1. Outrageous Self-Promotion Dept.: Just in case you live in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., AND are interested in the cultural impact of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in the U.S., AND would like to see me (and three long-time friends and colleagues who will periodically join me in performing some selections from the brilliant satirical operettas) discuss this rich and wide-ranging topic (Politics! Satire! Movie scores! Broadway musicals!) over a three-hour session that will fly like the wind, all it will take is a mere 50 dollars (just 35, if you are a Smithsonian Associates member) and your attendance. I’d love to see you. The program is Gilbert and Sullivan in the 21st Century, this Saturday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. Here are the details.
2. Speaking of culture…If you want to feel better about the state of U.S. culture, I recommend watch a Beach Party movie. I just saw the first one all the way to the end for the first time—to realize that it was easily the best of its line (there were six—SIX!!!—more) is mind-boggling all by itself—and found it immediately uplifting. The 1963 William Asher-directed relic looks like it’s from some particularly demented parallel universe, depicting a weird place where 30-year-olds pretend to be loitering teenagers who do nothing all day but gyrate to frenetic versions of the Twist, listen to awful surf music that makes the Jan and Dean sound like Brahms in comparison, do some surfing themselves (but just the males), and interact with B-list comics like Morey Amsterdam and Harvey Lembeck. The songs and their hackneyed lyrics make you yearn for the nuanced hip-hop musings of Kanye West; the comedy makes “Big Bang Theory” seem like Oscar Wilde, and to speculate on what kind of populace would actually enjoy such badly-conceived and sloppily-executed crap is to risk madness. If this was America in 1963, a) Good riddance, b) How did we survive? and c) No wonder the Soviet Union thought they were going to win!
No blacks are to be seen; indeed no skin color of any shade but glistening white is visible anywhere—didn’t these people even tan? Here’s a typically clueless exchange to ponder: Annette Funicello: “The professor got his robe from the chief of the Tokyo Fire Department!” Random 30-year-old teenage beach bum: “Great! I’ll call him if my rickshaw catches fire!” [laughter]. In the hilarious motorcycle gang, where all of the actors appear to be at least 45, the male members’ leather jackets say “Rats” on the back, and their female cohorts’ jackets say “Mice.” None of the”girls” have any function in the film, and no higher purpose, than to moon after the guys and gyrate in their faces. Accepted conduct is for every male youth to gawk, pant, and emit some sound the equivalent of a wolf whistle every time a shapely female passes. The romantic lead (of sorts), teen idol Frankie Avalon, trying to make virginal, had-to-get Annette jealous, grabs a generic Scandinavian waitress and just starts kissing her. It’s like a magnet. Just kisses her He doesn’t even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Then he tells her he loves her so she’ll make out with him until Annette loosens up. This is the hero, remember.
They should show this film in every junior high school American History class. I’m very serious about this.
3. An abject lesson in how the news media uses language to manipulate public perception: Virtually every news report about the Trump administration’s actions at the Mexican border described them, and are still describing them, in headlines as “family separation.” The cumulative effect of this is to make casual, not fully-engaged readers and listeners think that family separation is the objective of the policy. The objective of the policy is to enforce current immigration laws while obeying other legal requirements, such as the one that forbids children from remaining with federally detained parents. This is, under the Ethics Alarms definition, fake news: deliberately deceitful reporting that conveys a false impression. The equivalent would be characterizing the imprisonment of African American men convicted of felonies as “the Trump policy of making black families into single-parent households.” Continue reading →