Submitted to the Unnecessary Remakes of 2009 Sweepstakes: Tony Scott’s amped-up-looking cover of Joseph Sargent’s great 1974 thriller The Taking of Pelham 123. With Denzel Washington as Walter Matthau and John Travolta as Robert Shaw. In theaters June 12.
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I was sent down memory lane by this metafilter link to an archive of the work of the New Republic‘s comedic fabricator, Stephen Glass. I can understand why other journalists and pious publishing types vilify Glass, but he was an extremely engaging writer, and I can testify that his pieces single-handedly convinced to me to renew my TNR subscription back in 1998. I used to look forward to his pieces because they were funny, and—thanks to the invented sources—coherent and compelling. There was always a punch line quote from someone to punctuate any of Glass’s rhetorical points. They were so effectively constructed that I used some of his pieces as models back when I was teaching composition at the University of Arizona. I may have done so even after he was exposed as a fraud. (I wished my students could make up stuff that good, and even better, know how to deploy it in an essay. Indeed. would have preferred that they make up suitable supporting evidence for their arguments, if only to see that they actually understood the concept of “evidence.”)
Since I never regarded his pieces as much more than entertainment, nothing about what Glass did ever bothered me particularly. It wouldn’t surprise me if the sorts of things he did still went on all the time in the press, perhaps in less elaborate ways and to slighter degrees (yielding less interesting stories, in the end). Now and then, journalists, most of whom are in good faith, I’m sure, record some heinous wrongdoing and document it for history, and perhaps these efforts will bear fruit at some point in time. But such achievements seem like by-products of professional newsgathering. Readers of any news publication are naive if they believe that they are getting some form of verified truth there. Even when it is fact-checked, it is still biased by the nature of the medium itself, and the commercial information gathering process. In the presentation of news, obviously, there are conventions writers and editors adhere to in order to whittle down events and shape incidents into a recognizable product. The boundaries that separate this institutionalized process from what Glass did as a maverick is somewhat arbitrary. Sure, Glass didn’t do straight reporting; he pioneered a more fascinating reality-TV-style of reporting—only he didn’t have the luxury of doing a casting call to find the people that would fit into his prefab narrative frame.
Obviously there are exceptions, but some reporters are little more than diligent stenographers, following a ethical code is primary purpose is to garner them access to powerful sources who know they can trust the reporters to say what they want the public to hear. Few publishers have the resources to fund investigative reporting anymore, and most readers don’t especially want it, when there is celebrity gossip going on 24/7. It’s also hard to look past the fact that throughout the Bush years, investigative journalists were tirelessly exposing scandal after scandal, and in the end it didn’t change a thing. In part, this may be because the surfeit of information and the panoply of outlets makes it all meaningless as anything but a distraction. It sometimes seems that there is next to no venue in which a story can run where it will have a transfiguring impact on how the world is perceived, that would galvanize some sort of resistance or overwhelming unified protest. Instead, any “important” story may be buried with a flood of new details and reactions and interpretations and repudiations, and ultimately all that comes through is the commercial purposes that all this dissemination of information—all this brokering of audience attention—serves. An “important” story is simply one that delivers a lucrative audience segment to an advertiser.
Glass seemed to grasp this superlatively cynical perspective intuitively, and he transformed it into gold—even if it was fool’s gold, no one had really mistaken its value. His editors knew that his stories would entertain readers like me, readers who didn’t want to change the world or have their policy presumptions or political biases tested. I wanted my biases confirmed with implausibly perfect and uproariously funny examples of what I already thought was happening with DARE programs and young Republican groups and hackers and all the other juicy topics Glass confabulated about. By spinning engaging tales out of his near-pathological desire to be liked and to earn approval, Glass hijacked the organ of the press for his own piddling purposes; he brought TNR down to the level of a Facebook page, avant le lettre.
Reporting on the recent mess at indie mavens Touch & Go Records was a tricky proposition today. I blew it and so did several other scribes. The story leaked out bit by bit which seemed to say that T&G was going under… or it was just gonna do back catalog… or it was cutting off distribution. In the Net age, everyone wants to rush and get the info out first but the problem is that sometimes that means getting the story wrong, which ain’t a good balance or compromise.
I saw a notice posted in a mailing list about T&G’s demise, confirmed by an employee who said that they’d been laid off there. Because of the later, I thought it was safe to tweet (you know, a Twitter post) about it. So did several other journos on Twitter. And so did Pitchfork, who reported the story on their site, but then had to update the story twice after that.
The real story, confirmed by T&G’s head, came from the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot and can be read here.
And how did Kot get the real story while the rest of us were scrambling around?
“Word started trickling out over the weekend. I made a few calls to some contacts in and outside the label. Lots of rumors, a few salient facts from people who had actually spoken to Corey Rusk. Most saying the label was going down. I checked with Corey on Tuesday once I had assembled enough information to at least ask him some relevant questions that weren’t completely based on hearsay. Corey asked me to wait a day until he had informed most of his employees, and he would tell me what really was happening. The gist of what he told me Tuesday in asking me to hold the story was that most of the stories out on the street and the Net at the time were bullshit. But he wanted to hold off until he could tell most of his employees. ‘I don’t want them reading about this in the paper before they hear it from me,’ he said. He called the next day and simultaneously emailed his statement to me and Dero at the Sun-Times. We happened to be at Sound Opinions taping the radio show at the time, and briefly discussed the matter with him on the phone and asked some follow-up questions, then went off to write our separate stories.”
So chalk one up for the MSM or old media. All of us Net pups could learn a lesson here…
YouTube has already emerged as the contemporary site for V-blogging and individual media. Divas like Miss B. Scott, for example, take very little overhead to produce celebrity and local star interviews that manage to captivate 42,000 subscribers. At last count, B. Scott Ep #115: Accept Yourself, one of my favorite flicks had 83,705 viewers, and 842 comments. “Ay, Love Muffins,” B. Scoot always addresses us as viewers with the typical dance music intros. It’s not just “LOL” for these net freaks. B. Scott has much to say.
Certainly, what may have drawn many users to Timaya is that he’s a young queen, and is superficially read to traverse the same gender lines as those old comedians. Sometimes he is angry, loud, wise-cracking. He has an entire skit where he and reads one of his “stank co-workers” for reporting for duty smelling like shrimp, or “some damn straight up tilapia, girl! Go on home and scrub it with some Dove!” Reading, accordingly to elder queen Dorian Carey in the famed voyeuristic flick Paris is Burning is “is the real art of insult.” Timaya said: “” I, too, was ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing may ass off), but Timaya is more than just funny.
Black comedians like Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy Martin Lawrence and Jamie Fox stand in a long tradition of black men emasculating themselves in order to appeal to mainstream audiences. Martin’s ghetto queen Shanaynay became a pop cult, a vessel for all of America to safely focus ridicule of black womanhood; these black men built their careers riding this ship. Whereas acts as early as Jackie Wilson’s Ret Petit showed black men intentionally emasculating themselves in order to appear less threatening to the masses, the modern muscled thug is commercially available today in records stores precisely because in reality these thugs are under the heavy hand of the prison industrial complex. Like Al Jolson in blackface, these comedians made their careers off of the age old portrayal of the ‘angry black bitch’, making a minstrel show Black women in order to cross-over- a term laced with internalized racism that it’s cyanide. Timaya has her loud bitch moments. Yet one also see the more contemplative sides like in the video The Price for Being Gay parts 1 and 2.
These users are out. Not compromising themselves in order to go platinum yields their ability to actually tap into the masculine and feminine sides of themselves. They cannot be emasculated, for they claim the masculine and feminine in themselves. This sincerity, this lack of deception appeals to viewers, captivating so many subscribers who seek entertainment beyond the hype. Eddie Murphy swished and sashayed across stage in his ‘80s stand-up routine phenomenon that released in theaters nationwide. Pull over! Pull over Murphy said with a heavy, affected lisp and a heavy, affected limp wrist mocking “faggots,” as he says. Eddie’s crowd roared. Watching Raw in the cinema hall back in Louisville, I cowered in my seat. Ridiculing anything feminine seems to fit with the purview of crossover fever. Yet, B. Scott wears lipstick because B. Scott wears lipstick. And, Timaya goes about gender bending just a bit more sincerely, a bit more true to self, and does so fearlessly not fearfully begging to make a buck. And perhaps this is part and parcel of the net. Through massive humor and poignant punches, Timaya deals with such diverse topics from pop culture and politics in the news, to a thread of negativity on gay websites. Timaya even gives advice about what to do about school or cyber bullies- something every sissy has had to deal with. We’re free to be ourselves so that we can accurately portray ourselves.
Gays Pediphiles and Thugs Part 1: My Response to Ignorance
Like the proverbial bar bet where everyone believes they’re right, pointing to Oscar and acknowledging the many missteps in reward judgment they’ve made is an exercise in communal commentary. For all the times AMPAS shows drive and determination, they more often than not resort to politics, pandering, and the lure of overpowering publicity. And then there are those cases were personal preference, not universal aesthetics, lead to isolated and individualized criticism. Again recognizing that the voting membership is comprised of all previous nominees, along with occasional invited inductees, the insular nature of the beast is pretty darn obvious. But as was pointed out in a previous article on the subject, some mistakes just seem egregious in nature.
This time around, we will again pick out ten more Academy atrocities, instances were consensus would argue greatly and defiantly with the standing decision made. Certainly there will be some who wince at a few of the selections, and others will wonder where their own personal pet peeve is. Given time, and continued public outcry, the Oscars may finally get their script together. Until then, they will have more than enough miscues to keep their mangled myth alive. Along with last year’s list, let’s mull over these baffling beauties, shall we, beginning with:
Renee Zellwegger wins for Cold Mountain 2004 Best Supporting Actress
An American in Paris Beats Out A Place in the Sun and A Streetcar Named Desire
1952 Best Picture
Some Oscar picks so sully their award post-victory that they deserve to give it back. In the case of Ms. Zellwegger, a mere return would not be enough. Ever since copping her prize for this piecemeal Civil War era epic, she’s gone from tolerable to unwatchable. She almost singlehandedly sunk George Clooney’s Leatherheads and Ed Harris’ Appaloosa. With her most recent starring vehicle New in Town DOA at the box office, she’s a bigger embarrassment to the category than Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino combined.
Shrek Beats Monsters, Inc.
2001 Best Animated Feature
The love of old school musicals was still heavy in the air when Vincent Minelli unleashed this twee take on the City of Light. Using the music of George and Ira Gershwin was a masterstroke, and star Gene Kelly was as graceful and forceful as ever. But the rest of the movie was maudlin, syrupy and incessantly melodramatic. And when you compare it to the formidable pair of George Stevens’ Place and Elia Kazan’s Streetcar, this is a clear case of fantasy winning out over cinematic artistry.
Helen Hunt wins for As Good As It Gets
1998 Best Actress
Here it is - the one and only time Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz will be associated directly with an Oscar winning movie (no, Dreamgirls doesn’t count since it wasn’t even nominated). While some may argue with the downplaying of Dreamworks megahit, it’s clearly doesn’t maintain the same caliber of creativity as Pixar’s creature feature. Today, the ogre’s tale seems forced and rather dated. As with most of the masterworks from the other computer generating geniuses, the beasts look better than ever.
My Fair Lady Beats Out Dr. Strangelove and Mary Poppins
1965 Best Picture
Another unnecessary win, another predicable career downfall. After beating out better competitors to take home Oscar gold, Hunt has gone from almost A-lister to footnote, systematically reduced from romantic co-star (What Women Want, Cast Away) to secondary sidelights in innocuous, unexceptional fare (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion). In a mad dash to save her flagging performance options, she was even reduced to hiring and directing herself in her latest film (The She Found Me). At this point, any of 1998’s other actresses (including Titanic‘s Kate Winslet) looks like the wiser choice.
Crash Beats Out Brokeback Mountain and Munich
2006 Best Picture
Like An American in Paris, we have another case of overdone glamour besting actual cinematic superiority. Audrey Hepburn looks fetching, but she can’t sing. Rex Harrison’s not much better, and he took home his own Academy Award for mumbling his way through this musical. As with most song fests, the composers literally save the day. Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner deliver the kind of soundtrack that professional crooners simply die for. And in light of the competition that year, this frilly affront should have stayed a sonic stage experience only.
Art Carney Wins Over Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino
1975 Best Actor
Try as one might, there is really no way to explain this one. Brokeback was the film to beat, and Spielberg’s return to “serious” filmmaking was another example of his mastery of the artform. And yet this vignette oriented atrocity, overloaded with preachy PC platitudes and underdone dramatic ideas took home the prize. Apparently, a winning script and some successful editing (the other Oscars won here) meant it was the best MADE movie of the year. Figures that the Academy would go so far as to get their own category wrong as well.
The English Patient Beats Fargo and Secrets and Lies
1997 Best Picture
It was viewed as the traditional entertainment guard standing up for itself, the then 56 six year old beating out men almost half his age. Yet does Harry and Tonto stand up to the scrutiny of Chinatown? Or The Godfather Part II? Or even the scattershot and overly ambitious Lenny? Clearly a case of aging Hollywood rewarding its own, it’s interesting to note that Carney was much more successful on stage and the small screen than he ever was in movies - and yet he beat the new breed. Go figure.
Driving Miss Daisy Beats Born on the Fourth of July and Field of Dreams
1990 Best Picture
This is a tough one. Many people love the Anthony Minghella epic, and the film itself is not without its charms. But unlike Gladiator, where the other four choices that year were suspect to say the least, there were at least two betters films from 1996 in the running. Gene Siskel worshipped the Coen Brothers thriller (he was not alone), while others championed Mike Leigh’s leap into the mainstream with his familial dramedy. It’s proper to give Patient its due. It’s just not said season’s best.
Akiva Goldsman Wins for A Beautiful Mind
2001 Best Adapted Screenplay
Look - this unrealistic bit of wistfulness practically sets the Civil Rights movement back 20 some years - did it really need to win an Oscar to validate its veiled bigotry? Cloying racial contempt is one thing, but Oliver Stone’s home side Nam drama was the much better piece of political theater. Even the baseball as God glow of Dreams was a better Academy fit. Still, precocious old ladies with prejudice simmering under the surface apparently earn awards season gold. Jessica Tandy may have deserved her statue. This movie didn’t.
How does a hack like this beat out Ghost World, In the Bedroom, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings? Goldsman is a soulless waste, a man whose movies are either saved by their stars or the individual behind the lens. One can’t name a single script he’s written and say, “Now there’s a fine piece of scribing.” Instead, he cobbles together clichés and coincidence and gets rewarded with more jobs. Guess it pays to have friends like Will Smith, Ron Howard, and Brian Glazer.