Mitt Romney Takes Pot Shots At Big Bird And PBS

Big BirdOne of the right’s perennial targets has been public television and programs that benefit the arts. They have relentlessly criticized these institutions and sought to deny them federal funding. They have even accused them of being socialist vehicles intent on indoctrinating America’s young. Now Mitt Romney joins the battle with a pledge to stop funding PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts (video below).

When Romney says that he wants to “stop certain programs…even some you like,” he is referring to programs that are of significant value to average Americans, but that he can live without because his quarter of a billion dollar net worth enables him to acquire whatever he wants. Romney demonstrates how pitifully out of touch he is by proposing to eliminate funding for PBS, a network that provides educational programming that is not available anywhere else, certainly not in commercial television. He is explicit in what he plans to do:

“We subsidize PBS. Look, I’m gonna stop that. I’m gonna say that PBS is gonna have to have advertisements. We’re not gonna kill Big Bird, but Big Bird’s gonna have advertisements.”

Despite his denials, killing off Big Bird is precisely what his plan would accomplish. There is a reason that commercial TV does not produce the sort of programming seen on PBS. For-profit networks have to cater to advertisers in order to stay in business. By necessity they are more concerned with generating profit than with quality programming. Take a look at tonight’s primetime schedules of the cable nets that were supposed to compete with public television:

  • Bravo: 8:00pm Top Chef: Texas; 9:00pm Top Chef: Texas; 10:00pm Top Chef: Texas
  • Discovery: 8:00pm Sons of Guns; 9:00pm Sons of Guns; 10:00pm Moonshiners
  • Learning Channel: 8:00pm Toddlers & Tiaras; 9:00pm Cheapskates; 10:00pm Toddlers & Tiaras

That’s not exactly entertainment designed to enrich America’s children. It’s a jumble of insipid reality programs that repeat ad nauseum. It’s Real Housewives, Swamp Loggers, Hoarders, and info-mercials. If Big Bird were required to rely on advertisers for funding it would not be long before Sesame Street was just another avenue on the Jersey Shore.

That’s the free market model for public broadcasting that Romney and the right advocate. It’s a model that would replace Bert and Ernie with Kim and Chloe. Is that really the example we want to set for our kids?

Leave It To Blather: A Holiday Memorial To The Media Madhouse

In honor of Independence Day I offer this reprise of a video I produced almost five years ago that embraces the naive wisdom found in the Golden Age of American television. Is this a great country or what?

Who would have thought that after 50 years the Cleaver brothers would be looked back upon as media visionaries? The insight and stark analysis preserved in this video unmistakably marks them as the intellectual peers of Minow, McLuhan, and Colbert.

The video above contains an actual clip from Leave It To Beaver. In the episode’s customary moralistic epilogue, the boys tackle the same defects in television news that Jon Stewart so elegantly skewered in his now famous Crossfire appearance.

Seeing this icon of innocence and family values humorously addressing a media problem that persists 50 years later, illustrates just how entrenched these problems are (and how easy they are to make fun of). But the fact that we’re still laughing at the same jokes is a bit disheartening. It’s not exactly an affirmation of progress.

The parade of prattling pundits that populate the closing credits are only a taste of the Blathering Class that infects our national discourse with deceit, diversion and division. And yet, people watch. Are we gluttons for punishment, addicted to conflict, or just starved for knowledge and hoping some will inadvertently reveal itself?

I don’t know. I guess I watch too much TV. Have a Happy Froth of July.

The Great Suppression: Republicans Clampdown On Art

The Republican Party likes to pretend that they are the defenders of individual freedom in America. Of course, that is a pretense that has never true. Their vocal protestations about government being “on your back” only apply to regulations aimed at corporations and taxes on the wealthy. The GOP has no problem with government leaping onto the backs of women seeking reproductive health care, or gays who want equality in marriage and military service, or kids who want to attend school without someone else’s religion forced down their souls.

In short, the GOP wants businesses to have the absolute freedom to run rampant over a population that is straight-jacketed by federal guardians of morality. And that constricting philosophy extends to the free expression of artists as well. Conservatives have long-held the view that the creative community is dangerous and subversive, and they must be silenced. They acted on those views when they blacklisted artists in the 1940’s and 1950’s. And today they are pressing hard to shut down public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. But it doesn’t stop there.

There have been some recent incidents that ought to stir outrage among Americans who value free expression and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Public figures have been stepping on the rights of artists in an official capacity and it is repugnant and un-American.

A few years ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to give a speech at the United Nations to make the case by the Bush administration for going to war against Iraq. Prior to the speech he had aides cover up a tapestry depicting Picasso’s painting, Guernica. Powell was not going to make an argument for war in front of such a powerful and iconic anti-war statement.

Bush’s Attorney General, John Ashcroft, held press conferences in the Justice Department in a hall where the statue “Spirit of Justice” had stood for decades. In 2002 he ordered that the statue, a female representation of justice with one bare breast exposed, be covered by a drape. It’s not clear whether he was worried more about this being embarrassing or arousing.

Earlier this year, Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, had a mural removed from the Maine Department of Labor. The mural depicted scenes of Maine’s working citizens and the history of labor in the state. Obviously it has no business taking up space in the Labor Department.

And just this week, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin removed a painting from the governor’s residence. The painting was of children from diverse backgrounds and was meant to remind the residents of that home, which belongs to the people of Wisconsin, of the impact their work has real families. Now Walker won’t have to be concerned with that unless he runs into some in person, in which case he’ll have much more to be concerned about.

The brazen insensitivity of public officials censoring messages that were meant to inspire openness and a devotion to service is appalling. These people are not only offending the artists and the citizens whose views are being represented, they are astonishingly tone-deaf to the political backlash that was easily anticipated.

Republicans can’t seem to get enough censorship. It weaves through the party from state houses to the White House. There is even a current speculative candidate for the GOP nomination for presidency in 2012 who has a low regard for free speech.

Rudy Giuliani: An exhibition of paintings is not as communicative as speech, literature or live entertainment, and the artists’ constitutional interest is thus minimal.

That was Giuliani arguing in court to ban artists from displaying their work on the streets of New York City. His argument is that, while evangelists predicting the end of the world and banjo pluckers strumming out strains of My Clementine are protected by the Constitution, artists are not. That’s all America needs now is a president who doesn’t think that art is communication or that it is protected by the Constitution. Welcome to the Dark Ages.

FLASHBACK: Pope Preaches Media Ethics

I just stumbled on this article I wrote in January 2008, while searching for something else. I am reposting it here for no good reason other than that the message from the Vatican is just so damn awesome, unexpected, and rarely told.

Who knew that the Roman Catholic Church observed something called “World Communications Day”? Well they do, and the theme for the 42nd annual observance to be held on May 4, 2008, was addressed in a speech by Pope Benedict XVI. He had some interesting things to say about the media. To begin with he recognizes the massive shadow cast by modern media conglomerates.

“Truly, there is no area of human experience, especially given the vast phenomenon of globalization, in which the media have not become an integral part of interpersonal relations and of social, economic, political and religious development.”

He goes on to warn that the media’s potential for positive contributions in society can be undermined by their basest tendencies, and that they…

“…risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day. This is what happens when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products.”

He is starting to sound like a fairly radical advocate for reform. He introduces the notion of “info-ethics” that, like bio-ethics, would serve as a guide in the practice of principled journalism. But he isn’t through yet.

“We must ask, therefore, whether it is wise to allow the instruments of social communication to be exploited for indiscriminate ‘self-promotion’ or to end up in the hands of those who use them to manipulate consciences. Should it not be a priority to ensure that they remain at the service of the person and of the common good…”

Well that settles it. The Pope has fallen in with the subversives who are calling for a wholesale restructuring of media’s place in society. A key goal of reformers is to insure that the media does not “end up in the hands” of manipulators and those who fail to acknowledge an obligation to the public interest. And if that’s not enough, tell me that this isn’t a slap at Fox News:

“Today, communication seems increasingly to claim not simply to represent reality, but to determine it, owing to the power and the force of suggestion that it possesses.”

Alright, maybe I’m reading a bit too much into that, but if I had presented it as a quote from Bill Moyers or Bob McChesney, it would have been entirely believable. The same would be true for the following:

“The media must avoid becoming spokesmen for economic materialism and ethical relativism, true scourges of our time. Instead, they can and must contribute to making known the truth about humanity, and defending it against those who tend to deny or destroy it.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s great to see a mainstream spiritual leader like this articulate an agenda that is so anti-materialism and pro-truth. I wonder if the faithful will get behind these ideas and pursue, with a missionary zeal, the reform of a system that demeans humanity and freedom of thought and will.

Noxious Irritation: Andrew Breitbart’s True Hollywood Horror Story

How Hollywood Drove Andrew Breitbart To The Mad Hater’s Tea Party

Andrew BreitbartAndrew Breitbart just released his new book, “Righteous Indignation,” that opens a window into his innermost impulses and ambitions. It reveals the complex circuitry of his character that succeeds in being both self-loathing and Narcissistic. Breitbart takes us on his journey from unrequited Hollywood wannabe to Tea Party overlord and along the way establishes that his book might better have been titled “Noxious Irritation.” If anything, his indignation is aimed at a community that he desperately wanted to be a part of, but which wanted nothing to do with him.

Growing up in the Tinseltown suburb of Brentwood, Breitbart developed an early obsession with show business and celebrity. He writes with a palpable glee of having had the same tennis instructor as Farrah Fawcett and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The most trivial association with stardom sent him twirling, as when his family, “once rented out our motor home to John Ritter from Three’s Company. I bragged about it in school for weeks.” But despite his glamorous aspirations, the first forty pages of the book describe a young man seething with self-hatred. And judging from his own account it was deserved. He paints a picture of himself as an ignorant, alcoholic, loser.

Contine reading

Glenn Beck vs Glee/My Chemical Romance

We already know that Glenn Beck is a delusional paranoid whose analysis of world affairs is on a par with a lobotomized baboon (no offense intended to baboons). And we have already witnessed his hallucinatory ramblings about commie-infested art planted throughout Manhattan. But now Beck has assumed the role of music critic and the results are just about what you would expect.

On his program yesterday he set off on a tirade against an episode of Glee that featured the cast performing “Sing” by My Chemical Romance. Of course, he divined a meaning to the segment that could only exist in his decayed brain. His dementia was so complete that he kept going back forth from praising the show as brilliant to condemning it as a nightmare:

“I’ve watched it in stunned horror combined with a sense of admiring awe. It is a brilliant, brilliant show. Very, very, very well done. But it is a horror show.”

With his standard demeanor reeking of shock and fear, Beck attempted to convey the danger that he saw in this evil teenage music. He displayed a few of the lyrics on screen to illustrate the horror that these demonic rockers were imparting to our innocent children:

Cleaned up corporation progress, dying in the process
Children that can talk about it, living on the railways
People moving sideways, sell it till your last days
Buy yourself the motivation, generation nothing
Nothing but a dead scene, product of a white dream.

Reading those words, I couldn’t quite figure out what Beck was so worked up about. Was it the insinuation that corporations were involved in something nefarious? Was it the ambiguous reference to a “white dream?” Beck never really explained it himself. He simply said that…

“This is propaganda and it’s an anthem. It’s an anthem saying, join us. How can you and I possibly win against that?”

Win against what? An anthem calling for what? Joining what? Beck never says. So I went to the source. I looked up the song on a video that contained all of the lyrics. I’ll report, you decide:

So far as I can tell, this is song that inspires self-esteem and the determination to stand up for yourself in the face of critics and bullies and the martinets of conformity. It’s a call for pride in individualism and a rejection of corporate mandates of style and character. It’s a tribute to the honor of outcasts and those whom society regards as defective.

No wonder Beck is afraid. The more kids listen to this message, the harder it will be for them to be manipulated by commercial evangelists like him; the harder it will be to sow doubt and insecurity; the harder it will be sell useless crap that promises to make you popular and desirable. This song is an assault on the crass consumerism that fattens Beck’s wallet and those of his sponsors.

This song’s refrain is seemingly dedicated to Glenn Beck: “Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts.”

[Update] My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way responded to Beck on his blog. My favorite part:

“I’m actually shocked that no actual fact-checking was done on the lyrics. I mean Fox is a major news channel, covering factual topics in an unbiased and intelligent – oh wait-“

Well said.

What If Atlas Shrugged And No One Was There To See It?

The film version of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s soporific paean to malevolent ego-centrism, has finally been released to the throngs of slobbering Tea Baggers desperate for some cinematic validation. Sadly for these pathetic flim(flam) buffs, this flick hardly fills the void in their lost souls.

Atlas ShruggedThe movie is being released as “Part 1” with the promise of two more in the unlikely event that this one turns a profit. But the circumstances of its production foretell its dreary fate. Producer John Aglialoro has stated publicly that he was forced to commence production a few days short of the expiration of his rights to the book. As a result it was hurried into production without a script or a cast. He also admitted that casting was difficult because “Talent agencies were not sending us many of their top people.” Apparently no one of note wanted to be associated with a project that had been aborted on numerous occasions. That’s why one of the most popular books of the last half century is coming to the screen with unknown TV talent in the leads. The director complained that he didn’t have the necessary time to make the movie he wanted to make. It’s almost as if the principals are preemptively making excuses for why the movie sucks so bad. And they aren’t the the only ones who think so. The reviews have been merciless:

Roger Ebert: “The most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault. I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: “The book was published in 1957, yet the clumsiness of this production makes it seem antediluvian.”

Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: “It has taken decades to bring Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to the big screen. They should have waited longer.”

Kurt Loder, Reason Online: “The new, long-awaited film version of Atlas Shrugged is a mess, full of embalmed talk, enervated performances, impoverished effects, and cinematography that would barely pass muster in a TV show. Sitting through this picture is like watching early rehearsals of a stage play that’s clearly doomed.”

Peter Dubruge, Variety: “Part one of a trilogy that may never see completion, this hasty, low-budget adaptation would have Ayn Rand spinning in her grave.”

Washington Post: “Nearly as stilted, didactic and simplistic as Rand’s free-market fable.”

Some of the most damning criticism highlighted above comes from those who might otherwise be considered the film’s target audience, for instance the Wall Street Journal (Fox’s newsprint cousin) and Reason Magazine (the imprint of Randian Libertarianism).

From the start the film’s prospects were dim. It was an independent with little backing and decades of false starts. In order to preserve his rights, Aglialoro bankrolled the project with $10 million of his own money. Without a heavyweight distributor they had to be creative. So they hit up the Tea Party circuit for support.

A trailer for the film debuted at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. It was screened for such cultural tastemakers as John Boehner, and Andrew Breitbart (yes, that was sarcasm). Then they brought in the big guns: FreedomWorks, the AstroTurf Tea Party organizers sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers. Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks went to work promoting the film via his Freedom Connector social network (which has been prominently plugged by Glenn Beck), and a massive email list. It doesn’t appear to have worked.

The boxoffice for the opening weekend, timed to coincide with the federal tax filing deadline, was middling at best. The movie pulled in $1.7 million for three days from 300 screens. The take dropped nearly 50% from Friday to Sunday, which doesn’t bode well for increasing the number of screens in the weeks ahead (and the universally dreadful reviews won’t help either). The filmmakers are already touting the per-screen attendance numbers, but what they fail to acknowledge is that per-screen sales are generally higher for limited releases because more people are funneled into fewer venues.

[Update: Weekend #2 – Tea Baggers stayed away from Atlas Shrugged in droves. The movie earned half as much money as the previous weekend despite playing in 165 more theaters (+55%)]

The truth is that the Tea Party marketing has been less than spectacular (perhaps because the Tea Party doesn’t actually exist). If FreedomWorks has a couple of million people on their mailing list and all of the film’s viewers were FreedomWorkers (not likely), then 90% of their supporters ignored the call to action. The weak turnout by the Tea Party set mirrors their weakness at the annual Tax Day rallies where mere dozens bothered to show up.

The affinity for Ayn Rand by the Tea Party has always been a bit of a mystery. Sure, there is a shared hostility for government, particularly when it endeavors to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to provide for the general welfare. Both Rand and the TP’s despise efforts to aid society’s less fortunate, whom they believe deserve to suffer. But how do predominantly Christian, patriot, Tea Partyers justify their idolization of an anti-American, atheist who regards compassion as evil and selfishness as the pinnacle of human values?

Ironically, a key theme of the book and the film is the rejection of society by the wealthy business class who mysteriously disappear. There is a correlation to that plot point in contemporary America as we have already witnessed the disappearance of business luminaries like Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, Jack Abramoff, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernard Ebbers, and John Rigas, to name a few. It doesn’t appear that society has suffered from their absence. Yet there is another industrial titan who not only hasn’t vanished, he is masquerading across the airwaves as a presidential candidate. I’m not sure Ayn Rand would approve of this, however, the popularity of Donald Trump at Tea Parties is perfectly understandable. He is the ultimate manifestation of Randian politics: a greedy, conceited, selfish bully. But for every Tea Party supporter there are probably twenty other Americans who wish that Trump would “go Galt.”

There is another curious irony in the marketing strategy for the film. Tea Partyers and other Rand fans were furiously emailing appeals to their friends and Facebook buddies to implore them to see the movie – not because they considered it great cinema, they hadn’t seen it yet – but because strong ticket sales would somehow validate the book’s principles. In Rand’s world money equals truth. They regard the quality of the film as secondary to the need for boxoffice success in order to advance their agenda and to prove the power of the Tea Party as a consumer/political force. In other words, these Utopian free marketeers were afraid to trust the free market to decide the film’s fate.

Alas for them, it will anyway. And in the end, all anyone will remember of this drivel is that, when moviegoers were presented with a poorly planned, shoddily executed load of dreck, the audience shrugged.

This is far more entertaining:

Piss Beck

BREAKING NEWS from the delusional world of Glenn Beck’s Acute Paranoia Revue:

Beck: Have you heard this reported yet? Palm Sunday. Four people from an anti-Christian group attacked two pieces of religious artwork in France.

There may be a very good reason why you haven’t heard that reported yet. If you were to go to the Guardian web site that Beck referenced you would find a story that says…

“When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an ‘anti-blasphemy’ campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.”

You see, it was not “an anti-Christian group” that attacked the artwork, as Beck stated. It was a group of Catholic fundamentalists. So either Beck is lying or he never actually read the article. Furthermore, it is curious that Beck would condemn an attack on a piece of artwork that he surely regards as blasphemous. Is he defending “Piss Christ” as free expression? That would be an enlightened position for him to take and thus, unlikely. In any case, he still shouldn’t accuse anti-Christians of the vandalism when it was Christians who were responsible.

I wonder if Beck would still condemn the vandalism if he knew it was Christians who committed it. I also wonder if Beck will correct this “mistake” as he frequently brags that he will always put his corrections up front. We’ll see.

Flashback: Beck’s last excursion into art criticism was a hilariously demented tour of the art in Manhattan architecture that he said was loaded with subliminal socialist messages. He saw these messages everywhere and particularly in structures built by the notoriously communist Rockefeller family.

Obama Billboard: More Tea Party Hate Speech

Another billboard has popped up on another highway that once again displays the repulsive character of the Tea Party faction of the Republican establishment.

This billboard was spotted in Colorado, on the I-70B between Grand Junction and Clifton. It features four caricatures of President Obama in poses popular amongst Tea Baggers: a Muslim terrorist with explosives strapped to his chest; a pimp/thug; a Mexican/illegal alien; and a gay man. So in one image the “artist” manages to reveal himself as a racist, a religious bigot, anti-Latino, and homophobic. The picture also displays the four Obamas “gambling” with America’s treasures and principles. And to top it off it refers to Democrats as “rats.”

This revolting display was put up by a cowardly sleazeball who wishes to remain anonymous. The person responsible is obviously ashamed of his viewpoint, and is afraid to embarrass himself by being associated with it. The same is true for the artist who, while identifying himself (Paul Snover), the sniveling jerkwad attempts to pass off any connection to the work as that of his anonymous patron:

“He was wanting to represent the influences he saw the president as having in his administration”

The truth is that Snover is also a right-wing crank and Tea Bagger. He is a member of uber-rightist web communities like ResistNet and Campaign For Liberty. His Facebook page shows that he “Likes” Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally and the Our Country Deserves Better PAC who launched the Tea Party Express. The fact that Snover can’t take responsibility for the highly charged opinions in his work illustrates the spinelessness of the movement with which he associates himself.

This billboard is presently being defended online by conservatives throughout the blogosphere. They laud the artist and the anonymous patron as heroes who are merely saying what the rest of America is thinking. Of course that’s a delusion on their part. However, the next time anyone from these right-wing quarters tries to argue that they aren’t racist and hateful, send them a link to this billboard. That should shut them up. It won’t, but it should.