Sunday, September 13, 2009

TV: The Suckers

Do you babble on? Not just talk to yourself, mind you, but have an indepth interior monologue going on? If so, you could be either of the leads in the CW's The Vampire Diaries. And though Julie Plec shares creator and executive producer credit with Kevin Williamson, the whole thing plays out like he still hasn't forgiven Miramax for cutting his ode to Grant Goodeve's possible eight inches from Scream. He worked very hard on that monologue for Tatum and he found it highly revealing. The lack of appreciation awarded to his analysis of the theme song to Eight is Enough and how it might have applied to (or commented on) Grant Goodeve's genitalia would have, he just knows, been a cinematic moment: Rose McGowan and Neve Campbell in the grocery store, Rose saying, "Watch the show, Sid, his basket is bigger than the one you're pushing."

Now, like a disfigured comic villain, he's determined that we will all pay for his loss and, therefore, no scraps land on the cutting room floor. Instead every "and" and "uh," every meaningless line of blather, gets used -- either as dialogue or as voice over. Once upon a time, graffiti was just what people scrawled on walls, now it's also the scripts to The Vampire Diaries.

The hour long romance and semi-drama got green lighted quickly -- as quickly as Twilight proved there was an audience for visuals about Young Vampires In Love. The TV show is loosely based on a series of books of the same name, however, details like hair color, best friends, countries of origin -- you know the things that help make us who we are? -- have been altered and changed by Williamson and Plec.

What we're left with is Dawson's Creek With Eye Teeth. In other words, in the near future, Nina Dobrev may end up married to Rupert Everett, Paul Wesley may quickly vanish from all our lives, Katrina Graham may become one of America's most talented but underappreciated actress and Steven R. McQueen may star in Fringe: The Movie. But before those real life events take place, we're still stuck with many, many episodes of this bad show.

Nina Dobrev plays Elena and Steven R. McQueen plays her brother Jeremy. Their parents died in a car accident and now they live with their aunt so they're all "table for three" if not exactly Party of Five. As if to convince viewers that the two are related, the only two talented performers were cast as siblings.

That becomes a huge problem whenever Elena's in a goo-goo eyes scene. Dobrev can't act in a vaccum but they've got her attempting to emote to a wall. His name is Stephan Salvatore and the last time we knew a Salvatore, it was Cher's first husband. Sonny Bono actually projected more magnetism onscreen than does Paul Wesley who has Bob Paris' chin and lips if not his muscles. He scrunches his brow a lot while looking far too old to pass for the teenage high school student (he's 27) Stephan's supposed to be and he's also supposed to be a vampire -- he's only convincing at scrunching his brow.

He's in love with Elena who looks just like the love-of-his-life who died in the Civil War. Robert E. Lee? Oh, honey, Kevin Williamson may be gay but he always writes straight (anyone remember the incredibly square Jack who never got near Dawson's crack?). While that might have actually made the show slightly different, Kevin's just going to keep cranking out the same-old-same-old every chance he gets.

Which makes him a lot like Bill Moyers who, come to think of it, is a lot like the undead himself. We're still laughing over his scrotal kiss two Fridays ago which seemed to exist solely for him to swallow the dangling Y and to prove how foolish the elderly can get. "The editors of The Economist," he said attempting to look serious and thoughtful, "say America's health care debate has become a touch delirious, with people accusing each other of being evil-mongers, dealers in death, and un-American."

With barely a pause, he would continue, "Well that's charitable. I would say it's more deranged than delirious and definitely not un-American. Those crackpots on the right . . ." And that's when he was off down the street, snarling and barking like an angry dog, at the right-wing.

Bill catn reed weel guud. If he could, he'd have grasped The Economist was criticizing both sides (it was, for example, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who called opponents to ObamaInsuranceGiveAway "unAmerican"). No, in crackpot Billy's mind, that was a slam at the right and only the right and, when it's time for fistacuffs, a Geritol or two later, there is Moyers.

What an idiot. What a fool. What a liar.

Heaven save us all.

Especially journalists.

AP had a photograph of a dying soldier from the Afghanistan War. It became the topic de jour because it was a US soldier. (This was addressed in Tuesday's "Iraq snapshot.") Should the AP have distributed the photo or not? Some blowhards like Thomas E. Ricks (already a joke for defending the US military's use of the Rendon Group to 'vet' reporters) have said it was a 'moral' outrage for AP to have published that photo in a newspaper. Thing is, AP owns no newspapers. It's a wire service. Each newspaper could and did make the decision of whether or not to run the photo.

Friday, Bill decided to tackle the issue which mainly meant he was on top of the dog pile and feeling up everyone beneath him. The grope-fest was remarkably fact free. Oh, he got the basics of what AP did correct. It was just the basics of journalism that Bill struggled with.

After yammering away about how difficult it must be for parents and family members, Bill finally got to what he thought was journalism: "But as a journalist, I know that one reason Americans tolerate wars as long as we do is that most of us look the other way while others do the suffering in our stead. Our soldiers have been fighting in Afghanistan longer than we fought in the first and second world wars combined, but just try to remember the times you've actually have seen one of our fallen there." Uh, Bill, that may be your 'journalism,' but it's not journalism. It's activism.

The reason the photo should be published is that it is news. Violence took place and someone died. That's news. That's always news. It's news if it happens down the street, it's news if happens overseas. It's news. Many things in between will be ignored but births and deaths will always be covered.

One of Bill's guests Friday was McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef and she blew it as well. He raised the issue with her twice and she blew it both times.

Here's Nancy 'commenting' on journalism:

You know, when that photo came out, I talked to a friend of mine, she's a Colonel in the army. She served in Iraq and many years ago, she'd lost her daughter, who was a toddler at the time to an illness, so she could speak to it as a soldier and as a parent. And she was really angry about the photo. She said, "No one has the right to tell me what my last memory of my child should be." And it really stayed with me. And so as I could have empathy for the family, and I felt a lot of pain, because I can only imagine having that image seared in your mind. But I'm conflicted, because as a journalist, and as someone who has to go out and see this war day in and day out, it's hard to say that these photos shouldn't be seen. In a way, I feel like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been sanitized. And that photo, as gruesome as it is, captures the reality of war. It's ugly. And it's what these troops are facing day in and day out. So, I always-- this is my ultimate objective in all of this is to maintain the humanity in the coverage of war. And so, I'm conflicted, because that part of me wants to preserve the rights of that family. And at the same time, I want the general public to know what's happening.

That was at the start of the segment. At the end, he asked her about the AP photo again.

BILL MOYERS: So, since you know what you know, and since you say we have to know, where do we come down on showing the photograph?

NANCY YOUSSEF: It's really hard. Because as I said, you know, you can't lose your humanity in war. And I feel for that father. I can't imagine that image being foisted upon me of my son in that position. I just can't imagine. But sometimes I feel like we as a public need to be hit almost violently with the reality of war. And that's what that photo does. So, I'm really conflicted about it. You know?

Somebody tell Nancy that the public's not going to necessarily know the press position. Anyone could and should be able to relate to feelings of the parents. That's well and good if we want to live in a circle of empathy and not in a democratic republic. If we want to live in a democratic republic, with free speech, it's important that free speech is defended. Translation, when journalism is under attack, your concern isn't making yourself look good to your critics, your concern is in explaining journalism to those who may not grasp it.

One sentence on the pain of the family was more than sufficient. After that, a journalist needs to immediately move into what journalism is and why it's important that it address issues like death.

Bill thinks journalism is to end the war (whatever war). That's activism, Moyers, it's not journalism. Nancy thinks that journalism is one side of the coin and personal needs of a few individuals are the other side of the coin and, based on your empathy level apparently, one side wins out. That's touchy-feely, it's not remotely about journalism.

A real journalist should immediately grasp that a large number of people have come of age during a period where coffins returning to the US were hidden from sight. A real journalist should grasp that, should grasp the assault journalism is under and find a way to answer questions so that they enlighten viewers as to what journalism is supposed to be about and why.

Iraq was briefly touched on.

NANCY YOUSSEF: My biggest fear from the military perspective is that Iraq doesn't fall apart quickly, but that--


NANCY YOUSSEF: Iraq. That Iraq falls apart slowly. And that we find ourselves in a place where we're doing this with troops. That as we're slowly bringing down troops in Iraq and slowly building up in Afghanistan, we find ourselves in a really difficult situation in both countries.

BILL MOYERS: So, you fear we have to reengage in Iraq?

NANCY YOUSSEF: I fear that we're going to find-- I don't know that the United States will. I mean, the Status of Forces Agreement makes it very clear that the United States is not going to engage.

BILL MOYERS: The Iraqis want us out.

NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: There's a legal agreement to get out.

NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right. But what happens when the violence starts to escalate in Iraq and starts to escalate in Afghanistan, and we're say, at 80,000 troops in both countries? What is the United States role at that point? Is the plan to sit aside and do nothing? Will the Iraqi Government still feel that way? Depending on what the violence is? That's what keeps me up at night. Is that fear of that point where the United States finds itself engaged in both wars or at least heavily committed to both and not quite out of one, not quite in the other.

Legal agreement to get out? There's no such thing. And it's hilarious to hear Bill Moyers misrepresent what a contract binds you to and what it doesn't -- Bill Moyers of all people (our CBS friends are laughing out loud right now). The United Nations did not authorize the Iraq War. They did do an authorization of the occupation -- after the invasion -- and that authorization is what gave the legal cover for foreign forces (including US troops) to be on the ground in Iraq. That expired twice with Nouri al-Maliki renewing it (over the objections of the Parliament). He was faced with renewing it for the third year in a row but the White House (Bully Boy Bush administration) decided to bypass the UN. Staying under UN authorization bound the United States to certain obligations (which the US was not living up to). Bypassing the UN to create a treaty between Iraq and the US was the way the White House elected to go. That treaty replaces the UN mandate. It can be replaced with another treaty, it can be extended or renegotiated as any contract can be.

And Nancy grasps that. She'd have to be brain dead (or Bill Moyers) not to. If the contract means the US leaves (that's not what it means) then why even talk about the possibility that increasing violence might result in the US remaining in Iraq? If the contract means the US leaves, that's what the contract means. But that's not what it means and the public has been repeatedly lied to about this.

And liars and fools like Tom Hayden are the problem. Barack's been hailed as a man of peace. Really? His Iraq 'plan' is not what he promised in those crowd pleasing campaign speeches. Ten months, he said in Houston, Texas in February 2008, ten months after being sworn in, US troops would be out of Iraq! It's nine months after he was sworn in. Over 130,000 US troops remain on the ground in Iraq.

And his 'plan' that Nancy and Bill and so many others discuss? That's Bush's plan.

Now what the treaty (Status Of Forces Agreement) does is what it was meant to, ease heat in the US over the illegal war. It's done that. It's led to so many fools and liars proclaiming the Iraq War over or almost over: Tom Hayden, CODESTINK, Raed Jarrar, throw a dart at the fringe radical and you'll draw blood from a fool swearing the Iraq War is over or about to be.

A few people grasp that. One who does is US Senator Russ Feingold. On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. From his exchange with Feingold (see Friday's snapshot for full exchange), we'll note this section:

Russ Feingold: The Iraqi government intends to hold a nation-wide referendum on the bi-lateral Status Of Forces Agreement and while there's been a lot of speculation about how this could impact a redeployment timetable, I'd like to also point out that both the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people will have had a chance to vote on the agreement even though the US Senate has not. Can you assure us that any potential modifications to the Security Agreement will be submitted to the Senate for ratification?

Chris Hill: Uh, the issue of Senate ratification goes beyond my write but I will certainly take that question to the State Department and get you an official answer on that. I can give you my personal opinion on that.

Russ Feingold: Would you please?

Chris Hill: -- that you would not want to be changing this uh we would not engage in changing this security agreement without uh considerable consultation but as for the actual relationship between the Senate and the executive [branch] on this, I'd like to defer to our lawyers at the State Department.

Wow. If that treaty is the end of the Iraq War Treaty, Russ Feingold must have just wanted to waste time. But Feingold doesn't waste time. He doesn't speak just to enjoy his own voice. A contract that prolongs your presence (the SOFA prolonged the US presence by three years) does not mean that you leave.

Let's make it real simple. Paul Wesley, for example, may have signed a five-year contract with The Vampire Diaries. That doesn't mean he leaves in year six. If the show lasts that long (and it may -- its attempts at pathos will irk functioning adults but pre-teens and the overgrown pre-teens will lap it up), he may be smart enough to grasp that he's really got nothing in the works after this show. So he may decide to sign on for another year. Or two. Or three.

The SOFA only says the US will stay in Iraq for three years. The 'withdrawal' everyone pretends is an obligation is the same thing that was inherent in the UN mandate. If the UN mandate was not renewed, US forces had to leave Iraq.

Unless . . .

A new agreement of some form was reached. Enter the SOFA. But to read that mandate, you would think that when it was scrapped, the US and all other foreign forces had to leave.

When will The Vampire Diaries leave? It's a really bad show. But parents are non-existent and the trauma-drama dial has been turned to broil. As awful as it is to anyone who's already lived through the first 90210 or Dawson's Creek, for unformed minds, it's fresh. And for undeveloped minds who do remember the earlier shows, it's simple enough for them to handle. Sarah Jessica Parker's character breaks it down in the film Strangers With Candy when she says, "My point is, Gerri, somebody's always got it worse." That's what shows like The Vampire Diaries (or, for that matter, Bill Moyers Journal) sell. And for four years, as its core audience navigates real life high school, the melodrama swirling around Mystic Falls should make the audience grateful for what they see as their own comparatively dull lives. Shows like these don't run out of things to do or lose their steam, their audience just grows up.
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