Celebrity Endorsements & Activism

Celebrity Endorsements & Activism

The 2020 election’s in full swing and that means one thing; it’s time for the A-listers to have their voices heard. So, drop your shield and pick up your placard Chris Evans cause this time, you know it’s going to matter!

Okay, perhaps that’s a tad too snotty because really, celebrities can influence an election turnout by drawing attention to issues and candidates. Oprah’s endorsement of Obama, without a doubt, made an impact in the lead up to the 2008 election and certain groups can be targeted, that would otherwise be out of reach on proper news networks, like the Kardashian fan base (I’m not abandoning snottiness altogether). On the other hand however, celebrity endorsements and political proclamations can sometimes be a wealth of patronizing embarrassments. For instance:

That happened and we let it happen…

In all seriousness however, there was a lot of criticism to be drawn from the Hillary camp in 2016 as an endless deluge of pop stars and actors came forward at rallies to incite substance-less messages, achieving nothing really besides spectacle.  Maybe that was just Hillary, though. Maybe, not even the ghost of Sir Laurence Olivier could have inspired people to flock to her side. Maybe… just maybe, we don’t give the people enough credit in their own critical thinking. I suspect the latter notion holds true because while people may admire certain celebrities like Beyonce, they also understand that their life experiences are far removed from the working peoples’.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joins Jay Z and Beyonce onstage at a campaign concert in Cleveland
“Here I am with my friends, Queen Bee and Jason Z!”

There’s another layer to this differentiation too; the cultural divide between liberals and conservatives has in recent years been amplified by the mainstream media, often courtesy of the latest woke trends / virtue signalling of celebrities. I’m not just talking about Gwyneth Paltrow’s holier-than-thou approach to good living. I’m talking about every celebrity that appears on the Colbert show with an anti-Trump message; every time a celebrity coins a weird hipster form of phrase (e.g. Emma Watson’s “self-partnered”, i.e single status affirmation); and every time we’re given some pandering new display of wokeness (e.g. John Legend’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). These changes in the zeitgeist are, to many, welcome and sensible extensions of progressive thinking. To many others though, they’re tedious nuggets of preaching that detract from the actual substantive issues (economy, health care, job loss, climate change) and reminders that yes, you’re out of touch.

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John Legend, among others, found the classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to be problematic. So, he made a new version. Wait until he hears any rap song released in the last fifteen years.

I don’t think these celebrities have bad intentions, to be fair. Emma Watson has certainly gone above and beyond in her duties as a UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, proving herself truly dedicated to her cause. Still, the perception remains and that’s what’s so important as we approach next year’s election; to present a noble and dignified front for the Democratic party, instead of exacerbating the elitist theatrics of a militant #cancel, PC faction.

To this end, it’s important to lastly examine why we, as a society, give so much clout to celebrities’ political opinions. Is it really as simple as saying they draw attention to important issues, where needed? That’s a pretty shallow response, if so. It suggests we’d rather an unqualified opinion that’s popular than an experts’ know-how. Therein lies the loss of nuance and the opportunity to present a false sense of validation for the virtue signaler who really doesn’t know what they’re talking about (e.g. when Ben Affleck called Sam Harris and Bill Maher “racist” over their criticism of Islam.) It’s a response, used among others however, to justify peoples’ greater complacency when it comes to avoiding actual research and reading on the issues. It’s a response, I think, that has effectively become default across the world too.

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“You do know I’m Batman, right?”

Why else would we continue making celebrities UN ambassadors? In general elections and chat shows, I can compromise and allow for a bit of endorsements and activism but with an international institution? Am I purely curmudgeonly or is this just downright tacky? For that matter too, why does the Queen keep knighting ageing rock stars every couple of years? Is this really a way of honoring those who’ve made a significant contribution to the arts or just cheap publicity for the sake of relevancy?

Perhaps, this societal framework is all in contribution to raising awareness and encouraging charity and political activism. Perhaps, we all need our own “fight” song. It’s difficult to come down on those doing more than yourself to make the world a better place but in conclusion, I think it’s of great importance to remind people to think for themselves and not accept a cheap form of populism. After all, Trump didn’t even have the real Smash Mouth performing at his inauguration.

Scorsese vs. Marvel: Cultural Divides and Toxic Fandom

Scorsese vs. Marvel: Cultural Divides and Toxic Fandom

Earlier this month, Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to “theme park rides”, stating that they are not what he considers to be proper “cinema”. Social media reaction was, as you could imagine, well thought out and nuanced. LOL JK! For real, the shit hit the fan with many bemoaning this “hackneyed, old curmudgeon fuck-face” for not being with “it”. Okay, I’m paraphrasing but it was embarrassing to read the amount of comments I did with people unfavorably comparing his movies to Marvel’s. Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy all the Marvel movies. But Scorsese has directed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, among many other original greats. In some cases, sure, it’s a matter of opinion but beyond this, what became apparent to me was how vitriolic and nasty these people were in their comments. This has become the norm, all too readily, when an unpopular opinion is shared, even in a matter as insignificant as this.

On some level, I think Scorsese was being picked a part for not speaking as delicately as he should have. I don’t actually agree with his opinion and would note that these Marvel movies are keeping cinemas alive, to an extent. Plus, there is some proper acting, directorial creativity, and emotion to be found in them. You could even argue that the magnitude of a shared, albeit commercially-driven universe, like the MCU, is a bold and ambitious experiment in modern cinema. On the other hand, I want to back Scorsese because his knowledge of cinema is second-to-none (or very few), he has helped restore many great movies, and has a point when he says we’re being “invaded” by these kind of movies. There are too many of them and on some level, it feels like a factory-churning process. For instance, Captain Marvel came less than two months before Endgame which was followed by Spiderman: Far From Home, just over two months later. We knew Spiderman was fine after the snap in Infinity War before we’d even seen its sequel. Furthermore, there seems to be no end in sight. Disney have already filled their calendar for the next three years with an array of shows, sequels, and new additions to the MCU. It really is an all-consuming empire.

So, you can go back and forth on this. You may not like Scorsese. You may think superhero movies are for children. What’s so desperate about this all is how hard it is to even have a conversation without great offense being suffered. That’s where I admire Robert Downey Jr., who simply left it at “appreciating” Scorsese’s opinion (which has been edified slightly since to acknowledge them as a different/new kind of “art”, if not proper cinema- I don’t know, it was kind of vague). Downey Jr’s latter-day career has been built on the legacy of Iron Man and he’s made a ton of dough from it but he’s not arrogant enough to disregard what one of the true greats has to say. Interestingly, he compared the Marvel phenomenon to a  “stomping beast [eliminating] the competition”. When things like that happen, as with the Westerns’ craze in the 1950s, there’s naturally going to be some push back. Sometimes, a spanner needs to be thrown into the works to get things interesting again. Punk did that for music in 1976 and the likes of Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola did that for cinema that same decade.

Thanks to social media, cults of fandom have been given a voice most people used to ignore. We can all, in some sense, be producers of the franchises we love and consume. For instance, notice how the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker are steering things back from the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi? Disney listens because Disney has a product to sell. That doesn’t mean their movies lack artistic integrity but it does color the picture, if only a little bit. It’s gratifying for fans to have their voices heard but when you pay too much due diligence to popularity, you appropriate credibility in turn. That’s why there’s such a sense of entitlement in these fans’ expectations of these franchise movies and why more unique, original projects are so lacking today. I suspect the directors of old, like Scorsese and Coppola, feel this way, which is why they are so hostile to the way industry has gone recently. The culture has changed.

Now since, we’re here- my top five MCU movies:

  1. Avengers: Infinity War
  2. Captain America: Civil War
  3. Spiderman: Far From Home
  4. Thor: Ragnarok
  5. Avengers: Endgame

and my top five Scorsese movies:

  1. Goodfellas 
  2. Taxi Driver
  3. Casino
  4. Raging Bull
  5. The King of Comedy

 

Alienating Centrists

Last week, I took a political profile quiz to determine which camp I belonged in. Somewhat to my surprise, I was labelled a liberal with ideologies not so dissimilar from Gandhi’s. Strange, I thought, I’m far too stubborn and curmudgeonly for that kinda stuff. The quiz, for all its comprehensiveness in the issues addressed (and actual issues at that too, such as health care and education) was flawed though. Firstly, it was based on the rather limiting agree/disagree dichotomy (with the somewhat unnecessary “strongly” accords), which doesn’t pave way for much nuance. Secondly, it failed to grasp the actual tone of liberalism/conservatism so rampant in today’s media and social landscape.

I consider myself a liberal of a vague and tepid persuasion; sometimes a centrist for kicks (though on a couple of occasions, people have charged that that’s what conservatives always say???). I believe in universal health care, a good measure of gun control, tackling climate change with the utmost expense, free speech, and equal rights. In fact, I think most Republican measures in the last thirty or so years have been reprehensible and guided by mostly terrible leaders. With that said, I admire President George H.W. Bush a lot, I think a balanced budget is important, and in certain cases, Democrats do over-legislate (e.g. in 2017, there was a proposed law to fit alarms into cars to prevent children being left in hot conditions; this is really a parent’s responsibility in my opinion). These are to many, minor concessions; an olive branch of a feeble sort to the other side. Increasingly however, these considerations have become all the more necessary, if toxic.

It’d be foolish to fully comply with the notion that you can’t be a Republican who believes in gay marriage or that you can’t be a liberal who wants to protect the 2nd Amendment. For one, it’s inherently stupid and two, you’d always find some smart-ass commentator picking a part your language specifically. But at its essence, I think most people are finding a conversation between both sides increasingly frustrating and pointless. Conservatives think liberals promote a decaying state of morality whereas liberals think conservatives promote every kind of prejudice with every sentence they utter, etc, etc. To a degree, we’ve come to expect this from the GOP with their arsenal of attack ads, in play since the Reagan era. What’s so disappointing is how bad the left has gotten in recent years.

What do I mean by this? I mean the manner in which certain peoples’ opinions are smeared across every edifice of our culture. We can’t watch the new Joker movie without some question mark wavering over whether it’ll inspire alienated white men to grab up arms. We can’t cast a new film or TV show without accounting for a strict diversity quota. We can’t watch old films without a moment of silence for the lack of wokeness at play. We’re told to hold certain opinions over certain matters because they’re politically correct, before examining whether they’re intellectually sound (indeed, reports have shown conservative students reluctant to speak out in their liberal universities). And if you disagree and think, Caitlyn Jenner’s not a hero or that female-reboot of Ghostbusters was lazy pandering, the chances are you’ll be called a trans-phobic or sexist individual by someone in the comments section, no matter what the argument.

This is by no means a rallying call to be politically incorrect for the sake of it or rude or sexist/racist/transphobic, etc. I’m not trying to provoke anyone in saying these things. For the most part, these liberals have admirable intentions. The problem is, in their plea for open-mindedness, they fail to open their own to the possibility of reproach; because racism is so entrenched in society and so historically destructive, they aim to stamp out anything even approaching intolerance. But it’s not that easy and it’s not that clever because when you try and enforce your values on somebody, no matter how sensible or decent they are, you push them away. Calling someone an idiot does not make them change their mind, it only paints you in a negative light. You want to get Trump re-elected in 2020? Start promoting the most pious and patronizing Democrat available.

The Democrats have the right ideas and a good chance of winning in 2020. Let’s not squander that opportunity by alienating centrists or soft right-wingers who don’t agree with us on everything or perhaps liked an off-color joke back in 2004. Let’s get back to focusing on the important issues which should define our political persuasion, as in that quiz, and not the petty minutiae of woke culture. It seems a redundant statement but people aren’t good or bad, left or right, liberal or conservative. They’re a blend of various factors and while I personally thought The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars made, that does not mean I hate women in power (#warren2020).

The Democrats and Climate Change

The Democrats and Climate Change

The concern surrounding the climate change crisis seems to finally be reaching its target audience, the world. This is in large part thanks to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and her powerful campaigns as well as a growing consensus on the part of liberals that bold action is needed ASAP. So which Democratic candidate has the most to offer future generations in this debate and which plan should we be standing by? It may be a matter of simply adding the numbers against scientific projections but unfortunately in the world of Washington, political capital is just as important.

Bernie Sanders, the wild haired independent from Vermont, has naturally put up the largest number in his addresses to tackling this issue. His plan would involve spending $16 trillion over the course of 15 years, aiming for zero emissions from transport and power generation by 2030, while supporting the Green New Deal proposed earlier this year. Elizabeth Warren is rated highly by GreenPeace too; she too desires 100% clean energy and has tied her approach into a more general economic restructuring. Some candidates like Andrew Yang and Beto O’ Rourke have also discerned where funds should be appropriated for coastal inhabitants being relocated and measures being implemented like sea walls, acknowledging that the crisis is already at hand. Indeed, most of them agree that clean energy, disaster relief funds, and taxation will be necessary to some degree or another; where they differ is in funds (Bernie’s plan costing the most, Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion among the least) and attainable goals by time (Bernie’s being the most ambitious with the likes of Julian Castro’s or O’ Rourke’s 2045/2050 in contrast.

They’re all more or less admirable approaches and where specifics arise, like Biden’s plan for half a million renewable power stations, there is some room for hope. But not too much. Yes, there has been a 17% growth since 2013 in Americans seeing climate change as a major threat and yes, there is a rise in renewable energy in parts (e.g. in wind turbines in Texas). Unfortunately, there’s also been an increase in energy consumption, with 2018 seeing a significant spike as a result of post-recession spending (with the last peak year being 2007). As of last year, petroleum and natural gas still dominate this consumption, with renewable sources adding up to a mere 11% (Energy Information Administration). Plus, although 3/4 Americans now believe in climate change (a still embarrassing figure), only 56% Republicans surveyed in August (by AP VoteCast) agreed, with even less (41%) believing human activity was a factor in this.

The odds are not great, especially with the way the Senate is tilted currently and time is running out for the nation that produces 15% of the world’s emissions. To effectively tackle the crisis, a World War 2 level of mobilization will be needed. Perhaps in an economic model of some kind then, we can place our best faith. After all, wind and solar and hydro-electric energy make sense, whether you believe the science or not. Coal is not making a comeback, despite what Trump may have suggested and fracking is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Over half the candidates are for a ban in that area (Castro and Klobuchar support limiting these resources).

The next president, God willing, will face America’s and the world’s greatest challenge. For all the fear-mongering rhetoric the right and idiots would associate with such a statement and what Greta Thunberg has said, the reality is alarming. So should the candidates propose these measures with an air of restraint, lest they alienate voters, or put it out on the line, with the severity it deserves? I hope it will be the latter. After all, the Democrats finally started to impeach Trump, they won the House handily in 2018, and they’ve brought ideas like Sanders and Warren’s into the mainstream (a far cry from five years ago). Hillary tried to walk the line, the same way so many Democrats have in recent decades, positing a centrist alternative to issues the Republicans had the mic on. This time, the Democrats need to be strong and unapologetic because for all the urgency of their other priorities, e.g. health care, climate change is the only one with a non-negotiable time frame.

On Rotten Tomatoes

On Rotten Tomatoes

There’s something rotten about Rotten Tomatoes. The film review aggregate has dominated the face of recent film criticism with an air of unwarranted legitimacy that needs challenging. Why? Because a) it’s reducing complex opinions down to simple yes’s and no’s and b) it may not even be doing so without some front or agenda on the part of its so-called “top critics”.

First and foremost, let’s be clear because I don’t think a lot of people know this. A movie with a 90% score does not indicate an A-grade consensus on the part of its critics. It means 90% of the certified critics eligible to be granted inclusion gave it a positive review of 60% or more (3 stars plus); therein deeming it “Fresh”. This, in turn, means you can make a pretty decent movie and get close to 100% without making anything particularly phenomenal, especially so, if you touch on the hot issues of the today which critics lap up greedily. Thus, you can market it with its score which so many producers have taken notice of recently.

But wait? Isn’t it just a case that if you make a bad movie, the people will then know about it and if you make a good one, albeit without much budget, you can build a prospective audience? There’s no denying RT has its advantages and for the most part, I’d say even the critics’ scores align with my own (even though the metric, as stated above, is sometimes misunderstood). Art, however, is not so easily digested and that’s where the problem lies; in the simplification and homogenization of such criticism.

For instance, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017) was given an F grade on CinemaScore, affecting its box-office performance on release. While it’d eventually climb to 69% on RT, the damage was done because of reports of audience members walking out, perturbed by the uncomfortable imagery of the movie. The director intended it to be a challenge. Anyone, with any sensibility, could tell this was something different and yet, a broad picture was painted before it was given a proper chance. Martin Scorsese, in a 2018 op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter, lamented the rise of this form of criticism, writing that “[they] rate a picture the way you’d rate a horse at the racetrack… They have everything to do with the movie business and absolutely nothing to do with either the creation or the intelligent viewing of the film.” We should always pay heed to Martin Scorsese. He’s a proper director. And he has a good point too. There was a rush to judgment on a movie that needed a bit more time for reflection. Has anyone else’s opinion of a movie they’ve seen changed over the course of a week, a month, or even a year?

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Of course, film criticism cannot be wholly objective. Meryl Streep had a good point when noting the disproportionate representation of male opinions clouding viewership of her film Suffragette (directed primarily at a female market). There are other cases too where certain markets are targeted; where broad critical praise is not mandated. That’s where RT audience score comes in and where the gulf between snobbery and entertainment value becomes apparent.

I refer now to Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special, Sticks and Stones, a title reference completely lost on the 12 critics who gave it 25% on RT. The problem, they saw, was in its “nastiness” and its mean-spirited treatment of the Michael Jackson accusers, “cancel” culture, equality, and the LGBT community. They weren’t happy because it wasn’t “woke” enough and although Dave Chappelle is a comedian, tackling controversial subjects, they couldn’t appreciate the comic value of it. Does that make me narrow-minded like him? Well, the 25,000+ audience reviewers who certified it 99% Fresh on the Audience meter would disagree.

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This led me to reconsider whether the “haters” of years gone by had a point in saying Marvel gets a degree of favoritism from critics that the DCEU crowd do not. Then, I remembered how bad Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League were and I thought, okay… no, the critics were right on those ones. A part of me suspects though that they are afraid to criticize the Marvel movies. Like Captain Marvel, that’s a pretty meh affair all in all and yet 78% of critics gave it a “Fresh” score (against 54% audience). Are they afraid to criticize it, I wonder, because it’s a female-led superhero movie, which is something we feel we should be encouraging as a society? Similarly, there’s a bit of a contrast in the 69% vs. 45% critic-to-audience dichotomy of Ocean’s 8 and 74% vs. 50% of Ghostbusters (2016 female reboot). Maybe the critics are just more progressively-minded than the audience reviewers (who are a majority male).

We can find ourselves in complex and controversial territory here, considering the male-majority influence on criticism in both aisles and to that end, there may be no solid conclusion. In recent years however, I have noticed an increasing trend in reviews focusing on the subject matter rather than the entertainment value of a film however. For example, with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, most the reviews I read started with an essay on the depiction of Bruce Lee (5 minutes of a nearly 3 hour long movie) or lack of lines given to Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate or the explicit use of violence, as if to dictate what they felt should be the movie. Similarly, this year’s best picture winner, Green Book, was widely evaluated for whether it was culturally appropriate or revised enough for today (despite being set in the 60s).

It’s not a case that these critics are stupid or ignorant of good art. They just seem to be afraid to speak their mind at times, wary of a social media audience that will tackle them on each and every transgression less they commit the crime of not acknowledging how great and inclusive some recent films have been. For all this clambering, the lack of authenticity is becoming crystal clear to audiences though. You can tell someone what they should like all day long but in the end, nobody’s going to stop loving Love Actually because the Prime Minister gets with his PA or The Breakfast Club because Judd Nelson chases Molly Ringwald around or Psycho because its treatment of the mentally-ill is problematic. 

On Talk Shows

On Talk Shows

At the Washington Walrus, we usually focus on politics and the more immediate issues concerning government. Every now and then however, we like to dip our toes in the murky waters of culture and entertainment; in this particular case, one of the more shallow bodies of such water.

It’s not that I dislike talk shows (or chat shows) or their hosts. It’s not that I even bemoan the format, rather what it’s been reduced to in this day and age. You see, there was a time when these shows didn’t desperately grasp for whatever little nugget of attention was left out there, lost in the cracks of YouTube and Prime and Netflix. There was a time when actual proper conversation was involved, unburdened by pre-rehearsed garbage and bit jokes resulting in a pie in the face. There was a time when it wasn’t all so juvenile and pandering, when Americans tuned in for a bit of humor, yes, but also out of genuine interest.

Johnny Carson was of course, the “King of Late Night”. He hosted the Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992 and became an icon in the American world of entertainment. If you wanted a movie plugged, you wanted his show. If you were looking to get your big break as a comedian and possibly bag a sitcom, you hoped to impress Carson himself. Even politicians like Ronald Reagan found their way onto the couch, though Carson, himself, never declared any political allegiance (a far cry from the suitors of today). By the end of his tenure, he garnered north of 10 million viewers a night on average, which is over three times what Colbert did in 2018. He had the business at his command in many respects and he did it with great timing and affability, that never gave way to piousness or crude frivolity. He had the numbers and the respect of the masses.

So what went wrong? Carson may have dominated the late night sphere for the longest time but he was not the only talk show host out there. Day-time hosts like Oprah, of course, made more than a splash in the 1980s and in the decade before, Dick Cavett interviewed some of the world’s biggest stars and directors, including Orson Welles. But just as the news networks began to multiply, so did the demand for content in the talk show format. You didn’t need 10 million viewers every to become a success. You could be a Leno or Letterman fan or after that, someone who watched Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, or a splash of all. Some unique talents came about in the 1990s and 2000s who just wouldn’t have had a shot before like Bill Maher, Conan O’ Brien, and Craig Ferguson. For awhile, it all worked out quite well… before TV began to matter less and less.

Jimmy Fallon may not have been the first to recognize the value of “viral bits” spreading across social media and YouTube but he was the most diligent host in the late 2000s and early 2010s to capitalize on this trend. His show, today, barely resembles a chat show at all because of this, successful though he may be. And like him, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, and others have become increasingly reliant on bits like “Carpool Karaoke”, “Mean Tweets”, etc. for gaining viewership/followers/subscribers.

It’s a different market in many ways and not one without its plaudits. Some of these bits are funny. I enjoy watching the Matt Damon-Jimmy Kimmel feud. I like the odd “Wheel of Musical Impressions”. I may even have chuckled at one or two Corden sketches (the Shape of Water one, though I felt pretty guilty afterwards… cause it’s Corden.) The problem (okay, not a real problem) however is that most these bits are desperate and stupid and bringing what could be an interesting format right down to the bottom of the barrel. When actual conversation is conducted too, it’s painfully rehearsed, concerned with the most trivial schlep (did you actually eat a pizza at the Oscars???) and disingenuous/cringe-worthy ass-kissing to the point that I contort and fold in on myself, much like the Witch King of Angmar’s death in Return of the King. Especially with Fallon and Corden. Especially with Corden to further that bracket.

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Why do I dislike Corden the most of these hosts? To surmise briefly, he’s everywhere. He hosts the Late Late Show four nights a week, does A League of Their Own in the UK, and still manages to dress up as creepy cat for the upcoming movie Cats. His laugh is also annoyingly fake.

I also agree with the mega-chinned Jay Leno who believes too many hosts are “one-sided” nowadays. In 1993, when Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher aired, the host opining their political persuasion was pretty different and bold. Today however, every dumb comedian with a desk goes for the low-hanging fruit that is Donald Trump with the result being sheer weariness among viewers and a decrease in general intellect. Undoubtedly, we inhabit a far more outrageous political climate than any in recent memory but is there anything to be gained in the preaching-to-the-choir mantra of Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers? It all seems so trite and easy for such clever comedians. If that wasn’t enough too, even the likes of Fallon, Kimmel, and Corden are going after the president despite their complete lack of political “wokeness” five years ago. It’s not challenging and it’s not funny anymore. Part of me even suspects it tilts those on the fence in a rightward direction, just as that “Fight Song” (for Hillary) did in 2016… sigh…

Today, people are looking elsewhere for a decent interview, on the radio with Howard Stern or on podcasts with the likes of Joe Rogan (though everything leads back to MMA with him). The decline of the chat show is hardly a crisis, given all the other actual crises we face today, but it is something which sheds a rather depressing light on our cultural mindset today. Our attentiveness is shorter than ever. We need jokes and we need them now. Celebrities are awesome. You were hoping to hear about Tom Cruise’s filmography? Well, too bad cause his dog did something crazy! I know you’re running for president but what is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Is it strawberry? How did Trump’s latest foreign visit affect the premise of the new Pitch Perfect movie… etc.

We can do better than this. We can plug a movie or album and have an actual conversation with a celebrity without forcing them to play hop-scotch. Call me a crazy optimist but if general broadcasting’s going to die in the face of streaming services like Netflix, at least do it with some dignity and not on all fours in a ball pit with James Corden.

 

 

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Can Democrats Win On Gun Control?

“Thoughts and prayers” has become synonymous with inaction and insensitivity in America today. With the advent of yet another cycle of half-clout wills and hollow debate in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, people skipped ahead to the numb realization that no, nothing would be done and what was worse, their president couldn’t even pretend to consider this issue seriously, much less get the names of the places right.

At least one president had some constructive advice to lend however. Bill Clinton called for the reinstatement of the 1994 “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act”, which lasted for a decade before its failure to be renewed. This bill has been reassessed a great deal lately, since Sandy Hook in 2012, as at least a partial means to assailing the sales and production of assault weapons which do the bulk of damage in these massacres. Citing a 2015 study by Everytown for Gun Safety, Clinton pointed out that 155% more people were shot and 47% more killed in shootings that involved assault weapons. The Dayton killer, himself, fired 41 bullets in 30 seconds. It would seem common sense to most that time is of essence in these attacks and that police response measured against the type of weapons being used calls for some restrictions.

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Bill Clinton signing the act which came into effect before the midterms of 1994 and was said to have cost some supporting Democrats their seats.

Even that matter can’t be closed so easily however because the 1994 bill wasn’t perfect enough: only 18 types of assault weapons were listed under it; Columbine occurred in this era; there were loopholes; people couldn’t quite figure out what defined an “assault” weapon, etc. So was it prone to a system bent on ignoring it; a nation not willing to give up its guns under the banner of that richly invested 2nd amendment? Or was it possibly too mild to inspire anything effective to begin with?

The solution’s not easy and Democrats are fighting for the soul of their country in many avenues. If they felt too meek in 2004, another election year in which the act expired (even though 2/3 Americans supported it), do they really have the guts to stand up to the gun lobbyists in 2020 when so much else is at stake? Like it or not, politics will undoubtedly be at play on this issue.

The funny thing is (in the least funny way imaginable) that the people are on the side of the Democrats. In A Quinnipiac poll in 2018, it was found that 67% of Americans (including 53% of gun owners) favored at least some partial ban of assault weaponry sales. Time and time again, Gallup has also shown a majority backing stricter laws too. There are naturally fluctuations to the specified questions but what’s more interesting and crucial and ultimately sad is that the peaks of support follow crises like Parkland (67% for stricter laws- Gallup) before dropping a few months later (to 61%). People forget too quickly. Why? It’s difficult to determine but political lobbying undoubtedly plays a key role.

The NRA, founded in 1871, has a history of questionable spending. In 2008, they spent $10 million against Obama alone. In 2016, they spent over $400 million on various political activities. They hold a lot of sway and they pick their targets well. In 2012, for example, 88% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats in Congress were found to have received an NRA PAC contribution at some point in their career. Taking that into account, it’s hard to imagine the Republican controlled Senate wanting to do anything. They’re bought out.

Of course, some Democrats have become emboldened in an increasingly liberal party. Joe Biden has proposed a national buy-back program, which echoes Australia’s 1996 plan (although they had 600,000 guns bought up, whereas in America, there’s over 200 million on the market). Cory Booker has a plan for federal licensing. Elizabeth Warren has a more comprehensive plan, which would aim through executive action and legislation, to reduce gun deaths by 80%. This seems optimistic but with incentives like raising taxes from 10% to 30% on guns and 11% to 50% on ammunition and a $100m research into gun violence, she has at least conveyed some specificity.

elizwarren
Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren

With the increased polarity of the Democratic party itself between the new “woke” liberals and moderate dinosaurs like Joe Biden, I think it should be remembered that compromise isn’t always a dirty word. Yes, it would be a moral failing of the umpteenth degree to not get as progressive a ban passed as possible but what’s more important is that something needs to be passed to get the ball rolling. The 1994 Act could be a great stepping stone; one which could be built on by eliminating the old loopholes, expanding on the number of weapons banned, and incorporating some level of taxes, even if not as much as Warren’s.

The issue of gun violence will not be resolved so simply of course. It’s embedded into the fabric of America across many lines, including the normalization of White Supremacy and racial hatred under the Trump administration. A modest proposal of sorts could lessen the impact of these attacks, as Bill Clinton noted, even if it doesn’t decrease the number of them. Naturally too, you might consider the obvious solution of reaping the rewards of a possible Democratic majority in 2020 by going as far as possible with gun control but then there would also be the possibility of a major pushback if the Republicans gained back control. Compromise, of a kind, is best built on both party’s shoulders. It’s a more stable, if less desirable, foundation.