Friday, March 13, 2009

 

Mad Comedy

So, after a week of build-up, the big Cramer vs. Stewart showdown Thursday night turned into something of a snoozer from a comedic standpoint -- primarily because Stewart decided to get all serious and just beat up on Cramer. 

Some of it was warranted, but I can't quite go as far as Andrew Sullivan
What Cramer walked into was an ambush of anger. He crumbled from the beginning. From then on, with the almost cruel broadcasting of his earlier glorifying of financial high-jinks, you almost had to look away. This was, in my view, a real cultural moment. It was a storming of the Bastille. It was, as Fallows notesjournalism.

Stewart - that little comic with the Droopy voice for Lieberman - is actually becoming an accidental activist. Why he matters, is why South Park matters. He, like Matt and Trey, do not leave aside their own profession from scrutiny: they have the actual balls to take it on. There is a cloying familiarity among many cable show hosts and television personalities. We all have to get along, even though some of us may believe that others of us are very much part of the problem, rather than the solution. And what Stewart has done is rip off that little band-aid of faux solidarity for a modicum of ethical and moral accountability.

The one problem in all this back-patting of Stewart's guts is that he actually doesn't give the same "scrutiny" to his own profession.  In his smackdown of Cramer, Stewart says, "I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a f*cking game." 

Um, says the man whose entire show is built on the premise that all of politics can be reduced to a serial mocking joke? And, it's not as if Stewart doesn't have his biases. He doesn't devote whole shows to the Democrats who are compromised in the housing/credit mess. This isn't a rant about libeal bias and such (Joe Scarborough already went down that road).  I don't care that Stewart is a liberal. I care that he is funny. But, if he wants to get on a high horse and demand that Cramer's schtick not turn an important subject like finance into a "f*cking game," well than perhaps he shouldn't be so overtly "rooting" for one side in the political game.

Remember, what launched Stewart on this tirade was Cramer's network mate Rick Santelli's attack on Obama's foreclosure plan.  Stewart could have gone after Cramer at any time. But when a CNBC talking head attack's Stewart's president, then he puts on the activist-populist crusading journalist hat?

 Come on, Andrew, you're smarter than that. 
 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

 

St. Augustine Obama of Earmarks

"Lord, make me chaste...just not yet." -- St. Augustine, Confessions, circa 400 A.D.  

"But the fact is that on occasion earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste and fraud and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest.

There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget might not be our highest priority."   -- Barack Obama, 3/11/09, shortly before signing a $410 billion omnibus spending bill with nearly 9,000 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion.  

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Celebrity Smackdown 2009

All is not lost! 

Yeah, there are a couple of wars going on. And, yes, there is a mini-, almost-but-not quite -Great Depression enveloping the world. 

But there is cause for hope:  A lot of famous and semi-famous people are really happy to declare their hate for one another!  It's Celebrity Smackdown-A-Rama.  And, we're not talking about Trump's Apprentice wannabes either.  

The GOP vs Rush bit a week ago looked like it was going to fall by the wayside, with Republicans realizing they had been expertly set up by Democrats to get into a Rush-denunciation fest. Then Newt reignited things on
Meet the Press, saying that hoping for the president's failure was “irrational.”

Rush then unloaded on the former speaker on Monday:

I'm frankly getting tired of talking about Newt. I mean, it's a pointless exercise. I'm surprised by nothing when I'm dealing with people in the media who think they're in politics. ... They are fly-by-night operators, and most of them stand for nothing until they see a poll about what the American people want, and then they go out and try to say one way or another what the American people want while trying to falsely hold onto an ideology at the same time — and you can't count on them. You can't depend on them. They will sell you out; they will throw you overboard to save themselves, faster than anything. And they'll use you on their way up as often as they can at the same time.

"I mean, next week Newt could come out and profess his total admiration and love for me if it would serve his purposes. They're running TV ads against me. Newt Gingrich wishes they were running TV ads against him."

Of course, Rush is someone in the media who thinks he's in “politics.” Limbaugh is great at what he does, but it's not like he's ever run a political campaign or won an election. But, so what? The ego has landed on everyone! Newt, for his part, may have staged the whole thing, knowing how Rush would react. After all, Newt is one of the few in the conservative movement who has enough independent cred that he doesn't have to worry about offending dittoheads. The former Speaker won't be “apologizing

Just as these two were swiping at each other, another precinct was  to be heard from!  Yep, ladies this time! Meghan McCain decided to take after Ann Coulter and settle some scores left over from the presidential campaign in the process:

Is she for real or not? Are some of her statements just gimmicks to gain publicity for her books or does she actually believe the things she says? Does she really believe all Jewish people should be “perfected” and become Christians? And what was she thinking when she said Hillary Clinton was more conservative than my father during the last election? If you truly have the GOP’s best interests at heart, how can you possibly justify telling an audience of millions that a Democrat would be a better leader than the Republican presidential candidate?

Coulter, surprisingly didn't immediately return fire. Possibly because she was busy Monday going at it with her best frenemy, Bill Maher.

Not to be outdone, however, CNBC's money madman decided that Jon Stewart had been too unfair to him on a recent “Daily Show.” Stewart actually went after examples of analysts on the network getting predictions wrong. Admittedly, Stewart did take great pleasure pointing to Cramer's boosting of Bear Stearns several days before it collapsed. So, Cramer responded to Stewart. He also hit the airwaves to dismiss Stewart as just an “entertainer.”

Interestingly enough, that's the same word many of Rush's denouncers in the Republican Party use to dismiss his lines. Hmmm....does this mean that Stewart could be the (a?) leader of the Democratic Party? Joe Scarborough might want people to believe that as he happily tag-teamed with Cramer to slap at Stewart. Of course, Stewart wouldn't let that alone – so he dumped on Cramer again.

Cramer vs. Stewart vs. Scarborough!!!

McCain vs. Coulter vs. Maher!!!

Newt! vs. Rush! (you know you've made it when you only need one name) vs. everybody!!!

Now, none of this is up there with the intellectual firepower of William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal. But as end-times entertainment, it sure beats a string quartet on the Titanic 

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Monday, March 09, 2009

 

No Moore Is Less

SPOILER ALERT:  Rather than ruin the enjoyment of the first wave of folks who flocked to see Watchmen, I decided to hold off on my impressions on the film until after the opening weekend.  The following is written under the assumption that most of my readers have some familiarity with the original comic book/graphic novel.  If you do, you will have no problem understanding the points I raise in this semi-review.  If you don't, I apologize in advance, but you might be wary of some plot points that get referenced here. 

Alan Moore was right.

As good as Watchmen may be -- and it is quite good -- it suffers from what is *not* there.

The man most obviously "not" there is Moore, the graphic novel's true creative genius and the writer responsible for most of Rohrshach's memorable lines. No slight meant to Dave Gibbons, whose art rightly influences director Zack Snyder's visual dynamic.

Moore removed his name from the film for two reasons: First, he believes DC Comics, owned by Time Warner, misled him into sign a contract asserting that all rights to Watchmen would revert to Moore and Gibbons when the work went out of print.

Not a bad contract to sign in 1985 when trade paperback compilations of comic books were not as ubiquitous as they are now. Point being, Watchmen never went out of print. Indeed, the trade was the best selling comic book compilation -- of 2008!

Moore thinks DC/Warner Bros. ripped him off and thus doesn't want anything to do with Watchmen.

But there is a secondary reason why the film is credited as, "Based on the comic book co-created by artist Dave Gibbons." (A credit that screams out for who the other co-creator was.)

Moore believes the comic book medium is sui generis -- that the stories can't and shouldn't be adapted to other media. That's why he also took his name off of the adaptation of V For Vendetta. Moore notes that comics are made for easy referring back to earlier panels and pages. That's probably one reason why each issue of Watchmen was packed with additional Moore-written material designed to draw the reader into the alternative universe Moore had created.

The writer wouldn't admit it, but what he did was anticipate (by more than a decade) the sort of "extras" that are de rigeur for DVD releases today. Indeed, DVD or DVR players (more so than VCRs) do actually give viewers the "flip-back" capability that approximates the comic book experience.

That said, Zack Snyder ultimately fails because in remaining almost letter-perfect to Moore's literal vision, he loses a vital part of the spirit of the original work.

Watchmen wasn't merely a re-imagining of the superhero genre for modern, darker times, it was also a political work -- assessing how "superpowers" operate in the complex, muddled 1980s ("superpowers"? get it?). With a Cold War backdrop, Richard Nixon still president (because Dr. Manhattan helped America win the Vietnam War and Watergate never happened), the potency of the politics can't be ignored.

But these stakes are minor in Snyder's film, whereas they were important elements to the story in its original 1986 release. Rather than the alternate look at a then-contemporary time it was, in 2009, Watchmen becomes an historical look at an alternate universe.   That makes a world of difference.

Indeed, Snyder errs in the exact opposite direction of the last adaptation of a Moore's '80s work -- 2005's V For Vendetta. There, the Wachowski Brothers overdid it in trying to attach post-9/11 America into Moore's "V"mythology. It was an imperfect fit -- not the least because, as Moore said, "V" was influenced by Thatcher's England, not George W. Bush's post-9/11 Ameria. Moore became so incensed by producer Joel Silver's implication that he had "blessed" the "Vendetta" script that Moore quit working for DC's "Wildstorm" imprint. 

But at least the Wachowski brothers realized the importance of updating the socio-political context of a Moore work. Snyder doesn't and thus Watchmen just comes up a little short. While Snyder made the creative choice to change the ending, the truly bold option would have been to change the temporal setting.  Moving the story up by two decades, close to the present day, would have been risky but also raised the stakes for the reader -- exactly as was done originally.  

Again, it would have been a major risk -- and potentailly incurred the wrath of fanboys of all ages.  But making a radical departure from Moore's orignial concept, Snyder might actually succeeded in capturing the original vision.  

Which forces one to conclude that -- at least with respect to his work -- Alan Moore was right: Certain comic books really are works unto themselves. One might come close to capturing Moore's special craft and genius, but that's as far as it'l go

But on the very bright side, Watchmen is no League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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