Sunday, March 27, 2011

TV: Jump The Shark

It was Saturday the 19th, we were in L.A. at a friend's house, almost ready to fly back to DC. Amidst the talk of the day's Hollywood & Vine demonstration (and it's amazing turnout) against the wars, and in the midst of a blistering conversation about two faux hayseeds when a TV writer walked up and declared, "Oh, absolutely, it's jumped the shark."


Jumping the shark, for those who don't know, is a term for when something goes off the deep end, for when it is no longer believable and the good times have ended. On the '70s sitcom Happy Days, in a desperate bid to ride the shark craze generated by the film Jaws, they had Fonzie, on jet skies, jump a shark, literally. It's thought that episode inspired the phrase.

We had been talking about Barack, NPR and the selling of the war on Libya. The man who arrived late to the conversation was referring to 30 Rock. However, it really did apply to both.

Let's start with 30 Rock. We're no fans of 'reality' TV. Obviously. In all these years, we've only covered Paris & Nicole, Brody and Brandon Jenner, American Idol, Big Brother, Celebrity Apprentice and (with Dona, Jess, Ty and Jim) The Apprentice. We're on year seven of doing this and we've only covered six reality shows and we had to be begged to do each one. In addition, we've made clear in one piece after another how cheap and fake we think 'reality' TV is and how destructive. It was the one thing we still had in common with Tina Fey.

Until her little show jumped the shark.

Episode 11 of the first season ("The Head & The Hair") featured Kenneth seeing his show brought to life -- Deal or No Deal mixed with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire but with the lucky case filled with gold (Gold Case). Anything still left to say on the matter was addressed in season two's eleventh episode ("MLF Island") which found the TGIF staff obsessed with the reality show MLF Island while Liz (Tinay Fey) mirrored the behavior taking place on the show as she attempted to hide the fact that she was the one who trashed Jack (Alec Baldwin) to The New York Post. The occasional dialogue lines since were often funny, but the point (we thought) had been made.


Take this season's episode eleven ("Mrs. Donagy") in which Jack declares Angie (Sherri Shepherd) a 'reality' TV star and the credits roll with a parody promo for Angie's show Queen of Jordan. Sadly, that was not of the end of it. The next episode ("Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning") was Angie's TV crew invading the TGS set with Liz and Tracy (Tracy Morgan) refusing to apologize to one another for the 'reality' TV cameras leading the producers of Queen of Jordan to serve up fake footage soaked in a cheesy song.

If anyone missed the point while Liz and Tracy watched their fake embrace broadcast on TV, they then got to hear Liz and Tracy explain it to one another face to face as they rushed into a real hug and then the viewers got Liz explaining to Jack how manipulative 'reality' TV is.

Okay. Point established. And then some. No need to ever again cover the topic.

Instead, it just gets worse each week culminating in the March 17th jump-the-shark episode "Queen of Jordan." That episode was a Queen of Jordan episode. Jack fought rumors that he was ungraceful, gay and gassy. Liz plotted and schemed. A bad guest star showed up in a very tasteless and tacky storyline about a grown woman sleeping with an eight-year-old boy. It just never ended. It was not funny, Sherri Shepherd can't act and the racist portrayal of Angie should have been stopped a long, long time ago.

As the allegedly smart comedian Tina Fey got 'laughs' out of Angie (again) pulling out Liz's hair and calling Liz a bitch, the show became a wealth of embarrassments and as bad as the episode the week prior ("TGS Hates Women") in which the joke was supposed to be that Liz might have been out of touch with feminist sensibilities as evidenced by a skit in which Jenna played Amelia Earhart who screamed that she was getting her period followed by Hillary Clinton holding a press conference and exclaiming that she was getting her period (followed by Liz at the writers' table screaming that, yes, she was getting her period).

These were the examples of Liz not 'getting' what she was doing. But the offensive jokes that came prior to the period 'jokes,' when all present at the writers' table were supposed to see Liz as a strong example of a feminist were even worse. How Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- who has always dressed appropriately for her position -- looks in a swim suit isn't funny. There's not even a reason to bring it up. But more 'laughs' were to be mined moments later when Liz claimed she was "talking 'bout a femolution" -- a play on Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" -- and then quickly asking of Tracy Chapman, "She's a woman, right?"

We were asking if anyone could be more predictable and one-sided while pretending to be 'heartland of the people' when the TV writer walked up and assumed we were discussing Tina Fey. We had actually been talking about NPR and, specifically at that moment, Wesley Clark or, as we like to think of Wes, the first indication that Michael Moore was a raving lunatic. (Moore endorsed the War Hawk Clark in the 2004 Democratic Party primary.)

The left winces and sometimes defends Clark from right-wing charges of hypocrisy but the truth is that the right-wing is correct that Clark has been all over the map about the Iraq War. Find a position on that illegal war and, at some point in time, Clark has publicly taken it. Wishy-washy and spineless are terms that best describe Clark. So it was no surprise that as Barack Obama made his quickie announcement of war before high tailing it out of the country in his best Little Barry Fu-Fu fashion, All Things Considered would find Clark a suitable guest. (Link goes to the March 18th broadcast, all segments of it are audio and transcript and we're referring to that broadcast when discussing ATC segments.)

Clark had written a column for The Washington Post stating that the US should not intervene in Libya. But since he's long been auditioning to become the new Mark Shields, everyone knows he'll walk away (quickly) from any staked ground. So NPR paired him up with War Hawk Anne-Marie Slaughter whose chief "academic" achievement may have been in booking more Republican and pro-war speakers than (a) were needed and (b) than opposing voices. In an idiotic response, which should have resulted in her being fired from Princeton, Slaughter offered up a list of speakers she'd tried for (Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, etc.) but had been unable to get. Her names? They supported the Iraq War. The group lodging the complaint was an anti-war group talking about the obligations that universities have in a time of war and how Slaughter's speakers were all pro-war. She trots out a few Democrats who had supported (and in 2005 were still supporting) the Iraq War and then flaunts her ignorance further by adding, "Engagement, rather than polarization, and dialogue, rather than preaching to the converted, are badly needed in this country. I hope that Princeton can help lead the way." If she wanted a dialogue, and not preaching, she was required to invite speakers who were not all gung-hu supporters of the Iraq War (and who, in fact, disagreed with her own position as an Iraq War cheerleader). To War Hawk Slaughter, one-sided, pro-war speakers are how you "lead the way."

Listening to her bluster and bully her way through the NPR segment, we were reminded again of how her actions at Princeton resulted in vocal and legitimate complaints about just how one-sided and destructive Slaughter is.

She defined 'success' in the Libyan War as, "Gadhafi leaving power and a government that is then formed that is representative of the Libyan people broadly. But the point of the no-fly zone is to get him out of the country." If you think Robert Siegel had a follow-up, you don't know All Things Considered.

The obvious question to then ask Slaughter is under what legal basis would the US be attempting to get Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi out of Libya? But
propaganda doesn't allow for the needed questions to ever be asked. Nor does propaganda allow for a real debate which is why Clark's entire response can be boiled down to "Well, I agree with Anne-Marie, but [. . .]" Yes, he agreed with Slaughter. Of course, he did. Brave stands do not pop up in the personal history of Wesley Clark.

While Robert Siegel made no attempt to force Slaughter to justify her position, he did want Clark to justify his position -- or rather, he wanted Clark to justify his previous position, to disown publicly in some sort of mock show trial which, more and more, NPR sounds like.

Robert Siegel: Just a few days ago, you were saying if this were up to the U.S., it wouldn't be sufficiently in our national interest to do all of this. But what I hear you say now is: Number one, if it's multinational, it's a toggle switch. If it's in our interest, it's in our interest to be all in and go in with great force.

Wesley Clark: Well, what I was saying is that the first rule is [. . .]

Whatever, you little blow hard. The segment mainly served to inform listeners of how crabby Slaughter is and how Clark never stood a chance at the presidency with that nasal voice which sounds so much like Anthony Perkins playing Norman Bates.

Siegel wasn't done with the faux debates. He also spoke with David Brooks and E.J. Dionne about the Libyan War. Brooks' position? "And as someone who's thought this was going to be necessary, I'm really glad he's done it." And Dionne? E.J. dribbled and drooled, "Well, I think Obama's Libya policy is inspired by James A. Baker III, the first secretary of State - for the first President Bush. Tom Donilon, the president's National Security Adviser, has always admired the way Baker put together a very broad international coalition, both in the Arab world and western Europe, to throw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And I think what Obama's done in this case is not acted until he had put together this coalition."

In addition, the two-hour program also aired a 'report' by David Greene and one by Tom Gjelten, four segments, and not once could they offer one objection to the Libyan War. Not once. And this is National Public Radio?

This is the crap we on the left are supposed to be rushing to save? Not one damn word on the 'flagship' NPR show that provided an alternate view. What's to save?

PRI is not NPR. There is a real competition between the two and it's especially intense on the NPR side. NPR friends have fits when we include PRI programs and we get calls about "why did you have to include them?" Maybe this will explain why: Contrast the March 18th All Things Considered with the March 18th The World (PRI program and all segments are both audio and transcript).

The President of the United States had just announced another illegal war and then hurried out of the country. NPR's duty was apparently to provide cover for the war and the president. PRI felt their responsibility was to news. Host Lisa Mullins declared as she finished getting Anne-Marie Slaughter's view, "There are opposing views on the practicality of international intervention in Libya. Barry Posen directs the Security Studies Program at MIT." An opposing view, something NPR couldn't be bothered with.

Barry Posen: My personal view is that this is a mistake. And the reason I think it is a mistake is because I think the United States has already been too activist in the Arab world. In general I don't think it's particularly advantageous for us to be seen as using military action against Arabs, even Arabs that some perceive as the bad Arabs or bad actors. So that's point 1: It's not clear to me that it’s really in our interest. There's no obvious material interest here. The downside that the United States once again, you know, slippery slope, mission creep, etcetera, etcetera. You're going to find yourself in an internal political fight where neither side turns out to be particularly wonderful, and where you end up making somebody mad that you'd rather not have mad. And then the third reason I oppose it -- I think that one of the problems in the Arab world is they feel like they are buffeted about by forces they do not control. And it seems to me that it's good for these Arab political movements that have suddenly emerged across the Arab world, have ownership of their revolution. That they should have ownership of the strategy, the tactics, the successes. But that also means ownership of the costs. So when the victory comes it will be their victory and not our victory.

Mullins: Is there any argument that you would make for intervention, then, anywhere right now, that's undergoing unrest in the Middle East?

Posen: No, I think quite the reverse. I think the United States should be lowering its profile across the Middle East.

NPR's flagship show (as ombudsperson Alicia Shepard loves to repeatedly stress) had two hours and did four segments on Libya but couldn't find one voice objecting to a unilateral decision by Barack to go to war -- to go into yet another war. PRI's The World has just one hour and did a report on the action and then aired a segment featuring opposing views unlike All Things Considered which billed the we-both-agree Slaughter and Clark segment as "a debate".

All Things Considered showed about as much awareness and range as the "TGS Hates Women" episode of 30 Rock. Translation, none at all. Naturally, a man wrote the 30 Rock episode and, appropriately, his name is Ron Weiner because it takes a real dick to serve up something as idiotic as Secretary of State Hillary getting a period in the midst of a press conference.

Hillary is 63-years-old and we'll explain the biology little Ron was never taught: At 63, Hillary's no longer having a period. It's really telling that a man wants to write jokes about women but isn't required to know the basics about women. And it's really telling that 'feminist' Tina Fey would waive that through.

What gets waived through is forever telling on NPR and leading those paying attention to surmise that there's no point in 'saving' NPR. (As Molly Ivins noted in the 80s, NPR loves to insist it would be more left -- it's real nature! -- if only it didn't have to take those darn government funds. It's played lefties with that line privately for years. Let's see it put up or shut up already. And, yes, NPR would survive without government funding.) NPR friends can be real babies so we can already guess what the whines will be like: 'PRI didn't have voices of peace. PRI didn't question the legality of the war. PRI didn't . . .' No, The World didn't. We're not comparing it to the dream program we'd like to hear. We're contrasting it with NPR's flagship All Things Considered.

Our dream show would be one that included at least one guest -- who was allowed to speak without interruption (in other words, no attempt to shut the guest up as Diane Rehm did to Daniel Ellsberg not all that long ago) -- who could point out the basics. Such as?

The US is already involved in the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and a drone war on Pakistan. Is it really smart -- in the midst of an economic crisis -- to start another war? The US has not been attacked by Libya, why is the US declaring war on Libya? The US is more than the president -- who is a servant of the people -- and the Constitution requires Congress to make the declaration of war. So why is it that Barack acted unilaterally? Why is it that he refused to make the case to the people or to the Congress?

We'd just need one person making those points because they're basic, logical points. That's probably why that voice is blocked out by NPR. And it's very telling that you can hear them on Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox but not on the tax payer funded NPR which exists, which was created, to provide a forum for voices that are not heard in the commercial media.

Cindy actually provided two voices weighing in: US House Rep. Dennis Kucinich and historian Thaddeus Russell. Kucinich noted that this "new nightmare for the American people" would cost US tax payers at least one billion dollars.

US House Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Humanitarian war is an oxymoron.

Cindy Sheehan: Right.

US House Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Because the minute that you begin an attack the next thing you hear is collateral damage which is an euphemism for killing innocent people. We noted in the attack on -- George Bush noted when he directed the US troops to attack Iraq -- with Congressional approval, I might add -- that Saddam Hussein was killing his own people. Then we proceeded using our extrarodinary military might to engage in an attack that has resulted, according to Joseph Stiglitz and his -- Linda Bilmes in their book called
The Three Trillion Dollar War, in the deaths of perhaps as many as a million people. Where they extrapolated The Lancet report to present day. So we-we have to understand that interventions never end up the way that you think they will and that innocent people will get killed. And the decision to intervene is a dangerous decision. It's not just that we should applaud ourselves for our humanitarian instincts. We all care. The question is: "Will you do more harm than good?" That's the question that wasn't answered because there was a decision made to go to war without having a debate in Congress about it.

Much more was discussed. But you didn't hear it on NPR. And we wonder about the things the left applauds more and more. Not just a War Hawk President -- though that's bad enough, but so much more. For example, NPR which can't provide news and viewpoints but which we are supposed to save. Or take 30 Rock. Bob Somerby and others have gone to town on Donald Trump for his daytime TV appearance last week. How many people actually watch The View? 30 Rock has a much larger audience. Trump didn't say that Barack was born outside the United States. 30 Rock did. Jack and Avery did on this season's "Double-Edged Sword." That episode found the two smart, educated characters in Canada and in a panic that their daughter might be born there and might not be able to be president. Too bad, they joked, that they weren't in Kenya. Missed Bob and the rest calling Tina Fey out on that.

Missed a lot of things from the left. But what we don't miss is retribution. Whether it's all of the shlock-fest that is Revenge of the Bushido Blade or the key scene in Marked Woman when Bette Davis vows, "I'll get you if I have to come back from the grave to do it," actions like bombing Libya have longterm results. In fact, the various, warring factions of the Middle East -- as cobbled together by foreign powers in the 20th century via wars -- remain a testament to that. Going to war with Libya was not a smart move. Like 30 Rock, Barack jumped the shark. But it's the people of America and the Middle East who will be left paying the costs.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }