Tag Archives: television

On South Park

First, it’s a situation comedy. A situation comedy that deliberately offends some in order to humor others. That’s not really so unusual. It’s not really “teaching us to be tolerant,” however. The majority of comedy has always been (since Euripides, anyway) based on belittling, verbally abusing, mocking and perjorating other people, their beliefs, their way of life, the way they talk; or finding glee in their misfortunes. Particularly people that you either don’t know, don’t like or are afraid you might somehow be associated with. I agree, you have a right to say what you like. But do you have a right to hurt other people with that speech? Isn’t that really a form of hate speech? Or is it only hate speech if you or someone you like are the targets? In other words, did the burning of witches start with bonfires, or hateful, ignorant people striking matches while making fun of strange looking women digging along the roadside for medicinal herbs?

Second, it’s a TELEVISION program. Granted, it may be about entertainment, or cultural commentary, even, but its first and foremost function is to serve as the delivery mechanism for advertisements. And if that delivery mechanism reduces the warm, fuzzy feeling in a percentage of consumers, it will not continue to be broadcast. It’s not in the network’s best interest to incur boycotts, protests, hate-mail or anything that might threaten its bottom line, or the inclination of its advertisers to continue their patronage.

Thirdly, I don’t think it’s free speech issue, and using the example of Jesus defecating on Bush and the flag as an “acceptable” substitute for an image of Mohammed doesn’t prove the tolerance of Christianity over Islam regarding free expression. Suppose, instead, that they portrayed Jesus smoking a joint, fondling a transvestite prostitute and voting Democrat or attending a Klan rally (either one, both demonstrate extremes). THAT would have caused outrage. But the bulk of the South Park audience is probably in agreement with any of these scenarios as possible, if not probable; it’s only people who don’t GET the show (they would posit) that would be offended. But then again, that’s where your definition of humor fits into the equation. Satire and irony are one thing. The question I have for South Park is this: could they have made their point without being offensive? Without belittling anyone? Who would have thought it was funny? The dilemma here what people think is funny. If it’s not funny in a way that pushes the envelope, no one would watch, and the advertisers would suffer. On the other hand, if it’s too funny (in a way that makes poignant insights into the way we live and suggests a better way), most people wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t watch, and the advertisers would suffers. And finally, if it’s over-the-top top funny in the traditional belittling, mocking, smug way of most humor, someone’s bound to get offended (because we all take ourselves a bit too seriously, anyway) and the advertisers suffer.

Is this worth even talking about?

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Hanging on Dreams

I know you want me to say
I love you in some tired cliche:
forever in a bright pink bow
with Hallmark lines I ought to know;
and when I speak, some hidden strings
should start to play. It should be Spring;
then as the moonlight filters through
the clouds, you’ll know that I love you.

Well, our life isn’t like TV,
and that Prince Charming isn’t me:
a handsome, careless perfect fool
who’s crown is missing just your jewel,
and when I speak, the words I choose
may be too rough, and be misused;
but when you hear, you’ll understand
that I deserve to be your man.

That’s all that I have, not anything more
If that’s not enough, I’ll walk out that door
’cause if me pretending is what you long for
it’s not me you’re after; and all that’s in store
is no happy ending, no fairy tale glow,
just holding to dreams, when we ought to let go.

I know you want me to be
more like your girlhood fantasy:
forever on a big white horse
prepared to face some dragon’s force;
and when I come back from the wars
your love alone will soothe my sores;
then we will break the magic spell
that made the past a living hell.

Well, our life’s not a storybook;
no golden apples can be shook
from that old tree in our front yard,
the future’s certain to be hard.
But this I promise you, my dear:
It’s not loneliness you should fear;
‘Cause I’ll be here to see it through:
to me, that’s saying I love you.

That’s all that I have, not anything more
If that’s not enough, I’ll walk out that door
’cause if me pretending is what you long for
it’s not me you’re after; and all that’s in store
is no happy ending, no fairy tale glow,
just holding to dreams, when we ought to let go.

03 JAN 2005

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I Blame Lawrence Welk

I love old songs, and I love mixing it up and keeping ’em guessing.

For that, I blame Lawrence Welk.

Some jazz cats look down on Welk’s ensemble (compared to Goodman, Ellington or Kenton it was a SWEET band), and the singers WERE pretty square. But it was the only TV show that zoomed in on the trombone player. It was the “Elvis movie” of TV – inspiration to a young instrumentalist. The mention of the clarinet anywhere else results in raised eyebrows and looks of shame. And they did tribute shows – Irving Berlin, marches of the world, and so on. I blame Lawrence Welk for giving me to Cole Porter right after I finished devouring Buck Owens on “Hee Haw.” And Willie Nelson’s doing some of those songs now, so I’m not alone in this. Country music is built upon American song history, on “Down in the Valley” and “Sweet Betsy from Pike”. These are songs that New Country doesn’t know about. It’s a different “country” altogether. American music from Scott Joplin to Jimmie Rodgers to Fats Waller, from Lefty Frizzell to Woody Guthrie to Burl Ives, from Helen Forrest to the Andrews Sisters, from the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers.

I could go on and on. I blame Lawrence Welk for that, too.

It means that a barbershop arrangement of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” or a high lonesome rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” isn’t out of the question. I blame Lawrence Welk for showing that any song could be included in your repertoire, and that people will dance.

And I enjoy what I’m doing. I blame Myron Floren for that.

He ALWAYS looked like he was having a blast. And that’s what I wanted from the start. I love to entertain.

And I love America, where it is all possible, even for a son of immigrants (and aren’t we all?).

For that, most of all, I blame Lawrence Welk.

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Gray Days #4

She’s waiting on the deputy, but he never comes;
got her finger on the trigger, sucking silent on her thumb;
and the ninety ninth caller has just been struck dumb:
like an old pair of stockings he just turned to run.

She’s waiting on the postman, but he’s just got advice;
got her hands on the counter, stirring tea in her spice;
and the TV show hostess is colder than ice:
like an old pair of shoes, she tries everything twice.

She’s waiting on the milkman, but he’s running late;
got her lips on the coffee cup, dripping stains on her plate;
and the radio spokesman has just sealed his fate:
like an old book of matches, he scratches the slate.

She’s waiting on the savior, but he never calls;
got her mind turned to worry, her eyes on the walls;
and the Jehovah’s Witness  sounds just like Lou Rawls:
like an old rusted needle, the pressure just falls.

She’s waiting on the preacher, but he’s been sent home;
got her hair in her fingers, pressing it to the phone;
and the roving reporter is standing alone:
like an old saint at twilight he’s trying to get stoned.


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Tolkein’s world of fabled creatures
did not speak to me
of my own sense of purpose,
or responsibility

and so its strange translation
onto film I did not mind;
except the Ents and Bombadil,
who Jackson left behind.

But Earthsea, in which my own life
found endless parallel,
and traced a journey like my own
through a personal hell,

when wrought onscreen seemed stale and trite,
its lessons left unspoke,
and mists around its message
lost, somewhere on a fake Roke.

13 DEC 2004

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Television: canzone

Canto I (The News):

To watch the TV news is to discover
that there is nothing new under the sun:
a movie star found with a younger lover,
convenience store held up by man with gun,
insurgents kill more soldiers by surprise,
another well-known priest accused of wrong,
the difference between fast food joints is fries,
and one more pretty face has a hit song.
The underlying story never changes,
only the details and the point of view;
we watch to prove our own theories of strangeness
and focus not on ourselves, but on you.
There is a comfort in this pap’s digestion
that leaves us feeling informed and aware;
by leaving others to ask all the questions,
all we have left is sensing we still care.
The channel doesn’t matter, just the faces;
their honesty we’ve learned to judge on sight,
and politicians, whether left or right
find us amenable to fund their races.

Canto II (Comedy):

If it were going on next door, in real life,
we probably would not think it was fun;
in fact, if some of these folks were my neighbors,
I’d probably move, or at least, buy a gun.
The basis for most comedy, it seems
is how misfortune comes to someone else,
the consequences of their crackpot schemes
to win friends, change the world, or acquire wealth.
The underlying premise never shifts,
only the patsy and the inside scoop;
we watch to give our own spirits a lift,
and to convince ourselves we’re not the dupe.
There is a comfort in this sad delight
that leaves us feeling better and advanced;
by laughing at some other’s hapless plight
we believe that our own case has a chance.
It doesn’t matter who the comic roasts,
as long as we don’t recognize ourselves,
and are not asked between guffaws to delve
into the issues that affect us most.

Canto III (Reality):

The metaphor of raw, uncensored lives
as captured in a staged and sterile form,
arranged and filtered by cutting room knives,
gives us the rain and thunder, but no storm.
The girl next door, the brain, the jock, the creep,
selected for their camera appeal
or their ability to seem so deep;
exactly what part of this sham is real?
The underlying premise never strays,
but every season, moves from place to place;
we watch to give ourselves new games to play,
to pick our favorites to win a fixed race.
There is a comfort in this grand charade
that makes us feel as if we’re really there;
we know these fools, and if their path we trod,
why surely, we would be the millionaire.
It doesn’t matter what the final prize,
as long as there is drama and suspense;
the benefit of the experience
is that it happens to some other guy.

08 APR 2004

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Like a Bird on a Wire …

The other night I saw a portion of NOW with Bill Moyers on PBS. He was interviewing Will Hutton (author of the book A DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE: WHY AMERICA SHOULD JOIN THE WORLD, an old friend of America’s, but a friendly critic as well. Hutton was for years Editor-in-Chief of one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, THE OBSERVER, for which he still writes a column).

The full transcript is here.

What I wanted to talk about is this. Two of the things that Hutton says worry him about American politics are the increasing role of money in the drawing of political boundaries, positions, etc., and the absolute inability of the Left to put together a cohesive platform to debate the Right, thereby causing the Big Eagle to flop around in circles because frankly, it’s really only got one viable wing. There is as a result no real debate, nor ideological banter. There is only a murky middle ground and the Extreme Right.

Of course, in this country we effectively castrated the Radical Left in the first half of the twentieth century with our crusade against the Communists (coincidentally, communism and socialism do not pose a threat to democracy, but to capitalism. Capitalism is in and of itself the anathema of democracy, unless each person has exactly the same amount of money. Socialism/communism strive to give each person the same amount of money, so that they can each buy similar numbers of votes. In both the case of the US and the USSR, which have been for quite some time effective oligarchies, the people with the most money are those who decide and can afford to ignore policy). But ultimately, the tools that the Right and Left use are fundamentally different. Reading Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich helps put this in perspective. In my opinion, unless things are going great, the Left’s position NEVER is more persuasive, particularly since our culture itself tends to emphasize the linchpins of the Right’s platform. For example:

The tools of the Right typically are:
Pride, Fear, Blame, Isolation, Reward, Institution and Ritual

Whereas the tools of the Left are typically:
Humility, Trust, Responsibility, Community, Work, Individual and Freedom

So, when you look at it, in a society where true education is not prized, the religious temperament is inclined to blindly follow leaders without personal revelation, and where personal gain is placed higher in the social contract that universal growth, it is no wonder that the promulgators of the Right have so many more followers than the left. Further, in the absence of any true Radical Left, it is unlikely that the anykind Left (which of course includes the milksop, pantywaist Democratic party of which I am a member) will be capable of producing any candidates that are truly worth a damn and that possess any kind of backbone or recognizable agenda – particularly when they, like the Social Democrats and Catholic Center parties in 1930’s Germany are not able to put into plain, everyday language exactly what it is they stand for, and why anyone should stand with them.

Ah, well. Perhaps we are indeed in a repeat of history. We certainly are a culture of complete self-interest. Which of course, is the Isolation the Right needs to build upon. Anti-Nazi activist from the 1920-1930s (and early biographer of Hitler) Konrad Heiden said:

Hitler was able to enslave his own people because he seemed to give them something that even the traditional religions could no longer provide; the belief in a meaning to existence beyond the narrowest self-interest. The real degradation began when people realized that they were in league with the Devil, but felt that even the Devil was preferable to the emptiness of an existence which lacked a larger significance. The problem today is to give that larger significance and dignity to a life that has been dwarfed by the world of material things. Until that problem is solved, the annihilation of Naziism will be no more than the removal of one symptom of the world’s unrest. – Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer, 1944

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