Saturday, February 17, 2007

Little Chidren

The worldview espoused in Todd Field movies troubles me. It may not be fair to evaluate his filmmaking on these terms, I know. Should film reviewers shelve their personal erspective when writing about a movie? Is it appropriate to only praise or discuss or analyze the technical/practical aspect of the filmmaking and simply "agree to disagree" on the thematic content?

Field absolutely demonstrates some ability here with a camera and he's good with actors. By no means do I think he's a bad director. (In person, though, kind of a tool...)

He's made two films now - In the Bedroom and Little Children - and based solely on them, I believe we share profoundly opposed ideologies. As a result, I'm not sure I'll be able to fairly evaluate the movies as movies. So keep that in mind as you read. Oh, also, I'll refrain from "giving away" the ending of Little Children, but I fully reserve the right to give away the ending of In the Bedroom. If you cared, you'd have seen it already.

Both of Field's films take on the same basic question: Does it make any sense for human beings to deny ourselves?

In the Bedroom opens with an impetuous May-December romance which is brutally interrupted by a poorly-planned murder and it closes with an aging couple making a decision to violate the law in the name of justice. These characters are AWARE from the beginning that they are breaking the rules, but they do so anyway because they can not deny themselves pleasure or satisfaction.

The mismatched couple could listen to reason, but they don't want to. Likewise, the angry ex-husband could pick up the shattered pieces of his life and move on, but he never does. Finally, the mourning couple could accept their son's death and process their anger in a healthy fashion, but it proves too difficult. So instead of bottling up their dangerous, buried desires, they're forced to act.

My problems with the film were numerous. I didn't really find its conclusion realistic and I didn't care for its reliance on silly old patriarchial stereotypes.

Real quick...The patriarchy thing, cause I know that's a strong charge to just throw out there. Sissy Spacek's character is lame. She's got the sinister Lady MacBeth thing going on, taunting his husband to act out violently without being willing to do any dirty work herself. PLUS, if you think about her actual on-screen action, it's all this lame '50s housewife imagery. Smashing plates, slapping young women in the face...It's like an episode of "The Donna Reed Show" gone horribly, horribly wrong. Why couldn't her character actually ever DO anything strong or determined? Why must she be so shrill?

I'm reminded of Chan-Wook Park's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Here, the women are still encouraging their men to commit savage acts of revenge, but they at least they get to take part. It's not such a Victorian send-out-the-menfolk-to-exterminate-the-brutes kind of deal.

But I also objected to what Ricky Roma might call Field's "middle-class morality." Namely, it's okay for a well-off suburban white couple to kill a man, if they feel like he really really deserves it. Would the film play the same for audiences if it was a young Latin couple? Or a poor white trash couple? Or just a single father? And what if the guy didn't kill their son, but only paralyzed him? Or what if he hit his intended target and killed their son's girlfriend? I mean, once you agree that vigilante revenge killing is acceptable...

Anyway, on to Little Children, which in its own way is even more disagreeable than In the Bedroom. The film centers around two crumbling marriages and a mother-son relationship in a wealthy suburban enclave. (I won't go into this subject any more, but it's possibly the whitest movie of the modern American era.)

Sarah Pierce (Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet) has grown so bored and frustrated with the life of a doting mother and housewife, she walks around with a permanent look of weary disdain and can barely manage to speak to her daughter without contempt. At the playground one afternoon, she meets the hunky father whom the other catty moms have dubbed "The Prom King." He's Brad (Patrick Wilson), a law student who can't pass the bar exam who spends his days caring for his young son while his successful wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) makes documentary films.

Sparks fly immediately between Sarah and Brad, so as responsible married people, they try to avoid one another for a while. But it becomes clear soon enough that there's more here than a passing, shared attraction. As soon as the smallest speed bumps in their marriages arise, it's an excuse to begin a passionate love affair.

This story of forbidden love mirrors another, somewhat more perverse narrative about paroled sex offender Ronnie McGorvey (Oscar-nominated Jackie Earle Haley). It's mentioned in passing that McGorvey did time for "indecent exposure," but he's pretty much an all-around creepy weirdo. In the film's best sequence, he goes on a very sweet date with a mentally ill woman, played perfectly by Jane Adams, before degrading her and making a fool of himself. He could be a normal guy with a normal life, but because he can't control his taboo sexual urges, he's a freak living with his mother (Phyllis Somerville) and being harrassed by an unstable ex-cop (Toby Noah Emmerich).

Unless they yield to their compulsions, Brad and Sarah and Ronnie cannot find peace. But once they have actually indulged, slept with the stranger or masturbated in public, their initial feelings of desperation don't subside. Instead, these inescapable, negative obsessions are enhanced by newfound feelings of guilt and shame.

These are not easy dilemmas, and the actors do a terrific job at physically embodying anxious tension, sexual frustration and panic. Kate Winslet doesn't even look very much like her old self as Sarah. Little Children is one of those movies that would never get nominated for Costume Design, because its style is so contemporary and subtle, but the art department nails every aspect of Sarah's look exactly right. (On the subject of award season, I would have thought Somerville as Ronnie's mother was the obvious choice for a supporting performance. She only has a few big scenes, but she's stellar, and we all know how Oscar loves a rascally, charming old lady.)

Adapating Tom Perrotta's novel, Field's starting with some fertile, interesting material. (They wrote the script together). And he's working with a very strong cast all around, save Toby Noah Emmerich, whose bullying ex-cop feels gratuitous and motivated purely by the needs of the plot. He's like a refugee from a Paul Haggis movie, alternating over-the-top moustache-twirling histrionics with mawkish sentimentality. Cinematographer Antonio Calvache likewise gets off some interesting shots, including a virtuoso sequence at a public swimming pool where a month's worth of events are coalesced into what looks like one, unbroken take.

But regrettably, the film still falls kind of flat. It's not a bad film by any stretch. I rather enjoyed watching it, actually. But Field on some level seems to lack confidence in his own ability. For a guy whose movies can come off as pretentious, it's strange to likewise feel that he's holding back and selling himself short. But here we are.

Perhaps the worst decision anyone made with regards to Little Children was in Field's and Perrotta's inclusion of a voice-over narration, with actor Will Lyman intrusively reading to the audience key passages from the book. (I can understand why a novelist might want to keep some of his own voice in the story, as it's such a big part of any book. But that's just not how film works.) Not once, not one single time, does the narrator prove himself useful. Lyman has a smokey, almost ominous tone as he reads Perrotta's words, so it somewhat helps to set a tone early on, I guess, but all he's doing is telling us exactly what's happening in a scene while it's happening. Like we don't get it.

Todd, that's what actors are for. We can see them experience these situations in dazzling Technicolor. Why would we want Will Lyman putting it into his own words for our benefit? Perhaps no scene boasts less compelling narration than the awkward dinner party, when Brad and Kathy invite Sarah and her lame ad exec husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) over for dinner. (Kathy suggests the meal on the pretense of their children's friendship, but she's obviously trying to figure out if Brad and Sarah are having sex.)

Kathy makes a sudden revelation and Connelly does a beautiful job of selling the moment. She doesn't say a word, but her eyes well up and she tenses and we in the audience, because we are human beings with fully functioning eyes and brains, can tell that she has figured something out that's upsetting to her. But Lyman's got to tell us all about it anyway. "All of the sudden, Kathy knew, and she felt..."

Bogus. Totally bogus. Repetitive, silly, completely uncinematic. It just pulls you right out of the moment and reminds you that you're watching a movie that would probably work better as a novel.

Field needs to trust his actors and his camera to tell the story. Simple as that.

I likewise say his film lacks confidence because his last act is a complete cop-out. Characters experience sudden changes of heart that not only stretch the limits of believability, but directly violate the logical sense of the film's first half. And it's not only that I doubt the likelihood of the outcome to Brad and Sarah's infidelity. It's that I think it's an ugly, mean-spirited and almost inhuman way to end the movie.

Without blowing too much, Field wants us to accept what his entire movie seems to argue against. For 120 minutes, he shows us characters struggling with negative urges who eventually lose the fight. It is inevitable, Little Children posits, that we will slowly give in to our base desires. Such is the life of a human being. Then his ending expects us to believe that the deserving characters can turn their urges on and off like a switch, can one night simply decide to be nice people and have their appetites permanently quenched. I call bullshit.

It's not that the movie has to have a bleak ending necessarily, although an all-around bleak movie like Little Children kind of paints itself into that corner. But Field begins the movie with a problem he has no interest in solving, doesn't solve anything and then pretends he has made a film with a happy ending. Too bad he hasn't. At least, I wasn't happy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Joe Rogan FTW

Hilarious, awesome video from iFilm, courtesy of What Would Tyler Durden Do, in which Joe Rogan humiliates faux-comic Ned Holness (a.k.a. Carlos Mencia) in front of large crowds. I can't recommend the following 10 minutes of pure joy enough. As if Rogan calling out Mencia for stealing jokes and otherwise being a complete fucking hack wasn't enough, it features a cameo by Don Barris, the genius responsible for Windy City Heat.

(Have I talked about Windy City Heat before to you people? Holy shit, if I haven't, I have done you all a great disservice. Go and Netflix it immediately. Or, if you lack Netflix, buy it. Buy several copies, because you'll want to give it to a few friends afterwards. I don't want to ruin any of the fun you're about to have watching the greatest reality/prank film ever made, so I shall say no more).

Mencia's supposed to be a comic. Think about it...does he get in one good line on Rogan the entire time? Rogan's annihilating him on video, in front of an audience, and all Mencia can do is repeat the same dumb two-word insults over and over again. "Why do you care about me so much? You're a bitch!"

What the hell kind of comedian is that? Start riffing, motherfucker! What do you think you're doing on stage, trying out for "American Idol"? Crack a few jokes on the fly and maybe people will stop saying you can't write material.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

10 Movies About the Soul-Crushing Horror of Love

Sam Cooke's "Cupid" is a great song that has been ruined by overuse. Now, when I hear it, I think about all the stupid commercials and bad movies in which it has appeared, and not the heartfelt, simple sentiment at its core or Cooke's impeccably smooth vocals. Which sucks.

That's how I feel about the entire Valentine's holiday. Unlike most bullshit annual American festivities, there's a very sweet, straightforward sentiment at its core. You should take time out to recognize the unlikely, wholly remarkable gift of having love in your life. Because most people don't. We're all pretty much alone in this life, when all is said and done, so having one person out there who you truly care about and who reciprocates those feelings is damn special.

Unfortunately, marketing executives, overeager newspaper editors and other assorted assholes have morphed this extremely basic, natural idea into something deformed and hideous. A consumerist nightmare in which an individual is expected to somehow demonstrate his or her affection via fiduciary extravagance. In other words, you don't really love, Mr. and Mrs. Modern American, unless you buy all this useless crap. How will your spouse/partner/fuck buddy know that you really care unless you get them a plush bear in a necktie that was hand-sewn by Malaysian 8 year olds?

I rarely have girlfriends when Valentine's Day comes around. (I rarely have girlfriends, so it's just a matter of percentages.) So I don't really feel that pressure that some seem to feel when February 14th rolls around. I never have to worry about going all-out to impress someone, in the vain hope that they won't leave me for someone they haven't had mediocre sex with so many times. And I'm well past the point of feeling alienated or left out of holiday celebrations. I'm a childless unpatriotic atheist Jew with a small family composed entirely of other childless unpatriotic atheists. My year is defined by being left out of holiday celebrations.

Still, a holiday seems as good a time as any for a themed movie list. So here are 10 Films About the Delicious Agony of Love. Okay, or Lust.

The 4th Man

Jeroen Krabbé stars as a gay writer who seduces a mysterious but hot blonde (Renée Soutendijk) intending to mooch off of her, but slowly grows obsessed with her. Then he begins to suspect that she might have killed her past three husbands. Paul Verhoeven's cheesy erotic thriller Basic Instinct tells a similar story, but he nailed the mixture of swooning Hitchcockian suspense and gallows humor better the first time around with this 1983 Dutch-language film.


The frequently overlooked mid-section to Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy, this pitch-black comedy's bleak outlook perfectly suits its titular lack of pigment. Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) marries Dominique (Julie Delpy) and moves with her to Paris. He's unable to perform in bed so she quickly grows tired of him. This break-up ruins Karol's entire life, forcing him to return to Poland with nothing but a twisted scheme for revenge. Kieslowski somehow manages to present a creepy, unrequited, vengeful love as both funny and tender.

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Alfonso Cuaron's films leave a lot unsaid. As in real-world human relationships, most of the truly crucial information in his screenplays exists outside of the dialogue. In Y Tu Mama Tambien, the thrill of the road trip undertaken by two impetuous adolescents (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) and their glamorous older lady friend (Maribel Verdú) is in the mystery. The trio is unsure of where they're going; not all of them even know why they are going or what's really going on. And we in the audience are fed information slowly, in wayward glances and knowing assents. (Though the title provides a bit hint as to the backstory).

Almost as a sly joke, the film's voice-over narration never once clarifies the on-screen action, but instead provides the Mexican landscape with historical and social context. Cuaron thus simulates the daze of our waking lives in his cinema, extending our ignorance about the motives and thoughts of those real people around us to his fictional characters, about whom we expect to be informed. You can never really know anyone, the film seems to suggest, and that may be a good thing. Because if you get to know someone too well, they stop being any fun.

(NOTE: I'm told that much of the Spanish-language dialogue consists of idiomatic language and puns, so it's very possible that a native speaker would have a completely different take on the style of the film's storytelling.)


Of course we come around to Hitch on the anti-Valentine's Day film list. He's quite possibly the least romantic director of all time. Notorious focuses on one of his trademark fucked up, manipulative, creepy love affairs. British agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) asks an old flame, Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), to ingratiate herself with a group of Nazi sympathizers living in South America. By, you know, fucking an oily Claude Raines. Of course, Devlin's still in love with Alicia, so even as she does precisely what he has asked her to do, he feels the need to torment her and make her feel cheap. Most of Hitchcock's films in some way deal with an obsessed man who wants to utterly possess another person (usually a woman, but not necessarily), but nowhere is the desperation to subjugate a woman as intense, needly or unsettling as in the last half hour of Notorious.

That Obscure Object of Desire

Luis Bunuel has two actresses trade off scenes as the romantic lead in this snide, sarcastic take on obsessive love. Mathieu (Fernando Rey) falls desperately in love with Conchita (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina), who does not seem to feel the same way. Or maybe she does. Anyway, she decides to flirt with him and keep him around, but never lets him get too far. Naturally, the more Conchita taunts Mathieu, the more driven he becomes in his pursuit, oblivious to all save his lustful desires. (There are hints about the crumbling world around Mathieu, an encroaching anarchy aided by frequent terrorist bombings, but he's squarely focused on getting laid.)

Bunuel sees us all trapped in this ceaselessly repeating, hopeless pattern. Just about all of his films deal in the comic futility of the human experience. We all want to love, but we absolutely cannot stand to be loved. As soon as someone demonstrates his or her undying devotion to us, we lose interest. And should we meet a person who cannot stand our very presence, whom no amount of pleading or flattering or wooing can win over to our side, we become obsessed. Oops.

The Locket

This brilliant film noir isn't available on DVD for some reason. It's an intricately structured mystery in which groom Harry Blair (Brian Aherne) is approached the night before his wedding and warned off his future wife. A complicated series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks makes Nancy (Laraine Day) appear to be a kleptomaniac and a liar, but how can Blair find out the real truth before it's too late?

There's a lot to love about this film - John Brahm's stylish Otto Preminger-esque direction, a great droopy performance from Robert Mitchum, truly excellent black and white cinematography. But, as with a lot of other films of the WWII-era, what I'm really attracted to is the essential pessimism of the enterprise. Because it's extremely Freudian (the central motif is a locket, as in unlocking repressed memories), it's also a bit didactic, and very cynical about human nature. Given the right circumstnaces, we're all thieves and liars, The Locket suggests. So the secret to a successful courtship is sorting out the damaged goods from the rest of the pile.

All the Real Girls

Though it still has a downer second half, this is probably the most uplifting film on the list. Zooey Deschanel and Paul Schneider play a young Appalachian couple experiencing true love for the first time. At first, it's all sunshine and eskimo kisses and bucolic splendor, but as they always do, things grow complicated and the affair ends. Painfully. Director David Gordon Green and cinematographer Tim Orr turn this small town slice of life into a real visual feast, one of the most sensitively and subtly composed modern American films. This film makes Garden State look like "Bananas in Pyjamas."

In the Mood for Love

Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen Chan (Maggie Cheung) are next-door neighbors and close friends. Then they discover their spouses are having an affair with one another. This presents a real Catch-22. They clearly have chemistry together, and now they have a perfect excuse to break their marriage vows. But to commit adultery would make them every bit as bad as their traitorous significant others. So self-satisfaction and martyrdom win the day, at least for a while.

That asshat Christopher Doyle's gorgeous cinematography and the vibrant, lived-in '60s period detail make the movie Kar-Wai's most aesthetically pleasing, but it's the modulated, withdrawn Leung and Cheung performances that give the film its woozy, breathless energy.


Mike Nichols started his directorial career with the most savage takedown of marriage ever made, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I was among the cynics who felt he'd never again make a film worthy of mention alongside the classics of his early career, but he got there with this adaptation of Patrick Marber's play. Two sets of unfaithful couples battle it out over the course of a year, and no one is left unscathed. All the actors (even Julia Roberts!) do solid work, but Clive Owen's got the most fascinating arc. Simultaneously the most perverse and romantic character, his Larry realizes that falling in love is exactly like dying, only it takes a lot longer.


Warren Beatty plays himself in every movie, but he really really plays himself in Hal Ashby's Shampoo. Hairdresser George Roundy, drifting in and out of the beds of Los Angeles' most eligible bachelorettes and trophy wives, is Warren Beatty with a less impressive resume. Let's faec it. Screenwriter Robert Towne does a simply amazing job of making George's quandry, not exactly one shared by the bulk of humanity, feel universal.

To give up womanizing and stick with one woman would be to grow up, which means getting older, which means getting closer to death, which is something George is not prepared to do. So he continues to screw up his life by chasing momentary pleasures and cheap thrills, getting less and less out of them each time. The final shot, with Beatty watching Julie Christie drive away and out of his life, gets me every single time, and I've seen the movie at least 5 or 6 times.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If It Bends, It's Funny. If It Breaks, It's Not Funny.

The other day, I posted a clip from Fox News' new "comedy" program "Red Eye," in which several unfunny conservatives talk over news footage. Since then, the blog of host Greg Gutfeld has disapprovingly linked here, insinuating that my criticism of the show derives from my political viewpoint rather than my honest appraisal of the humor.

Remember: If you don't agree with it, it's not funny!

See, blogger Jim Treacher is here implying that I don't like the show because I disagreed with its viewpoint. If he had read my blog post (and I believe he did because he left a comment there), he would know that I did not take issue with the content of the clip. Only the lack of any kind of humor. In fact, the clip was mocking something I have made fun of myself on this very blog! Namely, Joe Biden's dumb, possibly racist remark about Barack Obama.

So, Greg and Jim, I disliked your show because you didn't tell a single joke that worked. Really, the clip seemed to feature very few intentional jokes. One guy does a lame riff playing on Biden's choice of the word "clean," the chick makes a bizarre and out of place reference to affirmative action and that's pretty much it. Or did I miss a bunch of subtle witticisms and inside references that only your conservative fans would get?

How could Greg and Jim not realize that the show isn't funny? They can certainly appreciate humor, right? Greg's the former editor of Maxim UK, so you know he knows quality comic material, am I right? Their blog also links to Neil Hamburger, so at least they have some sense of what's funny.

I think possibly this may bring us to the real barrier for conservative comics, and honestly, for some left-wing comedians as well. Staunchly ideological, partisan kind of thinkers are rarely as funny as those who can see both sides of an issue. I don't always agree with moderates, but they're more funny. Great satire can be designed to convince an audience, but the best jokes are usually focused solely on being jokes as opposed to expressing a political viewpoint.

This isn't a hard and fast rule. Plenty of great comedians are strongly ideological. Richard Pryor and George Carlin come immediately to mind (though bear in mind that their politics are most often reflected in their personas, not so much their specific jokes).

"The Daily Show" is a perfect example. Yes, the show has a lefty ideological bent, more or less. But they frequently skewer Democrats and liberals. In fact, I'd say almost every episode features at least one joke at the expense of someone on the left wing. Considering that conservatives have run the government for pretty much the entirety of Stewart's tenure on the show as well determines the content to some extent.

Now compare that to "Red Eye." The show would never go after a conservative, and if it did, it would do so in an intentionally light, jovial manner, as compared to the sharp barbs reserved for Gutfeld's ideological opponents. When it's obvious that your jokes are designed to ridicule one specific group relentlessly as a way to propagandize, audiences will quickly lose interest in your phony shenanigans.

"Chappelle Show" is another great example. Certainly, the show was very political and outspoken. But it also was not specifically about one party over another or one brand of American politics. Dave Chappelle looks at political issues through a personal lens. He's not about mocking Republican Senators. He's about mocking white people. He's not trying to espouse on the benefits of affirmative action. He's just trying to show that racism still exists, no matter what Tony Snow has to say.

In short, he has interesting opinions worth expressing, and he does so in a unique and clever way. If Gutfeld could manage that, he'd have a funny show, and I PROMISE YOU, I would not be afraid to admit that. I disagree with almost everything Sam Kinison had to say, about everything, ever, ditto Howard Stern, but I think both of those guys are fucking hilarious.

(As I said before, I don't limit this phenomenon to the right-wing. There are lefties who strike me as overly partisan and ideological, such as Margaret Cho and Al Franken. I'm sorry, I liked him on "Saturday Night Live" and all that, but he's totally not at all funny. Because he's about convincing you of the rightness of his political position, which is not the right attitude for successful comedy. It's not irreverent enough. Fortunately, guys like Stephen Colbert and Lewis Black totally get it.)

It's not that hard to figure out, really, which is what makes this Doug Giles column from Townhall so fascinatingly wrong-headed. (Link via World-O-Crap.)

I know I’m not supposed to say this as a conservative and as a Christian, but Steve Colbert, John Stewart, David Letterman, Carlos Mencia, Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher are funny hombres. Even though I radically and fundamentally disagree with most of their content, funny is as funny does. They’re like farts. Most folks don’t really like farts, but farts are funny. Period. Especially, when it’s yours and it’s silent.

Well, I appreciate his honesty, but I can't believe he included Carlos Mencia on that list. Yuck. Ned Holness is not at all a "funny hombre." It's also kind of odd to praise these guys in one sentence and then turn around and compare them to farts. I mean, David Letterman never sold himself as a political leader. He's a professional comedian, and Doug clearly finds him amusing. Isn't that enough to not be deemed a "fart," just because he disagrees with you on some fundamental issues about running the country?

Look, as far as comedy goes, Mr. and Mrs. Conservative, you must bow and kiss the Left’s ring. They slay us. You can count on one hand how many conservatives are making a semi-distinct blip on the comedic scene. Who do we have? Dennis Miller, Brad Stine, Julie Gorin, and ________ . I had to google “conservative comics” just to add a third person to that list.

(1) Who the fuck is Brad Stine?

(2) Dennis Miller has sucked ever since he converted to conservatism. And even a bit before that. If he's the best your side has to offer, you guys are less funny than Ingmar Bergman reading The Bell Jar at a memorial service for the victims of United 93 on top of the Wailing Wall the day after the annual Dead Puppies and Onions Festival backed up by Itzhak Perlman playing his score from Schindler's List on the world's smallest violin. Babe.

Why can’t conservatives get their comedic act together? The liberals, on a 24/7 basis, are tossing us soft balls that we should be driving out of the park in a humorous, prime time, way.

Exactly. You'll never come up with something funny if you go in with that attitude. "I've got to find something some liberal has done to make fun of!" It's lame and predictable. First, find something FUNNY. If you need to do political comedy, then find something political that's FUNNY. Then talk about that, and your ideology should come through naturally. If you have any talent as a comic.

It’s so easy it’s stupid. All we have to do is just read the crap that the left does, out loud, and it’s hilarious. We don’t even have to be that imaginative and try to develop quips, as they provide an endless supply of ammunition. We couldn’t make up the stuff they do even if we wanted to—no one on the planet is that creative.

Am I crazy or does Doug contradict himself here? First, he says that conservatives aren't funny. Then he says that all conservatives need to do to be funny is say the things liberals do out loud. Obviously they already do that. So he DOES already think they're funny.

From Hollywood to the Hill, the Left and those who lean that way, do more psychotic stuff than my one-eyed uncle Joe does on a three day weekend binge when he’s all liquored up. They are a MadTV, SNL and HBO Special waiting to happen. There has to be some conservative capital lying around that can be earmarked to gather no holds barred comedians to paper shred these little darlings on TV and in film.

Care to give us a single example of something wacky a liberal has done that no one makes jokes about? I mean, when liberals do funny things, people make fun of them. How many Bill Clinton jokes were flying around during the late '90s. It was all Jay Leno talked about for, like, 5 years.

So why don’t conservatives crank out comedians? Here’s why I think our comedic contributions are weak.

Oooh, I can't wait. Because Doug knows comedy, folks. He's seen every episode of "Mind of Mencia"!

1. Conservatives, obviously, don’t think comedy is important. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report don’t have The Factor numbers. Thus, they don’t seem to be as important as O’Reilly, or Rush or Hannity in an immediate sense. And they’re not. However, Steve and John do have the ear of millions of 18-35 year olds, who will, uh . . . hello, be at the wheel driving this nation a few short years from now. That’s kinda significant.

Conservatives don't think comedy is important? Guh? Are they robots?

His point, I guess, is that conservatives don't bother to be funny because they don't think it's a good way to get votes. But liberals aren't doing comedy because they want people to vote for John Edwards. They're doing comedy because it's funny, and they want to be funny and make people laugh. You know, laughter? It's that think humans do?

2. We spit out lame comedians. When it comes to conservatives and Christians doing comedy, like soup in a bad restaurant, their brains are better left unstirred.

What the fuck does this mean?

The reason why? Well, I think they’re too nice. They don’t really set the hook. They don’t really deliver the dig. For some reason, the laughmeisters of the Right are PC addled.

Wait, what? I thought we of the Left were the ones who were too "PC"? Now the right-wingers aren't funny because they're too politically correct? You mean, like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter? Jonah Goldberg calling us fascists and Dinesh D'Souza blaming us for 9/11, they're holding back? They're too nice? Constrained by political correctness? (I'd pick on some right-wing comedians, but there aren't any. But these guys never say anything correct or sensible about world affairs, so I figure they count as entertainers).

3. We’re too serious. With our War with whacked out Islam and our ideological battle with the Secularists who whiz on traditional American values, the conservative can become a sober and somber person, which is understandable.

That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh, or more specifically, mock our enemies.

You know what Doug does better than pretty much any other rightard I've ever read? Answers his own questions. He doesn't realize he's doing it! He sets up rhetorical questions and then answers them unintentionally. It's actually kind of brilliant. See, here, he's saying "I guess maybe we're too serious to be funny." Then right away, he turns around and says "We should make jokes in order to mock our enemies."

But humor isn't about picking on one's enemies. That's what bullies do, and bullies are only funny to themselves. Humor is about recognition. It's inherently sympathetic. We laugh because we relate. So if you're all about pointing out the flaws of a group you have deemed "the enemy," your "comedy" is going to be mean-spirited and bilious, which is only funny to other mean-spirited, bilious people. Which pretty much explains "Red Eye" and the whole of contemporary conservative comedy today.

Even Stephen Colbert, the sharpest satirist of the right-wing working today, comes at the satire from a standpoint of AFFECTION. He calls Bill O'Reilly "Papa Bear." He frequently has right-wing guests on his show, and he goofs on them, but in a warm and engaging way, not as a jerk. This is a far more artful form of ridicule. He makes his targets look like blind partisans whereas he manages to remain above the fray. The South Park guys frequently employ the same technique. Stan and Kyle remain the straightlaced, sober ones, reacting to the madness all around them. Gutfeld doesn't come off like the standard-bearer of reasoned discourse in that clip from "Red Eye." More like the coked-up lunatic.

Nowadays, we won’t dare do cartoons about Osama and his ilk lest we tick them off. Are you kidding me? We’re trying to kill the terrorists, right? Let me see if I get this correct: we can kill them, but we can’t insult them with cartoons or sitcoms?

Oh, Doug Doug Doug Doug Dougie...

Let me set this straight for you. The cartoon controversy was about offending Muslims, not terrorists. I don't think anyone really cares if they offend terrorists (though I'm not sure who you actually mean when you say that vague, essentially defunct word.) I personally am with you on the cartoon thing. Though I didn't find the cartoons amusing, and probably wouldn't have wanted to run them if I owned a newspaper, I don't think a paper should allow angry fundamentalists to determine its content. As I would if it were an offensive cartoon of Christ or Buddha or whomever, I support the paper's right to publish anything they damn well please.

But conflating those who protested the cartoons with terrorists? Racist, my friend. Straight-up racist.

One of the reasons why some young people no likey conservatives is because no one is making them look at the Left and then laugh their butts off at them. It seems shallow, but that’s reality. I believe we need to change this by going Monty Python nuts. I’m willing to give it a try. My wife says I’m pretty funny, especially during sex. I’m not quite sure what she means, though.

Sad...Just sad...

Black by Popular Demand?

The Editors boldly suggest that, before Democrats nominate Barack Obama for President, they consider the fact that many, many Americans are still totally racist.

There has never been a black President, ever. No major political party has ever nominated a black person to be President. Or Vice-President. Over the past 130 or so years since Reconstruction, there have been a grand total of three (3) black Senators, and that includes Mr. Obama, the only black person currently serving in that august body. So if the American electorate is so obsessed with putting black people in important positions, they have a real funny way of showing it.

He/She/They has/have a point. Americans love to pretend that they're not racist. Movies like Crash come out and flatter audiences. "Yes, there's racist racism, but you and I know better because we've now shared this mind-expanding experience. Oh, if only every white person could have his or her life saved by a minority, we'd all be healed!" It's a rule that we can all try to follow if we're interested in feeling like a good person. "Don't treat people differently because of their race or say racial slurs." Boom. Done.

But of course, this doesn't really have anything to do with someone making a private, secret decision in a voting booth. Maybe an individual knows better than to ever say something inappropriate to a minority or behave in an offensive manner, but would rather not have someone like that running the country. I'd suspect there are more Americans like this than there are overt, angry racists. A lot more.

My point is not that I am actually absolutely sure that Barack Obama can’t be President - only Mike Allen knows what the future holds. My point is that being black makes you absolutely unacceptable to an unmeasureable but substantial part of the electorate, and that the fact that we’ve all agreed to pretend that the opposite is true does not make this fact go away.

The Editors are correct, as well, in explaining why people don't want to have this particular discussion. It's unpleasant for us to face up to the fact that, when we vote for President, we are voting in solidarity with racists. That in fact, it seems almost like a man or woman could not become President unless a significant number of racists backed them. Ugh.

My own thoughts on the subject have changed recently. I had always thought that, should a black person run for President, it would energize minority and youth voters in ways that we have not previously seen. I assumed a large number of people who had never voted before, because they had never felt adequately represented, would suddenly see a chance to vote for change. Even a superficial change is better than the endless stream of old white assholes we've had running the show for as long as anyone can remember.

Ditto Hillary. She doesn't resonate as much with the young people, but I sort of figured that the number of women who haven't voted but would show up for her would offset the haters. Any more, I'm not so sure, and I personally would rather she didn't win just because she's been so wrong on the war.

Unfortunately, there's no way to know. I'd still like to believe that Americans would surprise everyone and do the right thing and elect a black person to the Presidency, but I know that's optimistic. The only way to find out is to take the plunge and hope for the best. Hey, at least he's clean, right?

Is It Evolution Sunday Already?

PZ Myers at Pharyngula alerts me to the existance of "Evolution Sunday":

Today is Evolution Sunday. It's that day when participating ministers will say a few supportive words about evolution from their pulpits, or as I prefer to think of it, when a few people whose training and day-to-day practice are antithetical to science will attempt to legitimize their invalid beliefs and expand their pretense to intellectual authority by co-opting a few slogans.

As you might guess, I'm not exactly against the event, but I definitely do not support it.

Frankly, I can't understand why anyone who supports science education (as PZ definitely does) would oppose the idea of Evolution Sunday. I mean, I don't think that most of what churchgoers hear at from the pulpit is true. Perhaps we'd all be better off if people didn't embrace the supernatural (though there's no way to tell for certain). But frank discussions about scientific facts are bound to improve the accurate information-to-myth ratio, right?

I'm sure a few readers are going to complain that I should be praising these efforts to get people to take baby steps in the right direction, but I just can't do it.

I'm not sure if embracing the idea of "evolution" is necessarily a "baby step" for religious folks. More like an entirely sensible understanding of the observable reality of our world. Religious Christians and I would disagree about the exact nature, origin and purpose of human life on Earth, but there's no reason we should disagree about the factual informaiton available to us at the present time. It's not a small step towards abandoning religion, but a rational spirituality. Honesty about what can be seen, and faith in what cannot. It's a spirituality I don't share, but that is FAR FAR more palatable to me than this fundamentalist "literal translation of the Bible" nonsense. So what's PZ's problem?

I'm sorry, but when I see people in chains shuffle a few steps at the behest of their jailer, my heart isn't in to shouting, "Hooray! You're free!" You have a choice. You can go to church today, and among the hymns and prayers and magic rituals and chants to nonexistent beings, you can hear a few words in support of science; or you can refuse to support the whole rotten edifice of religion and stay home and read a good book. Which alternative do you think I would support?

Now, you all know I'm as atheist as they come. I do not in any way, shape or form believe in God, and I certainly don't believe in anything as silly and obviously invented by primitive human minds as Judaism or Catholicism. But I don't think any sort of religious faith is akin to being imprisoned. Some believers seem perfectly capable of combining their religion with a rational worldview.

I agree with Professor Myers almost all the time, but I can see this is a faultline in our approach to atheism. I come at it from a civil rights perspective, essentially. As an atheist, I shouldn't have to celebrate, or even be made aware of, your personal religious beliefs. As long as I don't know about it and it doesn't inconvenience me or my lifestyle choices, believe what you want.

That's why I think Evolution Sunday sounds like a terrific idea. It's a bunch of people getting together and saying, "We're Christians but we still think secular schools should teach children actual facts about the world and not the dumb shit we believe." Perfect score on the Lon-o-meter.

PZ, on the other hand, believes that the world would genuinely be a better place if there were no religion. He therefore dislikes Evolution Sunday because it conflates science and religion, only one of which merits any sort of authority.

I'm undecided on the question of whether we'd be entirely better off without religion. Consider the argument as a spectrum. On one side, you'd have Professor Myers, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. "The world would, without question, be significantly improved if there were no religion." (I find some of Harris' arguments, focused on fundamentalist Islam as a key example of religion run amok and ruining a society, particularly condescending and extreme.)

On the other, you'd have the "South Park" argument, taken from their brilliant 2-part "Buck Rogers" themed episode in which Cartman awoke in a distant religion-less future as part of a wrong-headed attempt to secure a Nintendo Wii 3 weeks early. In brief, "humankind is just a bunch of warmongering assholes and religion is just the excuse for violent behavior, not the cause."

(Obviously, I'm only taking part of the overall question into account with this dialectic. There is another entire spectrum of people who believe that religion actually improves the functioning of a society. But we're leaving them out of this discussion because they're obviously wrong.)

In this particular question, I'm actually closer to Matt Stone and Trey Parker than Dawkins and Myers, oddly enough. I don't think religion, in and of itself, is the cause for most of our problems today. It's all economics. Religion's just how these wars and conflicts are sold to the masses, and if everyone believed in something different, the propaganda would be designed to match that superstition or folklore.

Really, I think this entire subset of the atheism argument is a dead end. Who cares if society would be better off without religion, or if people should spend their Sundays reading good science books instead of going to church. It's not going to happen. Better to focus on maintaining the rights of believers and non-believers alike than to reject any kind of common ground with anyone who might feel differently than you.

Instead, I'm going to encourage you all to participate in my Enlightenment Sunday project. Skip church every week. Ignore the pleas of your priests. Donate money and time to charities of your choice directly, rather than through the intermediary of the church bureaucracy. Improve your brain with books and videos and conversations about science. Think skeptically. I'm sure the participants in Evolution Sunday mean well and are sincere in their wish to reconcile faith with science, but we'll do far more to promote reason in this country if we withdraw from all participation in the church and let religion wither away from disuse, than we will by encouraging these modern day witch-doctors to spread their delusions.

See, to me, this paragraph represents a delusion. That's never going to happen, what Myers describes here, so even if it would "do far more to promote reason in this country," it's an unrealizable fantasy. No matter how eloquently he could write about atheism (and he does a pretty solid job of it most of the time), PZ Myers will never be able to shake Americans out of their deeply-held religious convictions. No one could. We're stuck with it. So better to encourage to the religious people to at least make room for some complex, nuanced and realistic thinking about the natural world, rather than brushing them off completely as misguided saps and fools.

Articulate the Articuless

You'll recall my post from last week, in which I discussed Joe Biden's odd description of Barack Obama.

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

And that storybook is...Song of the South.

Anyway, I don't think Joe Biden is virulently racist or anything. I just think he's kind of an out-of-touch idiot, and so we shouldn't elect him President. Democrats can not even consider nominating a guy for the leadership role in their party who might potentially say something this stupid again before January '09.

It would be bad enough just to put your foot in your mouth publicly in this way. People would think less of you, but a simple, well-written and sincere apology might allow you to move on. (Might!) But now it seems like Team Biden actually intends to defend his remarks. Here's a letter his Chief of Staff wrote to the New York Times:

In “The Racial Politics of Speaking Well” (Week in Review, Feb. 4), about Senator Joe Biden’s use of the word “articulate” to describe Senator Barack Obama, Lynette Clemetson suggests the following rule: “Do not use it as the primary attribute of note for a black person if you would not use it for a similarly talented, skilled or eloquent white person.”

During the recent hearings on Iraq that Senator Biden presided over as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he referred to the following people as “articulate”:

Leslie H. Gelb
Edward N. Luttwak
Lawrence J. Korb
Robert Malley
Senator Lisa Murkowski
Peter W. Galbraith
Frederick W. Kagan
Ted Galen Carpenter
Gen. Jack Keane
Senator Edward M. Kennedy

While Senator Biden has expressed his regret that anyone was offended by his words, we wanted to make it clear that his reference to Senator Obama was sincerely intended as a compliment.

Alan L. Hoffman Washington, Feb. 9, 2007

Alan clearly thinks we're all stupid and will fall for this BS strawman. Joe Biden is not in trouble for referring to Barack Obama as "articulate." Obviously, there are articulate black people. Sensible individuals would not argue this point.

No, Biden is in trouble for saying that Barack Obama is the first mainstream African-American candidate who is articulate. Also, clean. Which is ludicrous, and more than a little racist, because it implies that you don't expect blacks to be clean and articulate, and therefore that Obama's candidacy is something genuinely special.

One would only single out Obama's status as the first articulate black candidate as a point of comparison. Unlike all these other non-articulate, dirty blacks, this guy can speak well and showers daily! It's like some wonderful fairy tale!

When Biden was referring to those other individuals, like the articulate Mr. Galbraith and the not-particularly-articulate Senator Murkowski (whose Daddy appointed her to finish out his Senate term when he became governor), he wasn't making a comparison. He was simply issuing a common, everyday compliment. Senator Murkowski, to my knowledge, was not referred to as "the first articulate Senator from Alaska" or "the cleanest lady Senator I've ever seen!"

Hoffman thus makes Biden's crack far worse, because by trying to weasel out of it, he implies that Biden doesn't feel it was inappropriate to say. The attitude is, "well, we're getting a lot of flack over this comment so I'd better set the record straight." But Biden's getting flack because he legitimately misspoke. Again, I'm not saying he's therefore a racist. Maybe he just misspoke. But he should then apologize, not make it seem like he was offering Obama a genuine compliment that's being misinterpreted.

The Dakota Fanning Show

Post-Will Ferrell, I've maybe watched 3 actual episodes of "Saturday Night Live." I liked Amy Poehler on "Upright Citizens Brigade" and, like the rest of America, I thought "Lazy Sunday" was hilarious. But I feel like every time I flip past the show in progress, they're in the middle of the most asinine one-joke sketch imaginable, and I get bored immediately. Or pissed off, even.

But this skit, with Poehler playing Dakota Fanning, actually made me laugh. The impression's actually pretty spot-on, considering that it's an adult impersoning a young child.

Thanks to Golden Fiddle for the link.