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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Friday, 5 March 2004

Topic: The Culture

Open Season on Those Who Make Us Uncomfortable
This week's issue of L.A. Weekly seems to feature analyses of political gadflies. Each item is quite long and worth a click and a read.

First up is Michael Moore.

See American Bigmouth: Why Michael Moore won't shut up
Ella Taylor, L.A. Weekly, issue of March 5 -11, 2004

Taylor interviews him and offers some thoughts. She opens with this:
Other things being equal, Moore's president of choice remains Dennis Kucinich, but he knows his favorite doesn't have a prayer, and given that all the candidates are "to the left of Gore in 2000," he says he'll go with any of them who can get George Bush out of office.

Except, apparently, Howard Dean.

... Moore insists -- twice -- on his admiration for what Dean has done to energize young people to become politically involved. "But spend 10 minutes in the same room with Dean," he says, "and you're asking, do you want to support him?"


"He's kind of a prick."

There's a moment of revisionist silence, followed by Moore's trademark high-pitched giggle.

"Prickly, really. I hate to slag him, but as you look at him, where will he win?"
Well, Moore isn't exactly subtle.

But here's the core:
... It's not hard to understand why conservatives can't stand Moore and why there are several Web sites exclusively devoted to zealously combing his every speech, book and movie for inaccuracies. For all Moore's protestations that liberals are less nasty and more laid-back than conservatives, he is one of the few on the left who hacks away at the right with its own methods, and he's usually more to the point. While Matt Drudge pants away on his Web site trying to drum up sexual dirt on John Kerry, Moore is busy firing off "Dear George" letters out of his, calling Bush on his policies at home and abroad. He remains the left's only well-known shock jock. And it's unlikely that either Al Franken or Molly Ivins, both of whom have anti-Bush books on the best-seller lists, would have gotten the book deals they did without Moore's trailblazing hits. Moore lacks the intellectual chops of either, but he's a deft popularizer and a very funny guy.

Which may be one reason why so many liberals and leftists, at least those who are over 30, don't like him. One New York Times piece fingered him as a senior member of the "Bush-hating left," and Daniel Okrent, introducing himself as the paper's new ombudsman, wrote snootily, "I'd rather spend my weekends exterminating rats in the tunnels below Penn Station than read a book by either Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore." And few on the left are likely to be amused by his "endorsement" of Oprah, Paul Newman or the Dixie Chicks for president.

Moore has been dumped on by organs as disparate as Alexander Cockburn's shrill far-left rag Counterpunch and the staidly democratic-socialist Dissent, which last spring heaped scorn on Moore's confrontational tactics, sniffed at his gifts as an entertainer, and accused him of cynicism for railing at both political parties. This last is absurd -- you only have to spend five minutes in Moore's company to realize that sincerity is one quality he possesses in spades.

But even in England, the liberal newspaper The Guardian last November suggested that Moore has gotten sloppy and become a "left-wing version of loud-mouthed ultra-conservative shock-jocks such as Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter."
That is rather harsh, but perhaps true.

Then Marc Cooper gets his shots in with Moore Is Less: One stupid white man's problem with the man in the ball cap.

The problem? Moore is not Mort Sahl.
I know very well the role that Michael Moore ought to be playing.

For it was neither Marx nor Marcuse that initially radicalized me as a teenager in the 1960s but rather the comic, Mort Sahl.

... On Sahl's word that the now-defunct Hunters was L.A.'s best political bookstore, I began frequenting the shop on Little Santa Monica. And one afternoon in 1967 I bumped right into Sahl as he thumbed through the special table of titles on Vietnam. We chatted for a half-hour during which he told me I still had a lot to learn. As a last-minute gesture, Sahl bought me a copy of British correspondent Bernard Fall's classic The Two Viet-Nams -- a moment, and a book that would mark the rest of my life.

I cannot imagine Michael Moore having that sort of transformational effect on anyone. Moore arrives before us not with a newspaper under his arm, but rather with a bullhorn and a sledgehammer. Sahl engaged his audience in subtle, complicated dialogue, enticing his fans to think beyond the conventional wisdom. Moore's style is to bully and bluster. Sahl helped teach me how to think. Moore purports to tell us what to think.

Which wouldn't be so objectionable if there was evidence that Moore had any depth, any nuance or at least some consistency to his own thought.

I find no trace.
So it's "Dump on Michael Moore Week" here in Los Angeles?

Maybe so. But Brendan Bernhard examines Dennis Miller in Miller's Crossing: Can a pro-Bush comedian get laughs?

Actually, a lot of this item is a discussion of John Stewart's "The Daily Show" - and it's rather positive about that, and its format.

As for Dennis Miller and his new show on MSNBC?
Miller begins each episode of his program with "The Daily Rorschach," a segment in which he sits at a desk and delivers wordy -- some would say laborious -- riffs on the news, much as he once did on Saturday Night Live and Dennis Miller Live on HBO. (Sample jokes: "A new poll shows that Senator Kerry's support in the South is strongest among blacks. Kerry's appeal to Southern blacks is obvious: He's a white man who lives far, far away. Kerry's campaign is also gaining support among women. However, Kucinich is still tops among post-op trannies.") This part of the program, at least, could benefit mightily from a live audience, because without some laughter to feed off, Miller the comedian can seem a little lost, even with crew members providing some consolation chuckles offscreen.
Well, the show has been yanked for a few weeks to be "retooled." And it will come back with a live audience. But Miller will still be the bloodthirsty, mean-spirited, kill-them-all right-winger he has now become. It won't be any funnier, I'd guess.

Finally Kate Sullivan writes about Howard Stern in Really Hot Air: Viacom sucks up to FCC over Howard Stern's indecent exposure.

Stern was just cancelled by Clear Channel, the radio empire run by a personal friend of the Bush family and darling of the FCC run my Michael Powell, the son of the Secretary of State. Stern was indecent, it seems. But Stern has been all over the airways and in the press saying he was never in trouble with his naughty show until he made some anti-Bush comments. Then they canned him. Clear Channel says that's only a coincidence, that after the Janet Jackson bouncing bare boob thing at the Super Bowl, they decided it was time to be more responsive to the wishes of all Americans, who hate smut and nudity and dirty talk and all that sort of thing. If their audience is neo-Puritan, and the FCC is making noises about cleaning things up, well, they are just giving the audience what they are demanding and adhering much more strictly to what the FCC tells them to do. Heck, the FCC has rules. Ask George Carlin about the seven dirty words you are not allowed to say on television. Howard Stern had to go. Times are changing. Or to be more precise, now the rules really do matter.

Sullivan comments:
I'm no Howard Stern fan, but it seems unfair that a guy who was hired precisely to be trashy is now being punished for holding up his end of the bargain.

Obviously, it's also a bit retarded for the federal government to try and determine what is and isn't offensive to consumers. As Limbaugh said after his bosses at Clear Channel dropped Stern, "You know, I'm in the free speech business here, my friends. I couldn't survive without it. And it is one thing for a company in business to determine whether or not they're going to be party to it. It is quite another thing for a government."

At the same time, Washington's shrill reaction to everyday tastelessness has got to be a boost for Stern -- who banks on an outlaw rep. (Stern once released a CD called Crucified by the FCC, which contained censored bits from his show and featured cover art of Stern carrying a cross.) Last week he waxed heroic on his show. "They are so afraid of me and what this show represents," he said. "I don't think I'm going to last a month."
That was just prior to the air going dead.

Moore, Miller, Stern... surprising that we now, given this administration, even allow them to live.

Posted by Alan at 13:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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