Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bullshit Perfected

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to talk about a very different creative presentation. Please don't take it for conceit when I say I am extremely gifted with words and with storytelling, which has at times manifested itself as bullshit. This ability, to talk sideways and backwards and upside down and inside out without anyone noticing has gotten me out of countless scrapes, much to the chagrin of Jiminy Crickett, whom I keep locked up in the lowest dungeon of the darkest castle, screaming for his precious star to hear him.

Nevertheless, his screams echo through the walls and my brain and I am at once incredibly grateful for my artistry with words and half truths yet inescapably saddened that I should be able to accomplish so much by hiding low cards that comprise the bulk of my deck. Fortunately, my tell is hard to find and I've always been able to give off the impression that I'm playing with four of a kind.

I believe in honesty and in fairness and yet I get by and ahead by being less than honest and not completely fair, like so many successful people in our society. My only guilty comfort in which I can partake is that so few people are honest and righteous and fair, relying instead on the faux but compelling appearance thereof. My inward ability to craft and alter has given me an outward and painfully clear view of the meaningless rhetoric that gives us hope that society can be improved while hiding the speakers true intent and actions mired in the complacency and apathy that has become the hallmark of our society.

Watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States was the clearest example in recent memory of what it means to be truly good at bullshit. I know I'm good at the art form, but never have I seen such a stunning display of demagoguery, of deft manipulation of the heart and soul of viewers, telling them all what they wanted to hear without committal and certainly without ever revealing his hand. I may be able to see his tell, but I find it absolutely impossible to make out what cards Obama is in fact holding. I know only that I have witnessed a master at work. Politics is about perception, not about reality, but Obama's speech make the two nigh indistinguishable.

Listen carefully to the speech and you will notice that he says everything the crowd wants to hear, about the problems we face and the need to fix them. Obama makes half promises to fix them, but never does he fully outline what he will do or how he will do it. He put out all the issues with just the right phrasing and emphasis, never dawdling, keeping a constant flow that makes it impossible to pick out a misstep or a prime intention.

There is also never a true indication of where exactly on the spectrum he lies, he never makes the leap from general to specific so that everyone can agree with him in spirit but without any content to hone in on and be exactly sure that their wants match his own. Notice the respect her garners by giving it out, the high horse he rides without anyone noticing, praising Senator McCain while deftly and regretfully deriding everything that McCain stands for.

Without a linear point to follow audiences instead are left with a flowing mass of promises that can be backed out of and goals that can be altered, of ends that could have multiple means applied. Obama cited all the great men of recent American history, taking up their mantle and waving the flag of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He paraphrases the Shining City on the Hill and ever is the utterance of change, his end all be all catchphrase which can inspire and instill hope without ever defining itself.

Make no mistake, I am a registered Democrat, liberal American and proud opponent to everything the inconsequential, arrogant, misguided little man who sits upon his sad little thrown of his sad little imaginary kingdom. Come November I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama. That being said, I do so knowing that I am taking a calculated risk. I am banking on Obama's cards being as good as I hope they are, knowing that if his opponent bluffs his way through the game he will unveil a hand that can mean nothing less than continued war, poverty, stagnancy and a total irreverence for what America could be.

John McCain will leave this country no better than when he came to office, that is the only thing of which I can be sure. I sincerely hope Obama sees and believes and will in fact fight for the America he whispered of but never defined, but my cynical nature will never let me forget that he is an incalculably gifted demagogue that I am banking on using those precision tools of politics and bullshit to make a better America. Today, I cast a vote affirming my faith in Barack Obama, hoping that it is a faith that will be rewarded and not disappointed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Clone Wars

There was a time in a galaxy far, far away that lightsabers, blasters and a few well timed quips could keep me enthralled for hours on end. There was a powerful magic in those ancient weapons and hokey religions, a place where the imagination could run wild and free, born aloft on repulsor engines that carried one through the stars and realms of creativity and fantasy. With my lego Millennium Falcon and Republic Gunship still intact and dozens of other memorabilia and games regretfully stuffed somewhere in cold storage, there was never any doubt about whether or not I'd go to see Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I find myself now almost regretting my allegiance to a man by the name of Lucas, betrayed by a vision that has served to inspire millions and now serves to do little more than bleakly pacify us for ninety minutes of heinous dialogue, horrible plot and incredibly disappointing action sequences.

Five years pass between the end of Star Wars Episode II and beginning of Episode III, five years of constant war and strife, a time where the mettle of the great heroes of the Republic, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, was tested again and again, and the best Lucas and director Dave Filoni have to throw at audiences is a terribly conceived and executed plot to choke off Republic supply routes in the outer rim by creating a rift between the Republic and the Hutts, the controllers of the shipping lanes. We are asked to forget for a moment that hyperspace allows an infinite number of paths to take from A to B and actually believe a virtually incomprehensible turn of events led the Separatists to kidnap the infant son of Jabba the Hutt and use him to sow dissent between the Hutts and the Republic that led Kenobi and Skywalker to attempt to rescue the Huttlet (I wish I were kidding) with Skywalker's brand new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, in tow. Without even the famous scrolling introduction, I expected the narration at the beginning to turn into one of those annoying newsreel spoofs of our boys fighting heroically on the frontlines, only to realize that it was in fact dead serious. Perhaps the joke is on me, but I trully expected a punchline at the end of the narration and got only a mess of all that can go wrong with a movie.

There is a chance I could be wrong, but I was vaguely and probably mistakenly under the impression that the title of the film was The Clone Wars, which in a mottled and mixed up world should mean the film actually portrays the war, not a few poorly sequenced skirmishes. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, they do after all amount to a few paltry action sequences of the Jedi flicking their lightsabers back and forth for what seems more like pendular hypnosis than swordplay. Even the lightsaber duels do terrible justice to a saga that is as well known if not more so for its spectacular one on one fights as it is for its sweepingly epic battles. Never once do we get a sense of cosmic scale and barely do we understand the consequences to be life or death.

We are expected to assume Skywalker and Ahsoka would instantly develop a back and forth banter deeply connecting teacher and apprentice, one that is punctuated by irrelevant, pointless and poorly written dialogue of what is supposed to sound like mentoring but instead seems like continuous brainfarts. It almost feels as if Lucas is pointing to Ahsoka and saying: See, a nubile female Jedi who fearlessly deflects blaster bolts, fights Sith assassins and even stands up to Anakin Skywalker without hesitation, what more do you want from me?

What do I want? I want Star Wars to have good plot, compelling action, funny and fun dialogue. I want a world of fantasy where the imagination is swept into a cosmic scale, impossible odds and endearing hope in the darkest corners of the galaxy. I want action sequences that weren't thrown together with a couple of flashlights in some schmuck's basement. I want an intelligent construct where we see depth, light and darkness and all the shades of gray in between, not a constantly poorly timed and nonsensical mess of charging and jumping and screaming and the illusions of the endless possibilities six year olds will find themselves stripped of should they mistake this movie for quality science fiction.

The Clone Wars has the contextual markings of greatness. Spaceships, robotic dispensers of death, coming of age, mentorship, lightsabers. To a young mind who does not realize Star Wars used to be something more than epic, it may do as a means to stave off boredom. But there will be a time where the children who walk out of the theater captivated by the lights and whirring and battles watch A New Hope and they will realize just what Ozymandias means when he says "Look Upon My Works Ye Mighty and Despair." For the longest time, I associated with the name Lucas grandeur and adventure, now I must add to that association a half life, a continuous decay from the glory days of the early 1980s. Lucas has allowed this dark lord of cheap laughs and meaningless plot to twist his mind until now, he has become the thing a little movie called Star Wars swore to destroy, a trivial footnote in the book of science fiction. The Clone Wars is perhaps the blackest of marks, proof that even Hollywood's greatest minds can turn out mindless and inescapable trash.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Swing Vote

Perhaps I'm jaded or maybe I'm just realistic, but I've always taken politics to be a cesspool of back rubbing and more than a little stabbing, a place where the meek and the honest could never hope to win by following the straight and narrow. It is a place that by all accounts is about neither the truth nor the issues nor the intentions but about the image, about a popularity contest where not the best or brightest but the most manipulative thrive, where winning isn't about being right or just but about making your opponent look worse, forcing voters into a choice of not the best candidate but the one who will leave the country just a tad cleaner than his (or someday her) opponent. It is a place and a state of mind where the most qualified and well meaning almost never stand a chance, and I say almost never only because the enduring and unfortunately unkillable flicker of hope deep within me remains. That candle clinging to life does however occasionally get rewarded for its stubborn refusal to be snuffed out, especially when Hollywood breaks out its especially intense humorous lampooning tools for movies like Swing Vote.

Kevin Costner smellily shines as beer drooling Bud, a perpetual half assing bumb dragged out of bed and his drunken revelry by the inescapable charm of Madeline Carroll's Molly, who by all rights should be dull witted and buck toothed as the daughter of the beer chugging Bud and a perpetually baked mother (Mare Winningham). Never once however does the audience question this shining beacon that the future might in a handful of possible paths get a little brighter. At 12, Madeline Carroll manages to steal the show with a lot more than cute pigtails, carrying the weight of a movie and a nation on her shoulders with sharp whit and doey-eyed hopefulness easily shattered by the cruel world of paparazzi and moraleless campaign managers, yet perpetually stitching itself back together with a handful of sober moments by Bud, but really Molly is the pillar on which the film stands. Carroll manages to outshine warring but spineless candidates played by Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper as the Republican President and his democratic opponent. Even Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as the separate campaign managers seem a little intimidated by the preteen that could.

For two hours, the audience is told to forget all thought of being a rational actor and believe that a Presidential election could boil down to a single man and his vote. Should you be willing to make that leap of faith you will find yourself in a movie that heaps on the charm and the irreverent lambasting as the two most powerful men in the country wage a mudslinging war for the heart, soul and vote of a single drunken deadbeat hick. We get a laughing glimpse of the darkest politics has to offer, the lows to which anyone who gets so far as to be one of the two final candidates for the office of President of the United States of America would have to sink. There are no limits and there is no shame, a sad yet charming reminder of a gray tinged and perpetually imperfect world in which we live.

The problem with Swing Vote is that it ends. For two hours we believe that an American and his or her vote really matters, that in the darkest hour even politicians can be human beings who at least lean towards the side of what is right and good. Then abruptly, the credits role, we rise and ever so slowly make our way outside where the summer breeze, lukewarm and moist, laps at our foreheads and we remember why Poly is Greek for many and Ticks are blood sucking insects.
In Kevin Costner's drunken swagger and Madeline Carroll's impossible cuteness I find a reason, however brief, to believe that politics and American culture can in fact mean something more than winning at any cost in order to achieve instant gratification. The film is warm and funny, the tale of a father and his daughter than can be impossible yet heartwarming, set against the back drop of all that is ugly and regrettable about the American political system. Original, comical and enjoyable, Swing Vote shows that there still is some hope for Hollywood. Mr. Smith may have gone to Washington a long time ago, but his memory endures. Hollywood is in fact capable of recognizing that which must be resisted and give us a fun and endearing means by which to lambaste and destroy it. For now at least, Hollywood has my vote.