Sunday, May 22, 2011

TV: The facades

In Brentwood, there is a home that used to have one of the most amazing stain glass windows in the back. It was from marriage number two. Marriage number three saw the spouse who kept the house build a false, interior wall to cover the window in an attempt to erase the past. Several years ago, new owners bought the home and decided to tear down the wall and replace the stained glass window with a more traditional one. They didn't know the history of the love that led to putting in the window or the never-ending cheating (by both spouses) that led to the divorce and the blocking of that window. That's the thing with facades, they cover up something but, unless you're willing to do the work, most likely you'll never know exactly what was being covered up.


Last week, a lot of false fronts went up. One actually came down and let's start with that and let's let Jason Biggs tell it, "Well, was officially canceled today. I'm super bummed. But thank u to all the fans who supported me and the show this year. U rock!" Mad Love was an awful sitcom on CBS. That wasn't Jason Biggs fault or Sarah Chalke or Judy Greer. It was Jaime and Matt Tarses' fault and it was Tyler Labine's fault.

Tyler Labine played Laugh Killer but they called him "Larry" on the show. The only real question was who was worse, Labine for delivering the performance he always does or Jaime and Matt Tarses for hiring him to do so and, worse, flipping the show to him?

Back in the forties, when you had lackluster leads, you frequently tried to save the movie by casting, for example, Jane Wyman and Jack Carson in the supporting roles. Though they did keep theater goers in their seats and though they did walk off with the movie, they were not able to make the film a good movie. Despite having two solid leads (Biggs and Chalke), the Tarseses cast Labine in an ensemble piece knowing he would dominate the proceedings and encouraging that by giving him voice over duties.

Mad Love was supposed to be about Biggs and Chalke's characters falling in love. Instead, viewers had to suffer through not just the sexist and dated quips of the very overweight Labine but they had to take it in voice over as well. When his character was saying something offensive in a scene, someone could counter him -- Biggs, Chalke or Greer. But when he does it in a last word voice over, it's stick to you like toilet paper to the shoe.

Tyler Labine does not need another chance to shine. This is his third failed show. Audiences are not eager for Tyler Labine. They might have been interested in a developing romance with laughs. But they couldn't get that even if they watched each episode religiously because no matter what happened, in the end it was all about Labine.

Mad Love had several false fronts but mainly it was a misogynist monologue masquerading as a sitcom. Jon Stewart's false front is that he's anything more than a yucks man.

Some insist upon his being seen as a seer, a sage and much more when the reality is he can't even tell jokes about the current administration. (Attempts to do so quickly degenerate into his doing some sort of Jerry Lewis shtick that makes it appear as though Stewart just left the Catskills.) Nothing does more to dispel the image of Stewart as wise than Stewart off the set of The Daily Show attempting to speak.

We know Stewart and generally weigh addressing him with a: Is it worth it?

That means we look to see if the issue (problem) is being seriously addressed already? If so, great, we don't have to then and can tackle another issue that isn't getting the attention it needs. Roseanne (rightly) brought up the sexism at The Daily Show recently (when they refused to book her as a guest). Had we known about that when it happened (as opposed to three weeks after Roseanne's statement), we would have taken on the issue. [Please check out Roseanne's column in the current issue of New York for her thoughts on the TV climate today.] When Stewart was encouraging Americans to stay home and not be active, we called that out immediately. (And noticed how few others did. Maybe they know Jon too and thought we had it covered?)

But last week we were grabbing a danish in a hotel cafe as we were about to rush out and The CBS Early Show was on the monitor with the story being The Big Debate between Jon and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News. Checking our watches, we sat down to catch the story and, because we like Jon, we were so hoping he had made a decent impression.

Reading much of the commentary after, you'd think he did and that he won the so-called debate. But that's just another facade.

The issue of the debate was an invitation to a poetry event at the White House in which entertainer Common was invited. Bill O'Reilly had apparently been opining on air (before the debate) that Common should not have been invited because, in O'Reilly's opinion, Common's rap lyrics glorify cop killers and violence against police officers and he has advocated for Assata Shakur who was convicted of killing a police officer (Werner Foerster). Jon Stewart has insisted this is a non-issue and a made up issue and a hundred other things.

Right there, Jon's showing the smugness he usually keeps in check. It is not up to Jon Stewart to determine what is or is not an issue and there are many police families across the nation who would not agree with Jon. As the segment began, there was Jon grinning smugly while O'Reilly spoke about cop killing. Not a smart move. When O'Reilly's noting the outrage and you're grinning? You look, at best, like a stupid ass. At worst, you appear to find the notion of a police officer killed in the line of duty funny.

He looked like an ass. And that was before he even started to make his first "argument." Argument? We're not just being kind, we're being generous.

O'Reilly was insisting that Common thinks Shakur "is great" and Jon was insisting that Common "thinks she's innocent." No, no, no.

If Jon Stewart's going to aspire to be the voice of reason -- and not America's yuck-yuck man -- he needs to have his facts straight. What does Common think?

We don't know. But we haven't attempted to pretend we know. Jon Stewart has no idea what Common thinks. A fact he would admit to second later, "I can't speak for him because I'm not him." And then it was time for yuck-yucks with Jon talking about how he (Jon) had rapped about Bill O'Reilly. What the hell is that?

Are you on to make points or just to make an embarrassment of yourself?

"Here's the only distinction I would make there," Jon said "and I can't speak for him. What I think he's doing . . ."

Is Jon Stewart just that desperate for publicity these days?

Does he not realize how stupid he came off? He can't speak for Common, he repeatedly states, before attempting to -- yes -- speak for Common.

"I think he believes . . ."

It was awful. Jon Stewart looked like a drug addict on methadone treatment and when he opened his mouth, he sounded even worse.. He acted shifty. And he never could stop being a wise ass. He is the problem he once decried on CNN's Crossfire.

Jon was never listening and he was never conversing. He was just attempting to work in the factoid - talking point he had arrived with "Leonard Peliter." Peltier, Jon wanted to 'inform' America, "was convicted of killing two FBI agents."

"Guess who wrote a song about him? Bono. Guess where he was? The White House?" It was Crossfire in all of its insipidness. Jon wasn't done. Bob Dylan wrote a song about Hurricane Carter when Hurricane Carter was in prison! And he's been to the White House!

They are not the same thing at all. But facts escape the funny man and they escape his groupies as well. For example, you should have already caught the obvious difference between Common and Bono's songs. If you didn't, you may be as stupid as CPEMachine who posted at The Daily Show forum:

In the debate with O'Reily on the Common visiting the White House topic O'Reily felt he had a stronger point because Common had actually travelled to Cuba to visit Assata Shakur. Jon had argued that it was not only Obama who had invited artists that have sympathized with known criminals. Bono, Johnny Cash, Ted Nugent, have all attended White House functions under the Bush adminisration. O'Reily felt it was important to make the point that though Bono and Cash wrote songs that may have sympathized with known criminals, they never took the further step to actually visit such criminals in person. In fact, not only did Cash pay his subjects a visit, he performed a hour long concert for them. Where is the consistency?

No, as described above, it is not the same thing. First off, Johnny Cash? Paying "his subjects a visit"? Did so in prison. That concert was a prison concert. And there's the difference.

Whether Common visited Shakur or not, Shakur is not in prison. Shakur escaped decades ago. Shakur is a wanted fugitive.

That's a big difference. Peltier? He's behind bars. Shakur: Escapee.

If Common did indeed visit with Shakur (we have no idea) that would be a very big issue. (Shakur moved to Cuba in the 80s when Fidel Castro gave her asylum.)

As stupid as his followers, Jon Stewart can't grasp the difference between advocating for a new trial for Peltier or Hurricane Carter and a song in favor of a prison escapee? Can't tell the difference between visiting someone in prison and visiting a known fugitive on the run?

While Jon packed his factoids, he forgot to pack his facts.

Were, as Jon insisted, Fox News and Bill O'Reilly trying to create an issue out of thin air?

May 11th, Roman Wolfe ( Daily News) was reporting on the response by the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association Union and their president, David Jones, in calling out the visit and Wolfe explained, "The State Troopers Fraternal Association Union are upset because Common's visit comes as they prepare to head to Washington, D.C. to honor slain officers at the National Law Enforcement Memorial."

Unless Jon is accusing the New Jersey State Troopers of being paid schills for Fox News, Fox isn't 'creating' an issue. And it's really insulting to the widows of fallen police officers, to the children of fallen police officers, for their pain to be made light of.

Ourselves? We think Leonard Peltier should be freed and we believe he's innocent. We have no idea if Shakur is or is not. We haven't lost any sleep over Common's rap about her or whether he visited her or not. They aren't really the issues that we focus on daily. As individuals, we're allowed to decide to rank issues based on their importance to us. Ending the Iraq War ranks number one. Everything else falls somewhere lower on the list. But that's our list. We're aware that many other people have many other opinions. Though Common's song and alleged visit don't matter much to us, we don't belittle the New Jersey State Troopers who are offended. We see their point of view. We understand what they're objecting to and we're not going to insult them or their feelings by insisting that they're either paid schills for Fox News or people too stupid to know what they really think and need Fox to hand them marching orders.

Watching the exchange (click here to see it on YouTube), all we could think was: Jon, you're doing theater when you should be doing debate, which would be great.

And those words -- which ring so true -- are Jon's words: "You're doing theater when you should be doing debate, which would be great." He said them on Crossfire, in fact. He's become the very thing he criticized.

In that appearance, Tucker Carlson asked him an interesting question which is only more so with Barack Obama in the White House: if John Kerry was elected president (Stewart appeared on the program in 2004) would it "be harder for you to mock his administration if he becomes president?" Jon Stewart denied it would be.

We'll never know if that remark was true or not but it certainly has been harder for Jon to find the courage to mock Barack. Then again, Barack is such a joke all on his own.

Thursday, he gave a speech. And because he made offered some empty talk about abstract freedoms, a bunch of idiots cheered him. Looking back years from now, people will wonder how the Barack Doctrine (for war) was presented publicly without Americans weighing in? But that's largely what took place. (Trina weighed in here.) Phyllis Bennis found it easier to play it safe and pick at his remarks regarding Israel, others focused on other aspects. But the speech itself, and the argument that war could be made over the US taking offense to the kind of freedom or lack of freedoms that other countries have? Our not-so-brave chattering class took a pass.

Of course, there is worse than just taking a pass. Beyond Phyllis there is Stephen Zunes Professional Looney Tune who found it "gratifying" to hear Barack "say that the United States 'will oppose an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others'". Yeah, that just kind of warms the heart there, Steve-o.

When Zunes emerges hung over, the chants of "USA! USA!" a distant echo in his head, these are words that should not just haunt him, they should strangle him.

We're feminists. We would never applaud a war being fought because of the conditions of women's lives. That's not why you go to war. You go to war if you're attacked. If you don't like another country's way of life? Don't visit it. If you want to change it, work to do so peacefully.

But Barack gave his I AM FOREVER IN SEARCH OF NEW WAR ADVENTURES speech and idiots like Stephen Zunes refused to analyze that because they were too busy elbowing one another in the ribs, squealing, "Did you hear that? He said freedoms! Freedoms!"

It was truly disgusting. And what so much of the left wanted to pointedly ignore, the right couldn't stop celebrating -- read this column on the speech by Charles Krauthammer and this from Commentary magazine.

As fake as Barack is, too many on the left have become. FAIR sold out their good name in 2008 and never bothered to recapture it. Last week, they were highlighting a May 13th broadcast of Tavis Smiley (PBS). (Disclosure, we know and like Tavis.) FAIR was paving the ultimate faker, the biggest facade of all, Bill Moyers.

Moyers loves to talk but, more and more it seems, even more than just talking, he loves to lie. Which is how he uttered this nonsense (which FAIR and others highlighted all last week), "Television, including public television, rarely gives a venue to people who have refused to buy into the ruling ideology of Washington. The ruling ideology of Washington is we have two parties. They do their job; they do their job pretty well. The differences between them limit the terms of the debate. But we know that real change comes from outside the consensus. Real change comes from people making history, challenging history, dissenting, protesting, agitating, organizing. Those voices that challenge the ruling ideology – two parties, the best of all worlds, do a pretty good job – those voices get constantly pushed back to the areas of the stage you can't see or hear. You got voices like those on your show. You got them on Amy Goodman Democracy Now! and a few other places like that, but not as a steady presence in the public discourse."

Big words from little Bill. So, he argues, it's a problem -- even on PBS -- that guests are rarely people from outside the two major parties? While it is true that he loved to book Socialists and Communists on his program and not identify them as such (while always identifying Republicans and Libertarians), it's also true that in 2008, he wouldn't book Ralph Nader, he wouldn't deign to interview Cynthia McKinney.

In other words, big liar Bill went on Tavis' show to whine about the fact that some TV shows -- even PBS ones -- won't book guests from the non-two major parties (Democrats and Republicans) but wants everyone to pretend like he wasn't as guilty of that as anyone else.

Bill's a damn liar and PBS is so lucky to be rid of his 'news' programs. The only thing phonier than him is probably FAIR and its cohorts who make like applauding seals instead of noting the reality that Bill Moyers Journal was no friend to the third party and independent candidates. Not only would he not book them, he wouldn't include them in the "conversations." Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader did not exist on his program. Their runs were noted or discussed or, certainly, promoted.

Now Bill wants to show up, after his series is off the air, and whine that people -- other people, you understand, not him -- won't play fair in their bookings.

We cannot go on
Sounding alarms
And rattling swords
And building bombs

And fouling the air

And the streams underground
We've got to begin to turn it around
-- "Turn of the Tide," written by Jacob Brackman and Carly Simon, appears on her 3-CD collection Clouds In My Coffee

What would happen if people actually walked it like they talked it?

Watching one facade after another be erected last week, we really had to wonder. Listening, for example, to Bill Moyers rip of I.F. Stone (without credit) and tell Tavis that "all governments lie" we were left to reflect on the final season of Bill Moyers Journal -- when Barack could do no wrong and the land was filled with mean Republicans out to destroy the most noble and pure human being to ever grace the face of the earth.

The answer for the left in the '00s was to find their voice and provide facts. Instead of grasping the power of the truth, a lot of organs (often with funding from George Soros and others) were created with the simple goal of becoming an echo chamber. Instead of wanting to create a stronger left, the goal was to create a left just like the right.

Our warnings in real time were ignored but, hopefully, we now see where that road leads: To a leader as hideous as George W. Bush but one that, as a whole, we on the left fail to call out. Over and over.

A facade can block out many things but facades will always be false, by the very definition, they will be false. And when they come, as witnessed by the recent Brentwood alteration, few even know or remember why they were erected in the first place. Such is their actual 'importance,' their actual 'value.' Truth, however, is eternal.
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