The Urge to Purge

HoopSkirtAs I’ve said before, the primitive desire to purge our society of anything that makes us feel bad—particularly things that relate to history—will continue, unabated, until people stand up and say “enough.”

Consider this opinion piece in the Washington Post, headlined “Remove the Southern belle from her inglorious perch.”  The author, Elizabeth Boyd, makes the case for banning the hoop skirt.  Yes, you read that correctly: The hoop skirt must be banned.  But that’s not all.

Boyd, a “research associate in American Studies at the University of Maryland,” predictably trots out Dylan Roof’s evil, murderous rampage as the rhetorical foot-in-the-door to advocate for the elimination of not only the Confederate flag, but a laundry list of cultural artifacts she connects to that evil—including vestiges of the “Southern belle.”

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The Mob Goes Trophy Hunting

CecilTheLion2I don’t hunt and — at the risk of losing my “Real American” bona fides — I also don’t own a firearm.  In fact, I have never pulled the trigger on anything more powerful than a pellet gun.  I can’t drive a stick, either, but that’s a different article.

I love animals and have no interest in killing them, but I am definitely not opposed to hunting, per se.  I agree that a distinction can be drawn between hunting animal populations that pose a threat when their numbers get too great, on the one hand, and hunting rare or exotic animals purely for sport on the other.

Even with no sympathies at all for trophy hunting, though, I found myself rushing to the defense of Cecil the Lion’s “murderer,” Dr. Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist. Not because I agree with what he did.  Quite the opposite.  But because I disagree with what has happened to him as a result of the story going viral.

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30 Facts for Live Aid’s 30th Anniversary

Even though I was only seven years old, I could sense that Live Aid was important.

LiveAidCrowdWembleyThirty years ago today, the biggest musical acts in the world performed as part of a single, massive event, unprecedented in scope.  Everyone from Madonna to the Beach Boys to the Pretenders to Paul McCartney helped put on the biggest concert in the history of the planet, before or since.

The strange thing is that I realized just a few days ago that the 30th anniversary was coming up.  The relative lack of fanfare struck me as odd.  Rather than trying to write a comprehensive history about the event, or even an analysis of the concert itself, I thought I would string together 30 facts about Live Aid to commemorate the occasion.

1. Live Aid began as an offshoot of Band Aid, a group of mostly-UK artists who recorded a one-off charity single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”  The song was so popular in late 1984 that organizer Bob Geldof decided to see if he could parlay that momentum into a mega-concert that would likewise raise funds to assist in combating African starvation, particularly in Ethiopia.  Several of the participants in Band-Aid (such as the members of U2) were suspicious about Geldof’s motives.

2. Band Aid also inspired USA for Africa, a similar effort in the United States that produced “We Are the World,” written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson.

3. Geldof was invited to the recording of “We Are the World” in Hollywood, but became enraged when he saw the $50,000, caviar-rich spread that had been donated by local, high-end restaurants.  He lectured the Americans present on the hypocrisy of enjoying the finest food while recording a record devoted to fighting famine.  Geldof stormed out, but producer Ken Kragen chased Geldof down and talked him into returning.  “We Are the World” went on to earn $45 million, or about four times as much as “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

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Memory Hole or Bottomless Pit?

Down, down the memory hole we go.  Where we stop, nobody knows.

I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia.  Despite growing up in the capital of the Confederacy, and later attending Washington & Lee (as in “Robert E.”) University, I have never owned, flown, or worn a Confederate flag, nor have I ever desired to do so.  Not once.  I think the decision to remove the flag from capitol grounds in South Carolina is the correct one, over and above being politically expedient.

That said, I knew that the announcement by Governor Haley would open the proverbial floodgates, as in-sync Democrats and Republicans grappled over which of them were on the “right-er” side of history.

Those of you with sharper long-term memories may recall that, not very long ago, this saga began as a horrifying story about a racially-motivated killing spree.  The media transformed the discussion into an attempt to renew interest in two old favorites: Gun control (which, despite their best efforts, never gets traction) and the flag.  Pressing every GOP candidate on the topic, and spotlighting any less-than-satisfactory answer, media attention was able to drive this issue to the forefront of American discourse within a matter of 48 hours after the capture of Dylann Roof.

ClintonGore96As I said, I support the flag being removed.  But I would have couched it in terms of “Whatever one thinks about the meaning of the flag, it is indisputably a flag of rebellion and a flag that should not be considered sanctioned by this government via official display on state grounds.”  Simple, clean, and it acknowledges a reevaluation of the flag’s place in contemporary culture.

But that’s not exactly what happened.  The removal of the flag was framed, as Senator Tim Scott put it, in these terms:

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Untimely Police Procedure Review: Running Scared

One of the more powerful and sadly ubiquitous stories of the past year has been the strained relationship between local law enforcement and the public, particularly in certain poor, heavily minority communities.

Whether due to misguided militarization of police forces, general suspicion of police held by constituents, or specific incidents of brutality, officer conduct (or, more properly, misconduct) has been at the forefront of public discourse for much of the past ten months.

RiotGearCopsAs someone who tries his best to make sense of American culture, politics, and society, I thought now might be as good a time as ever to delve into the touchy subject of how police officers interact with citizens as they stop civilized society from becoming a lawless hellscape.

More often than we’d like to admit, of course, law enforcement itself becomes lawless.  Just a few weeks ago, the Chicago City Council voted to award $5.5 million to victims of ongoing police torture that stretches back decades.  That award was over and above the more than $100 million that the city has paid out in various other lawsuits against the police over the years.

With a backdrop of burning buildings, empty stadiums, and occasionally violent protests in mind, I thought it worthwhile to devote a post to the issue of police misconduct and community relations.

Therefore, here’s an in-depth recap of the police procedure in the 1986 Billy Crystal / Gregory Hines buddy-cop comedy Running Scared!

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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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