Monday, July 31, 2006

From the wires

Ok, I'm abandoning my normal liberal credentials for the day. I'm going to sound like a John Birch conservative for a few paragraphs. Sorry to my faithful readers (mom and JP should be proud).

The Associated Press put out a story this AM about a marine corps marksman. This is a kid who enlisted after 9/11. His father was a sniper in the Navy Seals and now owns a weapons shop. Like a dog-faced Tiger Woods, his dad taught him to make long range shots when he was still too young to hold the rifle. Dad would place the but of the gun against his own shoulder with his son cradled between them (I assume sitting on his lap) and walk him through the steps of firing. He's been hunting all his life. He's done two tours in Iraq and has 20 confirmed kills and 30 probables. That means he's probably killed 50 people.

What interested me at first in this story is how it was an indication of Teddy Roosevelt statement that sport--particularly hunting--existed primarily to train young men for war (he also said all games should be suspended when the country was at War--TR believed that if we at war then all of us should be at war, a vast difference between him and the president who tries to emulate him). This kid is the modern day sergeant York.

But the reason I'm writing about it is totally different. The AP article included the marine's name, where his unit was fighting, his father's occupation, the number of children he had, his home town and the town where he and his wife live now. I'm not going to repeat any of that here. I had always thought it was military policy not to reveal the names of individual soldiers lest they or their families be targeted in some way by terrorists, and I had noticed media outlets basically upholding that policy for soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. Here is all the info someone would need to go after this guy's father or his wife and kids, or target him directly. It's not like he's a spy who's had his cover blown, but it does raise some concerns.

Now, I'm not saying AP shouldn't print this info (though I won't). This read like a human interest profile. It wasn't even really news. It was a positive and supportive article for the most part, and I could see the Navy recruiting department having a hand in it. But this is a guy who has killed between 20 and 50 insurgents. He is a poster boy for terrorist reprisals.

Did the AP have an ethical responsibility to withhold identifying information on this marine? Would the story have been interesting without it? Should what they have done been illegal? Would outlawing it be constitutional? I don't know. Ethics are questions of value--meaning they are judgment calls.

But this kind of thing is dangerous. My step father was a sniper in Viet Nam (he was both a Marine and US Army at different times). I've got a good friend who was a Marine Corps sniper. My cousin and several friends have done tours in Iraq, and I worry about all of them going back, so this isn't an academic exercise for me. This is important. If the media left this kid out to hang and something happens to him they would bear some responsibility. If the Navy set this up for good publicity (and I hope not, but it smells that way to me) what exactly is the meaning of semper Fi then?

What they did to this kid is, in my opinion, ethically the same as Cheney and Rove revealing the identity of Valerie Plame. And I'm on reccord as saying Rove and Cheney should go to jail for that. But they aren't the press. The press has protections. But what responsibilities come with that?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Tucker, the Man and his Image

Has anybody noticed how Tucker Carlson has completely rebuilt himself over the last two weeks. On the July 10 the name of his show was changed from "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" to simply "Tucker." I only kind of noticed at the time. I'm not a big fan. But I was happened to stop by and there he was, almost completely unrecognizable. He's gained weight, which looks good on him. His hair is longer and windswept. The professorial bow-tie and tweed are one. He was wearing a polo shirt. He was broadcasting from Beirut. Not only that but his commentary was considerably different than what I'd heard from him before. He was no longer editorializing with a conservative voice. His stuff was balanced and informative. He had a real passion when talking about the destruction in Beirut, and although he made it clear he wasn't criticizing Israel's right to defend itself he was pretty clear that he thinks the war in Iraq has had devastating consequences.

Meet the new Tucker.

Is he positioning himself for the predicted swing to the left which many have predicted the country is approaching? Has the war in the Mideast changed his views? Has he had an epiphany of some kind on the Road to Damascus (ok, Beirut, but he'd go there if he could)? Image is everything in TV: why would he change a successful, marketable image? Is he trying to be Geraldo?

Maybe he's just being the war correspondent, and is polo shirt is the contemporary equivalent of Walter Winchell's epaulets.

Whatever the case it is fascinating to see how he has positioned himself in the current Lebanese conflict. For some of the time he was having a dialogue with Chris Mathews of Hardball. Chris is highly critical of the administration, blaming them for creating a "Shia Crescent" (he's the only person I've heard use this term so far) extending from Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Syria, through Iraq and into Iran, which poses, in his view, is highly de-stabilizing for the region. Tucker seemed completely to agree. It was a position highly critical of Bush and Tucker went right along with it, adding his own concerns for the loss of a moderate multi cultural democracy in the region if Hezbollah is pushed back into Beirut and the mass exodus of Lebanese Christians continues. It was a whole different guy. No longer smirking, no longer the Bob Dobbs talking head, it was a person with passion reporting the news and questioning the consequences of our and Israel's actions. Pretty weird.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Reality vs Reality

There are two types of reality shows. The first are the "doccumentary" shows. These for the most part aren't real doccumentaries. They are shows in which people are thrown together to create conflict. They are not "real situations." They are staged with real people and, while they are not scrippted, they have planned scenarios. The closest of these to a pure doccumentary is probably Cops, which doesn't need to manufacture drama to be dramatic. Most of the doccumentary show are what I like to call "petrie dish" shows: Blow Out, Big Brother, Paradise Island, American Chopper, Real World, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Chop/Cut/Rebuild, Flip This House, Super Nannym etc., etc., etc.--shows in which drama is created through the friction of living or working together. The second type of reality how is the contest. Essentially an elaborate game show in which the same petrie dish conditions are created, but there is the added drama of a contest and elimination. Survivor is the king of this type of show, but Project Runway, the Aprentice, and endless others are of the same ilk. Still, most of the drama comes not from the contest but from friction between the characters.

There are two major locales for fictional TV shows: workplace and home. This is because TV is a closer reflection of life (not necessarilly real life, but the life we imagine) than film. Much of the drama on TV comes not from plot but from character interaction, and work and home are where we interact the most and where our primary relationships exist. As with reality TV, the drama comes from friction between the characters. Aristotle once said that plot is more important than character (still the driving principle behind film) but Mark Burnett, the creator of survivor, once told Marc Cherry that Character is Drama, and Cherry went out and created Desperate Housewives.

Character is drama.

My point in all this is to that there really isn't that much difference between "reality" TV and traditional fictional TV. The situations are constructed for entertainment value, the nature of the conflict is pretty much the same, both types of TV employ a large number of writers (TV devours content and is therefor a writer driven medium). Both are designed to garner ratings and advertising eyes. The only real difference is the lack of professional actors, a group whom producers and directors tend to hate, and whom Alfred Hitchcock once refered to as "annoying props that eat." Of course some people think that without actors reality TV is less artistic and more tawdry.

Brecht, by the way, would love it. Brecht, playwright of Mother Courage and of Threepenney Opera, among many others, celebrated the common and the banal. He once said that he wished he cold write a play with the same ammount of drama as existed in a boxing match, in which one punch could always end it. Reality TV comes close to that. Take away the script and what happens become random, and the drama comes from the real people interacting. Drama is character.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cinema del Sol

I'm not sure where I read it recently--maybe the New York Times (suddenly I realize that I have to start being specific about that. I alwyas used to just say the Times, but now I read The Times of London more often than I read the Times of New York; I've never given much thought to the LA Times unless I was actually in LA) a piece of film criticism that suggested that noir has been replaced by something called "cinema del sol." The idea was that noir was a genre suited to black and white, but in color the same type of opressive mise en scene can be evoked through bright sunlight. This is why so many very noir-ish films are now set in the desert. Think about all the movies with broken-down cynical heroes you know of that have been set in Arizona or Texas. *Lone Star* for instance. For that matter count portions of *Kill Bill.* A lot of those old Jan Michael Vincent and Kris Kristopherson movies would count too. Even *Pulp Fiction*, very little of which takes place at night, has a love affair going with that warm California sun. I guess there have been a lot of movies that qualify for this type of styalistic lable, certainly going back as far as *The Getaway.* My take on what they do is that they combine characteristics of the cowboy movie--wide open desert spaces, a blazing hot sun, a gun fight--with charactieristics of noir--sad sack heroes, cynical world view, pointless violence. There is a lot of Western imagery in Cinema del Sol, but none of the western heroism, and none of the classic Western conflict between the wild spaces and encroaching civilization which can only be mediated by the cowboy: civilization in Cinema del Sol is even more terrible than the wilderness, more bloody, more violent, more unforgiving.

If this is all true we've got Sam Pekinpah to thank for it. Pekinpah destroyed the Western myth once and for all with *The Wild Bunch," and then heralded the arival of Cinema del Sol with *Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia*. I'm thinking about this because I just caught the last 45 minutes of *Bring me the Head of alfredo Garcia* last night--for the first time believe it or not. My parrent's wouldn't let me watch it in '74 and, let's face it, it wasn't going to make it onto TV back then. Pekinpah is yet another entry on the long list of post-code reasons why conservative hate Hollywood--and he's another reason why the 70s, freed from the restrictions of the production code, was Holywood's second golden age. He pushed the boundries of taste in directions that created powerful, frightening images, no longer even reflections of everyday life but nightmarish visions of the depths to which men can sink to. And he did this because he had the freedom to express himself.

Of course Pekinpah's liberated violence, like the liberated sex of other directors, is why conservaties like Joe Scarbvorough now lable Hollywood a "secular cesspool." They think Hollywood shouldn't be allowed to peddle such filth.

And once again we find that faith and freedom are incompatible.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bushisms I can live with

I don't know about you, but I am kind of heartened by having a president who says things like "They've got to get Hezbolah to stop this shit." I'm a New Yorker. I like a man who swears once in awhile. It shows conviction.

I know I said I'd never mention Anne Coulter on this blog again, but here goes (it's not even a vtriolic rant): I paused on Fox while flipping the othr day and I saw Anne talking about Joe Lieberman. She said he was her favorite Democrat and then had to qualify that with "he's still a liberal." Bullshit. I'm a liberal. Ted Kenedy is a liberal. Joe Lieberman is *not* a liberal. Neither is Hilary (though she's paying some lip service to us in the run up to 2008). Get it straight, Ms. Coulter: a liberal isn't anybody who is to the left of *you.* By that measure Barry Goldwater was a libeal.

Please God send us some pitching. Cain left in the 6th last night with a one run lead agaisnt the Phils, and every giant reliever gave up a run. We lost 6-2. grrrr. We've got the starters but we need a bullpen, and Sabean is shopping for a right handed bat. A right handed bat won't help if the bullpen is giving up five runs.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Whither the Liberal Media?

The word “liberal” might be too confining. It has been co-opted and defined primarily by the Right as “everything that is not conservative,” or perhaps “weak, wrong headed, whining, bleeding heart,” etc. Liberals coddle terrorists. They cut and run. Conservative talking heads on FOX like to claim that Hilary is liberal, which really pisses the liberals off because Hilary is too conservative for them (Bill was too). Most liberals do not want to be associated with her. In politics real liberals, like Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank, for instance, are few and far between. Liberals don’t play well in the burbs.

But the main force that gets tagged with liberalism is the press. The “liberal media,” has been the Republicans’ most faithful whipping boy since Nixon’s day. I’ve often said that the press is not particularly liberal, but I should probably back off that in the case of the New York Times. I’m not going to say that the Times *is* liberal, but I am certainly going to own up to the fact that the Times is anti-Bush. At this point it would be hard to deny. Mind you, they are not as anti-Bush as the Post and Fox Network News are pro-Bush—they still have some integrity—but they are standing up to Big Brother in a way that few other journalistic institutions are.

I was quite amazed yesterday to read on Joe Scarborough’s blog a post where he basically defended the Times against the Bush administration’s recent attacks. He even quoted Jefferson on Newspapers and Government (given a choice between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government he’d choose the latter). Apparently, Joe’s conservativism doesn’t go so far as to accept either snooping into people’s bank records or attacks on the press. Like I said, I’ve always *wanted* to like Joe, but then I watch his show. Maybe I should just stick to reading his blog.

But the Times is not liberal, not in the way the conservatives like to use the word. I am reminded of this once again while doing research into the media coverage of the Patty Hearst trial. Much of it ahs been into the mainstream press coverage, which was understandably confused and outranged (especially the Examiner, which is to be expected). But there was also in the seventies a thriving underground press, a press which really doesn’t exist today. Newspapers like the San Francisco Phoenix and the Los Angeles Free Press published truly radical political ideas. Most of these papers disappeared while a few of them are still around in the form of “alternative weeklies” (the Village Voice, which pre-dates most of the underground papers, is the best example). The Phoenix is long gone, while the L.A. Free Press was recently reborn. Papers like the Voice and the San Francisco Bay Guardian are the only ones left to carry on the most important mission of the underground press, offering a true alternative to mainstream corporate media, which was and is believed by most on the left to be in bed with both the government and the corporate advertisers who pay for the media. However, these papers have always been more arts oriented than politically oriented (most of them began not as political papers but as a way to advertise musical acts on a weekly basis).

It’s really interesting to read these old leftist papers to see how far away from the real left our supposed left has strayed. I’m looking at a Phoenix front page right now that includes a headline about an American soldier still in Viet Nam who says he supports the Symboinese Liberation Army (the group that kidnapped Hearst) plus a bit of full frontal nudity, and a caption (I’m not sure how it goes with the picture) comparing soldiers on long range reconnaissance patrols in Viet Nam to “an army of Huns, massacring every living thing that moved—men, women, children.” Not the type of quote you’d hear on the Today Show, even though it appears that right now in Iraq the same sort of thing is taking place that took place at My Lai in 1968.

The story of the L.A. Free Press (which was not really in the SLA’s corner, and suggested that the whole Hearst kidnapping was likely a CIA plot to discredit the left), is an interesting case in point. It went out of business in the seventies. Most often this is credited with a mass defection of the staff, which went off to form a rival paper. But it is also noted that when the Free Press’s headquarters was set afire in an arson that was never solved or even really pursued, it took the fire department two hours to respond to the alarm; and that at the same time the Free Press’s book store, which sold no food, was closed down for health code violations; and that a book of columns written by Harlan Ellison for the Free Press was suppressed by the Nixon Administration (all this from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt). If there was paranoia among the left, and in the left leaning press, then some of it was probably justified.

Of course, the revolution they were all waiting for never occurred. Communism fell, the left became just another marketable taste group, and Che Guevara became a T-shirt. Resistance to corporate imperialism shifted from communists in Latin America (though they’re making a comeback in Venezuela and Bolivia) to Islamic Jihadists (Marxist theory goes a long way to explaining the Jihadist movement as well: communism may be a terrible economic system, but it is still the best way to analyze popular discontent and populist uprisings, whether in the streets of Baghdad or of New Orleans).

Which brings us back to current times: I work at the moment for a true leftist bookstore, much like the one the Free Press operated that was shut down (though, unlike them, we do serve food). We are publishing our own alternative paper, the Megaphone, which I was pleased to see on a rack at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope the other day. I’m still not sure what Sander’s economic beliefs are since, after all, he is a business owner (I gave up any communist pretensions myself once I became a landlord). I may not agree with all of Vox Pop’s politics, but they are carrying the torch of true debate. This may or may not be a good thing: there is something to be said for patriotism in times of war as well as dissent; but at least they, and the Voice, and the Guardian, and a few other rags and websites out there, endeavor to persevere.