O For a Muse of Pretzel Nuggets!

"Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over airports," said our president yesterday of American military might during the American Revolution (or the War of 1812, it's not quite clear).But in praising eighteenth-century American air power he does a disservice to the long history of military aircraft. Remember how the English took the airports at Agincourt?Soldiers who may or may not have flown business classWe few, we happy few, we band of standbys;For he to-day that checks his carryon with meShall be my brother; be he center seat or nay,Upgrades shall gentle his condition:And gentlemen in exit rows now relaxedShall think themselves accursed they did not recline,And hold their weird little graham cookies cheap whiles any speaksThat fought with us upon Cinnabon's day. 

Woody's Nightmare

While condemning Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen said, "You also don’t want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself."  Hackers have obtained and leaked one of Woody Allen's actual nightmares to see what this world looks like to him.SCENE: The vestry room of the Meeting House somewhere in Hollywood, 2017.GOVERNOR McGOWAN: Now, Woody Allen, there is abundant evidence in our hands to show that you are a witch and that you perform the most perfidious kind of witchcraft and horndoggery. Do you deny it?WOODY ALLEN: Uch, oh, now, see, see, this is -- what I was afraid of, this, this, this witch hunt -- I mean, I'm from Brooklyn, what do I know from witches? If, I mean, I could do magic, I'd have made the girl at the dry cleaners give me her number.JUDGE PALTROW: Contemptuous disrespect! Your very words condemn you with their wicked microaggressions!WOODY: Microaggressions, I, see, that, that just makes me feel inadequate. L-like, "Why can't you be more like Tony, his aggressions are, hm, tchk, so, so sexy and, y'know, medium-sized?"SalemREVEREND JOLIE: The Devil drives you to wickedness.CLERIC TAMBLYN: (And for purposes of these proceedings, every time we say "the Devil" we're referring to "your penis.")WOODY: That's, yeah, that's fair.REVEREND JOLIE: The Devil makes you treat every woman like an object.WOODY: I, is that so bad?  What I wouldn't give to be, uh, y'know, objectified, y'know, for just ten or fifteen minutes even.NURSE MILANO: I saw Goody Woody with Bill Cosby! I saw Goody Woody with Polanski! Arrest him!WOODY: See, tch, I knew this would happen, this hostile climate to innocent winkings and grabbings, ehrm, I knew it was a bad idea to represent myself, I don't even, y'know, enjoy representational art.JUDGE TEIGEN: Your lies would have materialized in any event. We burn a hot fire here; it melts down all concealment.WOODY: I'm no good with fire. When I was young I, I, ehm, tried to be an arsonist, but I had y'know no follow-through. The police were called in to, ech, investigate a rampant rash of mad charrings.DEPUTY GOVERNOR GRAHAM: The court acknowledges the defendant's attempts at deflectionary cuteness, but we are discussing actual crimes here. Your shtick won't save you now.WOODY: Uch, you're all so humorless and, and, and female. Is there any provision for being judged by a jury of my, y'know, my, my bros?SHERIFF JUDD: The Devil makes you -- and by "you" I mean "dudes" -- makes you think you can be funny and cute and transgressive and flawed and complicated and with slightly more progressive friends who congratulate themselves on mildly encouraging you to behave, while women get to be scolding harridans -- does that seem fair?WOODY: I -- at least it's a job?JUDGE THOMPSON: There lurks in your heart an evil.WOODY: It's true, y'know, but my doctor put me on Lipitor. I told him all I wanted was to just, ahm, outlive my enemies. Speaking of which, based on how things are going here I, I wonder if I can get a refund on that co-pay.REVEREND BANKS: Take him to the dunking-stool!WOODY: Oh, geez, eh, does it, y'know, have to be the dunking-stool? I mean 'cause, y'know, do you sanitize it after each dunking, 'cause I'm a germaphobe. Also a thanatophobe. I'm, let's cut to the chase, I'm basically a phobe. Do you provide an alternative punishment for, um, eh, people who are allergic to punishment?PASTOR LAWRENCE: Nope, nope, for harassers and rapists and assaulters and poor innocent winkers it's pretty much all just drownings and dunkings...JUDGE STREEP: Except for that one guy. Who became president.PASTOR LAWRENCE: Yeah, what happened there?CONSTABLE RODRIGUEZ: Just take him away.WOODY: Now, see, you wouldn't know this because you're, y'know, younger than most of my moles, but -- there was a time when a guy could, uch, uh, live his life, y'know. Make his movies. Women could help out or stay out of the way, either was fine. I mean maybe he makes a few mistakes. Winks at the wrong girl. Marries the wrong stepdaughter. B-but people would, y'know, let him be, as long as he was a, a, an acknowledged genius and y'know had testicles. They were simpler times. And, and by "simpler" I mean uh, er, tchk, ah, um, ehm, erk, "very convenient for me."GOVERNOR McGOWAN: Go! You are condemned!WOODY: Where's, y'know, Marshall McLuhan when you, ah, y'know, need him?Exeunt. 

And the Privilege Goes To...

LOS ANGELES - The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced today that, beginning next year, they would hereby re-brand the Academy Awards as the White Guy Oscars."We're proud of what we've accomplished in recent years," said spokesman Rick Joshua.  "But from this point forward we're going to play to our strengths.  And our strengths are pretty much male and, y'know, white."Reached by one of those old-timey wooden wall-mounted telephones on the set of his next picture, director Wes Anderson said "I can only think this is going be a good thing for me."Responding to criticisms that the change would unacceptably limit the scope of the films recognized by the Academy, Joshua said nothing could be further from the truth.  "The Oscars will continue to celebrate the whole glorious rainbow of human experience," he said, "from pink to peach to light tan."Indeed, Joshua said, the tighter focus will free the awards to acknowledge accomplishments in a variety of kinds of movies.  "We might now have room for specialized categories to recognize male actors playing difficult-but-brilliant figures in true stories and biopics," he explained, "as opposed to the ones playing difficult-but-brilliant dudes in stories that are totally made up."Joshua also dismissed charges that the movies eligible for the new awards would present a skewed or limited vision of reality.  "We'll still be able to reward all kinds of stories about human endeavors throughout history," he said.  "We could still recognize great performances like Gene Hackman's as the white guy who helps with civil rights in Mississippi Burning, for instance, or Anthony Hopkins as the white guy who helps with slavery in Amistad.  Yay, diversity!"The Academy does acknowledge that some kinds of roles might tend to fall through the cracks.  "We might not be seeing a lot of terrorists, probably," said Joshua. "Gardeners.  Martial arts experts.  Or benevolent magical advisors conveying the wisdom of the ages.  But nobody can do everything.  There's plenty of room for other kinds of work to get covered by a, I don't know, like a, a, a — brown Oscars?  Any chance we can not print that last thing I said?"And Joshua was quick to contradict the impression that there would be no place for women in the new system.  "We'll still have a Best Supporting Actress category," he said.  "To celebrate performers who've done exceptional work as wives and girlfriends and fiancées and well-groomed prostitutes and other supporty kinds of roles."Asked whether there would be room in the new Oscars to acknowledge the work of women directors, Joshua looked momentarily confused and said, "I'm not 100% sure that women direct movies.  Could someone check on that for me...?  I'm just not 100% sure that's a thing."Joshua also confirmed that among the new rules would be a perpetual annual nomination for Bradley Cooper, whether he makes a movie or not.  "I mean, why not just do away with the stress and ambiguity of wondering every year?  That guy is awesome."

Surrender TiVo

NBC, CBS, and SyFy have all announced new Wizard of Oz-themed TV projects, including a medical drama and an apocalyptic adventure. It won't stop there.  Behold, a preview of the new series to be announced at the TV upfronts in 2015.There's No Place Like HomelandAgent Dorothy Gale conceals her delusions about witches and tornadoes from the CIA so she can pursue her hunch that there's something fishy about that straight-arrow Nebraskan who just arrived home to a hero's welcome in a hot-air balloon.  Committed to exposing him as a terrorist, she sleeps with him for some reason.LollipopGuildTwo One Half MenHilarity ensues when a rakish, self-destructive munchkin moves in with his buttoned-up brother and together they navigate dating, the drudgery of working for the Lollipop Guild, and the challenges of finding bowling shirts in the right size.Gale's AnatomyThe relentlessly introspective large animal veterinarian Dorothy uses nonstop internal monologues to explore her conflicted attractions to her coworkers, who she's adorably nicknamed McShiny and McFloppy.Wicked Witch of the West WingA literate and talky drama of crone politics, with conflicts big (assessing whether an enemy's water reservoir construction is a civil project or a weapon of mass destruction) and small (what to do with one's broom during long corridor walk-and-talks).Tin is the New BlackA blinkered hipster learns about life in a minimum-security prison, but the voyage of self-discovery screeches to a halt when the prison commissary stops stocking oil and he spends the balance of his two-year sentence motionless.Mad MonkeysRetro style meets office politics as white-collar simians compete with each other for accounts, promotions, and the cutest bonobos in the secretarial pool. But the smoothest silverback of them all conceals a crippling secret: he started life as a poor and wingless lemur.HouseHouse is a brilliant and crotchety doctor and diagnostician who walks with a limp because he fell on a witch and crushed her to death that one time.witchDing Dong the Walking DeadMUNCHKIN CORONER: "She's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead. Also, she’s ambulatory and wanting to eat you. You might want to run." The others squint grimly at one another. RICK: "Can this wait, doc? The group’s kind of in the middle of a pretty big spat right now. "Walking With the StarsA panel of judges grades the efforts of celebrity scarecrows to cross the stage without falling down.  JUDGE BRUNO TONIOLI: "I have got hay fever!  You're like an orgasmic explosion of straw!  You may not scare any crows but you'll scare the competition if you keep walking like that, you bristly bundle of hotness!"Yo Glinda GlindaMagic, that voice, that hat, the freaky bubble, those weirdo friends — it's either a kids' show on Nickelodeon or something you recover from with Dr. Drew on VH1 (still in development).Dr. OzThe doctor behind the curtain prescribes green coffee beans to cure brainlessness, probiotics for heartlessness, red palm oil to restore courage, and socks filled with warm rice for a farm girl who just wants to go home. When these remedies seem to fail, Oz calls them miracle breakthroughs, releases a bunch of green fog, and cuts to commercial.Sex and the Emerald CityFour friends — the promiscuous Scarecrow, the cynical Tin Man, the uptight Lion, and Dorothy the shoe enthusiast — explore life and love in the green metropolis while rigorously avoiding its squarer, less viridescent boroughs.Melting BadThe wicked witch becomes an unlikely kingpin, building a thriving underground poppy empire to pay her dermatologist bills. Probably won't end well for her. "I am the one who knocks," she thunders, "because the bell is out of order!"Hunk DynastyWhile his sweetheart Dorothy is in a vague tornado-inflicted coma, red-state farm hand Hunk Andrews mines reality show hilarity from the building of a merchandising empire, focused primarily on sepia-toned vests and hats.  Quirky and heavily edited culture clashes abound: "Yeah, I told you, I am a friend of Dorothy —why you keep lookin' at me like that?"

Seth Be Not Proud

I’m not necessarily a huge Seth MacFarlane fan; it’s easy to feel indignant about a guy who’s made a gazillion dollars by essentially writing Simpsons fan fiction.  So I was expecting not to be impressed by his work as the Oscars host.  Okay, fine: I was looking forward to not being impressed by his work as the Oscars host.  I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  I was eager to get my reserves of Schadenfreude topped off, basically.And I wasn’t too impressed by his work, but not for the reasons you’d think.  I thought his comedy during the telecast was carefully and intricately crafted, attentively honed, and expertly delivered.  The only problem with most of it was that it wasn’t funny, but then most comedy is both unfunny and poorly crafted, so at least he was getting something right.  I was also surprised – watching it after the reviews had started coming in – that I didn’t even find most of it to be that sexist.In context, the much-reviled “We Saw Your Boobs” number, for instance, was constructed not to find humor in the fact that women take off their shirts in the movies, but in the idea of the Oscars, a celebration of cinematic accomplishment, being hosted by someone so boorish and clueless that he would build an elaborate musical number around women taking off their shirts in movies.  The fact that most of these movies were serious, even grueling pieces of art that don't eroticize their subjects thus underlines that cluelessness.  I knew ahead of time that was ostensibly the premise of the number and I went in expecting that framing device just to be a flimsy excuse for leering jokes about famous women’s boobies, but nope – the joke was, from beginning to end, about the crass oafishness of this Oscar host.  The bit went on way too long, obviously – it might have landed if it had been even more elaborate and abrupt in its brevity – but not knowing when to cut things off seems to be something that MacFarlane and the Oscars have in common.So if the “Boobs” number wasn’t really about women, or boobs, then why was it still problematic?  Because it was all about Seth MacFarlane.  The entire interminable opening routine with William Shatner was all about Seth MacFarlane, Oscar host, and his performance anxieties about being the Oscar host[1].  And there was literally only one person in that room who cared about Seth MacFarlane and his performance anxieties.  (Hint: he rhymes with Beth BacFarlane.)  A comic like Kathy Griffin makes her routine all about herself because her audience cares, rabidly, about her.   Seth MacFarlane doing a live, globally broadcast twenty-minute routine about himself and his legacy at the Oscars, by contrast, is the equivalent of forcing a billion people to watch your kids’ ballet recital on Youtube.  Nevertheless: complaining about the song for essentializing women requires that you ignore the entire context of the joke.Most of the lines that drew criticism were similarly defanged by context, by MacFarlane’s design.  The joke about Quvenzhané Wallis wasn’t about her sexuality; it was about George Clooney, and it was about arithmetic, and it wasn’t that funny, but it was a pretty standard-issue movie-star gag.  The joke about Rihanna and Chris Brown wasn’t endorsing or trivializing domestic violence; it was a familiar ripped-from-the-headlines ba-dump-bum punchline and it wasn’t that funny but anything that’s offensive about it can pretty much be pinned on Chris Brown.  The bit where MacFarlane mixed up Denzel Washington with Eddie Murphy was, again, about the pretended unenlightened cluelessness of Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, and it wasn’t that funny, but… you get the idea.I thought his joke about Zero Dark Thirty ("The film was a triumph and also a celebration of every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go") was particularly interesting because it got reprinted a lot as an example of the show’s insensitivity to women.  On paper that line is particularly irksome in its reductivity: antediluvian Borscht-belt stuff about the female's predictably unstable temperament.  But in MacFarlane’s deft delivery it’s something else: as he puts it out there, his eyes widening in weary frustration, he fleetingly embodies a character who’s so preoccupied with his own troubled romantic relationships, and so convinced of his blamelessness in those troubles, that it subsumes everything else, even globally coordinated Seal Team Six operations.  For the duration of that joke, he is that guy, and that guy's blinkered worldview – not Those Darn Women – is what we’re meant to be laughing at.  It’s a comic technique that Steve Martin used to use a lot in his stand-up, and I actually thought MacFarlane’s construction and deployment of that particular joke was pretty masterful.Meanwhile, the Sound of Music bit was pretty much the funniest thing I’d seen on the Oscars in a long time.So, yeah: overall the show wasn’t great, and it wasn’t funny enough, and that thing with Mark Wahlberg and the bear was pretty awful.  But I went looking for sexism and didn’t find it – or, at least, I didn’t find any beyond all the usual piles of it that one always finds at red carpet Hollywood events.  I’m not habitually an apologist for this kind of stuff – let’s make an appointment to get together and rag on Daniel Tosh, I’d love to, anytime – but I do think comedy, well-wrought, is a vastly more intricate and complicated instrument than people credit it with being, and lifting lines from their conceptual contexts and ignoring variables like delivery and timing is typically a recipe for missing the point.



[1] All that second-guessing metacommentary and walking back of bits that MacFarlane did – “I thought we cut this joke,” “Oh no, that’s what we were afraid he was gonna do” – was also a part of this relentless self-absorbed self-awareness.  It reflected an anxious lack of the courage of his convictions, which is understandable but problematic, and it kept the focus of the comedy unremittingly on him and his performance, which is just not what the rest of us were interested in.