Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Seinfelding of Comedy: In Defense of Seth MacFarlane

Jerry Seinfeld made a decision early on in his wildly successful career never to use profanity in his routines. That decision obviously worked out very well for him. It wouldn't have worked so well for Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Chris Rock. The truth is, some people like jokes about dicks, tits, lesbians, Lincoln's assassination, race, religion and "two priests and a rabbi walk into a whorehouse" ...and there are those comedians who are brilliant at telling them. Welcome to America, land of the free.

By now you'd have to be living under a rock to not know the "outrage" over Oscar host Seth MacFarlane's "hostile, ugly, sexist" performance, as the high-brow New Yorker charged. His main "offenses?" The jokes he made about "Django Unchained" being "the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who has been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie;" that "Zero Dark Thirty" was about "every woman's innate ability to never ever let anything go;" and a tongue-in-cheek number called "We Saw Your Boobs."

But let's get something straight: Seth MacFarlane is a comic. He doesn't pretend to be anything else. He's an edgy, irreverent, off-color satirist who clearly doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks. The producers knew exactly who they were buying when they hired him, and viewers knew what to expect when watching him. It's a bit absurd to hire Seth MacFarlane, watch Seth MacFarlane, and then be offended because he's, well, being Seth MacFarlane. That people are now drowning in a sea of self-righteous indignation over his performance is laughable and frightening at the same time.

Comedy, like art in general, is incredibly personal and subjective. We have a right to voice our opinions (key word "opinions") as to what's funny and what isn't. But the criticism becomes dangerous, and takes on a whole new ugliness, when entertainers are attacked for being "offensive, sexist and racist" simply because some folks may dislike the content and/or fail to see the humor. That sort of mass condemnation typically leads to censorship. Are we going back to the days when Lenny Bruce was arrested for using "obscenities" on-stage? Has our culture not evolved in fifty years? Or are we simply witnessing the PC-ification of America? What one person finds "offensive" another finds brilliant art (see Pryor, Carlin, Elvis, The Beatles, Mapplethorpe, Bertolucci, et al).

Hollywood and the New York literati is full of self-righteous, self-important hypocrites who constantly sit in judgment of others while they themselves churn out like a factory the very same "offensive" material they thumb their noses at. Hollywood, which is so ridiculously aghast over MacFarlane's bit, produces more films about child abuse, gang rape, incest, hookers, strippers, 3-ways and horrific violence against women than he could ever imagine. And the publishing world has no problem feeding us mega-hits like Fifty Shades of Grey which is full of sexual degradation, bondage and sadomasochism directed at women.

If women are going to bare their boobs on film, then comics like MacFarlane have every right to spoof it. And the parody certainly goes both ways. I don't recall such a groundswell of outrage when Harvey Keitel and his naked ass in "The Piano" were repeatedly mocked.

Deep breath, America. It's truly going to be ok. It's just a song and dance about some harmless little tits...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Don’t Republicans Promote ‘Gun Abstinence’?

Teen pregnancy. It’s a problem for which Republicans have historically argued a common-sense solution, and it’s not contraception or sex-education. Their fix is simple and straight-forward: abstinence. Just keep the penis out of the vagina. So how come the same philosophy doesn't apply to gun violence?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre the nation's attention has once again shifted to gun control and the need to ban semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as enact tighter restrictions overall. Most agree that the level of gun violence in America has risen to epic proportions. But the National Rife Association and virtually all Republicans contend that the last thing that needs to be factored into the gun control equation are the actual guns. Instead, their focus has been almost exclusively on background checks, registrations, mental health screening, video games and anything else that can take the gun out of gun control.

It's terribly contradicting that conservatives don't support contraception and sex-ed as a means of reducing unwanted teen pregnancies. How come, when it comes to a 15-year-old getting knocked up, it's the weapon, in this case the penis, that's to blame? If the same philosophy is applied to guns, i.e. taking away the actual instrument that does the damage, that would result in a dramatic reduction in gun violence, right?

But the problem is that when it comes to guns and sex, Republicans cannot think rationally. Ironically, their "abstinence" philosophy has terrific merit if applied to guns, but completely convoluted when the subject is teen pregnancy. If only they believed in education and mental health when and where it truly mattered. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Haggling for Hagel

In a Benghazi-leverage-fueled power-play that is both shameful and unsurprising, Senate Republicans Thursday filibustered President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. In a 58-40 vote, Democrats lost their bid to call a vote on Hagel, the decorated Vietnam War vet, a Republican, who used to be besties with Sen. John McCain and who Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once called one of the Senate's most respected foreign policy experts.

Some perspective is needed here: only twice in modern history has a cabinet nominee been filibustered (Reagan’s second-term Commerce Secretary C. William Verity and George W. Bush’s Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne) and never has there been one in the case of a Defense Secretary. So this week's action, or inaction, is just more of the same old partisan vitriol coming from a bunch of angry old rich men still pissed about the election (and I mean the one in 2008, not just last November's trouncing). They hate Obama, hate Democrats, and continue to "just say no" to everything the left puts forth.

Defending his party's opposition, McCain said: “There’s a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel, because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly — at one point, said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover — said that the [Iraqi troop] surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam war, which is nonsense. He was very anti-his own party and people. People don’t forget that. You can disagree, but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that....Further, Chuck Hagel does not have the qualifications — in the view of many of us, particularly me — to serve. He’s has no managerial experience. His view of the world is very different. His answers on Iran were troubling. His opposition to the surge, saying it would fail. You can only judge people on what they’re going to do by what they’ve done in the past — and that record is not a good one.”

Well for one thing, if by his "record" McCain's referring to Hagel's opposition to the Iraq War, then I'd say his record is stellar, given that engagement's cost in terms of dollars and human life, let alone its uncertain outcome. And if by "troubling" McCain finds Hagel's caution against more Neocon tough talk on Iran, then I'd say "his answers" show exactly the sort of restraint and diplomacy the U.S. needs in a Defense Secretary. Lastly, McCain's blistering, personal-vendetta against Hagel is rooted in the contention that all Republicans are expected to march in lock-step with the party, acting as a rubber-stamp for anything and everything the leadership calls for. Disagreement, or dissent, is about as welcome to these myopic spoiled brats as a Barney Frank lecture on gay marriage.

Whatever happened to the House and Senate being about diverse ideas and opinions, both within a caucus and across the aisle, in protecting America's best interests? What happened to "putting country first," which was McCain's '08 campaign theme? As the undeserved witch-hunt against Hagel painfully demonstrates, it's tow-the-line or else with this current crop of Republicans. And as Obama charged Thursday, they now expect every Democratic bill in Congress to need a filibuster-proof majority in order for passage. Fuck compromise.

Hagel, who had no involvement in the administration's controversial handling of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy is Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed, is being used as a pawn in the GOP's rapacious quest for "answers" on the terrorist attack.  This malicious, spiteful, defamation of Hagel's character has less to do with his overall qualifications than it does Republicans simply acting like a bunch of nasty dicks because they can.

But after all the vituperative crowing and chest-thumping is over, Hagel's nomination will likely pass, but not before more taxpayer time and money is wasted and voters' approval of Congress sinks lower than McCain's trumped-up standards. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Have Marco Rubio's Presidential Hopes Drowned with that Water Bottle?

Well, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy, right? There he was, Marco Rubio, the Republican Party's boy wonder and Great Latin Hope, imploding right before the nation's very eyes as he gave the GOP's rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

To be sure, the words Poland Spring will never be the same again to Rubio. In what has become his very own bizarro Bobby Jindal moment, Rubio will be remembered not the way he hoped--for a searing, provocative response to Obama's big government expansion speech--but rather for a humiliatingly awkward episode with a very little water bottle.

Plagued by an obvious case of cottonmouth, and in the middle of an attack on Obama's "false choices," Rubio suddenly and quickly bent down, leaned to his left and desperately reached for the  bottle all the while strangely darting his eyes back and forth between the bottle and the camera (like he was hastily picking up his dry-cleaning while eyeing his double-parked car). After an awkward gulp and swish, you could almost hear the stampede of big donors running for the door. You may recall how Jindal, in his 2009 State of the Union rebuttal, swiftly killed his own presidential buzz with one of the most forced, awkward deliveries in the history of politics. 

Rubio attempted damage control Wednesday morning, poking fun at himself on ABC's Good Morning America. “I needed water, what am I going to do? God has a funny way of reminding us we’re human." Well, if this is God's way of looking out for Rubio I'd suggest he try Atheism.

But let's not give Poland Spring all the credit here. Rubio's stilted, robotic manner and uber-boyish appearance did little to boost his presidential capital. BottleGate simply put a punctuation on these weaknesses.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Karl Rove's Back and He's Pissed!

Gentlemen...let the civil war begin! Karl Rove, the former Bush operative-turned-superPACman, is creating a veritable shitstorm in the Republican Party with his new Conservative Victory Project, an offshoot of his American Crossroads super PAC. The project is squarely taking aim at the Senate, vowing to support conservative candidates it deems more electable in an effort to win back GOP control.  It's the establishment crazies versus the Tea Party crazies. What could be more fun for a raging lib than to see right-wingers eating their own?

You have to admire Rove. After getting his ass pummeled in the 2012 election dispensing hundreds of millions of big-donor bucks to Mitt "Remember Me?" Romney and countless House and Senate hopefuls--with an ROI so low it's unfathomable how he could raise another nickel--he's back trying to steer the party's future once again.

"Hello, I'm Karl Rove, the guy who almost single-handedly destroyed the modern Republican Party with my devious, race-baiting, vitriolic, polarizing antics. And now that the party's lying in a pile of obliterated rubble, who's better to straighten out this clusterfuck than the guy responsible for it?!

The guy who put the crazy in GOP crazy has now decided the GOP's too crazy to win elections anymore. Enter the Conservative Victory Project, which believes candidates who more resemble ousted moderates like Richard Lugar (IN) and Bob Bennett (UT) are the future saviors of the party. It's back to old school for Rove.

Perhaps Rove's right this time, and the Tea Party wackos must go if the current irrelevant rape-obsessed, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-science Republican Party is to ever become relevant again. But the biggest question is, does anyone give a shit what Karl Rove has to say anymore?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Gay Boy Scouts: What Are Conservatives So Afraid Of?

Here's the thing that I find fascinating about conservatives: they think that simply banning the things that terrify them actually make them go away. Of course, logic and reality dictate otherwise. This phenomenon is most prevalent when the subject is homosexuality...be it relating to gay marriage, gays in the military or gays in the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America this week announced that it's delaying until may a decision on whether to lift its ban of gay scouts or scout leaders. This comes on the heels of recent buzz that the organization was very close to ending the ban as early as this week.  As expected, the specter of such a decision has been met with intense opposition, rooted in a frustrating and unsurprising cocktail of ignorance, intolerance and religious fanaticism.

So let's get right to the chase then. Banning gays from the Boy Scouts doesn't mean there'll be no gays in the Boy Scouts. Just like there's no way for conservatives to keep gays out of the military (fighting for your freedom), the schools (teaching your kids), hospitals (keeping you healthy/alive), politics (making your laws), police and fire stations (keeping you safe), television and film (entertaining you) and yes, your beloved sports teams (fueling your machismo). All a ban does is give these narrow-minded fools a false sense of security: "if I don't actually see gays then they're not there, right!?"

Get over yourselves already. It's 2013. It's time to stop the discrimination.