Tag Archives: James Stewart

I Worry About Cary Grant [Updated]

…and James Cagney. And Kirk Douglas. And Bette Davis. And Rita Hayworth.

Seeing Kirk Douglas at the Golden Globes revived the concern that every Christmas season intensifies for me, when I realize that it is only Christmas that keeps such giants of entertainment past as Gene Autry, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin from fading into permanent obscurity.  The cultural figures who we remember are mostly the beneficiaries of moral luck, not a fair merit-based calculation. It is a random process, and culture, which is significantly defined by who and what we remember and who and what we forget, should not be shaped by coincidence, chance, and random amnesia.

It should not be, but it is. A classic example outside the realm of entertainment is the strange case of  Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg, and by some assessments the savior of the Union itself. When the story of Gettysburg was assembled by the battlefield commission, plaques erected and statues placed. Chamberlain’s desperate stand protecting the Union army’s flanks on Day Two of the battle didn’t make the cut. Despite as remarkable a career as anyone from Maine could have, and more than one shining moment of distinction during the Civil War, he was forgotten for more than a century. Then a brilliant, best-selling historical novel, “The Killer Angels,” recounted his heroics leading the 20th Maine so vividly that Chamberlain memory was re-animated, and began receiving the attention from historians that it deserved from the start.

In popular culture, whether a performer’s unique talents and contributions are remembered after more than a generation is now almost entirely dependent on whether there is a film featuring them that is regularly presented on television. Only a handful of performers who have permanently entered iconic status avoid that standard: I’d include Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Shirley Temple and John Wayne in this category, with a few debatable others. (And even the Little Tramp, MM, Fred, Judy and The Duke aren’t necessarily  safe: once Rudolf Valentino, Laurel and Hardy, Lon Cheney, Greta Garbo, Boris Karloff and James Dean could be safely called icons. I doubt one Millennial in a hundred could identify any of them. Marlene Dietrich has a thumb-hold on her iconic status only because of  Madeline Kahn’s film-long send-up of her in “Blazing Saddles.”) Continue reading

77 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, History, Popular Culture, Social Media

Unethical Website Of The Month: Ranker

"One of these things is not like the others..."

“One of these things is not like the others…”

Lists, especially stupid celebrity lists (Worst plastic surgery…Most overpaid…Actors with famous siblings…Actresses with high IQs) are a staple of the internet, and there are sites like Cracked (which does them well), Buzzfeed (which occasionally does) and Bleacher Report (which is sloppy unless it is doing lists of hot women, in which case it is just undiscriminating) that often appear to do little else. That’s fine; everything on the web doesn’t have to be edifying, profound or useful. Still, there are some basic rules of competence and responsibility even in list-making on the web. One is that as with any conduct involving the conveyance of information, do your homework and don’t mislead readers or  create misconceptions.

Another is that when you are dealing with individuals to whom you owe your nation’s very existence and who are as superior to you as a human being as you are to an anteater, show some damn respect.

Ranker, a second tier list site apparently operated by junior high school drop-outs (but whose lists are “recommended” by more respectable and heavily trafficked sites like Mediaite and The Daily Beast) failed these two essential principles with their offensive list, “33 Celebrities Who Have Killed People,” introduced with this:

“…Many celebrities were involved in tragic accidents that resulted in deaths, while others committed cold-blooded murder. Some celebs have served time in prison stemming from convictions, and others have gotten away with murder; sure, maybe they were wrongly accused, or maybe they just had great lawyers. Several famous people were involved in deadly car accidents. Former First Lady Laura Bush missed a stop sign and slammed her car into another vehicle, accidentally killing her friend who was driving the other car. She was in high school at the time of the accident. Other celebs who killed people in car accidents include Keith Moon, Ted Kennedy, and Rebecca Gayheart. What do you think about all the celebrities who have killed someone?” Continue reading

54 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Heroes, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, The Internet, Unethical Websites, War and the Military

Shin-Soo Choo and the Duke’s Dilemma

You wouldn’t think that a South Korean baseball player could have much in common with John Wayne, but a slugging first baseman for the Cleveland Indians named Shin-Soo Choo now faces an ethical dilemma strikingly similar to the one “the Duke” encountered in 1942. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Popular Culture, Sports, U.S. Society