DC and Hollywood: Half-time Report




A

s
the nation celebrates its 228th birthday we can all heave a collective
sigh of relief. The DC/Hollywood connection is going full bore like
a Humvee in overdrive on an Iraqi highway. The Bush administration
continues to roam the Middle East doing as they please. Forget about
CIA-directed Iraqi prison atrocities. We’ve got more pressing
matters to deal with back home. On the domestic front we had to
deal with Janet Jackson’s right breast, Mel Gibson’s


Passion,

and the Donald. To complicate matters even more we will now have
to survive without

Friends

—and we are only seven months
into the year. 


Our
economy might be falling faster than a watermelon tossed from the
top of the Empire State building, but droves of us tuned in to see
the Donald say two words each week. Witnessing a guy with a very
bad haircut say, “You’re fired,” gave couch potatoes
a vicarious thrill. There’s nothing more satisfying after coming
home from yet another fruitless day of job hunting than to see some
poor schmuck get handed a pink slip in front of millions. Ironically,
the winner was already a successful entrepreneur who ended up getting
the six-figure position that could have gone to an unemployed American
whose job had been outsourced to Bombay, but that would have made
reality TV a bit too real. 



Friends

has faded into the sunset; that’s all right, they weren’t
my friends.


Even with sex, marriage, and coffee the show
couldn’t drum up enough viewers for the final episode to knock

MASH

off its first-place pedestal.

Frasier

has also
left the building, ostensibly to look for that tossed salad and
scrambled eggs. While

Fraiser

certainly hit some potholes
over its 11-year run, the program generally required a certain level
of knowledge to understand the jokes. One didn’t have to be
a member of Mensa to watch

Fraiser

, but being well read did
give the viewer the ability to differentiate between de jour and
The Donald. 


For
those who want tough TV without having to deal with scatter bombs,
house demolitions, and fuel shortages, HBO has cornered the market
with hard-hitting series like

The


Sopranos, The Wire

,
and their latest entry

Deadwood

. While it may seem a bit
incongruous at first to hear cowboy characters shouting lines like,
“Saddle up you c_ _ _ suckers,” it is nice to see that
the western is not dead. What HBO has done is make soap operas for
guys. This savvy move was never more evident than on their now defunct
series

Oz

, a program centering on life in the pen whose conflict
was based almost entirely on which character would be raped, knifed,
or OD that week.  


While
this may seem a bit brutal, it did make for much better drama than
wading through those boring and talky Congressional hearings on
9/11. For the most part members of Capitol Hill aren’t as photogenic
as some hunk on

Survivor

or the “bimbos” on

Simple
Life





If
television is the media wasteland then this years crop of films
would indicate that the local cineplex is the place where revenge
is served best like cold cuts, as Tony Soprano would say. Denzel
was the

Man On Fire,


The Punisher

did exactly that
to its audiences, and the

Alamo

was revisited for the umpteenth
time. The bride was back for more payback in

Kill Bill


,


Vol. 2

—the film’s only significant plot point was
learning that her name was Beatrice. Nearly everyone weighed in
on Mel Gibson and his passion for violence, but those same folks
kvetching about a film seem to have turned a blind eye to Ariel
Sharon’s scorched earth policies for the Palestinians, which
is real. The sad thing about

The


Passion

was the focus
on brutality while omitting the words of the man on the cross. But
then people in the U.S. can’t seem to get enough of violence
and payback when it comes to their entertainment. If a film doesn’t
have dozens of dead brown and black people in it, it just isn’t
art, as far as we’re concerned. 


Art
is nothing more than a reflection of society. If that maxim is true,
then what is coming out on the big screen this summer is pretty
scary.

Troy

is the perfect movie metaphor for the Bush administration’s
Middle East war. The film has jettisoned the gods, who played a
very big part in the original, in favor of a simple revenge tale.
Like the president and his generals in Iraq, the Greeks and Trojans
talk about the deities, but never seem to follow their teachings.
Also like Bush, King Agamemnon goes to war on a false pretext. Instead
of bringing democracy to a downtrodden people, this king’s
lie is saving a “kidnapped” Greek woman, but the realities
for waging the war are the similar ignoble traits of control and
power. The filmmakers even scaled back the Trojan conflict from
its original ten years to just over two weeks. After all, who wants
to deal with a war that drags on forever and untold numbers are
sacrificed in the name of truth and justice? All that was lacking
in this filmic parallel was a scene with Agamemnon standing on the
deck of a ship giving his troops a “thumbs up” and saying,
“mission accom- plished.” 


When
has Hollywood ever been interested in good writing and sticking
to the story? Films featuring well-developed characters facing complex
conflicts are flukes for the most part. One has only to look at
the studios’ summer line-up to the see this. Movies such as

Catwoman, Princess Diaries 2

,


and

A Cinderella
Story

only confirm this observation. While the current Hollywood
mindset might think it is cutting edge for Tom Cruise to trade in
his

Top Gun

grin and play the heavy in

Collateral

,
A-list actors like Lee Marvin, William Holden, and James Cagney
did it on a regular basis a generation ago and without the CGI-laden
effects that drive nearly every movie coming out these days. Bill
Holden delivered more menace with his opening line in the

Wild
Bunch

than any character in any Quentin Tarantino movie. Instead,
Hollywood now gives us pretty boys with big guns or, in the case
of Brad Pitt, shiny swords, who wouldn’t last an hour with
Marvin on a deserted Pacific island. 


Hollywood
purports to give us the true story about King Arthur later this
summer. This claim is coming from the producer who gave us such
silver screen classics as

Flashdance

and

The Rock

.
The fact that

King A


r


thur

is being marketed
as a true story should send up a flag like a scud missile exploding
over Baghdad. T.H. White is generally credited as being the author
who first put together the various King Arthur legends.

King
Arthur

like

Troy

will undoubtedly be long on effects
and short on sticking to the facts.  


George
Orwell said it best when he wrote, “He who controls the past
commands the future. He who controls the future controls the past.”
What other reason than to dumb down Americans with yet another season
of lame comedies and supercilious dramas? The answer is simple,
other countries have revolutions, the U.S. doesn’t. As long
as we have our six pack of beer, Paris Hilton on the tube, and Brad
Pitt kicking butt on the silver screen, most won’t bother to
ask why National Guardspeople are dying by the dozens each week
in a foreign country that was as big a threat to us as Pia Zadora’s
last recording. 


Ted
Koppel spends a half hour reading a list of dead Americans and Sinclair
Communications pulls the plug on his show with their affiliates.
What is Sinclair’s agenda? The company owns 62 stations and
is the largest broadcaster of its kind in the country. Sinclair
has lobbied successfully in Washington to be allowed to grow even
bigger. Many of Sinclair’s executives are big contributors
to the Republican Party. Yet a Sinclair spokesperson accused Koppel
of  “…doing nothing more than making a political
statement.” There are reports that Sinclair and other broadcast
behemoths required on-air talent to deliver statements that affirmed
that company’s 100 percent support for President Bush and his
policies. This is a broadcasters’ prerogative. These rights
are protected by the Constitution. It is one thing though to speak
one’s mind and something entirely different when you use that
power to prevent others from presenting theirs. Walter Cronkite,
David Brinkley, and Ed Morrow used to give nightly editorials. Now
the closest any television news program comes to presenting anything
other than a lockstep opinion is Andy Rooney. 


If
one thinks that the 1950s were conservative with witch-hunts or
that the 1960s were unenlightened when it came to prosecuting a
guy like Lenny Bruce, look again. The current climate in the White
House and in Hollywood boardrooms makes one pine for such days.
When was the last time an oldies station played Edwin Starr’s

War

? A film like

MASH

wouldn’t have a snowball’s
chance in hell of getting made today. Michael Moore had trouble
finding a distributor for his latest film,

Fahrenheit 9/11

.
This is the person who won an Academy Award for the best documentary
last year and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this
year.


Clear Channel has put together a list of songs that
are banned from their radio stations. John Lennon’s

Imagine

is on that list. 


As
long as the policymakers in Washington think they can do anything
they like, in any country they like, without facing the repercussions
and blow-back from such deeds, we are losers. As long as Hollywood
thinks they can censor films and put out whatever mindless drivel
they choose to, without any repercussions, we are losers.



 





John Zavesky
is a freelance writer based in California.