Posted in Movie Reviews, Observations

Stranger Than

oj-made-in-america-30-for-30

It’s that time of year.

“10 Best” lists are proliferating, movies are hashed and rehashed and opinions are flown with abandon (“You moron!” How could you not mention X!”). One of the more interesting inclusions in this year’s set isn’t a movie in the traditional sense, but a five-part, eight-hour documentary—director Ezra Edelman’s marathon, “O.J.: Made in America” (not to be confused with the FX docudrama, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” starring Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Courtney B. Vance). The plaudits are well-earned.

What makes “O.J.: Made in America” a singular experience is the context in which Edelman has us view not just the details of Simpson’s trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman, but the nature of his life and celebrity. What gives the documentary its depth is Edelman’s juxtaposition of Simpson’s privileged existence with the long history of police abuse suffered by the African-American community of Los Angeles. “O.J.: Made in America” examines every thread that still exists in the social and political tapestry of America—Race. Celebrity worship, but more accurately, jock worship. The entitlement granted to athletes. Domestic violence. Media irresponsibility. The advantages the rich possess in dealing with the justice system. Jury bias.

Race is the primary theme of the documentary and rightly so, given the subject and the setting. Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Simpson’s story is that a man who seemingly moved heaven and earth to present himself as devoid of color (his watchword was “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”) became a symbol of black oppression to the African-American community. We see how carefully Simpson constructed his image, and the lengths to which corporate America further encouraged that image (As several interview subjects note, O.J. was always surrounded and cheered on by whites, not blacks, in the commercials he did for Hertz and other products). We also see how Simpson cultivated a social and professional circle that was predominantly white at a time when the African-American community of Los Angeles suffered one outrage after another at the hands of the LAPD. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

Edelman doesn’t flinch when presenting Simpson’s abuse of Nicole Brown, his second wife (his first marriage, to a black woman, remains largely unexamined). The number of interviewees who admit they knew what was going on will make your blood boil; if it doesn’t, Simpson’s sports show interview subsequent to his arrest for domestic violence certainly will. Simpson is so full of “It was New Year’s Eve—we both had too much to drink and things got out of hand. The press is making a mountain out of molehill,” while Roy Firestone, his interviewer, drips sympathy. Then you see the photos of Nicole’s damaged face, and hear a cop describe yet another occasion when a beaten Nicole summoned help. This officer actually arrested Simpson, but his superiors swept the entire incident under the rug because “Hey man, it’s O.J.!” You wonder how many free passes he actually received—and whether those who knew but excused Simpson’s behavior were able to sleep at night after Nicole’s murder.

There’s no doubt that the manner in which these victims died reflects how personal these crimes were to the killer. The savagery of the wounds inflicted and their number speak volumes (Warning: Photos of the victims and the murder scene are displayed at length in Episode 4 as Assistant Prosecutor Bill Hodgson describes the probable sequence of events in graphic detail). Contrary to the defense’s theory, it’s inconceivable that this was the work of a gang or a hired killer, both of whom kill far more efficiently—and quickly. No stranger would have created a blood trail that led directly from the murder scene to Simpson’s Ford Bronco to his front door and then to his bedroom. If you weren’t convinced before, “O.J.: Made in America” leaves you with little doubt that Simpson committed these crimes.

Edelman presents a straightforward account of Simpson’s trial for murder, and doesn’t hesitate to point fingers at Judge Lance Ito’s weakness in controlling the proceedings or the mistakes of the prosecution and law enforcement, of which there were many: District Attorney Gil Garcetti’s politically correct decision to try the case in Central Los Angeles, which virtually guaranteed a jury pool unsympathetic to the police and the prosecution; the late addition of Chris Darden to the prosecution team and his role in the trial, which made him Uncle Tom incarnate in the eyes of a predominantly black jury; Marcia Clark’s unshakeable belief that she had exceptional communication skills with female African-American jury members, despite a consultant’s findings to the contrary (The consensus of test panels? “Marcia Clark = bitch”); the infamous request to have Simpson try on those gloves, leading to Johnnie Cochran’s refrain to the jury: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

However, Edelman also notes that the jury was not exactly free of bias. The prosecution’s jury consultant cites a high percentage of African-American women on his test panels who hated Nicole Brown and viewed her as a homewrecker, despite the fact that Simpson never for a moment remained faithful during his first marriage. Two of the Simpson jurors, both African-American women, are also interviewed; one firmly states: “Let me tell you something, I lose respect for a woman who takes an ass-whuppin’ when she doesn’t have to…Don’t stay in the water if it’s over your head. You’ll drown.” Add Mark Fuhrman’s racist remarks, errors in evidence-gathering at the crime scene, the long history between the LAPD and the black community, and the ungodly length of the trial for this sequestered jury, and the final result should not have been surprising.

The participants in “O.J.: Made in America” include some well-known faces: Gil Garcetti, Marcia Clark, F. Lee Bailey, Mark Fuhrman and friends and members of the Brown and Goldman families. However, far more interesting observations come from others. One stand-out is a childhood friend of Simpson who to this day believes in O.J.’s innocence, though every anecdote he relates only attests to how self-centered and slippery the man was, even as a young teenager. We also hear from Ron Shipp, a former football player turned cop and O.J.’s friend for many years, who, being thoroughly familiar with the extent of abuse inflicted on Nicole, ends up testifying for the prosecution. While the prosecution team more or less owns up to its mistakes, Edelman shrewdly lets the members of Simpson’s Dream Team of attorneys run on, thus allowing them to reveal themselves, and not always for the better. Carl E. Douglas boasts of more than one act of ethical flim-flammery, F. Lee Bailey (later disbarred, though Edelman doesn’t tell us that) unfurls his ego yet again, and Barry Scheck dodges and squirms when questioned about his trial conduct. And finally, Edelman pulls no punches when it comes to the press—there’s no doubt that their coverage, from the Ford Bronco chase to the acquittal, clearly shows the news establishment squandering whatever journalistic credibility it had only to end up as merely yet another vehicle for mass entertainment.

Simpson’s acquittal and the vociferous enthusiasm this met in the African-American community shocked white America. In retrospect neither is surprising given the racial history of this country. Those in the community who thought otherwise seem to have been pressured to keep silent. We hear from a black minister in Los Angeles who thought from the beginning that Simpson was guilty; his response when the verdict was announced? “I saw a rich guy get off.” Color trumped wealth in the eyes of many (“Now you know what it feels like,” says a community activist, even today), yet time has made some of the outspoken more thoughtful. The female juror quoted above, when asked how she feels about the verdict today, hesitates and her conflict is visible. She bails with “It was what it was,” but there’s no escaping that justice was denied for these victims.

Yet an acquittal does not an innocent person make, at least in the eyes of the public. It’s clear that Simpson evidently thought the verdict would reset the clock and he could return to his pre-trial life. Not so, and I’m not sure this was entirely due to race; one of F. Lee Bailey’s previous clients, Dr. Sam Sheppard, endured a similar professional and social decline following his ultimate acquittal. Having covered Simpson’s ascent, the documentary proceeds to cover his descent, culminating in his conviction and lengthy sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from a confrontation over stolen O.J. memorabilia.

Made in America indeed.

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Posted in Observations

Museum of Jewish Heritage

This week I was all set to begin tackling HBO’s “Westworld” which seems to be THE latest water cooler television show. However, far weightier matters are on my mind.

Two days after the election I paid a return visit to New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. This was something of a spontaneous trip: I’d been wanting to go for weeks to see its exhibit, “Seeking Justice: The Leo Frank Case yellow-starRevisited,” a subject which has interested me for a very long time. A gap in my work schedule appeared on one of those spectacular autumn days we’re lucky to get in the New York area, so I finally had the time and the opportunity.

The exhibit, which was created by the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum of Atlanta, is a comprehensive examination of one of the most unbridled episodes of American anti-Semitism in our history. To say the Leo Frank case is a sobering example of what happens when a corrupt police force, an ambitious prosecutor with his eye on the governor’s office and a virulently prejudiced newspaper publisher combine is not saying enough.

But what really shook me was the sight of a huge Nazi flag in the Museum’s permanent exhibit: blood-red with a swastika front and center and an eagle in the left hand corner. We’re so used to the history of the Hitler years being told in black and white photos and newsreels that seeing an emblem of that time in color, as it was then, is not only shocking–it takes what is behind that emblem out of the history books and makes it contemporary and real.

As do the Museum’s videos of survivors of that era, especially those who were children in 1930’s Germany, whose lives were incrementally but ultimately and completely torn apart. They’re senior citizens on the tapes we view now, but you can still see the childhood bewilderment in their eyes as they relate how it felt to be forbidden to play with their non-Jewish friends, barred from attending their schools and witnessing the growing fear of their parents in the face of a government of hate.

Resonant, isn’t it?

Fortunately there is a bit of light, courtesy of the exhibit focusing on those now honored at Israel’s Yad Vashem as the “Righteous Among the Nations”: people who took tremendous risk to save the targets of Nazi oppression. I was particularly intrigued by the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuana, who bucked the instructions of his government and hand wrote visa after visa, permitting 6000 Jews to escape in 1940. The testimony of several he saved is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, all may not be lost.

One can only hope.

Posted in Books, Brain Bits, Observations, Television

Brain Bits for a Hot July

The weather is definitely turning steamy and tempers are running short. Patti LuPone has emerged as the Anti-Cell Phone Avenger, to which I say loudly and emphatically “AMEN.” Is there a regular theater-goer or opera or concert attendee who hasn’t been disturbed by some moron who refuses to turn the infernal machine off or worse, texts during the performance? (Incidentally, that was me about to strangle the young idiot sitting next to me who drank beer and texted throughout that performance of “Wozzeck” at the Met).

So thank you, Ms. LuPone, for sticking up for the rest of us, who revel in that quaint concept of live performance uninterrupted by the Electronic Age. By all means, steal as many cell phones as you need to stop the madness.

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Nurse Jackie finale
Even God needs medical help at times

One by one my favorite shows are ending their lives on the tube. First “Mad Men,” now “Nurse Jackie.”

After seven years and several stints at rehab and jail-induced detox, our last image of Jackie Peyton was as an OD’d junkie stretched out on the floor of All Saints’ ER. “Nurse Jackie” ended as it should have—despite her lengthy penance in the Diversion Program, she remained an Incurable addict. She seemed incapable of comprehending how her addiction and the accompanying lying and cheating impacted the lives of people she seemingly cared most about. As Eleanor O’Hara (thank you, Eve Best, for returning for the series finale) told her point-blank “You make it so damned hard to be your friend.” Truthfully the reality of her situation made it so damned hard to watch. The last straw came when, after fighting so hard to get her nursing license back and enduring one humiliation after another in doing so, she pops a mouthful of pills seconds after donning those blue nursing scrubs again.

In a sense the end was foreshadowed from the first episode of this season. I was never on Team Eddie. No matter what she did, he remained King of the Enablers—they consistently brought out the worst in each other, and their being together was one huge amber light. On the other hand, Dr. Bernie Prince, Coop’s replacement, was an intriguing counterbalance. The fact that he was played by Tony Shalhoub made it even better. I so wish the showrunners had introduced his character at least a season ago–he and Jackie would have made a great team, whether in the working or romantic sense, or both.

What made “Nurse Jackie” unique was its unapologetic portrait of a female anti-hero (and kudos to Edie Falco for having the guts to portray her). Jackie could be insensitive and irresponsible, but at some level she was never uncaring. And she excelled at her profession, though her addiction was making it more likely that this would eventually—and conclusively—be lost to her. Another major plus of the show was that none of the characters ever turned into a cartoon. They sometimes exasperated you, and several times you may have wanted to smack Coop upside the head, particularly in his early days, but most of the time they behaved in a realistic manner. Zoe grew, and to her credit outgrew Jackie. And so, in her oddball way, did Dr. Roman. Coop finally matured and moved on. And Dr. Prince, with his massive brain tumor, ended up in Death’s waiting room. Only those with addictions—Jackie to her pills, Eddie to his love for Jackie—remained stuck in their repetitive, destructive behavior.

Such is life.

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A God in RuinsEven after finishing Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins” a month ago, I’m still thinking about it. This is her “companion volume,” not a sequel, to her wonderful “Life After Life,” which featured the many possibilities of the life of Ursula Todd during England’s twentieth century. While the two novels feature many of the same characters, the tone is quite different. And the conclusion is somewhat maddening.

“A God in Ruins” is a biography of Teddy Todd, Ursula’s adored younger brother. In “Life After Life” he’s a golden boy—the model for Augustus, his aunt’s scamp of a literary creation, his mother’s favorite and ultimately the heroic RAF pilot seemingly lost during World War II. “A God in Ruins” presents a more detailed portrait of Teddy. He’s still a caring young man, though it’s clear his father, not his mother, is his favored parent; his affection for sisters Pamela and Ursula remains the same. He’s somewhat at loose ends when the war begins. Teddy’s two attempts at a career have failed—his year in France as a would-be poet ends when he concludes his work is trite, and a stint at a banking job is utterly soul-killing. In actuality this gentle young man’s best talent is killing as he pilots a Halifax bomber in countless runs over Germany.

Unlike “Life After Life” with its magical changes in Ursula’s path, “A God in Ruins” shows us a protagonist who, after flying so high, becomes utterly grounded. His post-war life seems to be one grind after another, both in career and in his personal life. He no longer shines except perhaps later in life when as a grandfather he provides love and shelter to his grandchildren when their own mother is unwilling to do so.

At times you may feel Kate Atkinson deliberately set out to contradict what she created in “Life After Life.” In the earlier novel the romance of Teddy and Nancy Shawcross seems to be deep and eternal; in “A God in Ruins,” we learn that while Teddy’s love is present, there’s little passion. Although the revision may be closer to reality since they grew up as neighbors with little left to reveal, you don’t want that version. You want the magic. And while the nature of Teddy’s end is easy to foresee, Ursula’s final word at the conclusion of “A God in Ruins” may make you want to demand a refund.

But what makes “A God in Ruins” so engrossing is Atkinson’s account of Teddy’s war: the close calls, the camaraderie with his crew, his miraculous surviveability, his being the “old man” of his squadron at the age of 23. I don’t think I’ve seen a novel drive home what was actually at stake during that time so completely, epitomized by the Morse coded dit-dit-dit-dah (V for Victory) transmitted to Teddy’s plane from a Dutch civilian (“It was a message of both faith and comfort that they saw frequently”), capped by “You could sometimes forget that there were entire nations for whom you were the last hope.” Atkinson does well by these young men who undertook what was in essence a last stand.

“A God in Ruins” is a novel well worth reading due to Atkinson’s artistry. If you haven’t read “Life After Life” yet, I suggest you read the later novel first just so you can move from reality to fantasy rather than the other way around. It’s so much more fun that way.

Posted in Observations

Sayreville

map_of_sayreville_njThere’s a tragedy that’s still unfolding in Sayreville, New Jersey, and unfortunately its nature comes as no surprise. This fall has seen domestic violence perpetrated by Ray Rice and an admitted “whupping” administered by Adrian Peterson to his four-year-old son, preceded by countless instances of college professors complaining (and litigating) over received threats, coercion and actual job loss to force them to award passing grades to football players so that they can remain eligible to play.

But this?

In the event you’re not familiar with the situation, seven high school varsity football players between the ages of 15 and 17 have variously been charged with aggravated sexual assault and other crimes allegedly perpetrated on several members of the freshman football team. As reported at nj.com , the alleged behavior consisted of attacks on freshmen in the locker room that began with a wolf howl, signaling a dowsing of lights, followed by forcibly pinning the boy to the floor, then standing him up and—forgive the graphic description—a varsity player’s shoving a finger into the victim’s rectum and then (same finger) into the victim’s mouth. While this was going on, one or two varsity players stood lookout and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the locker room. As of this writing, four such incidents have been identified; I have no doubt more freshmen will be coming forward, and the seven varsity players will most likely be implicating others, particularly if the county prosecutor seeks to try them as adults.

The reveal began in murky fashion. The Sayreville Superintendent of Schools announced at a press conference that all football games were cancelled for the coming weekend. He spoke of serious allegations concerning the safety of the players, but refused to be more specific, thus raising more questions than answers. He also spoke of the possibility of cancelling the rest of the season, which angered many parents. Even this former band nerd, who loathed every pep rally she was forced to play for, was taken aback, given the potential loss of college scholarships if the players could not be assessed by scouts during the games remaining on the schedule. However, all became clear two days later when a parent whose son had been the victim of one of these attacks provided details to nj.com under cover of anonymity. In short order the alleged perpetrators were taken into custody and charged as juveniles.

Where to begin?

With the perpetrators who, despite all that’s been in the news, apparently can’t comprehend that physically violating another human being is wrong, not to mention a crime?

With their parents, though these young men are certainly old enough to bear responsibility for their own choices?

With the coaches, who evidently failed to supervise the locker room, and, more importantly, to teach the young men in their care that being a member of the team is in no way consent to assault?

With those adult residents of the town who treat the varsity football team like demigods, parade around in Sayreville Bomber jackets, and so bitterly reacted to the cancellation of the season that nj.com’s sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisals?

But I have a particular bone to pick with the media which all so often stops short by referring to incidents such as this as “hazing.” You want to stop outrages such as this? Then drop that word and call it what it is—in this case, rape. And the next time some college freshman dies of alcohol poisoning in the house of the fraternity he’s pledging, call it aggravated assault. Because labelling it as hazing connotes “it’s only” behavior, i.e., “Boys will be boys.” It’s dishonest reporting that perpetuates the belief that the victim, by participating in sports or seeking to pledge, is more or less asking for whatever may come his way, including the brutality of his own teammates or fraternity brothers. While I’m well aware that the legal definition of hazing prevents consent from being a defense, this is one instance where the law and public perception sharply depart company.

The Sayreville story is far from over. In fact each day brings a new outrage. This morning I heard on news radio that defense counsel for one of the young men charged is insisting that her client’s suspension from school be lifted to enable him to return to the classroom. “He’s owed an education,” she reportedly stated. Certainly. But not on school grounds where the county prosecutor’s investigation is on-going, not to mention the possibility of his encountering his freshman victims.

Common sense, anyone?

Posted in Movie Reviews, Observations

Robin Williams

 

"Clash!"
“Clash!”

What a loss.

Yes, he was T.S. (“Terribly Sexy”) Garp, Adrian Cronauer, Armand Goldman and a host of other men—and occasionally women—but most of all he was the fastest brain (and mouth) around.

To listen to him improvise was astonishing. I remember the Sunday afternoon he and Billy Crystal invaded the Mets broadcasting booth at Shea Stadium to promote the first Comic Relief. This was definitely foreign territory for Billy, a diehard Yankees fan. But Robin Williams, who professed to never having attended a baseball game before, was nevertheless right at home. Taking on the persona of a fey fashion designer, he proceeded to give new meaning to the term “color commentary” with his nonstop views on the players’ uniforms (“Can’t they be more stylish?”), batting helmets and everything else in view. Tim McCarver, the Mets’ play-by-play man, was laughing so hard he was beside himself. And I had fallen off the sofa the instant Robin opened his mouth.

Garp and Jenny Fields (Glenn Close)
Garp and Jenny Fields (Glenn Close)

Fortunately he left behind the many characters he brought to life on film. To this day, nothing brings me out of a funk faster that Adrian Cronauer’s first broadcast in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Unless, of course, it’s Robin’s whirlwind make-up tests in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” aided and abetted by Harvey Fierstein. But my all-time favorite is the bit he improvised for “The Birdcage,” when he provides motivation for Nathan Lane’s hunky yet exceedingly clueless dance partner. His lightning quick demonstration of about six different choreographic styles sent me into hysterics as soon as he pulled his shirt over his head at “Martha Graham, Martha Graham.” And when he galloped around at “Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd,” I totally lost it. Pure genius.

Perhaps my favorite among Robin Williams’ “serious” roles is Garp. The mania is tamed, but the vibrancy remains. Needless to say, the cast is amazing: Glenn Close as his mother, Mary Beth Hurt as his wife, John Lithgow as the inimitable Roberta Muldoon and Swoosie Kurtz as a prostitute-turned-women’s rights supporter. He takes us through Garp’s triumphs, only to trip and fall and then succeed again. There are times you just want to smack him one, but Robin Williams is so likeable in the role you just root for the character no matter what.

He will indeed be missed.

Posted in Observations, Opera

No Strength of Conviction

"The Death of Klinghoffer"--Opera Theater of St. Louis (Photo: Ken Howard)
“The Death of Klinghoffer”–Opera Theater of St. Louis (Photo: Ken Howard)

I’m furious.

The Metropolitan Opera, per General Manager Peter Gelb, has cancelled both the HD telecast and the radio broadcast of John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer,” scheduled for next season. To anyone who has heard the opera (more about that later), the given reason for doing so is couched in something of a non-sequiter: that an international showing of the work would be “inappropriate in a time of rising anti-Semitism.” In the next breath, Gelb maintains that he doesn’t feel the work is anti-Semitic, but he understands the “genuine concern of the international Jewish community.”

Baloney.

The prime mover in this is Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, supposedly representing the interests of the Klinghoffers’ daughters. In truth this is an attempt to stir a pot that doesn’t exist. Unlike Mr. Foxman, who admits he’s never seen the opera and whom I seriously doubt has even heard the music or read the libretto, I’ve listened to a recording of the work, and no way is “The Death of Klinghoffer” anti-Semitic, nor in my opinion, anti-Zionist.

What John Adams and Alice Goodman have produced is a multi-faceted, sensitive opera designed to represent multiple points of view and—horrors!—to make the audience think. The music is some of Adams’ best—eerily beautiful, yet powerful. What I suspect really galls the ADL and their supporters is that the work is not as one-sided as they would wish. The Palestinians on stage voice their aspirations; they’re not merely cardboard villains. Though Adams and Goodman make it very clear that Leon Klinghoffer’s murder was an unjustified, horrific act, this is evidently not enough for those who operate on knee-jerk reactions.

Look, I’m Jewish and I had problems with “The Death of Klinghoffer” before I listened to it. My reservations weren’t political, but emotional—my parents were of the same generation as Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it didn’t take much imagination to see them on the Achille Lauro. But having listened to the opera, I think it’s a major work that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible. I had planned to attend the HD telecast, but unfortunately this opportunity hasn’t just been taken away—it’s been stolen from me and everyone else who had been eagerly looking forward to seeing it. The artistic loss can’t be denied: John Adams is a composer of enormous stature whose works are among the most intriguing any opera house has to offer. The Met’s productions of “Nixon in China” and “Doctor Atomic,” both of which I’ve seen, are on a very short list of outright successes Peter Gelb has enjoyed during his tenure as General Manager.

I have a message for the ADL: You don’t speak for me. Abraham Foxman, he who blithely admits he never saw the opera, apparently wanted the entire run of “The Death of Klinghoffer” to be cancelled. But, as he ever so smugly told the New York Times, “We compromised.” The fact that a special interest group is evidently dictating repertory to the Metropolitan Opera should give anyone with a brain some pause.

To the Klinghoffer daughters: Your loss was immeasurable. I know you don’t see it this way, but to those familiar with the opera, John Adams and Alice Goodman have honored the memory of your parents, not exploited it. The fact that you are evidently using your influence to suppress, rather than promote, an opportunity for discourse is in itself an injustice.

To Peter Gelb and the Metropolitan Opera: Your cancellation of the HD telecast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is the worst expression of cowardice I’ve seen in years. You caved to political pressure in the same way that Hollywood and TV caved during the McCarthy and “Red Channels” years. You’ve compromised the very mission of the arts: to provoke thought and discussion. Integrity once lost can never be regained. So the next time your little minions call me for a donation, the answer will be no. And Peter? You just wrote the first paragraph of your obituary.

The “Klinghoffer” controversy is just one more example of the extreme fear exhibited by religious and/or special interest groups in the face of any expression that departs from orthodoxy. A number of years ago it was Catholic groups that protested the showing of Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary” at the Brooklyn Museum (If you recall, the artist had used elephant dung in addition to more traditional media in executing the portrait). Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani threatened to withdraw city aid to the museum, which filed suit in federal court and won on First Amendment grounds.

Ultimately this type of suppression is unvarnished paternalism. It stands for the proposition that only Mommy and Daddy know what’s best for you. Interest groups that apply this type of pressure to arts organizations fundamentally distrust the audience, no doubt out of fear that their own ideas will be rejected. The only comfort one can take away is that those who suppress are on the wrong side of history.

Will the ADL up the ante next time by resorting to book-burning? Shonda.

 

Posted in Baseball, Observations, Opera

Lose One, Win One

Still Smarter Than AGMA and Local 802
Still Smarter Than AGMA and Local 802

This may turn out to be more deadly than the “Game of Thrones” Red Wedding.

Local 802 of the Musicians Union recently authorized a strike should an agreement not be reached with the Metropolitan Opera before current contracts expire on July 31. Unlike the choristers represented by the raucous American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), which has been rattling its saber for weeks, the musicians have been quiet until now.

Given the present state of affairs, it’s time for a tutorial from this Met subscriber whose hard-earned dollars have been paying their salaries since 1987. So all you unions, welcome to Auntie Betty’s parlor. Have a seat while I try to open your eyes to reality.

Contrary to your evident expectations, you’re not going to win the public relations war. Met General Manager Peter Gelb and his board aren’t dummies, so they won’t forsake the high road to lock you out, which is something I’m sure you’d dearly love (Martyrdom has its perks, I suppose). While the Minnesota Orchestra management had to learn the hard way from this mistake, you can rest assured the Met hierarchy was watching their every move and filing the public reaction away for future reference. This, in addition to the calm of Peter Gelb’s response to every hysterical pronouncement by AGMA, consistently casts the Met in the adult role as opposed to the unions’ acting like petulant teenagers.

You’re not fast food workers scraping by on minimum wage. While the employment paradigm in this country has shifted drastically to part-time and contract work, you’re full-time, permanent employees, a status that many of your audience members would kill for. So how much sympathy do you think you’re going to get when real wages in this country have been virtually frozen for decades and the cost of benefits is increasingly forced on employees? Unemployment in the New York metropolitan area remains high, to the extent that millions have ceased even looking for work, or haven’t you heard? The present economic picture results in less disposable income, which in turn means fewer Met tickets sold and fewer dollars donated (Let’s not forget the investments of the Big Wallets, i.e., the moneyed elite, were also hit by the 2008 economic upheaval. I see no evidence whatsoever that you’ve acknowledged this reality, but you better do so, pronto. Otherwise you’re not serving your membership.

I remember the Met strike of 1969-70, when half a season was lost, and opera lovers went through major withdrawal. Here’s a news flash: We won’t feel that level of pain this time should there be a strike. Why? We’ve got opera on DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube and countless sites on the interwebs, not to mention HD telecasts from around the world. Of course we’ll miss the excitement of the live experience, but we sure won’t be bereft.

Think about it.

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Oh happy day!

The news broke this week that Saul Katz, business partner and brother-in-law ofMr_Met1960s Fred Wilpon, owner of the Mets, may be interested in selling his share. This would either make the Wilpons minority owners or force them to sell their interest in the team. Although Katz immediately denied the rumor, Mets fans took to the internet and social media to rejoice.

If ever a franchise needed new ideas and a cash infusion, it’s the Boys of Flushing, New York. Hit hard by the Madoff scandal (the Wilpons and the Madoffs had been friends for decades), the Mets have simply been out of the running for several years in the free agent market. They’ve been forced to settle for players like Chris Young and Curtis Granderson who, while able, are not what the Mets have a crying need for—a Big Bat. A Darryl Strawberry, a Gary Carter—someone who can deliver. Consistently. And be a colorful Super Star. For years the Mets have been as bland as skim milk. This is New York, for God’s sake! Strut your stuff.

At heart the Wilpons really seem to have wanted to own the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the New York Mets. While the new CitiField honored Dodger greats from Opening Day, the Wilpons didn’t even feature a Mets museum until the ballpark’s second season, and it was only then that the team’s retired numbers appeared on the outfield fences. With this plus a very disheartening team, is it any wonder that ticket sales have been diminishing year by year?

Financially speaking, the Mets have been a bottomless pit, and I suspect that had the Wilpons not been close friends of Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, they would have been forced to undergo some stringent financial scrutiny when the true extent of Bernie Madoff’s dealings became known, and perhaps even been forced to sell the team. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Here’s hoping a sale happens ASAP. I don’t expect a World Series champ overnight, but I would like to see some consistently competent and maybe even (dare I hope?) occasionally exciting baseball played in Queens for an entire season. It’s a start.

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R.I.P. Al Feldstein, the driving force behind Mad Magazine’s success and the father (?!?) of Alfred E. Neuman, this post’s headliner. At its peak, there was nothing better than to grab the latest issue and laugh like a fool over what “the usual gang of idiots” had cooked up that month. Good times.