5. I am not a fan of American Football. Heck, I don’t watch sports at all, but for Hitler, Jessica Simpson and the Dallas Cowboys, I’ll make an exception.
4. “High As %$^&^”, by fellow Canuck Jon Lajoie. This is pure nostalgia for those of us who have found themselves at 3:00 Am in Mac’s Milk playing the game “They Don’t Know Your Stoned”.
3. Never in my life would I have thought I’d be promoting an American Republican Presidential Candidate. I mean, I disagree with this guy’s views on everything from abortion, universal healthcare to social services, but I just can’t help admire Ron Paul’s unabashed defiance towards his Neo-Con co-runners and the right-wing wackos at Fox News, who are sponsors of the televised debates. This seventy-something Texan actually owes much of his popularity to a slew of young techy fans who’ve been promoting him all over the internet. Watching him up on stage during these debates, his opinions about American foreign policy make him stick out like a sore thumb, the quintessential black sheep. The Neo-Con powers-that-be have even excluded him from one of the Primary debates for his unorthodox views. Check out these short clips watch how everyone, including the “impartial” moderators, try to discredit him.
Props to my new Republican hero.
2. Charles Bukowski’s “The Man with the Beautfuls Eyes”. I couldn’t post a Top Five without a nod to poetry. Especially a vid that’s so visually poignant. Please excuse the subtitles.
1. Mos Def Immortal Technique Eminem, “Tell the truth”. A perfect combo of politics, great lyrics, compelling visuals and a good base line. It’s probably to good, since most of the youth will be watching it instead of getting off the couch and voting for a change of government.
Maybe I am just getting older, the anarchy of youth settling into mid-age slumber, but democracy does not seem as bad as it once had. Granted, I still bitch and complain about the holes in the system like anyone else with half a brain these days, but there was a time not too long ago when I was ready, along with many others to throw the whole thing to the curb and start again. The angst derived in large measure from the incessant ineptitude of the leadership of not only our country, but the juggernaut to the south. And of course, all of that intensified with the advent of the Bush administration and even more so after his dubious second term victory.
It’s not that I feel any more secure or comfortable with the unprecedented level of corruption that plagues all levels now, rivaling that which is found in absolutist regimes the world over. No, the softening of attitude stems from an aspiration that the dark ages of American politics may soon be coming to an end. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and though it may just be another derailing train headed straight for us, there is renewed hope in the leadership hopefuls, particularly in the Democratic camp. Among the first woman candidate, and the first Hispanic candidate we have Barack Obama, the first African American candidate. Even the spectre of another four year Republican term does not seem so bad under the likes of a likable Rudy Guiliani and a fellow who acted on Law and Order.
It goes without saying that the upcoming elections in the US are important to Canadians and other planetary inhabitants because the days of US isolationism are over and whenever the Americans sneeze, the snot lands everywhere. In recognition of this, I just finished Barack Obama’s recently released book entitled “The Audacity of Hope”. Admittedly, it is the first book I have ever read from a politician. I have never read anything by Michael Ignatieff and I wouldn’t even think of anything penned by embarrassments like Harper or Dion. After reading Obama’s tome, however, I stand convinced the man is in a class far above any of the leaders currently in the control booths.
So why was the hope that bled from those pages so infectious? Did I get suckered into the doublespeak? Not exactly. I was initially attracted to the book in the first place because I found it impossible to envision someone like Bush writing such a thing, outlining his platform in an erudite fashion, as a true intellectual. I was also intrigued with Obama’s past as a ‘community organizer’. Though I am not yet sure exactly what that entailed, it seems to me to be a good thing. It sounded like he must have tried to mend a lot of fences and probably took a lot of crap for it. His years as a constitutional law professor were also intriguing, for here is a man who devotes an entire chapter in his book to an analysis of the US Constitution, writing with such erudition that once again it is difficult to even imagine Bush spelling ‘constitution’ correctly. Barack’s childhood in Indonesia poses great promise for a golden age of cross cultural peace. In any case, if that approach fails and he is elected president, we could then call the war on terrorism ‘Obama vs. Osama’.
What impressed me first and foremost with the book, and in extension, the man, is the degree of authenticity in it, knowing full well how hard it is to hide behind oblique rhetoric when what you think and believe is printed there on the page for all to see, with your name attached to it. Obama seems to have a strong understanding of how the average American views politics these days – as something that “speaks so little to what they are going through” causing many to “turn inward”. Lord knows that is exactly what happened to me. He bemoans the ‘ethic of greed’ that has ‘driven the debate’ for so long now, and he recognizes the ‘absolutism’ of the Republicans and the reactionary nature of his own party, seemingly adrift, directionless. When he writes of ‘national renewal’, I got warm and fuzzy feelings I haven’t had in quite awhile.
He recognizes how the political culture is geared toward and benefits those who “have been trained either as lawyers or as political operatives, professions that tend to place a premium on winning arguments rather than solving problems”. He also notices how tempting it becomes to “assume that those who disagree with you have fundamentally different values, that they are motivated by bad faith, and perhaps are bad people”. This is where Bush got it wrong, in his oft-repeated “with us or against us” axiom.
His discussion of ‘values’ really stood out, since for me, the word has become synonymous with the myopia of the religious right as in the case of ‘family values’. Instead, Obama seems to reclaim the word through recognition that we all possess values that are worthy of respect, and within that respect is the key to bridging divisions. I like it when he wrote, “no one is exempt from the call to find common ground” and I just about fell out of my seat when I read, “I hope that I can always go to my union friends and explain why my position makes sense, how its consistent with both my values and their long term interests”. Mere mention of the left like this brought a smile to my face.
No real mention is made of his potential opponents in the run-up to the election including his leading rival, Ms. Clinton, which is perhaps a strategic thing but would have made for juicy reading. He does speak of an interesting meeting with Warren Buffett and his first encounter with the current President.
There is, unfortunately, only one reference to Canada in the book (our single payer national health care plan). The African country of Togo gets as much ink as we do, so we can surmise how important Canada will be to him, but perhaps it is just an oversight and hopefully not an act of neglect.
The book includes chapters on ‘opportunity’, ‘faith’, ‘family’, ‘race’, and the ‘world beyond our borders’. The latter is a bit of a disappointment since it almost completely neglects the bogus ‘war on terrorism’ and does not come out unequivocally and point fingers, though he does understand to some point how the Americans have played into the hands of the terrorists with all their chest-thumping rhetoric. The chapter also provides cursory lip service to his country’s addiction to fossil fuels and the perils of climate change, something that he will have no choice but to contend with, if and when he is President. No mention is made either of the robber barons of our age including ‘big pharma’ predators. The book chooses not to rustle too many feathers at this point but plants some captivating seeds of hope. It is a fascinating sneak preview into the mind of the man who could become the next emperor of the empire.
Americans should be asking themselves what they really want from a president. Let’s face it: they need someone with a new vision, anything different, anything at all to hoist up on the mantle. Who cares what it is – peanuts, broccoli, saxophones – as long as it ain’t the cocksure Texan bravado of a militarism gone absolutely bonkers. The Presidency could again someday allow citizens to dream about the possibilities.
What does the future hold for our neighbours to the south? Only time will tell and of course none of it is set in stone. We can only hope that common sense and decency will prevail. And if Obama’s words can be accepted at face value and the principles underlying them are adhered to, well, we all may be able to see this thing through.
In the Showtime program Weeds, 16-year-old Silas Botwin pokes holes in his condoms in order to get his girlfriend pregnant and prevent her from going away to college. In the fourth season of The Sopranos, Ralph Cifaretto’s character is beaten to death on his kitchen floor by Tony Soprano, and in the same season Adriana’s character is strangled by her fiancé Christopher Moltisanti and then dragged out of a car and shot by a fellow goomba. The horrible behaviour doesn’t end there. In the first season of Deadwood, brothel and bar owner Al Swearengen attempts to have a child witness killed, and in the final episode of the acclaimed TV show, he slits the throat of one prostitute in order to save the life of another.
As far as anti-heroes go, the behaviour of these men are a far cry from Hannibal Smith, the leader of The A-Team, a popular 1980’s “modern-day outlaw” TV program where in every episode the damsel was rescued, the stolen money was returned, and justice was meted out on the bad guys who would crawl out of flaming car-wrecks unscathed. In the reality of The A-Team you could spray a crowded room with bullets and never hit a target. And at the end of every episode, following the downfall of the local villain, Hannibal would flash a smile, light a cigar and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The idea of this man even striking a woman, let alone cutting her throat, is utterly unfathomable.
It does seem odd then that the underlying values evoked in the today’s graphically violent, anti-hero TV shows like The Sopranos, remain closer to our own. But by watching even an episode of The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazard, and Knight Rider today, it becomes evident how the average viewer could be offended by its portrayal of women and minorities.
Daisy Duke contributes little more than her breasts, buttocks and legs to the scene. Bonnie Barstow and April Curtis of Knight Rider and Amy Amanda Allen of The A-Team do nothing more than smile and blush and give the rundown for each episodic crisis. When any of these women actually participate in the plot of an episode it is to either be rescued or to use their feminine wiles to get the keys from a jailor. Other than that, you’ve got Dynasty!’s affluent meddling trophy dolls Alexis and Krystle slapping each other around the pool. Today’s Carmela Soprano or Weeds’ Nancy Botwin, or Deadwood‘s Trixie, not only take a dominating role in the plot of their prospective shows, but like their male counterparts, they do not shrink from getting their hands dirty.
As for minorities, when it comes to stereotyping, not much has changed since the old days. African- and Latin-Americans on HBO and Showtime are still predominantly drug dealers and housekeepers, but their positions of power, as portrayed in Heylia James and U-turn’s characters in Weeds is equivalent to or rivals that of their white counterparts. The stereotypes evoked the shy, pasty-faced serial killer Dexter or the canoli-eating, drug-dealing Mafiosos in The Sopranos are no less colourful. It seems that someone, somewhere along the line discovered that according to viewers, portraying every stereotype is just as acceptable as portraying none.
Stereotyping, graphic sex and violence which rivals that of the programs of yesterday? Where did all this come from? Hasn’t TV become more civilized? A little too civilized it seems.
It is important to remember that the shows of today which I mentioned above are all on select/pay channels like HBO and Showtime. Though critically acclaimed and popular, they are not the mainstream. Examples of such programs would be Two and a Half Men, Grey’s Anatomy, House, and the now-kaput Friends. The characters on these shows are for the most part polished and wholesome people. Even Gregory House, who always pushes the politically correct envelope, always reveals his good heartedness at the last second, and pushes the envelope no further than his working class predecessor Archie Bunker did twenty-five years before. It is highly unlikely that any of these characters will end up in a maximum security prison, in carefully packaged pieces, or as a late night snack for farm pigs. No one will be graphically raped or set on fire. In this sanitized mainstream world, especially during prime-time, the worst that will happen is someone will lose their job, a grandparent, or a pair of nice shoes.
We can then look at recent events on Sesame Street, where the latest DVD release of the original episodes has been deemed not suitable for today’s children. As reported by Virginia Heffernan in her article for The New York Times:
I asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”
Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.
From pre-school to prime time, TV reality, despite the acid tongue of Simon Cowell, has been polished up and made to look presentable. But the dirt and grime has got to end up somewhere. In 1974, Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz, created a list of uses and gratifications with which media texts provide the audience. The list can be readily applied to today’s TV.
1. Escapism — A bar where everyone knows your name, or a cosy little cafe by Central Park.
2. Personal relationships — Got teary-eyed when Tony Soprano came out of his coma? Well, there you go.
3. Personal identity — For any woman who’s had the “Jennifer Anniston” haircut, and for any man who’s worn a “Joey Shirt”.
4. Surveillance — CNN, The Discovery Channel and Fox News.
As television approaches the second decade of the new millennium, I believe that a new gratification should be recognized, called “Lurid Fascination”. In the past the need was meagrely satiated by the graphic nature and often horrible behaviour on TV shows like COPS, NYPD Blue, and even earlier ones like Miami Vice. But since mainstream television has cleaned up its act, the filth has gathered on the pay channels, and our need for the lurid has found an almost inexhaustible supply in characters like Tony Soprano and Al Swearingen and the worlds they inhabit. Who would have known that our need to slow down and look at a traffic accident would not only find a home on TV but have a hand in the inspiration behind ground-breaking, award-winning programs? It seems that the more we try to shield ourselves from horrible realities, the more we search them out and cherish them.