Sunday, August 24, 2008

TV: Cyborgs or gasbags, which is worse?

To prove how pathetic the year has been and how pathetic so many were, you only have to drop back to the 2008 Winter issue of Ms. magazine, where they elected to reproduce an ad they found objectionable to women. The ad depicted "Cameron" and the same magazine that never found time (in print or online) to call out the repeated sexist attacks on Hillary felt it was their job to defend "Cameron." In the spring 2008 issue of Ms., Simone C. Williams wrote in to object to the ad being included in Ms.' long-running "No Comment" feature.

Williams made solid points so, of course, the current incarnation of Ms. magazine, had to reject it with an "Editors' note" -- the sort that increasingly shows just how useless the magazine has become: "We love Sarah Connor; we just think women, even Terminators, deserve to be shown with arms and legs." If you haven't sussed it out yet, "Cameron" is a character on Fox' Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cameron is, in fact, a terminator.


You read that correctly. Ms. couldn't make any time for a flesh and blood woman under attack (Hillary) but they had all the time in the world to defend the rights of . . . cyborgs.

And if that doesn't tell you how inept are 'leaders' and 'protectors' are, nothing does.

Summer Glau plays Cameron and she's sent back in time to save John (Thomas Dekker) and Sarah Connor (Lena Headey). She does that (initially) by transporting them to the future of 2007. Glau is giving a strong performance and probably has a hell of a lot more to deal with than carping from Ms. that a robot was shown in an ad without "arms and legs." In other words, Glau lives in the real world.

That would be the world where Julianna Margulies starred in Fox' most promising series of 2008, Canterbury's Law, and gave an incredible performance. She did all of that without any of our 'leaders' rushing to support her or the show. But Ms. did make time to go after the only other show on Fox providing strong performances by actresses.

Along with Glau, Headey gives a strong performance which isn't easy for either woman. Both are playing characters that have changed since the first episode. Cameron was capable of blending in during the first episode. She now has been turned into a more robotic character learning human emotions (which really doesn't fit with her having been sent from the future where she presumably observed the adult John Connor at length before he sent her back in time). Headey's playing the role that Linda Hamilton owns.

Hamilton played the determined but inexperienced (in the ways of death and destruction as well as self-protection) in the first Terminator film and made her vivid transformation to a force of fury and strength in Terminatior 2: Judgment Day. It would be great to see that Sarah Connor on weekly television but that's apparently too strong for a woman on TV judging by the currently written character.

In fact, from script to script, the show can't seem to decide what is the right amount of strength and how much vulnerability to heap on. Rather strange since the series is supposed to take place after T2. But there's Sarah on your TV screen acting strong one moment and like a sap at other times. That's not Headey, it's the way the scenes are written. And your first clue should have been that Cameron is seen, by the creator of the show, as a way to 'wean' John off his mother.

The fierceness is largely written out and there are scenes where Sarah comes off more like Lorelai Gilmore than the woman who (in T2) rained bullets down on the home of Miles Dyson, shot him and only decided at the last minute she couldn't kill him.

Despite the (male) creator's uneasiness over how much strength to allow Sarah, Headey makes the character work overall. That "despite" should also include despite the wardrobe which, for a fugitive on the run and short on cash, is both dowdy and over priced. (That's especially noticeable in episode five when someone appears to have thought they were dressing Katharine Hepburn.) The series debuted to high ratings, then dipped much lower, then see-sawed until the final episode which came out with less than half the audience for the debut. A large reason for that, and one that's never commented on at length, is the way Sarah is written.

Brian Austin Green plays Derek Reese and Green does a solid job. That's not the issue. The issue is his lines, his view point is T2's Sarah's viewpoint and it's pretty sad that the show that frets constantly over how strong their female character can be is more than comfortable writing her scenes for Green.

We mentioned Miles Dyson earlier and, for those who haven't seen T2, Dyson was working on Skynet -- the microprocessor that allows the machines to take over in the near future. In the film, Dyson destroys all of his research and dies in an explosion. The series has Sarah living a fugitive life because she's wrongly blamed for Dyson's death. And she, John and Cameron are trying to prevent the development of Skynet and the impending war on humans.

It's too bad they time lept to 2007. Had they gone straight to 2008, they might wonder why bother?

Or, maybe, like us, they'd wonder why TV "characters" like Gwen Ifill can't be chased down onscreen by Terminators? The host of PBS' Washington Weak may, in fact, be a cyborg and, if so, that would certainly explain her war on the truth.

"So, Jackie, we don't engage in Washington Week much on pure speculation," said Gwen lying through her teeth and doing so semi-convincingly. If it weren't for speculation, what would Gwen and the gas bags have to offer?

Bad comedy was the answer on Friday when they hit the road and went to Denver.

As feminists, we'd love to say something supportive about the women; however, we actually watched the show.

Time magazine's Karen Tumulty requires no "maybe." She is obviously a cyborg who has killed off the real Karen and is now impersonating the human she replaced. We previously noted the heavy dramatics Karen attempted on the program in May which included her mugging before a live audience. She offered so much more (and so much worse) this broadcast that you sort of picture her spending her final days at a petting zoo. If anything nice can be said of what The New York Times' Jackie Calmes did with her stand-up bits, it's that the audience laughed at them and applauded her. After the silence that greeted Karen's attempts at laughter, Jackie can score that as a "win" -- if journalism is just her day job while she preps her act for the Laugh Factory.

Dan Balz (Washington Post) and James Barnes (National Journal) stuck to offering facts and opinions and not attempting to reduce the audience to titters. Which may make them 'iffy' for future road shows since spectacle and -- yes, Gwen -- speculation is what the show's become, so why not just laugh?

Doubt it? Note this exchange which takes place long after the John McCain's campaign commercial on Barack Obama and Tony Rezko was shown.

Gwen: By the way Rezko is the guy who was involved in some financial dealing with the Senator that allowed him to get his house.

Jackie: Right.

Gwen: And all cleared and not found guilty.

Jackie: Yeah was on trial and there was no -- the senator was not implicated in that trial.


Antoin "Big Tony" Rezko was "not found guilty"? May 13th the jury found him guilty -- in fact they convicted him on two counts of money laundering, two counts of corrupt solicitation, six counts of wire fraud and six counts of mail fraud. That's "not found guilty"? In what damn world? It was right up there with Gwen's hilarious moment earlier this decade when she attempted to explain the First Amendment and bungled it badly leading her to declare "whatever it says." A 'journalist' who doesn't know what the First Amendment says isn't much of a journalist. So comedy may indeed be the way for Gwen to steer the show.

Jackie spoke at one point of how Barack was "trying to show he can relate to the average person." The show provided a clip of Barack surrounded by presumably "average" people and it went right to the problems the campaign has. There was Barack speaking in an overly loud voice (those present clapping or laughing were distant murmurs over Barack's thundering). Word to Barack, you're not in a classroom. There is a time to be loud and there is a time to turn down the volume. The meet-and-greet was staged to look less formal than the mass adulation rallies he became so notorious for (and revived in Germany this summer). But there was Barack over gesturing and over-volumed. It seemed dangerously close to Howard Dean's 'scream.'

People don't enjoy being yelled at. He had a microphone, there was no reason for the yelling and the volume. The way he spoke sounded arrogant -- as if he could only 'convince' people by yelling. It's amazing that he's on the verge of his convention speech and his staff hasn't yet learned to craft speeches so that he appears to be speaking to people and not speaking down to them. (The convention speech will be played to the camera which will eat up his gestures; however, his handlers would be well advised to work with him on modulation.)

Jackie declared Rezko a dead issue and one had to wonder how someone with such close ties to Barack (offered him his first job, gave $2000 to Barack's first run for political office, helped fuel $250,000 into Barack's campaigns -- according to Barack himself) who is now a convicted felon is a "dead issue"? Barack wouldn't have his mansion without Big Tony. Since the issue "died" (in Jackie's mind), we've learned the mansion deal had more details than Barack let on. Turns out, he took Big Tony on a tour of the property. The Rezkos buying the land (which had been split from the mansion) wasn't just Big Tony having some sort of Jungian synchronistic moment with Barack. Barack wouldn't have his mansion if it weren't for convicted felon Big Tony.

Though in Denver and though making that the prime topic (sole topic?), none of the gas bags took a moment to note that Ralph Nader is staging a Super Rally in Denver this Wednesday. Possibly exploring that would have prevented Gwen's gushing about her love of "pageantry"?

Maybe the war on humans starts with a war on the truth? If so, check the cast of FAIR's CounterSpin for a pulse because their battles with the truth are becoming legendary. Friday's show started out, as always, with a look at "recent news." Recent news? Try recent gas bagging. Not one of their items truly passed the fact check test but let's zoom in on the first one.

Steve Rendall: Conservative pundit Bill Kristol whose spectacularly wrong predictions about the Iraq War didn't keep him from landing a prime slot at The New York Times this year continued his long tradition of error in an August 17th column about about the evangelical Rev. Rick Warren's recent interviews with John McCain and Barack Obama. Kristol wrote that McCain who was interviewed second with exactly the same questions posed to Obama before him stole the show with his "crisp answers and colorful anecdotes." The columnist glibly dismissed the Obama campaign's claim that McCain was not sequestered in a Cone of silence during his opponents interview as he was announced to be citing NBC's Andrea Mitchell who reported that the Obama camp was claiming that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions to Obama Kristol sneered "That's pretty astonishing since there seems to be no basis for the charge." But there was one little problem. There was evidence right in the Times own news section that day which published an article entitled "Despite assurances, McCain wasn't in a cone of silence."

Stevie then goes off to Tom Tomorrow ("as cartoonist Tom Tomorrow") blah, blah, blah. F-ing blah. With that item, Steve Rendall continues his own long tradition of error or, as he might word it, "glaring sins of omission." (Kinder tongues would say Steve was again flaunting his "idiosyncratic understanding of accuracy.")

The New York Times article was written by Katharine Q. Seelye. McCain never claimed he was in a cone of silence, a fact that Stevie decided wasn't worth mentioning. Leaving it out, leaving out that Warren was the one who told people McCain was in a "cone of silence," played so much better for Stevie, truth be damned. Where was McCain? Seeyle reported:

Members of the McCain campaign staff, who flew here Sunday from California, said Mr. McCain was in his motorcade on the way to the church as Mr. Obama was being interviewed by the Rev. Rick Warren, the author of the best-selling book "The Purpose Driven Life."

McCain was in the motorcade and never made any effort to hide that. It's important that fact be left out by Steve because he's not interested in the truth, he's interested in furthering Team Obama's talking point. (The first response from Team Obama -- to Barack's horrendous performance -- was to claim he was under the weather. Cone of silence came about after many began commenting on the whining nature of Team Barack whenever the Christ-child falters.)

Equally true is that Seelye reported. Did Andrea Mitchell? No. Steve apparently knows very little about journalism. Andrea Mitchell is a journalist but she didn't "report" anything. She made her remarks as a guest on NBC's Meet The Press. No, Steve, she wasn't "reporting." And, by the way, Kristol's columns appear under the name "William Kristol."

Steve's hilarity was just beginning and he teamed up with the Scowling Janine Jackson for an "extended interview." In FAIR talk, that translates as "male gas bag" because there's nothing FAIR about CounterSpin's male to female ratio of guests and lighting might strike the gas bags dead if the program ever decided a woman was worthy of an "extended" interview. The Dull Duo teamed up with quack-pot Thomas Frank for what can only be described as "a kind of softening of the brain" -- so much so that we listened closely in hopes that someone would declare, "I think that expression sounds so nice. It always makes me think of cherry-coloured velvet curtains -- something that is soft to stroke." But that would have made art -- Ibsen's Ghosts, in fact -- and this was just Bad Liars Lying Badly.

As if to prove how far they'd go to lie, Steve Rendall deliberately distorted Michiko Kakutani's "The Business of Politics, the Politics of Business" (New York Times, Augst 18, 2008), declaring, "You were criticized by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times book review of The Wrecking Crew for dwelling on the past . . ." Thomas Frank couldn't stop chuckling, coming up for air to pant and stammer a response which included, "I have a Ph. D in history. Of course, I dwell on the past -- that's ridiculous!" No, ridiculous is that Frank and Rendall thought they could get away lying.

Kakutani did not criticize him for "dwelling on the past," she critized him for failing to address the present:

Instead of using the Jack Abramoff scandal to examine the problems of a political system that empowers lobbyists, special-interest groups and big money players, Mr. Frank tries to turn the scandal into a case study in what he sees as the evils of free-market principles. . . .

Mr. Frank does not help himself by relying on fuzzy -- and poorly documented -- illustrations of his theories. He writes, for instance, that in 2004 "a group of the country's biggest companies reportedly paid some unnamed K Street firm $1.6 million to secure a tiny modification in the tax code, once the law was rewritten in accordance with their wishes -- and with almost no public notice -- they saved $100 billion in taxes, an amount which you and I will eventually have to replace in the public treasury." He adds that if you do the math, "you will find that the rate of return these companies made on their lobbying investment was some six million percent," and concludes that "these are the wages of conservatism." He does not say, however, which companies paid which lobbying firm the money nor does he describe which modifications of the tax code was involved.

Finally there is something curiously dated about this book. Mr. Frank spends a lot of time reviewing conservatives' attitudes toward South Africa when apartheid was still the official policy of that nation, and while he says little about how the Internet has affected politics and policy making, he spends a lot of energy talking about the right's use of direct mail, as pioneered by Richard Viguerie in the 1960s and '70s.

If the above doesn't make it clear to you, Frank not only asks that the reader check his math without providing the specifics to do so, he repeatedly drops back to some point from the past instead of detailing the "wrecking crew" and its actions in the last eight years.

That tends to happen when weak minds are allowed to operate a keyboard without supervision. The same weak minds who will embarrass themselves publicly anytime they speak. Our personal favorite from the interview was when Thomas Frank yammered on about "one of my all time favorite conservative quotes" and the quack-pot went on to tell a story -- one that never included a quote. Yes, he really is that stupid. He confuses a quote (which he could have provided) with an anecdote -- one badly told.

Sarah Connor wants to save humanity from the machines. Judging by what we witnessed last week, some may have good reason to fear the machines are already here -- and controlling our public discourse. Hope would be Gwen grasping that the truth does matter and making it her mission to impart it. Because if one gas bag can learn the value of human life, maybe others can too.
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