Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Last year was not a good year for either Jack Bauer or the creators of the Fox TV series 24. Season 6 started out with a bang (ha ha) with LA getting nuked and Jack Bauer going canibalistically, fratricidally bonkers in what this Guantanamo hating, bleeding heart liberal loving TV watcher must confess was hella entertaining television. The season couldn't live up to its early apocalyptic shark jumpery and spun out into a jumbled boring mess.

As if imaginary world was not bad enough, the creators, by this time trying to film season 7, suddenly found themselves with the dual obstacles of a writer's strike and a leading man in jail. That would be the literal jail Keifer Sutherland found himself in for, good lord I can't even remember. Drunk driving or drunk drinking or drunkenly molesting a Christmas tree...something drunken, I do believe. They also got word that the African location for season 7, where they'd already started filming, was too expensive and Fox threatened to shut them down.

Then executive producer Joel Surnow, arguably the main person responsible for 24's gently right wing, torture is groovy tone, declined to renew his contract with the show. It's possible his departure from the show had something to do with the news that A) ranking members of the military including the headmaster of West Point had visited the show specifically to request, in person, that the show either tone down the use of torture or at least show an example of torture backfiring and B) when they arrived Surnow declined to meet with them. Or maybe it was just a vast Left Wing Conspiracy!

Personally, I like to imagine Surnow throwing all his possessions in the back of his Hummer, trading in all his riches for Bearer Bonds and racing for whatever country it is conservatives threaten to move to when they lose elections. (Where is that, anyway? Saudi Arabia? China might actually provide them a comfortable mix of Darwinian capitalism mixed with the authoritarian police state they seem to venerate, but then there's the whole feeding Christians to lions thing which would totally screw up their Christmas.)

So the 24 team did what any reasonable group faced with such odds would do and pulled the plug, deciding to retool the whole season. There was, however, no reason to throw away the work already done, which also, conveniently, would provide a nice story bridge from Season 6, with Jack Bauer's empty shell of a man disappearing into the vasty nothingness, and Season 7 which will now, apparently, involve Jack Bauer on trial. So this week we got our little 2 hour mini-season, 24:Redemption.

The gist of the story, and what you need to take with you to appreciate next season, is that Jack has spent a year or more on the run through the world, ducking a Federal grand jury subpoena which, theoretically, will require him to sit in judgement for his various torture related sins. He eventually washed up at a boys school located in Sangala, Africa, run by an old Special Ops buddy. Sangala is a peaceful democracy which is about to be overthrown by a military junta from the ubiquitous land of "across the border". This junta has already been making raids into Sangala, kidnapping boys to help build their army. I think you can see where this is going.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the US is about to inaugurate the nation's first female President. (Lest you think 24 has somehow missed the zeitgeist on this one, recall that the 24-verse has already had not one but two totally adequate black male Presidents. (Ok, well, the one was kind of inadequate, but brother suffered a stroke. Cut him some slack already.) Sangala contacts the outgoing President Daniels for help, but he declines to send aid and orders all US and embassy personnel to evacuate.

Incoming President Taylor disputes the call, but she's not in charge yet. Besides, it appears that President Daniels is holding back information which may or may not have to do with...Future President Taylor's son, who appears to be friends with an investment corporation lackey who has been helping his boss, and his boss's mysterious employer, funnel funds to...the evil across the border military junta now terrorizing Sangala. Dun dun DUUUUUN!

Jack's driving responsibility in this episode is to get this group of boys to the US embassy in "the city" to get them on the last helicopter leaving Sangala (similarities of poignant shots of US helicopters abandoning throngs of helpless citizens to their fate and Vietnam are totally intentional) while simultaneously avoiding the capture that surely awaits him at the very same embassy. Always the multitasker, that Jack. This plot gives us plenty of opportunity to see Jack the humanitarian and there are plenty of moments in his interactions with the boys in his charge that one gets to see the veriest whisper of moisture entering his usually arid eyes. It would be beyond exaggeration to call them tears, but this is as close to Jack's Iron John moment as one may ever see.

The main problem with 24:Redemption is that ultimately, there's no hiding what it actually is: a pastiche of already filmed scenes originally intended to tell a bigger story. The urgency that generally suffuses the show and makes it so darn entertaining just never materializes. Is there a chance that Jack wont get the kids to the embassy, or that he will evade capture? Not bloody likely. We know he has to come home, and there's not much chance he's going to avoid that Grand Jury, either. This is Obama-world people. Let the Truth and Reconciliation begin!

 Because we know this is a 2 hour blip, it's hard to know what, if anything, to care about as far as the story being unspooled back in the US. There's obviously a shady businessman who is up to something nefarious, and there's not much chance he's going to be unmasked by the end of the 2 hours. So, should we pay attention or assume that whatever he's up to, if it's important we'll find out in January?

It will be interesting to see how 24 transitions into this brave new world of respect for rule of law and general human decency we assume will follow from an Obama presidency. A friend of mine who is, I'd like to point out, more of a raving left wing lunatic than I am, says flatly "the world will regret the day they demanded a kinder, gentler Jack Bauer". 24:Redemption only seems to confirm this. But Kati, you ask, how can you, a card carrying liberal loving, Obama voting, torture hating fearer of right wing whack jobs, not support forcing Jack Bauer to abide by the Geneva Convention? Well, I'll tell you, I don't watch 24 to have my liberal conscience gently stroked. I watch it for the same reason I watch James Bond and Jason Bourne: they entertain me. For entertainment purposes, nothing really beats a slap angry Jack Bauer, hopped up and off the rez.

When the New Yorker article which detailed the above incident with Surnow and military personnel was published somewhere around the middle of last season, I read it with interest and not a few opinions of my own. The article certainly caused a stir, and it definitely tapped in to the anger that all of us still have about Abu Ghraib and the general sense of frustration at a government run amok. On the one hand, I think Surnow is a genuine fascist Fruit Loop and there's no arguing I don't find his politics repellent. It would be enough for the creator of any show that deals with incendiary issues to say, hey, it's entertainment, you know. The creators of House don't run around claiming Gregory House is the solution to the health care crisis, after all. But Surnow cheerfully acknowledges that he thinks torture is a totally reasonable means to an end, usually with a slightly wistful air that suggests he only regrets his Hollywood lifestyle will never give him reason to water-board someone.

But on the other hand, part of my job and honestly part of my fiber is a respect for artistic expression coupled with an absolute belief that movies and television and music do not cause behavior. I remember a long interaction I had with a patron who was hysterical over the film Heavenly Creatures. This film, she was certain, would teach children that it is OK to kill their parents. I wanted very much to suggest to her that if she was in fear from her children, she had bigger problems than this movie, and perhaps social services should get involved. At a distance it's easy to chuckle, but at the time it was truly difficult to communicate to the woman that watching this Kate Winslet movie would no more cause teens to commit matricide than watching Titanic would cause them to drown.

It's a recurring theme in our culture that that when a work of entertainment shows something we don't like to point to it and say "See, there's the problem right there". If it weren't for the Matrix and video games Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would even now be contributing members of society instead of infamous slayers of classmates. The certainty that 24, a clock-is-ticking action show where the main character occasionally resorts to unpleasant means to get a bad guy to "TELL ME WHERE THE BOMB/MY DAUGHTER/THE CURLY FRIES I ORDERED ARE!!", was somehow part of the reason that our entire military seemed to have gone Truknutz for prisoner abuse was only made worse by how much Surnow and some of the other producers clearly relished the notion that they might be somehow influential in it as well, and wasthen reinforced by the very public military visit to the show.

With all due respect and sympathy for the headmaster at West Point, 24 was never the problem. After all, no military tribunal ever approached Aaron Sorkin and said look, Aaron, you have to back off this "gays in the military" thing. Our cadets are refusing to hand over their hair gel and some have started "bedazzling" their uniforms. 24 may have tapped in to an ugly American cultural moment, but Joel Surnow vastly overestimates his abilities if he believes he ever did more than create a work which reflected it. The real architects of that moment were always a President and Vice President who cheerfully wiped their tushies with the Geneva Convention and a politically compromised Justice Department charged with creating legal grey areas in which waterboarding and extraordinary rendition could reside.

Long before Abu Ghraib, there were news reports of Justice Department directives to find weasel room in our anti-torture provisions which, up until that moment, most Americans had not considered in desperate need of revision. As red flags go it was something like discovering a Federal budget line item for 5 billion in Christ-centered sex ed. One need not wait til little Jimmy brings home a Bible and chastity belt from kindergarten to recognize a harbinger of things to come. As devastating the news may be to the fascist Fruit Loop, it was not, nor will it ever be remembered as The Surnow Doctrine.

So where does that leave our poor beleaguered Jack, or his audience who have spent years of enjoyment watching him save the world with .0002 seconds to spare? Despite his evident flaws as a member of humanity, Joel Surnow did create a heckuvah entertaining show. Removed from politics, the key to the appeal of Jack Bauer is similar to the appeal of the castaways in Lost: how do people behave when all meaningful things are wrested from them and their backs are against the wall? Do they give up? Lash out? Or do they get very focused on the immediate task at hand? It's actually a mistake to say that 24 does not show the negetive side of torture, because we see the negetive side pretty consistently reflected in Jack Bauer's face. This is a man who has had every good thing in his life turn to ash, over and over again. He's like Job with a side arm.

While the idea of compassionate Jack, volunteering at the soup kitchen and planting tree house trees for orphings to repent for all the misdeeds that his employer requested him to do, might make for an interesting Aaron Sorkin project, it would not be the 24 we all know and love (you know you do...confess already!). While Jack Bauer deserves a nice day just as surely as the American people deserve a government that will not shame them anymore, I hope the new rulers of 24 resist the urge to gently stroke our lefty consciences. Let Jack be Jack, and let the crazy, whacked out show go on.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight of the Post Ironic Vampire

Adults are often accused of forgetting what it's like to be a teenager, usually by a teenager they're trying to ground.  But it's a truth rarely acknowledged that no adult ever actually forgets.  Repress, certainly, but forget?  Does a soldier forget basic training?  We bury the memories under 50 miles of concrete, and strive for the appearance of dispassionate distance.  If we didn't, we'd stop reproducing, or end our tweener children's lives with mercy killings rather than forcing them to suffer the horror that is adolescence.

My mother once said to me that the age of twelve is the cruelest age for parents.  At 12 children begin to show real evidence of the delightful people they will become, and just when a parent begins to think, wow, look at this marvelous creature I've raised, the adolescence fairies come and steal it away.  Suddenly children don't know who, or what, they are any more.  Things in which one has always found delight suddenly become stupid. The body one never even thought about before becomes a strange, clumsy, smelly, hairy casing.  Reliable friends transform into strangers. 

When you don't know who in the hell you are, no sign from the universe, be it a cross glance from a teacher or an un-ringing phone, is insignificant.  Since rebelling against one's parents is actually a necessary part of this transformation, the very people upon whom one has always relied for guidance become useless.  Parents suggest ridiculous things like having a little perspective, but there's no such thing as perspective when you're in unmapped territory.  And just when you've embarked into this completely foreign world, your body adds a brand new element to the mix: lust.

Any period of life that is so overwrought begs to be elevated (or reduced?) to artistic interpretation through metaphor.  While I'm sure that Shakespeare would spin in his grave at the thought, for all the centuries of Romeos & Juliets, Abelards & Heloises and Cathys & Heathcliffs, the simple tale of a good girl falling ass over teakettle for a vampire is as fine a metaphor for adolescent angst as any.  

I cut my eyeteeth on vampire fandom with Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Officially, I was probably too old to be so enraptured by the travails of a teenage girl with the literal weight of the world on her shoulders and her on again/off again romance with a 240 year old vampire with a soul (the off part generally coinciding with those times when his soul, due to various malevolent causes, would go missing).  

But I loved the show, still do, because it was funny and clever and incredibly well written.  It's hard to explain to any logical minded person that this show about slaying the legions of doom with stakes and wicked one liners was the most realistic show about high school ever.  But while the humor and monsters provided the leavening, the truth Buffy so universally acknowledged was that high school is hell, and the stakes really are life and death.  In a surreal underscoring of this point, when I left the Friday night showing of Twilight, NPR was broadcasting a story about Leanne Wolf, an Irish teenager who took her life after years of bullying by classmates.  So much for the anesthesia of perspective.   

The Twilight series of books and now film take this now modern classic tale of girl/vampire romance, some would say was perfected by Joss Whedon, and strips it of any ironic detachment.  This is full on romantic melodrama, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  

The director, Catherine Hardwicke, earned her reputation with a brutal unblinking look at the perils of adolescence with the film Thirteen.  Not for the faint of heart, nor, I would even say parents of teenage girls who wish to sleep again, ever, Thirteen shows the painful transformation of a quiet, Barbie playing girl (what was it my Mom said about the age of 12?) into an angry, out of control teenager experimenting with drugs, sex and petty crime, to the utter bewilderment of her mother.  In a weird way, this makes Hardwicke an obvious choice to make a film about teen angst gone to mythic proportions.  

Bella is a good, almost hyper responsible, teenager who moves to the small cloudy town of Forks, WA to live with her Dad.  The relocation is due to the fact that her sweet but flaky Mother has married a minor league baseball player and longs to follow him on the road.  Bella gets along with her parents, both of them, and even her stepfather.  She has no apparent unresolved Mommy or Daddy issues.  She's a good student and a responsible friend, making her, in Hollywood terms, practically a blank slate, ready to be writ upon.  

The writer soon appears in the form of Edward, quiet member of a soulful clan of vampires who have moved to this remote rural location to form the vampire version of a peaceful vegan commune.  They only eat animals and never kill people.  They avoid the sun not because it causes them to burst into flame, but because it causes their skin to glimmer like disco balls, which might alert the local populace to the fact that they're not really human.  In the book, this sparkling transformation sounds quite impressive but sadly, in the movie, it ends up looking like Edward had an unfortunate accident in a gay club with a glitter canon. 

Bella is drawn to quiet, brooding Edward because, well, have you seen him?  He's totally dreamy.  Edward is drawn to Bella because, apparently, to his hyper sensitive vampire senses, her pheromonal smell is overpowering to him.  To me, this idea of an irresistible scent conjures up an aromatic image of crispy bacon and cinnamon toast but, as the movie helpfully if rather drably shorthands for us, is like his own personal brand of heroin.  Who knew heroin smelled so nice?  

Although Edward finds himself unable to stay away from Bella, due a great deal to her habit of almost accidentally dying in a variety of ways which demand rescue, he can hardly bring himself to even kiss her, though he longs to, as does she.  But Edward responsibly fears that to kiss her might unleash the demon inside him, killing Bella in the process.  Edward loves Bella so much, he cannot bear to kill her, even if it meant he could turn her into his contented vampire bride.  

To practical Bella, however, being turned into Edward's contented vampire bride seems like an obvious solution to their dilemma.  After all, they could totally make out all the time then, for eternity.  Edward's dilemma is an interesting one.  He recognizes that what he loves about Bella is, in fact, her humanity (it's not clear to me if her cinnamon toast & bacon...I mean heroin...perfume would evaporate upon her turning into a vampire, but it certainly seems possible).  

The parallels to the loss of virginity seem way too obvious to mention, but they are at the heart of this are they not?  Stripped of romanticism, Edward might get to enjoy one crazed night of passion with the virgin Bella only to awake to an eternity of (now demonized?) nagging vampire wife Bella.  I'm not saying...I'm just saying.  Did I mention Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, is Mormon?  I don't know why I just thought of that.    

My post-adolescent adult perspective finds much to be troubled by in the Twilight series, but I have to concede that Meyer has tapped in to some very elemental emotional fantasies with this series.  What woman (be honest) has not fantasized about having a man madly, irresistibly, passionately  enthralled by us.  Not even because of our looks or gifts or skills but simply because we are.  It would certainly take the pressure off.  

As much as I long to roll my eyes at Bella's compulsion to literally throw her life away to keep Edward close, I find myself remembering the time a woman I knew told me that she was considering allowing her boyfriend, whom she'd been with for only a few months, to infect her with his herpes, just to make things "easier".  If they were going to be together "forever" she couldn't imagine he'd be willing to put up with condoms and irregular sex "forever".  Considering this woman had at least two decades on Bella, I can't deny that women well beyond adolescence often consider the strangest things to be reasonable sacrifices.   

But jeez, why so serious?  Twilight was essentially and undoubtedly not made for me.  It was made for the hundreds of teen girls watching the movie with me, and even, with its vampiric action, the teen boys who came with them.  I was wracking my brain to remember what the Twilight of my own teen generation might have been.  The best I could come up with was Sixteen Candles which, while great, was hardly the Cathy and Heathcliff for a new generation.  Twilight is well directed and acted and as well written as it could be considering the source material.      

The film has a few issues which only someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest would probably care to notice.  The town of Forks, or at least its high school, has been transformed into a veritable UN of hip multicultural ethnicity.  Not so much a stretch for a Seattle high school, but perhaps startling for a town that's at least 80% genetically pale.  Of course, this Disneyesque Small World of nations only serves to emphasize the startling paleness of the marble skinned Cullen family.  In (I can't believe I'm using this term) reality, should a family of incredibly pale people wish to move someplace where it rains all the time, they probably couldn't find a better place to go unnoticed than the actual town of Forks, but Hollywood has placed them in a Benneton ad, the better to emphasize their exquisite alabaster cheekbones.

Perhaps because I was so desperate for a shock of Whedonesque irony, I did find myself laughing at the Sheriff announcing that the mysterious barefoot killers (who we all know to be evil, non vegan, vampires) have "moved south" and are "Kitsap County's problem now".  As someone who was once marooned for two years in the verdant purgatory that is Kitsap County, I could only think that two marauding vampires would still be the least of their problems, well behind payday at Toy's Topless and any week an aircraft carrier is in town.  But these are mere quibbles.  If this movie is for you, and you already know who you are, enjoy.  There will be plenty of time for adult perspective later.  


Epilogue - one of the fun things about going to a movie like this is getting to hear the teen barometer to upcoming previews.  Based on the responses I heard from the audience, it looks like  Will Smith's Seven Pounds gets rapt attention from the teens, as does trippy actioner Push.  Omen inspired The Unborn had them gasping, ew-ing and hiding their eyes, and the Wayans Brothers Dance Flick already has them rolling in the aisles.  Based on the laughter mixed with impatient snorts I think we can predict that Tom Cruise's Valkyrie is dead on arrival.  Someone needs to tell the studios that World War II is like, so over, and so is Tom Cruise.  The Nic Cage actioner Knowing, about a sheet of numbers from the past which seem to predict the future, proves that, in America at least, math sucks and no distraction from Nic's toupee is going to change that.  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where the Heck Have I Been, Plus a Preview Review

I've been unforgivably slack in the writing department of late. Truth is, I've been having a summer. I went on vacation to Hawaii where I learned to snorkel and decided that I would really like to find a job where I get paid to do that. Some kind of reference librarian for tropical fish perhaps. I've been working. I'm also officially "in training" for the upcoming Breast Cancer Three Day in September, which means I'm spending alot of time either walking, or making myself feel guilty for not walking.

I have watched my share of movies this summer, and each time I intended to write something, but then honestly, what more can I say about the summer slate of blockbusters that hasn't already been said a thousand times elsewhere? Indiana Jones was a very nice return to form. Hellboy 2 was cute, like a kid friendly Pan's Labyrinth. Batman, while great, had at least one storyline too many. I'm embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed Mamma Mia, but it is the perfect movie for a date with your mom. (If you're unwise enough to force a guy to see it with you, you deserve whatever Monster Tractor Pull he demands you to attend in exchange.) Wall-E is cute as a button. Tropic Thunder is funny. Pineapple Express is funny, though not as funny as Tropic Thunder.

Of course summer movies means lots of previews, some of which I've now been exposed to several times. To ease myself back into my commentator gig, I thought I'd do a little review and handicapping of the upcoming movies being shilled now at a theater near you.

Bangkok Dangerous - I'm sure this movie is about something, but I was too distracted by the stringy black creature sitting atop Nic Cage's head to pay any attention. Lately I've been having a growing concern that Cage has surrendered his acting talent to his various toupees. Since other action stars, such as Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, have transformed this into the age of the bald badass, I think it may be time for an intervention. I'll start it by not watching Bangkok Dangerous.

Quantum of Solace - truly, the worst name for a Bond flick, possibly the worst name for a movie, ever. It sounds like something directed by Darren Aronofsky about an autistic chess player. BUT, this trailer is the shit, man. There are clearly some interesting twists on display this time around which prove the powers that be are serious about this Bond re-invention thing. Traditionally Bond films exist in vacuums, never referring to other films in the series, always starting off with Bond as a blank slate awaiting orders. This time around, along with Danial Craig's blood chilling scowl, we have references back to Vesper Lind, and a Bond who is possibly off the reservation on some kind of killing spree. I like where this is going!

Lakeview Terrace
- Sometimes there comes a genre that is hard to believe is actually a genre. People have actually made multiple films on the topic of nice people moving in next door to a closet psycho/sociopath who then sets out to make their nice lives a living hell. I don't like this particular genre of film. I've had crazy neighbors. I once had a neighbor who asked me if "anything ever happened to me", could she please have my cat and my antiqued wastebasket. I know what it's like to not want to go home at night because you might run in to the guy who insists that your cats are too loud when they walk on the floor. I don't find "nice people's lives ruined by crazy neighbor" movies entertaining. I find them instructional, and therefore terrifying, and they make me want to move somewhere with no people, lest I end up with Samuel L. Jackson as a psychotic cop living next door.

Eagle Eye
- You can't really accuse Steven Spielberg of "jumping the shark" because the man invented the shark movie. Nevertheless, the preview for this film does make me concerned that Spielberg is losing his touch as a producer. There seems to be this all knowing, all seeing, all powerful nefarious organization, played by an ominous female voice on the telephone, which goes around hijacking people's lives to force them to do bad shit for them.

Each time I've seen this preview, I could not help but wonder if this omnipotent organization has the resources to "control the grid" and blow up an FBI building and make the Times Square digital reader spool out commands for a hapless Shia LaBeouf* to follow, why not just take some of those same resources and hire some dudes from the back of Guns and Ammo magazine to do whatever it is they want done, willingly and without all the bother of forcing innocent amateurs to do their dirty work? Eagle Eye breaks a cardinal rule of action flicks. They must either be so well plotted there's no need to ask why, or so incredibly entertaining that it never occurs to you to ask why. When you're asking why during the trailer, it's a bad sign.

*My friend Pat asks "Is there any such thing as a hapfull Shia LaBeouf?" His point is well taken.

Deathrace - Running Man meets Mad Max, with death row prisoners racing souped up attack vehicles for their freedom, starring Joan Allen and Ian McShane? I'm confused, but I'm liking it. All that's missing is Dame Judy Dench, perhaps as one of the lovely navigators bussed over from the women's prison, to make this the action Caligula of the new millennium. Alas Dame Judy was busy cuddling James Bond through his Solace. Instead, I will make due with Jason Statham as the innocent man screwed out of his freedom bent on revenge. God, it just keeps getting better and better. I love this movie, and I have only seen 2 minutes and 30 seconds of it. I am so there.

Twilight - One of the occupational hazards of working in a library is that occasionally books come along that push a lot of librarian buttons and have you discussing things like the post-feminist implications of Mormon vampire fiction on the teen girl's psyche. So when I saw the trailer for the eagerly anticipated adaptation of Twilight (volume 4 of which just hit our library shelves and hence have us all pondering the post-feminist implications of Mormon vampire fiction on the teen girl's psyche), it was something of a startle to be reminded that this Romeo & Juliet tale of beautiful teenagers, some of whom happen to be vampires, does have the ingredients for a blockbuster teen hit which will cause no normal human to ponder the post-feminist implications of Mormon vampire fiction.

Actually, the books, which are each about one hundred thousand pages long, will probably benefit from film adaptation since you will not have to read one hundred thousand pages of lines like "He had the most beautiful soul, more beautiful than his brilliant mind or his incomparable face or his glorious body". In that respect, we should really look on the films as a kindness, and be appropriately grateful.

- If the official job of a film trailer is to convince you that you have been dying to see a movie and will be incomplete until you do, Watchmen knocks it out of the park. The two superhero movies I saw this summer, Ironman and The Dark Knight, both had an underlying question at the heart of them: do people get the superheros they need, or do they get the superheros they deserve? The only logical end to this line of questioning is a film version of Alan Moore's adult graphic novel The Watchmen, set in an alternative past in which mankind did, in fact, get exactly the superheroes it deserved. It's dark, creepy and totally gripping. I want more!

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Not Sexism, Stupid or, a feminist struggles with Hillary Clinton

This February I attended my first ever Democratic Primary caucus, well actually my first ever caucus of any kind. The caucus for my district was held in an elementary school cafeteria which smelled like decades of cooked onions and boiled green beans, and we were bursting out of the room.

I was told by some long time caucusers that during the last Presidential Caucus there had been 12 people there, and they had a hard time finding anyone willing to volunteer to go up to the next level caucuses for the county. This time, there were close to 200 people there. Many of us had no freaking clue what we were doing, and some incredibly kind good natured people with experience quickly tried to organize us, make sure we all signed in on the correct forms for the correct district, and gently herd us into some semblance of organization.

The atmosphere was congenial and jolly. It was a mixed group of age, race and gender. The organizers suggested we sort ourselves into our candidate groups while they counted the signatures so we could move on to selecting our delegates. In the midst of this jovial chaos I noticed a woman sitting arms firmly crossed. She appeared unhappy, unhappy enough that when a seat opened up next to her, I thought about sitting down and then decided the wall I was leaning on was fine. I saw her speaking seriously to one of my neighbors, a woman named Mary who is one of those kind clear eyed people you turn to when you need something fixed.

Mary stood up and hollered to get the organizers attention. "It's been observed by ----- ," Mary said to the leaders, "that you are referring to Barack Obama as "Obama" in your directions, but you are referring to Hillary Clinton as "Hillary"." Mary explained that this was being interpreted by some to be disrespectful and demeaning, and could we please use consistent respectful forms of address for all the candidates?

Various things ran through my head when I heard this, some of which do me little credit, and suggest that it's best that I was not one of the people in charge instead of the kind good natured ones who were, who replied "Oh, of course. No problem!" I was irritated by the implication that these very nice overworked people who were patiently suggesting that Obama supporters from district 242 should sit at this lunch table, and Hillary supporters from district 242 should sit at that lunch table were behaving in a sinister fashion, or that there was any disrespect in the room for anyone.

It is in fact entirely normal and common for people to come up with shorthand to telegraph the difference between prominent political figures that share the same name. No one just says "Roosevelt". It's FDR or Teddy Roosevelt. It's really only been in the last few years that one feels ok saying "Bush" without specifying "G.W." or "W" or "Shrub" to differentiate Bush fils from Bush pere. So one reflexively says "Hillary" to make sure that everyone knows of which Clinton one is speaking.

At the time, the most coherent of my thoughts, which sounded much like a very impatient sigh, was "this is why I'm not voting for Hillary Clinton". Of course "this" was not the only reason I was not inclined to vote for Clinton, but it was reflective of something I was already sensing, growing and emanating from the Clinton campaign and her supporters.

You could call it making mountains out of mole hills, but that implies that there were actual mole hills there to begin with. This was something more like scavenging the land to find moles that one then carries around with one, along with sacks of dirt, and then releasing the mole, and the dirt, in the midst of otherwise reasonable discussion and then standing beside the theretofore non-existent molehill with a bullhorn screaming MOUNT EVEREST!!! MOUNT EVEREST!!!!

I also felt something that I'd felt a lot over the past months or even years when contemplating a Hillary Clinton Presidency, which was fatigue; perhaps even a Carterian ennui. A sense of being offered something reheated, with some new sprigs of parsley, which nonetheless had not gone down great the first time. I was irritated when I heard Hillary Clinton referred to as a fait accompli, when I read newspaper article after newspaper article insisting that a majority of everyone everywhere wanted her to be the next President when, in fact, no one had asked me. I felt shoved, bullied. It was the same kind of feeling that emanated from the Bush (the 2nd) campaign back in the day.

And what, really, was the difference between the two? In the case of Bush II, Republican insiders sat down and flipped through their Rolodex and decided to back the charming born again son of a pillar of the Party. The Republican machine put all its weight and money behind this fortunate son. When an extremely popular, highly experienced veteran and Senator began gaining momentum among the general population, the machine came down with all its might, stopping the McCain campaign cold with nasty fake controversies about the Confederate flag and a dark skinned baby.

In the case of Hillary Clinton, Democratic insiders sat down and flipped through their Rolodex to decide which state should give a Senate seat to the retiring First Lady. Illinois, a state that might have made some sense since Hillary Clinton is actually from there, ironically, but thankfully, was discounted because the party didn't want to interfere with the promising career path of an up and coming politician named Barack Obama. Arkansas seemed unlikely since Clinton had never really thawed the hearts of Arkansas residents like her husband had. So they gave her New York, and a healthy pot of money which became the seeds of her Presidential race fund.

And as Hillary Clinton's campaign took off, and the pundits and newspapers discussed her "inevitability", she began to remind me of another notable Republican; namely Bob Dole. Not the cheerful retired Bob Dole of the Letterman Show and (god help us) Viagra commercials, but the crotchety pissed off Bob Dole of the 1996 election.

Bob Dole was mad at his own party for making him fight so hard for the nomination. Bob Dole was mad at the media for asking impertinent questions when it was clear that his (actual!) 30 years of elected public service ought to speak for itself. Bob Dole was mad at you, the voter, for not being smart enough to realize his value over the pipsqueak he was being forced to run against. Bob Dole had carried the freakin water and Bob Dole had put in his time and Bob Dole had taken the back seat to lesser men for thirty god-damned years and Bob Dole had given his god-damned right hand in service to this country and god-dammit all to Hell if it wasn't HIS GODDAMN TURN. As the Hillary Clinton campaign rolled forward I began thinking of Hillary Clinton and Bob Dole more and more, spiritual twins on the "It's About God Damned Time" Express, flying election banners inspired by Charles Schulz: "I Want What's Coming to Me! I Want My Fair Share!"

But I'm not allowed to say such things, right? To compare a privileged man like Bob Dole to Hillary Clinton, a woman who has had to overcome an upper middle class upbringing, an expensive Ivy League education, a successful law practice, marriage to a governor then President leading to a glass elevator trip straight to the top of the America political machine....well, the truth is, I'm not sure what she's had to overcome, except being in a position of power which has led some people to dislike her, but Elton John assures us it was wretched.

I'd like to not talk about sexism when it comes to Hillary Clinton, but that seems to be impossible. The Clinton Campaign wants you to know that Hillary Clinton is losing because of sexism. Geraldine Ferraro would like you to know that not only is Hillary Clinton losing because of sexism, but Barack Obama is winning because of racism. Geraldine Ferraro would also like you to know that Barack Obama is actually sexist, which is why she will vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton is not nominated, because apparently Ferraro would rather vote for a man who called his wife a cunt to her face in front of a press buss than vote for the man who was so sexist, he interfered with the ascension of her chosen candidate.

Be it sexism or racism or vast right wing conspiracy-ism, some horrible "ism" is always standing in the way of the Clintons doing what they need to do for the good of mankind...I mean personkind. It's true, for whatever reason, the Clintons make a certain segment of the population go completely ape monkey squirrel shit bananas. The whole Ken Starr impeachment lunacy was unarguably unnecessary bad behavior and abuse of authority designed to legitimize certain people's ape monkey squirrel shit bananas opinions.

That was the bad news for the Clintons. The bad news for the American populace is one that we're still reaping the benefits from today. Namely, it made the Clintons hair trigger defensive, irritable at being challenged, disinclined to listen to other points of view and, god help the person who requests justification for any of their decisions. It has also given them an easy out which they use inexcusably often: those who disagree with them, or ask for explanation, are part of the vast ape monkey squirrel shit bananas conspiracy. The once wretched behavior of their opposition justifies anything they may have to do now; an excuse which never worked for you on the playground, but what have you done for personkind lately?

As I researched to help me write this piece, I encountered one of the problems that comes when one attempts to write about the Clintons in a calm, reasonable way. Because I'm not cookoo ape monkey squirrel shit bananas, I don't think the Clintons are the worst thing to ever happen to the country. I think they actually have managed to do some good here and there. I don't think they killed their good friend in a public park in Washington D.C., and I don't think there's a person on earth who is clear about what sort of malfeasance they were supposed to have been up to with Whitewater, but certainly no one has convinced me it was worth bringing our government to its knees over. But you start to do research, legitimate research involving the reading of mainstream magazines and newspapers like Newsweek and The New York Times, and you start to be reminded of things that make you feel like screaming a little bit.

Like the fact that one of Bill's last acts in the White House was to pardon 15 Puerto Rican nationalist terrorists, actual terrorists who had set off bombs in our country that had killed and injured people, against the advice of the Justice Department, the FBI and the relatives of the people who got themselves exploded, but conveniently in time for his wife's campaign for a Senate seat in a state with the largest population of Puerto Ricans in the country. And when he started to get flack for it, he cheerfully threw Al Gore under the bus, claiming he'd done it to help Gore win Florida, and what a help it was too! And now we find ourselves years down the road with Hillary Clinton insisting that she will stay in the race until the bitter end or, at the very least until Puerto Rico votes, and suddenly I'm feeling a little queasy, like someone flipped on a light and I caught a glimpse of something I didn't want to see scurrying under the counter.

In this campaign Hillary Clinton has done what the Clintons do best, which is to fight hard and dirty. This is why we loved them in the beginning, right? They bested the Republicans at their own game. It doesn't matter if you get yourself covered in mud as long as your opponent drowns in it. Unlike Bill, who played dirty with a kind of insouciant, almost Reganesque "Teflon" flair, Hillary Clinton has played dirty while wrapping herself in the shroud of victim-hood. From the beginning Hillary Clinton was a feminist martyr, even when she was leading by a mile and the media discussed her as if she were already President. The spectacle of her complaining that debate mediators always asked her the first question was shameless and ridiculous. As a feminist, I was embarrassed and enraged by her behavior. It was the Platonic ideal of that fake mole hill mountain.

Since then we've been confronted with things like the transparent insistence on seating the Michigan and Florida delegates, but only the way she wants them seated, which is to say given entirely to her, even though it was her own campaign manager who helped draft the initial ruling that stripped them of their delegates in the first place. Or transforming herself into a race baiting Annie Oakley. Or discovering, after Barack Obama's profound and historic speech about race in America in which he defiantly did not condemn his pastor for speaking his own truth, that it was an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter who invited Jeremiah Wright to the National Press Club to give a speech which seemed intended to have a catastrophic effect on Obama's campaign. The surprise to me is not that she's doing these things, The surprise to me is that anyone is surprised, or that anyone is fooled. That anyone can look at Hillary Clinton and see a victim is the biggest mystery to me of all.

In the dark days of Bush II's Presidency, it was easy to fall into a kind of nostalgia for the Clinton White House. Believe me I was a guilty as the next person. The stumble from "My Fellow Americans, the State of our Union has never been stronger," to "Mission Accomplished" was too hard a fall to take without a nostalgia cushion. But time and distance begins to reveal hard truths about not only the Clinton White House, but the Democratic Party the Clintons left behind. Bill Clinton may have left the White House on a high note, but the Democratic Party still struggles to mend the destruction visited upon it during the Clinton years. The Clintons fumbled the National Health Care Plan, Travelgate and Don't Ask Don't Tell, but it was 54 Congressmen and 8 Senators who paid the price. Bill Clinton may have floated out of the White House on a cloud of approbation, but he left behind a Democratic Party unable to withstand the Republican onslaught that followed.

And now, true to my sense early in Hillary Clinton's campaign of being offered some reheated Salisbury steak, Hillary Clinton seems determined to leave the American people with a similar legacy: one destroyed Democratic Party and eight more years of Republican nightmare-ism. I don't believe she'll succeed. I truly believe that Barack Obama is a great and good man who can win this election. But I'm sad for the people Hillary Clinton is using to wreak whatever destruction she has left to wreak.

I understand the importance of finally having a woman President of the United States. It's time that our country break that practical or psychic barrier that has prevented us from considering a woman as up to the task. I don't blame the people who are excited by what Hillary Clinton represents, but I do blame Hillary Clinton for being an inadequate receptacle for their dreams. I blame her for taking their passion and twisting it into victim-hood and anger, and trying her best to divide this party down whatever fault lines she can exploit. I blame her for making me, an intelligent, reasonable, sensible, practical feminist into someone she and her supporters would rather dismiss as ape monkey squirrel shit bananas than acknowledge and respect, despite our differences.


I've read several pieces in which Hillary supporters bemoan that she is somehow their last best chance at getting a woman in the White House. If she fails, feminism has failed, set back a dozen generations. This view really puzzles me. Is our vision of feminism so narrow that we believe there is only one single female in all the land capable of winning the White House? I believe the success or failure of Hillary Clinton says nothing about the state of feminist progress, except revealing that some people are profoundly insecure about the real and actual success of their own revolution. Hillary Clinton's success or failure only says something about Hillary Clinton and the people she chooses to surround herself with.

I am confident we will have a woman as President, and it will be someday soon. It is truly inevitable. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Have you seen these new generations of young women? They are awe inspiring. They are going to rock this planet to the foundations. It may not look the way we imagined. I wouldn't be surprised, for example, if the first female President is conservative. But that's the thing about revolutions. Truly successful revolutions take on a life of their own far beyond what its early revolutionaries imagined.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cineplex of my Dreams vs My Theater of Doom

So I've been published in a real paper made from trees magazine which for reasons that make no logical sense really excites me. I, along with several other area film aficionados, was asked by Tacoma City Arts magazine to list the 10 films that would be playing non-stop in "The Cineplex of My Dreams." The list appears in the May/June 2008 issue of City Arts, available for free at most happening places near you, provided you are in Tacoma.

It was a hard question to answer, and I did come up with my list, along with pithy explanations for why I chose each one. Of course, my pithy explanations were then edited to the point of anorexia, more pi- than pithy. This is understandable. They had to fit the ramblings of six film geeks into a two page article. But the diva in me was still pained, especially when I saw all the other people's lists.

My list, which I will share with you in a moment, including all the pith, was, how you say, a bit more pedestrian than the other lists. For example, I had no films representing the French Dada-ist movement on my list. In fact, I didn't have any French films on my list, although there are certainly French films that I have loved. In fact, here they are: Amelie, Ponette, The Girl on the Bridge, Queen Margot, The Triplets of Belville and The Professional, which I suppose technically is an American film, but it feels French. I also really love the movie French Kiss, which takes place almost entirely in France, but I doubt the French would wish to claim it.

But, when I was trying to imagine 10 movies that captured the movie going experience for me, ones I'd like to see over and over (ones I have seen over and over), none of these came to mind. Neither did anything by Fellini, Sergio Leone or Ingmar Bergman. Yes, I admit it. I like popular movies. Black and white movies where Europeans stare meaningfully at each other over Scandinavian fens or cafe tables make my butt itch. (Ou est le cafe? Je ne sais pas ou est le cafe. Oui, je sais. Oui, je sais tout. Fin) Movies where everyone dies at the end may make me cry and think when I see them, but they don't generally make me want to see them twice.

So, my name is Kati and I like popular movies. I appreciate and admire and respect all kinds of film, including those of the French Dada-ist movement, but if you're coming to my house to watch movies chances are you're going to see one of the following:

Truly Madly Deeply – an early film of the recently departed Anthony Minghella. Nina cannot get beyond the tragic sudden death of her love Jamie, until Jamie, and a crowd of his hapless ghost friends, suddenly show up at her flat. A profound, funny and moving look at love. The final scene makes me cry every time.

Bells Are Ringing – Judy Holliday was one of the great comic actresses of all time, taken from us far too soon. This is her final movie, a musical with Dean Martin, about a shy operator at an answering service who has a bad habit of getting too involved in the lives of her clients. Classic comedy. Classic music. Classic clothes. Classic everything.

Bourne Identity – Although the next two installments built well on the series, nothing beats the sheer raw intensity of the first installment. From the moment we spot that blinking light floating in the water to the final scene sweeping over the Corfu coast, your heart is in your throat. No matter how many times I see it, I can’t turn away.

Soapdish - A hysterical ensemble comedy about a network soap opera starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr. and a cast of thousands. I could quote zingers from this movie all day long, except no one would know what I was talking about. Everyone needs to watch this, so I can begin using “I’m working on my one man Hamlet” in regular conversation.

Matrix - If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then we must consider every action/sci fi/kung-fu flick since 1999 a pale but flattering imitation of the Matrix's eye popping wire work, slo-mo, 360 degree, seamless special effects vision. The first time I saw it, I felt like a kid, transported to the best adventure ride ever and, when it came to an end, I felt like kicking my heels against the seat and shouting "Again! Again!"

Jungle Book (Disney) - If I had to live with only one Disney for all time, it would have to be The Jungle Book, cuz it's the king of the swingers, yo, the jungle VIP! Plus, it has the most fearsome Disney baddy ever in Shere Khan. Jeremy Irons' Scar in The Lion King was just a pale imitation of George Saunder's Khan. I could just listen to that creepy, scary voice all day.

Sense and Sensibility - If you take my favorite author, Jane Austin, combine her with my hero Emma Thompson and one of the world's greatest directors, Ang Lee, you get possibly the best Austin film adaptation of all time. The film captures not just the humor and romance of Austin, but the fear and dangerous undercurrents of what is arguably Austin's darkest work. I can't really be rational about how much I love this movie.

Monsoon Wedding - It wasn't so long ago that the average American had no idea what a "Bollywood" might be, but thank Mira Nair for bringing the colorful, joyful, musical world of Indian cinema to us in Monsoon Wedding. It's a rich, beautiful, complicated story about love and families and marigolds. Who knows how many Indian theme weddings this film has inspired!

Brick - Rian Johnson directed this fantastic modern film noir about Brendon, a high school student played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, trying to find answers about the mysterious death of his ex-girlfriend Emily. Brick has all the ingredients of a great noir: a damsel in distress, a reticent loner hero, crooked or indifferent authority figures, a tangled web of drugs and betrayal, a mysterious evil kingpin and a sultry brunette femme fatale. This movie is everything that is great about independent film making.

The Third Man - One modern film noir demands a great classic film noir, and The Third Man has to be it. Roger Ebert called The Third Man "like the exhausted aftermath of Casablanca". Awesome movie, with the most terrifying Ferris wheel scene in motion picture history.

After working on this list, and then reading the lists of the other Tacoma cineasts, I started to get an image of the opposite of The Cineplex of My Dreams. A movie theater showing nothing but my least favorite films, over and over again; My Theater of Doom. What a person hates probably tells as much if not more about them than what they love. And since every title I would list as a movie I hate is likely on someone else's list of Most Totally Awesome Films of All Time, I certainly risk alienating my audience here, all three of you.

But there's comfort, too, in admitting what you don't enjoy, like that Thanksgiving that I finally admitted whole family that look, I just don't like sweet potatoes ok? I don't like them with marshmallows. I don't like them with onions. I don't like them better if you call them yams. I just don't like them. Yes, some may think I'm a freak, but no one offers me sweet potatoes any more.

This list does not include those movies that are so bad they're great. That's another list entirely. These are movies that stole hours away from my life that I will never, ever get back and I deeply, deeply resent it. So here it is, My Theater of Doom:

The Wizard of Oz - I have a complicated history with this movie. My first memory of The Wizard of Oz is being removed from a theater screaming my head off after seeing the flying monkies. Next up, we have a junior high production of The Wizard of Oz, for which I audition. The script has Auntie Em and The Witch cast as the same person, but the teachers casting the play split up the role, asking me and my BFF Aditi to share it. Our friendship was not strong enough to withstand the horrible jealousy (almost entirely on my part, since she was clearly intended to have to cooler role of the witch) that ensued. Long story short, I have absolutely no fond childhood memories of this story, and monkeys were NOT intended to fly.

Muriel's Wedding - So many people told me how cute and sweet and wonderful and fabulous Muriel's Wedding was that I was completely caught off guard by how much I hated it. H-A-T-E-D it. It managed to depress and infuriate me at the same time. I left the theater feeling abused. If I could, I would get a restraining order against this movie, and NO, I do NOT wish to see the touring stage production.

City of Angels - Hopefully there's a special place in hell for people who take great movies created by film geniuses and remake them as Hollywood schlock. Hopefully the director of City of Angels will go there. My sister and I call this film Stalked by an Angel.

The Piano - Aside from the lush cinematic beauty of this film, personally, I did not care for any of the characters in this film, which made it difficult to care about who was playing whose piano. Plus, three words: Harvey Keitel's ass.

Dances With Wolves - Let me make it clear that my hatred of this movie began long before it beat GoodFellas in the Oscar race for Best Picture. My hatred began about oh, I dunno, five hours into the movie, or about one third of the way through, whichever comes first, when they shot his dog and I, in response to this, began to laugh.

Now, I love dogs and frankly up until this point, the dog had been my favorite character. I don't like it when dogs come to harm, real or imaginary, and I certainly don't think it's funny, but in this movie, it was just too much. Gee, do you think the people who are after Kevin Costner are BAD? I dunno, let's see, stole his horse (check), burned his house down (check), stole his woman (check). Hmm, that's purdy bad, but I dunno. Oh wait, they SHOT HIS DOG you say? Oh my, they are bad.

Dances With Wolves actually wins the coveted Golden Bear Trap award, which is given to any movie that is so hard to sit through, I'd chew my paw off if it meant escape.

This feels like a really short list, as if there must be other films out there that I well and truly hated, but perhaps I've just repressed them all.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Agnes and Guinevere Live and Dream for a Day

Mary Doria Russell is one of the rare writers who has actually earned a place in my permanent book collection. When you work in a library, you tend to experience the whole world as your personal library, so it usually takes something special to join those books that never need returning.

Although I love Russell's writing, I tend to recommend her with caution. She'll break your heart, you see. You will fall in love with her characters, and they will become a part of you, and you will become as invested in their journey as if it were your own, and then, like humans, they will fail, or be injured, or lose their way, or their faith, particularly their faith, and you may find yourself devastated. It's possible, for example, that my Mother has forgiven me for recommending The Sparrow, Russell's riveting tale of a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet, but I'm not entirely certain. She is certainly cautious whenever I recommend new things to her now.

Thus I approached Russell's new book, Dreamers of the Day, gingerly; sidling up to it, trying to avoid direct eye contact. But alas, the tale of Agnes Shanklin, an Ohio schoolteacher on holiday who finds herself caught up in the whirlwind of 1920s Middle East politics was more than a match for my caution. Reader, I was quite delighted by her story.

Although Miss Shanklin is a quiet, unassuming, easily forgotten sort of person, Miss Shanklin's story takes place at the prophetic turn of a major century. Her entire family, mother, siblings, nieces and nephews, are wiped out by the Great Influenza Epidemic, making Miss Shanklin a modest heiress, but an orphan of the soul. On an impulse, Agnes decides that, accompanied by her dear sausage dog Rosie, she will visit the Middle East where her beloved sister had once done missionary work.

Upon arrival, Miss Shanklin has the interesting fortune of running in to a former acquaintance of her sister, one Theodore Lawrence, more commonly known as "of Arabia". And thus she finds herself swept into the periphery of the 1921 Cairo conference. While you are wondering why anyone might care about the 1921 Cairo conference, I can only point out that it was this august assemblage that, among other things, like establishing the future Israel, drew the boundaries and selected the leader of a theretofore completely imaginary country called "Iraq."

It's interesting how, when we add information like this to our mental tallying tools, our present suddenly become so much clearer. Why exactly was Great Britain the only major nation to happily join hands with us in our march into Iraq? Perhaps it had less to do with Tony Blair's supposed lapdog qualities and more to do with a nation's acknowledgement that, oh, goodness, yes, we were the ones who first drew that line around Kurds, Shias and Sunnis and dubbed it a nation. Whoops! Our bad!

There is something reminiscent of Forrest Gump in Agnes Shanklin's uncanny ability to find herself taking camel tours with Winston Churchill, but unlike Gump , Agnes is not a naif. Although sheltered, she is well educated and opinionated. She is uneasy at the thought of this group of European powerful dividing up the Middle East like pie, as if the Middle East were a blank slate, without several million inhabitants who, it's possible, might have interests beyond those of helping Europe become more powerful.

Russell is not only interested in the Middle East. Early in the book Agnes tells the story of a U.S. president who won his election on the promise of no foreign adventuring. Yet after taking office, the president's pacifism was transformed by the discovery of incendiary evidence of a threat to our nation. Though the evidence seemed suspicious even from the beginning, the president became the band leader of a fierce drumbeat to war. "The rationales warp and twist and shift," Agnes observes. "The closer war comes, the simpler and stupider the choices. Are you a warrior or a coward? Are you with us or against us?" The President was Woodrow Wilson and the war was World War I, a war that has since been transformed in our conscious to one of those good old fashioned morally dis-ambiguous wars, so different from the tedious morally challenging ones of today.

Miss Shanklin's observations aren't limited to war either. I was charmed by her description of her contemporaries, The Lost Generation, dealing with the generation they spawned, now ominously known as The Greatest Generation (EVER). "(T)hey fought two world wars and bore the brunt of the Depression. With their savings wiped out, many were forced in old age to move in with their grown children. Ancient flappers and decaying swells would shake their heads as their serious sons and respectable daughters raged at teenagers for dabbling in illicit drugs, thoughtless sex, "jungle" music, and lewd dancing."

"Why, we used to drink until everyone was falling down, peeing-on-the-carpet, puking-in-the-streets drunk!" the Lost would mutter, recalling the bootlegging, the jazz, and the parties..."How could we have raised such stiffs?"

I found Dreamers of the Day both challenging and strangely comforting. The challenge is facing mankind's insatiable appetite for war, made worse by our nature to quickly forget our own history, even as the ripples of history's repercussions define our future. The seeds of the next war are sown within the peace of the last. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand no more caused World War I than a race is caused by the starter pistol, an acquaintance tells Miss Shanklin. "[P]eople believe easily that battle is a sacrament...that without war's mystical blood payment society goes soft and rots from within."

But perhaps I'm the naif when I say I found this story strangely comforting. We find war, but somehow we find peace too. We've adventured, disastrously, in the Middle East for thousands of years, and yet it's still there and we're still here, and somehow, we've managed to not completely annihilate ourselves yet. Perhaps it's a stretch to call that good news, but I'd like to think as long as there are Agnes Shanklins in this world to keep us honest, we cannot lose ourselves completely.

Which brings us to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a warm and wonderful comedy — based on a 1938 Winifred Watson novel — which feels as if it has been delivered to us from another era; a My Man Godfrey for the new millennium. Frances McDormand plays Guinevere Pettigrew, a governess in late 1930s London who has just been released from her third job in a row. Her old fashioned notions of laissez fair child rearing apparently don't go over well with the coddling parents of the day.

Summarily dismissed from Miss Holt's Employment Agency, a desperate Miss Pettigrew steals a referral card from Miss Holt's desk and thus finds herself on the doorstep of singer, aspiring actress and walking tornado of disaster, Delysia Lafosse. Although Miss Lafosse has ordered a "social secretary" ("I don't even know what a social secretary does, but that rabbity Charlotte Warren has one so I figured I should too!") it's rather immediately apparent that a governess might be far more appropriate.

Miss Pettigrew is immediately enlisted in saving Delysia from the complicated web of affections she's managed to weave for herself. On the one hand, there is Nick Colderelli, the nightclub owner who wants Delysia's pretty face on his stage and her lovely body in his bed. On the other, there is Phil Goldman, the barely post-adolescent son of the theater owner who is definitely interested in her lovely body, and might be interested in casting her pretty face in his father's new show, if he can be distracted from the rabbity Charlotte Warren. And, because this is a screwball comedy, there must in fact be a third hand; Michael the poor but noble piano player who cannot offer Delysia money or fame but only all of his love, until the end of his days.

How to describe Amy Adams as Delysia Lafosse? She is perfection; part Carole Lombard, part Marilyn Monroe, part Holly Golightly and all loveliness. Sexy, sweet, selfish and terrified, she's everything that Adams was not as Princess Giselle in Enchanted, and that's Disney's loss.

Swept into the orbit of Delysia and her friends, Miss Pettigrew encounters Joe Blumfield, played by the awesome Ciaran Hands, a lingerie magnate and erstwhile fiance of Delysia's friend Edythe. As the young beautiful people swirl and party like there is no tomorrow, Miss Pettigrew and Joe are the only ones in the room that realize how true that is. As a cocktail party is interrupted by the drone of a squadron of war planes overhead, the young beautiful people stand on the balcony and cheer, while Joe and Guinevere sit pale and quiet in the hall. "They don't remember the last time," says Miss Pettigrew. "No, they do not," says Joe.

There is more than the fear of hunger and unemployment driving Miss Pettigrew to help Delysia. "And you're the expert on love!" Delysia snaps when Miss Pettigrew tries to point out some of Michael's finer qualities. "No," says Miss Pettigrew, "I am the expert at living with the lack of love," a fate she would like to help Delysia avoid. Miss Pettigrew knows that one can be fooled into thinking one has infinite choices when in fact the world offers no such luxury. Life is short, and getting shorter by the day. Miss Pettigrew knows that few have ever looked back on their life and said "I'm so glad I threw away love when I had it in my hands."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

ShoWest: The Photographic Evidence

Ok, I was going to finally master doing slick photo embedding type stuff, but then I decided I wanted to get these pictures "out there" before I retire. So, if the mood strikes, please check out my ShoWest photo album here:

Friday, March 28, 2008

A plug and then back to the regular scheduled program

It may be hard to miss that loud pink box blinking at you from over to the right there, so allow me to explain.

On September 11th - 14th 2008, I will be joining thousands of other walkers, including my fabulous team, Hotties for Healthy Hoots, walking 60 miles over 3 days to bring support, awareness and money to the fight against breast cancer. That widget will connect you to my Breast Cancer 3Day page where, if the spirit moves you, you can choose to donate to me and my team to support us on our journey.

It may seem like a pretty cookoo bananas thing that I'm doing here. It's been observed that I tend to love my couch more than I love exercise. But here's the thing. I have this friend, Patti, who is one of those women that just makes you proud to be a woman too, she's so cool and artistic and warm and lovely. And then in December, within weeks of each other, both Patti and her daughter Lindsay were both diagnosed with breast cancer. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare. A mother's worst nightmare. A daughter's worst nightmare. A world's worst nightmare.

Something like that forces a person to take inventory; ask themselves, so, what have you done for the world LATELY. And the answer felt like not enough.

So it feels like the right time for some cookoo bananas action. Time for me to drag my pudgy butt from the sofa and start shaking my money maker. I don't know that I can make things better for Patti and Lindsay, but it would be awful nice to think I could make things better for some future Patti or Lindsay down the road. So that's why I'm doing this.

So this is my plug to click the button, please. It would mean a lot to me and all the Pattis and Lindsays of the world.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Check out my ShoWest Diaries on Blogcritics

Thanks to Blogcritics help in obtaining a press pass for ShoWest, I've been posting my *exclusive* ShoWest diaries on Blogcritics which can be found here. Not to fret, though. I will be posting some special *exclusive* material on Populucious as well, including the fully illustrated ShowWest diaries. I just have to get my booty in gear to do it! Thanks for checking in and checking out Blogcritics.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kati's Big Adventure

Tomorrow morning I board an airplane for Las Vegas, and an entire week at the ShoWest conference. Because I'm not remotely equipped for live bloggage, it must wait until I return, a week from today, to tell you all the wonders I experienced there.

Some of the things I do know already is that apparently 3D is the buzzword of the show. Ang Lee, Robert Redford, Sarah Jessica Parker, Seth Rogan, Brenden Frasier and Abigale Breslin are all getting awards of the "if we put your name on a plaque will you come stand before us" variety. A screening of Kung Foo Panda has been promised. Most importantly, I have learned that sometimes all you have to do to get people to give you crazy things like money to go to Vegas and a press pass is ask.

Crazy! Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Tale of Three Rallies

2002 Anti-War Rally - I'm in Tacoma with relief, since earlier I'd assumed I'd have to drive to Seattle to participate in any anti-war protests. I'll be honest, I'm not usually a protest sort of person, but I'm just so angry and so frustrated with this Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to war our President has put us on. It's sickeningly transparent how determined he is to invade Iraq on any pretext. We're being told that there's clear evidence Iraq has WMDs, but it's top secret and can't be shared and we're just going to have to trust them. As Shrub has given me no reason to trust him up until now, it seems a bit hopeful on his part that I would begin at this juncture, like a date rapist asking you to trust they'll have you home before curfew.

I'm nervous about going to this rally, not because I don't feel very strongly about the issue, but because I'm not sure what to expect. Will it be a chorus of voices united in opposition to a President's blatant misuse of power, or will it be a babble of people each with their own random bone to pick? Free Mumia! Support Microlending! Stop the Giant Redwood Genocide!

My generation is regularly accused of being cynical. I've certainly heard it from my mother often enough. It's hard to know how to respond. I think my generation cares deeply, but we're pragmatists. We like results but we understand the law of unintended consequences. Sure, a person can get caught up in the passion of some issue, but then what? The world unites for LiveAid and then what? Every year you can hear Do They Know It's Christmas waft from the mall speakers, and kids are still starving in Africa. Communism comes crashing down in Eastern Europe and then in the rubble we uncover centuries of genocidal hatred.

I get to the park and find that I am both completely right and totally wrong about my concerns. The crowd is amazing, much larger than I expected. It is every age, every color. We have military there and clergy there. We look like a 70s Coke ad. I'm especially moved by the number of retired military there, looking proud and angry and defiant. I am overwhelmed by a sense of patriotism. This is my country, my beautiful patchwork quilt of a country.

But the organization of the rally, perhaps unsurprisingly, lives up to my worst fear. First, let us bring on the local grizzled folk singer dude to lead us all in Country Joe and the Fish songs. I watch the younger members of the crowd getting restless. They have not come here for a nostalgia trip, a nostalgia that's not theirs, and makes about as much sense to them as a rousing chorus of The White Cliffs of Dover would mean to a protest crowd in 1967, but apparently that's the ride for today.

We have a few nice moments of rallying spirit, when members of Associated Ministries including a priest, a rabbi and an iman do not walk into a bar but instead speak to the insanity of division. Some retired military speak eloquently about the responsibility we have to keep our citizen soldiers from dying for no good goddamn reason. But now we get a lecture on NAFTA and now we get a lecture on clear cutting and by the time the man gets up to speak about how the military industrial complex is launching Air Force satellites to read our mail, I am done. What the hell are we fighting for, indeed.

The President responds to the world's largest protest rally with a resounding "meh". There's a joviality to his response which suggests "Hey, look, we're not in China, so I can't shoot you, so go 'head and protest your little hearts out. Meanwhile, I'll be over here making me some war." Later I learn that the Seattle march was officially billed as the "Stop the War on Iraq, Stop the War on Immigrants" march. I wonder what, if anything, it would take to get our protesting classes to actually join their voices on a single issue, to understand how easy it is to ignore the din of a thousand voices each chanting something else.

2004 John Kerry Rally - I'm standing in the parking lot of the Tacoma Dome waiting to hear the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2004 election. Early on in the campaign I found myself excited by Howard Dean, but he seems to have Tarzan yelled his way out of contention. Now I'm standing here on the hot asphalt looking for...something.

The battle for President of the United States is a popularity contest from the Twilight Zone, like the Miss America pageant on crack. In the Miss America pageant, women are judged on their suitability to win an academic scholarship based on how they look walking across a stage while wearing a bikini and high heels. The President of the United States, a person who can and will impact the lives of almost every person on Earth, is elected based on whether or not they would hypothetically remember the names of your hypothetical children if they were hypothetically your neighbor while your hypothetical home burned down.

As I stand there on the hot pavement, I wonder what it is like to be truly inspired by someone. I wonder if I'm even capable of it. I hear people speak about Kennedy. I've seen film of Roosevelt and Churchill. I can appreciate objectively that these are people that could inspire a person, a nation, to reach beyond themselves to greatness. But it is not something that I personally have experienced. People call my generation cynical but Jeeeeesus what do you want from us? The first President I ever knew was Nixon. Nixon for crying out loud. You're lucky we didn't all become anarchists.

Political slogans for my generation would probably sound like X-Files tag lines. "We want to believe!" "The truth is out there!" "Stop blowing smoke up our asses and just tell us what you want from us!" In the first presidential election for which I was eligible to vote, I walked several miles along the grass median of a North Carolina highway to get to my polling place so I could cast a vote heard absolutely nowhere for Michael Dukakis. Call that naiveté, call it silly, call it whatever you like, but you can't call it cynicism.

My Michael Dukakis memories actually bring me comfort in times like these, during the 2002 battle for Florida and now in 2004 as I watch the Democrats race towards the least inspirational candidate in a sodden field, I remember that once upon a time the Democrats searched the land for the person who would best deliver the death blow to the Regan legacy and Michael Dukakis is what they delivered. In my lifetime this, apparently, is what Democrats do.

It's true I did experience a brief surge of something which might have been inspiration when the Clintons took the White House. They were something new. They were bold and brassy and didn't take no guff from those 'publicans. They had Ideas which they seemed quite confident about. And of course there was that heady rush that comes from being on the winning team. And then the rest happened. And inspiration melted away to become a slog, and we started to feel like Democrats again, the angry impotent apologetic Democrats with whom I've become so familiar.

John Kerry takes the stage to the pumping sounds of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. The crowd says Yay! Yay to Bruce Springsteen! Yay to seizing this song back from the Republicans! Yay to this guy who totally went to 'Nam yo! Say What? Firreal s'what what! John Kerry talks and I find myself pleasantly surprised. He's not totally dull. He says many things I agree with. The war is bad and he never would have voted for it if he'd known at the time what a total liar our President was. Can I get an amen in the hizzouse! People should totally have access to health care! And schools! Jobs are good! Republicans who are bad are bad! We should all totally get along! Yay!

I leave in a moderate state of excitement. I am not completely bummed by the thought of voting for this guy. When John Kerry loses the election, I take comfort in repeating statistics like the one that says more people voted FOR John Kerry in this election than ever voted for Ronald Regan, what what? Cuz that totally proves something. I recall something a friend once told me. There's absolutely nothing on earth worse than being a Democrat, except the alternative.

2008 Barack Obama Rally - It's been a challenging campaign season so far. Challenging but interesting. It seems like we have an actual horse race for the Democratic nominee, and the candidates are strong enough that the Republicans are being scared into uniting early behind a candidate that many Republicans seem to hate for strange and mysterious reasons. Apparently he doesn't hate taxes or love torture ENOUGH. But the Democratic race, it's been hard. People who are theoretically on the same side are really angry with each other. We're fighting over things like race and sex and class, you know, the really easy stuff.

Some of my colleagues are enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters. They've been looking forward to this election ever since Hillary became a Senator. I've tried a few times to, really inarticulately, explain some of the issues that I have with Clinton, but I always end up feeling like a heel. I just don't get it. I'm choosing to be a tool of the patriarchy. I'm refusing to subvert the dominant paradigm. (This is what I tell myself, not what my colleagues tell me. They're not flakes.) But the fact of the matter is I was ambivalent about Hillary Clinton long before Barack Obama came along.

I've been a feminist ever since I learned what being a feminist meant, somewhere back in the dark ages of my childhood. I understand what the women's movement accomplished, and I've always been so irritated by women my age and younger who think that, because things are shiny now, the feminist movement was somehow pointless; the whole "feminists are stupid because I like to wear bras" school of non-thought. On the other hand, sometimes when I hear the wymynysts complaining about how this or that is sexist, I wonder if they've been out of the house recently. They seem unwilling to accept that they successfully changed society for the better.

I'd never argue that sexism is gone in our society. Idiots are idiots. But in my whole life I have never been deprived of an educational or career opportunity because of my gender. Except for the occasional encounter with a cro-magnon auto mechanic, I never feel at a disadvantage because of my gender. Several of my closest friends are male and I never get the impression that their lives are somehow easier or more blessed than mine. When it comes to the simple daily struggles of living, I feel a heck of a lot more kinship with my brother than I do with Andrea Dworkin.

So when I hear Clinton suggest that she's concerned that caucuses put women at unfair advantage I think WTF? You think that I am not equipped to walk into a room of strangers and voice my opinion because of my sex? F--- you! And when I read Gloria Steinam keen that gender, and not race, is what defines the American experience, I wonder how many incarcerated African American men she polled before making that assertion. And when someone tells me that BECAUSE I'm a woman I have to vote for Hillary or I'm betraying all woman-kind, or when someone tells me that I need to vote for Clinton because SHE is a woman and "it's about time" we had a woman in the White House, like somehow that's the problem, I get really irritated. Unless you were a big Elizabeth Dole supporter in 2000, then you need to just stop bullshitting yourself.

So that's me in the run up to this election race, conflicted about Hillary Clinton and becoming more and more irritated with everyone talking about her like she's already won the Democratic nomination. This nation is so wounded, so desperate for our long national Bush nightmare to be over, and I'm beginning to think that perhaps that will be sufficient reward. It's too much to ask for a nominee who is exciting and inspirational and has a vision for our country beyond trying to implement everything Team Clinton didn't get done 8 years ago. My whole life an exciting and inspirational candidate has been too much to ask, why should now be any different.

I view the rise of Obama with a cautious eye. When I hear him speak I start to feel something strange within, a feeling I don't really trust. I focus my attention on Edwards for a while. He doesn't do much for me, but I saw his wife on Oprah and I really liked her. I'd totally vote for her to be President. But then her cancer relapses and Edwards begins to falter, suddenly finding himself running in the worst possible year in US history to be a white man.

So I listen to Obama more, and I like what I hear. I like his politics. I like his ideas. And I like that he talks about what "we" can do, what "our country" needs from us. For going on sixteen years it feels like our country has just been fracturing apart and here is someone who wants to fix that. That feeling inside is growing, and I recognize it now. It's inspiration. God help me, it's hope.

My friend Storm sends me the email announcing that Barack Obama is coming to Seattle the very next day, which happens to be Friday, a work day. At first I'm disappointed, but then I get this crazy notion that I should go anyway. Take the day off work and go! I ask my boss, prepared for her to nix the idea, but she signs off, then tells me a story about a friend who once got to shake JFK's hand. On my way home I stop by my friend Holly's office to tell her I'm going to do this. She gets quiet for a minute, then asks me if I would mind if she tagged along. Of course not. The more the merrier!

When I get to the neighborhood of Key Arena, the hunt for parking begins. I can see crowds in front of the arena, but they actually don't look too unmanageable yet. Looking for a parking garage I turn down the main thoroughfare of Mercer, and the scales fall from my eyes. The crowd in front of the arena is apparently just those with special passes. Here is the real line. It stretches from Key Arena to Mercer, then all the way down Mercer cutting in at a little side street. It is down this side street that Holly and I end up at the end of the line, and yet people keep coming, and coming. The line stretches around the high school football stadium and out of sight. And the people keep coming.

Inside the stadium there's a mad rush to seats. Eventually the arena reaches capacity and beyond, over 18000, with 3000 more outside who couldn't get in. The crowd is young and happy. A dance war breaks out between two girls in adjoining sections. One section fills up with members of a nursing union, all dressed in purple. My union has endorsed Clinton. They sent out the newsletter with the headline on front "It's Time For Change. It's Time For Clinton." When I saw it I thought well, you can have one, or you can have the other, but you're going to have to choose. I don't want to vote against my union, but like our nation's pollsters, they didn't ask me before pronouncing their winner.

While we wait videos are shown on the big screen, including one of Michelle Obama talking about how having two young girls forces you to keep it real. They want a puppy. They don't really care how Daddy's speech went. For an expertly filmed Kodak moment, it's sweet. There's something nice about the thought of the White House having children in it. I want them to have a puppy.

Eventually, after too long a wait filled with people who shouldn't have been given a microphone, Barack Obama is there, on stage. He talks to us. A lot of it is the usual political fluffernutter, thanking this person and that person. Some of it is recycled from other speeches. But he also seems genuinely amazed that, for example, there are almost 20000 people there. He waves up to the people on the top deck and laughs with delight to see them packed. He talks about his agenda, an unashamedly liberal agenda involving health care for all and good schools for all. He speaks realistically of the challenges ahead. By the time he gets to the part about a national service plan to help kids go to college, I'm on my feet. (National service excites me. What can I say?) I want to have children just so that I can send them off to public works camp. I want to help this man win the Presidency. I'll carry him to the White House myself if I have to.

In the midst of this beautiful pandemonium I turn to Holly and say "I don't think I ever dreamed I would see this in my lifetime, a truly inspirational politician." She tells me she thinks I may have been unreasonably pessimistic. In that moment I realize perhaps the only good thing about the Bush administration. Its sheer awfulness has so surpassed anything I ever imagined, it has annihilated my cynicism. It does matter who you vote for. It does make a difference when you repeatedly settle for politicians who are less than extraordinary.

Inspiration isn't about a politician convincing you that they can change the world, it's about them reminding you that you should change the world. As part of the generation growing up in the shadow of The Boomers, it's been made pretty clear all our lives that all of the great protests and music and drugs and movements and politicians came before us. We never wanted to be the generation that looked at the world's problems and shrugged, but the bar kept being set so low. All the horror that has happened in the last 8 years and all our President has asked from us is that we go shopping.

I'm ready for a leader who will set the bar high. I'm ready to stare my cynicism down. I've actually been ready my whole life. I'm going to believe that the time has finally come.