What Was Lost

ConstitutionToday’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges represents the culmination of a perfectly executed public-relations campaign.

It is impossible not to be impressed by what this activist-driven effort accomplished—I mean in real terms, not the unserious victory slogans of the campaign itself.

In no particular order, it:

1. Successfully and fundamentally transformed the definition of “marriage,” and did so in a way that portrayed efforts to preserve traditional marriage as the novelty, rather than as the millennia-old status quo.

2. Successfully convinced a critical mass of the public that there is only one side in this debate, despite the fact that the side claiming the monopoly had only existed in any meaningful form for perhaps 20 years.

3. Successfully convinced a critical mass of the public that race and sexual orientation are directly analogous.

4. Successfully convinced a critical mass of the public (and jurists) that there is no possible argument against gay marriage—to the point where federal judges found that not permitting same-sex marriage is definitionally irrational, and had prominent left-leaning outlets calling the dissents simply “crazy.”

5. Successfully branded opponents as simple “bigots” for daring to hold a different view on a live political issue, going so far as to take punitive action against those who did not adopt the “correct” viewpoint.

6. Successfully portrayed the battle as, literally, love versus hate.

7. Successfully accomplished all of the above in about a decade.

My God, the magnitude of it is staggering.

Agree or disagree with the result, the sheer, total dominance with which their opposition was dealt defeat after defeat, constantly being depicted as evil and intellectually bankrupt—even when most of the public was still in favor of traditional marriage—is incredible.

How did this happen?

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Is Dylann Roof America Personified?

SCShootingChurchMemorialThe horrific, racially motivated murder spree by Dylann Roof also served as a call to action for those who see the awful events of Wednesday night as corroboration of their core beliefs about the poisonous nature of American culture.

Briefly, two key tenets of modern progressivism are that, one, racism is virtually ubiquitous.  Even when it isn’t apparent, it is so ingrained by the evils of our past as to be systemic.  Although blatant racists only occasionally lash out openly, there are quiet racists everywhere.

Two, the United States is a wildly violent, gun-crazy culture that must be reigned in with tougher firearms laws.  These laws will—naturally—be entirely effective.

Dozens of commentaries began to pop up within 24 hours of the shootings underscoring both points, as well as being solemnly fawned over by many of my left-leaning Facebook friends.  The overall tenor of most of the articles was “of course this happened, because our society is racist and gun-crazy.”
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Gender in Sport, Redux

Canada WWCI’ve seen several spot-on, anti-FIFA commentaries in recent weeks, but this one has nothing to do with corruption.

Rather than focus on the scandal that has rocked FIFA, Kate Fagan’s espnW piece took soccer’s governing body to task over “gender verification” testing: Specifically, the screening tests used to determine the level of testosterone in female athletes.  The International Olympic Committee has similar rules in place.

Fagan’s major issue with the policy is that women, but not men, face certain consequences of such regulations.  Although men are tested, so long as they can show abnormalities are natural (and not the result of, say, performance-enhancing drug usage), they are permitted to compete.  On the other hand, athletes competing in women’s sports may be banned, even if—and usually when—they are shown to have abnormal levels of testosterone that result from natural physiology.

There are two issues in play, both of which require mental gymnastics to reach the author’s stated conclusions.

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Ranking the Viability of Money in the Bank Candidates

From a storytelling perspective, Money in the Bank has easily become one of the WWE’s most critical annual shows, and the only show created in the past decade that cracks the list.

WWEMoneyInTheBankMoney in the Bank is as pivotal as any non-WrestleMania show in determining long-term WWE storylines, rivaled only by the Royal Rumble.  Obvious case-in-point: Seth Rollins wins the Gold Briefcase last year, and the company builds him as the top-heel-in-waiting, openly referring to him as “The Future of the WWE.”

Come WrestleMania, Rollins walks out with the WWE Title and has been champion ever since.

Especially now that there’s only one briefcase, choosing the winner of MITB is crucial.  That’s why, even though Owens / Cena is the most compelling current storyline, the MITB is even more important in trying to suss out where storylines will  be heading two, five, or even ten months from now.

As such, here’s a look at the candidates to win the case tonight, ranked from least- to most-interesting.

7. Randy Orton – Especially as he’s matured, there really aren’t any holes in Orton’s game.  But that doesn’t make him a good choice to win the briefcase.  He’s a face.  He’s won it before.  He has nothing happening, storyline-wise.  Strikes one, two, and three.  An Orton win wouldn’t create much in the way of ready-made angles. Continue reading

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Untimely Movie Review: North by Northwest

After the bad taste in my mouth left by the subject of my last untimely review, I had rather high hopes for North by Northwest.

It didn’t disappoint.

NorthByNorthwestPosterNorth by Northwest is like a James Bond film, except if James Bond were a nondescript advertising executive who, after a series of misunderstandings, accidentally and against his wishes becomes a de facto secret agent.

First and foremost, Cary Grant is a Movie Star.  Capital M.  Capital S.  That matters, especially for films from this era.  He commands attention onscreen, whether by overt humor, as a leading man, or with quiet intensity in an action or suspense sequence.

But what cements North by Northwest a great movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s direction and creative choices.

Every movie fan knows about the iconic scenes in North by Northwest involving a perilous confrontation with a crop-duster, or the tussle atop Mount Rushmore, but Hitchcock’s true excellence is in the little touches.  As fun and as “big” as those scenes are, the small ones in-between make the movie.  Everything from the frenetic, stylish opening credits, to the overhead matte-painting shot of Grant’s Thornhill getting into a cab, to the dining car scene between Grant and Eva Marie Saint, every tiny moment and subtle choice crafted by Hitchcock adds layers of both style and substance to North by Northwest.

Possibly my favorite example is the very tense scene that immediately precedes the famous plane encounter.  Grant arrives at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but crops.  Every car that passes by is a potential revelation or a potential fatal danger.  Eventually, a man shows up and Grant reluctantly speaks with him, trying to ascertain who he is and for whom he’s working.

Everything about that scene clicks, and what makes it so impressive is that what’s actually taking place onscreen should, in theory, be uneventful, boring, or even relaxing.  But Hitchcock has successfully shifted audience expectations such that what would be mundane if decontextualized becomes rightfully riveting in his capable hands.

NorthByNorthwestRushmoreThe movie isn’t perfect.  There are a couple of implausible moments (even by the relaxed standards of the film) that are used to keep the plot moving.  The conclusion of the scene at the UN, which ends with a knife in the back, is particularly silly.

Ultimately, though, you get deadly airplanes, shootings, drunken car chases, hand-to-hand combat on top of Mount Rushmore, a creative and hilarious escape via an auction house, intrigue aboard a train, and innuendo.  What more could you reasonably ask for in a thriller?

Not much.  North by Northwest is a tight, exciting, very fast-paced film that hits the mark.

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David Letterman, Full Circle

I don’t know which fact is more surprising (depressing?):

1. David Letterman is older than Johnny Carson was when Carson retired.

2. I’m older than David Letterman was when he began hosting Late Night.

When Johnny Carson aired his final Tonight Show in 1992, I had recently turned 14.  I was old enough to understand that Carson’s retirement was a big deal, although I couldn’t appreciate it on the same level that my parents could.

DavidLetterman1982I’m also too young to remember a time when David Letterman wasn’t on the air.  He took over the post-Carson timeslot in 1982.  I initially became aware of Letterman first-hand during one of his early prime-time anniversary specials, since staying up even to 11:30, much less Late Night‘s 12:30, was a tall order for a kid in single-digits.

Letterman’s show was, in some ways, an evolution of—and a reaction to—Carson’s Tonight Show.  Some of that was by design, as the Carson team specifically forbade Late Night from mimicking certain elements that would have made the program too similar to Johnny’s.  For example, Letterman wasn’t allowed to do a lengthy, Carson-esque monologue, and Paul Shaffer’s “World’s Most Dangerous Band” could only be a four-piece, not a full orchestra like the Tonight Show had.

Coupling Letterman’s own creativity with the external pressure of Carson’s restrictions gave birth to the most innovative talk show ever, and the most innovative late-night program of any kind in history, with the possible exception of Ernie Kovacs‘ brief stint as the host of Tonight.

Letterman would be the first to admit that he could never be as good as Carson at what Johnny did best.  Dave wasn’t nearly as charming as Johnny Carson was.  He also didn’t have Johnny’s acting chops or more multifaceted background as a performer.  To wit: Carson had begun his entertainment career as a young magician, of all things, but he later gained experience as a game-show host and possessed musical abilities entirely beyond the scope of Letterman’s more finite skill set.

But that was the point.

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A Last Word on Mad Men

I began to get worried at about 10:58.

Realizing there wasn’t much time left in the series, I wondered how Matthew Weiner would be able to conclude Mad Men in a way that made sense and was true to the characters he had developed over seven (really eight) seasons.

DonDraperDoorThe resolution wasn’t perfect, but I think time will be kind to it.

Last week, I discussed what we might get from the finale.  I noted one key scene in the penultimate episode, where Don appears to glean some stroke of inspiration from staring at a broken, old-fashioned Coke machine.  I said that I thought that would lead to an epiphanic moment in the finale, generating one last spectacular (and redemptive) pitch at McCann that produced an incredible, iconic campaign.

We didn’t get to see the pitch, sadly, but the conclusion of the finale lets the viewer in on the secret: It is implied (although not certain) that Don creates the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” campaign by tapping into both cutting-edge culture and his unique insight into human nature to generate work that is brilliant consumer marketing disguised as a meaningful message.  Just as he has done for his entire career.

In the end, this is who Don is.  His own humanity was, as it turns out, irreversibly damaged by his horribly traumatic childhood.  Even literally assuming someone else’s identity wasn’t enough to repair the fractures in his psyche.

But the damage also left him with a savant-like gift for understanding the basic needs, desires, and weaknesses of other human beings—and humanity writ large.

That insight is the only true through line in the series.  The show begins and ends with it, and most of what comes in-between is either an exploration of Don’s insight, or an exploration of the manifestations of the damage that gave rise to that insight.

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At the End, What Do We Make of Mad Men?

The “Mount Rushmore of ________” is a tired construct at this point, but still serves a decent enough purpose: Trying to winnow down a presumably deep category to its four best examples can be a worthwhile exercise.

MadMenDonRogerBarWhen I think of my personal ranking of the four best television dramas ever, I find myself putting Mad Men at the top of the “also receiving votes” table.

Mad Men has always faced a greater degree of difficulty than most of the other names that crack the list.  Whereas the drama in, say, Breaking Bad includes literal life-or-death stakes, Mad Men is more of an examination of the relatable parts of our lives.  It incorporates universal themes of identity, career, and family, and places them in a context that also melds those concepts to a cultural analysis of American history.

While that examination is part of what makes the show fascinating, there’s no doubt that it’s inherently easier to make a compelling television show about drug deals and murders than it is to make one about pitch meetings for now-defunct fast-food restaurants.

Yet, Mad Men has remained compelling more often than not, despite its focus on elements that aren’t so different from our own lives.  In fact, I’ve always thought the show is at its weakest when it veers into more far-fetched territory.

Which brings us to Sunday night.  Unlike other great television dramas, Mad Men doesn’t seem destined for a definitive conclusion.  Whereas shows like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad or Lost or The Shield each defined a central conflict over the course of its last season, Mad Men, by its nature, has no such opportunity for make-or-break resolution.

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Apocalicious

The unmistakable and steady, if slow, decay of our society takes many forms. The markers are varied and numerous, sometimes with an innocent or frivolous countenance that hides the profoundly troubling nature of such signs.

CombosFrosting


I’m not clairvoyant.  I don’t know what the end of our society will look like.

But I do know that it will be filled with frosting.

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Untimely Movie Review: Gigi

After watching Gigi, I’m now more irritated than ever before that Saving Private Ryan didn’t win Best Picture.

GigiPosterThe movie—which did take home the Best Picture Oscar for 1958—begins with a borderline-elderly, thick-accented Parisian breaking the fourth wall to explain that it’s the year 1900 and take the viewer through a tutorial on the courtship habits of turn-of-the-century Paris.  After spying a very young girl running through the park, he breaks into an extra-creepy rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”

This is Maurice Chevalier’s Honore Lachaille, and his registry-worthy performance is the jumping-off point of the story of Gigi, played by Leslie Caron.  You may remember her from An American in Paris, an earlier film in this collection.  What follows are various half-sung songs and scenes of upper-class French doing upper-class French things.

My favorite moment was perhaps Gigi’s aunt complaining about Gigi learning English in school, saying that English-speakers refuse to learn French.  Like all her lines, she delivers this lament with an English accent.

There’s no reason to belabor this review.  Gigi won Best Picture in an era where set design, costumes, and merely being a period piece in Paris carried a lot of weight with voters.  That honor seems downright perplexing today.

The basic story is obviously the romance between Gigi and Gaston Lachaille, played by Louis Jourdan, best-remembered as Kamal Khan in Octopussy.  Or maybe that’s just me.

GigiLeslieCaronEither way, I’m baffled by the critical acclaim this movie received, especially after watching An American in Paris and the vastly superior Singin’ in the Rain.  Most of the performers in the film are passable—at best—as singers.  Perhaps not coincidentally, many of the musical numbers include significant chunks of lyrics that are more spoken than sung.

The story itself is also odd.  To wit, there is much congratulation thrown Gaston’s way when the discovery of his fiancee’s infidelity causes her to attempt suicide.  The plot also seems to borrow heavily from My Fair Lady, minus the charm.  That’s possibly not entirely a coincidence, as the same duo, the renowned Lerner and Loewe, wrote the songs for both films.

Cutting to the chase, this movie stinks.  And I can’t just chalk this up to my anti-musical bias—because it’s barely a musical, given the fact that the actors speak their way through most of the lyrics.  It’s a film where the story is alternately creepy and boring, and the ultimate outcome of the plot is never in doubt.

Is it a musical?  I don’t know—are they singing?  Is it a comedy?  I don’t know—I’m not laughing.

As outstanding and genuinely funny as Singin’ in the Rain was, this is the opposite.

If you’re looking for a positive, I will say that the special features on the blu-ray are very comprehensive and impressive.  In fact, one of the special features is an entire film—the 1949 French version of Gigi, complete with subtitles.

That’s about all I can muster on the plus side.

This is the worst film I’ve reviewed from this collection.

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