Sunday, April 27, 2008

What's Up

Hey all.

Friday Jamie went to a fashion show of some sort at UT. Jason and I went and grabbed dinner, and then saw "The Forbidden Kingdom", the Jet Li/ Jackie Chan team-up. It's basically a kids' movie, and as such, it doesn't do much to bring anything new to the "quest" movie (which in this case, the quest is to bring a magical staff to the Monkey King). There's hints of "NeverEnding Story" to the thing, but its not necessarily for very small kids. But if I had a 9 year-old at my disposal, this would be a good entry-point for Kung-Fu movies.

Saturday I hit the Barton Springs spill-over with Lucy, Cassidy and Jason. It was a great Austin springtime sort of Saturday, and I got a little sun. Last night we went to dinner with Matt and Nicole at Hyde Park.

This morning and Friday night, typically horrendous spring weather blew through. This morning, in particular, looked pretty nasty out the window when all three pets came to the bedroom around 6:50 looking for moral support. So we finally got some rain. And, these fronts tend to leave the sky clear and blue, with the the swimming holes pretty well filled. So... maybe another day of unemployment tomorrow would be welcome... Many a day I've stepped outside for lunch into beautiful weather and bemoaned the fact I was working on such a day. Hopefully I can make something of the lovely weather.

Today we headed to the far north of Austin to see a screening of Superman: The Movie at the Lake Creek Alamo Drafthouse. Jason came along, and we met up with Tania and JAL. Before the screening, they had a trivia contest, and the League is embarrassed to report that he was asked to refrain from answering questions when, after two questions, it became clear I was ready to sweep (I had correctly identified Clark Kent's middle name as "Joseph" when the hammer came down, and the guy who played Darth Vader as Reeve's trainer during filming of Superman).

Look, I have one skill. I should be able to flex it occasionally.

I did win passes.

They also had a costume contest, and there were several elementary-aged Supermans, Batmans and some guy (not a kid) in a phenomenal Spider-Man costume (and he looked pretty buff under the suit, too). The kids were darn excited about Spidey, as were we.

It was actually really cool to see so many kids come out for the movie with their parents, and not to a cartoon full of fart jokes, which is where I usually see the wee ones. The Admiral and KareBear used to take us to adventure movies all the time when Jason and I were kids. The Admiral was always much more into the movies than KareBear (as evidenced by KareBear's tendency to fall asleep), but we all dug a good family adventure movie back in the day. I am aware that I'm not going to the movies targeted at that demographic (the Spiderwick Chronicles, etc...), so I don't know what parents take their kids to see these days, but its a thrill to see Superman still drawing folks in 30 years on.

Good-bye to Headline News

Has anyone been watching Headline News lately? They seem to have handed the keys over to talking head Mike Galanos, who has decided that every minute of the Headline News broadcast day would be better served if he behaved like an abrasive ass.

Let me back up a moment. What they appear to be doing is suggesting that every story has at least two sides (correct) with the following formula:
1) Report very briefly on the story, fitting "who, what, where, when, why" into about, literally, twenty seconds.
2) Have anchor Galanos ask some loaded question about the story
3) Have one or two "experts" discuss the topic while Galanos tells them why they are wrong, usually because he's scripted out the knee jerk reaction one would have using emotional arguments and a complete lack of knowledge about the subtleties and nuances of the topic.

What the @$%#?

I am aware that when Turner sold CNN to Time-Warner, Time-Warner began to muck with the formula, leading to shows like "Nancy Grace" and "Glenn Beck", both of whom seem to be making money by acting like braying donkeys. Apparently a lot of people are watching this stuff, so a lot of people find this form of news a lot more palatable. I find it grating and unwatchable. And apparently, if what I just watched for the last thirty minutes is any indication, the other Headline News reporters are finding the new format a little hard to work in. They all sort of look like they just want their segments over with.

A lot of hay is made over how many ways there are now to get your news, but I guess this is the downside. In competing for marketshare, the people who seem to be winning are (as is so often in life) the one willing to make the most noise.

I've mostly already given up on Headline News, but this is the last nail in the coffin. For the last several years I've screened various news sources to look at the news, and I find it sort of amazing that I'm moving further and further away from TV news and back to print (if that's what you want to call the internet). As per the web: Unfortunately, the CNN internet brand hasn't really been an option for a while thanks to their insistence on "video" for every story (I can read fine, thanks). And then forcing me to watch some 30 second ad, a house ad, and throw in a good twenty seconds for buffering before seeing the actual story. Thanks, CNN, but I was good with the text story.

This is the fate of the news, I suppose. The day of journalistic objectivity will be talked about in classrooms as a quaint and provincial notion that missed the bigger picture of using the news as a sounding board for hacks and carnival barkers to get airtime. All of this, of course, to drive up ad revenue. Mentions of objectivity will be met with the kind of derision one saves for the over-idealistic, when the smart and cynical know how to make a buck.

I'm mostly disappointed that Headline News' insistence on the format change means it must be working. What can it mean but that people want to digest their news in an all-debate, all-jack-ass formula? Is this the spirit of true discourse? One step ahead of a Geraldo Rivera chair toss? Somehow, people MUST feel like Glenn Beck has something to offer. But what I find really creepy is when I hear "Oh, well, he's funny".

The news isn't really supposed to be funny, per se. Debate and discussion over the fate of the Middle East shouldn't really be there to amuse the viewer because Glenn beck just called someone a pink-o as part of his argument. This line of thinking and wanting your news pre-processed to match your pre-defined political/ emotional spectrum is the narrow-casting of the world. Join the Glenn Beck/ Mike Galanos team and feel superior to those the news is actually happening to.

Now, that's not to say that there's not room for comedians. But the comedians are not journalists. The role of the comedian has often been to point out the absurdity of any situation. But that doesn't mean that the comedian has the same place in the media matrix as the politician, the journalist of the partisan hack with airtime.

As mentioned by Jon Stewart:


Anonymous said...

You should watch SARAH MARSHALL. Very funny movie.

The League said...

And you should see Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. It is action-packed.

JAL said...

that Spidey costume was pretty phenom.

J.S. said...

I agree with Jon Stewart that CNN's Crossfire is mostly just a bunch of pointless, partisan bickering, but Stewart never really seems able to get to the point of saying what it is that he would like to see in its place during this clip. I remember being incredibly frustrated, myself, in the run-up to the 2004 election with how ineffective the media seemed to be in asking any kind of hard questions of our political leaders (particularly in terms of addressing the Iraq War), and I think the media has gotten a little bit better since that time, but not much. As The League points out- the preferred method seems to still be about dividing the broadcasters up into right and left wing teams and then letting them shout soundmites and talking points at each other without ever really trying to get to the truth on any given issue. It's as if the media has given up on the idea that there might be an objective reality out there, and has decided that the best that we can hope for is deliver each side's spin in equal portions. It's definitely a stupid way of approaching the news, and I think the whole thing is born of the constant argument by that the mainstream news media has a liberal bias. Well, just because the media isn't falling into compliance with a conservative agenda doesn't necessarily mean that it has a liberal bias, and this "there's no such thing as reality" attitude is what you get when you buy into that sort of "liberal bias" propaganda. Go out and report the truth, media outlets. If reality has a well known lib eral bias, I guess that's something that the neocons are just going to have to learn to live with.

The League said...

I think, if nothing else, Carlson's panicky blathering over Stewart as Stewart attempted to get to his point made Stewart's point for him. Even if you ARE trying to make a point and discuss a nuanced topic, that's not what the pundits want and will gladly shout it down, attempt to change the discussion, etc...

It was one thing when this was a political issue. Now its creeping into all aspects of broadcast news. Headline News and Fox won't just tell you what's happening, they will explicitly tell you what to think about it.

If Stewart failed to make his point, its not for a lack of trying. He's literally begging with the hosts to just let him speak, but what he's saying was so downright dangerous to what these guys were doing for a living that Carlson couldn't let Stewart get to that point.

In the wake of this interview, CNN did cancel Crossfire. Carlson's follow up news commentary show has been canceled. And he was voted off Dancing With the Stars.

But that's Carlson. Not Mike Galanos, who was, just a few months ago, just a talking head. Things are afoot at the Headline News.

J.S. said...

I agree that Stewart got shouted down. I was only trying to say that he never got a chance to make his point- not that he didn't have a point to make. I've rarely seen Jon Stewart as angry as he was on this show. Kind of weird.

As much as I love Jon Stewart (and I do), I will say that there's something a little disingenuous about doing a show which overtly deals with so many political topics and offers so many opinions in so many obvious (although funny)ways, but then hides behind the guise of "it's only comedy" whenever anyone asks why they shouldn't be held accountable for what they're doing. I mostly say this because I've heard Rush Limbaugh use the same excuse when he doesn't want to be held accountable for the things he says on his show- he loves to retreat to the "I'm just an entertainer, not a newsman or a politician" line of reasoning whenever anyone tries to hold him accountable for what he does (although I really can't see how anyone would find Limbaugh remotely entertaining- especially if they didn't share his political views). At some point you're either in the ring (the journalism/politics arena) or you're out. The Daily Show may be far less than pure journalism, but it's a lot more than strictly comedy.

The League said...

The role of the fool is always to be able to speak freely. That's sort of the point of comedy in many ways, to examine the absurdity of those who would sit on the throne.

If Rush feels he's just delivering entertainment, then fine. As he's never run for office, then I see no fault with that stance. I may not find him entertaining, and it never occurred to me he considered himself entertainment, but I also haven't given his show a listen since Clinton was in office.

Now, that shouldn't get him a "get out of jail free" card when he's strong-arming his housekeepers into buying him speed, but that's also just my opinion.

The Daily Show IS a comedy show. It isn't parading around suggesting it is otherwise, though it also wears its idealistically left bias on its sleeve. Crossfire was supposed to be a debate show, and at one point, it had been during the halcyon days of CNN. What it devolved into was party hack bickering.

To circle back around, Headline News is NOT a comedy show. It's presenting itself as a viable source of news and information. The basic gist of journalistic integrity I've understood is that you present the facts of a story, and leave the editorial commentary to the editorial page. Sure, what you covered and how you covered it could suggest your spin, but it was considered unprofessional (if not unethical) to so directly affect the story or telling of a news story.

Stewart is not a journalist. His field reporters have titles like "Senior Black Correspondent", and stand in front of green screens pretending to be on location. They've made their business skewering a system which many feel, idealistically, should not be so transparently cynical and easily manipulated.

I think the line there is very, very clear. Whether Stewart and Co. are able to get their viewers to reconsider their opinions or reinforce them... that's almost a separate issue. But is also part of what comedy does.

J.S. said...

Right, and Stewart's point about the media and the need for earnest, diligent pursuit of the truth is well-taken, but his program is as much political commentary as it is comedy. And Rush Limbaugh is nothing but an absolute pundit- he spends all of his time telling his listeners that they should ignore the biased information provided by the "drive by" "liberal news media", and that his listeners should get their information from his show instead of listening to other outlets. Then he retreats into the role of entertainer when it is convenient in order to avoid criticism.

I guess I'm not trying to take anything away from Stewart when he makes his point about the need for a greater sense of responsibility when it comes to the news media. What I'm trying to say, though, is that I'm not sure that Stewart can shake off all of his own sense of moral obligation by saying "I just do comedy" when he clearly has access to some of the most important political leaders in the country, if not the world. If he really believes that the public has a right to have answers to some of these hard questions, and Stewart has these leaders sitting in front of him in his studio waiting to be asked questions, then why doesn't Stewart, as a citizen if not a journalist, have an obligation to ask some of these hard questions himself? I'm not sure that the "we just do comedy" response is sufficient if he really feels that strongly about these things. (to his credit- I have seen Stewart ask some fairly pointed questions from time to time on The Daily Show- once for sure when he had New Gingrich on, and another time, I think, when he was interviewing Rush Limbaugh. He's just not very consistent about it.)

The League said...

So you agree with Tucker Carlson, then?

The bottom line is that Stewart is NOT a news program, nor even really an issues program, like Charlie Rose, etc... And I think you point, yourself, to places where Stewart has taken a harder edge with guests. I've seen him do it on a fairly regular basis.

As per the Kerry example: I actually remember that interview. What wasn't mentioned is that the interview in question was exceedingly short, and it wasn't a great example of a typical Stewart interview (I honestly remember thinking he whiffed it at the time).

The slippery slope of the argument has a moral obligation as a citizen is that Stewart is NOT a journalist (though he plays one on TV), but a comedian. But, in many people's eyes he's doing a better job of calling BS on all sides than the traditional TV news media and political landscape than what many people feel their "trusted sources" are providing. In brief: Due to its success as it is format, The Daily Show is a legitimate news and information program, in line with Crossfire and others, by perception. Even though a portion of the show involved green-screened actors telling topical jokes.

To my point, where is the difference, then, between Mike Galanos making fun of the subjetcs of a news story and John Stewart taking a jab at the administration? Is this the level of discourse, that we're relying on Stewart to ask questions, because we think he might actually get a straight answer on a late-night chat and variety show?

But I think what you're arguing is that every citizen has not just the right, but the responsibility to ask their elected officials tough questions. No matter the platform. In a free society, that might be true, but I would shudder to think what would have become of the Today Show last week if Al Roker had suddenly started taking Laura Bush to task for questions he might have about her husband's foreign policy.

J.S. said...

Laura Bush isn't a public official, so it's not really the same thing, but if Dubbya had shown up and started spouting out neocon spin while Roker was providing a platform for him (or, for that matter, even if Laura started trying to stretch some truths while articulating her husband's policies) than I expect Roker to take him to task.

The League said...

I'd point you again to what happened when Katie COuric tried that with W's father in the mid-90's.

I guess I DON'T expect comedians and cherubic weathermen to take public officials to task. Some forums are different than others. I wouldn't expect Nancy Pelosi to get grilled by Martha Stewart during a segment on baking cookies, or Newt Gingrich to expklain the failure of the Contract with America on Saturday Night Live.

I may want questions answered, and I think what Stewart was asking was: Why wasn't Crossfire doing a better job of breaking down the issues instead of relying on partisan spin? Why on earth should it be up to the comedians to ask those questions? Except in the rhetorical to the audience?

J.S. said...

I'm thinking that the people on Crossfire thought they were "breaking down the issues". They just failed horribly.

tachyonshuggy said...

You're like that guy from Press Your Luck.

The League said...

Sadly, I know exactly what you're talking about.

That guy was a genius. I am not. That, and I handed my passes off to Tania and JAL, so I benefited not at all.

J.S. said...

Not true. You have the satisfaction of knowing that you were, indeed, the most knowledgeable Supergeek in the theater.

JAL said...

you also had the best hair

The League said...

Pfft. I still have not yet achieved the Jack Lord look I ultimately aim to achieve.