Saturday, October 20, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
The OWI's most influential efforts were directed towards the movies, through its Bureau of Motion Pictures (BMP), which enlisted filmmakers in two distinct propaganda campaigns. First, the BMP recruited directors, screenwriters, composers, and other talent to create patriotic documentary films, the most famous of which are the Why We Fight series, directed by Frank Capra. By 1942, Capra had already become a cinematic adjective, as his romantic comedies and political fables mined a deep vein of sentimental populism in American audiences. Even in the depths of the Depression, the Capraesque hero remained a proud American; indeed, this sequence from 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (just after Jefferson Smith's arrival in the capital) looks indistinguishable from a wartime propaganda film. Working for the OWI, Capra brought the same optimistic patriotism and cinematic manipulation to Why We Fight. Originally shown to American troops and later re-edited for general release, the films combined summaries of recent military events with inspirational declarations of the ideals for which the "free world" was fighting.
The BMP also put pressure on Hollywood studios to produce features that would assist the war effort. The June 1942 Manual for the Motion Picture Industry outlined general principles for producers and directors to keep in mind as they planned future projects and urged filmmakers to consider how their pictures might help win the war. Within a few months, BMP officials were also encouraging studios to submit their scripts for review before shooting even started, the better to advise filmmakers about potentially touchy subjects or objectionable scenes; by late 1942, the OWI was threatening revoke export licenses (essential for the vital overseas market) for any studio that failed to seek BMP script approval. By and large, the studios complied with the BMP's script review. In some cases, like 1943's Bataan, Hollywood features might as well have been armed-forces recruiting films; in other instances, like 1942's Casablanca, the propaganda was more subtle but no less powerful, as noted approvingly in the BMP's review.
Today, of course, we're in the midst of another war, albeit one with a very different relationship to pop culture. On the one hand, we do seem to be witnessing a boomlet in films about Iraq and Afghanistan; on the other hand, those movies tend to be more critical of the war's military management, political justification, and human cost. Will such films ultimately be more lasting than the patriotic features of WWII? Or will today's Iraq War movies quickly feel dated? We've talked before about September 11 in American popular culture; do you think the war in Iraq will inspire any memorable pop-culture moments? (Remember, kids, let's play nice and try to keep politics out of the discussion....)
Next week: the dawn of television, movies of the '50s, and comic books.
First, utterly infuriating Survivor. I'm all for rule changes that surprise the contestants and stave off Pagongings -- Paradise Hotel was one of the greatest reality shows, in large part because the producers changed the rules just to screw with the contestants heads -- but the gimmick in last night's episode, where each team chose two members from the other to join their tribe, was just bad. There was one strategic implication to the switch, and how it played out depended upon whether both tribes, the stronger tribe, the weaker tribe, or neither tribe figured it out. Of those four possibilities, none could make the game or the show more interesting, and three would make it less interesting, in the following ways: (1) accelerated Pagonging (strong team figures it out); (2) a standstill involving mutual efforts to lose immunity (both teams figure it out); and (3) punishment of the strongest players from the strongest team, with no possibility of redemption (weaker team figures it out). As a viewer who tends to like the most athletic, competent, and good-natured players, I think the worst possible result was (3), and that's what we got. I hope the other team realizes what's happening before the next immunity challenge and the show is repaid for its stupidity with the equivalent of a sit-down strike.
Second, a spoonful of 30 Rock sugar certainly makes the bitter Survivor medicine go down smoother. As usual, too many great gags to repeat, but I'll mention my favorite: Jack Donaghy mentioning that his cousin Tim fixes NBA games.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
- Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
- Would the record companies sell more music online if it weren’t copy-protected?
- Wi-Fi on airplanes. What’s taking so long?
- Who are the morons who respond to junk-mail offers, thereby keeping spammers in business?
- How are we going to preserve all of our digital photos and videos for future generations?
- Why don’t public sinks have foot pedals?
- Why don’t all hotels have check-in kiosks like airlines do?
- Five billion dollars a year spent on ringtones? What the?
- Why doesn’t someone start a cellphone company that bills you only for what you use? That model works O.K. for the electricity, gas and water companies —and people would beat a path to its door.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
At core, I just don't find the characters to be all that compelling. Do I really care whether Cooper ever marshalls the emotional energy to declare himself to Violet? Meh. Whether Violet gets over her stalky thing? Not so much. Does Naomi and Sam's divorce move me one way or another? Nah. Do I feel the slightest bit of tension over Pete and Addison's will-they-or-won't-they? Yawn. Does the "unconventional medical practice" thing create any interesting opportunity for medical intrigue? Thus far, it's not that unconventional other than the absence of nurse support. And, most bummingly, Addison herself just isn't proving to be all that interesting.
To date, I'll take ANTM over Private Practice every week. Naysayers should feel free to step in and say nay.
Beyond the rigid contract system and manipulative booking practices, the major studios also controlled their product through an elaborate system of self-censorship. Throughout the 1920s, critics had complained about offensive material in the movies, from sexual innuendo and vulgar language to disrespect for authority and the glorification of criminals. Fearing a wave of local and state censor boards, the studios -- led by their chief lobbyist, Will Hays -- promulgated a list of "Don'ts and Be Carefuls" in 1927, which was superseded by the more substantial Production Code in 1930. The Code laid out strict moral guidelines for moviemakers to follow in their treatment of potentially sensitive subjects, and after a few years of indifferent enforcement, by 1934 the Production Code Administration under Joseph Breen was exercising "final cut" authority over every studio film.
Yet despite (or perhaps because of) these rigid controls over business and content, Hollywood of the 'thirties and early 'forties produced a staggering number of classic films. Romantic comedies like It Happened One Night (1934) and His Girl Friday (1940); musical extravaganzas like Swing Time (1936) and The Wizard of Oz (1939); "prestige pictures" like Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) -- in many respects, these films could not have been made outside of the powerful studio system, with its savvy marketing, its starmaking machines, and its massive financial resources.
Ironically, even though DVDs and niche cable networks have made it easier than ever to watch "classic" Hollywood films, many younger viewers have seen almost nothing from the "Golden Age." (In my class today, for instance, only four or five students said they'd seen either His Girl Friday or Gone with the Wind.) So here's your assignment: Pick three movies from Hollywood's "Golden Age" that you think would best introduce today's uninitiated audiences to the wonders of "classic" film. And ... action!
** His tone doesn't translate well to the written form, and I thought the book's avoidance of current events took away from Colbert's sharpness. It's no America.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Lucy, for all her domineering and insensitivity, is ultimately a tragic, vulnerable figure in her pursuit of Schroeder. Schroeder's commitment to Beethoven makes her love irrelevant to his life. Schroeder is oblivious not only to her attentions but also to the fact that his musical genius is performed on a child's toy (not unlike a serious artist drawing a comic strip). Schroeder's fanaticism is ludicrous, and Lucy's love is wasted. Schulz illustrates the conflict in his life, not in a self-justifying or vengeful manner but with a larger human understanding that implicates himself in the sad comedy. I think that's a wonderfully sane way to process a hurtful world. Of course, his readers connected to precisely this emotional depth in the strip, without ever knowing the intimate sources of certain themes. Whatever his failings as a person, Schulz's cartoons had real heart.
The cartoons are also terrifically funny and edgy, even after all these years. The wonder of "Peanuts" is that it worked on so many levels simultaneously. Children could enjoy the silly drawings and the delightful fantasy of Snoopy, while adults could see the bleak undercurrent of cruelty, loneliness and failure, or the perpetual theme of unrequited love, or the strip's stark visual beauty.
(A 1999 appreciation by Watterson on Schultz appears here.)
I'm not sure that I needed to know how connected the Peanuts characters were to Schultz's private life and goings-on; I think I preferred it when the work spoke for itself. And, since I haven't actually looked at the strips through the eyes of a grown-up, might as well start today.
Monday, October 15, 2007
(Yeah, I know, I really need to start watching from episode one, and have no excuse.)
- 34 boys named "Maxim" (yes, like the magazine)
- 33 boys named "Sincere"
- 187 girls named "Destiny" (30th most popular girl's name last year!)
- 25 girls named "Nechama," "Noa," Tiara," and "Yitty."
I spent a few hours a week as a research assistant for Professor Currie for a year, trying to help him figure out why the early Congress thought its commission of a Virus Agent was constitutional (short answer: it didn't, at least once the virus agent innoculated some people with live smallpox) and chasing down what early muckety-mucks really thought of trying Benedict Arnold -- which, I suspect, Currie might recently have employed in writing about traitors and terrorists of a different stripe. When people ask me about my favorite professors, Currie is one of the three I always cite. The other two, who are all over the news right now, both commented to me, back when I was in law school, about how I should appreciate the opportunity to learn from Currie. I did, and I know a lot of you did too.
Fun Currie trivia: Currie clerked for Frankfurter the year of Baker v. Carr, when Frankfurter hectored Whittaker into a nervous breakdown.
Eternal gratitude to the first person who posts a link to the Moby Dick of legal comedy, "The Least Consequential Justice." (Or was it "Least Significant"? There is a reason I've been unable to find it, I think.)
ETA: The Law School's official obituary. And really, if you're at all interested and you have a Westlaw, Lexis, or JSTOR password, follow the link in the comments to The Most Insignificant Justice and enjoy Currie's scholarly humor.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
1. Was Bon Jovi ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that Bon Jovi was the best artist in rock music?
A bunch of teenage girls? Yes. Critics? Not so much. (Though "Livin' On A Prayer" was the #5 single in Pazz and Jop 1987.)
2. Was Bon Jovi ever the best artist in rock music in its genre?
In the genre of "Arena rock bands from New Jersey," everyone is a distant second place to Bruuuuuceee!
3. Was any member of Bon Jovi ever considered the best at his instrument/role?
No. The closest you come is Richie Sambora, and he's certainly not a guitar virtuoso.
4. Did Bon Jovi have an impact on a number of other bands?
Arena rock as a genre has dropped out of fashion in recent years, but there are certainly elements of Bon Jovi in, say, Kid Rock.
5. Was Bon Jovi good enough that they could play regularly after passing its prime?
Sure. Several hiatuses, but the band continues to play to this day, and play pretty well. They had a #1 country hit just a few years back.
6. Is Bon Jovi the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?
I doubt it, but next year's class is pretty uninspiring from a commercial perspective. (Billy Bragg, k.d. lang, and Stevie Ray Vaughn have strong cases from other angles, and Run-DMC is likely a gimme.) That's probably a mark in their favor, since the odds of a year without inducting a name band seem small.
7. Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?
Yeah. 100M worldwide record sales is a pretty elite club and the vast majority of the eligibles are already in.
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that Bon Jovi was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?
Critics hate 'em, audiences love 'em, and the band's always been a little defensive about it (witness the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong album title). Probably about even.
9. Is Bon Jovi the best artist in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
"Jersey Arena Rock." Behind Bruuuce!, who's already in, but in terms of those who aren't yet in or who will be eligible in the next few years, arguably a front runner.
10. How many #1 singles/gold records did Bon Jovi have? Did Bon Jovi ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Bon Jovi nominated?
4 #1 Hot 100 singles--"You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' On a Prayer," "Bad Medicine," and "I'll Be There For You." 1 #1 Country Single--"Who Says You Can't Go Home." Jon bon Jovi hit #1 solo with "Blaze Of Glory." 1 Diamond Album (Slippery When Wet), 8 Platinum Albums (Bon Jovi, 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit, New Jersey, Keep The Faith, These Days, Crush, Have A Nice Day, Cross Road), 3 Gold Albums (Bounce, Lost Highway, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong). Not a single studio album has failed to go gold. 1 Grammy, for "Who Says You Can't Go Home" (Best Country Collaboration). Other Grammy nominations, Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for "Blaze of Glory").
11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Bon Jovi have? For how long of a period did Bon Jovi dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Bon Jovi appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?
You can't go into a Karaoke bar pretty much anywhere in America without hearing the rendition of a Bon Jovi song, giving them a pretty good score on the "endurance" scale. While Bon Jovi didn't "dominate," aside from the Slippery When Wet period, they've been present on the music scene and a force pretty consistently. At least two Rolling Stone covers.
12. If Bon Jovi was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?
Not in a debauched way, at least not any more, but yeah, there'd be rockin'.
13. What impact did Bon Jovi have on rock history? Was he responsible for any stylistic changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change history in any way?
Not really, other than the importance of hair as a marketing vehicle.
14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
You've got both the light and dark side. Jon Bon Jovi married his high school sweetheart and has remained with her, while Sambora married, then divorced, Heather Locklear and, at one point, dated Denise Richards. Band has also done a lot of charitable work.
I'm not sure if the quality is quite there, but the statistics and longevity strike me as enough to make them a good bet for induction, especially given the reinvention--the band's managed to go from hair arena rock to overly earnest arena rock to country to adult contemporary rock--in other words, to move from MTV to VH1, with a fair degree of class. Induct, but only marginally so.
- The host did almost no comic material. In fact, Bon Jovi wasn't even in almost half of the sketches, and of the ones he was in, he only twice played someone other than "Jon Bon Jovi." There were also a disproportionate amount of material that involved only one performer, like the Al Gore and Dane Cook bits.
- Musical Guest? One song. Host? Two songs. Why not just make JBJ host and the band the musical guest, rather than waste the Foo Fighters?
- Jack Nicholson breaking his "I don't do TV" rule to say goodnight. Why? Who knows?
Show goes into reruns until November sweeps, when we will, for reasons unbeknownst to man or beast, get Brian Williams to say "Ladies and Gentlemen, Feist!" In more interesting news, to promote Superbad on DVD, Jonah Hill will host on November 17. I'd prefer a Hill/Cera co-hosting, but that still could be amusing.