Sunday, September 12, 2010

TV; When Right Does Wrong

Watching Running, we realized the victor was John Dennis and the loser Ari David. We weren't sure what impact that would have on our own lives. We live and vote in the 8th District of California. John Dennis is running in that district for the US House against incumbent Nancy Pelosi and, as is so often the case in California, the state's Green Party refuses to even put up a candidate. We will not be voting for Nancy Pelosi. We can't vote Green. We're up-for-grab voters.


Presumably Running -- and the network it airs on -- is attempting to reach us. The hour long show follows two candidates running against incumbents, Dennis against Pelosi and David against US House Rep. Henry Waxman. Both Pelosi and Waxman are Democrats. Both Dennis and David are Republicans. But just as Pelosi and Waxman differ, so do Dennis and David.

With a loaded gun to our heads, you could not make us ever even consider voting for Ari David. His opinions and beliefs are different than ours, true. Dennis' are as well. But John Dennis isn't a walking, breathing frightmare. Ari David is. We were appalled, for example, to see him at home 'caring' for his crying baby and more interested in whether or not he was facing the webcam than in looking at his infant daughter before him or, later on, crying in his arms. That says a great deal about a person.

David can't stop preening. And he's -- at least thus far -- proof that effeminate in males does not have to mean gay. If Will & Grace were still on the air and you were casting Jack's fat, gay friend, Ari David is who you would immediately go with. (David is a failed actor. A fact not covered thus far on Running though much has been made of his 'stand up' 'career.') But the entertainment industry sold a stereotype that's just never been true (though it did allow many gay men in the industry to hide in the closet and it did create problems for straight effeminate men). So if Ari David wants to squeeze into a pink sweat suit, he has every right to -- no matter how bad he looks in it.

What does matter is the T-shirt he wears with the sweat suit which apparently includes cursing or depicts something vulgar. RightNetwork chose to repeatedly fog whatever was on David's t-shirt. RightNetwork is a cable network and we'll go more into it in a bit, but grasp that cable is so concerned by the candidate's shirt that they're fogging it. In another show, they'll allow an actor to say "g*ddamn" without bleeping but whatever Ari David has on his t-shirt is so objectionable that they have to fog it?

Everything about Ari David is objectionable. As a general rule, in casual conversation, when the term "liquidation" pops up and you're using it in the sense of the Nazis attempted to "liquidate" the Jewish population and you're referring to Democratic voters, you're really not fit to run for office. And cracks about Helen Thomas' looks? Maybe those in glass girdles shouldn't hurl stones as others?

Nearly everything that comes out of Ari David's mouth is hateful, vile and mean. And bitchy. Don't forget bitchy. Of a Republican opponent (David Benning) in the primary, the massively overweight Ari David snaps, "The guy, he needs to get his teeth fixed and he's kind of pasty and politician-like." Of Henry Waxman? ". . . phenomenally unattractive man . . ." It's almost as if Ari David thinks that, instead of running for Congress, he's actually in a beauty contest -- though we can't imagine why he'd think he could win that.

At one point, his wife is asked a question about whether or not she has advice for families of candidates. She's about to respond when Ari David breezes through like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float and snaps, "Gin and valium." As he hurries off, his wife smiles weakly and unconvincingly repeats the line David just 'wrote' for her.

He's a nightmare. What about RightNetwork? It started last week. FiOS is the largest carrier of the cable network so far. It is also online and you can stream programs there. At the website, they explain their mission as: "We're creating a platform where people can join the national conversation. A place where they can be inspired, entertained, laugh together, or just sit back and enjoy being part of a vibrant community with a similar perspective - a right-minded perspective that includes an entire spectrum of opinion from thoughtful and reserved to bold and brash." And their addition to the national conversation? Right wing points of view. Plural, that's apparently confusing to some. For example, Kelsey Grammer is a backer of RightNetwork (as disclosed before, we know Kelsey and find him to be a likeable person even while disagreeing with him politically) and this led 'humorist' Matthew Fleischer (Media Bistrow's Fishbowl LA) to 'crack,' "We here at FBLA would like to take the opportunity to formally pitch our idea for 'Conservative Cheers': "Where everybody knows your name, unless you're gay, Mexican or believe in global warming." Considering the large number of gay people who worked on Kelsey's long-running sitcom Fraiser, why is there a perception that the network is going to gay bash? And the Republican Party has many Latino supporters so what's with the "Mexican" crack?

The thing about humor is that it either makes you laugh or it doesn't. If you're trying to make sense of a joke then, at least for you, the joke failed. We were reminded of that when watching another RightNetwork original production, Evan Sayet's Right2Laugh. Specifically, we were reminded of that when Evan Sayet wanted to do an Iraq War joke: "We went into Iraq to steal their oil. I love that. We went into Iraq to steal their oil. And not only that, we're paying way too much for it."

That doesn't work on any level. On the show, it's especially embarrassing because Evan on stage telling the joke is broken up with Evan backstage pontificating about how "satire has a purpose which is to expose the hypocrisy of the powers-that-be." The powers-that-be? If you believe the Iraq War is a resource war then you most likely know that, historically, empires have fought resource wars and that although the resource in question may be secured that never meant that the empire distributed it freely to the citizens. That's just A. Another point, and we'll stop with B, is that the program exists to call out how the Democrats are allegedly failing at everything. Well if the US went into Iraq to steal the oil and the gas prices are now too high and the Democrats are in charge . . . Doesn't another joke seem obvious? One about government incompetence?

Not to Evan who, on the debut episode, just wasn't that funny. (He also looked awkwardly dressed. The suits need to be better tailored -- especially at those costs.) Evan makes a few remarks but the bulk of the half-hour show is the comedians who are guests and, on the debut episode, that was Kivi Rogers and Adam Yenser.

Within the context of what you would hear in a comedy club (the show is taped at Evan's Right2Laugh club), the comedians weren't offensive. But in terms of the TV show, that's a different story. And it's the story that may be the thing that sends RightNetwork packing quickly. It's not 1952. Or even Robert Parry's idea of today. Robert Parry and others want to hear a variety of voices -- male voices only -- as they demonstrated both in the 2008 campaign (when they repeatedly attacked Hillary) and as they prove at their own Men Only websites (with a token female brought in for guest spots). Robert Parry's a 'leftie.' And we bring him up (a) because he's disgusting and (b) because the problem RightNetwork currently has is not limited to just the right-wing.

Kivi Rogers and Adam Yenser provided two perspectives from the stage. Both male perspectives. (Kivi self-identifies Black. Yenser is Anglo White.) And to some that might just be the entire spectrum of opinion. But where are the women?

Where the show worked best was in its animated section. They bill it onscreen as Politizoid but call it Barack-feld and it should be spun off into its own show. In that section, animated versions of various politicians (plus Robert Gibbs who looks nothing like the real Robert Gibbs) move their mouths while actual things they have said are played. It's sometimes funny but it's always worth hearing, worth remembering. For example, in the health care negotiations skit, they show (animated) Barack on the campaign trail in 2008 insisting, "Here's the thing though, this will all be televised on CSPAN." Cut to the open door of a conference room that US House Speaker Pelosi stands in blocking a CSPAN camera operator from coming in as the camera operator reminds, 'The president swore he wanted us here." Closing the door on CSPAN, Nancy Pelosi replies, "Really? Well -- uh-uh -- ha-ha. Well there are a number of things that you throw on the campaign trail. Ha-ha."

Moving Numbers is a wash at this point. In this ten minutes-plus-each-episode original sitcom, Peter McCain stars as Jason Mahoney who is working on a political campaign. The two biggest problems thus far are with that character. A smug male with an enlarged ego and a sense of entitlement can be comic gold (see Archer or Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). But you need to surround such a character with others whose actions demonstrate that this character is the exception and not the norm. Without that, for example, Jason doesn't just look like a sexist pig sexually harassing co-workers, the show (and, yes, the network) comes off as if it's treating sexual harassment as a joke. The other problem with the show is the dialogue. Jason tells viewers, in a voice over, that his job is to move numbers. So why, in the tease for the second episode, is he telling Alicia (Jennifer Field) that his job is to move numbers? Is this the network's attempt at a comedy or did someone sneak in a Saturday Night Live spoof of RightNetwork?

Continuing the We-Hate-Women theme is Adam Yensor's The Leftovers, a less than five minute program that attempts to tackle the 'news.' Yensor didn't 'forget the ladies,' he attacked actress Kirstie Alley for her weight. (Alley is not a politician, wasn't in the hard news last week and her weight is not a new development.) And he attacked Paris Hilton for, apparently, enjoying sex. He said that authorities would have performed "a full cavity search but the Las Vegas police force just wasnt big enough." It was smarmy and it was more anti-women trash. Did no one notice? Did no one care?

Last week, in phone conversations with friends, we'd mention we were thinking of tackling RightNetwork and they opinions varied. Some were of the opinion that it wasn't worth attention at all. Others were hoping we'd trash it with the sort of comments that wouldn't require we'd even watch it. One friend, a graphic arts artist, advised us to be fair (we hope we have been) and asked us if we'd ever looked at The People's Cube because she just can't figure it out. Is this, she wondered, supposed to be for real?

Looking over the site we guessed it was the right's attempt at their own version of The Onion. And maybe people find it funny and maybe they don't, like Right Network. Most likely some find it funny and some don't. And right now the RightNetwork isn't a tasty treat. It wants to reach TV viewers and TV has more women watching than men but RightNetwork offers programs that ridicule and shame women. That this would happen in 2010, as some elements of the Republican Party are attempting a make over, is a bit surprising to us.

Long before Sarah Palin put her Mama Grizzly speech online, we thought Palin was having an impact. For just one example, see "The Vagina Strikes Backl! (Ava and C.I.)" from October 2008. And, as women, we were happy about that. It didn't matter that we don't and won't agree with Palin politically. We were aware of the power she was having and would have. We never bought the moaning and fretting of "But she's a conservative!" because we knew (a) little girls watching TV and seeing her on the TV in 2008 most likely wouldn't know what that meant but they would know a woman was running for office which would expand their ideas of the possible and (b) conservative women need women to cheer as much as us liberal women do. We also believe (maybe mistakenly) that a conservative woman or man who ends up rooting for Sarah Palin is someone who thinks a little further beyond the traditional conservative comfort zone. Maybe that means, for example, such a woman or man becomes a feminist in their journey or at least pro-woman. Maybe it just means that hearing sexist attacks on Palin awakens them to the sexist attacks -- not 'jokes' -- aimed at other women in the news.

So if you're a conservative woman or a young girl or woman in a conservative family and you turn on RightNetwork, what are you going to be thinking? When you see the male lead in the only original scripted show (Moving Numbers) sexually harass women working on a political campaign and see it treated (even the women's objections treated) as no big deal, when you hear attacks on Kirstie Alley's weight or Paris Hilton's body, when you hear a man manage to slam both ex-wives -- especially going to town on wife number two whom he identified as "a career woman," what are you supposed to think? Are you supposed to feel this network is representing you or speaking to you?

Maybe RightNetwork can fix its problems, maybe it can't. Air America Radio frequently came off anti-women in its earliest days, especially via Al Franken's show. That anti-woman thread only got worse as the network moved along. AAR failed as a business model and as a broadcasting outlet. It was a sink hole for one group of investors after another. Some point to Franken making it into the US Senate as a 'success' for Air America Radio.

If RightNetwork is measuring success in the same way, maybe they can take comfort in this: If you put a gun to our head, we could probably vote for John Dennis.

We won't be voting for him. But we won't be voting for Nancy either. And. if it's any comfort to RightNetwork, with Running, they managed to let Dennis come across like a real person (something the local press hasn't allowed) and someone we could like and even enjoy as a neighbor. And, staying on Dennis' success, we'll note that he made that impression by coming off as genuine, not by being heavy-handed. Meaning that Running could qualify as interesting 'reality' TV programming if the producers didn't feel the need to be so heavy handed about 'the message' (such as ending an episode of Running with a quote from Ronald Reagan).
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