Wow. This guy has brass balls:
Larken Rose uses a video blog to defend his writing of an article called, “When You Should Shoot a Cop.”
Wow. This guy has brass balls:
Larken Rose uses a video blog to defend his writing of an article called, “When You Should Shoot a Cop.”
and the struggle for single payer and medical treatment as a human right.
The Vampires of Daylight
by Jennifer A. Epps
In April of this year, Vanity Fair ran an article by Juli Weiner titled “West Wing Babies.”
The article focused on young policy wonks and politicians’ aides who became motivated to pursue careers in Washington in large part because of the multiple- Golden Globe (2) and Emmy (26) winning TV series that NBC premiered in 1999, The West Wing. Weiner writes: “Just as All the President’s Men made newspapers seem cool—imagine!—and propelled legions of baby-boomers into journalism, so Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing has inspired a new generation with its vision of a Washington brimming with lofty ideals.” She caught up with many of the young Washington insiders which the Bush-era series influenced so profoundly, and she found that the series still holds sway over how they view their calling, in short, “a totem” responsible for “infusing a historically uncool career with cultural cachet.” Sorkin’s pioneering show didn’t just lead to a new generation of reform-minded civil servants; it also “made policy discussions seem thrilling and governing heroic” to its many ardent fans. Weiner called this whole phenomenon “the Sorkinization of politics.”
Tonight, HBO premieres a new series created by Aaron Sorkin, the drama The Newsroom, a workplace series that follows the staff of a cable-network’s nightly newscast. Originally titled More As This Story Develops, the hour-long drama features, among others in a large cast, Jeff Daniels as an opinionated cable-news anchor, Emily Mortimer as his boss (the show’s producer), and Sam Waterston as her boss (the network head). And before we get distracted by the energy of what we know will be witty characters who banter while briskly ‘pedeconferencing’ (Sorkin’s signature ‘walk and talk’ technique), we should take a moment to think about what it will mean if The Newsroom becomes as successful or influential as The West Wing.
I approach this question as a longtime connoisseur. I’ve seen every produced script that Sorkin has written, including his play The Farnsworth Invention on Broadway. (Uh, well, no, wait – I’ve never seen Malice. I’m in no rush to fill that gap.) Though the idea of Star Trek and Star Wars conventions mystifies me, if there were a West Wing convention, I’d happily dress up as Ainsley Hayes. Or Lord John Marbury. Maybe even Bruno Gianelli. When asked to name our favorite authors in a college writing class, I said Aaron Sorkin. (The teacher didn’t know who he was, but that’s another story.) During the 2011 Oscar® season, I was solidly on Team-Social Network, and I just thank God that they have separate categories for adapted and original screenplays.
But what I’m worried about is, what if The Newsroom ends up Sorkinizing the media? What if it instills in us a new respect for the mainstream media, and reverses the trend of recent years? Studies have shown that the younger generation’s interest in the networks’ nightly newscasts has virtually vanished, and a 2009 Time poll discovered that Jon Stewart was the most trusted newscaster. (He beat his closest competitor in the poll by 15 points.) Commentators like to blame the apathy of the young, and some sort of selfish irresponsibility that leads viewers to seek their news in a comedy show rather than a straight newscast, but the difference between Jon Stewart and the alphabet net anchors he was up against is that…he tells the truth.
However, if The Newsroom has the kind of effect The West Wing did, the viewers most susceptible to its message will be the affluent, the well-educated, the technologically-savvy. (In 2000, The West Wing’s viewers had more advanced degrees and more web access than any other primetime audience. During its run, more 18 – 49 year-olds, earning over $100,000, watched the show than any other series.) In other words, if The Newsroom is as powerful and convincing as The West Wing, its audiences, a very likely crossover with consumers of straight news broadcasts, could have their faith in the real TV news renewed. For the mainstream media, this could be a get-home-free card.
Granted, this is Sorkin’s third series about the staff of a TV show, and the other two, the half-hour ABC comedy Sports Night and the hour-long NBC drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, were cancelled – the first after two seasons, the second after just one. But the odds are stacked much higher in The Newsroom’s favor. First of all, it’s on HBO, a fairly obvious home for quality writing and edgy material and even, quite often, for liberal-themed work. Secondly, there is a huge difference between the scope of Sports Night and Studio 60 and the potential of this show. His first two TV-show-centred TV shows were respectively, focused on the (at least to my mind) repetitive field of sports reporting, and the (to a great many people’s minds) overly-insular domain of Hollywood creatives. (Which is not to say I haven’t lapped up every single episode of both series — many of them in binge fashion on DVD.) By contrast, The Newsroom can, simply by virtue of its setting at a national cable-news show, have the world as its canvas, as The West Wing did. Sorkin’s new show can, if it wants to, touch on virtually limitless stories and all manner of controversial, emotional, transformative events, from the local level to the international. Hell, even outer space is up for grabs.
Whereas the self-importance espoused by Matt and Danny in Studio 60 seemed out of proportion to what it was they were actually doing – producing a tame SNL-like sketch comedy show of parodies, impressions, and riffs – journalists actually do have a serious responsibility to the public, and what they say on-air actually does impact the national dialogue. If The Newsroom characters believe that kind of principle ardently, rhapsodically, as it is a safe bet they will, won’t the contrast between them and the real media – where almost no journalist seems to think the First Amendment requires anything of them — make the fantasy all the more compelling? And will this glamorization make us trust the real news more?
It is almost a default position for Sorkin to canonize the characters he writes about. “It isn’t enough for me to write something that people will like. I think the young men in my script have to be in some shape or form the husbands and boyfriends that women want. I think the fathers have to be the fathers that sons and daughters want. I think the bosses have to be the bosses that employees want.” Commentators remark over and over on the feat that Sorkin pulled off in erasing the widespread distrust the public had of Washington before The West Wing. “The corrective to public cynicism is healthy” writes a contributor to the scholarly compendium The West Wing: American Presidency as TV Drama. But what if you’re believing in something that is a lie? Sorkin’s show was on during the very period when we most needed to distrust Washington. For six out of the West Wing’s seven years, the Bush cabal sat in the White House they had usurped. A period of so many history-changing incidents, invasions of multiple countries, wars on the environment, erasure of civil liberties, and public deceptions that I can’t begin to count them here, but Rep. Dennis Kucinich counted 35 of them in his Articles of Impeachment against President George W. Bush, author Michael Haas counted 269 war crimes that Bush committed, and a study by the non-profits Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism counted 935 occasions when the Bush Administration lied about Iraq. It seems that, at such a time, cynicism would have been a very healthy corrective. I don’t mean the giving-up kind of cynicism, but the seeing-through kind. Yes, it was comforting during those years to share in an illusion of an idealistic liberal Democrat in office. But there were some pretty damaging illusions within that illusion.
Sorkin has probably dramatized more debates on issues of social reform than any other writer since George Bernard Shaw. (The right-wing Media Research Center cites a few such “notorious” scenes here.) He obviously loved to bring down an ideological opponent and many of us loved to watch him do it. (Conservative John Podhoretz called the show “political pornography for liberals” – as if that was a bad thing.) A consistent contributor to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates, Sorkin is certainly a Democratic loyalist. But on issues where the two parties rarely skirmish in real life – defense, foreign policy, U.S. exceptionalism, how everything works just fine on the democracy front, etc. – his sentimentalism and his admiration for macho militaristic solutions limited more serious debate.
One very troubling continuing plotline during his creative leadership was a targeted assassination of a foreign leader. The advisors to President Jeb Bartlet (Martin Sheen) inform him that the leader is a proven terrorist, although charges cannot be brought against him in an international court because the evidence was obtained by torture. (Not of course, torture by Americans. Torture by Russians, of a Chechnian prisoner.) The torture thus is implied to be a legal inconvenience – the fact that, among other things wrong with it, torture renders the accuracy of the information obtained questionable seems not to have occurred to Jeb Bartlet, a brilliant Nobel-prize winning Keynesian economist who once wanted to be a priest. Instead, he allows Leo to talk him into arranging the leader’s secret assassination, griping only “Doesn’t this mean we join the league of ordinary nations?” This kind of a statement is baffling for anyone who knows about Washington’s central role in and strong support of a whole host of assassinations and coups, including large-scale massacres in Indonesia in the 1960’s and 638 CIA attempts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But it is rather typical of the attitudes conveyed by Bartlet.
Because The West Wing was always about an alternate White House – where no president more recent than Eisenhower could be named – there was no 9/11, but terrorism became a frequent storyline on the show. In Sorkin’s final season (the series’ fourth), a terrorist attack within the U.S. kills student members of a swim team in the episode 20 Hours in America. The President responds with a speech to the nation:
“More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom, and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil.”
It is undeniable that in that moment Bartlet stopped sounding like Bartlet and started sounding like Bush. The speech even sounded like a call to arms: “This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great.” At the time that it aired (Sept. 22, 2002), not only had the U.S. been occupying Afghanistan for 11 months, but the Bush Administration had already begun its propaganda campaign to convince the public to invade Iraq. The speech may even have helped the effort.
Weiner’s Vanity Fair article does not discriminate between Republican and Democratic political operatives, and indeed, The West Wing had plenty of Republican fans too. One such fan quoted in the article was Kurt Bardella, former press secretary to the richest member of Congress, Republican Darrell Issa (net worth $450 million). Issa is the businessman who contributed $1.3 million to the 2003 campaign to recall California Governor Gray Davis, and whose main focus in the House seems to be to plague Obama with investigations. Issa has also been fighting tooth and nail against anyone doing anything to stop climate change – invested, as he is through his business, in the automotive industry. It is somewhat perplexing that a person who worked for Issa could, in April 2012, still “recite dialogue from almost every West Wing episode by heart.” One would think that there might be too many ideological obstacles. And indeed I don’t suggest that Sorkin has any affinity with Darrell Issa. In fact, Issa’s actions probably make Sorkin want to puke.
However, even in his non-West Wing projects, Sorkin wrote very little during the Bush cabal’s Global Reign of Terror – sorry, Global War on Terror – that would have alienated any rah-rah hawks. By the 2006-2007 TV season, the time of Sorkin’s series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sorkin had had time to reflect on that GWOT. Several of Studio 60’s characters – Hollywood liberals – even express views against the Iraq War. However, as the first and only season of the show neared its finale, a somewhat ambivalent 5-episode story arc appeared. A U.S. airman is captured and held hostage (off-camera) in Afghanistan, and though we never meet the airman, he is the brother of “Studio 60” comedian Tom Jeter (Nate Corddry). Tom and his brother are said to have disagreed about his enlistment and on Bush’s wars. Over the course of the highly suspenseful ticking-clock episodes, several of the principals flash back to their reactions to 9/11 – emotional as well as artistic — while Tom is ensconced in a greenroom with a close-lipped military minder. One of Tom’s worries is that the kidnappers won’t respect the Geneva Conventions the way Americans do. That’s almost a direct quote. (Sorkin doesn’t explain if it’s Tom who’s unclear about just what the Bush Administration had been doing the last few years, or himself.) Anyway, the tension builds to a breaking point as Tom is tormented over whether to accept a private security firm’s pitch to rescue his brother or not, but just in the nick of time it turns out the U.S. military has heroically saved the day – a familiar kind of resolution from The West Wing.
How does this relate to what will happen on The Newsroom? I predict that Sorkin will bring up many social and political issues, and also eviscerate the most vacuous, most sensationalistic, and most irresponsible habits of the corporate media (ideas for which he will find in abundance on Fox News or the watchdog that monitors them: www.mediamatters.org) His idealistic principal characters will almost certainly be kept busy with a plethora of struggles against the commercial pressures of today’s media marketplace, and in keeping abreast of politicians both foolish and noble. I predict that he will make the dialogue scintillating, the humor absurdist, and the gravitas moving.
However, I have my doubts that the full extent of the perfidy of the news media will be part of the discussion. And if his characters hold the same overarching, American-chauvinist, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” views we’ve heard President Bartlet and others in the Sorkin oeuvre espouse, then they will ultimately be in perfect agreement with the limiting corporate media that we already have. If they then combine what is actually a myopia with the conscientious, driven, reformist qualities Sorkin returns to again and again with his creations, won’t the end result be a strengthening of business as usual for the mainstream media? And a lulling illusion for the rest of us?
We’ll have to tune in to find out. But let’s try to keep a level head on our shoulders, even if the dialogue becomes dizzying.
about drugs, and appears to be under the influence of something herself at this oversight committee hearing.
Argo: Hollywood’s New Hostage Thriller Could Inflame Tensions
by Danny Schechter
Earlier this year, I was in Tehran for a conference on Hollywood’s power and impact. It was called “Hollywoodism,” featuring many scholars and critics of the values and political ideologies featured in many major movies with a focus on the way Israel (aka “the Zionists”) are continually portrayed as if they do no wrong.
What we didn’t know then while we were debating these issues was that some of Hollywood’s biggest stars were at that very moment making a movie that will certainly be perceived as hostile to Iran, if not part of the undeclared war that Israel and the United States are waging with crippling economic sanctions and malicious cyber viruses.
The movie is Argo, and the hype for it has already begun. In a business driven by formula, a “hostage thriller” must have been irresistible to an industry always more consumed by itself and its own frames of reference than anything happening in the real world. An NBC entertainment site explains:
At the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the CIA smuggled six Americans out of Tehran in a plot that was a movie maker’s dream. So naturally, Hollywood’s gonna make a movie out of it.
Ben Affleck is in talks to direct “Argo,” a film being produced by George Clooney, about former CIA Master of Disguise Tony Mendez and his most daring operation, reported Variety. Mendez smuggled six American’s out of Tehran in 1979 by concocting a fake movie production, called “Argo.”
Predictably, the background and context of these events is conspicuous by its absence, as are the reasons for the Iranian revolution and the role played by the United States in working with the British in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government and support for the despotic Shah.
“It’s not political,” a movie industry insider told me.
A film set in the Iranian revolution, that most political of events of an era, “not political”?
That’s Hollywood for you!
Hollywood movies want to be seen only as exercises in dramatic storytelling, so their focus is always on characters and action.
As Wired Magazine described what happened in a 2007 story based on the book that led to the film:
“November 4, 1979, began like any other day at the US embassy in Tehran. The staff filtered in under gray skies, the marines manned their posts, and the daily crush of anti-American protestors massed outside the gate chanting, ‘Allahu akbar! Marg bar Amrika!’”
Mark and Cora Lijek, a young couple serving in their first foreign service post, knew the slogans — “God is great! Death to America!” — and had learned to ignore the din as they went about their duties. But today, the protest sounded louder than usual. And when some of the local employees came in and said there was “a problem at the gate,” they knew this morning would be different.
The larger confrontation also served as the basis for a long running TV news series, ABC’s America Held Hostage, treating those Americans as victims of a crime, but never Iran as the scene of a larger crime, a country held hostage for years by a U.S.-backed secret police and military that crushed freedom of expression, repressed religion, and enabled the CIA to manipulate Iran’s politics while U.S. companies plundered Iran’s resources.
One-sided news programming was far more effective than Hollywood movie making as a tool for mobilizing Americans against Iran. The coverage was was always unbalanced. I called it “A.A.U.” — All About Us!
Now, this new movie will likely add to the propaganda even as many Americans are speaking out against a war on Iran while Washington is clearly planning one.
It will bring back all the old anti-Iranian feelings and stereotypes while progressive U.S. actors glamorize a CIA agent, even though the actual movie makes the events seem absurd and at times reportedly even makes fun of the U.S. government in 1970s movie-making style.
I haven’t seen the film but judging from the slick trailer I saw in my neighborhood theater, it’s about clever Americans outsmarting Iranians who look robotic.
Here’s the context as Wired reports:
The Iran hostage crisis, which would go on for 444 days, shaking America’s confidence and sinking President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, had begun. … Everyone remembers the 52 Americans trapped at the embassy and the failed rescue attempt a few months later that ended with a disastrous Army helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. But not many know the long- classified details of the CIA’s involvement in the escape of the other group — thrust into a hostile city in the throes of revolution.
In the “not many know” department, there is no reference here either about how the Reagan campaign secretly negotiated to hold back the hostages until Carter was out of office, or the illegal Iran-Contra arms deals that followed.
This is not a “new” story — it was told years ago in books and magazines — but Argo is retelling as if it is new. It is, as you would expect, all about our brilliance and their stupidity, our good guys against their bad guys — all classic Made in the USA commercial movie formula.
Will this thriller contribute to a deeper understanding between our two countries?
Will it help us find a way of resolving our differences?
I doubt it.
As it happens, when I was in Tehran, I visited the former U.S. Embassy and wrote about my impressions in a new book, Blogothon. It is now a museum with a well-preserved group of offices, safeguarding the equipment used by the CIA for surveillance and espionage.
The Iranians had denounced the building as a “spy nest” well before the students took it over but even they didn’t know how right they were or its real covert action focus until they saw it for themselves.
U.S. Embassy security tried to destroy all its secret documents by shredding them, but the students, over months, patiently sewed the bits and pieces together and published them, exposing their nefarious tactics in books that U.S. customs would not allow Americans to see. (Friends of mine had their copies seized when they returned from a reporting trip to Iran in that period.) There is a reference to the recovery of some of this information in Argo, but not much about what was in those documents. This was all before the age of Wikileaks.
But never mind the facts or their selective retelling: In Hollywood, only story matters. You can just hear the actors telling their agents “how cool this film is” — especially because movie-making is the movie’s sub-plot, the glory of the story, so to speak, at the core of what is, in the end, sanitized drama.
Once again, mindlessness leads to malice in a search not for truth but box office revenues. Of course, I will see it when it’s out in the fall.
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net. His two latest books are Blogothon and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He also hosts a program on Progressive Radio Network.com. This article first appeared on Press TV in Iran. I wonder how they will respond. Comments to dissector –at– mediachannel.org. Follow Danny Schechter on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Dissectorevents
The future of creatives and the “creative economy.” Much of it is already here, and the internet is changing the environment both for the better and the worse. Interesting discussion.
Testing the new Political Film Blog presence across several platforms… nothing to see here… move along…
by Jeff Sparrow
In the late sixties and early seventies, the Swiss quack Erich von Daniken made a fortune peddling a hundred different iterations of his ‘Chariots of the Gods’ thesis, asserting that sundry unusual artifacts from prehistory provided proof of extraterrestrial intervention.
As everyone knows, the von Daniken hokum plays a central role in Prometheus, the dire new Ridley Scott movie. But what’s interesting is how Scott wrenches this ‘ancient astronauts’ hooey from its original context and re-articulates it for the epoch of the Tea Party.
Chariots of the Gods recognizably stems from the same milieu as Carlos Castanedas’ equally preposterous The Teachings of Don Juan, both of which appeared in 1968. The sixties radicalization fostered a surge of interest in Third World cultures and alternative spiritualties, and in his own demented way, von Daniken presented his research as a quest for truths ignored or suppressed by the mainstream of which the New Left had become understandably suspicious.
In Prometheus, by contrast, it’s not the establishment that’s dangerous – it’s knowledge itself.
Thus the specialistschosen to explore the mysteries of human origins react to their mission like frat boys interrupted on the way to a kegger. But it’s not simply that they’re so disinterested in the prospect of scientific discovery that, once inside the alien monument, you expect them to leave off surveying in order to light their own farts. It’s also that they’re shown as perfectly correct to jeer at the high-falutin’ theories that have spurred the mission: in this movie, curiosity inevitably results in a swift and grisly death.
In Scott’s version of the Greek myth, Prometheus got what was coming to him: the secret of fire belonged to our betters and man had no business messing with it. The film portrays inquiry as inherently suspect, with the most admirable characters openly refusing to learn anything about the new world around them.
‘I just fly the ship,’ says the captain, as if he’s driving a school bus rather than piloting an expedition into uncharted space. His subsequent self-sacrifice accords with the peculiar notion of heroism that has evolved over the last decade – the hero as a taciturn blue-collar everyman, intuitively hostile to the nonsense spouted by an overeducated elite. One thinks of Peggy Noonan’s infamous explanation of how, in the wake of 9/11, intellectualism departed, giving way to ‘masculine men, men who push things and pull things and haul things and build things.’
And then there’s the film’s treatment of religion.
Von Daniken’s thesis, at least in its early incarnation, expressed a sixties’ skepticism about traditional Christianity, since the attribution of ancient cave paintings and Biblical scriptures to the same alien source provided an obvious challenge to conventional dogma.
In Prometheus, on the other hand, the ancient astronauts actually confirm the faith of the central character, Elizabeth, largely, it seems, on the basis that the extraterrestrial role in shaping humanity discredits Darwinism, the eternal bête noire of the fundamentalist right. When her drippy boyfriend suggests that proof of interstellar beings manufacturing humanity poses a teensy problem for believers (ya think?), Elizabeth shoots back, like Sarah Palin sassing the New York Times: ‘Well, who made them?’
As James Bradley points out, the religiosity that runs throughout the movie is immediately identifiable as the pop Christianity associated with conservative megachurches, a creed that can assimilate any kind of woo hoo into its theology. For many Americans, religion now entails less a coherent set of doctrines than a homemade assemblage scrabbled together from TV evangelists and the Left Behind books and Hallmark cards about angels and whatever else comes to hand, and so there’s no reason why identifying God as a cosmic astronaut should pose any particular dilemma.
‘It’s what I choose to believe,’ says Elizabeth, neatly voicing the contemporary sense that sincerity matters more than truth. ‘True for me’ is, of course, a notion entirely at odds with 2000 years of Christianity, and thus an illustration of the paradoxical secularism now embedded in so much contemporary religion. As we learned during the Bush years, even (or perhaps especially) for fundamentalists, truth has given way for what Stephen Colbert calls ‘truthiness’, a knowledge that resides in the gut rather in the brain, a way of understanding the world that depends more on emotion than intellect.
That’s the spirit suffusing Scott’s movie, a vapidity that means it’s unable to invest profound questions about human origins with any excitement whatsoever. Symptomatically, the aliens aren’t in any way alien – they’re just muscled-up white people, an advanced culture demonstrating its superiority via more effective Nautilus machines.
In place of any intellectual wonder, the elaborate CGI effects deliver only bombast, in headache-inducing 3D. Nora Ephron once compared reading Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls to ‘masturbating while eating M&Ms’. The high-tech eye candy of Prometheus produces the same kind of onanistic stupor, without the inconvenience of having to turn pages.
All of this makes a depressing contrast with Scott’s Alien (and even James Cameron’s Aliens). Those films introduced Sigourney Weaver as a new kind of female protagonist – a woman who was smart, cynical and tough. Prometheus reverts to a much more familiar treatment of a woman in charge, with Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers rehearsing the old trope of the castrating bitch with daddy issues. The earlier paranoia about the faceless corporations controlling the ship has also vanished, replaced by a backstory about succession in a family business, like something you’d hear in a small claims court.
The sad truth is that this is not a movie about another planet so much as a representation of where our world’s at. The Engineers have their enormous stone temple; we have Prometheus, an expensive monument to a culture enmeshed in self-regarding idiocy.