Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A Review of the New
Make up your own caption. I can think of a dozen relevant ones.
Truth is, I was looking for 'watercooler' animations. You know.
What brings us together to chat about stuff at work. But I know
serendicity when I see it. You'll see it too in time. Trust me.
IT'S THE MEDIA, STUPID. Breibart's gone and that's a huge blow. His last bequest is a twofer: 1) a belated effort to vet Barack Obama, and 2) a radical remake of his cluster of websites, including Breitbart, Breitbart TV, Big Hollywood, Big Journalism, Big Government, and Big Peace. I've held off commenting on either because I sense the forlorn among his colleagues wanted to strike hard and early against his passing. Which I understand. But it's time to share my thoughts on Big Hollywood.
I should explain, I suppose, that I was a faithful visitor to the original Big Hollywood site, which I simultaneously loved and despised. To my mind it was infinitely more important than the other Breitbart sites, which might seem counterintuitive. My reasoning has a lot to do with all those polls and man-in-the-street interviews which continually demonstrate that the electorate doesn't care about the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News and if pressed have a hard time identifying the name of the Vice President of the United States or their own senators and congressmen.
In this context, the three other more important-sounding BIG sites were just variations on a righty blogosphere that tends to preach to the choir while the more effective propaganda issues from somewhere else. World Net Daily hasn't exactly taken the world by storm, has it? Its talent for hysteria and hyperbole have even caused it to overlap uncomfortably with the new media efforts of Alex Jones. Who should be locked up. (Kidding. Sedated is more like it.)
But Big Hollywood was a heroic attempt to unmask the multifarious ways in which the movies and television are working a political agenda every bit as concentrated in its messaging as the dead-tree media and its network and cable news vassals.
It was part of Breitbart's genius that he even conceived of it -- and conceived of it the way he did. He wanted it to be (gasp) entertaining, a source of show biz news, reviews, and gossip people might actually want to look at every day, while insistently bringing home the horrifying fact that entertainment has become an incredibly powerful tool in converting us subliminally to ideas we'd reject if we knew how coldly and calculatedly they were being packaged for our consumption.
The real attack on Christianity, for example, isn't from Washington politicians and the courts, at least not in terms of gaining mindshare. It's from popular TV shows like Glee, Law & Order (all of them), Harry's Law, and the brand new entry GCB (Good Christian Bitches.) Not to mention a whole generation of movies -- from romcom to horror splatterflick -- that equate Christian religiosity with racism, sexual oppression, and an infinite variety of psycho killers. Sorry. Have to add this too. Sitcoms. How many don't celebrate promiscuity, homosexuality, single-parent families, general debauchery, constant sexual innuendo, and a screw-you attitude to anyone who might object? But they're just comedians, right? Sure they are. But if the sum adds up to a pattern that seems suspiciously like a generalized insult to half the national population, are we allowed to notice? I think so. What Big Hollywood, I think, had in mind from the outset.
Too much to do? Of course. The Breitbart signature. He thought big. And that was also his weakness. Big Hollywood used some of the same tools that made the Huffington Post succeed, but used on our side they were far more concerning and even debilitating. He was careless about execution in both instances. Conscripting amateurs as bloggers or columnists extended the range and experiential base of the subject matter. We read the views and autobiographical accounts of actors, producers, fans, and decidedly amateur critics of both media and policy. And there was a deliberate attempt at diversity. There was no single party line everyone had to adhere to. Big Hollywood could give you two reviews of the same movie on the same day, one laudatory and one incensed by smuggled-in political content. The reader got to browse without feeling that he was locked in an airless brainwashing cell.
But the copy-editing sucked. Big time. And that's a sin I insist no right-leaning website can afford. It makes the best ideas dismissible by the citation of one badly written excerpt. It also results all too often in reviews and commentary that are nearly unreadable. A lede paragraph that has no idea where it wants to go is a turn-off that rarely propels the reader past the obligatory graphic or YouTube incentive that follows.
All in all, the typical Big Hollywood contributors were too young and unschooled, too old and out of touch, or too much Hollywood insiders to provide necessary context for their opinions. Hardly any of them were skilled as writers. (Important exceptions: Andrew Klavan and Kurt Loder.) I had the sense of a lot of slop being thrown at the wall, in hopes that some of it would stick. Even screenwriters aren't necessarily gifted at writing clear and compelling prose. They're used to waiting for someone else to clean up the final. Which no one was doing.
The real -- the huge -- story of an entertainment industry that was defying its own economic well being to play politics with the American public was present but distressingly buried in words that just didn't quite work. Why I loved it and despised it.
Now comes version 2.0, and my first impressions were all bad, to be honest.
Suddenly, the whole thing is much much BIGGER. Visually, I mean. Looking like the internet incarnation of a London tabloid gossip rag isn't necessarily progress. Worse, you can't go straight to Big Hollywood. The old address takes you to the more expressly political locus of "Breitbart." You can click on Big Hollywood from there, but everything is just as BIG and some of the videos won't run at all because they're so screen-fillingly ginormous. Never mind the fact that videos are not a substitute for writing but an adjunct or illustration.
But I waited before saying all this. I understood that the "vet Obama" mission was necessarily going to change the balance, perhaps more in the early going than later. I was suspicious of the circumstance that all the BIG headlines seemed to be leading to very short pieces of the sort that characterize the Huffington Post. Not much to say, but look at that giant font in the headline.
Today, though, I saw two promising signs. The first by a young writer named Ben Shapiro, who seems to be playing an expanded role in 2.0. He is the first I have seen to do a well researched but eminently readable summation of "Critical Race Theory." If this is how Breitbart intends to flesh out its "vetting Obama" mission, I'm on board. Read the whole thing. (otoh, since I first discovered this piece it's no longer on Big Hollywood. Moved to Big Journalism. Confusing.)
Second, Big Hollywood editor John Nolte has finally resurrected the most compelling daily feature of Big Hollywood, the one that most cleverly combines politics with highly entertaining general interest content. Read all of this too.
Still. The original Big Hollywood barely scratched the surface of the depth of political infiltration in our entertainment media. If the new version is going to subordinate entertainment to pure politics in perpetuity, this experiment and the site will ultimately fail. The new headlines seem provocative and argumentative rather than seductive. It looks like a lot more is being left on the table than before.
There is a huge opportunity to apply more than personal experience and opinion rhetoric to the media landscape. The mission should be investigative journalism interleaved with review, opinion, and anecdote. How does PBS set about exploiting popular tastes in its fundraising programming and then turn relentlessly toward leftist programming when it's time to spend all the money garnered from those $100 Andrea Bocelli and Celtic Women CDs?
What's really behind the nexus of Discovery/History/Learning/A&E/Green channel programming that not only fills our screens with endless varieties of apocalypse but repeatedly reruns 10-year-old shows whose science has since been debunked or thrown massively in doubt?
What of the new trend of ID (the Murder Channel), now being copied by Oxygen and OWN, of focusing so intently on sick families split, it seems, almost evenly between sybaritic marriages riven by debt, drugs, and infidelity, and sociopathic Christian preachers whose congregations had no idea they were succumbing to debt, drugs, and infidelity? Is this really a 50-50 proposition? Or is one group being singled out for special delighted disdain. I don't know. But I'm curious.
Is there anyone who can explain the proliferating number of awards shows in which half-educated stars feel quite at home insulting half their audience with superfluous political comments? To whom in the business of show business does this make economic sense and why? What do the producers have to say?
What of the reality shows whose (theoretical, I admit) agendas are so subtle it almost takes a paranoid imagination to discern that there's something seditious about their whole intent that's invisible even to the participants? "Platinum Weddings" so excessive that anyone watching might begin to buy into the thought of income redistribution. Or "Say Yes to the Dress," where touching, lovely, and deserving brides have a $1200 budget and pure bitches married to professional athletes or sired by daughter-whipped fatcat fathers turn down dress after dress in the $15,000 range. Or worst of all, southern anomalies like "Toddlers & Tiaras" in which it's impossible to escape the impression that mothers from Arkansas and Tennessee are out of their minds and setting up their daughters for Jon-Benet style sexual violence. Are such things conceived of truly as entertainment, or are we being belittled and laughed at for watching -- and receiving a lesson tailored expressly for our tiny intellects? Don't know, but doesn't it bear looking into?
Note that I haven't mentioned all the reality show entries in the "invitation to feel superior to the dentally challenged of the deep deep south" represented by shows like "Swamp People," "Swamp Loggers," "Call of the Wildman," and most hilariously, "My Big Fat Redneck Wedding." Well, okay. I did mention them. (People I personally would rather break bread with than Chris Matthews or Lawrence O'Donnell.)
What I haven't mentioned is BBC America. Which is pretty much an ongoing and unutterably depressing lesson in how our cultural and intellectual superiors in the Old Country no longer believe in anything at all.
Big Hollywood will keep covering movies like Avatar, Iron Lady, and Game Change. Fine. And the nakedly hypocritical condescensions of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Soledad O'Brien, and Bill Maher. All well and good. But the poison goes a lot deeper than that. It's everywhere. All the time. If you think I'm wrong, try to count the number of times in the last week you've been watching supposedly general audience fare and seen the F-Word simply silenced so the kids won't hear it. Like they haven't learned how to read lips from their parents... We're being trashed culturally as a nation. No way our children won't be foul-mouthed sophisticates if we allow them to look at any television at all. Is that what you grew up with? And is it really okay that the mavens of contemporary child-rearing don't seem to mind?
But maybe we shouldn't go there? It's not polite, is it, to mention the fact of grossly accelerating cultural coarseness in public? Especially given that so many of us fair-minded conservatives have been rigorously trained to give the benefit of the doubt to people who look down on us as much as they hate us. They're only trying to be amusing. In spite of all our reactionary qualms. Of course. They're simply the most creative among us. Or, more charitably, they know not what they do. Being comedians and all. I get it. I really do.
But please remind me again why Louis CK should get a pass...