Tuesday, March 03, 2020

TV: The future is out there

We think we have seen the future and it is u-g-l-y ugly.


Doubt us?  What if NETFLIX lost the last of its luster?  ALTERED CARBON season two shows us just that.  Anthony Mackie is immensely appealing but even he can't hold your interest with sub-standard writing.  He doesn't embarrass himself and his star power remains intact but everything around him crumbles.  And as the show crumbles, NETFLIX crumbles.

Which is how you notice that they're now serving up REELZ offerings.  REELZ?  The basic channel so bad that more avoid it than ever watch.  It's the least streamed channel on the SLING packages which is really saying something.  And that NETFLIX is now sporting REELZ programming tells you all you need to know about the future.  The streamer long ago lost STARZ, it's now lost FRIENDS and THE OFFICE, its set to lose all DISNEY and THE CW programming.  A few years from now, it'll most likely be down to REELZ programing like UNABOMBER: IN HIS OWN WORDS and a host of NETFLIX originals that are substandard programming no one wants to sample, let alone binge.

We thought about PBS -- the Public Broadcasting Service -- and how it's considered a non-profit organization.  We thought of that as we saw INFLUENZA 1918, an episode of AMERICAN MASTERS, a very old episode of AMERICAN MASTERS.

The coronavirus is an issue today and people might learn a great deal from this episode of AMERICAN MASTERS.  Here's a brief transcript of a section of the episode (we did the transcript):


Male voice: People didn't want to believe that they could be healthy in the morning and dead by nightfall.  They didn't want to believe that.

Narrator: It was the worst epidemic this country had ever known. It killed more Americans than all the wars this century combined.

Man 2: It was a phantom and we didn't know where it was.

Man 3: You never knew from day to day who was going to be next on the death list.

Woman: There were so many people dying that you ran out of things that you'd never consider running out of before: caskets

Narrator: Before it was over, it almost broke America apart.

Woman 2: I remember my mother putting a white sheet, a white piece of cloth over his face and they closed the casket.

Narrator: In 1918, the United States was a vigorous, young nation leading the world into the modern age.  All our fears and anxieties were directed toward Europe where the war waged.  At home, we were safe. William Maxwell was growing up in Lincoln, Illinois. 

William Maxwell:  In 1918, Lincoln was a town of 12,000 people.  It was perhaps fifty years old -- just time enough for the trees to mature so that the branches met over the sidewalks.  The yards were large and the children played in clusters in summer evenings.  On Sunday mornings, the church bells were pretty to hear.  But my father had had enough of church going so we went fishing on Sundays out in the country with a picnic.  It was a life not very much impinged on by the outside world

Narrator: In Macon, Georgia, Catherine Guiler was five-years-old.

Catherine Guiler:  My father was a playmate actually.  And when he'd take me out in his car, he would stop at a grocery store that he knew and take me in and the owner of the store in his white uniform would say to his men, "Go out and shake the candy tree, boys."  I think I must have known that candy didn't grow on that tree but I wouldn't have given up the notion because he was enjoying it and I was enjoying it and everybody was enjoying it, you see.

Narrator:  For a young newspaper woman in Denver, Katherine Anne Porter, life was like a romantic novel.

Katharine Anne Porter:  I had a job on THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS.  The city editor put me to covering theaters.  I met a boy, an army lieutenant, we were much in love.

Narrator:  The soldier was the darling of America.  Patriotism ran unrestrained in a country newly entered in the Great War

Woman 2:  We would march up the streets singing, "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching/ I spy Kaiser at the door/ And we'll get a lemon pie and we'll squash him in his eye/ And there won't be any Kaiser anymore."

Catherine Guiler:  It was a good world but it was an age of innocence.  We really didn't know what was ahead.

Narrator: Some say it began in the spring of 1918 when soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas burned tons of manure.  A gale kicked up.  A choking dust storm swept out over the land, a stinging, stinking, yellow haze.  The sun went dead black in Kansas.  Two days later, on March 11, 1918, an army private reported to the cab hospital before breakfast.  He had a fever, sore throat, headache -- nothing serious.  One minute later, another soldier showed up.  By noon, the hospital had over a hundred cases; in a week, five hundred.  That spring, 48 soldiers, all in the prime of life, died at Fort Riley.  The cause of death was listed as pneumonia.  The sickness then seemed to disappear -- leaving as quickly as it had come.  For over a century, the booming science of medicine had gone from one triumph to another.  Researchers had developed vaccines for many diseases -- small pox, anthrax, rabies, diphtheria, menegitis.

Dr. Shirley Fannin, Epidemiologist: With the great advances in microbiology, we were eliminating mysteries, okay?  The mystery of what causes this disease, the mystery of what causes this disease.  The optimism of being able to visualize something -- all we have to do is just look under the microscope and we'll see the organism and then take an action and see that something die off or be controlled.  That leads to the thought of invincibility.

Narrator: It seemed that the masters of medicine could control life and death.  There was nothing that Americans couldn't do.  We could even win the war that no one could win. That summer and fall, over one-and-a-half-million Americans crossed the Atlantic for war.  But some of those dough boys came from Kansas and they brought something with them --  a tiny, silent companion. Almost immediately, the Kansas sickness resurfaced in Europe. American soldiers got sick.  English soldiers, French, German.  As it spread, the microbe mutated day by day becoming more and more deadly.  By the time the silent traveler came back to America, it had become a relentless killer.  On a rainy day in September, Dr. Victor Vaughan, Acting Surgeon General of the Army, received urgent orders "Proceed to a base near Boston called Camp Devens."  Devens was about to change Dr. Vaughn's world forever.

Dr. Victor Vaughan:  I saw hundreds of young, stalwart men in uniform coming into the wards of the hospital.  Every bed was full yet others crowded in.  The faces were of blueish cast, a cough brought up the blood stained sputum.

Narrator: On the day that Vaughn arrived, 63 men died at Camp Devens.  An autopsy reveled lungs that were swollen, filled with fluid and strangely blue.  Doctors were stunned.  What in the name of God was happening to these lungs.  When the strange new disease was finally identified, it turned out to be a very old and familiar one: Influenza, the flu.  But it was unlike any flu that anyone had ever seen.

Dr. Alfred Crosby:  One of the factors that made this so particularly frightening was that everybody had a preconception about what the flu was -- it's a miserable cold and after a few days you're up and around.  This was a flu that put people into bed as if they'd been hit with a two-by-four, that turned into pneumonia, that turned people blue and black and killed them.  It was a flu that was out of a horror story.

As we try to understand the coronavirus, the episode could be very helpful.  Here's the interesting thing.  Our local PBS station KET is offering it, for example.  But to stream it?  You better have donated to that station.  Really?  That's how we're screwing people over these days.  Public broadcasting -- including PBS -- gets tax payer dollars.  And not only have they sold off SESAME STREET to HBO, they're now taking episodes that could be of public value and public service and hiding them from Americans who didn't donate to PBS.

A PBS exec brought this to our attention and also noted that while KET and many others are pulling that crap around the country, in this case, you can currently stream that episode at the PBS website.

We thought about how public broadcasting was created for the public, to serve the public, and how the digital world had changed things to where PBS served the rich and threw crumbs at the American public.  It's a sight that is both ugly and oh-so familiar.

Saturday, we saw something else. Live coverage of the South Carolina primary on MSNBC . . . without Chris Matthews. Yes, we have seen the future. There are no consequences. You can, as Chris has been in the last two weeks, offensive and sexist and you don't lose a job, you just get pulled from live coverage so that you don't bring further shame to the network. Sexism and the primaries go hand-and-hand for Chris. It was 2008 when Chris made non-stop gender-based attacks on candidate Hillary Clinton. Rachel Maddow leveraged that sexism into her own MSNBC contract. As Bob Somerby noted

Rachel Maddow got her prize—and poor Chris Matthews had to report it. On Saturday night, his cable channel was propagandizing its way through Nevada and South Carolina. And uh-oh! Shortly before 8 P.M. Eastern, Matthews introduced Pat Buchanan—and Maddow. As he did, he made an announcement—one he didn’t seem to enjoy.

Reading from the teleprompter, he said that Maddow is now “an MSNBC political analyst.” Darn it! We couldn’t get our VCR running quickly enough to catch the talker’s full comment. But we did capture him saying this, with a somewhat menacing aspect:

MATTHEWS (1/19/08): Congratulations. I didn’t know anything about that, and if I had had anything to do with it, I might have gotten involved.

You’re right—his words don’t quite parse. And Rachel agreed to say ha ha ha, just like two old pals were joshing. But based on tone—and a decade of Matthews-watching—we would guess that Chris wasn’t pleased at the revoltin’ new development. We’d guess that Matthews wasn’t pleased to see Maddow getting her prize.

Why would Matthews have been displeased? On the evening of the New Hampshire primary, Maddow broke every rule in the book; she told Matthews, to his face, right on the air, that liberals were saying that he was the cause of Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire—that his gender-based trashing of Hillary Clinton had made people very mad. This broke every rule of On-Air Pundit Conduct—and we at THE HOWLER joined many liberals in praising Maddow for it. And then, shazzam! A strange event! Within a few days, Maddow apparently told the AP about how great Matthews actually is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/08). Maddow got right with a cable god. And soon, she had her prize! 

Did Maddow run and lie about Matthews so she could land this big, brilliant plum? We don’t have any way of knowing—but we’ve seen this gruesome movie a million times by now. Why would Maddow, a “progressive” woman, run off to praise Matthews, an utterly crazed woman-trasher? In the particular case, we have no idea—although we’ll ask Maddow, one more time, to explain her peculiar comments. Until she does, we’ll assume the worst—that Maddow is the latest self-dealer to trade the truth for her own success. We’ll treat her with the contempt she has earned until she explains why she said what she did—why she praised this overt woman-hater on her way to her big career prize.

Chris got waived through. Rachel helped him. Howard Dean assisted him. Howard Dean was the head of the DNC at the time and never said a word about the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton. Online, videos were being created of one sexist attack after another but Howard wasn't sure any sexism had ever taken place.

Twelve years later, Chris Matthews continues to get away with this nonsense. Justin Baragona (THE DAILY BEAST) reports:

Women’s advocacy group UltraViolet on Wednesday called upon MSNBC to fire long-time host Chris Matthews after he repeatedly confronted Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on why she believed a female accuser of Michael Bloomberg over the ex-mayor himself. “MSNBC needs to fire Chris Matthews. Today,” UltraViolet president Shaunna Thomas said in a statement. “Matthews’ refusal to believe women, and history of sexual harassment, make it clear that he is not fit to continue to cover this election. MSNBC can and must do better, and they can start by firing Chris Matthews.” (The group linked to a Vanity Fair article revealing that NBC paid separation to an employee who accused Matthews of harassment; and that he was given a formal reprimand.)

Heather Schwedel (SLATE) noted:

When Warren joined Matthews live after the debate, he directed the conversation toward Warren’s comments about Bloomberg’s alleged discrimination and essentially asked her the same question over and over. He let her answer only to then ask it again in different words: “Do you believe that the former mayor of New York said that to a pregnant employee?”; “You believe he’s that kind of person who did that?”; “You believe he’s lying?”; “You’re confident of your accusation?”

Matthews’ shock, coming more than two years after the beginning of a supposed national reckoning for men’s understanding of the sexism women face in their daily lives, was something to behold—it played as if he had never before considered not automatically believing a man he considers respectable over a woman with less power.

He's also taken to attacking Bernie Sanders on air as well. Luke Savage (JACOBIN) reports:

The day’s undisputed champion, however, was MSNBC’s carnival-barker-in-residence, Chris Matthews, who, fresh from imagining an alternate reality involving his own execution by Cuban communists in Central Park a few weeks ago, managed to outdo himself by equating Sanders’s victory in Nevada to the Nazi Blitzkrieg of France in 1940.

Justifiably under fire for the remarks, Matthews has since apologized. But the moment may nonetheless be symbolic of something larger than the deranged outburst of a septuagenarian TV host raised on a noxious diet of Cold War propaganda.

Yes, he got away with it. He has continued to get away with it. He should have been shown the door long, long ago.

1982 to 2004, that's how long Tom Brokaw anchored NBC NIGHTLY NEWS. He then retired. 22 years. In 1988, Chris first began hosting HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS. By the 22 year custom, Chris should have been gone in 2010. In addition, he's 74. We're reminded of a left columnist for THE WASHINGTON POST who stayed too long in print. The times changed and he couldn't keep up. What passed for the left in the 70s and 80s was hopelessly out of date by the 2010s and the columnist should have retired while the reputation was still intact.

In the future we're being shown today, no one retires, no one steps aside. They just say vile and disgusting things and get away with it over and over again.

[ADDED: In an effort at beautification, Chris Matthews has announced he's retiring from MSNBC.]

Watching AMAZON's HUNTERS, we realized we were seeing the slog and exhaustion of entertainment that has been in a state of indefinite suspension for some time. It's really sad to realize just how many suffer and will continue to suffer. Al Pacino is one of the country's finest actors and he's being wasted in HUNTERS. Everyone is being wasted.

Well maybe not David Weil. He may be elevated. At present, he shows no indication to have any writing ability but he keeps churning out scripts for HUNTERS and he created it. Hunter is cutting edge . . if it's the 80s or 90s. While lacking any creative vision himself, he does know enough to copy Steven Soderbergh and Kevin Williamson, to copy them poorly. Soderbergh revolutionized film and Kevin greatly altered the screenplay. Both did it by pouring a lot of energy into the form. Weil copies them but can't manufacture the energy and so we're left with attempts at snappy lines of dialogue that then have craters, grand canyons, between them and the next line. Lethargy would be the one word description of HUNTERS.

You could argue we even saw some of the future in South Carolina on Saturday. Yes, the sad news is that reality and facts won't matter much to voters -- at least in that state. But it is also true that voters resisted efforts to buy the election -- as evidenced by Tom Steyer's third place showing. Joe Biden won South Carolina despite his many attacks on Social Security, despite his support of the Iraq War, despite his weeks of lying that he had been arrested on the streets of South Africa in the 70s trying to meet with Nelson Mandela and that when he finally met Mandela decades later, the first thing Mandela did was thank him for trying to visit him. That never happened. As we looked at the results with a friend, he said, "I have seen the future and I'm not going." Yes, he was swiping the title of Peter McGough's 2019 memoir. He was also staking ground. And we can certainly respect that; however, we prefer to stick around as witnesses to history regardless of how ugly it gets.

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