Now I Get Charlie Sheen.

It just dawned on me. If Charlie Sheen turned to drugs to deal with reality, it makes all the sense in the world. So would you, if you had any part in making Two and a Half Men happen every week.


The Truth about NPR.

Just as I exposed the health care debate to the sunshine of obvious common sense—which resulted in passage of the law, because all the members of Congress and the President read my blog—let me do the same for the NPR federal funding crisis.

Let’s start with a fact. NPR is liberal—if liberal means “having an ounce of compassion for your fellow man.” This distinction ought not be something NPR is ashamed of. NPR carries news stories that examine in depth the impact of events on the less powerful—stories that by and large are not explored elsewhere on the radio.

It’s ridiculous for us liberals to pretend that NPR isn’t liberal. It makes us look as if we’ve got something to hide when we pretend this, and it makes us look foolish.

The point isn’t that NPR is liberal. It is that in many parts of the country, especially the more rural parts, the local NPR station is the only local liberal voice on the airwaves. All else is Limbaugh and Beck.

If the Republicans in the House succeed in defunding NPR, the local NPR stations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston and Seattle will be fine. Those places have enough people in them to come up with the scratch to keep their local stations going.

But the local NPR stations in places like Kansas and Nebraska, where not so many people live, won’t be fine.

And that’s exactly the point.

The Republicans in Congress come from places like Kansas and Nebraska. They’d be happy to see the lone opposition voice in their legislative districts silenced. That’s what this is all about. It’s not about killing NPR. It’s about killing rural NPR stations, congressional district by congressional district.

Clarence Page, to his credit, gets to the crux of the matter in his Chicago Tribune op-ed piece today. To his discredit, it takes him 400 words to get to the crux, and even then he phrases it coyly (“Of course, maybe those same lawmakers would just as soon see fewer alternatives to conservative radio talk shows”), but you can’t have everything.

The Oscars This Year: Desecrating the Temple.

What the Oscars broadcast this year didn’t seem to realize is this: The movies are our national religion. We want to worship those who make them, and those who are in them, as gods. We want to regard the Oscars as a yearly sacrament and bow our heads before it. Yes, we also want those moments of fun when everything goes wrong, and we want the  moments when, to our shocked disbelief, a host’s brilliant snark makes us go “Oh no, you din’t!,” but we want them in the context of a show that knows how seriously, deep down, we take the movies. The movies, the good ones and the bad ones, and the glamor attendant to the movies, are the house wherein our culture’s soul resides.

This year—and it wasn’t just the fault of hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, gosh-gee-willikers-out-of-place and lacking in decorum as they were—the Oscars seemed to treat the movies as “just the thing we actors and other folks do for a living,” not the national religion the movies are. The whole thing had the feel of a televised trade show. It was as if everyone involved believed that we, the audience, want the movies demystified for us, made real, made ordinary, minimized, stripped bare, made “relatable,” brought down to our level, exposed as operated by a man behind the curtain. No, it’s the opposite. We want the mystery; we want to believe in the Wizard. Stars are called stars for a reason–because they reside in the heavens. Having thrown back the curtain this year, the Oscars may or may not be able to close it again and make us believe. Perhaps the root disease is that Hollywood no longer believes in itself. Banksy was banned from the Oscars this year, but the Oscars spray-painted graffiti all over itself without him.

Grammy-Winning Group Seems to Yearn for Those Good Old Slave-Holding Years.

Most of us learn in high school American history that “antebellum” refers to the years before the Civil War (it is Latin for “before the war”). So why did the country group Lady Antebellum decide to call itself that?

Here’s the answer given by one of the band members in a recent interview:

We knew when we came up with this name that we’d have to explain it everyday for the rest of our lives. We were taking some photos one day in front of some old ‘antebellum’ style houses in Nashville, and that word came out and it just kinda stuck.  The word has a nostalgic feel to it, and in a weird way we felt that reflected our sound and what we were going for.

Okay, the reason I’m not buying the completeness of that answer is that those antebellum style houses are called antebellum style houses because the word has meaning–the style of those houses is pinned to the period in the South that preceded the Civil War, and since “antebellum” means anything that is tied to that time and place, it is an apt descriptor of the style. That “nostalgic feel” in the band’s name is a nostalgic feel not just for  plantation-style houses, but for those good old slavery years that gave rise to them. I think Lady Antebellum wants it two ways–to subtly evoke nostalgia for that period in those who are nostalgic for it, and to deny any deliberate evocation.

Was Lady Antebellum’s top priority to appeal to racists when they chose their name? I’m not saying that. Since they’re from Tennessee, their first association to the word was probably architectural. But I’m guessing  history is taught mostly the same in the South these days as it is in the North, and that means the band should have been able to step back and say, “Wait a second. This word has meaning–a meaning which is much larger and more central to our nation’s history than whether a house has an exaggerated portico with lots of columns.” They didn’t do that. And (here’s the suspicion I wish I could dismiss) perhaps they don’t mind if, just incidentally, a benefit of their name is that it appeals to a reactionary streak in a portion of their fan base.

Memes and Tropes, Memes and Tropes, I Gotta Get Me Some Memes and Tropes.

Sarah Haskins does funny commentaries on themes in TV commercials directed towards women and how these commercials reflect (or purport to) and shape (or attempt to) women’s perceptions. This is one of my favorites, on “Doofy Husbands.”

Sarah is a Chicago native and a Francis Parker grad! (Oh, and Harvard.)

You Go, Dick Clark.

Some people are discomforted by the spectacle of an obviously stroke-disabled Dick Clark continuing on as host of ABC’s New Year’s Eve countdown show.

I’d like to offer an alternative point of view.

I think it’s swell that one network, on one night of the year, allows a space for a disabled person to host a show as if there were nothing about being disabled that required shame. The other 364.9 days of the year television can revert to showing us only shiny perfect hosts.

I give credit to ABC for this despite the possibility that they have no choice in the matter–i.e., it may be that Dick Clark has a contract with them and is holding them to it. Either way, I think it’s great, and I can handle having reality in my living room for one hour a year.

Why Is This Coen Bros. Movie Different from All Other Coen Bros. Movies?

Two years ago, after seeing Burn After Reading, I identified the one trait that every single Coen Bros. had in common. Romantic comedy or grim film noir, suspense thriller or picaresque romp, screwball epic or journey into depression, every single Coen Bros. movie—all fourteen of them, you pick, I don’t care which one–shared one element:

They all involved characters who thought they were smarter than they were, and suffered for it.

Some of these characters were smart, only not quite as smart as they thought they were, and suffered for it.

Others of these characters were stupid, and fancied themselves smart, and suffered for it.

In True Grit, all the central characters prove just exactly as smart as they need to be, and in some cases smarter than we figured them for. Nobody (with the exception of a minor character in an early scene) does himself in or gets into deep doo-doo for the hubristic sin of overestimating his intelligence.

In all fourteen of the previous movies written and directed by the Coen Bros.—again, I defy you to find an exception—that hubristic sin plagued central (or, in the case of No Country for Old Men, important secondary) characters and drove the plot. The persistence of that element in their oeuvre, whether in stories they created or were attracted to adapting, reflected a strong misanthropic streak in the two brothers.

Many of those movies were wonderful, as misanthropy can be. But True Grit is wonderful in a whole new way for the Coen Bros. It shows that they are capable of admiration for and generosity of spirit toward the human animal, and more important, it succeeds in taking the audience on a journey into these feelings, too. It looks like a new chapter in the growth of these great and still relatively young (53 and 56) filmmakers.