We Hum Along to Infidelity

There is a video of a group of children performing the song “Gentle on My Mind” in this cheerful, anodyne style that makes you sit back and think, oh, how wonderful that he (the songwriter) has such warm thoughts about his girl.  She must be so pleased that he’s thinking about her after he stayed a few nights and then ran off.

Have you ever hummed along to it?

Have you ever taken note of the lyrics:

And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that are dried upon some line

There are many strange paradoxes in popular culture: our contempt for men who “love ’em and leave ’em” for their cruelty and selfishness, and our worship of songs like “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and “Gentle on my Mind”.  Our cancel culture, about men who cheat.  Our public disapproval of philanderers.  But most people still hum along, as they do with a song about killing an unfaithful wife (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”).

“Gentle on my Mind” is pretty poetic about it:

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin’
Cracklin’ caldron in some train yard
My beard a rustling, cold towel, and
A dirty hat pulled low across my face

This gets kind of weird.  Not only is he dumping her– like Gordon Lightfoot in “For Lovin’ Me”, but he’s wandering around like a hobo, not working, evidently, and surviving on soup with his fellow derelicts in “some train yard”.  Quite a picture for his beloved, while she’s warming to the idea of being “gentle on his mind”.

So the gentle part means she isn’t going to put up a fuss about him dropping in for sex now and then, leaving his sleeping bag behind her couch, and then taking off whenever he feels like it.

Elvis Presley recorded it.  So did Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  But, Aretha Franklin?!  Yes, she did.  Well, that’s liberating!

John Hartford wrote the song, he says, after watching “Dr. Zhivago”.  And from personal experience.

Maybe I misunderstand the lyrics.  Maybe the poor guy had no choice but to move on and eat soup in the train yard.  But it doesn’t sound like it:

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone

Who’s right?  Well, let’s expand it a little.  Let’s consider Hartford’s wife.

The story of the song narrates the reminiscences of a drifter of his lost love, while moving through backroads and hobo encampments.[2] Betty Hartford, who later divorced her husband, noted to him the similarity between herself and the song’s female character. She questioned John Hartford about the man’s negative feelings toward his marriage. Hartford said he likened her to Lara and attributed the man’s feelings about being trapped in a relationship to his “artistic license”.

There you go.

It was, at one time, one of the most played songs (in all versions) on radio in North America.

Men thinking kindly — or not– about the women they abandoned

Google is Getting Useless

Google made their name as an efficient search engine delivering streamlined results quickly and effectively. Is it just me or has Google the search engine become mostly useless nowadays. Too many paid results, and even more bad results– pages that might have a word or two of your search string but are otherwise irrelevant. I used to feel confident I would find a few useful results in the first few pages. Lately, I’ve actually– gulp– resorted to Bing, occasionally. And sometimes I just actually give up. I don’t have time to go through a hundred pages to find the one that actually helps me.

As IBM discovered when the Department of Justice was investigating them for monopolistic practices (way back in the 1960’s), too much information is as useless as no information.

In fairness, it’s not just Google’s fault.

Oh yes, it is.  By mastering the competition for profiting by manipulating search results, Google is king of turd island, the exemplar, the model for all that has made the Internet a fucking monstrous garbage heap of  excrement.  Facebook is a close second.

The New McCarthyism

There are two kinds of news sources prominent today. One, the older institutional part, identifies a story, sends a reporter, interviews people, acquires documents, submits to an editor, contacts the parties for possible confirmation or not, and then publishes. The other one goes to air to millions of listeners immediately with, for example, provocative claims that there is no 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped at 9 and was pregnant and had to go out of state to get an abortion, claiming this was all a plot by the Democrats to steal more votes. When it emerges that the story was true, they don’t apologize because … well, why don’t they? Because their listeners don’t really care about facts and information? I don’t know. It’s not just this one story: there are dozens of examples, maybe hundreds. They rarely publicly admit they got it wrong, or lied, and even more rarely apologize. They have discovered that most of their listeners don’t seem to mind; they aren’t about to change the channel.

Their listeners aren’t watching the January 6 Congressional Committee hearings, even if almost every witness has been a staunch Republican, and Trump’s own appointees to the judiciary have consistently rejected claims of a stolen election. The “Deep State” is so deep that even Trump, apparently, was fooled at times.

I don’t know how we get past polarization if people don’t listen even when their own side is telling them they are wrong. People like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio are complicit: they don’t like Trump but are frightened of standing up to him.

In the 1950’s, McCarthyism had the same dynamic. Respectable conservatives didn’t like him but were scared to call him out. Eventually, he was found to be ridiculous and people moved on. (He once accused Santa Claus of being a communist infiltrator.)

One can only hope.

Watch Me Risk My Life

I am ambivalent about films and stories about men and women who unnecessarily risk their lives, on mountains, in cars, under water– for…  well, that’s the question.  For what?

Almost no documentary or book about these individuals would dare suggest that these people are selfish, self-centred individuals interested primarily in self-promotion and ego gratification.   (I make an exception for “Into Thin Air”, the amazing book by Jon Krakauer which considers the issue at some length.)  Think about why that’s so.  Why doesn’t “The Last Mountain”, for example, seriously consider the issue?

Could that be because the viewer, who adores these stories, would feel implicated?  I get pleasure by watching other people put themselves in grave peril at the expense, sometimes, of their lives?  Could it be because the writers (often the daredevils themselves) or film-makers (ditto) really want you to believe they are doing something important and admirable?  Think of how often they claim there is some higher purpose to their activities: to learn more about sharks, to extend human endurance and achievement, to fulfill personal goals?

Hollywood Aristocracy

How do you get to be a Hollywood actor?

  • Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.
  • Melanie Griffith is the daughter of Tippi Hedren.
  • Laura Dern is the daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
  • Maggie & Jake Gyllenhaal’s mother was a screenwriter/director.
  • Sean Young’s father was a television producer and her mother, Lee Guthrie was a screenwriter and pr executive.
  • Sigourney Weaver was the daughter of NBC executive Sylvester  Weaver.
  • Ione Skye is the daughter of folk singer Donovan.
  • Jennifer Grey is the daughter of Joel Grey.  Her daughter, Stella, is also pursuing an acting career.
  • Natasha Richardson is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, and granddaughter of Michael Redgrave.

There are many, many more.

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.

And how do you get to be a pop star?

For a while Rufus was running around as part of a “sons of” club, a group that included Sean Lennon, Chris Stills and Harper Simon. “They were all getting signed and written about and had publicists and photo shoots and beautiful girlfriends,” Ms. Wainwright says in the memoir. “Were their songs better than mine?” The chip on her shoulder led her to write a grand statement song, its title a vulgar epithet. Contrary to what she has told journalists in the past, the song isn’t about her father — or, rather, it isn’t exclusively about him.   Martha Wainwright

That’s Rufus Wainwright III, son of Loudon Wainwright Jr., John Lennon’s son, Stephen Stills’ son, and Paul Simon’s son.

Now what would the children of celebrity Hollywood stars be doing with their lives if they were not the crown princes and princesses of entertainment royalty?  Some job that has measurable performance parameters with a demanding skill set?  I’m sure they have all seriously considered it.  Or would they seek a job that 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?

In other words, I am not saying they are without talent.  I am saying that many young people have talents, but very, very few of them get the opportunity meet with a powerful agent or director or producer and get privileged access to the machinery that gets you into the movies, or tv, or the recording studio.

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?  Maybe.  Like hundreds of other young, ambitious women.  But does she also 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, or someone like 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 extended musical family in New York, 2012, from left to right: Martha Wainwright, the singer-songwriter Suzzy Roche, Rufus Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III and the singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche.

Martha Wainwright, Suzzy Roche, Rufus Wainwright III, Lucy Wainwright Roche.

Real Character

David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, has written a book about character. He essentially defines character as a strong connection to something outside of yourself. He means “character” in a positive sense– not in the sense of “what a character!”. And not in the sense of “he is a deeply flawed character”. He means, “this man has character”. He has principles. He has strength and conviction. His life means something.

It really is an odd criteria, but it plays well with conservative tropes about duty and respect for authority and service. It honors soldiers who come back from war, having done their “duty”, and having killed for the state, or the state’s vested interests, without ever questioning the justice or rationality of its cause. It plays well with religion: character is obedience, to that something outside of yourself, God, or the church itself.

And so, among the failures of Bill Clinton, we often hear conservatives insist that his was a failure of “character”. He was dishonest as a politician. He cheated on his wife.

He was such a character!

But what if character is the opposite? What if it is precisely the man who refuses to obey authority unquestioningly, because he doesn’t have that connection with that outside thing that he thinks is smarter or more respectable or more honorable than his own conscience? What if a man with character is more like Thomas More, not because he believed in something outside of himself– the Roman Catholic Church and it’s corrupt hierarchy– but that he might be right and everyone else, who had all sworn allegiance to King Henry VIII as the new head of the church, was wrong?

Brooks’ mistake is that he assumes that the thing “outside of oneself” is transcendent.  It isn’t potentially just as flawed as the values of a person who, in his view, isn’t loyal to those principles “outside” of his own needs and wants.  But it is obvious that the values that exist “outside” of yourself are someone else’s values: patriotism, religious belief, prurience.  Brooks wants you to believe that those values aren’t the product of some other person’s wants and needs– like a king or corporate executive or general.

That’s why it’s a pity to see Rand Paul trying to go mainstream. I thought he had character, with his odd positions on the drug laws, the invasion of Iraq, and tax breaks for corporations.

The CBC’s Tunnel Hysteria

CBC Hysteria: tunnel vision
Why does the CBC do this? A CBC reporter happened upon the story of a tunnel found in a wooded area near the University of Toronto and, for the next week, never failed to use the word “terror” in every report connected to it. Ooooo— it is near a venu that will be used during the PanAm games! We know that they are probably a top target of Isis!

It was, perhaps, the most narcissistic news story of the year, so far: the CBC reporting on itself being absolutely, hysterically, almost sexually obsessed with what an amazing story this was.

It was a nothing story. It was trivial. It was not newsworthy in any respect whatsoever, except, perhaps, as a minor, one-off triviality.

But without a current contagion story in it’s dossier, the CBC had to do something to keep listeners riveted.

The most offensive part of it all was the way they kept insisting that the entire world was now enthralled with this ridiculous story and was waiting with baited breath for every new installment from the CBC, and couldn’t wait to hear Gill Deacon speculate as to what the purpose of this tunnel was.

It was nauseating and utterly unworthy of the CBC.


Tactless CBC

Who you gonna blame
The star of the game
Or the no-name girl in the marching band?

Quarterback, Kira Isabelle

I just heard the CBC play some songs from the CCMA show (Canadian Country Music Awards). First, a sensitive song about a young girl in the marching band who is date-raped by the star quarterback of the football team, who then posts pictures of her naked on the internet. (The chorus is “Who you gonna blame/The star of the game/or the no-name girl in the marching band?”)

The ever-tactful CBC followed this with a presentation of “Day Drinking” by Little Big Town. “I know you know what I’m thinking/Why don’t we do a little day drinking? Day drinking! Day drinking!… Ready get set, baby here we go”. Sung with that bombastic pseudo-rock stadium gusto: woohoo!

Maybe the CBC programmers were doing a little day-drinking of their own.

Incidentally– or not– I note that line in the chorus– “who you gonna blame/ the star of the game/or the no-name girl in the marching band” captures nicely a sentiment expressed by many women about the issue of date-rape, but which I find problematic in this sense: it is no doubt true that too often, the famous athlete or favorite son or celebrity miscreant, is automatically believed because so many figures in authority have a vested interest in believing him. After all, he is the star; she is a nobody. Maybe they really believe him, maybe not, but she, after all, is still a nobody.

And I note that “Quarterback” is not necessarily about date-rape– it might well only be about betrayal, though the chorus makes less sense that way.

I simply point out that reversing the automatic belief– which many women seem to do– is equally offensive, and when the argument is put that way– who are you going to believe?— the implication is that the woman should always be believed instead of the man. The implication is that women never lie when claiming that the sex was non-consensual.

And the ongoing curse of these issues is that, in the majority of cases, it is simply her word against his. Confronted with this issue, many women (and many sympathetic men) respond with “why would she lie about something like that?”. That’s not an argument, and even if it were, the answer is not that hard to find: is it so hard to believe that woman might consent to sex with a man because she believes it is the beginning of a relationship, but, soon after, when she finds out she was used, she wants him punished?

Or there might be a more exotic explanation, as in the case of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair.

The Necessity of Secrets

To those who continue to insist that no law-abiding citizen has anything to fear from government surveillance or ubiquitous security cameras or cell phones that constantly report your location to your service provider: please go live in your own country with like-minded people and you can all watch each other all the time.

Better yet, someone needs to organize a group of volunteers to contact one of these congressmen or NSA administrators or FBI or CIA officials and ask for their address and their license number and make and model, and photos, and announce that this person is now going to be followed, 24/7, by these volunteer citizens, because this person doesn’t think the average American citizen has anything to fear from being spied on.

Vanity Fairy

“Do I see myself as a feminist idol? No. I don’t see myself as anything.” Baba Wawa in Wanity Fair. (Barbara Walters in Vanity Fair, 2014-05)

“Dayan’s widow, Raquel, would wear to her husband’s 1981 funeral, a dress that belonged to Walters”.

Now that’s journalism. (Vanity Fair)

“I was one of the first who did political interviews and celebrities… and now everybody does it”.

Yes, all of your celebrity wannabe friends.

Please don’t let anyone deceive you into thinking that the media made a bigger thing out of Barbara Walter’s “tree question” than it really deserved. It deserved to be mocked, in spades. Barbara Walters was a pushy, inane, abominable, celebrity hostess who did more damage than you can possibly imagine to journalism in American. She almost single-handedly invented tabloid journalism. She mastered and promoted the mutual masturbation style of interview, wherein the interviewer asks soft questions and the subject calmly answers them with lies and half-truths and the interviewer generously moves on to the next earth-shattering issue: single or queen-sized bed? When was the last time you cried? Would you cry now for me, please? Just a tear or two.

Trust me: we forgive torturers who cry.

It works wonderfully and you will see even the New York Times marvel at the guests she was able to land.

Of course she lands famous guests: she gives them all a glorious opportunity to answer their critics without difficult follow-up questions, like, “(this specific person) claims that your secret police arrested and tortured her for several months. Are you saying it didn’t happen? Is Amnesty International lying?”

She even let at least one of them edit her own interview (Barbara Streisand, having imposed a condition no real journalist would have agreed to), though I cannot imagine why Streisand thought it would even be necessary.

No person is too obscenely trivial or unimportant as to not deserve an interview with Barbara Walters, from the Khardasians to Beyonce (yes, screw it, Beyonce is trivial) to– the ultimate and most telling triviality of all: Donald Sterling’s girlfriend: V. Stiviano. To Barbara Walters, they are all, Kings and Presidents, Dictators and porn stars, Khardasians and Secretaries of State, equally important, equally interesting, and equally glamorous.

Now the revisionists appear but I can’t understand why. Everyone has always known she was a joke. Everyone has always known that by offering to pose her own dim-witted self-serving harmless fuzz ball questions, she allowed controversial figures to pad their own images, pretend to be accountable, without offering up a single wit, not a moment of honesty or authenticity.

Vanity Fair embarrassingly, shamelessly, with the utmost servility, describes her as reading whenever she is sitting on a plane, and arranged a photo to show bookshelves behind her. Vanity Fair neglects to mention that when she made her meteoric rise to “stardom” in the 1970’s at ABC News, she was the very first co-anchor to…. wait for it … no, it’s not that…. to be a non-journalist. She was the first to be chosen for her ability to entertain, not to enlighten, and the other journalists knew it, but, judging from Vanity Fair, you would never know it.

In Barbara Walters’ own delusional universe, the real journalists like Morley Safer and Peter Jennings criticized her because she was a woman, not because she was a hack.

What kind of a reporter was Barbara Walters? How did she manage to score that exclusive interview with Bashar al-Assad? Her amazing — I don’t know what people even think she has– whatever? Or the fact that she helped an Assad aide to obtain an internship at CNN and enroll in Columbia University. But whoa nelly! It’s not as if she held back on Assad: are you a mean dictator? No, not at all. Then show me your glamorous palace and your beautiful wife.

Curtis Sittenfeld, in a particularly gruesome and nauseating aside, insists that you know Walters is great because you can’t not watch– you have to see it, to the end. I am very happy to admit that I watched parts of  several Barbara Walters interviews early in her career and never, ever came back. I looked away as quickly as possible.  Not for Monica Lewinsky, or the hugely embarrassing– mortifying– Obama interview, or Castro, or Sadat, or anyone else she trivialized over the past thirty years.

When she asks Bill Gates if his feelings were hurt because he was referred to as a “nerd”, you have to ask yourself if she has the slightest clue of what a nerd is or what a computer is or what Microsoft is or what Bill Gates is, but you just know that Bill Gates will never mind being asked if his feelings were hurt because Barbara Walters thinks people call him a nerd.

Some Trivia

The pope has decided that he will no longer use the pope-mobile. Hallelujah.

How Vanity Fair scores so many lengthy articles on celebrities: read this piece or any other piece they have produced. Fawning, worshipful, admiring, suck-ups.