The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime link roundup

Of note or interest:

And now, back to work.

The Real Donald Trump

...is a character on TV, according to TV critic James Poniewozik, writing in today's Sunday Review:

The taunting. The insults. The dog whistles. The dog bullhorns. The “Lock her up” and “Send her back.” All of it follows reality-TV rules. Every season has to top the last. Every fight is necessary, be it against Ilhan Omar or Debra Messing. Every twist must be more shocking, every conflict more vicious, lest the red light grow bored and wink off. The only difference: Now there’s no Mark Burnett to impose retroactive logic on the chaos, only press secretaries, pundits and Mike Pence.

To ask whether any of this is “instinct” or “strategy” is a parlor game. If you think like a TV camera — if thinking in those reflexive microbursts of adrenaline and testosterone has served you your whole life — then the instinct is the strategy.

And to ask who the “real” Donald Trump is, is to ignore the obvious. You already know who Donald Trump is. All the evidence you need is right there on your screen. He’s half-man, half-TV, with a camera for an eye that is constantly focused on itself. The red light is pulsing, 24/7, and it does not appear to have an off switch.

Well, it does: 20th January 2021, just 500 days from today.

Another anniversary

Monty Python's Life of Brian turned 40 on August 17th. The BBC has a retrospective:

The Pythons’ satire wouldn’t target Jesus or his teachings, instead caricaturing political militants, credulous crowds, the appeal of throwing stones at people, the complexities of Latin grammar, and the difficulties of being a tyrant when you’ve got a speech impediment. “I thought we’d been quite good,” said Idle in Robert Sellers’ behind-the-scenes book, Very Naughty Boys. “We’d avoided being specifically rude to specific groups.”

It seemed, though, that they hadn’t been quite good enough. Terry Jones was about to start directing the film in Tunisia when the Chief Executive of EMI, Bernard Delfont, finally got around to reading the script, and declared that there was no way his company could fund such an atrocity. The project’s unlikely saviour was George Harrison, the ex-Beatle. A friend of Idle’s and a fan of the Pythons, he volunteered to remortgage his house and chip in the £2 million ($4.1 million) the team needed – a bail-out which has become known as ‘the most expensive cinema ticket’ ever issued.

Once Life of Brian was completed, not everyone was so calm. Some countries, such as Ireland and Norway, banned it outright. (In Sweden it was advertised as being ‘so funny it was banned in Norway’.)  In the US, Rabbi Abraham Hecht, President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, told Variety magazine: “Never have we come across such a foul, disgusting, blasphemous film before.”

Shortly after the film came out in the UK, John Cleese and Michael Palin were on Tim Rice's show "Friday Night...Saturday Morning" with the Bishop of Southwark. It's quite a show.

Funny things

First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:

And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"

OK, that's too much funny for this morning.

The Matrix at 20

The Atlantic's David Sims takes a look back:

The film came out exactly 20 years ago, before 1999’s summer action-movie season had even begun; The Matrix’s big competitors at the theater were comedies such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Analyze This. As an R-rated sci-fi epic about hackers who know kung fu and do battle with machines in a postapocalyptic wasteland, The Matrix was difficult to describe. Yet it somehow became a word-of-mouth hit, the rare blockbuster that opens at No. 1 at the box office, falls to No. 2, and then climbs back to the top position (which it did in its fourth week). It’s the kind of dazzling, original film that inspires a generation of fans and imitators—and the kind of movie Hollywood wouldn’t make in today’s franchise-heavy media landscape.

Twenty years on, much is being written about 1999 as a crucial turning point for Hollywood. By the end of the 20th century, the industry was suddenly crowded with directors fresh from making indie cinema, buzzy music videos, and commercials, many of whom had grown up with the rebellious New Hollywood filmmakers of the ’70s as their artistic lodestars. The future of moviemaking was foreshadowed in the year’s big hits, which included the relaunched big-ticket franchise Star Wars (The Phantom Menace), the low-budget horror of The Blair Witch Project, the provocative teen humor of American Pie, and the twist-ending virality of The Sixth Sense.

Watching today, Neo seems like the poster boy for a disaffected Generation X, a nonconformist who escapes his dull life as a cubicle drone to become a god. (In fact, one of The Matrix’s closest thematic companions from the fertile cinema du 1999 is probably Mike Judge’s Office Space—another sad ballad about humans being swallowed whole by faceless corporations, though Judge’s film has a few more jokes.) The villains of The Matrix are invincible computer programs known as Agents, led by the stone-faced Smith (Hugo Weaving), that take on the appearance of anonymous-looking government officials in bland suits and ties. Meanwhile, Neo and his compatriots, including Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), dress like they’re attending a fetish club, and they do battle to a thumping soundtrack of heavy metal and techno music.

In other anniversaries, yesterday marked 80 years since the German Army poured into Poland, officially igniting World War II.

Happy autumn

Summer ends in about two hours here in Chicago, after a kind of perfect late-summer day. The day is ending with a cool, gentle rain, which will clear up before dawn.

The end of August being the end of summer infused art and music for millennia before meteorologists set September 1st as the first day of autumn for statistical convenience. Maybe this is happy alignment of science and art?

Here's Dar Williams with the verdict:

Long weekend

Walking 26,000 steps, catching Oklahoma!, and eating pastrami and a random slice on Lexington Avenue in the last 24 hours have distracted me from posting. Regular blogging continues tomorrow.

And wow, Oklahoma! was totally worth it.

Mid-morning link roundup

So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:

And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.

The Golden Age of Comics

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman (Maus) submitted an essay for a Marvel Comics compendium to be published this fall, but withdrew it when Marvel asked him to delete a reference to the "Orange Skull." The Guardian published it instead:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political... just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Apolitical indeed.