Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Harry Potter and the Adolescent Society?

I read a very interesting and thought provoking column today on the Los Angeles Times web page. It was written by Joel Stein, formerly with Time Magazine. The piece was called: Hogwarts fans, you’re stupid, stupid, stupid. You can read the piece here:

So riveted was I to this book and its ups and downs that with my wife was on the verge of death this weekend, I could manage only the most tertiary care. I am, ashamed or not, a huge Hogwarts fan!

That being said, Joel Stein raises some very interesting points about the adolescent fixation in our society. It is true that we live in a society where men have debated the “sexiness” of the Olsen twins since they were pre-pubescent. Beautiful aging actresses in our society have their faces stretched tighter then the strings on a tennis racket in order to continue to procure work. We prize youth over wisdom everyday and twice on Sunday. We live in a world that parades a young actresses before our eyes as “nymphets” and then declares it wrong, wrong, wrong to look at them. Plastic surgery is part of our never-ending quest for the "fountain of youth".

The symptoms have been readily apparent for some time. I understand the logic of dumbing down our society. It is clearly a way for people who are grossly over-worked to turn off and tune out after too many hours at a job selling widgets or trading stocks. Our society is lazy, and it is our own fault. We get lazy entertainment because we are too damn sloth to do anything about it.

Unlike Joel Stein, whose writing I regard as first rate, I disagree that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince fits into this model. He points out that we should make excuses for reading the books, such as parental concern for the content of our children’s reading. Well, I have no children, but I would simply bring Joel Stein’s attention to the fact that good children’s entertainment has always been crafted to be appreciated on two levels. The first is the child who is absorbing the content from na├»ve and innocent perspective. The second is the parent who is reading the book or watching the movie with the child and appreciating subtlety that the author/screenwriter has inserted to make the experience tolerable for the adult.

This is the way it has always been. Look at good children’s entertainment from history. For example, Hans Christian Andersen or the Brother Grimm, who can possibly claim that there is not a severely sinister sub-story occurring within Hansel and Gretel.

Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is, in my opinion, one of the worst movies ever made. Especially when not stoned. This is because it incorporates all of the juvenile aspects of the story without any of the darkness. The new version of the story is replete with darkness. Johnny Depp portrays Willy Wonka as a deeply troubled and slightly twisted hermit. This is the way Roald Dahl wanted the adult readers to see him.

Not convinced? Ask your 7 year old son/daughter/nephew/niece who their favorite character on the Simpson’s is, and invariably they will name Bart or Lisa or Millhouse. Now ask their parent or a friend and invariably they will name Homer, Barney, Smithers, etc.

All that stated Stein is right. Our media has been dumbed down to appeal our lazy, tired and unadventurous need for simplicity. Watching comic book heroes, gratuitous sex and violence, and simple unimaginative plots is easy. But who said everything had to be Doctor Zhivago?

I enjoy good books, movies, TV, arts and drama as much as the next person, but on occasion it is OK to be a passenger simply gazing out the window lazily daydreaming about the cheeseburger you are going to have after the movie.

Bravo to Joel Stein for pointing out our societal flaws. It is uncomfortable to have to face such questions, but it is the only way a society grows and matures. All that said, I would urge Mr. Stein to get past his cynicism and read beyond page 50 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before condemning the series as adolescent and sophomoric.

I love the Harry Potter books. There are many things that make me lazy, but this is not one of them!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Yosemite Sam goes the New York!

So, I have been dawdling about this weekend, nursing a sick wife who caught her cold from me. In addition, I have been reading Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. I was supposed to try to write a response to the energy bill that passed out of Congress last week with more pork than a pig farm and, which actually does very little to accomplish the goal which the President laid out. That goal was to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. That piece is coming, but it is not ready yet.

Today I am going to focus on the recess appointment of John Bolton to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. John Bolton was not able to get out of the Senate, which had significant concerns about this man’s ability to handle the job. The President says that it was “a handful of Senators” which in their obstructionist stance had kept the position of UN Ambassador empty and thus the U.S. has been unrepresented for months in New York. This is a load of malarkey. The position has been empty, but there is an entire mission to the UN and there is a significant amount of State Department staff dedicated to this function. It wasn’t like there was no one there and they had boarded up the windows at the UN Mission or that an inch of dust had settled on our desk in the Security Council chamber. To pretend otherwise is devious and untruthful.

John Bolton is an angry man. One need only look at him to discover that. But we get to do more then that. We get to read what he has written and we learn about how he has treated his colleagues. I separate angry people into two columns. In the first column are those angry people who yell at their kids and/or spouses at home and are generally grumpy. In the second are those dangerously angry people who lose their temper in their workplaces. Both groups are bad, but the latter are not only bad, they are dangerous. These are people who lack the social grace to be able to restrain them in the workplace.

I am not going to get into specific allegation that have been directed at John Bolton, they are well publicized and when we get bogged down in specifics we lose sight of the overall picture. John Bolton is a bully, and like most bullies he uses sheer force of will to overcome a complete lack of tact. Many proponents feel that this is exactly what the UN needs. A little shot of “tough love” in the arm. But anyone who knows anything about diplomacy, and even those who know nothing, knows that it is a delicate science. Diplomacy, like many things, is all about relationships. It is all about the ability to use those relationships to achieve the goals laid out by the President’s foreign policy.

John Bolton has no tact, he is not diplomatic. He is honest and frank with his opinions. Honesty and frankness are good qualities, but not in the hands of a man with no tact. The President has appointed him anyways, and as usual when he does not get his way, he finds the short cut. As opposed to engaging Congress and Bolton’s critics (a rather bi-partisan bunch) in dialogue, he appoints Bolton with a recess nomination. The recess nomination has historically been used to fill urge postings. It can be used almost legitimately when dealing with Federal judges because the court system is so strained and short staffed. This, however, is a clear abuse of the recess appointment privilege. The President is desperate to prove that he is not a lame duck. His social security overhaul plan has conspicuously gone quiet. His foreign policy is under new and perhaps, some would say, critical analysis. Turd Blossom, a.k.a. Karl Rove is being investigated for his role in the Valerie Plame leak.

2005 has not treated the President very well thus far. He will, no doubt, try to spin last week’s energy bill and transportation bill into PR victories. It is what his White House does best. For people that hate Bill Clinton with a furious passion, they sure have learned a lot from him. They spin like pros! In the end, this recess appointment is fact, it happened, and we are sending the John Bolton, UN hater extraordinaire, to represent the United States to the world. The only positive that I see is that the rest of the world doesn’t watch FoxNews, they will see Bolton without the spin. They will see him for the explosive, pompous, mediocre, less than smart, troglodyte that he is.

Sneaky Mr. President! Sneaky! Was it Rove’s idea?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Missing blond high school grads from Alabama!

Is this news? Natalee Holloway disappeared a very long time ago and nothing substantial has happened in this case for a month now. Yet it still finds its way into the headlines. This is thanks in large part to failed lawyer and now hack journalist/legal expert Nancy Grace who created a name for herself by trying and convicting Scott Peterson in the press, tainting any possible jury pool and ensuring that a fair trial was completely impossible. Nancy Grace is a horrible, horrible human being who will likely (if the Buddhists are right) be reincarnated as a slimy greenish black slug. My only hope is that when that happens, some troll-looking young boy is around to pour salt on her. Grace has since gone on to cover such important legal issues of our time as the Michael Jackson trial and more importantly has become the advocate for the Holloway/Twitty Families and personal critic-major of the Dutch legal system. People are giving John Stewart no end of grief for his soft interview of semi-fascist Senator Rick Santorum, but that was nothing compared to the puff interviews that Nancy Grace conducts almost daily with Holloway’s mom, a wannabe MILF who’s only claim to fame is that she has surpassed 40 with all of her teeth intact (something of a feat in Alabama).

I feel for the parents of Natalee Holloway. Nothing could more horrific than losing a child. No parent should have to outlive their children. My heart and thoughts go out to this family as it deals with a nightmare, the likes of which I hope I will never have to endure. But let’s face it, these parents made a rather sophomorically bad decision in allowing their 18 years old daughter to go on a “barely chaperoned” trip to Aruba to stay in a casino. What kind of parenting is that? Perhaps that is what is so upsetting to the family. Knowing that in the moment when it really counted, when Natalee needed an adult to quash her dreams of rum drinks on white sand beaches and sweaty nights at dance clubs, the lights were on but no one was home. And what kind of school organizes such a trip? Have these people never heard of Club Med? Disney World? Disneyland? No, they opted for a trip to a casino filled island! Typical red state hypocritical tomfoolery!

Of course, none of that matters. It really isn’t her parent’s fault any more than it is Nancy Grace’s. It is, quite simply, our fault. I have followed this case. Not because I think it is news. I have followed as something of a sociological research project. Or perhaps I watch for the same reason that we watch reality TV or a car accident on the freeway, because like lemmings, we are unable to turn away. Oh yes, dear readers, I have followed this case, and I am here to tell you that this is not news. It does not even approach the level of news. This isn’t even worthy of the six o’clock news in Birmingham, Alabama, let alone CNN of FoxNews. I guess, though, it is not surprising that it has received press. It is also hardly shocking when it was revealed that a few years ago a couple of black boys were killed on a trip to the Caribbean and they were not mentioned once in the national press.

What is our national obsession with blond white girls? Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins, Natalee Holloway, the list goes on and on. We all complain about the coverage this stuff receives and yet it keeps coming. Why God, why? I’ll tell you why, because we are lazy. We are unwilling to use the squishy grey stuff between our ears. In addition, we are like ostriches; we don’t want to know all the horrible things happening in this world. We can’t handle the images of our young men and women dying in Iraq. We can’t handle the images of AIDS and starvation robbing the African continent of any chance at a future. We can’t cope with the devastating rape and torturous killings in Darfur, Sudan that our President has dubbed genocide yet does nothing about. We would rather focus on one American “maybe dying” in Aruba then the over 1000 people who have died in India because of a particular brutal seasonal monsoon.

We need to take a step back and consider what really matters. The death of anyone always matters. Natalee Holloway was probably a good kid who was robbed of a future by some terrible person on her last night in Aruba. Should she have died? No, absolutely not. She should be in Alabama enjoying her summer after high school with her friends. But, in the end, the trail is cold. The family is clinging to anything and all of this media attention is casting the generally good people of Aruba in a bad light and forcing their government to spend way too much money on this case. It is time to call it a day. It is time to let go. Natalee is gone, but hopefully in the hearts of her friends and family she will not be forgotten. It is time for her image to go now, she was never news and we have endured this personal tragedy far long enough. It is time for this story to go away now and make room for more important issues.