September 20, 2011 - September 13, 2011
. The mid-term elections? No.
Scary pictures of Hillary Clinton? No. The president interacting, for
once, with real pissed-off citizens in a townhall event? No. It's all
the silly season. No one knows what's going to happen in November. The
people will decide. And chances are, regardless of what pundits say,
they'll send a pretty strong message to Washington, DC, about how fed
up they are with everyone and everything associated with the federal
Which leaves us with the important stuff. Meaning teevee.
Time for some updates and a new recommendation.
We just got the DVDs for last season's Dexter. Have to admit it's looking great so far. Dexter stalking and taking down the female cop who slaughtered her family was both creepy and weirdly family affirming. We'll keep you advised.
Rubicon. It keeps getting better and better. I have no problem telling you it's the best written television series I've ever seen. And probably the best acted too. Who's Arliss Howard? Where has he been all this time? And that's just a stand-in for all the players, major and minor, who make every scene worth watching. My only serious question about this series is how they can ever have a second season. It's so intense that it's clearly the dramatic apogee of the lives of everyone involved. Once they reach a denouement of any sort, the story will be done. The Brits know that's okay. I don't think Americans do.
And now for the newbie. It runs on Syfy and is called Destination Truth. The single most baffling TV show I've ever seen.
What the hell is it? I have no idea. But I love it.
Nominally, it's a spinoff from Ghost Hunters, but it's oh so much more than that. The protagonist isn't a heavily tattooed roto-rooter man with a bunch of heavily tattoed roto-rooter people following him into haunted attics and going "Oh shit!" right before every commercial.
Well, yes, there's some of that. But the protagonist isn't exactly a roto-rooter man. He's this guy:
Which is where all the baffling stuff comes in. Josh Gates is smart,
witty, adventurous to the point of insanity, and clearly enjoying all
the loony quests he undertakes for the show.
The premise of Destination Truth is both Quixotic and absurd. We always begin in the hardwood-floored offices of "the team," where word has just been received of some paranormal event in Sri Lanka (ghosts possessing dolls in a temple) or a cryptozoological sighting in the Horn of Africa (a brontosaurus that's eating the hedges in some tribe's backyard). He fills you in on the objective in a rat-a-tat voiceover narration, and then we watch his beleaguered crew stuff their duffle bags with techie equipment and stride for the exit.
We get Indiana Jones-style maps of their air travel -- "quickly boarded a jet for the 11,000 mile trek to Shangri La" -- and then we get contemporary scenes of baggage handling and racing for the next transportation device, usually an SUV that craps out two miles from the airport. (Isn't a running joke a hint of some sort") But there's a lot more to the transportation angle than beater SUVs. No episode is complete without some combination of creaky planes, helicopters, boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles, rafts, and (who knows?) airboats, tanks and rocket cars.
Is this, in fact, an Indiana Jones parody? No. At least no more than it's a hilarious travelogue parody. Because there's always a razor-sharp series of encounters with the locals in which Josh is alternately self-deprecating and condescending (though not in a mean way -- he's winking at us the whole time) even as the breakneck speed of the current expedition, and his wry voiceover, is maintained. You see, the whole modus operandi is to fly 10,000 miles into the Third World and slog through jungles, deserts, swamps and other impossible terrain to spend just one night investigating weird phenomena. And then, immediately, fly 10,000 miles back to Los Angeles for a two minute summary of the findings.
So it's fake paranormal research. A kind of sendup of all the silly shows in this genre? But no. Because in the night he and his crew spend investigating, Josh Gates takes insane chances of every sort, ranging from rock climbing unknown cliffs with nightscopes to SCUBA-diving in freezing cold black waters to spelunking in unknown caves to prowling the African savannah without even a rifle for protection. He's a maniac, and his "team" always seems terrified and put upon.
So the show is really "Let's take nutty chances at midnight for the hell of it." Except that doesn't cover it either. Because Josh and the rest of his crew are all techie nerds to the nth degree. They come armed with sonar and ground penetrating radar and underwater ROVs and infrared cameras and nightscopes and digital sound recorders and FLIR cameras that photograph the person wearing them (creepy) and EMF recorders and who knows what other crap, which they dutifully lug into the most hostile environments without more than a few hours of planning.
So the show is ultimately, perhaps, "Blundering Around the World with Josh Gates."
If it's all a fake, why would Josh and his crew take such extreme physical risks? And why would anyone participate? It seems as if every trip they take involves incredibly long distances and fairly extreme privation. On the other hand, what kind of meaningful research can you be pretending to do if you never spend more than one night collecting evidence?
As I said. The most baffling show on television. But Josh is funny. And bold as brass. I think that's the saving grace that makes it a keeper. The world really is Josh Gates's plaything. He's having a blast even if his crew isn't. When's the last time you thought of the entire planet as a candy store the right kind of kid can play in?
Finally. The right name for this show: "Josh's Candy Store."
Watch it. It's all of the above and more. Parody, tech nerdiness, show biz, goofy travelogue, smartass self-indulgence, adolescent thrill-seeking, and maybe a leavening dose of curiosity.
. For those who are thinking, "Not another sports post," this one is
actually about the Tea Parties, not Philadelphia.
But it starts with Philadelphia. There have been two great stories boiling in the City of Brotherly Love this week. The Phillies, obviously, clinching their fourth straight division title in the National League, while the world of snotty sportswriters headquartered in New York is finally --after all this time -- acknowledging that they're definitely, absolutely for real as a great baseball team.
The other story has to do with Michael Vick. I'll get back to that.
But first, here's the Tea Party angle. The MSM "narrative" about Philadelphia sports fans has remained unchanged for decades. Many of you who don't live here probably believe it because you have no reason not to. It's all you've ever heard. Philadelphia fans are crude, violent, drunk ingrates who turn instantly on their teams when the results are not acceptable in terms of the instant gratification mindset that afflicts this benighted city. They threw iceballs at Santa Claus, ran Donovan McNabb, one of the elite NFL quarterbacks of the past decade, out of town, and have always behaved with a kind of thuggish sullenness that makes them the embarrassment of sports fans the world over. Does that about cover your own view of the topic? Thought so.
I call it the "angry white man" narrative. It's been applied to Philadelphians for decades and it's been applied to Tea Parties since they first emerged on the scene. Problem is, it's no truer of Philadelphians than it is of tea parties. And vice versa. It's just an easy way for the MSM to characterize people they don't like.
And it's parochial as hell. Which is why the Philadelphia instance is so pertinent. Because the Philadelphia instance is all about New York. And guess who the chief rivals of New York teams in the National League and the National Conference of the NFL are? The Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Phillies have made it a practice in recent years to humiliate the New York Mets, and the Eagles have hectored the New York Football Giants for decades at least. (If you've missed the story of how Eagles linbebacker Chuck Bednarik nearly killed Giants halfback Frank Gifford, you're the only one.) The difference between their fans is a coin flip. They're both northeastern cities. The fans boo quickly, loudly, and vociferously because they care so very very much. The fans are blue collar -- they're not the yuppies of the Redskins, Patriots, and Forty-Niners, the oil barons of the Dallas Cowboys, or the hippies of the Denver Broncos fan base. They're, well, the same kind of folks that are attending tea parties.
And exactly the same demographics apply. The center of MSM sports journalism is -- TA DA -- New York. Objective are they? No. No more than they are with national political issues. They're, uh, New Yorkers first and foremost. Better, smarter, just plain superior. Even if our two NFL teams both play their games in New Jersey. Probably why they're not as cool as we are.
Which explains the Tea Party coverage. Completely. Same parochial mindset. We're New Yorkers. Everybody else is full of shit.
What's the twist here? Maybe the rest of you can learn something about America from Philadelphia sports fans. Don't sigh. Listen. Learn. Most of what you think you know just ain't so.
Philadelphia fans are loyal. The Eagles are always sold out. Not so rare in the NFL. But so are the Phillies. Sold out, I mean. For over a hundred straight home games. Only the New York Yankees have sold more tickets this year, but New York is three times the size of Philadelphia. And nobody can explain the huge Phillies contingent that shows up at every road game the Phillies play. It's inexplicable and awe-inspiring. But there they always are.
Philadelphia fans are knowledgeable. One of the key dramatic moments in the 2008 playoffs involved an at-bat by a pitcher. He fouled off pitch after pitch and finally broke the spirit of C.C. Sabathia. The fans were on it the whole time and, arguably, made the eventual game-changing walk happen. Philly fans know their baseball.
Philadelphia fans are complicated. Cartoons aren't complicated. Philly fans are worse than complicated. They're committed, conflicted, and agonized. (Tea Party anyone?) I've been listening to SportsTalk in Philly for the past week, and for a city that wants a Super Bowl win so desperately, the callers -- and the hosts -- are a divided bunch. They had good reason for wanting to be done with McNabb. In nine years, McNabb never did what Vick did last week. Score a touchdown with four seconds remaining in the fist half. (The tea partiers have always been accused of being racist because they don't like Obama.) Eagles fans weren't racist for disliking NcNabb. He never really liked them, and they wanted so much to like him that a typical Eagles crowd was a sea of Number Five jerseys. I guarantee there will be cheers aplenty as well as boos when McNabb take the field for the Redskins next Sunday in Philadelphia. But he never had the Unitas, Manning, Elway touch. He couldn't bring you back at the last second to a victory. Never could. Never did. The fans remember that too. Even the ones who cheer.
Vick can bring you back. And all over the radio, the fans don't know how to feel about that. Apparently, there's something more than winning they care about. Not all of them obviously. Some are gung-ho. But by no means all. They call in, a whole spectrum of moral vicissitudes. Upset by the betrayal of Kevin Kolb. Able to root for the Eagles with Vick but not for Vick. Lifelong fans but unable to watch an Eagles game at all. Able to root for Vick and the Eagles but finding a hole in their hearts, a twinge of conscience as they do so.
And hardly any haters. Again I'm reminded of the tea partiers. They're not simple-minded, most of them. They don't like the situation. They don't want Vick to go back to prison. They want him to find his own personal redemption. But they'd also rather have an Eagles team that didn't make them feel dirty to watch.
Something about congress maybe. Not to mention the White House.
Maybe ESPN should lighten up on Philadelphia. And maybe the MSM should lighten up on the tea partiers.
Just a thought.
The Ali I don't care for is the Ali myth. The one who appears on, say, ESPN Classic when a parade of lefty sportswriters (redundant?) play the usual game of status-seeking and prove their totally-not-racist credentials by talking up how much they loved Ali and everything he "represented" - which usually ends up being their side of the 60s culture war. The ones who love to wax poetic about Ali only, or primarily, because doing so lets them get in another dig against racist conservatives. I don't care for them or their Ali.
So what I appreciate about this post was the opportunity it provided to see what a less *political* appreciation of Ali might look like. Or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a more honestly political appreciation?
You offer Ali as an American original, a look at "who we've always been." I like that. I especially like it because you don't claim that what we've always been is without its warts. Ali shows us something shining about ourselves, but he also shows us something about the parts that don't shine.
Love of violence. Americans love to fight, Patton said. I don't think he was wrong. We do like to fight, we like violence. There's a touch of the barbarian in the American soul. Maybe that will help us avoid the ultra-civilized hell of the Europeans.
Defiance of authority. Ali dodged the draft in the name of individual conscience. The same spirit which animated that move animates the Tea Party's stand against reckless government acquisition of property. I know the parallels aren't perfect, but we have to take the good with the bad. Do you like American individualism taking a stand against an oppressive state? Well, you're also going to get draft dodgers and those who refuse to "serve" with that.
Showboating. Americans are ebullient, uncouth, proud. Sportsmanship was taught for generations, I think, to counteract some of our native tendencies toward showboating. That such things are no longer taught or enforced is due to systemic lack of will. Ali isn't responsible for them and he doesn't "represent" the modern decay. He represents tendencies which have always been there.
For both good and ill I think I buy that Ali is an example of who we've always been. I'm not ashamed to like him.What's wrong with this guy? Can't we like get him arrested for parking tickets or something? You know he made a bunch of money during the Bush years. He must have stolen it from somebody.