Come on, Phillies fans, fess up. Was tonight really satisfying? Wouldn't it have been more fun if they'd won it after a full game, even if it was played in Tampa? You could still have gone out and turned over cars and burned things back home.
A two and a half inning final game. Sheesh. Most anti-climactic ending to a World Series ever.
Sunday's game should have been called before it started. There was no way they were going to get nine in and Bud Selig always intended for them to play the full nine, even if he didn't bother to mention it to anybody.
Saturday's game should have been called too.
Oh well. I tried to root for the Rays but I couldn't put my heart into it. I tried to root against the Phils, but I couldn't put my heart into that either. They're a good team and I like the players. It's not their fault the Mets management can't get it through their heads that relief pitching matters. So, now that it's all over, I'm glad for the sake of some of their fans that the Phillies won it. Happy World Championship Night to Susie, Mannionville regular PA Reader, Tattered Coat Matt,Will Bunch, the blonde, and the teenager. And most of all Happy World Championship Night to Old Father Blonde who is recuperating from surgery. He's been a Phillies fan since Del Ennis was a pup. And I'm glad to note that Old Mother Blonde made sure to bring his Whiz Kids era vintage Phillies cap to the hospital.
February 25, 1964. Sonny Liston defends his heavyweight championship against Cassius Clay. Tough fight. For Clay. But come the seventh round, the bell rings, and Liston won't leave his corner. He hurts. His shoulder's killing him. He's done, he says. Clay wins on the TKO.
May 25, '65. Clay, now Muhammad Ali, defends his crown against Sonny Liston. Doesn't even take one round. Liston hits the canvass midway through the first. Looks funny, because a lot of people didn't see Ali hit him. But Liston goes down and stays down for a long time, as if he's begging the ref to count him out, which the ref never actually did. Long story. Short story, Liston loses.
Both fights? Rigged, says Nick Tosches. Liston threw both fights. I just finished Tosches' The Devil and Sonny Liston. Tosches says Ali couldn't punch. Says Ali barely laid a glove on Sonny Liston, either time, not really, not in a way he'd have felt, that would have hurt him. Ali waved air at him, for all it mattered.
Liston, now, he could punch. He could shatter you like a clay pot, he lands one on you. And he could take it too. Break your hands on him, punching away all night long, maybe result is, in the morning he's a little sore. Meanwhile, you've been swept up and carried out of the ring in a dustpan.
No way a whiffer like Ali beats Sonny Liston. Fights were fixed. Had to be. Liston threw both fights, literally took a dive second time out.
Tosches doesn't like Ali. A pretend fighter, to Tosches way of thinking. A loudmouth, a clown. Made the sport a clown show. Bragged a lot about stuff he didn't do, couldn't do---like beat Sonny Liston.
Sonny Liston ran with bad people. Kind of people who fixed fights and made other people who got in the way of their fixing fights real sorry they did. Liston didn't care. Tosches quotes friends of Sonny's who say he had no sense of right and wrong. No pride either. Not the right sort of pride. He had an animal's pride, a feeling in the moment, not a thought out belief in himself as worthy of respect. Challenge him when he's in the right mood---which would be the wrong mood from your point of view---and you paid for his injured pride. Challenge him when he's in another mood, he doesn't even hear it. Nothing meant anything to him in the long run. He didn't even seem to know there was a long run. He only knew now, and now was defined by what he wanted this minute, which wasn't much more than to eat or drink or sleep or get laid. Heavyweight Champion of the World? What's that? Right now, what's that worth? I'm hungry. I'm tired. I'm broke. I'm looking for some tail. Give me the dough, I'll go down, what the fuck?
Maybe he figured he could take back his title anytime he wanted. Man destroyed Floyd Patterson.Destroyed him. Twice. He'd take Ali out the same way, when he got around to it. When he needed to. When he was told he needed to. Meantime, what was it to him, Ali strutting around, making out with cameras and microphones, defending "his" title against bums? What'd Sonny care? Sooner or later, he'd take it back. When he got around to it.
Never did. Wasn't that he never got around to it. He got fights. Got some chances. Got himself in trouble, though. Again. Got his license suspended in a couple of states where he had to fight for a shot at challenging Ali. He got tired. He got fat. He got himself an addiction or two. Got himself dead.
And got himself forgotten since, mostly. Got pretty well lost in Ali's shadow.
That really how it was?
Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, he really have his title handed him as a gift from Sonny Liston? He was a fake? A phony champion? What's that say about George Foreman? About Joe Frazier? They knocked over by breezes too? Air pushed around by Ali's whiffing gloves cut their too tender skin? Ali just wear other fighters out running away from them all night?
Nick Tosches tells a good story. He telling a true one?
Nothing as disappointing for a movie lover than watching a movie you'd been looking forward to and realizing it's failing and that one of your favorite actors is a big part of the reason it's failing.
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, Leo McCarey's 1958 attempt to drag screwball comedy into the Atomic age, isn't very good and Paul Newman isn't very good in it.
Jeez. My fingers almost dropped off typing the last clause of that sentence.
As Harry Bannerman, good suburban husband, father, neighbor, and citizen, Newman isn't miscast. He wears his gray flannel suit with a casual flair, adores his wife, Grace---probably wasn't a challenge, since Mrs Bannerman is played by Joanne Woodward who'd recently become Mrs Newman---and dotes on his two kids in ways that would have done Robert Young and Fred MacMurray proud. You can hear Jim Anderson and Steve Douglas saying to each other, "Reminds me of that Petrie kid. A little raw, a little goofy, having a hard time letting go of the little boy inside him. But he's on his way to being one of us, give him time. Wait till his kids are old enough to teach him who's really boss." (Trivial pursuit: The Bannermans' eldest son is played by Stanley Livingston, who went on to play Chip on My Three Sons. Name Steve Douglas' other three sons. That's right. Other three. He had four.) Newman doesn't have any trouble being the character. He has trouble maintaining it, and I think it's because he doesn't have a good handle on it. He knows how Bannerman looks and acts. He doesn't know what makes him tick. He latches onto something different about Harry in just about every scene and since in just about every scene what's most interesting about Harry at the moment is a vice, or a weakness, or an act of foolishness, Newman makes Harry kind of a bum and a creep. He plays up Harry's lust, his selfishness, his thirst. A running joke in the movie is that Harry just can't get a drink when he needs one, and Newman's Harry really, really needs a drink. When Harry is meant to be charming, Newman finds the wheedling, the conniving, the manipulation and emotional bullying behind the charm. His Harry isn't a good man making mistakes that get him into deeper and deeper trouble. He's an immature jerk getting his come-upance.
Which would be fine if he actually got it. In the end Harry is rewarded, not for being an immature jerk, but for being the good guy the script's insisted he's been all along.
Basicially, then, Newman is working against the script for much of the movie, an approach you would think the director might have objected to. Instead, McCarey seems to have encouraged it.
Newman's other mistake, which I think actually causes this first one, is thinking that he needs to make Harry funny. I suspect that what he kept looking for in Harry was what would make the audience laugh at him, and here again the director should have come to his aid and pointed out that Harry isn't the funny one. He's the straight man. Joanne Woodward's the comic lead. Joan Collins is the comic femme fatale. Jack Carson's the comic antagonist. Newman's job as Harry should have been to let them push him around. Instead, he's always pushing back. He competes with them for laughs.
With Woodward he tries to out-cute and out-adorable her. When Carson blusters in his patented fashion, Newman infringes on the copyright and blusters right back. In his first two scenes with Collins, in which she is attempting to seduce Harry, Harry comes off as the predator. The only one of his co-stars he relaxes with his Gale Gordon. Yes, Lucy Carmichael's boss, Mr Mooney. Gordon plays a rather more easy-going and tolerant authority figure than he usually played, which is good, because Newman is easy-going and tolerant back, and the result is that their few scenes together are the only ones in which Newman lets his lines do his work for him and that allows us to see Harry as a human being and not a collection of actor's tricks.
Newman was only 33 at the time and he hadn't starred in a real comedy yet. Not only did he not realize that he didn't have to be the funny one, he didn't know how to be funny. Rally Round the Flag, Boys! must have been on the job training.
Rally Round the Flag, Boys! wouldn't have been a great movie even if Newman could have found his inner Rob Petrie. It doesn't have a handle on itself any more than Newman has a handle on Harry and it goes through three or four different possibilities for the kind of movie it wants to be before shrugging and giving up with an ending Abbott and Costello would have had rewritten. It starts out as if it's going to be a satire on small town suburban hypocrisy. Harry, Grace, and Joan Collins' character, Angela, are all feeling unhappy and hemmed in by their too cozy, too comfortable, too respectable lives. Then it turns into a bedroom farce, with Grace catching Harry in his underwear in a hotel room with Angela, who's wearing nothing but a sheet. For a while after that it just dithers along, making feints at getting back to the sexcapades, and finally settles on becoming one of those small town full of eccentrics goes mad for some made-up, silly reason comedies that Preston Sturges specialized brilliantly in, a decade earlier, movies like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero, and which enjoyed something of a new vogue a decade later with movies like The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and Don Knotts' entire oeuvre.
Too bad it never bothered to develop any eccentric characters and fill the town with them.
Your turn: I wonder how much of my disappointment in Newman's performance was due to my knowing something audiences in 1958 didn't know: How great he was going to go on to be. I couldn't help comparing him to the Newman of five and ten years down the line. They'd have been comparing him to...Tab Hunter? Robert Wagner? Would it if been for them the difference between Ryan Reynolds and Ashton Kutcher? Or would they have been thinking, I wonder what Jack Lemmon would made of this one?
Anywho. Like I said, your turn. Has one of your favorites ever disappointed you like this with a performance?
Programming note: Speaking of unhappy and sexually frustrated suburban housewives and men in gray flannel suits from the later Eisenhower years, tonight's the season finale of Mad Men. Last chance to join in the live-blogging over at newcritics. Fun starts at 10 PM Eastern, but you don't have to wait. Mrs Peel already has her intro up.
I'm multi-tasking right now. I'm watching the World Series and I'm watching Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Joan Collins. Watching Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys is making me want two things:
I want the twenty-five year old Joan Collins to give me a ride in her red convertible.
And I want a TV dinner.
There's a real danger I might get one of the two things I want.
Better state right now: This isn't a post about politics or about this election or even about Sarah Palin. It's about sex. Sex appeal, really.
Over in some quarters of the conservative opinionizing world Sarah Palin's not just a heroine, she's a pin-up. In fact, for many conservative opinionizers her heroism and her sex appeal are related, as if being good looking is a requisite virtue for a heroine. But then the conservative opinionizing world, especially the blogging part of it, is dominated by Gen X men whose psyches, politics, emotional and intellectual development, and libidos were frozen at whatever point during the Reagan Administration they turned fifteen. It's important to them, a matter not simply of pride but of their whole sense of self, that Republican women are the hottest women and Republican men the manliest men.
But just because their attitudes and reactions to a woman's attractiveness are about as mature as that of a group of high school sophomores who've gotten into a strip club using their big brothers' IDs doesn't mean the woman in question isn't attractive.
Curiousier and curiousier, but you know? I don't have any strong feelings about it, one way or the other, except that the story's distracting from the other more relevant story, that the Palins allegedly billed the state of Alaska for personal expenses and may have cheated on their taxes, although both stories might be of a piece, both showing that Sarah Palin has a habit of letting others pay for her lifestyle. Whatever she or her surrogates may have spent to dress her up and turn her out makes no nevermind to me, unless it was a violation of campaign finance laws. I'm only semi-sympathetic with Republican donors complaining that they didn't shell out to the party so that Sarah Palin could go competitive shopping with Cindy McCain and Willow can have a cooler wardrobe than Hannah Montana, because in fact they did---the gave money to help the GOP sell their product and selling politicians is mostly done on TV and selling on TV requires good visuals. Dressing and making up Sarah Palin, and John McCain for that matter, is as important as getting the lighting right. The amount spent, if that amount was spent, seems excessive, but what do I know? In Jane Hamsher's professional opinion the same effects could have been achieved at a lot cheaper cost. Still, it's the Republicans' money.
Nance and Erik have both kind of come to Palin's defense on this one, and I can see their point. Women in politics are held to a higher standard than men, especially when it comes to how they look. (Ask Joe Biden, though, about how standards are applied when it comes to debating skills.) And men have it easier and cheaper. They can get by with a couple of good suits, a change of shirts, and two ties, a red one and a blue one.
Erik writes, "Unfortunately, women in public life are judged on how they dress. And considering that her real national constituency is right-wing males like Rich Lowry who see her as a sex object as well as a political figure, it was not unreasonable for the Republican Party to make these expenditures."
Nance notes, "Sarah Palin is actually a very pretty woman. Beautiful, even. And so you get the basic irony at the heart of femininity — the better you look, the more you have to spend to make people think so."
Sarah Palin's beautiful? If Nance says so.
As Archie Goodwin says, beauty is merely a matter of taste. As my tastes run, I ought to be smitten by Sarah Palin. I've always been a pushover for pint-sized brunettes. When I first saw her picture I thought she looked like Karen Valentine from Room 222 and I had a crush on Karen Valentine when I was a kid.
My crush did not transfer.
Maybe it's the voice. More likely it's the fact that she's a Right Wing religious fundamentalist kook. Personality plays a big part in these things and while I don't believe a person's personality is entirely defined by her politics, all I know about Sarah Palin is her politics and they're not pretty.
But I think the real reason I can look at Sarah Palin and not see what I saw when I looked at Karen Valentine is that when I look at Sarah Palin I see the Republican candidate for Vice-President of the United States and I'm just not inclined to see candidates for Vice-President as sex objects.
I've written before about how creepy it is to speculate about the sex lives of strangers and no matter how well we feel we know them candidates for high national office are strangers. But it's only human to respond to another human being who is beautiful and sexy. There are lots of women, and men, who find Barack Obama both beautiful and sexy. John Kennedy was routinely described as being as handsome as a movie star, which means that he probably had the same effect on people's libidos as a movie star. Women swooned for Thomas Jefferson, and we all know the joke behind the plaque, "George Washington slept here." And wasn't there a prominent journalist who gushed in print or on the air that Bill Clinton was starring in her erotic dreams?
If Nance says Sarah Palin's beautiful, then she probably is, according to most people's tastes. And since she's youthful, energetic, a former beauty queen who's kept herself in shape, I don't blame Rich Lowry for sitting up straight in his chair when she winked at him during the debate. The Democrats have a number of attractive women running for Congress this year. If I thought one of them was winking at me, maybe I'd sit up straight in my chair too.
I wouldn't write about it though.
But here's the thing. Maybe I'd have a Lowry, but I seriously doubt it. I think Democratic candidates for Congress could wink at me till the cows came home and my likely reaction would be to think they had something in their eye and offer to run to the drugstore to pick them up some Visine.
Candidates for Congress don't make many guest appearances in my erotic daydreams.
Actually, no politicians do.
I'll go further. Almost no women on the job, any job, feature in my fantasy life. The exceptions are actresses and rock stars. Otherwise, it doesn't matter to me if a politician, a cop, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a cashier, a toll booth attendant, a lumberjack, a TV anchorwoman, a cabbie, a jet pilot, etc. etc. etc. is objectively gorgeous. All I see when I deal with her is what I see when I deal with a guy in the same job.
I'm not claiming any special virtue here.
I'm not boasting of exceptional self-control and mental discipline.
I'm admitting to a sexual hang-up I believed to have been caused by an inconveniently-timed emergence from the latency period and the shock resulting from the sight of Mrs Fulmer slipping off her high heels under her desk.
Mrs Fulmer was my third grade teacher.
And I was in love with her.
Mrs Fulmer was a brunette. I don't think she was pint-sized. In fact, I think she was rather tall. Hard to say. I was eight. I had to look up to see the shortest sixth graders. Seventh and eighth graders might as well have been basketball players. Teachers were giants. Mrs Fulmer might have not have been an actual giant, but she was long and leggy. I've always been a pushover for long and leggy brunettes too. And she wore glasses. I've also been a pushover for brunettes, long and leggy or pint-sized, in glasses, which makes me wonder if I'm in denial about Sarah Palin. But then I'm a pushover for blondes in glasses too, and redheads. Actually, when you get right down to it, I'm just a pushover, but nevermind. What I remember most vividly about Mrs Fulmer is that whenever she sat down behind her desk she used to kick her shoes off. I had a seat up near the front of the classroom and I had a good view of this fascinating habit of hers. I used to watch for it hopefully every day.
For about a week.
It wasn't long before it began to embarrass me. I started to think I was doing something wrong and I was afraid I was going to get caught. Caught at what, I wasn't sure. I just knew that whatever it was, it was inappropriate, although I probably didn't know what inappropriate meant. I'm not sure I actually quit looking, but I think I made an effort not to. That may have been when I developed a habit of assiduous doodling and boy, Freud would have a field day with that one, wouldn't he! At any rate, it was after third grade when that complaint began to appear regularly in teachers' comments on my report cards. "Lance is often drawing superheroes and fighter planes in his notebooks when he should be paying attention to his lessons."
Mrs Fulmer had a baby over the summer and didn't come back to school the next year. I know I wasn't brokenhearted about that the way Linus was when Miss Othmar left teaching to get married. And while I can't say I was relieved when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs MacLane, turned out to be a plump, matronly, decidedly middle-aged lady who didn't take her shoes off in class---at least, I don't think she did. I never checked.---I'm sure I was happier for it. Meant I was not shy and embarrassed around her, which was a good thing, as she turned out to be my all time favorite teacher. I did not have a crush on Mrs MacLane and I did not have a crush on any of my teachers in the years that followed, including high school, college, and grad school. It may just have been the case that I never had another teacher as attractive as Mrs Fulmer, but I believe it's because either out of self-defense or guilt or just a precocious sense of the rightness of it, from fourth grade on up I looked at all my teachers as teachers.
Which is to say as individuals on the job with work to do. And my interactions with them, my judgments about them, and my feelings towards them were based on how they went about doing that work. This was entirely the opposite of a mature sensibility and sensitivity. It was all residual guilt and embarrassment. But over time it became a habit, the kind of habit that's comforting and makes it easier to get through the day, and as I grew up and got out into the world and the number of adults on the job I had to deal with expanded, I transferred the habit to all women I dealt with while they were on the job.
The result is this polite, well-adjusted, gentlemanly, and seemingly harmless middle-aged schnook nodding attentively as you're writing the ticket, delivering your diagnosis, handing him his change, yelling at him for pushing another deadline, and pointing out where his brake pads have worn down and explaining why it's going to cost him an arm and a leg to get them fixed because he needs new shoes, rotors, and calipers too, and making your day and your job a little easier because he's not staring at your tits or trying to charm your phone number out of you or prove he knows how to do your job better than you do.
The result is also that if the Democrats ran a beautiful, youthful, pint-sized brunette and former beauty queen in glasses who was also incompetent, unprepared, dishonest, and quite possibly stupid, for Vice-President and she persisted in winking at me through the television cameras instead of giving coherent and substantive answers to the moderator's questions, the only reason I'd be sitting up straighter in my chair would be that I was reaching for something to throw through the TV screen.
Juncos are the "snowbirds" of the middle latitudes. In the eastern United States, they appear in all but the most northern states only in the winter, and then retreat each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings help the migrants fly long distances.
Technically, I live in one of the most northern of the eastern states. But it's a long way between here and any part of New York that's as far north as the most southern reaches of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Drive straight east from here and...well, you drive off a cliff into the Hudson River...Drive south a bit and then make a sharp left, cross the bridge, and then drive straight east and in no time at all you're in Connecticut, at a point where there's a whole lot of Connecticut north of you, a bit more than half the state if you divide it horizontally. Which means that there is a space the size of the top tier of Connecticut and the entire height of Massachusetts at its shoulders between our front walk and any other front walk leading up to a house that could be said to have been built in the most northern parts of this part of the eastern United States. And that means I shouldn't be seeing juncos on the front walk yet.
Juncos---snowbirds---are common around here, when there's snow! I don't keep track of the comings and goings of our feathered friends on a calendar but I usually note their seasonal movements with enough attention and memory that I'll say to myself, "Robins showed up a little late this year" or "Middle of August and the geese are flocking, right on schedule. Guess summer's winding down." Yeah, I am that banal when I talk to myself. Can't recall a time before today when I said to myself, "What the hell are the juncos doing here already?"
The only times in the past I remember seeing juncos in the neighborhood without snow under their feet were during a thaw.
There's no snow. There are still leaves on the trees. Green leaves.
What the hell are the juncos doing here already?
They know something? Time to break out the snow shovels? Nah. I'm sure the bird brains at Cornell know what they're talking about and I was hallucinating.
Second frost this morning, but it's all gone now. Sun's out. Sky's blue. You've figured out by now I have nothing much to say here. This post is an excuse to introduce a poem by Robert Frost, that's all. It's always struck me as a coming on to spring poem more than a moving into winter poem, despite its melancholy theme of "the slow, smokeless burning of decay," because of the way his foot goes through the snow now and then where the hard snow isn't hard anymore and can't hold him. But there's a junco in it. At least I think it's a junco. I've never been sure. I've just gone by the white feather in his tail.
The Wood-pile by Robert Frost.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day I paused and said, "I will turn back from here. No, I will go on farther--and we shall see." The hard snow held me, save where now and then One foot went down. The view was all in lines, Straight up and down of tall slim trees Too much alike to mark or name a place by So as to say for certain I was here Or somewhere else: I was just far from home. A small bird flew before me. He was careful To put a tree between us when he lighted, And say no word to tell me who he was Who was so foolish as to think what he thought. He thought that I was after him for a feather-- The white one in his tail; like one who takes Everything said as personal to himself. One flight out sideways would have undeceived him. And then there was a pile of wood for which I forgot him and let his little fear Carry him off the way I might have gone, Without so much as wishing him good-night. He went behind it to make his last stand. It was a cord of maple, cut and split And piled--and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year's cutting, Or even last year's or the year's before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it though on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and prop, These latter about to fall. I thought that only Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks Could so forget his handiwork on which He spent himself, the labour of his axe, And leave it there far from a useful fireplace To warm the frozen swamp as best it could With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
This World Series was looking like a first for me.
First time I wanted both teams to lose.
I'm mad at both of them for beating my teams. But the Phils beat two of my teams, the Mets for the division title, then the Dodgers for the pennant. So I guess I'll be rooting for the Rays since I'm only half as mad at them.
A nation of baseball fans will be introduced to
James Shields on Thursday. But to Jane and Al Stewart, the Rays'
starter in Game 2 of the World Series was, and always will be, Jamie.
was Jamie Shields when he arrived at their Town of Poughkeepsie home in
June 2001, a 19-year-old Californian chasing the dream every
minor-leaguer expects to fulfill. He made his pro debut with the Hudson
Valley Renegades, the Rays' short-season Class A affiliate over the
Newburgh-Beacon Bridge in Fishkill...
Four other Rays cut their teeth in Fishkill — stud third baseman Evan
Longoria, pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Dan Wheeler, and outfielder
Fernando Perez — and the Stewarts have a story for each.
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Republican John McCain told voters in this key electoral state Tuesday he was personally tested by the same kind of crisis that Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden warned Barack Obama will almost certainly face if elected president.
McCain recalled being ready to launch a bombing run during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which Biden said over the weekend tested a new President John F. Kennedy and was the template for the kind of "generated crisis" the 47-year-old Obama would face within six months of taking office.
"I was on board the USS Enterprise," McCain, a former naval aviator, said in the capital city of Harrisburg. "I sat in the cockpit, on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, off of Cuba. I had a target. My friends, you know how close we came to a nuclear war."
As the crowd of several thousand began to swell with cheers and applause, he added with dramatic effect: "America will not have a president who needs to be tested. I've been tested, my friends."
I read Thirteen Days
and I don't remember Robert Kennedy mentioning what an important role an obscure Navy pilot played during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that was a long time ago. I am reading Michael Dobbs' One Minute to Midnight now and so far McCain's name hasn't come up, but I'll check the index later. Maybe there are pages devoted to him and I'll find out that President Kennedy was still on the fence about invading until he radioed McCain in his plane on the deck of the Enterprise and asked him, "Do we send in the Marines, Lieutenant, or wait to see if the Soviet ships turn back? Your call."
Maybe I'll get to the part where Khruschev turns to his aides and says, "Comrades, I believe we must withdraw our missiles. Intelligence reports that the Americans have a hotshot young Navy bomber pilot who has been tested by this crisis and so is worthy to become president two generations from now. We must not cross this man."
Does McCain believe that the fate of the world was in his hands in October of 1962? If he was tested during those thirteen days, then so were thousands and thousands of American servicemen and women, almost all of whom I'd bet never had it occur to them that what they were going through was somehow on a par with what the President and his advisors were going through. Probably impossible to find more than one or two others who are that vain.
He was tested.
Headline on the wire story I got this from was, "McCain reminds Biden he was tested in crisis."
Should have been "McCain reminds country he's a vain old man with delusions of grandeur."
He was tested.
McCain was tested, a lot more recently. Last month, in fact. When the financial world was melting down and threatening to take the country's economy with it, John McCain ran around in circles yelling, Do this! No, do that! No, do both! Wait! Do neither! That was his big test this campaign. He failed.
Sitting in the cockpit of a plane that did not launch forty-six years ago this week, waiting for his orders from a President who was being tested proves only that he was alive and in the Navy at that time.
He was tested.
The vainest man to have run for President since Aaron Burr.
But he did us a service with his vanity this time.
He reminded people that a young and relatively inexperienced President whose political opponents thought callow and frivolous could be tested in a crisis and come through it.
William Hurt looks like General Thunderbolt Ross as drawn by Jack Kirby. Combination of wig, white mustache, make-up, and the way Hurt sets his jaw. But it's the eyebrows that complete the picture. The way they shoot out from Hurt's forehead emphasizes the squareness of his head and face. Also emphasizes Ross' implacable anger. Ross talks about capturing the Hulk as if the Hulk is a thing of his he intends to recover because it's his right. He talks about Bruce Banner as if Banner's the thief who stole the Hulk from him. Subtext to this is that Banner stole his daughter from him. He hates Banner for that too. But the talk is talk. The force driving his life now is anger. Ross was as mutated by the Gamma Rays as Banner was. Ross is like the Hulk, in a permanent state of rage. The eyebrows say it all. They are like smoke from explosions behind his eyes.
Hurt's good in the part. He brings the comic book character to life. Doesn't do as great a job as J.K. Simmons did with J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-man movies. But Hurt's at a disadvantage. Ross is not as iconic a character. He's not as fun a character. He's not as funny a character.
Thunderbolt Ross is to J. Jonah Jameson as Bruce Banner is to Peter Parker.
Peter Parker is a science nerd who is ennobled and enlightened by a science experiment gone wrong. His soul and his heart expand. Bruce Banner is a science nerd who is not so lucky. J. Jonah is lifted to a higher plane of comedy by his obsession with the new superhero in town. Thunderbolt Ross is, like Banner, diminished by the Hulk.
But then Spider-man and the Hulk are mirror-images. For Peter, with great power comes great responsibility. For Bruce Banner, great power causes a loss of self-control, a total absence of responsibility, a complete erasure of the self that could exercise control and take responsibility. Peter Parker's story is a hero's adventure. Bruce Banner's is a horror story. Stories about heroes are stories about souls on their way to heaven, although their getting there is not a foregone conclusion or the end of many heroes' adventures. Horror stories, stories about monsters, are stories about souls in torment---they're either in hell or on their way there. Bruce Banner is a damned soul and everyone he comes in contact with is afflicted or infected by that fact. Peter Parker ennobles everyone he comes in contact with, even the villains. Well, except for the Vulture, who is a stupid idea anyway.
Spider-man is a retelling of the Superman myth. The Hulk is a retelling of Frankenstein. But the Superman myth is a retelling of the Christ myth and Frankenstein is the Christ myth inverted. One is the story of a god who becomes a man. The other is the story of a man who tries to become god-like. One is the story of humility and sacrifice. The other is the story of hubris.
None of this has much to do with the movie, except that the makers of the Spider-man movies were lucky to be working with a more personable and livelier set of characters.
Peter Parker can crack jokes and think out loud as Spider-man. Bruce Banner can't do anything as the Hulk and the Hulk can barely think himself or put more than two words together. J.Jonah Jameson can do a hundred things at once, including chomp on his cigar and growl, when he's in a full-on rage. All Thunderbolt Ross can do is chomp on his cigar and growl.
Hurt chomps on his cigar and growls well.
His being in the movie reminded me: Hurt once played the Hulk. Sort of. In Altered States. Mild-mannered scientist turns into raging, violent monster as a result of experiment gone wrong. Blair Brown played the Betty Ross role. Charles Haid stole the movie. Frankenstein all over again, only like Bruce Banner, this Frankenstein turns himself into the monster.
Neither monster is as interesting as Boris Karloff's in the 30's classics or as Peter Boyle's in Young Frankenstein.
It's only part of the reason the old TV show used to save the Hulk's appearances for the last ten minutes of every episode. Budget and the limitations of contemporary special effects probably decided things, but the fact that the Hulk is boring in and of himself made that decision a good one. The Hulk is only interesting if you like watching things get smashed and blown up. The only way to keep his stories interesting is to find reasons to keep him Bruce Banner as long as possible or surround him with characters who have interesting stories of their own. The movie does a pretty good job at doing both. Edward Norton has more to do as Bruce Banner than wait around for his pulse to rise and his skin turn green. Tim Blake Nelson and Tim Roth both have to go from 0 to 60 a little too fast. Roth was a curious choice for the Abomination. Short, scrawny, homely guy as super-soldier? Works, though. Napoleon complex on steroids.
Speaking of the TV show, I got a kick out of the tributes to it sprinkled throughout the movie. I especially liked it that Lou Ferringo got to reprise his role as the Hulk, more or less. Good job of working in a cameo by the late Bill Bixby. And Ed Norton carries his backpack over the same shoulder as Bixby did and walks with the same hunched up, woebegone but determined gait. Theme music plays at one point too.
Even when I used to read comic books, I wasn't a fan of the Hulk, so I haven't kept track of his storylines over the years the way I have with my old favorites, Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spidey. Mannion boys had to point out to me that Doc Samson and the Leader appear in the movie. Then they had to explain to me who Doc Samson and the Leader are.
Another idea I wish the movie had borrowed from the TV show. Having the Hulk played by a human being.
When did the Hulk become the Jolly Green Giant. I know he's always been a lot taller than Bruce Banner, but since when is he a lot taller than Yao Ming? He's the Hulk, not the Redwood. Making him tree-sized pretty much requires him to be nothing but a special effect, even if you used an actor in a green muscle suit to lay your CGI work on top of. But why couldn't he have been an actor in a green muscle suit dressed up with CGI? Worked with Michael Chiklis as the Thing in the Fantastic Four movies. The Hulk's a cartoon, and it's obvious every time he appears.
Getting to be too much reliance on CGI in the Marvel movies. Not the only reason Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are so much better than all the other comic book franchise series going, but I think it is a sign that Christopher Nolan is thinking differently---the big fight scenes in his movies depend on how he uses the actors and stuntpeople. Means he's never losing sight of his characters, not getting lost advertising for the inevitable video game. Sam Raimi was thinking that way on Spider-man 2. On Spider-man 3? Not so much.
And when did it become a rule that all superhero movies have to include an extended fight scene in a crowded city street at night? Really. It's becoming like the showdown at high noon in B-movie westerns. Superhero---or in the case of the Fantastic Four, superheroes---and supervillain wreck cars and cause eruptions of massive fireballs while citizens too stupid to get out of the way run back and forth across the screen screaming wildly in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-man 3, both Fantastic Four movies, and The Dark Knight. Have all the directors of these movies agreed that their movies must include this homage to Superman II? If so, they're all forgetting that Superman quickly figures out that he's putting innocent people's lives in danger and finds a way to take the battle out of downtown Metropolis. He also defeats Zod and his henchwoman and goon by outsmarting them. Can't expect that of the Hulk, of course, but really, isn't Tony Stark at least as much smarter than Obadiah Stain as Superman is smarter than Zod?
One other thing. Why are the crowds so dumb? Doesn't anybody have brains enough to leave the area? Mostly the people who find themselves caught in the middle of these battles behave like birds you scare up as you're walking down a path---they flee in only one direction, the one you happen to be going in. All they have to do to get away from you is make a sharp turn to the right or left. Nope, they keep flying straight ahead and then act shocked when you catch up with them again. These crowds keep running ahead of the carnage and destruction and when it and the battling superhero and villain catch up with them, they freeze. The ones who don't run, stand around and watch, until a taxi or a police car gets thrown at them.
Edward Norton does the same thing in this movie that he's done in just about every movie I've seen him in, delivers an intelligent, complex performance that leaves me cold.
Can't decide if it's something about his acting, something about me, or something about the roles he chooses.
Liv Tyler never leaves me cold.
Betty Ross isn't much of a character. Tyler gives the part some poignancy.
Can someone be poignantly sexy?
Most incredible sight in The Incredible Hulk is Liv Tyler's naked thigh.
Three episodes back now on Mad Men, in an episode titled Six Month Leave, Freddy Rumsen lost his job. His drinking had gotten out of control and he'd become an embarrassment to himself and to Sterling Cooper. Considering how anxious Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper had been to bring Duck Philips on board and that Duck had come close to drinking himself out of a career and how that suggests that Sterling Cooper has a very forgiving attitude towards drunks on the payroll, Freddy's boozing must have been a worse problem than we'd been shown and what we were seeing was Freddy using up his absolutely last chance in a string of last chances.
I was surprised by the whole episode because I'd long taken Freddy for granted and never thought of him as a main character or even as an important enough secondary character to rate the attention of a major storyline. I saw him literally as a peripheral figure---he was there at the edges of scenes and if I noticed him it was usually out of the corner of my eye. His role in the show seemed to be to imply the existence of the rest of the agency. He was the face and voice of the many other Mad Men at Sterling Cooper who weren't Don Draper and his team and his function was to remind us that more work was being done than just the campaigns we saw Draper handling. Freddy was a nod to realism. Sterling Cooper couldn't be as big and important as we're told it is if all its talent resided in a single individual.
He was important thematically, too, at least at the beginning of the first season. Don Draper needed other people around him as part of his disguise. His secret was protected by nobody getting close enough to him or paying close enough attention to him to notice the holes in the character he had created for himself to play. Since he was talented and ambitious, though, not getting noticed would have been tricky unless he was surrounded by other talented and ambitious men who were too busy with their own work to pay close attention to him and who, by virtue of their talent and ambition, made their bosses take their eyes off of Draper from time to time to focus on them. Draper had learned to survive by both standing out in a crowd and hiding it. Freddy Rumsen was that crowd.
Basically Freddy went about appreciating Draper's talent but not giving him too much thought because he had his own work to distract him, and we were meant to understand that how Freddy saw Don was how the rest of the agency saw him, as one talented Mad Man among many.
The reason for Don's existential angst at the beginning of the first season was that he had recently been lifted just that far above the rest of the pack that he was suddenly a whole lot more visible and interesting to the other Mad Men.
It figured, though, that the first one to start paying closer attention was Pete Campbell, the guy with the least talent and least work of his own to keep him busy.
Freddy kept busy.
Plus, we now know, he was pie-eyed half the time. He couldn't see Don Draper or anybody clearly.
As Peggy's career progressed, Freddy's job as representative of the rest of Sterling Cooper was to express the collective ambivalence about having to deal with a Mad Woman in their ranks. Freddy treated Peggy with a mix of admiration, condescension, amusement, and forgetfulness---he liked her, liked her work, but could never get his head around the fact that she was now one of the guys.
Freddy was the one who made it clear she wasn't invited to tag along on the boys night out at the strip club but he was also the one who got the biggest kick out of it when she showed up anyway.
So Freddy was far from superfluous, and I was sad to see him go, but that's because Six Month Leave showed him going and made his going sad. If the writers hadn't given him such a melancholy sendoff and had just started leaving him out of things, it might have taken me three or four episodes to notice his absence.
I really love Freddie as a character--until Duck came along, he was the only guy at SC who really seemed like an “old advertising hand.” Roger has never looked at the industry from anything but an ivy-tower perspective, and most of his gnomic insights into the field sound like they were cribbed from a book, and while Bert Cooper’s knowledge of the field is deep and nuanced, he plays the game at an Olympian level nobody else at SC can access. Freddie is the only one who seemed like an industry lifer -- a trench veteran who entered the field with natural instincts that sharpened over the years; a man inclined to party with junior execs half his age not because everyone his cohort has cleaned up or died, but because he has a true zeal for the business that other old-timers lost long ago.
It's been one of the stranger aspects of the show from the beginning that the actual work the characters do rarely features in the action of any episodes. Advertising is a very creative, high-energy business, yet the ad men and ad woman go about their jobs in a gloomy, desultory way. No one enters or leaves a meeting charged up about an idea. We hardly ever see anybody suddenly snatch up a pen and a pad and start drawing or scribbling down notes. None of them rush to a typewriter fueled with a sudden injection of inspiration...or desperation. Brain-storming sessions are usually short, dull, and held with all the urgency of a meeting to decide whether or not to switch brands on the office supplies. Someone will say something vague about a possible theme for an ad campaign, someone else will counter with something a little less vague about the right medium for the campaign, and then Don will deliver a short but not particularly punchy summation of how the campaign needs to make the client or potential customers feel. He doesn't talk about how they should look or sound. He doesn't talk about how the ads will get made. When campaigns in progress get discussed, more often than not the topic is the basic engineering---ad buys and air dates, dollars spent and focus group reactions . I can't think of a time when we've heard a character happily reporting how a slogan has caught on or a character in a commercial's become popular or a funny drawing's made people laugh or a jingle has everybody singing along.
But then nobody working at Sterling Cooper seems to have their heart in their work. Peggy's pride is on the line, but that's a different matter, and I'll get to her in a bit. Meanwhile, none of the men she works with are really proud of what they do or even particularly committed to it. As far as we can tell, none of them are in the business because they like the work and are a good at it.
Ken and Paul are would-be famous authors marking time. They're in advertising because it pays them good money to do work that's more or less creative. It allows them to feel like artists without having to starve like artists. Both would be out the door in a heartbeat if they thought they could make as good a living off their writing.
Sal is in the art department more than he is in advertising. He does seem to be having a good time around the office, usually, but it's not the work itself that makes him cheerful. It's that he's found a job in which he can both hide his gay-ness and express it. At Sterling Cooper he can be "artistic" but at the same time appear to be a regular guy working a respectable nine to five office job.
Harry...well...I don't know what Harry's doing there and neither does Harry. Harry Crane's the kind of well-meaning schlmeil who does what he does because it's the "right" thing to do by which he really means the expected thing to do. His job, his marriage, his impending fatherhood are things a guy his age is supposed to have. They don't make him happy. Just the opposite. He seems lost at work, embarrassed by the fact of his wife, and overwhelmed by the idea of having a baby to take care of and worry about. What he actually does at Sterling Cooper seems to be the last thing on his mind. The little gumption and drive he's managed to show are just other expressions of his doing the right thing. Guys his age in his position are supposed to be ambitious.
Pete Campbell wants to be a real ad man, although it's one particular ad man he wants to be, Don Draper, and it's not clear if he wants to be Don because he admires Don's talent and wants to be admired in the same way or if he simply covets the status and reputation Don's talent has earned him. Whichever, Pete does try. Unfortunately, it's usually the case that when he tries he's actually being setup for failure by the show's writers. His idea is bound to be shot down by one of his bosses or trumped by one of Peggy's.
It's hard to enjoy your job when every one of your work days includes a moment when you're left standing there with egg on your face.
Duck is desperately invested in his job, but that's because it's his only road to redemption, professionally and personally. He needs to succeed in order to save himself and whether he likes or can take pride in his work is irrelevant at the moment. Doesn't help that Roger Sterling's main interest in him is in how much money he's bringing in. If Duck wants to be a partner, Roger told him in last week's episode, The Jet Set, Duck had better "make it rain," and, boy howdy, did Duck come up with a plan for some heavy precipitation. But that plot line only underscores how much more wheeling and dealing figures in Mad Men's depiction of the advertising business than does the actual advertising.
Roger loves Sterling Cooper. It not what it does. He loves the business as a thing, a thing that was once his father's and is now his. He loves it because his father bequeathed it to him and as a bequest it might as well have a house, a race horse, a stamp collection, or some other sort of business. He cherishes it for it means and for its history. He takes care of it, because he accepted that responsibility when he accepted the inheritance. It's his living too. But he'd have taken up horse breeding, stamp collecting, home repair, farming, the law, or banking in the same spirit and with the same mixture of dutiful diligence and detachment.
And as Andrew says above, Burt Cooper has ascended beyond mortal reach or understanding. He "plays the game at an Olympian level nobody else at [Sterling Cooper] can access." Nobody knows what he's doing up there, but whatever it is he's become so removed from the daily business of Sterling Cooper he seems barely able to remember that that business needs to get done. None of it worries him or concerns him or holds his interest long. When he bothers to get involved it's almost as if he's doing it in a very Greek god-like way, to cause mischief in order to amuse himself.
Which brings me to Peggy.
Work does define Peggy. That's her role in the series. The Worker Bee. She's the Little Engine Who Could, the Little Red Hen, the ant among the grasshoppers. She has come along to get the job done when the rusty old tired engines and the big important engines refuse, when the other animals on the farm say "I won't, I won't, I won't," when the grasshoppers want to play instead of getting ready for winter. And in that role whatever amount of enjoyment she gets from doing her job isn't coming from how much fun she's having. It's coming from her succeeding where others have failed or haven't even tried. It's coming from her sense of accomplishment and from her being right. Peggy is often pleased with herself, afterwards. She goes about her work in a certain kind of A-student way. Her goal is to please the teacher. Her work makes her happy when it's made Draper or Father Gill or Freddy happy with her. She is proud of what she does, proud of her talents, proud of herself, in a modest, professional way---she's not vain, she just knows she's good, and that's why she can stand up for herself and why she got so angry at Father Gill for siding with the ignorant amateurs at the church who criticized the work she did for them for free.
Peggy is the one character we routinely see working on her own. But Peggy's strongest talents are her ability to learn and adapt, and if she'd landed a job at a law firm or an insurance agency or an investment bank she'd have turned herself into a lawyer, a top selling life insurance saleswoman, or a killer investment broker.
She likes being a good worker. What she is working on is neither here nor there.
But considering the thematic role advertising plays in Mad Men, a character who actually enjoyed the work for its own sake would be like a character in a war movie who enjoyed war.
The main theme of Mad Men is that we are all Don Draper. We are all frauds living invented lives and the only important difference between one fraud and another is whether or not they have consciously created their fake selves, whether or not they are in charge of the lies they are living out. Betty Draper is a sad and doomed character because she is living lies other people have foisted upon her. Peggy is a heroine because she is making up her own lies for herself and with purpose. This season that theme has often been pushed to a back burner as Mad Men has been far more concerned with the Drapers' and the Campbells' domestic troubles and Peggy's and Joan's less than happy personal lives. But it's still cooking along. And advertising has always been a symbolic element of that theme. On Mad Men, advertising doesn't sell things. It sells lies.
Lies and illusions.
Advertising, at least Sterling Cooper, is practically a malevolent force, a poison in the air infecting people's minds and souls, tricking them into rejecting truth and reality, seducing them into wanting what they can't have and into being unhappy and dissatisfied with what they do have, offering them secrets and lies as substitutes for real lives and actual happiness.
The very first campaign we see Don Draper working on is one for cigarettes. Don, his bosses, and his team all know that cigarettes are deadly, and they consciously set out to help their clients lie about that. At one point, they even consider selling smoking as a romantic and heroic adventure, a way for the brave and the bold to court and defy Death.
Draper's campaign for American Airlines is based on the day-dreaming notion of travel as escape. The point isn't to go somewhere in particular. The point is to get away from where you are. Out there lies love and romance, excitement, a new you. The implication of that is of course that back here, at home, with your family, you are a you you don't want to be.
And Peggy's first campaign on her own is to sell an fat reducing device that doesn't work and her solution is to sell it as a lie women can tell their husbands and lovers. The Rejuvenator is a sex toy women can hide in plain sight. "Oh, this is just helping me lose weight, honey. I'm trying to look good for you," they can say, while using it to have a secret and self-contained sex life of their own.
[Editor's note: The author assures us he is not condemning sex toys or masturbation. His intent is to summarize the intent of the ad campaign on the show, which is to encourage women who are dissatisfied with their real lives to console themselves with a secret, fantasy life.]
And then there was the whole shadow campaign for the greatest fraud of all, Richard Nixon.
Oh, sure, Sterling Cooper has helped sell lipstick, beer, donuts, chocolate, and potato chips in a fairly straight-forward fashion, but those campaigns have all been background to the plotlines that really don't have anything to do with advertising. For the most part, whenever a campaign takes center stage, that campaign is destructive. Even when they were working on the Menken Department Store account, Sterling Cooper was helping to destroy a tradition of offering customers good bargains on things they really needed and replace it with an illusion---Customers were to be lured into the store on the hope that by shopping there they would become more sophisticated and glamorous, but once inside they would be paying high prices for things they didn't need or even really want.
Under those conditions, then, any characters who actually enjoyed the work would have to be either vicious or foolish because that would mean they either enjoyed lying and deceit or they were blind to what they were actually doing.
Frankly, I think it's a weakness of the show that none of the characters are vicious or foolish in this way. Mad Men could use some villains and clowns. Villains and clowns at least go about their business with some zest. It would make for a refreshing contrast with the gloomy, purgatorial spirit that affects the regular characters as they go about their work.
I think it's another weakness of the show that it doesn't treat the lying and selling of illusions as an occupational hazard or a temptation or only one way of going about the business. Ok, selling cigarettes is evil, but there's nothing inherently evil about selling lipstick, beer, donuts, chocolate, potato chips, or even sex toys. People want those things, like those things, need those things, and you don't have to lie to them or trick them to get them to buy them. You do have to catch their attention though. You have to make them notice your ads and watch your commercials. But you can do that in a fun and pretty much benign way. Rice Krispees do in fact snap, crackle, and pop and a little dab of Bryl Cream really does do ya. By not allowing there to be a fun and (almost) innocent side of the business, Mad Men has precluded the inclusion of any heroes and heroines among the characters at Sterling Cooper.
Peggy is the closest the series has to a heroine but she's more of a sympathetic protagonist who is heroic in a very limited sense. She is saving herself, but not doing anybody else much good. As I said, she isn't as much interested in or excited by the creative side of her job as she is in and by what doing a good job will get her.
At any rate, almost alone among these lost, unhappy, and uninspired souls in torment, Freddy Rumsen seemed to be having a good time being an ad man. It turns out that it might just have been because he was half in the bag all the time, but there were other signs that he actually enjoyed his job, and not because he was either a villain or a fool.
For one thing, Freddy was the only character who ever really praised Peggy's ideas and work. Sometimes he even seemed to get a bigger kick out of her work than she did, even if he couldn't always reconcile his admiration for her with the sexist way he treated her.
Freddy was the only one you could imagine writing a jingle or coming up with a catchy slogan or drawing a funny cartoon. He wouldn't have been the only one to laugh at the jokes---like Speedy the Alka-Selzter spokescharacter's suicide note, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is."---but he was the only one you'd believe truly appreciated the tribute the jokes paid to the work. Speedy's suicide note is funny because Speedy and his slogan are great creations. Freddy was the one for whom coming up with something like Speedy is the whole point.
With Freddy out of the picture, Mad Men is now in a very odd place. It's a workplace drama in which almost none of the characters wants to be at work.
It's no wonder the writers have flown Don Draper to California and seem to be on the verge of leaving him there.
We have seen one other character, besides Peggy and Freddy, having a good time on the job. Joan Holloway. In A Night to Remember Joan is given the job of saving Harry from his own incompetence. She has to read the scripts of television shows Sterling Cooper's clients have bought commercial time for to make sure that the shows' storylines don't reflect badly on the products. Joan turns out to be very good at the work. She does more than foresee potential conflicts. She sees potential opportunities. And the clients love her and love what she's doing. She's having a great time. And naturally she isn't allowed to continue. Harry being the dope Harry is doesn't recognize her talent or respect her intelligence. He can't see her as anything but what he's always seen her as, the office bombshell. In short, Harry is no Freddy Rumsen. He replaces her with a guy who's an obvious goofball, breaking her heart and almost her spirit. In one of the saddest scenes yet on Mad Men, Joan goes home, alone, to face the fact that as far as the men at Sterling Cooper are concerned her only talents and usefulness lie in her sex appeal and who knows how much longer that will last. We see her, then, baring her own gorgeous shoulders to inspect them for signs that her beauty is fading.
If Mad Men was on HBO or Showtime where actual nudity was allowed, the director of that episode might have been tempted to have Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan, inspecting Joan's main assests. Instead of her bare breasts, though, the shot is of Hendrick's upper back and shoulder and the picture is more artistic than erotic. What we see then is Joan looking at herself as a work of art, which is of course what she is. The "Joan" Joan sends to work everyday is a created self, a work of art as carefully, passionately, and intelligently made as a painting or a sculpture. And so we see Joan seeing that she is still beautiful but she is seeing herself objectively, and that cuts two ways. She is allowed to admire her nude body as if she is looking at a statue, without vanity or narcissism, but with an artist's pride. But she is also seeing herself objectified, as an object. The shot is heartbreaking because it's a picture of Joan turning into stone in her own eyes.
It's a picture of Joan dying a little bit to herself.
Programming note: Two more episodes of Mad Men left before the series finishes up its second season, which means there are only two more chances to join in Tom Watson and Mrs Peel's live-blogging of the show over at newcritics. Check in with them tonight at 10 PM Eastern.
The other night, in a post-debate interview on her webcast, Katie Couric asked Hillary Clinton two questions, the second of which was, "Why do you think Sarah Palin has an action figure and you have a nutcracker?"
Frankly, it didn't strike me as creepy and I can't see why it should cost Couric her paycheck. I do think the question was a waste of time, under the circumstances. There was no way Clinton was going to answer it seriously. She was there to talk up Barack Obama's performance in the debate and if there's one thing Hillary Clinton is good at it's staying on point.
But under other circumstances it could be an interesting and important question and I'd like to hear Clinton answer it. Couric might want to ask it again a decade or two down the road when Clinton's coming to the end of her political career and the focus of an interview can be Hillary herself as a person and a personality and a personage exiting the public stage and entering the history books, when her feelings matter as much as her actions.
Because the way I took the question it was a playful way of asking why does one strong, intelligent, ambitious woman get treated by the Media and half the public as a castrating shrew and another embraced as warm, safe, lovable, and cuddly?
Put another way, why is Hillary Clinton hated and vilified and feared for doing what other politicians do as a matter of course?
The question opened an opportunity for Clinton to talk about the double-standard she was subjected to. It also gave her an opening to take a shot at the hypocrisy of conservative women like Sarah Palin, who famously accused Clinton of "whining" when Clinton cried foul about the sexism and misogyny she had to battle throughout the primaries---women who are happy to let others, like Hillary Clinton, do their "whining" for them and fight for and secure them rights and opportunities that they then use to enrich and empower themselves while working to deny those rights and opportunities to other, less fortunate women.
Sarah Palin has gotten to be an action figure because women like Hillary Clinton had to be nutcrackers.
Some day I'd like to hear Clinton's thoughts on this.
Now, my thoughts happen to be that the doll and the nutcracker are two expressions of the same impulse---to deny the existence of women who are stronger, smarter, and more competent than men by turning such women into jokes.
In an obvious and grotesque way, the Hillary nutcracker is insulting, demeaning, and offensive---offensive in the sense of intending to put women on the defensive. We know that many men---and other women---attempt to put strong women back in their proper place by stripping them of their femininity and sexuality. Witches, crones, bitches, castrating shrews---these are caricatures of women as man-like, bestial, asexual, repulsive, not human, not humanly female, at any rate, which is soft, yielding, sexually available and compliant. Even when sexualized, powerful women are portrayed as demons---vampiresses, succubi, dominatrixes made more of leather than of flesh. Their wanting sex is a castrating impulse, a desire to rob men of their sexual potency and their power to initiate and control relationships. The nutcracker is an appeal to and encouragement of the worst of those fears.
I'm sure Sarah Palin is much happier being an action figure. In fact, she seems to embrace the part, willing to let men think of her as a fantasy figure, a Barbie doll who likes to play with the boys more than she likes to shop and dress-up. It'd be savvy of her if she's figured out that in order to get ahead in the conservative world she travels in, to become the boss of men who don't like the idea of women bosses, she'd better pretend not to be one or want to be one.
Some men just are terrified of having a woman tell them what to do. The only women whoever did that were their mothers, big sisters, and teachers, so they instinctively regress when it happens or threatens to happen. Strong and successful women like Hillary Clinton make them feel like little boys. Other men are scared of Hillary Clinton because they know she intends to disempower them by reducing and even taking away their power to lord it over women. Masculinity is to a great extent defined by the ability to push other people around. Few men really have that power. They are pushed around far more than they get to push back. They need there be classes of people with less power than they feel they have. They need there to be people they have a right to push around, even if they would never actually exercise that right, and by the way I'm not talking about all Right Wing men or even about Right Wingers exclusively. I've known plenty of liberal, sensitive, New Age guys who've prided themselves on their feminism while still reserving for themselves that male privilege of being able to push women around.
I'd guess that the conservative men among that second group don't worry much about Sarah Palin's power and ambition. They know that she only wants power for herself, not all women, and that she will use it to protect their influence, interests, and dominance.
I don't know how men in the first group deal with the likes of a Sarah Palin. I imagine that some of them deal in exactly the way they deal with Hillary, by hating her. Others probably ignore the contradiction by ignoring the fact: they make themselves not notice that a Palin is their boss and find ways to turn her orders into requests for favors in their heads. They're not obeying her. They're helping her out. Still others, I expect, do what they can to turn the tables and juvenilize her.
The Sarah Palin action figure is perfect for both ignoring Palin's power and for turning her into, if not a child, then something less than a full-fledged, independent adult.
The nutcracker is ugly but ridiculous and ultimately without power or threat. The action figure---the doll---isn't as vicious, but it's far from flattering because it too is ultimately without power. Both the nutcracker and the doll reduce the women in question to toys and jokes. It would be bad enough if your Sarah doll came with her gun and bear traps and mooseburgers because then she'd still be depicted without her political and public identity, in her private role as Todd Palin the Snowmobile Champion's cheerfully supportive, tom-boy wife.
But, although you can buy a Sarah Palin doll wearing a pantsuit, you can also buy her wearing a short plaid skirt, knee socks, and a tight white blouse with a red bra peeking out or dressed in an even shorter skirt, a black bustier, a black leather trenchcoat, and a black garter with a holster. Take your pick of fetishes. Either way, she's a play thing and as dehumanizing as the nutcracker.
Of course, what an intellectually pretentious blogger thinks these toys mean and what they actually mean may well be two very different questions. Depends on whose buying the stupid things and why. I expect that a lot of the Sarah Palin dolls are being scooped up by the same sort of collecting types who buy stuff from the Franklin Mint and then can't unload it on ebay. Probably a lot of liberals are getting them as gag gifts too. And, while it's not likely, what if it turned out that the most profitable market for the Hillary nutcracker was Democratic women with darkly ironic senses of humor?
I've got time to play thought games like this. Senator Clinton doesn't or didn't the other night. Katie Couric probably knew she was wasting her breath asking the question. Clinton wasn't going to be budged from her main purpose, stumping for Obama. Besides which, she just isn't inclined to talk about these issues that personally. Not that she won't talk about them at all, but by instinct or training, she's skilled at moving quickly from the personal to the general. She doesn't want to talk about her problems as her problems. She want to talk about them as problems all women face.
This happened in her conference call with a group of bloggers yesterday evening. Someone brought up the sexism and "demonization" Clinton had to deal with in her campaign for the nomination, asking what Clinton thought bloggers could do to help women candidates in the future fight back, and Clinton answered as if she herself and what she'd gone through were practically beside the point. She spoke in generalities about how Democrats need to be "looking for ways to make our party and our politics reflect our values" and brought race into the picture too, acknowledging that both sexism and racism had come into play in this election, and no wonder, because both are part of "society's unfinished business." In short, she switched the subject from herself to all Democratic candidates running for office this fall, including and especially Barack Obama, because that was why she was talking to us---to encourage us progressive bloggers in our efforts to help more and better Democrats get elected. And if you watch the clip you'll see that this is exactly what she did with Couric's first question.
So Couric might as well have saved the second question for another day.
Still, I'm glad she asked it.
It gave Clinton an opportunity to do something she does even better than stay on point.
But then I like her laugh.
We know what other people think of it. And we know what that means.
Pretentious blogger's note: Of course I could be way off base about something here. I'm assuming that Clinton didn't give a serious answer. Given all she's been through, the nutcracker might strike her as so minor an insult that a good laugh is all the answer it deserves.
HEMPSTEAD, NY---After weeks of relentless demagoguing in which Republican Presidential nominee Arizona Senator John McCain and his running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have endeavored to raise questions about Barack Obama's character and fitness for office by hammering on Obama's seemingly accidental acquaintance with long-forgotten 1960s radical William Ayers, Senator McCain's campaign team is planning to follow up with new revelations about Obama's subversive activities during his childhood and high school years, the Mannionville Gazette has learned today.
Some Democratic critics have maintained that McCain and Palin's harping on the Ayers connection is a blatant attempt to paint Obama as a "scary black dude."
These Democrats say that Ayers and the violent radical group he helped found, The Weather Underground, have receded so far in the public memory that hardly anyone can remember who they were or what they did. The McCain campaign is hoping that voters will confuse the Weathermen, a predominately white group of spoiled middle-class college brats, with the Black Panthers, a group of really scary black dudes and dudettes, critics contend.
But a high official within the McCain campaign has told the Gazette that Obama's defenders are missing the point.
"We're not saying that Barack Obama should have known better than to live in the same neighborhood as a guy who did something bad when Obama was around eight years old, although he should have," said the official.
"We're saying that when he was eight years old, Barack Obama not only palled around with the terrorist, William Ayers, he helped Ayers found the Weather Underground."
Not only that, said the official, but Ayers was not the only terrorist the young Barack Obama palled around with. His involvement with the Weathermen is just a part of a long history of anti-American and revolutionary activities that began within a year of when he was born and continued overtly right up through his senior year in high school.
"He was a 'community' organizer by nature," the official alleges, "Every 'community' he was ever part of he organized, and none of these 'communities' saw America the way Joe Sixpack sees it."
The McCain campaign plans to spend the next few weeks highlighting these subversive activities in a series of TV commercials and rabble-rousing speeches by Senator McCain and Governor Palin in the hopes of re-booting McCain's increasingly desperate quest for the Presidency or at least starting an armed insurrection that might delay November's election for a few weeks, which would give the candidate time to figure out just why he got into this thing to begin with and what exactly he'd do as President.
The boy Obama and the Yippies
Stepping in to make the announcement because top policy advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer's last name is too improbable and makes Sarah Palin's husband, Alaska First Dude Todd Palin, giggle every time he hears it, McCain's communication director Jill Hazelbaker, whose name also makes Todd Palin giggle, just not as uncontrollably, told the Gazette that Obama's past as a radical wunderkind and juvenile terrorist is as relevant to the kind of President he'll be as John McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"While John McCain was learning to love America in a way nobody before or since has loved America, Barack Obama was learning that America was 'imperfect,'" Hazelbaker said.
"Everybody knows that Obama was exceptionally bright and hardworking from a young age. What most people don't know is that he was concentrating all that early brilliance and hard work on tearing down this great country."
According to Hazelbaker, at around the same time Obama started palling around with Ayers---"They met at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Ayers was responding to an ad Obama had placed in the classified section of the Daily Worker looking for someone to ghost write his homework assignment, 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation," said Hazelbaker---he was already a committed radical who had helped Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin instigate the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
In 1969, Obama was indicted and put on trial along with Hoffman and Rubin and other activists who together became known as the Chicago Seven.
"They were originally known as the Chicago Seven and a Half Men," said Hazelbaker, "But Obama's lawyer succeeded in having his case severed from the others and ultimately dismissed on the grounds that he was missing too much school."
"His teacher gave a lot of homework and he was falling behind in math," Hazelbaker said. "As if."
Reached for comment, Obama's lawyer at the time, John Edwards, who was then a fifteen year old Boy Scout working on his Jurisprudence merit badge, said, "They were learning the multiplication tables that year. It's no wonder he was cranky and rebellious. The judge understood because his own grandchildren were dropping acid and running away to Haight-Ashbury because they couldn't handle long division."
Before the charges were dropped, Obama did stand trial for several days, during which he had to be physically restrained in his chair and gagged.
"He kept interrupting the proceedings to shout 'Let's go Mets! Let's go Mets!' It was ironic," Edwards recalled in a phone conversation while he was in the barber chair for a 20 dollar trim at Master Cuts. "He was a Cubs fan and he was protesting the Cubs' collapse that year. They blew a 9 and a half game lead going into September!"
Some of his former grade school classmates have speculated that the Cubs' failure to make the play-offs that year broke Obama's heart and turned him against America.
But Hazelbaker says the McCain campaign has uncovered evidence that the young Barack's hatred for his country began well-before third grade. In fact, Hazelbaker says, it may go back to his infancy.
"We think he was just born not one of us."
Hazelbaker produced computer enhanced enlargements of several key frames from the Zapruder film that she claimed clearly depict a two year old Barack Obama in his stroller beside the man with the umbrella on the grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Hazelbaker says that the enlargements show the sun glinting off of what can only be the telescopic sight of a rifle in the toddler's hands, although some experts not affiliated with either candidate suggest that it could be the sun glinting off a baby bottle.
McCain staffers are also preparing ads that allege that Obama took part in the founding of the Students For a Democratic Society and wrote the first draft of the Port Huron Statement.
When it was pointed out that Obama was less than one year old when the Port Huron statement was written, Hazelbaker replied that it's well-known that Obama is a genius who was born able to read and write and speak in complete sentences.
"He was also born with a full set of teeth," she added. "More proof that he's the Anti-Christ."
"As if we needed more."
The baby Obama broke with the SDS after clashing with Tom Hayden over influences for the Statement's political philosophy. Hayden wanted to draw on the writings of Jefferson, Montesquieu, and Herbert Marcuse. Obama argued that the foremost influence should be Dr Seuss' radical writings on individual liberty and personal responsibility, The Cat in the Hat
and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and Seuss' anti-materialistic manifesto, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Obama submitted a draft that began, "All the Whos down in Whoville loved freedom a lot, but the grinches who lived in Washington did not!"
Anti-American activities continued through junior high school
Hazelbaker contends that the young Barack Obama wasn't content with having helped found two radical political organizations, incited a riot, and possibly plotted the assassination of a President.
"He was always very ambitious," Hazelbaker says, "Presumptuous, really."
The summer before sixth grade, according to Hazelbaker, Obama helped bring about the downfall of another President by planning and leading the Watergate Break-in.
Hazelbaker told the Gazette that in his unpublished autobiography E. Howard Hunt describes how the whole caper was organized by the fiendishly precocious young Obama, who had cooked it all up as a part of a plot to bring down Richard Nixon.
According to Hazelbaker, Hunt does not explain how an eleven year old boy managed to infiltrate the Committee to Re-elect the President and attach himself to the clandestine group of dirty tricksters and undercover hatchetmen known as the Plumbers, but however he managed it, his cover story must have been brilliant, Hazelbaker said, because Hunt did not begin to suspect Obama was actually working against the President until the morning after the break-in when Obama failed to show up at the arraignment of the other burglars who were arrested at the scene by police responding to a call from a security guard at the Watergate.
"Thinking it over later," Hazelbaker said, "Hunt dedudced that it must have been Obama who put the second strip of adhesive tape back on the door after the guard had discovered and removed the first strip."
"The Cubans weren't the brightest burglars ever caught carrying implements by night, but they were sharp enough to know that by putting the tape back they would have essentially putting up a neon sign alerting the guard that someone was in the building who wasn't supposed to be."
Hunt concluded that the tape had been put there by someone who wanted the mission to fail and he decided that someone was the young Obama.
"He knew that it wouldn't be shrugged off as a third-rate burglary," Hazelbaker said, "He meant for the whole thing to come out and embarrass President Nixon and ultimately lead to his resigning in disgrace. One thing Obama's supporters have been right about. He has a preternatural sense of how history works."
No one from the Obama campaign would discuss this on the record, but one source close to Obama speaking anonymously said that when he was in junior high school Obama was known as something of a prankster and he might have thought the burglary was part of an elaborate practical joke.
Hazelbaker calls that explanation "nonsense."
"Everyone knows liberals don't have a sense of humor."
Crush on Patty Hearst
Even before Nixon resigned, the pre-pubescent Obama had moved on to a new, even more dangerous caper, according to Hazelbaker. The kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
"He planned the whole thing," Hazelbaker alleged. "But I don't think he counted on a couple of things. One was that the man he'd appointed to be his stand-in in public as leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army, was a real nutjob. He took things in a direction Obama couldn't have imagined when he instigated the plot. The other is that he didn't expect to fall in love."
Hazelbaker claims that during her captivity, Hearst and Obama formed a romantic friendship that continued long after her capture and arrest.
Hearst, in a telephone interview with the Gazette, denied that Obama was ever part of the group that kidnapped her and says she is prepared to swear under oath that she and Obama did not meet until sometime afterwards, although she can't remember the precise circumstances.
She does admit that the two had feelings for one another.
"It was a severe case of puppy love on his part and a giant almost No-no on mine," she said. Hearst says she tried to discourage him but he persisted in his crush well into high school.
"He invited me to the Homecoming Dance his sophomore year," she remembered. "I couldn't go, of course. I was in jail."
Democratic and liberal defenders of Obama have been quick to point out the utter absurdity of all this.
"He was a kid, for crying out loud," said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton at a hastily called press conference in Scranton, PA, where she is pretending to stump enthusiastically for Obama. As reporters intensely studied her body language for any sign that her heart wasn't really in her defense of her one-time rival for the Democratic nomination, Clinton told them, "Yes, his mother was a single mom who worked all day, but she was tough. He had a curfew. It's hard to be a revolutionary when you have to be home for supper every night."
Other Obama supporters have wondered why, if Obama has always been such a radical, more signs of it haven't shown up in his writings and speeches or in any of the policies he's advanced or advocated in his years in public office and on the campaign trail.
"[The revisitation of the Ayers non-story] is delusional. It would be interesting to ask, for instance, why so few of Obama's law students have come forward to talk about his attempt to transform them into Maoist cadres, or why the lawyers in his firm have not mentioned his commitment to cultural revolution, or how he has managed to conceal his desire to nationalize the means of production from, well, everyone. Was he secretly plotting to get asked, unexpectedly, to speak at the Democratic Convention, take a chance on running for President, and succeed, back when he was on the Harvard Law Review? That, plus absolutely iron self-control, might explain why no one caught a glimpse of Obama's secret radicalism: he has been concealing it for decades, the better to bore away at our bourgeois institutions."
But Hazelbaker has an answer to this.
She says that Obama has been concealing his radicalism for decades in order to make himself acceptable as a Presidential candidate.
"That's been his plan all along," she says. "Sometime during his senior year in high school, Barack Obama decided that he would have a better chance of destroying America from within and that the best way to get inside and acquire the necessary power to do that would be to get himself elected President someday."
"He decided to lie low," she said. "And for almost thirty years he did lie low. He turned himself from a revolutionary firebrand and angry, violent radical into a seemingly calm, cool, almost too calm, centrist, who worked hard and followed the rules and had no greater ambition for the country than changing the tone in Washington."
This was also the time when Obama decided to become black, Hazelbaker said.
Up until it was time to apply for college and he needed to take advantage of affirmative action programs to get admitted to elite schools like Columbia where his "foreign" ways would go unnoticed, Barack Obama was just a white guy with dark skin, according to Hazelbaker.
"As all good Republicans know, after Martin Luther King died, America came to its senses about race and we became a color blind society," Hazelbaker said. "It was impossible for anyone except liberals to be racist anymore. Liberals kept to their old black-white view of the world in order to maintain their paternalistic welfare politics that kept African-Americans dependent on government handouts and so prevented them from joining country clubs and moving into neighborhoods with good private schools.
"So really, up until he was a senior in high school, neither Barack Obama nor anyone around him thought of him as black."
"Actually," Hazelbaker contiuned, "Up until then Obama identified completely with his mother's Irish heritage. He even called himself Barry O'Bama."
But Hazelbaker was quick to add, "That doesn't mean he was as American as corned beef and cabbage and green beer."
"We have evidence that he had ties to the IRA," she said. "In fact, we're pretty sure he lost his cherry to Bernadette Devlin."
I have a terrible feeling that there are times when the teenager secretly compares me to Homer Simpson on the Dad-O-Meter and I don't score much higher than Homer.
I'm sure I've mentioned this. I don't like The Simpsons. This isn't a case of the show being like pesto to me. It's a case of the show being like ragweed, cat hair, and my high school girlfriend's perfume. I'm allergic to it. I'm sure The Simpsons is pure genius, just as I'm sure cats can be loving and loyal and my girlfriend's perfume was sexy and alluring, but I'll never get to enjoy it because as soon as I see it or hear it or even think about it I break out in hives and start sneezing.
I don't know what it is, the color scheme, the voices, the drawing style, the combination, or what. I just can't stand it. Which is a problem around here because every other Mannion in the house loves The Simpsons, especially the teenager.
This morning he wanted to show me a story in one of his Simpson comic books. Of course as soon as he asked me to take a look I had one of my allergic reactions. I tried to hide it but he's sensitive and picked up on it right away. Possibly the red watery eyes and the sudden furious scratching gave me away. His feelings were hurt.
"I'll look at it in a minute, son," I said in my phoniest Ward Cleever voice.
"Nevermind," he said, obviously crestfallen. "It's not important." And he began to walk away, idly flipping the pages of the comic book, pretending he was already forgetting the crushing blow to his heart I'd just delivered.
"Come back, my boy," I called. "Let me see."
He let me. I saw.
Homer was attempting hang wallpaper in Bart's room.
He made a mess of it of course.
As I read, the teenager laughed.
And laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
I'm not certain there was anything behind that laugh.
But there's another reason I don't like The Simpsons.