, however, are because I am fascinated by print on demand as a movement, not just a technology, and I because I like the mission of the company. I may have moved to the right since I moved to New York, but I’m still a liberal at heart. Community activism, small neighborhood bookstores, and progressive politics are things that are worth supporting, especially when my own party feels a need to shift to the right to battle the enemy.

And, of course, as a media studies professor and scholar, this gives me a chance to put my money where my mouth is and actually do something instead of just writing and lecturing about it.

Vox Pop’s website is Check it out.

It’s an adventure, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Casanova, part II

Casanova, Part II

I’m back from Cali! I can write again!

One last thing about Casanova: when I said the people who wrote Casanova understood his link to theatre, I didn’t note the most important way this was true.

The theatre is everywhere in this movie, including some ways that would spoil it for my readers. But the most important way is this: the story itself is a Venetian comedy. As Casanova walks through the streets of Venice he passes by plays and puppet shows (hand puppets; they should be marionettes) about himself, an obvious reference to the fact that we are watching a film-play about Casanova. But the structure of the film, unlike more serious movies about the 18th century libertine, is the same as those street theatre farces Casanova encounters. It is a classically structured comedy with stock Italian characters, from Casanova and Francesca, the stories main lovers, to Giovani and Victoria, the film’s inamorati. Lupo, Casanova’s servant, is a classic commeddia style Brighello. So are the grotesque merchant Paprizio, who woos Francesca; her mother; and Victoria’s father. Even Jeremy Iron’s inquisitor is the classic comic pedant. They are all there. You could masque them and put them out on the streets of 18th century Venice and they would be instantly recognized. And that is, of course, the point. Like Shakespeare in Love, another film that relied heavily on a knowledge of theatrical history to get all the jokes (and which also had a cross-dressing heroine), Casanova is a well played riff on theatre history.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Why you should see Casanova

Casanova is a fun bit of movie fluff which the critics, idiots as usual, panned mercilessly. The worst of them all was that moron Ebert, who began his review by writing how he was just aimlessly flipping through a volume of Casanova’s memoirs. He is SO pretentious!

I’ve flipped through Casanova’s memoirs as well. It’s my job to flip through things like that. Since it’s not my period, I’ve done little more then flip. But reading the whole thing has been one of those “after the dissertation” tasks, and I guess it’s now time. Anyway, the reason Casanova’s memoirs are important to me is, because like Pepys’ diary, his memoirs are an important eye-witness account of an important and lively theatrical period. And that’s why I liked this movie. Yes, it was tripe. Yes it was disnyfied. Yes the real Casanova was much more interesting then the one played here. And, yes, I am really tired of period movies that feel a politically correct need to make the heroine some sort of proto feminist just waiting for Gloria Steinem to come along and preach the truth.

This movie was fun and I laughed out loud (real guttural belly laughs, drove the couple sitting in front of me away). But the real kick for me is that they recognized Casanova’s link to theatre and gave it a nod in some interesting ways. Casanova keeps chancing upon puppet shows and commedia performances that are always about him cuckolding some unsuspecting husband. They also filmed a scene in the Teatro Olimpico, of a really good fake which, though it’s not actually in Venice, is still a magnificent sight and an important theatre (designed by Paladio after several Roman theaters it is one of the few surviving Renaissance theatres). I thought the Carnivale scenes were way too tame, but it is Disney, after all, and the shots of 18th century Venice—the Piazza, the Doge’s palace, hell everything, were spot on cool. They even gave glimpses into the Venetian publishing and textiles trade—Venice was the international center of both.

In other words, the people who made this film knew their stuff better then most period films. This wasn’t Master and Commander, but neither was it the slew of bad Arthur movies we’ve been getting all these years. As a theatrical scholar I didn’t care that they got some stuff wrong. I was please that they made an attempt and got some stuff right.

Oh, the CGI was some of the worst I’ve seen. I think they skimped on the budget. No biggie, though.

Best thing about this movie, though, is Oliver Platt. It’s the funniest performance this great comic actor has turned in in years! The Lard King of Genoa! I almost choked.