Monday, July 31, 2006

Beyond Mel

And on a much more serious note than Mel's drunken comments...

While I may resist the over-reactions to, and intolerance of, free speech in America I do not take lightly the threat to all humanity by radical and extreme propaganda, beliefs, opinions, and philosophies.

In that vein, watch the video "Obsession: What The War on Terror Is Really About" from Not my normal moderate fare, but this is neither a conservative nor liberal issue - and this is not something that I believe an open dialogue can easily correct. A philosophy that beleieves only in the death and annihilation of those with differing viewpoints can have no open dialogue.

It's also, unfortunately, apparently not what our current "War on Terror" really addresses.

See the video here:
If you're not concerned, then you're obviously not paying attention.


On Blacklisting and Mel

Mel Gibson's recent arrest for DUI and his reported drunken anti-Semitic comments made to the arresting officer have sparked a small fury - and reopened arguments of anti-semitism, hate-speech and First Amendment rights.

But, what we're really witnessing is the deteriorating condition of America today. And by that I mean, the complete loss of tolerance towards differing (and often hurtful) thoughts and opinions.

The United States was founded on the premise of tolerance, and it is tolerance that kept us prospering (and the apple of the world's eye) for two centuries. Tolerance does not mean that everyone lives in harmony - but rather that everyone is allowed their opinions, no matter how inflammatory. Be clear here - I'm not talking about extremism or calls to violence, but simply opinion that can be offensive.

We have obviously weathered many storms in this sea of freedom of speech, including the coordinated and deliberate attack on this freedom during the blacklisting days of the McCarthy era.

But reading Ari Emanuel's column in the Huffington Post today, I am shocked that he suggests a return to the McCarthy tactics by stating about Gibson:
People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him...
Whoa there Ari. Basically you're calling to action the organized professional blacklisting of Gibson because he made the statement: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world"?

[Note: For the record, Arianna Huffington's commentary supports Manuel's position - and I believe her wrong here as well.]

While I disagree with Gibson's statement, it is just that - a statement... an opinion (albeit a stupid and drunken one) - not a call to action.

And in the current state of the world where Israel has attacked Lebanon, regardless of the provocation, with significant civilian casualties including many children, and where prominent Jewish Americans like Alan Dershowitz call any criticism of Israel's actions "anti-Semitic," is it really any wonder that there are people out there who are angry at the Jewish community and its positions - and express it insensitively?

Does that opinion truly make one anti-Semitic to the point of warranting blacklisting?

And what is anti-semitism anyway? Is it any statement in offense of Jews? Is it any statement in any way critical of Israel and its policies? According to Alan Dershowitz, that answer is Yes.

But doesn't this simply cut of more of the whininess that often surrounds free-speech? The position that I should be able to say whatever I want - but if you say something that offends me, then you're a bigot/racist/[insert condemning term here].

According to an interesting opinion by Ibrahim Nafie on Al-Ahram Weekly (an online Arab publication) Israel itself is caught in hypocrisy regarding anti-semitism. Granted this article is an extremely biased opinion - but then, isn't every opinion - including opinions such as Manuel's... and Gibson's?

In my little corner of the world I can say that I am tired of every criticism of an individual Black American's actions being labeled as racist, every criticism of Israel being labeled as anti-Semitic, and every criticism of the war as being un-American. They are all equally unfounded accusations.

We have become a society where tolerance has been supplanted by hypocrisy - and those who cry foul perpetuate the same behavior as that which they complain about. Labels are used to divide communities and promote specific agendas. And those promoting their agendas know that the easy-to-make racist/biased claims can cloud any issue and eliminate real debate or information exchange.

Yes, we should fight against extremism and against speech that crosses the line into calls for violence - but we should not confuse real hate-speech with speech we hate.

Gibson is an easy target - one which many in the Jewish community have waited years to find the soundbite they could damn him with (and in his drunken stupor he quite successfully complied).

But the real issue here isn't about Gibson, the individual. It's about an individual's protected right to make a critical or inflammatory statement without a call to blacklist them from society or their profession.

If on the other hand a concerted coordinated effort is made to discredit and destroy the lives of every person who makes derogatory comments about, or criticizes, individuals, groups or political/government actions, then Americans are accomplishing the ultimate hypocrisy and are walking dangerously close to adopting the tenets of facism - not of a free democracy.

And we should all know far too well that this is not something to be proud of.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Made in America

Listening to the radio this morning I heard something that just boiled my blood.

I happened to be tuned to a local Country station (don't ask) when a commercial came on that caught my attention because of it's patriotic music background. The voice track began and immediately started disparaging "imports" and then taking concerned listeners to task by asking:
Are you worried about the American Economy? Are you worried about Americans losing jobs?
Ah, another stupid political ad I thought... But unfortunately I would be wrong.

The voice-over continued:
Then stop buying imports and buy an American car - a car designed and built for Americans by Americans.
Excuse me? What did my new-found ignoramus just say? Be American - Don't buy imports?

What the hell is this, 1960?

I was of course already struck by the ignorance of this commercial when it then ventured off into I can't believe what I'm hearing territory, as it closed with something like this:
So be proud of what you drive - be an American, drive American.
Well, at least that's what my mind heard anyway - I have to admit that I was so stunned I didn't catch the actual last line, except the "Be proud" part.

As it turns out, the commercial was for a local auto-mall - you know the ones with several dealerships stuck together because they can't survive independently - and the voice-over turned out to be the owner of the auto mall.

I have to say I was sufficiently shocked and awed (although I doubt that was the intent). I stood in stunned amazement at the stupidity of this ad until I realized there are people who would hear this and say "Yeah, damnit - support America - buy an American car!" And they'd mean it.

And then I became yet again disappointed in this country and fearful of its future.

Here we are in 2006, in a global economy where most of the Toyotas, Hondas and Mazdas sold in the US are also made in the US - and where Toyota and Honda are huge contributors to the American Economy through the thousands of manufacturing, engineering, sales, service and support jobs they have brought to the US.

And you'd be hard pressed to tell which car - a Ford, GM, Toyota, or Honda - is actually more American-made.

And yet we have idiot people making idiot commercials to contribute to the mis-information mind-dumbing of other idiot people... and it pisses me off. And I bet they're all driving around with little flag stickers on their cars - proud to be a good American.

Well, if they're worried so much about the American economy maybe they should look at some real contributors to our economic problems, for example:
  • ridiculously low minimum and "living" wages

  • lack of affordable health care for workers

  • massive job outsourcing by our American companies

  • disproportionate and inaffordable tax cuts

  • uncontrollable record government spending

  • unnecessary "war" expenses costing billions

Nah... those wouldn't work well in a be fearful of the evil foreigners so buy our stuff ad campaign. Yep, you're either one of us or you're one of them.

Well, at least there is one thing this whole ordeal reminded me of: I am proud of what I drive.

And it's a Honda Accord.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Part Deux

As I anxiously await 12:05 am tonight for the first general showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest I'm reminding myself of a basic reality of my own movie viewing history: Sequels suck!

Don't get me wrong, I've seen many sequels that I enjoyed and that were in their own right fine films - alright, at least okay films. But in the end, it is the extremely unique sequel that matches, much less surpasses, its predecessor (or my expectations) - and for good reason. A first film captures (and takes away from its successors) the newness, the fantasy, the suspense, the visuals of a new concept.

It's the "first date" syndrome - and expectations that future dates will capture the same level of excitement are hardly ever met. (Okay, I'll make an exception for my wife...)

And I'm not speaking here about every sequel of every mediocre movie ever made - which are generally low-budget, low quality money makers. But rather I'm talking about blockbusters whose sequels were long awaited by millions who rushed out on day-one to spend their hard earned cash for 2 hours of anticipated bliss... only to be slightly disappointed because the movie just lacked something that they couldn't put their finger on.

Look at some groundbreaking examples - epic films, or box office blockbusters, whose sequels were equally grand (and financially successful), and yet never quite captured the magic of the original film: The Godfather, Rocky, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mission Impossible, The Matrix, The Terminator, Harry Potter, and yes, even Lord of the Rings.

What? Lord of the Rings, Return of the King won the Academy Award for Best Film? Yeah, big deal. It was the Fellowship, the first film of the series, that captured the audience's imagination and the true spirit of the films that would succeed it. What a daring piece of film-making that was awarded only after the entire trilogy was released.

And yes, I've loved every Harry Potter film made, but none make me feel the way the first did. The Sorcerer's Stone is the movie that gave tangible realization to inconceivable imagination. And each film to come after has been wonderful, but the scene was already set for them by the first - and none has jumped out to truly excel over the original.

In fact, in thirty years I can think of only two.

The first is Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars (A New Hope) shocked everyone and set a new bar for technology in film. It was hard to believe it could be topped - its sequel would be just another lame continuation of shallow and already developed characterizations. And yet through an excellent cast and story line - and even greater imagination than the first film - Empire rose soundly above the level of A New Hope and became the ultimate Star Wars film - the best of six.

The second is Spiderman II. Spiderman was itself a good and complete film. But Spiderman II took a different track than repeating more of the same - it ventured inside its characters. And it succeeded in making a sequel that was not only much better than its predecessor, but much different as well. Spiderman II was as much an introspective drama as it was action thriller. And it was superbly done.

The only other sequel which comes to mind as better than the first in its series is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was an unexpectedly entertaining film. But I don't include it here simply because it had no competition: It "had to be" a better than the original - Star Trek The Movie was simply a horrid film. In that respect, Khan can be viewed more as the first "real" movie in the series, and none has come close to it since.

So... what about Shrek II which everyone said was better than the original Shrek? I guess I wasn't smoking whatever those reviewers were. Compared to the original, I find Shrek II laborious to watch. No competition there.

And this all brings us back to today. Pirates II: Dead Man's Chest is the most anticipated "sequel" of the year - and damned if my expectations for it aren't extremely high.

It would be nice to add a third film to my list of two. I can only hope that I'll be so entertained.

At least for today, I can still delight in the anticipation.

We'll see how I feel tomorrow...