Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"She's Not Ann Coulter. She's Not Insane"

Another in a series of efforts by liberal media people trying to understand, portray, and make money from conservatives:

'Ally McBeal' Star to Play Conservative Pundit in New TV Series

NEW YORK ABC reportedly has huge hopes for a new series to air this fall called "Brothers & Sisters," which will follow the hit "Desperate Housewives" on the schedule. Calista Flockhart, best known as Ally McBeal, plays a conservative radio host turned TV pundit. Others in the high-powered cast include Patricia Wettig, Rachel Griffiths, Ron Rifkin and Sally Field.

Flockhart recently explained, "I really want to go back to work. It just seemed like the perfect time and the perfect project."

Asked to describe the pundit, producer Ken Olin (formerly a star of “Thirty Something’) said, "She's not Ann Coulter. She's not insane."Writer Jon Robin Baitz added, "No, I think she's a thoughtful conservative. She's ideologically, in some respects, very much in mind with the older parts of the party, the sort of Eisenhower Republican, the William Buckley conservative. She's also a humanist."

She's not someone who is apologetic about being a conservative. But it's very, very interesting and compelling to us to try and understand this, to leave behind some of the smug presuppositions of the two coasts, . . . to look at evolving patriotism and evolving traditionalism," he said, according to an article by Dave Walker of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune.

"For years and years, the left has looked at the right in complete incomprehension and felt, 'We just can't connect.' And maybe there's an effort in the show to try and bridge that in some way.”

Sally Field plays Flockhart’s mother.

I dunno. Could be good. Could be a stinker. I was not an Alley McBeal fan, but I'll be TIVOing the first few episodes.

It's interesting that they are attempting to skirt the social conservative issue (smart move in my opinion) by writing the lead as an "Eisenhower Republican." It does cause a big hit in the series's premises's believability. How many "Eisenhower Republicans" are hits on the talk radio venue?

I wonder if they will be able to capture the motivation of a conservative without descending into farce or lame parody. I wonder how they will portray the tension between the "Country Club" and populist conservatives?

There are a lot of funny conservative people out there, such as Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, P.J. O'Rourke, et cetera. I wonder if they are going to tap into these rich veins, or go for the predictable yocks. What makes me think that this is going to be a sitcom rather than a series drama?

It would be a gutsy move to write a conservative character that the either loves and identifies with or hates to love (in the mold of Dabney Coleman's Buffalo Bill) , but the former would threaten their concept of their audience and the latter would threaten their bottom line.

As an aside, how many overtly politically conservative roles have there been in American television?
Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) on Family Ties.
Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter) on West Wing.
Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda ) on West Wing.

Three names and all start with "A." I can't think of many more.

UPDATE: Someone over at The Corner makes some points about the series's cognative dissonance that I am too young to remember:
Re: the new ABC series that has Calista "Ally McBeal" Flockhart playing a "conservative radio host turned television pundit." I think it's uproariously funny to see how the entertainment industry portrays conservatives. The show's writer Jon Robin Baitz says that she's a "thoughtful conservative" and that "[s]he's ideologically, in some respects, very much in mind with the older parts of the party, the sort of Eisenhower Republican, the William Buckley conservative. She's also a humanist." Uh, last time I checked Bill Buckley didn't think much of Eisenhower, Jon-Jon. And no respectable conservative who came of age during the Reagan Revolution would ever describe himself as a "humanist." Other than that, it sounds like a riveting series. Will anyone give me odds on whether this show actually lasts an entire season? See all of you "humanists" later!
Are we looking at another Commander in Chief? I fear so.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Three Men in a Boat

I have just returned from a brief trip through the highways that comprise the "Cascade Loop," a delightful drive through alp-like peaks in northern Washington state. This is the first real vacation that I've had in many years and its occasion caused me to return to this review of my all-time favorite travel book, which I consider the funniest book in the English Language:

Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the Dog), by Jerome Kappa Jerome, is a pure delight. Through repeated re-readings it never, never palls. Written as a travelogue serial for a magazine at the turn of the century (1898 must be specified as we have past the turning of another century), the book takes the framework of a road story and hangs upon it a series of misadventures, remembered anecdotes, and observations about life. I have been told that since it's first publication, it has never been out of print.

The three men are George, Harris, and J. (Jerome himself). All three work in The City (London) and feel that that it is time to leave the rat race behind and spend a fortnight on holiday. They decide to take a small boat up the Thames, bringing with them only essential supplies and the fourth member of the group, Montmorency the Fox Terrier.

I first heard of this book as a boy, reading Robert A. Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. In that book the protagonist (Kip) goes to his father to ask something of him. The father is reading Three Men in a Boat, which Kip remarks that his father has read so many times that he must have it memorized. The father, in answer to Kip's question, begins reading the story of the Pineapple Tin. Kip sneaks away. I wondered, what kind of book could stand such repeated re-readings? And what was the story of the Pineapple Tin?

I searched libraries and book stores for years without luck until I moved to Portland Oregon, home of Powell's, which has to be the biggest new-and-used book store in the world. There I found a copy of the book, printed in England in the 1960's.

I was surprised that the book seemed to hold up so well. Even though the story was written over 100 years ago, the jokes are funny, the travelogue engaging, and the life observations as true as ever. I enjoy other British writers but it seems to me that Jerome's book is a mother-lode from which has been mined much "British Humor." P.G. Wodehouse, The Goonies, and Monty Python owe much to this truly funny writer.

Everyone who read this book has a favorite part. A scene where thay must lay the book down and laugh out loud. I must admit to being helpless because of the cheese episode and Harris's adventures in the Maze. Read the book and you'll understand.


I have recently read Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. She dedicates the book to Robert Heinlein from whom she, too, first heard of this wonderful book.

A couple of years ago I read another book by Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel. It returns to our three heroes ten years later as they decide to escape the joys of wedded life (for all three are now married) to take a bicycle tour of Germany's Black Forest. Bummel wasn't nearly as funny as Boat (nothing could be), but it is another engaging travelogue with a large dose of humor. (The story about buying phrasebooks tops my list.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Five Pillars of Aristocracy

I grew up in Southern California and saw (and still see) the idolization of motion picture actors as the kind of déclassé thing that is done by tourists who buy maps to the star's homes, and dream about encountering their big-screen heroes walking down the street in Hollywood.

Hollywood is an industry town; and the industry is movies. When I was a teenager, my goal wasn't to to be a movie star, it was to play horn in a studio orchestra.

So why are people whose main talent is pretending to be other people so celebrated?

John Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson defines the basis for aristocracy:
The five Pillars of Aristocracy, are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time over bear any one or both of the two
Rick Brookhiser comments that this applies to Hollywood stars:
The stars of Hollywood have beauty, and genius of a kind. Hence they are aristocrats in a media age.
Which reminds me of the scene in Back to the Future where Doc Brown realizes that when television becomes ubiquitous, the President of the United States will be a movie actor.

Many people love to joke about Ronald Reagan' status as a B-level actor being a poor preparation for the presidency. Many of these same people wet themselves when an actor who agrees with their political stance makes some inflammatory public statement.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fake but Accurate--1955

Yesterday was the 81st anniversary of the Scopes trial. American Heritage is running a 20 question quiz on the "trial of the century." What is amazing is not what you don't know--it's what you know that ain't true.
Q. So what you're saying is that Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1955 play based on the Scopes trial (which was made into a film in 1960), in which a defeated character based on Bryan breaks down and cries on the witness stand, is alternative history?

A. Exactly. The only difference is that if someone writes a play in which the South wins the Civil War, everyone knows it's fiction. With Inherit the Wind, all too many people seem to think it's fact.

Inherit the Wind has become an iconic movie in American culture. It tells the story of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" that repudiated creationism and freed educators across the land to freely teach Darwinian evolution.

Except that it didn't.

Scopes set out to break the law as a test case--and he lost. National figures tried to use the courts to circumvent the democratic process.

Inherit the Wind tells the story the way many people felt that it should be told. In this way it resembles the correlation between the Clinton White House and The West Wing.

The climactic scene in Inherit comes when Spencer Tracy puts Frederic March on the witness stand and poses a long string of meaningless conundrums. He finishes with a challenge about Joshua's Day--the day when the Bible says that God stopped the sun to let Joshua continue fighting a battle in daylight. He gets March to agree that the sun did not stop moving, but that the earth paused in it's rotation.

He then says that this would have caused oceans to splash out of their basins and mountains to crumble from their inertia.

Even as a child I thought that that was the lamest argument that I had ever heard. Surely a supreme being who created all things, and who can stop the Earth's 5.97 * 1024 kilograms and then restart it isn't going to be unaware of the conservation of momentum.

And yet Frederic March gobbles and gasps for a few minutes and the viewer feels sorry for him.

But that's not what happened. But in the eyes of those with the money, talent, and time to make this movie that is what should have happened.

You know, "Fake but accurate."

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