Zombies on Wall Street

There are so many metaphors to be found in pop culture’s monsters-of-the-moment—vampires ruthlessly suck the life out of their victims, zombies walk around mindless, killing without bias or reason, witches corrupt our children with their evil ways and then run for congress.

The demonstrators with Occupy Wall Street were encouraged to dress up like “corporate zombies” today while participating in a march in New York’s Financial District.

And zombies aren’t the only pop culture entities making appearances; the usual suspects are all present as well—Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have both visited along with Russell Simmons, Roseanne Barr and hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco.

In a piece by Entertainment Weekly today, Kate Ward points out that while of course, “a vague protest isn’t a protest until Hollywood jumps on board,” she also asks the question, “at what point does the Hollywood and culture link weaken the cause?”

I’ve posted on this point before in reference to George Clooney and South Sudan’s successful secession—Hollywood’s ability to draw attention to a cause is a tricky line to walk.  While it certainly pulls headlines, one must consider (as Ward does) when we start seeing more headlines about the costumes or who attends, than about the protest itself, is Hollywood helping or harming the cause?

Though the occupation is gaining steam, especially after 700 protestors were arrested Saturday on the Brooklyn Bridge, the press has generally looked upon the demonstration negatively, portraying the mostly-young protesters as unorganized and without cause.  Something that is, at least in part, true.

Betsy Reed, Executive editor at The Nation, wrote today that the biggest criticism of Occupy Wall Street is in their failure to present demands: “What do these wan, angry young people want, anyway?” But Reed makes a larger point, why is it so important that they ask for demands in the first place?

“Of course, we need policy ideas… But sometimes, you also need a spark. ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ as an idea and an action, is a stroke a brilliance. It’s not poll-tested or focus-grouped, but it expresses perfectly the outrage that is the appropriate response to the maddening political situation we find ourselves in today. It succeeds as symbolic politics: taking back the square is just what we need to do.”

Despite Glenn Beck raving at the fact that Frances Fox Piven and Russell Simmons showed up to “incite the crowd,” warning readers to “prepare to vomit when watching”—”So what are they doing? The neoliberals.” Beck asks, “This is all becoming so very clear. Do you know why they’ve hated us so much? Look at what we have exposed. We have exposed a social justice. We exposed where they are in your churches.”How is Beck not sending out podcasts from a bomb shelter yet?—Occupy Wall Street represents a greater idea.  The gesture is indeed symbolic; there’s so much wrong but most people couldn’t tell you why or who is causing it.  Rather than going to Washington, protesters went to where they believed the real power was held: Wall Street.

Celebrities, zombies, Robert Pattenson literally turning into a bat and flying down Wall Street—these would all make headlines, but the reason for the occupation itself is clear: America is largely controlled not by the White House or Congress but by those who control the almighty dollar.

(Image credit CNN)

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George Clooney is the next American president…

Columbia Pictures has released the poster for George Clooney’s next film, a political drama which he also co-wrote and directed.  The Ides of March pulls a heavy cast including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, and is based on the play Farragut North by former political staffer Beau Willimon, who wrote the film with Clooney.

The film tells the story of an idealistic campaign press secretary, played by Gosling, who gets caught up in a political scandal during the Ohio primary, possibly threatening Clooney’s presidential candidate’s chances of reaching the White House.

Clooney originally planed to make the film in 2008, but held off sensing the optimistic mood of the country radiating off of Obama’s campaign.  Of course now that a cynical fog of debt ceiling debates, sex scandals and political taunting between parties (Obama is mad because he’s feeling “left out” by Boehner? Are you kidding me?) has settled like pea soup over America, well, the mood is more suitable to the content.

The poster for the film is intriguing, and reflects the reality of politics and political discourse: The media—print, 24 hour, internet—and those who manipulate it, like Gosling’s press secretary, are at least half (if not more) of what and who, affects and creates policy in America.

Clooney himself is by no means a stranger to politics, or political films for that matter; he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Role in 2005s Syriana.  In the February issue of Newsweek naming Clooney the 21st Century Statesman, the cover story touches on Ides of March, saying the actor wrote the film, “giving his character lines he’d like to hear from a presidential candidate.”  The article went on to state that we shouldn’t expect to see the former ER doc running for higher office anywhere but on the big screen:

I didn’t live my life in the right way for politics, you know,” he said, “I f–ked too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that’s the truth.” A smart campaigner, he believes, “would start from the beginning by saying, ‘I did it all. I drank the bong water. Now let’s talk about issues.’ That’s gonna be my campaign slogan: ‘I drank the bong water.’?”

Given the state of American politics right now, I can honestly say, I would vote for that.


Jon Stewart vs Bill O’Reilly

As much as it kills me to link to anything from Fox News, here is Jon Stewart’s appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor last night, “defending” the Obama Administrations choice to invite the rapper Common to the White House for a poetry reading last week.

As Stewart deftly pointed out — when he was able to get a word in – the “cop killers” Common celebrates, according to Fox, are not the defining points of the rappers career.  Stewart went on to say that, “there is a selective outrage machine over here at Fox that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them.”

While Stewart’s words weren’t exactly shocking, it’s still nice to watch someone say it to their faces.  You can almost see O’Reilly being boxed into an uncomfortable corner as Stewart compared Common’s raps to other works by artists Bono and Bob Dylan, who have in the past written lyrics about convicted murderers they felt were done a diservice by the American justice system. But O’Reilly basically just shuts that down by cutting the feed to move onto another segment of the interview.


Elections 2012, Coming This Fall to a United States Near You!

May is a bittersweet month; in the nice weather I can eat lunch outside and avoid my least favorite subway stations by walking, but at the same time I have to say goodbye to the vast  majority my favorite TV shows for nearly 4+ months (or indefinitely, RIP Chicago Code, we barely knew ye.)

Now the Glee kids are coming into town, stuff is happening on Bones (finally!), and as a sick reminder that I have only True Blood to look forward to in the coming months, the big four networks start to publicize their fall lineups by hacking down any under-performers and hyping pilot scripts in development.

But the biggest hit of the 2011/2012 season won’t be a sitcom or drama, like the newest J.J. Abrams venture or The Playboy Club on NBC (really NBC?).

It will be a reality show: The 2012 presidential elections.

As Benjamin Svetkey wrote about on EW’s PopWatch last week, despite the Republican’s weak field of candidates and President Obama’s return to awesomeness following the death of Osama bin Laden, the 2012 election still promises to be an entertaining one.

With this cast of characters how could America not be enthralled: Sarah Palin (and Tina Fey), Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and anyone associated with the Tea Party, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and of course, Donald Trump and that fox that lives on top of his head.

The 2008 elections were no doubt thrilling, with the candidates setting the bar high by poking fun at themselves on Saturday Night Live and appearing on everything from the national news programs in prime time to the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Late Show with David Letterman.  But America can do better.

November 6, 2012 is still 17 months away and there is plenty of time to comment on the dramas of the next presidential election, but with Obama already gearing up a new campaign, releasing not only his long form birth certificate but a video of his actual birth (which we can all thank The Donald for), and Newt announcing his candidacy via Twitter, there is no question that the 2012 election promises to be the stuff of  Hollywood legend.


Stereotyping is Funny

Following the success of the film M*A*S*H (1970), the war parody depicting life during the Korean War for a group of drafted doctors, was adapted for TV. When the show ended in 1983 after it’s eleven-year run, it was the most watched season finale of all time. M*A*S*H not only satirized the military and the American government, but various American personalities. Best example: Major Frank Burns. A wealthy, patriotic gun lover, the conservative doctor constantly bragged about having his own practice “back in the States,” quoted from the Bible, and quipped about his strict wife while having an affair with another major.

In the second season episode titled “The Chosen People,” the following exchange takes place in the operating room:

HAWKEYE: Frank, by a strange coincidence, the inhabitants of Korea communicate in Korean. It wouldn’t hurt us to speak their language.

FRANK: I speak American. And I can go any place in the world.

TRAPPER: We can have you packed in 20 minutes.

HAWKEYE: We’re living in Korea, Frank.

FRANK: Not me, fella! I’m part of the American military establishment. I eat in an American mess, I shop in an American Px. All I want to do is save these people and go home.

DR PAC: And we thank you from the bottom of our bomb craters.

Twenty three years after the last M*A*S*H aired, from the minds behind Saturday Night Live blossomed 30 Rock. Quirkier than M*A*S*H was ever allowed to be, 30 Rock not only pokes fun at the American conservative, but the American liberal as well. Like Frank Burns, the portrayal of characters on 30 Rock skirt the line between reality and fiction. Yes, some wealthy conservatives said President Obama could actually be from Kenya, but none have an invisible AMEX card or “whip pennies at the drum circle” in Central Park.

But what do these political portrayals accomplish?

The depiction of the extremes for comedic reasons makes the stereotypes all the more apparent to the viewer. In one of the most brilliant episodes of 30 Rock, “Brooklyn Without Limits,” we see Liz Lemon obsessing over how socially conscious her new jeans company is, only to discover it’s owned by Halliburton, while Jack tries to aid a conservative Tea-Party-esque politician, he realizes that someone who wants to put casino’s on the moon should not actually be elected to Congress.

Plus, we learn that Che Guevara’s great grandfather was Domingo Halliburton and liberals should really find someone else to wear ironically on t-shirts.


Never Talk Politics or Religion.

My Mom always said “never talk politics or religion in mixed company.”  Clearly TV show creators have never heard this saying.

In Season 5 of Bones, the forensic laboratory that provides the background for Fox’s procedural drama, goes about solving crimes with the aid of rotating interns, one of whom is a devout Muslim. In previous episodes the audience sees Arastoo Vaziri taking time from solving murders to pray; as a regular viewer of this show, I often felt that this depiction could be interpreted as the character putting his faith before catching the bad guy.  At a time when Americans are already wary of Islam, the portrayal of a Muslim stopping a criminal investigation so he can worship might not be the best way to encourage familiarity with the religion.  In a fit of anger Vaziri accidently drops his accent and it is revealed that he is not actually Middle Eastern but American-born.  The blog Muslim Media Review explains it best saying, “he reveals that affecting a foreign accent allows him to avoid questions from his mostly nonreligious colleagues about his religion. In other words, scientists would accept that a “fresh off the boat” Third Worlder would cling to archaic religious beliefs but they would be less tolerant of a religious scientist who grew up in the United States. The episode ends with a rather honest conversation about Arastoo’s religious beliefs and practices.”

What could have formally been percieved as a negative portrayal of Muslims became more of a question about the characteristics of the absolutist scientist/atheist.

If you have Netflix, you can view the episode here.

Bones was able to turn around their poor representation of Muslims but this is often not the case when TV shows are dealing with religion.  When it comes to religion, chances are, you will always be offending someone (perhaps sometimes on purpose).  In HBO’s southern vampiric drama True Blood, set in an alternate version of America where vampire’s have “come out of the coffin,” the Fellowship of the Sun mega-church leads the national conversation in anti-vampire politics.

If you are from the south, chances are, you have probably seen an ad somewhat like the picture to the left; mega-churches are a steadily growing enterprise throughout the US.  And we all heard Pat Robertson blame Hurricane Katrina on all the sin in New Orleans — it was God’s wrath and what not.  True Blood‘s creator’s certainly knew who they using as their frame of reference when they wrote the Fellowship of the Sun into the plot, but are the portrayals accurate?  As a liberal who has met my fair share of born-again Christians, I would say yes… to a point.  But this is perhaps when stereotypes go astray — by being too accurate.

Personally, I am a huge fan of True Blood and think the Fellowship of the Sun story arc was a fantastic addition to the second season.  Besides, its HBO, they push buttons.  Why else would you pay for it?


How Dare You Perpetuate the Stereotype…

When Will and Grace debuted in 1998 it was the first primetime sitcom to give us the gay man-straight woman combo as the leading characters, and was largely the instigator of the pop cultural wave that brought homosexuality into the average American household.  This clip, from the 6th season episode titled “A-Story, Bee-Story,” is the perfect example of the ability of parody and satire to evoke stereotypes while making fun of the audience for believing them in the first place.

In this clip, Jack (Sean Hayes) is expressing his anger at Karen (Megan Mullally), who tried to help him cheat in the gay spelling bee,  first by offering to write the words on her breasts, then by shouting out the letters during the contest.  In the secondary story line, Grace (Debra Messing) has decided to leave the country for a while with her husband Leo (Harry Connick Jr.), leaving Will (Eric McCormack) without her an indefinite time period.  The whole clip is pretty fantastic, but you’ll want to hit it 7:35 through about 8:30.