Sunday, June 01, 2008

TV: Grime & Grit TV

We would have thought the week couldn't get any nuttier but a friend had phoned us about a new program and insisted it was insane. He was especially focused on one episode which he Fed-Exed to us in South Dakota. When it arrived, we watched and felt we'd just sat through Skidoo.


That Otto Preminger bomb featured many appalling performances but certainly Carol Channing has to take top 'honors' for worst performance as mobster Jackie Gleason's wife who attempts to bed Frankie Avalon. Though only 47 at the time, she looked 400. Avalon was 29 and looked 15. Laura Flanders was obviously cast in the lead due to similarities between herself and Channing.

Apparently unable to call the show The Self-Loathing Lesbian, Free Speech TV went with Grit TV ("with Laura Flanders"). If it's already sounding like a nightmare, oh, you just don't know.

Where to start? The set utilizes blue walls with what appears to be either water or urine stains (we're guessing the latter). The lighting is such a disaster that, if filmed in a living room with only an overhead light, it could not look any worse. The set is lit overhead and, if you doubt that, check out the head shadows on Flanders' jacket. She has a slew of bad jackets -- all which appear in need of a good cleaning. For variety, she wears three necklaces and sometimes she tosses the charms down her blouse and sometimes she leaves them exposed.

She's got a frizzy hair-do that appears to pay homage to the seventies and is only made worse by the fact that, when it comes to hair color, she seems unable to settle on just one shade. The frizzy helmet has bangs and, combined with the overhead lighting, only serves to emphasize her moon lantern jaw and hide her eyes. If you think we're being cruel, (a) we haven't even started and (b) she can consider it a useful tip that they need to relight the set immediately.

The episode in question aired on May 19th or May 21st. We don't know, we don't care. We watched it in full and skimmed through four other episodes.

Groucho Marx embarrassed himself in Skidoo and, out of kindness, we decided Danny Schechter was the Groucho of the group. The group?

The show started with a . . . not roundtable. The table is another problem. It's some form of a triangle and it's elevated way too high. You notice that as the guests have difficulty deciding where to place their hands. Guests? Let's talk about the host. No one needs to see Laura Flanders doing whatever it is she's doing with her hands in between her spread legs but the camera operator found it interesting so while other people were speaking you were treated to many shots of Flanders' hands darting between her legs. A card table, a fold-out card table, would make a better prop than that ridiculous table which only created distance due to its length. It's actually narrow at one end and narrows to a point at the other end. But in between, it comes off on camera like a football field. So Laura and one guest were at one end while two other guests were down at the other. You kept expecting Laura to scream, "Go wide, Danny!" and hurl a football.

We'll deal specifically with the host in a bit but let's get to the guests. Three. There was Danny, Lionel from Air America Radio (if he has a last name, it's not worth mentioning -- you'll agree shortly) and non-feminist Betsy Reed. All four made clear it was Bad Hair On Parade. Lionel's receding hairline can't seem to make up it's mind (reflecting his political positions) while Betsy always hopes her hairstyle will bring to mind Patti Hansen but only serves to bring to mind Nico after the fall -- with jug ears.

Many years ago, one of us (C.I.) used to hear non-stop complaints about Danny's clothing from Roone Arledge. Roone hated the way everyone at ABC dressed as a general rule. But he really hated Danny. Watching, it was clear why: Danny's head was perched on top of a pyramid. How did someone ever in broadcast TV not learn that you sit on your jacket to get a smooth shoulder line?

That was far from Danny's most embarrassing moment. It's a toss-up between two and, going over our notes, it's hard to know which one to start with. We'll go with Danny's kiss-ass statement that "this show that you're doing really needs the support of others across the progressive spectrum. It's only by cross-promoting . . ."

Grit TV is appalling TV. And Danny was far less friendly and 'support'ive when biting off Kris Welch's head on KPFA in 2006. With Flanders, he was sucking up big time and we only hope he watched the show after and saw that it's the last thing "the progressive spectrum" needs.

What is it? Another show from NYC. Another show that features a lot of White people. It's another echo chamber and, once upon a time, Danny Schechter called that crap out. Did it break any news? No. Did it offer any in depth conversations? No. Did it offer anything other than slogans? No. It was as vapid as Washington Week at its worst but tilted to the far, far left.

Danny's got his own problems and they appear to include forgetting everything he learned in broadcast TV about reporting. He is unable to get attention to the story that consumes him (the government corruption that led to the housing crisis which is leading to a governmental giveaway to the very criminals who fleeced Americans to begin with). That's because Danny's left reporting to visit Egg Head Land. Hopefully, he will be rejoining the rest of us shortly.

But in Egg Head Land, he likes to toss out dollar figures, with many, many zeros. As Barbara Streisand once explained to her manager, when inquiring why it cost so much for something to be messaged cross-town and he pointed out she'd just turned down fifty thousand dollars for one performance (this is in the sixties) and was now bothered by a couple of bucks, "Marty, twelve dollars I can relate to." The more zeros you add, the more the head spins. The numbers do not result in an outrage because they are so high as it is. To get to the outrage, as Don Hewitt would say, "Tell me a story." Give us faces, give us names. 'Many' people being effected is not good reporting. Danny's so lost in Egg Head Land, he's forgotten the basics. So the average viewer, his appearance sounded lot like Charlie Brown's teacher anytime he talked about the housing crisis.

We'll come back to Danny and move to the line that outraged our friend (and had him wondering "If Jane's back on the hard stuff?" -- the TV 'show' is also a web 'show' via FireDogLake). It was outrageous and what was really outrageous was the reaction to it.

Ahnuld said a crazy thing. In California, we're so used to it by now, it doesn't even register. But apparently to the fringe crowd in NYC, Ahnuld's every utterance must be replayed and analyzed. So there was Lionel talking about how Ahnuld said Latinos (Lionel said "Hispanics") needed to turn off Spanish-language TV and start watching English-language TV if they were going to learn the English language. If Ahnuld said that, we're not surprised: His governorship is like Ronald Reagan's in just about every way. But, yes, that is offensive.

So was what happened on Grit TV. The Anglos clucked over that. Then Lionel felt the need to 'joke,' that the reply from "Hispanics" to Ahnuld statement was "What?"

Are you missing the humor? We were too. Laura Flanders wasn't, she laughed at it.

No one called it out. Lionel supposedly found Ahnuld's statements outrageous and demeaning to Latinos. We agree they were. We further agree that Lionel's 'joke' was outrageous and wonder exactly how Laura defends it or her laughter at it?

Is it 'funny' to imply that Latinos can't speak English? In what world -- apparently a very Anglo and Jewish one -- do you get the idea that you can laugh at Latinos and stereotype them?

Is this what "the progressive spectrum" needs to support, Danny? Stereotypes of Latinos?

Maybe we should offer stereotypes of radical New Yorkers? Would that be funny?

That's the biggest problem with this crap-ass program. The last thing America needs in another group of neutered poodles in NYC getting on air. NYC is a part of America, it is not America and no one in the world needs to suggest that yet another program focused on that isolated and insulated sub-section of New York (state or city) needs another media outlet.

When not attempting to pose, Betsy Reed weighed in on sexism in the media against Hillary. We should note that neither Laura nor Betsy felt the need to inform the audience that they'd already repeatedly slammed Hillary at The Nation or that they'd dismissed the notion that sexism was a real issue. Danny? We try to say nice things but Danny's writes like a sexist. He made that clear when he expressed that Tina Turner should forgive Ike, if she's a good Buddhist, for torturing her for nearly two decades. It takes a lot of sexism to suggest that a woman who's been beat (with shoe trees, with electrical cords, with Ike's fists, etc.) -- so much that Daniel Freeman Hospital was practically her second home -- needs to forgive the man who tortured her. It takes a lot of sexism to hurl non-stop attacks at Katie Couric (before she's even anchor) and to belittle her by typing "Katey Couric." He made his sexism clear in his campaign coverage remarks and the links he chose. (Ironically, he recently was warned by USA Today that some of his Obama loving e-mails he's been quoting were spam. Uh, we outlined that here months ago. Welcome to the party, make yourself a drink.) His concern for the housing crisis never led to calling Barack out for his backers deep involvement in it. It got so bad that at this site and The Common Ills, Danny's link was moved far down hoping that would lead to fewer complaints (which have been coming in for months) about how sexist his coverage of Hillary has been. Lionel? We really don't know. We're told by the last remaining Air America Radio survivors that he's the 'most fair' when it comes to Hillary. That's a bit like praising Donny as the deep-thinking Osmond.

Lionel gave a little rant where he suggested she was a monster-machine and 'joked' about her revealing that by pulling off her flesh. If that sounds disturbing, it was. But not to the panel which must consider female mutilation a topic to joke about in between screenings of Deep Throat.

Has the media been sexist in their coverage of Hillary?

Absolutely. But never expect truth from Panhandle Media.

Betsy offered, "I think sexism has definitely hindered her campaign." But, Betsy wanted the world to know, it had also rallied supporters to her. Betsy, the question was about the media -- which you're supposed to be a part of. What Betsy offered was basically a refutation of not only the work of Durkheim and Merton but also Foucault and Marx. We're sure it's the last one that will have Betsy feeling sheepish.

Betsy also wanted to suggest that Hillary doesn't have supporters. According to Betsy, she has "followers" and we're guessing that was non-feminist Betsy again trafficking in sexual stereotypes as she suggested a strong woman couldn't have support, only blind followers. It was especially cute to hear Betsy finger-point about the topic of sexism: ". . . she's been weighed down by sexism coming from the media, form cable news, largely male commentators." No, Betsy, largely from The Nation where she has allowed every bit of sexism (whether your own, Barbara Ehrenreich's, Tom Hayden's, Laura Flanders', etc.) to be published. (Betsy is executive-editor of The Nation which published 491 men and only 149 women in 2007.)

Remember the nonsense about "cackle" to describe Hillary's laugh? That was sexist. So it was hilarious to watch this pretend (and brief) discussion of sexism hosted by the woman (Laura Flanders) who couldn't stop saying Hillary cackled in a KPFA broadcast 'analysis' of the Texas debate between Barack and Hillary.

"Victimization narrative," Danny dismissed suggesting that he was going for a James Fox Thoroughly Modern Millie moment only, instead of inventing the dance "The Tapioca," he was offering up "Oink! Oink! Everybody Oink Oink!"

Danny, never noted for highlighting women in his News Dissectors columns (unless they were fans who e-mailed him), wanted to stress that, "Obama has tried to get beyond the victimization narrative. Hillary is now using it because that's all she has."

Really? Well, as we already explained earlier, Obama's campaign (for which he's responsible) played the "victimization narrative" with regards to the RFK remarks. But Danny doesn't mean that, he means race. He thinks Barack has tried to get beyond being a "Black" man. But Barack isn't "Black." He is bi-racial. He is half-Black, and half-White. And his campaign has played the race card non-stop. His surrogates or his campaign call someone a racist. The person gets smeared by the press. It's all over the news cycle. A few days later, Barack says he doesn't think they're racist and he's congratulated by the press for his 'depth' and 'insight.' The same press that never points out it was his campaign that started screaming "racism!" every time. Hillary's a woman. We're not sure how she's supposed to get beyond that or why she should have to? But then what was once called out ("post-racial") by Panhandle Media is now lauded.

If you wonder where Danny gets some of his Hillary Hatred the answer is Frank Rich. It takes a lot of stupid to praise Frank Rich. You'll never find Frank Rich praised at this site or The Common Ills. Danny thinks Rich is the example of a strong arts critic who moved on to be a strong social critic. We agree that Rich's work is similar in both avenues. As a reviewer, he was said by many producers to never be above inventing a scene or details that weren't in a play in order to make his slam. As a 'political' writer, he does much the same thing. There's nothing to praise in Rich's writing but those who share his opinions (they shift from decade to decade, you have been warned) miss that point. No, Frank Rich is not doing "some of our best media criticism." We'll assume Danny's praise of the narrative inventive writer is one more side effect of his (hopefully) temporary residence in Egg Head Land.

At this point, Lionel offered the mutilation scenario of Hillary and they all found it humorous. That was the 'depth' of the discussion. Since none of them support Hillary, let's not pretend that a real discussion ever could have taken place. Each has gone out of their way to tear her apart and utilizing sexism has been the easiest tool. It's also a false premise on Betsy's part that males are responsible. Many Queen Bees, such as Betsy and Laura, engaged in sexist tactics as well.

They quickly moved on to John Edwards and sexism. How he was a victim of it. And that they wanted to explore. It's a bit like the entertainment industry's rush to 'explore' workplace sexual harassment via a woman harassing a man (when all statistics show that it's overwhelming the other way around) or offering up Ahnuld pregnant in Junior. Betsy, so silent on her own sexist treatment of Hillary, was quick to rush in when Laura brought up "homophobia" (laughable, we'll get to it). "It's homophobia," Betsy agreed, with a mixture of "sexism of what it takes to be a man." Betsy played the fool's dance Bob Somerby's long noted: blame the right-wing and pretend like respected outlets didn't partake. (Can you speak of John Edwards and haircut without noting The New York Times? Betsy can.) John Edwards was brought up because the panel thinks he'll be Barack's running mate -- that four Hillary Haters would accept the premise that Barack's the nominee was not surprising.

But there were Betsy and Laura grandstanding on homophobia. It was hilarious. It was hilarious in the show's final segment when Laura wanted to 'explore' same-sex marriage via airing a Big Junk video. Laura, the self-loathing lesbian, never called Barack out for his use of homophobia in South Carolina. Nor did anyone, including Betsy, at The Nation. Suddenly, they wanted to care about homophobia allegedly being used against (the straight) John Edwards?

It is laughable. And it is pathetic.

Barack needed to shore up the votes in South Carolina. He decided to put four homophobes on stage at a campaign event. A 'Christian' duo who compare gays and lesbians to the moral equivalents of murders got some Real Media attention but most was focused on the allegedly "ex-gay" man who now preaches about the evils of gays and cautions, using his own supposedly true narrative, that gay men recruit and they do it by targeting young boys. Human rights groups were outraged. They contacted the campaign and registered their outrage. Barack blew it off. The homophobes took the stage -- the event was protested -- and spewed their homophobia and Barack's campaign aides bragged, "We got what we wanted."

Danny's never written about that either. We're sure he'd have an excuse for that. But all he had to do was link to it and he never did. Homophobia's only an issue when someone you don't support uses it, apparently.

The second segment was Laura talking to secularist Austin Dacey and only drove home that while race is reduced to strictly African-American and White by Panhandle Media and while Panhandle Media has no comprehension of the working class, they really don't get religion.

Dacey's from Amherst, New York and apparently that qualifies as 'exotic' to the NYC set. "Amherst!" the show all but exclaims, "It's practically the sticks!"

Austin was real proud of his work rejecting the myth of values voters. Yeah, great work there Austin. Of course, it was rejected in real time before you ever stepped up to the plate. Idiot Austin and Laura agreed that to create the values voters, the questions had to be slanted. Two Idiots gas bagging. Just what the world doesn't need now. For the record, The New York Times pushed that lie more than any other and to prove it's a lie you need only look at their raw data. Pay attention to the claims in the post-election 2004 story -- by Janet Elder and Adam Nagourney -- on attitudes towards gays and lesbians, for example, and then look at the actual polling data and grasp that they combined a strongly opposed and a weak opposed group which they then pitted against strong supporters while refusing to include weak supporters. No link, this was covered in real time at The Common Ills. [Jim adding links: Here, here, here, here, here and here. C.I. covered all of this Nov. 23, 2004. Dacy's a fool. Back to Ava and C.I.] Unlike the two gas bags, we studied statistics, demography and polling. We know before you promote anything as valid, you look at the raw data. Looking at the questions is the second step but the ones those not trained in methodology rush to. (That would include not only Laura and Austin but also your average reporter.)

It was an insulting segment and it didn't have to be. We'll leave it at that except to mention that our notes include: "Austin, you aren't as cute as you think you are shifting your shoulders and grinning throughout every response." It was a bit like the swivel chairs used on some cable networks for remotes, the one a guest doesn't grasp that they are not supposed to swivel in on camera.

Now we get to return to the host and the program and, after all, aren't they one and the same?

She favors the right side of her mouth when over enunciating. That's why she has so many wrinkles on that side of her mouth. You don't notice that on radio. There's a lot you don't notice on radio. For instance, she shares Amy Goodman's ridiculous and annoying habit of injecting vocal noises -- consider them burps -- throughout that add nothing for the viewer.

She also snorts which means she's doing a tribute to both Gellers: Monica and Ross. Ross with the over-enunciation (which tripped her up this episode "The nation on cap -- the nation on Hurricane Katrina") and Monica with the snorting (especially after Danny said the press had been very selective).

It's nothing but propaganda via a circle-jerk. At some point, Laura would note that The Nation magazine produces her radio show. (The musical theme is the same to both, there's not a lot of 'ideas' floating around the circle-jerk.) She would plug CounterPunch while neglecting to mention that her uncle runs the periodical. She would plug Air America Radio (which airs her show). It reminded us of The Big Show without the sparkle and wit. That radio program was hosted by Talluah Bankhead and was nothing but "insider baseball" for the camp and frou-frou set.

All of Panhandle Media could vanish tomorrow and it wouldn't be any great loss. The only outlet to be mourned is the late, lamented Clamor magazine and what Clamor had to offer was not more of the same. Clamor was not part of the NYC crowd and that's what allowed it to be a distinct voice and not an echo chamber. Danny, who still champions localism, was way off base when he argued that this show is worth supporting. Like Laura Flanders' radio show, which has descended into an hour long infomercial for The Nation magazine, Grit TV has nothing to offer.

It's not breaking any news, it's not offering deep exchanges. It's the sort of show you could find on PBS but from the far, far left and Danny used to call out the PBS offerings like this. Static talking heads, cheap to produce, not remotely resembling news. Grit TV is like every other bad radio and TV program from 'independent' media (meaning it's funded by begging and grants). It's the same guest list of predominately White males. It's the same people talking to each other over and over again. Did the recovery movement make no impact on the left? Did they never grasp the definition of "insanity"?

We're not sure but we do know that along with it being bad programming, it's ugly TV. We're reminded of Gloria Monty's infamous statement when she first viewed an episode of the show she was brought into rescue (General Hospital) but we'll be kind and not repeat it. We will note that Laura Flanders is not the ugly woman on your TV screen. Though she has this weird habit of tapping the index finger of her right hand (while her hands are clasped) while someone else speaks and while she constantly darts her eyes while someone speaks, she's not, by nature, a shifty person. The fact that she looks like one goes to those ridiculous wing-bangs which, due to the overhead lighting, cause shadows to fall over her eyes and elongate her face. TV's a visual medium. If all you have to offer is talking heads, at least try to make them look natural (if not "good").

Years and years ago when Judy Garland decided to do her own CBS TV program, she made a deal with the idiotic Mel Torme where, if he would be her arranger and help her select material, she would let him guest on several episodes. Danny's not an idiot (even trapped in Egg Head Land) and he's not as vain as Torme. He used to know a thing or two about TV. Were we Laura Flanders, we would immediately get on the phone with him and offer him one appearance a week if he would come in and make suggestions on how to improve the look of the show.

Another suggestion? The table needs to go. It's a weird shape -- which doesn't make it 'unique,' just weird -- and it creates far too much distance in what is supposed to be a conversation. But what's most needed is getting the damn show out of NYC. It will never be unique or anything to be proud of when the temptation is always to do the 'easy' thing -- what everyone else is doing. When Air America Radio goes under (tick-tick-tick), Laura has no excuse not to go elsewhere and she should. If it's the Bay Area, she should do her show from Oakland. Even Boston would be an improvement over NYC where all the talking heads have been on too many programs offering the same opinions over and over.

We don't know what's happened to Laura Flanders. The Flanders we supported and cheered would never have stayed silent while any candidate used homophobia as a campaign strategy. The Flanders we applauded would have been the first to note the dirty tricks used in demonizing women (Hillary, yes, but others as well, it was necessary to smear a lot of women to advance Barack's campaign). The Flanders who enthralled us was always against the grain and unconventional. The show the current Flanders is doing is nothing but cookie-cutter. Hopefully in August or November, she'll emerge from her slumber and realize just what has been going on. If she does, she'll have a show worth watching, one that puts every other program to shame. It won't be talking heads, it won't be replaying the headlines (from MSM or Panhandle Media), it will be dangerous and provocative TV.

Right now, she's Carol Channing in Skidoo and we're wishing we had the button Frankie Avalon pushes that makes Channing disappear but realizing that Skidoo was supposed to be funny and wasn't while Grit TV isn't supposed to be funny but is. That's the only real difference we're seeing and like most 'differences' in 'independent' media, it's just the flip of a coin.
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