Monday, July 28, 2008

Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" in Forest Park

I am engaging in some free advertising for a brilliant production of Noel Coward's play "Hay Fever" which I saw this weekend. Circle Theatre operates out of a tiny playhouse in Forest Park yet they put on a performance which seemed perfect in its casting, direction, costumes and stage design. One might think that a play from 1924, especially this one with all its references to 'flapper' culture, was all about "period charm." But actually Coward's plays endure out of their portrayal of human nature, as timeless as Shakespeare's. The period details of Circle's production simply put Coward's words into a context that made it believable and realistic. Go see it if you can; it's playing through August 24.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The New Yorker Editor Responds

The editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, made the rounds of media programs this week in response to the uproar over the cover with the Obamas. For the most part I think he "gets it" in terms of way in which the cover created some outrage. In one interview he said:
I do understand why some people are upset. Some people are upset because the last seven years have been such a political disaster and they have placed so much hope, uh, hope that is embodied in Barack Obama, that they are very fearful that something will upset that, that apple cart.

But I still think there is some self-centeredness at work here, and what Remnick said only amplifies it.

People get it. People are not just smart in Manhattan, or Washington, or LA, in fact there are some people who aren't [smart] in those places.

(He might as well just have said, "there are even a few smart people in the flyover states.")

I wouldn't normally want to be in the business of explaining satire, and that may suggest that the, that this image was too...complicated, too complicated to work out for some people, I'm not looking down on it at all, but it, it is comp, complicated issue an, uh, uh, an image in some way.

I respect all people's reactions to it, or confusions, uh, about it, except for one, one kind of reaction I find, um, a little difficult to take. And that's the notion, "I get it, but of course those people out there," it, it, it...they're, they're somehow, um, they're incapable of understanding anything, and in their hands its going to be a weapon for this, that and the other thing.

Remnick acts affronted by a notion he's interpreted from the controversy, one which he takes pains to say he disagrees with, that there exists unsophisticated flyover state people on whom the satire will be lost. The problem is that he's locked into thinking that the whole world lives in the arena of magazines and media outlets. He may find it hard to fathom, but there are all sorts of people out there---voters---who are busy enough working hard at what they do, some living very rich lives or doing wonderful creative things, or some perhaps just surviving, who don't bother to parse the universe of this magazine's posture, or that tv station's political leanings, and so forth. But memes such as magazine covers do enter their sphere, and they draw their own conclusions. Usually the success or failure of satire isn't a big issue for the media. But when an image comes out that is so strong, in a scenario when the stakes are so high, perhaps the media can be mistaken in judging the impact they can have.

And let's talk about those stakes:
Look, this is a very difficult and transformative time, I think I and, uh, share, I don't only understand, but I share the feelings of a lot of people who feel that the last seven years have been a disasterous presidency, and they, and again, I share this, look to, uh, the hope for change, and, and invest a lot of hope in, uh, something new. Uh, someone intelligent, someone with integrity, uh, someone with even a different kind of background, and it's, it's a historical breakthrough, the idea of a, a, a black president, an African-American president, all of this holds out enormous promise. And at the same time people are very anxious about what may happen in the campaign, what, uh, uh, ways rumor and lies can be used against Barack Obama.

This gets to the heart of a very big question for the press. On the one hand, the writers and readers of The New Yorker may want a particular political outcome, but on the other hand none of them would want The New Yorker to become a party mouthpiece. That slightly aloof, detached, let's-have-fun-with-the-news ironic humor exactly is what readers pay the cover price for. But is there ever a point in which a political outcome is so important for the survival of our nation that one shouldn't risk anything that might give ammunition to the opposition? Is there ever a time in which matters become too serious for satire?

[ The David Remnick quotes come from two different interviews, one with Wolf Blitzer and another with Charlie Rose. ]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Billy Graham at TED Talks

I was surfing around and was amazed when I stumbled across a link of Billy Graham speaking at TED Talks from 1989. It looks like they posted it for the first time just this month. Of course Billy Graham and TED Talks is on the face of it, a bizarre match. As a teen and young adult, Billy Graham was for me pretty easy target of scorn: a proseletyzer, an establishment figure, a Nixon associate. Yet the Ted Talks people counted him, at age 80, among the remarkable worth listening to. (Other surprising people have given him an audience too, such as Woody Allen.) I have to admit that it's hard not to be in awe of someone like Billy Graham---Johnny Cash was another---who has survived on the cultural landscape as long as he has, commanding audiences by just doing his thing. He didn't end up disgraced like a Nixon or a Richard J. Daley, was never unmasked as a hypocrite or fraud, and didn't cling desperately to his fame by reinventing himself every few years. His TED Talk was interesting, and although not earth shattering, what shines through is his sincerity, empathy and intelligence, and that makes his message worth considering.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why New Yorker's Obama Cover is a Mistake

Even as a dedicated reader of The New Yorker, I can't get behind their cover cartoon showing Barack and Michelle Obama as inhabitants of the White House who fulfill the worst nightmares of paranoid right-wingers. Their mistake comes out of arrogance. First, they believe that their brand is so universally known that everyone will correctly place the cartoon in the context of New Yorker's detached, ironic humor. In fact, the largest number of people who are going to end up seeing this cover probably are as familiar with The New Yorker style as I am with FHM's or Sports Illustrated's. It will end up pinned to walls of people with no awareness of The New Yorker's liberal bent, who will be thinking "wow, look what an establishment magazine says."

Their other arrogance is summed up in this letter I just sent by email:

Dear New Yorker,

When you weighed the pros and cons of publishing your cover of Michelle and Barack Obama, what audience were you thinking of when you decided it fell safely on the side of 'satire' instead of the tasteless smear it turned out to be? I know who it was. It was an old-school, insular kind of east coaster who sees things coming from the Second City as foreign, out on the fringe, and safe for irreverent humor. Sort of like Europe lampooning America's reaction to 9/11 as maudlin and self-pitying.

Greg Sandell