Rob Reiner Trashes a Scene

It was cheesy anyway.

There it is again– in a brief biography of Nora Ephron at the New York Times– a reference to the allegedly memorable “fake orgasm” scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.

At least the Times has the good taste to describe it merely as “probably best remembered”. I am thankful for small things. You have probably heard, many, many times, that this scene, in which Sally tries to prove to Harry that women can convincingly fake orgasms, is the funniest scene in the movie, and, maybe, the funniest comic bit ever filmed.

It’s not true. It’s not really very funny at all. Rob Reiner, who directed it, kept asking Meg Ryan to do it over and over again, bigger and broader each time, until it was what you saw in the film: a ridiculously over-the-top caricature of actual humour, perfectly adapted to the talents of Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey.

If it ever was funny, it’s not funny by the the time Reiner has had his way.  It’s not funny. It would have been more amusing if it hadn’t been ridiculous. And the allegedly funny riposte by the woman at the next table– Rob Reiner’s mom– is poorly delivered by –Rob Reiner’s mom. “I’ll have what she’s having.” Do you need to ask why she was chosen to deliver this funny line? Yes, it is a good line. It’s a hint: that scene could have been very funny.

The truth is, that scene would have been much, much funnier if Ryan had made the grunting and moaning and yelping believable, and the camera could have picked up Harry suddenly realizing an unpleasant truth that had been hidden from him for years and years. You might also have seen a few faces at nearby tables, mildly aghast, or befuddled.

The point was lost: if that is what a “fake” orgasm sounded like, nobody would ever have been fooled. Reiner destroyed the funniest element of the scene. The best comedy is revelatory– that could have been a brilliant moment for the film, but Rob Reiner trashed it. He slapped custard pie all over it and made into something feeble and crass. He made it into something you love to quote around the water cooler but really isn’t that funny as you are watching it.

I imagine a richly imagined, subtle, teasing rendition– with that intimation of resistance and the loosing of reserve and the building intensity, all while Harry — in recognition– signals increasing anxiety. Maybe, at the end, he is incredulous: “That was fake?”

Come on– that’s funnier.

Then, a real actress does the line: “I’ll have what she’s having..”

What Rob Reiner did to that famous scene is what Gary Marshall (“Happy Days”) did to Fonzie: you like that “EEEEHHHH!”? You do? I’ll do it again. And again. And again. And again. Ten times an episode. No, twenty, thirty… no forty times! And at every public appearance. And on every talk show. And ….

What? You’re sick of it already?

Incidentally, “You’ve Got Mail”, also written (and directed) by Ephron, was also about as bad as “Happy Days” in it’s worst moments, monumental in it’s simple disregard for any kind of plausibility or psychological insight.

More recently, “Julie & Julia” was moderately amusing, enlivened, as it was, by Meryl Streep’s performance.

All right– you want a really funny scene: rent “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and watch for the scene at the airline car rental counter with Steve Martin and a brilliant Edie McClurg. Yes, it’s rude, but it’s more inventive and original than the fake orgasm scene because McClurg sounds close to believable as the clerk. You recognize the attitude, the manners, the “I don’t think I like the way you’re talking to me sir.”

I would have loved to hear her do the line in “When Harry Met Sally”: “I’ll have what she’s having”.

It would have been funny.


Privatizing Abuse

I am not a lawyer. I am a citizen. As a citizen, I vote for a political party at election time hoping that the party I vote for wins. The party that wins has a mandate from the voters to govern. We all generally accept that even if I didn’t vote for the winning party, I will respect the fact that this party has a mandate to govern. In the process of governing, this party can hire individuals to perform certain tasks and functions on behalf of the government. One of those functions is the justice system. The government can hire police who then have the authority to arrest a person if the police have evidence that this person has committed a crime. If convicted of breaking the law, a person may be locked up in a prison and guarded by other individuals hired by the government for that purpose. If you assault a police officer or guard– unless, as is sometimes likely, you have a good reason– you are essentially assaulting a legitimate representative of the government. These representatives of the government have the authority to use physical force if necessary to enforce the law.

They swear to it. And they swear that they will serve the constitution and the laws of the state — not the will of any political party or business or church.

I have never understood why it is believed in some quarters that  such authority can be transferred to a private company. I have never accepted that this can be done, that it can be legitimate in the strict sense of the word, or that we owe the slightest respect to the “authority” supposedly held by any such individual.

In fact, I think I do understand. It is a lie.

In my humble opinion, a private company cannot be given the authority that is normally vested in the government. A private company cannot have the legitimacy to enforce public laws and statutes because a private company is fundamentally exactly what it is: a private company. It does not have a public mandate. It was not elected. It does not swear allegiance to the constitution or to the laws of the nation.

The employees of this company cannot be responsible both to their employer and to the government. They are paid to provide a profit-making service to their employer. They are not paid to “enforce the law”. That is ridiculous– they don’t get fired if the law isn’t enforced. They get fired if they fail to help the company make a profit. They are not accountable to elected representatives of the people: they are accountable to shareholders. If an employee of one of these companies violates the constitution by using force to detain a citizen, he doesn’t get fired; he gets outsourced.

In my opinion, the government cannot contract out it’s own mandate; it cannot sell it’s legitimacy. It cannot attach it’s authority to anybody but itself. No moreso than it can sell the nation out from under your feet to the highest bidder, pay itself huge bonuses, and retire to the Cayman Islands.

A government cannot outsource it’s own constitutional accountability.

Imagine, if you will, that an election is held, and, say, George Bush wins the election. He has a mandate to govern. Suppose he says, now that I’m president, I’m going to appoint James Dobson to the presidency. And then suppose James Dobson goes around issuing orders, raising taxes, dumping people off welfare and Medicare, and appointing justices to the Supreme Court, and ordering the arrest of witches. Would a court uphold a trial of a witch because James Dobson is the president of the United States and has the authority to order the arrest of witches? No. Not, of course, without a good deal of corruption.

In my opinion, anyone imprisoned in a privately owned facility that the government has contracted with to hold prisoners, has a legitimate right to use force against the staff of that prison, for the staff are kidnappers. A prisoner could rightfully say, I will respect the right of a police officer or a duly appointed state official to arrest and detain me. You are not a police officer. You may not use force against me. If you do, I will charge you with assault.

We do “allow” soldiers to kill during wartime. You could argue that that right is dubious as well, but let’s humour the militarists for a moment and accept that there can be a legitimacy to a “war”, like, say Iraq (which was not an act of self-defense). What authority to kill they do have comes solely from the fact that they are representative of a nation that is legally at war with another country. No business entity can be in such a state. There is no legal framework for a business to declare war on a country. If a business did declare war on a country, it’s leaders and owners would be arrested as… .terrorists, actually. At the very least, they would be regarded as criminals.

Do the privately contracted individuals carrying out military duties in Afghanistan have any legitimacy? How can they possibly have the right to kill people when they do not represent the government?

You probably think, I’m sure the top legal minds in the country have had a look at this issue before the government went ahead and started contracting out all these services and functions. You might be wrong. The move to privatize prisons and war and other government functions was largely driven by (corrupt) political ideology. (I say “corrupt” because, over and over again, this outsourcing ends up being a financial bonanza for well-connected private firms and don’t save the taxpayer any money at all– look at Blackwater.)

I would also note that the Supreme Court in the U.S. no longer has much authority itself: it’s dominated by a bunch of hack Republican appointees who virtually never vote against the party line.

Recovered Memories

If you lost your car keys a year ago and never found them, would it be possible for you to suddenly “recover” a memory, that, say, you left them in your hockey duffle bag?

We are not talking about fifteen minutes ago or a day ago or a few days ago.  Let’s say a year, but maybe more.  Would it be possible to suddenly find that experience in your memory, of, say, putting the keys in a tin can under the deck so someone could pick them up there, or under a mat, or even in your toiletry bag under the sink in your bathroom?  Would such a memory be reliably accurate?

I wouldn’t say that that never happens.  But if it does, it is very, very rare.  In fact, it is very, very, very rare.

Most of the time, if you can’t find something because you forgot where you put it, you will not, a year or more later, suddenly “recover” a memory of where you put it.  In fact, the further away, in time, from the moment when you lost the item, the less likely it is that you will ever remember where you left it.

And if you did, by some remarkable chance, suddenly think– oh, it’s in my hockey duffle bag– I remember— and you find your keys there, I would put it to you that it was purely by chance.

What you might recover, with the blatant encouragement of a counselor, is a constructed memory. Your keys won’t be there, except, by pure chance.  And the odds of the keys being somewhere you might store keys is not zero.

We don’t think of all memories at once. Never. Memories come into consciousness as they are prompted by the mind, in search of a missing item, a moment with a fondly remembered friend, a smell or sound, or a piece of music. Memories are not like tape recordings: we often blend elements of different past experiences or present perceptions into recalled activities.

There are many people who fervently believe that some memories, especially of trauma, can be “repressed”. These people are rarely not advocates for some social action of some kind.

I don’t believe it. I believe that bad experiences, in fact, provide vivid memories. You may choose to not bring them forward in your mind very often, but they are not hidden or buried.

Have you ever heard a Holocaust victim speak about his or her experiences? Have you read “Maus”? Or any of a hundred books on wartime experiences in Europe? If “repression” were possible, it beggars the imagination that these witnesses bear such voluminous, eloquent testimony.

They remember.

Because it really happened.


After a Lot of Counselling…

In response to why his testimony Wednesday included more details, the man said that a counselor he has recently been seeing has helped him recall more. “That doorway that had been closed has since been opened,” the man said in a confident voice. “Through a lot of counseling, I’ve been able to remember a lot more. NY Times, 2012-06-13

Without commenting on the trial itself, or Sandusky, I am outraged that the judge allowed this witness to give testimony that was adduced through “a lot of counseling”.

Is this judge even aware of recent history? Of the 1980’s Satanic Ritual Abuse scare? Of the McMartin Daycare case?

Nobody “recalls” more memory. However, with the careless or willful encouragement of therapists, people can construct memories. Especially when a lawyer and a potential civil case is involved.

Why didn’t the judge immediately cut off the witness and warn him– and all participants in the trial– that they may only give accounts of actual memories– not constructed memory facilitated by the suggestive assistance of a therapist who may or may not even be qualified, and who certainly cannot be warranted to have never offered the witness suggestive or manipulative advice.

There is enough evidence against Sandusky without this tainted testimony. Get rid of it.

[Added 2012-June 27] Apparently, Sandusky’s adopted son is now also alleging recovered memories of abuse– also with the prompting of a therapist.

Whatever Sandusky did or did not do should be weighed only by the testimony of witnesses who have real memories of the experience. Those recovered memories through therapy should be barred from testifying.

Perhaps that is why Sandusky’s adopted son did not testify.

NY Times Story


Is There Some Confusion Out There?

I just realized that a lot of Americans seem to believe that Mormonism is, like Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism, a variation of Christianity, and, therefore, we don’t need to worry about Mitt Romney’s ultimate loyalties, the way we needed to worry about an Islamic Barack Obama. Or Tom Cruise or John Travolta.

Never assume anything. Here’s the hilarious part– liberals, who never felt it was right to raise questions about Obama’s religion anyway– don’t want to raise the issue of Mormonism against Romney.

Why not? Mormonism is not a religion: it is a demented cult. I define a cult as a set of beliefs that deliberately tries to exclude rational examination of it’s preconceptions and assumptions. Like Scientology. And the Tea Party. And I define “demented cult” as the same thing as “cult” but with silly narratives.

I have no problem with a Roman Catholic president: Catholicism is a deeply sophisticated, well-developed, and fearless set of beliefs which I disagree with, respectfully. Well, all right, the Catholics have moments of silliness too– check out Lourdes, or the pope-mobile. But I have a problem with someone who believes in the words of a man (Joseph Smith) described accurately, in my opinion, as “a fraud and conjurer” by Slate.

This is a man capable of rational analysis? Of weighing the facts and the issues and coming to wise decision? More importantly, can this man choose smart, rational people to head departments and offer sound advice?

I don’t think so.

The Department of Murder

When did Obama become the head of Murder Incorporated?

Malcolm X got raked by the media when he commented, in reference to the Kennedy assassination, that “the chickens have come home to roost”. He was referring to the role of the U.S. in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, and the history of violent racial oppression in the American South.

How exactly does the U.S. condemn murder and assassination when it has adopted– enthusiastically– the exact same policy when dealing with whomever it chooses to define as an enemy?

The U.S. will proclaim loudly to itself– when the chickens once again, inevitably, come home to roost– that it is outraged, outraged, I say, that so-called civilized nations would resort to murder and assassination as tools of foreign policy! How dare they!

And within it’s own borders, Americans will purr contentedly that all of the mayhem they sow in revenge if justified by the angels because we are such a good, virtuous nation….

And the rest of the world will see that for exactly what it is: the rankest hypocrisy. You did it too! You’ve been bombing and droning and murdering for years, and now you’re upset that other nations said, okay, we get the idea.

Does Obama mind? You can’t be a priss, after all. Americans will forgive many things in a leader– fecklessness, moral turpitude, inconsistency– but never that he failed to show a willingness to kill on our behalf, a facility with mayhem, a willingness to converse with unspeakable cruelty, always, always, oh always, with the illusion of moral rectitude.

The fervor with which Americans indulge in patriotic pageants and parades would lead one to believe … what? Not that there’s any courage in it. All it took to get America to give up its treasured civil liberties and the principle of rule by law was one attack in one city. Most of the country went into paranoid hysterics and hasn’t recovered since. George Bush said, if I provide you with the illusion of safety will let me listen in on your phone messages without a warrant, and America said yes, yes, please yes, anything to keep us safe.

Obama said, will you re-elect me if I take it upon myself to kill people who frighten our intelligence agencies, and America said yes! And Romney said, I will save you from the Russians. And so far, America says, what?