The Democrats Can’t Win If They Won’t Fight

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i. The Day After the Day After

ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE hand-wringing and recriminations. The only time Democrats love firearms is when they enter a circular firing squad. The only time they embrace religion is when they reenact the Stations of the Cross.

Fuck that shit. Not me, not this time.

I mean, don’t misunderstand: there’s tons of blame to go around, and I dread the impending days (months? years?) of analysis, self-pity and castigation as part of the psychoanalysis liberals engage in after every excruciating setback. Since this latest one is the worst kind imaginable, it’s no surprise the predictable sites are piling up with the predictable screeds. You know, if only we tried harder to engage with good old country folk who just want to get their racist on, we’d…what, exactly? Understand their rage? Reconcile? Get them to consider voting for a Democrat?

Please give me the largest possible break, and super-size it.

First and foremost, the big lesson to be learned here is not that Hillary (or any of us) were deluded or nonchalant. I think, misleading polls aside, the reason victory seemed imminent was not because of Democratic overconfidence, but rather a genuine faith in the collective wisdom of the American people. Hillary Clinton, for all her faults (the handful of genuine ones and the myriad manufactured ones), had every reason to believe there was no way enough people—whatever their racial, misogynistic or authoritarian hang-ups might be—could pull the lever for the most spectacularly ill-suited know-nothing to con his way into contention.

And so, shame on all of us, myself very much included, for not doing more to scare the bejesus out of anyone willing to listen about what true monsters Mike Pence and Paul Ryan are. Maybe, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, it may have been useful for Team Pantsuit to make a slightly bigger thing out of Pence’s record, (still and for now) freely available online. And double-fuck the MSM for giving Hillary’s emails approximately one million times the attention they paid to Pence’s role in legislation that obliges aborted or miscarried  fetuses to be either cremated or buried. The revolution, it turns out, was televised. At once explanation and epitaph, the soulless Les Moonves predicted the (final?) nail in the coffin of America’s Empire, in February of this year: “For us, economically, Donald’s place in this election is a good thing. It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in….This is fun.”

With enemies like that, why would Donald Trump need friends?

As for the execrable Ryan, can someone help me understand why (how) he’d already be calling his shot on privatizing (eradicating) Medicare before Trump is even fucking inaugurated? I know these true believers have perpetual hard-ons for all things privatization, but don’t they know this is a non-starter with seniors? Or are they sufficiently cynical and cocky to think being able to tie plundering Medicare with repealing Obamacare (you can practically envision Ryan’s crocodile tears as he solemnly announces that as much as it pains him to do this…) will give them sufficient cover? I’ll concede we liberals have turned the Chicken Little act into performance art, but once we start talking about necessary (and popular!) programs getting gutted before anyone wakes up, shit has officially gotten way too real.

Listen, I expect (and look forward to) the inevitable blowback from the diehards who’ll abandon Trump once beautiful walls aren’t built, millions of men and women aren’t magically deported, and draining the so-called swamp means infesting it with the worst sorts of insider reptiles, etc. And I’ll relish the shit show of that shit stain Reince Priebus having to lock horns each day with Bannon (and Trump)…but I guess I hoped the GOP doesn’t literally bring us back to 1898 before there’s some (thanks again, MSM!!) intelligent and organized resistance.

ii. Those who cannot remember the past… 

To understand where we are, it’s imperative to review where we’ve been. In some ways, confronting the ways this is on us might prove the unkindest cut, but perhaps a full and tardy assessment will ensure we finally learn our lesson.

Certainly, it sucks to see a party whose signal accomplishment the last eight years was acting petulant and saying no like a paroxysm rendered Reductio ad absurdum, (and who all but ran in the opposite direction of the thug who hijacked their party) so smug and certain, all of a sudden. It’s not just that the Dems snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, once again, but that this was at once predictable and preventable. My concern is—and has been for some time—the ways in which Democrats are congenitally incapable of articulating their achievements, and crafting a message that is either compelling or consistent. The shame of it is, all they have to do is tell the truth and it would set them free.

My biggest beef with Obama’s tenure (one that we’ll miss and appreciate with greater urgency in a couple of months) is, aside from his not being a more vocal and triumphant advocate about providing health care for millions of Americans, the once-in-a-generation opportunity he wasted in 2009. With a country still smoldering from the predictable catastrophe eight-plus years of free market fetishism wrought, the time was at last ripe to make a case why a no-tax/no-regulation-on-steroids approach never works. More, it was a historical occasion screaming for a straightforward yet forceful defense of Government-with-a-capital-G. This was a gift to grab from the despair: with things bottomed out due to unconstrained conservative rule,  history practically pleaded with sensible leaders to reclaim the word and the concept, not to mention rebrand it.

It’s not so difficult to imagine, and this stuff practically writes itself. One speech, early in ’09, wherein Obama declared: “not only am I going to fund these projects, no American who wants to work will go without on my watch. I’m going to spend this money, because it is an investment on people, and you will be able to measure the results immediately. This is a mission on behalf of our well-being, and if you want to judge me in four years, I will take those odds. And if I’m wrong, the worst case scenario will be an early retirement where I can drive across this great nation over new roads and rebuilt bridges, and take advantage of the radically improved infrastructure that these projects made possible. I’ll walk away from the Oval Office happy and proud, because I’ll know we made a difference, and that is what I was elected to do.”

(He also could, and should, have continually invoked FDR’s famous—and quite effective—“I welcome their hatred” mic drop.)

Obama was either too credulous or (worse) haughty to believe he actually needed to make a case, and be prepared for the full-scale war the GOP declared on him the second he was elected. (His refusal to bother himself getting involved in the health care brawls all summer of 2009 is the second largest blunder of his presidency: he not only allowed the malevolent Republicans to define the narrative (wrongly), he let the Tea Party lunatics get a foothold and, with the absence of any consistent, intelligible message, determine that opposing government—instead of the Masters of the Universe, and the Republicans who serve them—was the correct, patriotic thing to do. By the time he saw the grammatically-challenged writing on the signs, it was arguably too late. Meanwhile, against all probability, the masses with their pitchforks and flames, had—for lack of a tangible target for the ire—latched on to the Fox-spewed propaganda filling the inexplicable vacuum of what passes, these days, for political discourse. Put simply, the health insurance industry and the pols they have in their pockets are cartoon villains and the Democrats still were unable to game out an effective strategy to expose them as such.

Aside from Obama’s (take your pick) naïveté, arrogance or indifference, it shouldn’t have taken him well into his second term to think about messaging. Priority number one for Democrats, effective immediately, is not rolling in the hay with Br’er Redneck, but crafting a story that’s consistent and, as no less a salesman than Henry Kissinger once said, has the added advantage of being true. Any introductory class in marketing or communications (or English Literature for that matter) will emphasize the importance of narrative; the necessity of telling the story you want to tell.

The reason this is crucial is because the Republicans already did it and, aside from a few hiccups and intrusions of reality, it’s worked swimmingly ever since. In an exploit that still resonates for its audacity, once upon a time Ronald Reagan drew a conservative line in the sand, assailing the presumption of government as a constructive agent, not by nitpicking but taking aim at its raison d’être. With a country still reeling from the apathy and cynicism of the post-Nixon nadir, he pre-empted that anger and uttered the immortal words: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And for the first time in half a century the Republicans steadily assumed control of a new storyline. It was simple as it was shameless; it was the most facile strategy fathomable, and the GOP finally had a patron saint to render it sacrosanct.

The Reagan Revolution built its momentum on a shameful vilification of America’s poor and lionized (some would say fetishized) the wealthiest percentile and transformed them into folk heroes. In less than two terms, Reaganomics and Wall Street vandalism laid waste to the working class and put us on a path where the richest of the rich were entitled, by Divine Right, to pay ever-smaller tax rates. Meanwhile, young pillagers in training, like Mitt Romney, perfected the business acumen of bankrupting companies for profit into a repugnant performance art. This reached its apotheosis when truth Trumped reality (in every sense of the word) and we ended up electing an actual Gordon Gekko, sans charisma and liquidity.

(That the media, and the Dems, got rolled so historically, by letting Trump get away without releasing his tax returns, is something we should neither forgive nor forget.)

Incidentally, and depressingly case in point: If Trump is smart, he’d insist he is going to repeal and replace Obamacare. The second he’s inaugurated, “replace” it with “TrumpCare” which is the exact same thing as Obamacare. All of his voters, and a vast majority of Republicans, will embrace it and love it. You own the narrative, you own reality.

iii. The Power of Political Narrative, Revisited

In a piece entitled The Power of Political Narrative, I wrote the following:

After the disgust and disbelief settles, one feels obliged to give props to the Republican ratfuckers. Over the last few decades while they have dabbled in the vicarious thrill of foreign occupations and the odious gutter-dwelling of racial and sexual identity politicking, the cretins behind the curtain have focused on some tactical battles in which they have more or less achieved their ends. This strategy has many moving parts, but can be boiled down to a series of inviolable commandments, the enforcement of which ensures that no one is ever off script. And make no mistake, this script is like religion—except belief is not optional.

The fifth, final and most audacious (of these commandments) involves the mantra that government does not work. It’s a neat trick in which, when Republicans take power, they spend their time ensuring this assertion is true, all while consistently expanding the size of government along with the size of the national debt. Then, like clockwork, once the people have finally seen enough, a Democrat comes in with the thankless task of cleaning up the mess, and the disloyal opposition becomes a cadre of small government deficit hawks. That this same farce was pulled off so spectacularly after our recent recession says as much, if not more, about the aforementioned media and the supine Democrats as it does about the unabashed GOP.

Of course, in Democrats’ defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves. We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: it allows Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion.

Back in 2014, as the Dems, running away from Obama’s accomplishments (obviously) and downplaying the demonstrable good Obamacare had already done (naturally), I wrote the following:

During the Tea Party shenanigans in ’09, I kept asking myself: when is Obama going to start reminding everyone that this Big Bad Government has historically been the bulwark between our people and an Industrial Revolution lifestyle? Does it need to get to the point where the Republican Party literally says “let them eat cake” before people start to realize wages are stagnating, prices are rising and the only people getting fat are the wealthiest one percent? Apparently it does.

Which brings us to today.

The Republicans have won a huge battle, to be certain. But there’s a larger war to be fought, on both literal and figurative levels. In terms of the former: life goes on; we live to fight another day, another cycle, another generation (You know, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”). With regards to the latter: there’s a longer game the Republicans would like to win, and that involves impeding a progressive alternative by any means necessary. This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford to let current circumstances lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they’ll fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.

Get angry. Get involved. Do what you have to do.

*This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 11/15/16.

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Point/Counterpoint: Sean Beaudoin vs. Sean Murphy – the 90’s Edition (Revisited)

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Point/Counterpoint is a beloved feature that first appeared in the fall ’72 Telex edition of the Weeklings. PC/P is the product of an intellectual tradition hearkening back to storied Oxford debate squads and the golden age of radio, in which two authors match wits over random subjects while being forced to choose a side and defend it on the fly. Readers are advised to stand back, as the heat can get intense. This week’s All 90?s arm wrestle involves essayist, raconteur, and former Governor of Virginia, Mr. Sean Murphy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the clock.

 

Michael Jordan –

Point (Murphy): Here is the uncomplicated part: Jordan is the dominant and peerless athlete of the ‘90s. Here is the complicated part: He is a prick. Big deal, right? Well, not so fast. Certainly, when it comes to athletes, actors, authors and the rich and famous in general, we don’t—and often shouldn’t—expect much in terms of humanity. They are too busy perfecting their craft, and in the instance of rich and famous, being an asshole is their life’s work. And for the creative sorts who have left us with profoundly moving, redemptive art, we acknowledge that messy interpersonal relations or despicable traits all pale in comparison to what they were put on earth to do. But just as Jordan is a once-in-a-generation talent, so too was his opportunity to make a real once-in-a-generation type difference. Indeed, one could argue that today, with our five-second attention spans and every idiot (famous or not) working ceaselessly on building their unique “brand”, it’s difficult to rise above the din. It is, therefore, easier to imagine the impact Jordan might have had, in an analog era, to make a meaningful and lasting difference, had he cared to do so. Famously, he didn’t. “Republicans buy sneakers too,” he quipped sardonically, with a lack of shame and soul that would make Ayn Rand wet. Could Jordan single-handedly have improved sweatshop conditions overseas and reigned in the worst aspects of the previous decade’s consumerism apocalypse? Actually, yes. He might have done more than merely be immortal on the hard wood; he could have changed our world, for the better. How many people in any generation actually have this ability?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I don’t think any public figure, celebrity or athlete or otherwise, has an obligation to make a difference. Whatever a “difference” might actually mean. Jordan was basically conservative, in the sense that he was relentless, ruthless, and did whatever it took to make as much money as possible. I see that as a very political act. He rejected the notion that his opinion on Bosnia or race relations was of greater value than not upsetting Hanes executives. He succinctly expressed his worldview by giving everyone the finger while insulating himself behind a wall of Nike checks. And also by being the Greatest Player Ever. Sorry, but if Mike had flown to Malaysia to lock arms with workers in front of a sweatshop gate, he wouldn’t have been the guy who stuck a dagger in Craig Ehlo’s heart, or marginalized Patrick Ewing, or pushed Bryon Russell out of the way like he didn’t exist before sinking the jumper that doomed Karl Malone. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that artists should be judged by their personal lives as opposed to their output. It’s a dangerous temptation when the artist is still alive, because it’s almost impossible for their behavior not to color perceptions of their work. I’m not going to pretend I can watch Curse of the Jade Scorpion without wondering about Woody’s predilections, fairly or otherwise. But I would argue, at least theoretically, that we all should be able to. It’s a good movie or it isn’t. (It’s not). But if you went back through history, almost every great artist (and many not great ones) were complete assholes. Check out the life of Caravaggio. But you don’t see too many people complaining about “David With the Head of Goliath” hanging at the Met because they’re offended by him as a person. To see the world in a truly original fashion and then be able to interpret that view with unusual skill and nuance often requires a level of narcissism that results in aberrant, transgressive, and/or manic behavior. Michael Jordan is exactly the complicated amalgam of thoughts and behaviors and beliefs that allowed him to play like him. If he were 9% better of a person, he’d no doubt have been more accessible in the locker room and maybe even spokesman for a worthy cause, but he wouldn’t have played the way he did. People are the totality of themselves. If Mike were the person you wanted him to be, then he’d also have been B.J. Armstrong, and therefore not the person you wanted at all.

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Newt Gingrich –

Point (Beaudoin): If somewhere in Washington D.C. right this second there’s a bigger sac of crappy ideas, unearned self-regard, and a true disdain for “the people” masquerading as public service, I dare you to name them. It’s astonishing that Newton Leroy Gingrich is still taken seriously enough to have just made even a doomed run for president, let alone win a few primaries, although perhaps we can thank him for having burned through twenty million of Sheldon Adelson’s money for no good reason whatsoever. Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was a failure on nearly every front, a zero-sum political expedience bereft of ethical standards that ushered in the hyper-partisan behavior currently crippling government. Add to that the mendacity of having crowed about “family values” on television nearly every night, including the period in which he led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton, while simultaneously conducting numerous affairs of his own on the side. In the meantime, Gingrich was run out of office by his own party, wrote nine remaindered novels that other books are embarrassed to be shelved next to, and then married a woman who looks like a steak knife wearing a toupee. Easily one of the worst people in America.

Counter-Point (Murphy): But we want Newt Gingrich on that wall. We need Newt Gingrich on that wall. And do you think it’s easy being Newt? Respect, and a sort of awe, is required for a man who never asked to be a Mr. Potato Head of all Shakespeare’s best villains: one part Polonius’s sanctimony; one part Falstaff’s red-jowled bluster; one part Iago’s soulless scheming. He is the tragicomic Sisyphus of our time, pushing the boulder of ambition up that hill, only to be toppled each time he is so close he can taste it (realizing, as he careens ass over ego, that the smell of victory is actually the collective babble from inside-the-Beltway blowhards, who turn on you so quickly it’s almost like an homage). His eyes forever on the prize, a would-be Bogeyman for an ill America; instead he ends up inside his own closet, sniffing other people’s panties. Don’t all the haters realize he would enjoy nothing more than crawling under that rock to decay, silently, into the soil? Instead, he is compelled to stand in front of We The People who can’t understand he just wasn’t made for these times? That, had he only been given the chance, he could have taught Jefferson a thing or two about writing (and philandering), he could have out-proselytized any of our wig-wearing Weekend Warriors, he could have saved us a Civil War by proving separation of the races was God’s will (or else The South was the New Jerusalem, or some other shit), he could have, well, he could have been a contender. Gingrich is the real life Willy Loman of our political stage, still out hustling his wares, not aware that his time has passed, his time was never in fact here: it was an illusion, a great white hype, a bloated gasp for relevance that will echo forever as a footnote, a guffaw and a grimace. Newt Gingrich exists because no one else could possibly play the part. For this unpalatable but irrefutable fact, attention must be paid.

Newt describing the size and shape of his second wife's taint.

Alice in Chains –

Point (Murphy): While I find Nirvana terminally exalted to the point of parody (the idea that Cobain is the spokesperson of his generation is almost as depressing as people killing each other over a used pair of Air Jordans), and I never had much love for Pearl Jam, I think Alice in Chains is the great overlooked band of the ‘90s. Awful enough, today, to be remembered as a “grunge” band; infinitely worse to be damned with the flannel-smelling praise of achieving “lesser” grunge status. I find this unfortunate, in part because Alice in Chains did more to outshine that lame, facile label than any of their brethren. Layne Staley is best in small-ish doses, I’ll concede, but even at his most affected, his intensity is always undercut by Jerry Cantrell’s calm, cool and disaffected harmonies. Let’s not mince words, I not only consider Dirt a masterpiece, I’d put it in my Top 10 of that decade: it’s a suicide note in music, and the fact that less than a decade later, Staley would indeed be dead only adds to its desolate aura. There is anger, hurt, self-pity, self-hatred and, ultimately, a defiance that, for me, makes the posturing of other grunge acts seem like an after-school special. “Down in a Hole”, a showcase for the ways the band balanced bleakness and brawn, endures as a too-intimate tour into the darkest heart of addiction, full of recrimination and remorse, yet it somehow manages to be…tender? We rightly indict so many pop acts for faking it; these dudes were laying it all out there, and they perfected an ugly type of beauty that, unlike so much else that came out of the ‘90s, isn’t tied to time or place.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I will agree that it was a horrible decade for music in general, but if Dirt is even in the top hundred albums, the 90?s might go down as the worst arbitrary stretch of years in human history, including all that Vaudeville piano “Oh, my baby loves whisker soap and Sarsaparilla” shit. I think Alice in Chains is basically an unlistenable pile of derivative hooks and suspect melodies, and in particular that Layne Staley’s voice is maddening in the extreme. He’s always straining for a note, always resolving a line in exactly the same way, not to mention burbling insipid lyrics about roosters and (yawn) heroin dissolution. But what’s vastly more interesting than the relative accuracy of those statements is how you and I, who otherwise share so much in common as far as musical taste, could view this band so polemically. When I was younger (back in the 90s) I was often annoyed by this sort of thing, but now I find it fascinating. We are two very different people who are inconsistent and unpredictable! We are governed by a false logic called “taste” that is actually a product of our environment, imagination, and maybe even our genetic sequence! Opinions about music are basically arbitrary and worthless! Hooray life! Although I will say that the one band I truly loathed more than any other in the 90?s was Third Eye Blind. You better not tell me you have a poster of them on your ceiling or we’re done.

The soundtrack to the best years of our lives.

Y2K –

Point (Beaudoin): Can you imagine how truly wonderful it would have been if computers across the globe really did lock up on that fateful midnight? And not just until repairs could be enacted, but permanently and across the globe, remaining useless hunks of mis-dated silicone all these years later and having saved us the indignities of Reddit, texting, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and people talking loudly on cell phones in cafes? Oh why, Y2K, why did you fail to be the catastrophe we so richly deserved?

Counter-Point (Murphy):

If Y2K had delivered the goods, pulling a Terminator Skynet and leaving us in a Bladerunner-style post-apocalypse, I would not have been able to burn the next decade converting my creative energy, youthful idealism and pre-midlife angst into emails instead of novels. If Y2K pulled the plug (figuratively) ensuring we had to pull our puds forever in analog (literally), I would have had nothing better to do than tackle the ever-expanding list of unread books that, fourteen years later makes Borges’ Library of Babel look like the pile of magazines at a doctor’s office. If Y2K had truly partied like it was 1999, I would still remember what grass smelled like, what sweat felt like, what animals sounded like, what real people looked like, or what composing a sentence uninterrupted by a dozen extraneous thoughts and distractions Google/Facebook/iPhone-d like. Why would I possibly want any part of that?

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Quentin Tarantino –

Point (Murphy): Even typing out his name makes me cringe. It’s not just that everything he’s done since the ‘90s has sucked, or that he is at once uninhibited and oleaginous in ways that could put infomercial stars and politicians to shame. It’s not even that he’s been sprinting in circles, overrated and infuriating as only the rarest of artists can manage to be. His real crime is the breathless puerility suffusing almost every scene of every movie, post Jackie Brown. (Technically proficient, sure, and his action sequences—however insipid or ultra-violent—get high marks on the pyrotechnics scale.) Each successive effort implodes on its own adrenaline, ending up like a puppy trying to fuck its own poop. And yet…it seems churlish to hate on the former video clerk who gave us Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, no? In fairness, could we reasonably expect anything after that one-two punch? He made a couple of movies that did not capture the proverbial Zeitgeist so much as bury it alive in a wood coffin (see what I did there?), only to have it erupt out of the ground in the form of a million inferior imitations. So it’s not that his movies, post-Y2K, are an endless fruit loop of diminishing returns, it’s ultimately that Tarantino epitomizes so much of what went wrong in the ‘90s, continuing through our present day. It’s not even his fault, really. Other than pesky matters of integrity, who can blame QT for giving the people what they want? Of course we can point to any era and explore how naked opportunism and commercial-minded replication is the de-facto setting, especially in Hollywood. Isn’t the worst sin of this justly-maligned decade the way we consecrated an ongoing syndrome of inauthenticity, super-sizing and one-upmanship, whether it involves music, movie sequels, book series or (un)reality TV?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Say what you want about Tarantino, and it’s interesting because he’s one of those rare cinematic personalities about whom you could easily deliver a convincing rant on almost any side of any issue, including each of his movies, girlfriends, and Oscar speeches–but he’s done three things in his career which to me absolve him of almost any other fault: 1. In Reservoir Dogs he single-handedly resurrected the soundtrack as personality or extra character, using Joe Tex and Blue Swede and Stealers Wheel just as effectively as Harvey Keitel or Michael Madsen. Punchy street level counter-rhythms were the true engine behind Reservoir Dogs, far more than the ear-cutting scene or Chris Penn’s tracksuit. 2. Casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction was an incredibly brave and far-sighted choice. It’s hard to remember now, but Travolta was essentially Kryptonite in 1992, more a bloated former Sweat Hog than the action hero he would soon become. Turning him into a henchman with a ponytail and a bag full of dope who could do a mean Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s was a stroke of pure genius. 3. Dialog. By the late 80?s Hollywood had completely forgotten what real, honest dialog even sounded like, not to mention brought to a script. It’s not Tarantino’s fault that Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand cheap imitations of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valley of Death speech, or years of Mumblecore versions of Royale With Cheese. “I just don’t dig on animals that don’t know enough to get out of their own filth” reminded us that people tend to talk to each other in crude and mundane ways that can often be revelatory. Tarantino was the one who made us realize it again.

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Every Movie that has Ever Won an Academy Award Should Not Have –

Point (Beaudoin): Let’s just talk about Forrest Gump here, and let it stand in for every other stiffed and slighted film in Oscar history, even though complaining about the illogic of Oscar voting is essentially the same as arguing about the outcome of an episode of Deal or No Deal. In any case, Forrest Gump is a disingenuous stinking turd of a film, a palliative for Clinton-era ennui and the residual shame of fifty years of tragically stupid foreign policy decisions. Three Back to the Future films gave Bob Zemeckis the technical chops to place Forrest relatively convincingly next to Nixon, but was in fact a trick better exploited (first) by Woody Allen in Zelig. Gump’s dimwitted celebration of the wholly American desire to retroactively cast itself as an innocent bystander to its own crimes pissed me off in the theater when it came out, and my antipathy has only increased since. Forrest Gump (you could easily make the same case for the career of Tom Hanks) is the epitome of the need to reduce complex events and emotions into a montage of bromides and high-panted shrugs that more or less say, “I know, I know, but we meant well, didn’t we?” No, we mostly didn’t. The only truly honest element of the film is the one in which Gump repeatedly acts like a creepy stalker who in any other context Jenny would have aggressively restraining-ordered halfway through his first Savoy Truffle. My understanding is that in the sequel, Gump in the Rye, Colin Hanks plays a Jodi Foster fetishist who sniffs his fingertips a lot and keeps getting arrested crouching behind the shrubs of David Letterman’s estate.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Movies like Unforgiven and The Silence of the Lambs are not simply overrated twaddle: they are to Art what charlatans like Dr. Drew are to medicine or abominations like Politico are to journalism: the “real” thing for the undiscerning, intellectually unevolved, instinctually incurious, easily impressed, overly assured. The ‘90s Academy Awards were like a Bizarro aesthetic universe, a perverse pinball machine where smug smacked off cynical and clanged into self-satisfaction and descended into the gutter of banality (Life is Beautiful should have earned everyone involved a cinematic red card, sent off the artistic pitch for eternity; instead, of course, it won that buffoon Roberto Benigni a best actor statue proving that Life is Unbearable). But hey, if it wasn’t for the ‘90s Academy Awards, I may have entered the new millennium not sufficiently disabused of the illusion that substance beats style, or that feel-good and soulless saccharine is sniffed out by uncorrupted tastemakers, or that Money always, always means more than Authenticity. Seeing travesty (Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves) after mockery (American Beauty over The Insider) after perversion (Braveheart beating anything) did me one lasting service: it ensured that I’d never watch, or even pay attention to, the exorbitant, appalling and onanistic festival of ostentation and egotism that is the Academy Awards, ever again. Stupid is, after all, as Stupid Does.

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Life Used to be Less Complicated –

Point (Murphy): I’m always on guard against two things above all: cliché and nostalgia, as both are traps that short-circuit critical thought and unfettered perspective. But damn if I don’t miss reading books. Don’t get me wrong: I still read books, all the time. But it’s been over a decade since I spent several hours, uninterrupted, mug nuzzled in a paperback. Much as I like to resist them, the shrieks from my devices, arrayed around me like so many electronic magpies, are all but impossible to ignore. I blame myself for this lack of discipline, but I reminisce about a time when it was novel to walk into the other room once or twice an hour to check email, and then return to my novel. Now, I can hardly watch a movie or read an essay (much less a book) without constantly making sure I’m not missing anything. In my paltry defense I’d say it’s less the FOMO phenomenon and more an actual rewiring of the way my mind works. That scares the shit out of me, especially as someone with artistic inclinations. Even at work, it’s not uncommon for me to have multiple windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet or two and one or two documents, perhaps with music playing, and I’ll open a new window and while I’m waiting for it to load (three seconds being an eternity; an actual connection issue an affront), I’ll check my mail, and then go back to the fresh window and forget what I opened it for. This too mortifies me. I’m as much a tech junkie as anyone, and while I’d like to blame these portable, connected toys for corrupting our supposedly more serene lives, I suspect it’s even worse: technology has tricked us into being busier every single day, and it’s not even work, it’s play. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Having virtually everything that has been or is being created, available for free, in real time, is something I would have considered an outright miracle as a bored young punk; now it increasingly seems like the gift that will keep taking.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Even in the context of what it was like in this country before 1920, we are, basically, whiny, entitled worms. Life did not used to be less complicated. Life was very much more complicated, surrounded as it was by the demands of basic survival on almost every front, even for the wealthy. Pregnancy, disease, life expectancy, travel, drinking water, food production, physical labor, information distribution, the legal system, heat, cold, even just basic hygiene–all were vastly more difficult and elusive. The degree to which we are now basically helpless, dismissive of our past, and criminally soft in almost every way makes me deeply depressed at 3 a.m at least once a week.

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What Monica (Lewinsky) Means, Then and Now –

Point (Beaudoin): During the height of the Oddly Placed Cigar Era, I made plenty of jokes at Ms. Lewinsky’s expense. I didn’t think of her as a person, never considered what it might have been like to be the object of that level of scrutiny. To me she was an event. A cartoon. She was the woman naive enough to believe a self-serving philanderer really loved her, or would protect her when the time came. She was a pair of salacious lips, a 50?s haircut, a soiled dress. Most damningly, she was the woman dumb enough to confide in Linda Tripp. But then I grew up some and began to feel a great deal of empathy for Monica. I began to realize that if you collected even the smallest fraction of the really stupid things I did in my twenties and allowed the full blast of media hypocrisy to judge them, I would even now be in permanent solitary, busy talking to the walls and throwing my excrement at guards. How unfortunate to have your sexuality formed by a massively famous public figure, let alone then exposed to the world. Can you imagine standing by, powerless, while the rest of your life was determined by the whims of a sanctimonious cunt like Ken Starr? And then to be smothered under another twenty years of Clinton family prominence, your name forever brought up as a smirking reference, even as Hillary mulls another presidential run certain to kick off more cheap jokes and snide commentary? Which is all to say that I read Monica’s Vanity Fair piece genuinely rooting for her to charge out strong, unbowed, and newly emergent. Instead it wallowed in self-pity and lame justifications. She had two decades to write that fucking thing! It should have been a call to arms. A raw plea. A bruising manifesto littered with scorched politicians and gashed pundits that made Ted Kaczynski look like Ogden Nash. Didn’t really happen. Shit, she should have let me write it for her. I seriously would have for two hundred bucks and a platter of tacos.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Time has only convinced me that it’s not how great Clinton is (or was), so much as how spectacularly so many of his left-ish leaning compatriots suck by comparison, that makes liberals love their Bubba the way Bubba used to love Krispy Kreme. (The fact that he outfoxed the aforementioned ass-clown Gingrich is enough to earn him eternal goodwill in some circles, including mine.) As such, he may be a rascal, an imp, an occasionally immoral scoundrel but, dagnabit, he’s our scoundrel. While history will look increasingly less kindly at the Glass –Steagall sell-out (where triangulation met gluttony to create an unfettered shitstorm America will never fully recover from), it’s l’affaire Lewinsky that makes so many things Clinton, Inc. so difficult to digest. One might even say that Hillary was not standing by her man so much as protecting The Brand, a premonition of the brazen megalomania that hurt her in 2008 and makes her…a perfect candidate for 2016? As for poor Monica, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for her, however naïve and vacuous she remains. That she was seduced, used and then tossed aside by an administration that was equal parts Caligula and Don Corleone is a sober reminder that history has always been written by the powerful, and the powerful are often neither great nor good people. (That history is reported these days, as it unfolds, by boot-lickers who love nothing more than the smell of a semen-scented dress is too obvious, and depressing, to warrant further commentary.) In this case, her story is His Story and however we interpret it (then, now, later) is our collective story, since all but a handful of us will always be spectators. Are we not entertained?

LEWINSKY

This article originally appeared on 10/1 in The Weeklings. More on that amazing site, HERE.

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Point/Counterpoint: Sean Beaudoin vs. Sean Murphy – the 90?s Edition (The Weeklings*)

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Point/Counterpoint is a beloved feature that first appeared in the fall ’72 Telex edition of the Weeklings. PC/P is the product of an intellectual tradition hearkening back to storied Oxford debate squads and the golden age of radio, in which two authors match wits over random subjects while being forced to choose a side and defend it on the fly. Readers are advised to stand back, as the heat can get intense. This week’s All 90?s arm wrestle involves essayist, raconteur, and former Governor of Virginia, Mr. Sean Murphy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the clock.

 

Michael Jordan –

Point (Murphy): Here is the uncomplicated part: Jordan is the dominant and peerless athlete of the ‘90s. Here is the complicated part: He is a prick. Big deal, right? Well, not so fast. Certainly, when it comes to athletes, actors, authors and the rich and famous in general, we don’t—and often shouldn’t—expect much in terms of humanity. They are too busy perfecting their craft, and in the instance of rich and famous, being an asshole is their life’s work. And for the creative sorts who have left us with profoundly moving, redemptive art, we acknowledge that messy interpersonal relations or despicable traits all pale in comparison to what they were put on earth to do. But just as Jordan is a once-in-a-generation talent, so too was his opportunity to make a real once-in-a-generation type difference. Indeed, one could argue that today, with our five-second attention spans and every idiot (famous or not) working ceaselessly on building their unique “brand”, it’s difficult to rise above the din. It is, therefore, easier to imagine the impact Jordan might have had, in an analog era, to make a meaningful and lasting difference, had he cared to do so. Famously, he didn’t. “Republicans buy sneakers too,” he quipped sardonically, with a lack of shame and soul that would make Ayn Rand wet. Could Jordan single-handedly have improved sweatshop conditions overseas and reigned in the worst aspects of the previous decade’s consumerism apocalypse? Actually, yes. He might have done more than merely be immortal on the hard wood; he could have changed our world, for the better. How many people in any generation actually have this ability?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I don’t think any public figure, celebrity or athlete or otherwise, has an obligation to make a difference. Whatever a “difference” might actually mean. Jordan was basically conservative, in the sense that he was relentless, ruthless, and did whatever it took to make as much money as possible. I see that as a very political act. He rejected the notion that his opinion on Bosnia or race relations was of greater value than not upsetting Hanes executives. He succinctly expressed his worldview by giving everyone the finger while insulating himself behind a wall of Nike checks. And also by being the Greatest Player Ever. Sorry, but if Mike had flown to Malaysia to lock arms with workers in front of a sweatshop gate, he wouldn’t have been the guy who stuck a dagger in Craig Ehlo’s heart, or marginalized Patrick Ewing, or pushed Bryon Russell out of the way like he didn’t exist before sinking the jumper that doomed Karl Malone. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that artists should be judged by their personal lives as opposed to their output. It’s a dangerous temptation when the artist is still alive, because it’s almost impossible for their behavior not to color perceptions of their work. I’m not going to pretend I can watch Curse of the Jade Scorpion without wondering about Woody’s predilections, fairly or otherwise. But I would argue, at least theoretically, that we all should be able to. It’s a good movie or it isn’t. (It’s not). But if you went back through history, almost every great artist (and many not great ones) were complete assholes. Check out the life of Caravaggio. But you don’t see too many people complaining about “David With the Head of Goliath” hanging at the Met because they’re offended by him as a person. To see the world in a truly original fashion and then be able to interpret that view with unusual skill and nuance often requires a level of narcissism that results in aberrant, transgressive, and/or manic behavior. Michael Jordan is exactly the complicated amalgam of thoughts and behaviors and beliefs that allowed him to play like him. If he were 9% better of a person, he’d no doubt have been more accessible in the locker room and maybe even spokesman for a worthy cause, but he wouldn’t have played the way he did. People are the totality of themselves. If Mike were the person you wanted him to be, then he’d also have been B.J. Armstrong, and therefore not the person you wanted at all.

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Newt Gingrich –

Point (Beaudoin): If somewhere in Washington D.C. right this second there’s a bigger sac of crappy ideas, unearned self-regard, and a true disdain for “the people” masquerading as public service, I dare you to name them. It’s astonishing that Newton Leroy Gingrich is still taken seriously enough to have just made even a doomed run for president, let alone win a few primaries, although perhaps we can thank him for having burned through twenty million of Sheldon Adelson’s money for no good reason whatsoever. Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was a failure on nearly every front, a zero-sum political expedience bereft of ethical standards that ushered in the hyper-partisan behavior currently crippling government. Add to that the mendacity of having crowed about “family values” on television nearly every night, including the period in which he led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton, while simultaneously conducting numerous affairs of his own on the side. In the meantime, Gingrich was run out of office by his own party, wrote nine remaindered novels that other books are embarrassed to be shelved next to, and then married a woman who looks like a steak knife wearing a toupee. Easily one of the worst people in America.

Counter-Point (Murphy): But we want Newt Gingrich on that wall. We need Newt Gingrich on that wall. And do you think it’s easy being Newt? Respect, and a sort of awe, is required for a man who never asked to be a Mr. Potato Head of all Shakespeare’s best villains: one part Polonius’s sanctimony; one part Falstaff’s red-jowled bluster; one part Iago’s soulless scheming. He is the tragicomic Sisyphus of our time, pushing the boulder of ambition up that hill, only to be toppled each time he is so close he can taste it (realizing, as he careens ass over ego, that the smell of victory is actually the collective babble from inside-the-Beltway blowhards, who turn on you so quickly it’s almost like an homage). His eyes forever on the prize, a would-be Bogeyman for an ill America; instead he ends up inside his own closet, sniffing other people’s panties. Don’t all the haters realize he would enjoy nothing more than crawling under that rock to decay, silently, into the soil? Instead, he is compelled to stand in front of We The People who can’t understand he just wasn’t made for these times? That, had he only been given the chance, he could have taught Jefferson a thing or two about writing (and philandering), he could have out-proselytized any of our wig-wearing Weekend Warriors, he could have saved us a Civil War by proving separation of the races was God’s will (or else The South was the New Jerusalem, or some other shit), he could have, well, he could have been a contender. Gingrich is the real life Willy Loman of our political stage, still out hustling his wares, not aware that his time has passed, his time was never in fact here: it was an illusion, a great white hype, a bloated gasp for relevance that will echo forever as a footnote, a guffaw and a grimace. Newt Gingrich exists because no one else could possibly play the part. For this unpalatable but irrefutable fact, attention must be paid.

Newt describing the size and shape of his second wife's taint.

Alice in Chains –

Point (Murphy): While I find Nirvana terminally exalted to the point of parody (the idea that Cobain is the spokesperson of his generation is almost as depressing as people killing each other over a used pair of Air Jordans), and I never had much love for Pearl Jam, I think Alice in Chains is the great overlooked band of the ‘90s. Awful enough, today, to be remembered as a “grunge” band; infinitely worse to be damned with the flannel-smelling praise of achieving “lesser” grunge status. I find this unfortunate, in part because Alice in Chains did more to outshine that lame, facile label than any of their brethren. Layne Staley is best in small-ish doses, I’ll concede, but even at his most affected, his intensity is always undercut by Jerry Cantrell’s calm, cool and disaffected harmonies. Let’s not mince words, I not only consider Dirt a masterpiece, I’d put it in my Top 10 of that decade: it’s a suicide note in music, and the fact that less than a decade later, Staley would indeed be dead only adds to its desolate aura. There is anger, hurt, self-pity, self-hatred and, ultimately, a defiance that, for me, makes the posturing of other grunge acts seem like an after-school special. “Down in a Hole”, a showcase for the ways the band balanced bleakness and brawn, endures as a too-intimate tour into the darkest heart of addiction, full of recrimination and remorse, yet it somehow manages to be…tender? We rightly indict so many pop acts for faking it; these dudes were laying it all out there, and they perfected an ugly type of beauty that, unlike so much else that came out of the ‘90s, isn’t tied to time or place.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I will agree that it was a horrible decade for music in general, but if Dirt is even in the top hundred albums, the 90?s might go down as the worst arbitrary stretch of years in human history, including all that Vaudeville piano “Oh, my baby loves whisker soap and Sarsaparilla” shit. I think Alice in Chains is basically an unlistenable pile of derivative hooks and suspect melodies, and in particular that Layne Staley’s voice is maddening in the extreme. He’s always straining for a note, always resolving a line in exactly the same way, not to mention burbling insipid lyrics about roosters and (yawn) heroin dissolution. But what’s vastly more interesting than the relative accuracy of those statements is how you and I, who otherwise share so much in common as far as musical taste, could view this band so polemically. When I was younger (back in the 90s) I was often annoyed by this sort of thing, but now I find it fascinating. We are two very different people who are inconsistent and unpredictable! We are governed by a false logic called “taste” that is actually a product of our environment, imagination, and maybe even our genetic sequence! Opinions about music are basically arbitrary and worthless! Hooray life! Although I will say that the one band I truly loathed more than any other in the 90?s was Third Eye Blind. You better not tell me you have a poster of them on your ceiling or we’re done.

The soundtrack to the best years of our lives.

Y2K –

Point (Beaudoin): Can you imagine how truly wonderful it would have been if computers across the globe really did lock up on that fateful midnight? And not just until repairs could be enacted, but permanently and across the globe, remaining useless hunks of mis-dated silicone all these years later and having saved us the indignities of Reddit, texting, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and people talking loudly on cell phones in cafes? Oh why, Y2K, why did you fail to be the catastrophe we so richly deserved?

Counter-Point (Murphy):

If Y2K had delivered the goods, pulling a Terminator Skynet and leaving us in a Bladerunner-style post-apocalypse, I would not have been able to burn the next decade converting my creative energy, youthful idealism and pre-midlife angst into emails instead of novels. If Y2K pulled the plug (figuratively) ensuring we had to pull our puds forever in analog (literally), I would have had nothing better to do than tackle the ever-expanding list of unread books that, fourteen years later makes Borges’ Library of Babel look like the pile of magazines at a doctor’s office. If Y2K had truly partied like it was 1999, I would still remember what grass smelled like, what sweat felt like, what animals sounded like, what real people looked like, or what composing a sentence uninterrupted by a dozen extraneous thoughts and distractions Google/Facebook/iPhone-d like. Why would I possibly want any part of that?

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Quentin Tarantino –

Point (Murphy): Even typing out his name makes me cringe. It’s not just that everything he’s done since the ‘90s has sucked, or that he is at once uninhibited and oleaginous in ways that could put infomercial stars and politicians to shame. It’s not even that he’s been sprinting in circles, overrated and infuriating as only the rarest of artists can manage to be. His real crime is the breathless puerility suffusing almost every scene of every movie, post Jackie Brown. (Technically proficient, sure, and his action sequences—however insipid or ultra-violent—get high marks on the pyrotechnics scale.)  Each successive effort implodes on its own adrenaline, ending up like a puppy trying to fuck its own poop. And yet…it seems churlish to hate on the former video clerk who gave us Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, no? In fairness, could we reasonably expect anything after that one-two punch? He made a couple of movies that did not capture the proverbial Zeitgeist so much as bury it alive in a wood coffin (see what I did there?), only to have it erupt out of the ground in the form of a million inferior imitations. So it’s not that his movies, post-Y2K, are an endless fruit loop of diminishing returns, it’s ultimately that Tarantino epitomizes so much of what went wrong in the ‘90s, continuing through our present day. It’s not even his fault, really. Other than pesky matters of integrity, who can blame QT for giving the people what they want? Of course we can point to any era and explore how naked opportunism and commercial-minded replication is the de-facto setting, especially in Hollywood. Isn’t the worst sin of this justly-maligned decade the way we consecrated an ongoing syndrome of inauthenticity, super-sizing and one-upmanship, whether it involves music, movie sequels, book series or (un)reality TV?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Say what you want about Tarantino, and it’s interesting because he’s one of those rare cinematic personalities about whom you could easily deliver a convincing rant on almost any side of any issue, including each of his movies, girlfriends, and Oscar speeches–but he’s done three things in his career which to me absolve him of almost any other fault: 1. In Reservoir Dogs he single-handedly resurrected the soundtrack as personality or extra character, using Joe Tex and Blue Swede and Stealers Wheel just as effectively as Harvey Keitel or Michael Madsen. Punchy street level counter-rhythms were the true engine behind Reservoir Dogs, far more than the ear-cutting scene or Chris Penn’s tracksuit. 2. Casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction was an incredibly brave and far-sighted choice. It’s hard to remember now, but Travolta was essentially Kryptonite in 1992, more a bloated former Sweat Hog than the action hero he would soon become. Turning him into a henchman with a ponytail and a bag full of dope who could do a mean Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s was a stroke of pure genius. 3. Dialog. By the late 80?s Hollywood had completely forgotten what real, honest dialog even sounded like, not to mention brought to a script. It’s not Tarantino’s fault that Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand cheap imitations of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valley of Death speech, or years of Mumblecore versions of Royale With Cheese. “I just don’t dig on animals that don’t know enough to get out of their own filth” reminded us that people tend to talk to each other in crude and mundane ways that can often be revelatory. Tarantino was the one who made us realize it again.

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Every Movie that has Ever Won an Academy Award Should Not Have –

Point (Beaudoin): Let’s just talk about Forrest Gump here, and let it stand in for every other stiffed and slighted film in Oscar history, even though complaining about the illogic of Oscar voting is essentially the same as arguing about the outcome of an episode of Deal or No Deal. In any case, Forrest Gump is a disingenuous stinking turd of a film, a palliative for Clinton-era ennui and the residual shame of fifty years of tragically stupid foreign policy decisions. Three Back to the Future films gave Bob Zemeckis the technical chops to place Forrest relatively convincingly next to Nixon, but was in fact a trick better exploited (first) by Woody Allen in Zelig. Gump’s dimwitted celebration of the wholly American desire to retroactively cast itself as an innocent bystander to its own crimes pissed me off in the theater when it came out, and my antipathy has only increased since. Forrest Gump (you could easily make the same case for the career of Tom Hanks) is the epitome of the need to reduce complex events and emotions into a montage of bromides and high-panted shrugs that more or less say, “I know, I know, but we meant well, didn’t we?” No, we mostly didn’t. The only truly honest element of the film is the one in which Gump repeatedly acts like a creepy stalker who in any other context Jenny would have aggressively restraining-ordered halfway through his first Savoy Truffle. My understanding is that in the sequel, Gump in the Rye, Colin Hanks plays a Jodi Foster fetishist who sniffs his fingertips a lot and keeps getting arrested crouching behind the shrubs of David Letterman’s estate.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Movies like Unforgiven and The Silence of the Lambs are not simply overrated twaddle: they are to Art what charlatans like Dr. Drew are to medicine or abominations like Politico are to journalism: the “real” thing for the undiscerning, intellectually unevolved, instinctually incurious, easily impressed, overly assured. The ‘90s Academy Awards were like a Bizarro aesthetic universe, a perverse pinball machine where smug smacked off cynical and clanged into self-satisfaction and descended into the gutter of banality (Life is Beautiful should have earned everyone involved a cinematic red card, sent off the artistic pitch for eternity; instead, of course, it won that buffoon Roberto Benigni a best actor statue proving that Life is Unbearable). But hey, if it wasn’t for the ‘90s Academy Awards, I may have entered the new millennium not sufficiently disabused of the illusion that substance beats style, or that feel-good and soulless saccharine is sniffed out by uncorrupted tastemakers, or that Money always, always means more than Authenticity. Seeing travesty (Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves) after mockery (American Beauty over The Insider) after perversion (Braveheart beating anything) did me one lasting service: it ensured that I’d never watch, or even pay attention to, the exorbitant, appalling and onanistic festival of ostentation and egotism that is the Academy Awards, ever again. Stupid is, after all, as Stupid Does.

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Life Used to be Less Complicated –

Point (Murphy): I’m always on guard against two things above all: cliché and nostalgia, as both are traps that short-circuit critical thought and unfettered perspective. But damn if I don’t miss reading books. Don’t get me wrong: I still read books, all the time. But it’s been over a decade since I spent several hours, uninterrupted, mug nuzzled in a paperback. Much as I like to resist them, the shrieks from my devices, arrayed around me like so many electronic magpies, are all but impossible to ignore. I blame myself for this lack of discipline, but I reminisce about a time when it was novel to walk into the other room once or twice an hour to check email, and then return to my novel. Now, I can hardly watch a movie or read an essay (much less a book) without constantly making sure I’m not missing anything. In my paltry defense I’d say it’s less the FOMO phenomenon and more an actual rewiring of the way my mind works. That scares the shit out of me, especially as someone with artistic inclinations. Even at work, it’s not uncommon for me to have multiple windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet or two and one or two documents, perhaps with music playing, and I’ll open a new window and while I’m waiting for it to load (three seconds being an eternity; an actual connection issue an affront), I’ll check my mail, and then go back to the fresh window and forget what I opened it for. This too mortifies me. I’m as much a tech junkie as anyone, and while I’d like to blame these portable, connected toys for corrupting our supposedly more serene lives, I suspect it’s even worse: technology has tricked us into being busier every single day, and it’s not even work, it’s play.  Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Having virtually everything that has been or is being created, available for free, in real time, is something I would have considered an outright miracle as a bored young punk; now it increasingly seems like the gift that will keep taking.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Even in the context of what it was like in this country before 1920, we are, basically, whiny, entitled worms. Life did not used to be less complicated. Life was very much more complicated, surrounded as it was by the demands of basic survival on almost every front, even for the wealthy. Pregnancy, disease, life expectancy, travel, drinking water, food production, physical labor, information distribution, the legal system, heat, cold, even just basic hygiene–all were vastly more difficult and elusive. The degree to which we are now basically helpless, dismissive of our past, and criminally soft in almost every way makes me deeply depressed at 3 a.m at least once a week.

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What Monica (Lewinsky) Means, Then and Now –

Point (Beaudoin): During the height of the Oddly Placed Cigar Era, I made plenty of jokes at Ms. Lewinsky’s expense. I didn’t think of her as a person, never considered what it might have been like to be the object of that level of scrutiny. To me she was an event. A cartoon. She was the woman naive enough to believe a self-serving philanderer really loved her, or would protect her when the time came. She was a pair of salacious lips, a 50?s haircut, a soiled dress. Most damningly, she was the woman dumb enough to confide in Linda Tripp. But then I grew up some and began to feel a great deal of empathy for Monica. I began to realize that if you collected even the smallest fraction of the really stupid things I did in my twenties and allowed the full blast of media hypocrisy to judge them, I would even now be in permanent solitary, busy talking to the walls and throwing my excrement at guards. How unfortunate to have your sexuality formed by a massively famous public figure, let alone then exposed to the world. Can you imagine standing by, powerless, while the rest of your life was determined by the whims of a sanctimonious cunt like Ken Starr? And then to be smothered under another twenty years of Clinton family prominence, your name forever brought up as a smirking reference, even as Hillary mulls another presidential run certain to kick off more cheap jokes and snide commentary? Which is all to say that I read Monica’s Vanity Fair piece genuinely rooting for her to charge out strong, unbowed, and newly emergent. Instead it wallowed in self-pity and lame justifications. She had two decades to write that fucking thing! It should have been a call to arms. A raw plea. A bruising manifesto littered with scorched politicians and gashed pundits that made Ted Kaczynski look like Ogden Nash. Didn’t really happen. Shit, she should have let me write it for her. I seriously would have for two hundred bucks and a platter of tacos.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Time has only convinced me that it’s not how great Clinton is (or was), so much as how spectacularly so many of his left-ish leaning compatriots suck by comparison, that makes liberals love their Bubba the way Bubba used to love Krispy Kreme. (The fact that he outfoxed the aforementioned ass-clown Gingrich is enough to earn him eternal goodwill in some circles, including mine.) As such, he may be a rascal, an imp, an occasionally immoral scoundrel but, dagnabit, he’s our scoundrel. While history will look increasingly less kindly at the Glass –Steagall sell-out (where triangulation met gluttony to create an unfettered shitstorm America will never fully recover from), it’s l’affaire Lewinsky that makes so many things Clinton, Inc. so difficult to digest. One might even say that Hillary was not standing by her man so much as protecting The Brand, a premonition of the brazen megalomania that hurt her in 2008 and makes her…a perfect candidate for 2016? As for poor Monica, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for her, however naïve and vacuous she remains. That she was seduced, used and then tossed aside by an administration that was equal parts Caligula and Don Corleone is a sober reminder that history has always been written by the powerful, and the powerful are often neither great nor good people. (That history is reported these days, as it unfolds, by boot-lickers who love nothing more than the smell of a semen-scented dress is too obvious, and depressing, to warrant further commentary.) In this case, her story is His Story and however we interpret it (then, now, later) is our collective story, since all but a handful of us will always be spectators. Are we not entertained?

LEWINSKY

This article originally appeared on 10/1 in The Weeklings. More on that amazing site, HERE.

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