Norm MacDonald

Did I miss something?  After Norm MacDonald’s death this week, I kept reading about what a great comedian he was.  I had never liked him much but I wanted to be fair:  I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to him.  Maybe I missed something.

Here’s one of his jokes.  He tells us that during a medical examination of Arnold Schwarzenegger because of a faulty heart valve some of the doctors were concerned because they became turned on during a routine examination.

That’s it.  That’s the punch line.  The audience, on SNL (which is live) didn’t laugh much either.

He also joked about a custody battle between a mother and her ex-husband who was transgender.  It was witless, crude, and dismissive.  It was the kind of joke back-slapping conservative males made and enjoyed at the time.  [Well, well: I now read that Macdonald was a Christian.  It’s possible to be politically progressive and Christian, but clearly Macdonald was your standard, off-the-shelf conservative hypocrite, mocking feminists, poor people, and gays, perhaps with slightly more subtlety than Dennis Miller, while nursing a gambling addiction.]

Again, in front of a picture of Bill and Hilary Clinton: “here’s a picture of the first bitch”.  No joke– just calling Hilary Clinton a bitch.  In another segment, he calls her a liar.  Again, no joke– just calling her a liar.   On an episode of “The View” he accused Bill Clinton of being a murderer.

A lot of Beatles paraphernalia was up for sale, including a “rare” photo of George Harrison not looking haggard.  Huh.

Two homeless people got married at a homeless shelter.  If you want to buy them a gift, they are “registered” at a recycling center.   Huh again.

I’m told his “off the cuff” comments on carrot-top were hilarious.  I’ve watched the clip.  I’m open-minded: maybe there is some reference there that is hilarious, and I missed it.

Same with a cooking demonstration on Conan O’Brien’s show with Gordon Ramsay.  We’re supposed to find his inept inability to follow instructions– like a drunk, really– hilarious.  The biggest laugh was his use of an obscenity, which the audience laughs at because they know it will be beep out.  It was all lame, tedious, witless, and boring.  Conan must have loved him– that lame segment should never have seen the editing suite.

Paul McCartney is going to host an online chat.  Already, 2.5 million calls have come in from people hoping to chat.  But 2 million of them are from Ringo.  That one is not even a little funny.

How about this: Donald Trump decided to divorce Marla Maples because she violated the pre-nuptial agreement by turning 30.  Sophomoric.

Washington D.C. mayor is not interested in polls, or anything that isn’t crack.  Again, very sophomoric.

A joke, in bad taste, about Reagan being allowed to still think he owns the ranch he sold to the U.S. government after the purchase.  Maybe Norm didn’t know Reagan had Alzheimer’s.

He mocks women for their looks.   He mocks Ellen DeGeneres for wanting to have a baby, because she and her partner are both women.  Yeah, they are.  Did someone miss something here?  This might have been funny had it not already occurred to every single person in the audience.

More women would vote if you could bake your vote.  I’m not making that one up– yes, he thought that was funny.  Yes, he read it on Weekend Update.  No, the audience didn’t find it funny either.

When a joke failed– which was often– he would ramble on aimlessly about how that one didn’t work, which is not even funny once, or make a banal comment like “what a world we live in” as if he discovered something that was not already obvious to everyone.  Or, fatally, he would try to explain why the joke was actually funny even though the audience didn’t laugh.  That’s not a secret: Macdonald’s approach to comedy was to do jokes he thought was funny even if the audience didn’t.  Like Red Skeleton.  He and some others thought it was a virtue.  I think it’s an attempt to explain why someone who checks him out because you said he was great might be disappointed: because you don’t get it, see?  He doesn’t care if you don’t think he’s funny.  Really?

After joking about Rikki Lake having to get rid of a dog because it was aggressive with her young child– by eating it– he compounds the lukewarm audience reception with “she ate a whole dog”, which torpedoes the wit factor of any joke.

Those are neither the least nor most funny of a bunch.  A joke about Richard Gere and a gerbil is worse than tasteless.

A lot of his humor is based on the “everyday man” school of comedy, which holds that anything sophisticated or complex should be mocked because if I don’t understand it, it can’t be true or valid.  Gay marriage.  Transgender surgery.  George Harrison frowning in a picture.  And why can’t I make fun of obese talk show hosts?  Well, you can– but making jokes about their obesity really isn’t all that funny anyway.  Calling Bill Clinton a murderer with a tone of  “everybody knows it, right?” isn’t even witty.  If there’s a joke about someone involved in the Clinton scandals– and there are lots– tell it.  But Macdonald didn’t have that kind of Carlinesque skill.

Macdonald did not graduate high school and he has the tone of someone who loves to get digs in on those people who think they are smarter than you simply because they are smarter than you and got educated and understanding something about finance and trade and economics and medicine and music and history– those snobs.

He defended Louis C.K. after he was blacklisted for some relatively mild allegations of inappropriate behavior– a position I agree with.  But he also defended Roseanne Barr  after she made several tasteless, racist tweets.

Well, gosh, so did Donald Trump.

Jokes about Oprah Winfrey’s husband writing a book on how to be a success (Macdonald quips, “marry Oprah Winfrey”), are okay.   A genuine joke: congratulations, Norm Macdonald.  Use this one as a model for humour.  And ironic insight.  A smart perception.  A revelatory twist.  Go for it.

That’s it for Norm Macdonald.  Some okay jokes.  Someone who must have been quite likeable in person– he has lots of defenders, including Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien.  That doesn’t make him funny.

 

 

How Dare you Defend Yourself

The New York Review (of Books) is one of the best periodicals I have ever read.  It is up there with the long lost “American Film” and “Musician” magazines, couriers of superlative, thoughtful, original journalism unlike almost everything else out there.  Liked “Wired” for it’s first year before it immediately declined into commercial crap gadget marketing manual.  Or Byte Magazine before it got bought out and destroyed.

No– it is better than all of them ever were.

But in the past few years, a couple of missteps.  First, Editor Ian Buruma is fired because he had the shameless audacity to allow Jian Ghomeshi to defend himself after the women who charged him with abusive behavior were caught lying to the police and to the judge at his trial.  I repeat, for emphasis: the women who charged him with abuse and assault lied to the police, to the crown attorneys, and the judge.  The evidence of this was indisputable.  All of the charges were, as a result, dismissed.

But Mr. Buruma’s publisher decided that the lies did not matter.  The fact that some women made the charge against Ghomeshi is sufficient to determine his guilt.  Women never lie.  And if they do, the men they lie about are still guilty, because they are men.

And so we get to a deeply regrettable review by Joyce Carol Oates in the February 11, 2021 issue of New York Review, “Chronicle of a Death Ignored”.   Ms. Oates is discussing a book by Becky Cooper, “We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence”, about the murder of a Harvard graduate student, Jane Britton, in January, 1969.  Becky Cooper– to Ms. Oates pleasure– writes mostly, really, about herself, how she connected to the story, how she felt about it, and how important it is for us to know all about her.

She also spends considerable time and effort to condemn Harvard University for not finding the killer among their abusive or “callow” professors for surely they were– as men– abusive or callow or both– and must certainly answer for Ms.  Britton’s murder.   But Becky Cooper is on to them: she confronts them with courage and conviction and persistence and forces them to admit that they are abusive and callow.

She is selective, of course.  Some students felt that Jane was in an abusive relationship with a professor at the time.  That must surely be true.  Jane’s brother thought she was promiscuous, a drug abuser, and “a bitch”.  That must surely be false, since it came from a man.

There is a development that is incredibly inconvenient for Cooper, which explains the odd first three paragraphs of Oates’ review.  Cooper has developed her entire project around the assumption that it was a Harvard professor, most likely Professor Lamberg-Karlovsky, who raped and murdered Britton.   Thus she is shocked and horrified that Harvard University actively  provided legal support to Lamberg-Karlovsky and others.   So, having spent 10 years developing this thesis and marshalling all your rhetorical energy to condemn the Harvard patriarchy, what do you do when the murderer turns out to be someone who had absolutely nothing to do with Harvard University?  Well, Oates would have you believe that there is some kind of essential, magical truth that makes Cooper’s narrative “a brilliantly idiosyncratic variant of generic true crime, rather more a memoir than a conventional work of reportage”.    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

Harvard was indeed “silent”: but there was nothing to hide or disclose.  It didn’t know who murdered Jane Britton and, as it turns out, there was no reason to think it should have known.  Harvard didn’t “ignore” the death.   It’s just that Ms. Cooper and Ms. Oates think the Harvard patriarchy is complicit in some way regardless of the facts.

And they are not personally satisfied with the grandiosity of Harvard’s response, as if Harvard owed it to them, as women, to scale it all up.

Well, as in the case of Ghomeshi, it is sufficient to make the charge.  How dare they defend themselves!  If a woman says you did something wrong, you did something wrong, whether you did it or not.

 

 

The 2021 Montreal Canadiens

I don’t think a less-skilled hockey team has ever made the Stanley Cup Finals than the 2021 Montreal Canadiens.    The fact that they even reached the semi-finals is remarkable.

They do have a remarkable goaltender in Carey Price and he has kept them alive through most of the games until now.   Without a doubt, he saved them in the first series against a superior Leafs team.   As I watched that series unfold, I kept wondering what it was that Montreal actually had that gave them the victories in the last three games.  Determination.  Aggressive, smart, forward-looking offensive zone attitude, even when killing penalties.  And Carey Price.  And it was enough because Matthews and Marner didn’t perform, John Tavares was absent, and the Leafs still don’t have a playoff-caliber goaltender.  Jake Campbell might have been adequate, had all other things been equal, but they were not.

The 2021 Canadiens are a team of nobodies.  Whoever heard of Caufield?  Petry?  Kotkaniemi?  Suzuki?  Danault?  Kehkonen?  Well, guess what?  The 1993 Canadiens, the last Canadian or Canadien team to win the Stanley Cup, were also a team of nobodies:  Brisebois.  Daigneault.  Desjardins.   Brashear.  Brunet.  Di Pietro.

Until the Tampa Bay Lightening came along, Montreal was able to disguise it’s lack of raw talent through utter diligence,  frantic commitment, and Carey Price.  But by Game 3 of the finals, the naked truth emerged: the Canadiens blundered around making bad passes, missing their checks, passing to players about to be checked, getting shouldered aside in the corners, and Tampa Bay simply out-skilled, out-muscled, and even out-hustled them.  The turnovers finally killed Montreal, and Price had an uncharacteristically bad night.  Montreal just doesn’t score more than 3 goals in any game– at least, almost never– so when Tampa Bay racked up 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, there was no chance.

Can Montreal come back from a 3-0 deficit?

No.

 

 

Digestible Disney

In the original legend of “Robin Hood” the bad guys were greedy aristocrats; in Disney’s version, they are tax-collectors. In the book “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Frollo is an arch-deacon, not Disney’s magistrate. And in real life, Rasputin was a monk; in Disney’s Anastasia, he weirdly becomes a warlock instead.

Disney loves making stories easier to digest.

The Photographer Was Ready

This horrific ski accident.

There is something about the dynamic between the media and sports and young athletes that has always worried me. You must eternally go faster, harder, bigger, to set records, to win medals, to give speeches for big money, to become a scandal, to run a school, and so on. All of this push to increase the risk of injuries like this, for our entertainment. I note the photographer on the left focusing on the skier in agony before help has even arrived.

And is her performance really more interesting to watch because it’s faster than was possible years ago, before the optimized equipment and slopes? Do the young competitors really understand the risks they are pushed to accept, for the thrill of the tv audience?

I say slow the whole thing down, on purpose.  Why should I care if the hill can be descended 10 seconds faster than it was five years ago?  If they are all skiing on the same hill and same general equipment, we have a competition.

The only thing missing would be the braying headline: record shattered.

And bones.

You won’t pay $100 to have dinner while listening to a former athlete describe how her life was ruined by an accident on the slopes, or the chute, or cliff, or the race track.

Hollywood Aristocracy

Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.

Melanie Griffith is the daughter of Tippi Hedren.

The jobs in Hollywood movies are too good to be available to any sort of riff-raff or some talented nobody without any relatives in the industry.  No, it is only right that the children of established stars should inherit the privilege of glamour and wealth and fame.

Now what would the children of celebrity Hollywood stars be doing with their lives?  Some job that has measurable performance parameters with a demanding skill set?  Or a job you get because your father or mother knows somebody in the industry and the talents in this industry are judged according to manifestly subjective standards that anyone can, as a favor, manipulate into your favor?

Take Dakota Johnson.  As she grows up, she sees her parents leading the wonderful lives of movie stars, celebrities, privileged by fame and exposure.  She wants to be an actress too, of course.  Does she have special gifts?  Is she exceptionally talented?  Does she work incredibly hard to refine her craft?  Or does she get opportunities that others do not get, and a few acting classes, and some cosmetic surgery, and then the privileged access to casting directors and producers?

Here’s a trashy site that gives you a glimpse of just how privileged actors have become.  It is my view that most of these films will be artistically diminished by serving the vanities of the actors rather than the imperatives of the artistic vision, of the writer and director.  But the die is cast when they seek funding: if Leonardo Di Caprio agrees to be in your film, you have guaranteed yourself millions of dollars for the production.

Without him, you will be forced to actually make a good film and hope for critical recognition and a small profit.

Children are inheriting their parent’s Hollywood Privilege

The Bible on Abortion

From Reddit:

Quoting the bible to contradict a Christian almost never helps, but there is only one part that brushes against the value of an unborn life versus a fully formed human.

Exodus 21:22 –

And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no [further] injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any [further] injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

We can extrapolate from this that the value of an unborn fetus is not equal to the value of the mother. As the passage says, cause a miscarriage and you’ll be fined, not put to death. There are pages and pages of research about this passage where pro-lifers try to twist and contort the meaning in the original Hebrew, but the context makes it quite easy to understand the message that was trying to be conveyed.

Biblical Scholars– the overwhelming majority of which are pro-life– argue that the verse refers only to live births.  But at least one admits that “in fact, it is never used for a miscarriage, though it is used of a still birth.”

Further to that, does this passage make sense if it only refers to live births?    Where is the harm, exactly, if the woman is struck and then gives birth?  If it is the harm of being struck, then why the reference to “miscarriage” or “birth”– your choice?  It really does not make much sense unless it refers to a miscarriage.

The pro-life partisans argue that the particular Hebrew word is not used elsewhere to refer to still-births, but, of course, the Bible isn’t a comprehensive list of all possible eventualities.  The argument has some currency, but not very much, in my view.

Handheld Jerky Phony Video

“It’s about popular music. It’s about being in a rock band, over the course of time. And it’s also a direct conversation between me and my fans, at a level that I think they’ve come to expect over the years.”

It has reached the point where every time a video I am watching goes into funky, raw, “authentic” hand-held video mode, I nearly puke.

The latest, unfortunately, are the videos for Bruce Springsteen’s newest album.  As if the video is not a bad enough sign, here’s one that’s even worse: the subject is music.  Yes, Bruce Springsteen is putting out an album about how music is important.  How his fans expect this “conversation”.

I loved Springsteen back in the 1870’s when he released his first albums.  All right– 1980’s, actually.  “Born to Run” remains a classic.  I was also always a Dylan fan so, naturally, I was drawn to Springsteen because he had great lyrics and his band really rocked.  Nobody ever argued that Dylan was a great singer, and neither was Springsteen, but at least he could screech with more enthusiasm.

Years go by.  I find myself admiring  Dylan’s singing more and more, at least until the 1990’s, and Springsteen’s–even on his first albums– less and less.

And now, “Letter to You”, and the limitations of Springsteen’s voice are laid bare.  And, perhaps, the limitations of his music.  Without the cars, the working class angst, the oppressive union jobs, the girls named Sandy or Terry– what’s left for Springsteen?  Is his mind expansive enough to move into deeper territory, more intriguing perspectives, more subtle inflections?

The videos are awful.  First cheap trick: black and white.  Second cheap trick: hand-held jerky camera movements, as if some documentary crew just managed to sneak into the studio.  Third cheap trick: shots of the wife.  It may sound harsh, but I always picture the wife needling the husband into putting her into the video.  I should be there.  I’m your wife.  I sang backup in the band back in the 80’s.  Fourth bad sign:  drone footage of an unidentifiable man walking through snow-covered fields, without a single close-up or establishing shot to let us in on whether that’s actually Springsteen thinking profound thoughts or a stand-in.

My Liberty Your Liberty

“By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix,” they wrote, noting that the ruling “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss.”  From NY Times

 

This is from the dissenting opinion by Justices Thomas and Alito in Obergefell v. Hodges.  Did you notice that they said “believe that” and did not say “discriminate against” as if a dissenting view could actually oppress a majority through the sheer power of its dissentingness (my word).

It is so offensive to Christians that a same-sex couple could be recognized as married that the Supreme Court — according to justices Alito and Thomas (and, probably, Barrett, soon)– must spare them this indignity.

What if you substituted race for sexual orientation?  So a restaurant owner with a “whites only” sign should perhaps be spared the indignity of having to allow minorities into his restaurant because it is an infringement on his “religious liberty”?

The most obvious problem here is that it really doesn’t cost these bigots anything to allow gay couples to marry.  Their right to marriage is not diminished in the slightest, except in the deep corners of their tiny imaginations where they might have to admit to their own bigotry.   What is the difference between refusing to serve blacks or Jews or Italians, and refusing to serve gay men and women?   We all recognize that bigotry is at the heart of the former.

And it is of the latter as well.

“Crucify” by Tori Amos

When it was first released, I thought this song, and the entire album it was released on was very compelling.  Over the years, I’ve begun to rethink this one– “Crucify Myself”.

It initially impressed me as a complaint– why do men abuse us so much?  Why are we figuratively “crucified” when we don’t measure up to your standards?

It took me years to realize that the “standards” she attributes to men don’t belong to men at all.  They belong to women.  And what she is really complaining about is why do I have to feel bad about not pleasing you?  The next question, honestly is, who asked you to please me?

It is not unusual to discover that a person who resents someone’s lack of gratitude is really more angry about the lack of obligation felt by the recipient of his or her ministrations.  Why can’t I control you?  I made you breakfast.  Why don’t you verbally thank me when I made you coffee when you didn’t ask for it?