Sleeping Giants

On February 26, 2013, in Past Morning Briefs, by David


So immersed in music, it’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to crank out a Brief. But a combination of Republican pre-Sequester Petulance and a Post-Oscar Hangover have moved me to words. Strong words. Have at thee!!


Was the opening bit with William Shatner merely ironic, or utterly prophetic? Perhaps both, but certainly the latter. I will make the case that not only was Seth MacFarlane the worst Oscar host in the 85-year history of the Awards, but that Sunday night’s television broadcast was by far the worst Oscars show in the history of the Academy Awards.images

I take my movies seriously. Perhaps not as seriously as I take the US government intentionally sabotaging the US people and economy (see below), but to me, movies matter. And while 2012 was a lot of things, including not the end of civilization as we know it, it was, in my opinion, the best year for motion pictures…Ever.

Seriously. I can’t think of a year with more Oscar-worthy films, including most of the Best Picture nominees, and three more that were worthy of that 10th and final slot: Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, and Dark Knight Rises. Since the Academy upped the number of best picture noms to 10, each year there have been films that didn’t quite belong but got that extra marketing push – “A Serious Man”, “The Blind Side,” “Toy Story 3.” Watch those three and then “Moonrise Kingdom” and tell me which of them deserved a nomination. Personally, I’d add “Chicago” to that list, but I digress. Again.

How can you justify the greatness of the last year in motion pictures with the absolute monstrosity of unfunniness, unprofessionalism, and unkindness that transpired last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood? You can’t, because that Oscars show sucked on every single level except for one. I’ll get to that later.

First, the host. Seth MacFarlane may be a brilliant creator of satirical, politically incorrect TV animation. His first film was a hit. I didn’t see it, but let’s just assume that it was the funniest movie of 2012. That still doesn’t make him a smart choice for hosting the Oscars. Johnny Carson. Billy Crystal. Seth MacFarlane? All comedians. All white. Whatever. But Mr. MacFarlane’s humor is not merely self-referential and highly inside-joke oriented. It’s also mean-spirited in the exact way that another recent Awards show hosting disaster was as well: Ricky Gervais.

Mr. MacFarlane’s jokes made Ricky Gervais stint at the 2012 Golden Globes seem dry, witty, under-stated and self-effacing by comparison. In addition to walking back nearly every on of his own jokes (at least, at some level, he was aware of how not funny his material was), and semi-un-ironically meting up a next day headline that was all too real during the broadcast, Mr. MacFarlane managed to:

1)    Be the 9000th comic to not hilariously reference the Chris Brown/Rihanna fiasco
2)    Pointedly insult Daniel Day Lewis’ epic performance in “Lincoln”
3)    Create the most not funny moment in broadcast television since OJ Simpson was found not guilty (the Lincoln joke; more on that in a moment)
4)    Use his own film creation, Ted, to make five infantile, lowest common denominator jokes about Jews and Hollywood
5)    Make Mel Gibson seem sympathetic
6)    Close the show by calling out all of the “losers” by name in song

To shine just a little bit of a spotlight on MacFarlane’s horrendous Lincoln faux pas before it is swept away into the dustbin of history, here’s the joke:

“This is interesting, Daniel Day-Lewis, not the first actor to be nominated for playing Lincoln. Raymond Massey portrayed him in 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois.” This is true. I would argue, however, that the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.”

Without biting down too hard on the sheer stupidity of the joke, it’s non-funniness, the proximity of Stephen Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tony Kushner, Tommy Lee Jones, and the principals from “Lincoln” a few feet away, and the fact that he’s talking about one of the greatest people in the history of the planet getting shot in the head, think a moment about the subtext of so many unnecessary gun related deaths in this country and around the world.

The audience actually booed, in a subdued reaction given the epic-ness of his fail. Was this not the Oscars, it would have been appropriate to hurl rotten tomatoes at the offender. As someone with a well-documented, irreverent sense of humor, I would call that maybe the least funny joke in the history of modern civilization, for its breadth and depth of base offensiveness, the number of people who heard it, and for the miscalculation of context and occasion.

It wasn’t just a bad joke. It was quite possibly a career-defining moment by a man of clearly questionable taste, if not talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he apologizes for it one day soon, in addition to the almost apology he made immediately afterward, and many other flat out shitty jokes he made throughout the night. If he doesn’t disown the joke, I’d say the guy’s jumped the shark as a humorist and he might want to read a book on comedy to get him back on the funny track. Last night, most of his material was either not funny, flat out pathetic, or worse.

In addition to the wretchedness of Seth MacFarlane’s hosting – which made Letterman’s turn seem sprightly and James Franco convivial by comparison – the show did seem endless, and nearly a dozen comments by MacFarlane noting same didn’t help, didn’t add any much-needed humor, and only served to highlight that he was hosting a show that he thought sucked. On that count, and that alone, he was absolutely right. It did. Suck. Hard.

Also note that the vast majority of presenter jokes were not at all funny or interesting, and the embarrassments that were Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy’s presentation, and The Avengers’ Oscar moment were each beyond squirm-inducing. And while this may be piling on, the addition of Michelle Obama to the Best Picture award presentation came off as politically correct, awkward, and cloying, even for the Oscars.

Without analyzing too, too deeply, those nasty play-offs featuring music from “Jaws” when speeches went a tad too long (speeches we could have enjoyed in their entirety had they cut ten stupid, self-referential MacFarlane jokes and Jennifer Hudson channeling Michael Bolton clubbing the baby seals of good vocal taste in our minds) rudely destroyed several of the most important moments of the night.

Those ominous chords must have been in the mind of both Jennifer Laurence as she rushed toward the stage to get her thank yous in on time, and Ben Affleck’s Evelyn Woods acceptance speech that I’m sure most of the world would have rather heard in real-time rather than at 78 speed. As opposed to, say, a four-part William Shatner gag by, for and about Seth MacFarlane.

Last, but not least, the sound engineering was completely atrocious, smacking of bad production choices, unprofessional technical work, and marring the single biggest selling points of the show: the tribute to the musical film over the last 10 years (really? That many great movie musicals in the last decade?), and live performances by Barbra Streisand and Adele.

If you are, or know, who the genius was who suggested placing the orchestra for the biggest night in television in a tiny room nearly half a mile away from the event at the Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine (they even bragged about it during the show) and piping in the sound while Barbra Streisand sang her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, congratulations!! You are, or know, someone who could be a Republican political strategist!!!

The sound drop-outs on that number had even Barbra – say what you want, the lady is a pro – looking baffled. I’m not sure what it sounded like in the theatre, but to those watching at home, it was like the orchestra was on a voice-call via AT&T. Father, can you hear me…now?

For Adele’s number, easily the most eagerly anticipated moment of the night, her mic was so low during the first verse that no one, not even Adele, could hear her singing. You see, when Adele sings, it’s kind of important that you can hear her voice. And she can’t just pump up her volume because she had vocal chord surgery not too long ago. That’s why we have that amazing 20th century innovation the Volume Knob at our disposal. Someone must have woken up by the time the second verse started, because the volume jumped in time for us to actually hear her vocal on the second go round.

OK, let’s assume the Jennifer Hudson moment didn’t totally suck, and even belonged in the show along with all the “Chicago” mentions (over…rated…). And give some credit to the one actually funny moment of the night – the “Sound of Music” moment with the von Trapp Family – Missing!!

Easily the worst Oscar broadcast ever. Period.

I knew the show was in trouble when producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron inserted themselves in their own Oscar pre-show – chock-a-block as THAT was with awkwardness via Kelly Rowland, Kristin Chenoweth, et al. Chenoweth sings like an angel, even while vocally-apologizing for that nasty closing number with MacFarlane, but speaks like a chipmunk sucking helium from a balloon animal.

The producers gushed that this was the moment they had waited for all their lives. They even had Seth MacFarlane mention them by name in the opening moments of the show. After Oscar 2013, these two should be grateful that their day jobs let them make a living producing the ABC series “Smash.” Because their night job was a train wreck that hasn’t been seen on the Oscars broadcast in 85 years, including radio. And so it came to pass that the best year in movies yielded the worst Oscars ever.

What did you think of the show?

AND IN OTHER NOT FUNNY NEWS >>> Presidential assassinations: not funny. Ever. AIDS jokes: still not funny. Calling a nine-year old Oscar nominee the C-word: definitely not funny, even from The Onion, which usually is funny. And Republican-manufactured fiscal crises that further decimate the lower and middle classes while benefitting the upper class and government bureaucrats – seriously not funny.

LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE >>> The passing of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who among other things stood up to American Conservative intransigence in the face of the AIDS epidemic in the name of humanity and common sense, is a powerful context for this week’s foolish and completely unnecessary government “sequester” which will once again impact America’s ailing economy – on purpose, by Republicans.

Facing diminishing support from the American electorate, and resorting more and more to the sort of schoolyard dirty tricks pioneered by Karl Rove from his days with the Nixon campaign and forward, the Republicans are America’s political equivalent of a spoiled child holding his or her breath until their face turns blue. Gerrymandering, illegal vote-blocking tactics, holding up legislation and appointments, and changing campaign finance rules to favor its constituents are all tried and true tactics.

But the “manufactured crisis” ploy, outlined by Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine” and utilized now for the third time in less than two years – Government Shutdown 1, Debt Ceiling 1, and Sequester 1 – are only serving to diminish American’s opinions of Republicans. The party has the lowest approval rating in the history of approval ratings polls, and the Republican House’s approval rating has somehow managed to dip below 10%.

President Obama, who is neither perfect, nor a Saint, is taking the right tack here by pushing Congress to solve this problem rather than letting it fall to the automatic cuts that were never intended to come to pass. We need to get our government whipped into shape in terms of solving these problems proactively, rather than dragging out to the deadlines which are hammering markets, hiring, productivity, and creating a sluggish economy that Republicans are marketing back to us as a result of Obama’s failed policies. It’s the Republicans fault. We know it. And it’s time for us to do something about it.

They sold us on the Iraq War. They were wrong, and it cost us more than $10 trillion. They convinced America that Obamacare was a bad idea, and took the House on that sentiment. Yet Obamacare is going to save this country billions, eventually trillions of dollars. And giving the House back to conservatives was the third worst election choice this country has made since Nixon.

So in addition to getting past these issues, we need a campaign to convince America to eject stagnant Republican leaders from Congress and give the President a Democratic majority that he can use to get this company moving. A campaign to STOP REPUBLICAN INTRANSIGENCE. It’s time. It’s the only way.

One of my favorite quotes of Dr. Koop – “What bothered me most, as I reflect, was the lack of scholarship by Christians – as if they felt that by leaning on a theological principle they didn’t have to be very accurate with the facts. People talk about knee-jerk liberals. The liberals have no corner on that market; I’ve learned there are also knee-jerk conservatives. Christians should be involved in politics, and use their Christian principles, morality and ethics in the process.  But they shouldn’t jump over the process and voice their beliefs as the only possible outcome.”

It’s time to rid this country of the knee-jerk conservative policies of obstinacy, of my way or the highway, and the perpetual Republican roadblock. Time to stop the opaquely racist, anti-women’s rights, pro-rape dialogue that has become a cornerstone of the Republican platform. Conservative cries that legislating controls on assault weapons that kill innocent citizens in increasing numbers amount to abridging some sort of constitutional right for each citizen to possess the means to mass murder.

It’s time for conservatives to join the discussion, join us in this millennium, and stop breaking our system. And if they won’t do it, and frankly, there’s little hope that they will, we need to vote them out of office ASAP so we can get this country moving forward again.

REMEMBERING AN ALL-TIME GREAT >>> In 1985, I was in Durham, NC for the Dinah Shore Classic, and it was my first day on the job as a news intern at WTVD Durham. I was sent to do a remote interview with Dinah to open the 6:00 news on a Saturday night. With less than five minutes before the hour and the start of the show, Dinah tapped out and I had a real problem. An opening segment interview, with no interviewee.

I went to the front desk in a panic, and they let me scan the guest list for a quick substitute: are there any celebrities staying here? I spotted Stan the Man Musial’s name, called his room, told him I was from St. Louis, and we were in a bit of a bind. He instantly agreed to join me for a remote with the studio. With less than a minute till the start of the six o’clock news and the very real possibility of three minutes of dead air dawning on the entire news team, Stan walked over to the cameraman and I by the pool. We mic’d him in an instant and he was ready to go.

Without a shred of ego – no surly questions like, “Why are you asking me now?” – Stan graciously filled in for Dinah Shore to do the interview, rescued our 6:00 news show from a three minute improv by the lead anchor, and helped a St. Louis-born newsroom rookie in a moment of need. Humble, honest, and real, Stan stood in for the interview, and in less than 200 seconds we wrapped. The consumate pro. I was told that everyone in the newsroom stood up and cheered. They cheered again when the camera guy and I returned later that evening.

A few hundred yards away by the Jacuzzi, Harlem Globetrotter great Curly Neal and his daughter were taking in the action on the hotel’s front lawn, and when we were done with the remote, Curly walked over to us and enthusiastically asked Stan for his autograph. Stan, in turn, asked Curly for HIS autograph, and joked that if I’d just walked over that-a-way I would have gotten a “real” celebrity to open the show. I then had the privilege to spend thirty minutes of my first day in the broadcast news business shooting the breeze with two of the greatest athletes and nicest people you’d ever want to meet.

As an athlete, and a human being, Stan Musial was the epitome of integrity, humility and graciousness. In an era where athletes are paid millions and aggressively decline the designation of role model, recognizing a Stan the Man in our midst – male or female, in any profession – signifies that being of outstanding character and leading by example makes one worthy of the mantle. No, you don’t become a role model by virtue of what you do. You become one, and I believe the best kind of example in our world, by being great in addition to doing what you do. Epitomized by Stan Musial in words, actions and spirit 100%.

BOB COSTAS ON STAN THE MAN >>> Here is a video link to Bob Costas’ brilliant eulogy for a great athlete, and an even better human being:

FILM FAVORITES OF 2012 >>> The best films of the year in the best year for movies in many years:

1. Moonrise Kingdom – A masterpiece. Best of the new millennium
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild – How did director Benh Zeitlin get a performance like that out of a 7 year old?
3. Life of Pi – A visual and spiritual feast
4. Zero Dark Thirty – Politically shaky but a motion picture tour de force nonetheless
5. Silver Linings Playbook – A quirky relationship story raised to high art
6. Argo – Terrific telling of a unique and true story
7. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan should be Peter Jacksoned
8. Skyfall – Best. Bond. Ever.
9. Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln
10. Django: Unchained – Quentin’s funniest picture is patriotic yet problematic
11. Cloud Atlas – Ambitious, sprawling, splendid
12. The Avengers – Non-stop fun

TBD – on my list of films to see ASAP.

1. The Hobbit
2. Searching for Sugar Man
3. The Master


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