Thursday, February 23, 2017

Must the Show Go on?

It’s Academy Awards week.

But excuse me if I don’t walk around whistling “Hooray for Hollywood.” 

In my somewhat jaded view, the Oscars is a shameless group hug on the part of the movie industry for producing a handful of notable films amid  the hundreds of clunkers that befoul the screen each year. 

Think of it: The same folks who brought us “Casablanca” and “The Godfather” also subjected us to “Batman and Robin” (characterized by one critic as not the worst movie ever. No, indeed. It's the worst thing ever. Yes, it's the single worst thing that we as human beings have ever produced in recorded history”)  and “The Hottie and the Nottie,” a film described as “crass, shrill, disingenuous, tawdry, mean-spirited, vulgar, idiotic, boring, slapdash, half-assed, and very, very unfunny."

All that and Paris Hilton as the star.

It’s also a night when the entertainment profession, which has had a few thousand years to practice putting on a really good show, rolls out a spectacle that often falls to the level of an elementary school Thanksgiving pageant.

Then they’ll cap it off by picking “The Sound of Music” over “Doctor Zhivago” for best picture or “Forest Gump” over “The Shawshank Redemption.”  

So I’ll curl up with a good book which will allow me to ignore the rambling, incomprehensible acceptance speeches made by winners who do their best acting by appearing surprised and humbled.

I’ll also miss an evening of air kisses and disingenuous platitudes in a ceremony that conveys all the warmth and emotion of a Walmart colonoscopy.

But wait, it may get worse.

This year’s ceremonies will be awash in enough anti-Trump commentary to resemble open mike night at a Democratic Party beer bust.

Want to play a drinking game?  Down a shot every time a winner doesn’t mention Trump or his policies.  You’ll be stone cold sober at the end of the evening.

I’m certainly not advocating a gag rule for our show biz friends. It wouldn’t work even if you tried.

Give an actor a microphone, put he or she in front of a glamorous audience of like-minded celebrities while untold millions watch on TV, and you’re going to get some scenery chewing.

That’s why Meryl Streep has received as much notoriety for her award show rants, specifically her Trump bashing at the Golden Globes ceremony, as she has for her considerable acting ability.

In Hollywood, you’re only as good as you’re last performance, scripted or otherwise.

And if Meryl Streep or Daffy Duck or whoever wants their public to know exactly Where They Stand, nobody is going to stop them.

But there’s some thin ice here.  The Oscar telecast isn’t exactly knocking the socks off the American TV audience.  Last year’s Oscars finished with the third-lowest viewership in the show's history.

And as Aaron Blake pointed out in the Washington Post:

“There are basically two camps right now on ever-partisan social media: Those who think Meryl Streep's speech…criticizing President-elect Donald Trump at the Golden Globes was great, and those who think this kind of thing is basically Why Donald Trump Won — i.e., elite Hollywood liberals going after the guy blue-collar voters chose to be their president.”

Speaking of rants, there’s one other thing.

Several years ago I conceived and published a sure-fire formula for presenting the awards in a reasonable amount of time. I never heard back from the Academy so, on the off chance their congratulatory and heartfelt letter to me got lost in the mail, here are my suggestions, free of charge:

First, cut the show to two hours. Period. Start by limiting the acceptance speeches to the top categories: actor, actress, director and best movie. Nobody wants to hear the third assistant production designer thank his accountant.

Forget the documentary short, the short film or any other category with the word “short” in it. Dump the sound editing award. Nobody understands what it is anyway. 

Get rid of makeup and hairstyling. As one wag once wrote when “Driving Miss Daisy” won in this category, it was only noteworthy if “Jessica Tandy was in fact 20 years old and Morgan Freeman was actually white.”

Next, get a host who is witty but won’t spend an inordinate amount of time trying to extract laughs from an audience that didn’t come to see him or her. 

Dump the dance numbers. If I want to see dance, I’ll go to the ballet.

Cut the number of best picture nominees back to five. Ten dilutes the value of a nomination. And adds to the insufferable length of the broadcast.

Do this and I might just tune in.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Targeting Trump

In a desperate act of self-preservation, I decided to kick the social media habit one recent evening.

It’s quite simple.  Lock your tablet in a steamer trunk, kill the aps on your smart phone.  And exhale.

Oh, sure, I knew I’d miss the cat pictures, quasi-inspirational offerings and vacation pictures of people I barely knew.

But I had my reasons.

It was quite simply an attempt to mute the din of the political bar brawl that has spilled into the streets of our country. There is just so much tweeting, insults, bluster, and bull you can absorb before you snap.

So I sought shelter in Netflix, hoping for a few moments of tranquility. I figured somewhere in its vast library of movies and TV shows, I could get in touch with some emotions other than annoyance and angst.

I wasn’t ready to get lost in “Mary Poppins.” But I wasn’t in the mood for “Hitler, the Rise of Evil” either.

So I watched a little of this, a little of that, before I settled on an episode of what I believe is the finest TV series ever made, “The West Wing.”

Which proves that if you’re a political junkie, you can run but you can’t hide.

The episode was broadcast in 2002 and while the battles for power and glory were more understated than today’s mouth-to-mouth combat, the end game is much the same as we’re seeing now:  crush the other guy.

In this particular script, the President, played by Martin Sheen, is facing an investigation for withholding critical information from the American public. He has MS and kept it a secret when he ran for the presidency.

His opponents offer him a deal:  submit to a Congressional censure and the investigation will be called off.

I didn’t stay up half the night to see how this crisis played out in subsequent episodes because (1) it was past my bedtime and (2) this is exactly the kind of ongoing political catastrophe, even if it was a fictional one, I was seeking to forget for a few hours.

But there’s no escape. You can confine yourself to watching the Cartoon Network but the sound and fury of the real world will break down whatever barriers you erect.

So I retrieved the tablet from the trunk and restored the phone aps.  My head was removed from the sand.

I’m certainly no millennial but I do Facebook and Twitter finding it a good way to stay up with family, friends, former and current colleagues and to stay abreast of current events.

But Facebook in particular has become inundated with anti-Trump rants. I would guess 75 per cent of the posts I receive involve hand-wringing and angst over the president and his actions.

OK, I get it. And I share your concerns.

But it seems everyone feels a need to personally express their dismay with the President on a daily basis and they all end up saying the same thing:  that he’s unstable, dishonest, thin skinned and dangerous.  His actions could cause irreparable harm to the nation if not the world that could take decades to repair.

To the barricades!

But, of course, we knew that before he was elected.

I’m all for dissent.  I’m all for activism. They are the cornerstones of democracy.  And I believe the president --- any president --- should be called out if his actions run contrary to the values of the people he serves.

But posting on Twitter isn’t an act of activism. Neither is placing goofy pictures of Trump on Facebook. There’s good chance you’re merely preaching to the choir. If you want to express yourself, call an elected official and unload. Believe me, they listen.

Besides, nobody is doing a better job of making himself look foolish than Trump himself.  And the American people know it.

The daily Gallup tracking poll conducted this week found that just 40% of Americans approve of President Trump's job as president so far, compared to 55% who say the disapprove. The negative 15-point spread is the highest recorded in the poll since Trump took office January 20.

Trump's low approval rating is atypical for a new president. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all enjoyed approval ratings in the high 50s in Gallup tracking. 

His own party, which never warmly embraced his candidacy, is getting nervous. They understand that government by chaos is not a known recipe for success. Inquiries are being made.  Investigations are planned.

And all the alternative facts are not going to explain it away.

Stay calm. And stay tuned.  It’s going to be a hell of a ride.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Political Football

For whatever else Donald Trump has accomplished in his first few weeks in office, he has done something nobody thought was possible.

He has made the Super Bowl irrelevant.

This year the game and its considerable hoopla is being blown off the front page by a president who has arrived in Washington the way Hitler arrived in Poland.  It’s hard to avert your eyes.

Social media, print and electronic news, even conversations over the backyard fence are about presidential decrees, cabinet appointments, bullying of allies, saber rattling.

Politics is supplanting the forward pass. The only thing being blitzed is the American psyche.

And it couldn’t come at a worse time for the National Football League.

It is still reeling from a concussion scandal, in which team officials and owners stand accused of ignoring the fact that the game they oversaw was maiming its participants, leaving many hobbled and brain damaged.

Its players continue to make headlines for violent crimes, many of which involve gut-wrenching allegations of domestic violence that result in slap-on-the-wrist punishment. One player accused of assaulting his wife nearly two dozen times was suspended for one game.

TV ratings are down.  Teams are on the move.  Residents of Our Fair City wept with joy when the Rams, gone these many years, returned to Los Angeles. Now they just weep, their heroes of yore replaced with a bunch of bad actors.

Then, when we weren’t watching, the San Diego Chargers snuck into town on a midnight freight to the cheers and applause of no one. They should change their name to the Uninvited. They may turn out to be the Unwatched.

 Los Angeles, landing pad for losers.

Talk about an image problem. It has gotten so bad that the NFL hired Joe Lockhart, a key strategist for President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the resulting impeachment, to right the ship.

Check the imminently qualified box on his resume.

In the past, the league could count on the Super Bowl to put a fresh scrubbed image on its product. Now in its 51st year, it has gained the stature of a national holiday and grabs more media attention than a papal coronation.

But this year the hype is strangely muted.

For the record, the game with be played in Houston and feature the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.  North versus South, grits versus chowder, an iconic old champion versus an upstart.

It’s a promoter’s dream. And nobody seems to care.

The NFL better hope that Trump, in the middle of the game, doesn’t announce he’s building a moat around the continental United States, barring Lutherans from entering the country and declaring war on Switzerland.

One Trump Tweet and CNN will win the ratings for Sunday.

There is a certain amount of irony here. Two of Trump’s most ardent supporters are Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft and the team’s star quarterback Tom Brady.

That should give the President a rooting interest in the game. And give lots of other people someone to root against.

Let’s face it.  The Super Bowl isn’t going to disappear. By the time Sunday kickoff rolls around, we can anticipate a viewing audience larger than Trump’s inauguration, if you can imagine.

Because the game is really about two things:  gluttony and gambling.

If you were to add up the calories per serving for every food item a household purchased during the week of the Super Bowl, it would equal more than 6,000 calories, according to a Washington Post story. That's the largest number of calories for any week through the year — more even than during Thanksgiving — and it's not even all that close. 

And when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman said that his organization expects the Super Bowl to elicit $3.8 billion in illegal wagers.

The bets know no bounds. For example, you can bet on what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach. Or the jersey number of the first player to score a touchdown. 

You can also put your hard earned cash on who the Super Bowl MVP will mention first in his speech:  Teammates are at 2/1, followed by God (5/2), Fans (5/1), other team (7/1), coach or family (12/1), owner (25/1) and none of the above at 4/1.

Of course, you can develop your own bets right at home. Who will be the first to take a bathroom break, who will be the first to dump a plate of nachos cheese-side down on your new couch, who will be the first to say "I don't get it" after a multimillion dollar commercials screens, who will be the first to doze off in the middle of the game after consuming hot wings, chili, pizza and beer.

Note to gamblers: 26 percent of people say that God plays a role in determining the outcome of a game, the Public Religion Research Institute found.

Let the game begin.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.