Friday, March 12, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) iPad pre-orders opened today. Yes, I ordered mine, despite the misgivings some have expressed.
2) Things are heating up in Israel and the West Bank. Three words: Stop. The. Settlements. The US cannot afford to get involved in a conflict between the Israelis and the Arab World. Or can we? One way to grow out of a recession is to launch ha full-scale war. This has to be among the options being weighed.
3) There's a serious problem in this nation: only 20% or so of people of college age currently will ever graduate from college. This will help improve that number, but not by much. The highest that rate has been in this country is 30%. That's pathetic for a nation where you allegedly have opportunity.
4) It saddens me that it took nearly ten years to decide to do the right thing by first responders at Ground Zero. That's shameful in a nation that, for eight years, was touted by the previous administration to have robust growth.
5) Great choices all, Mr. President!
6) There's a great six part series on on an international crisis I bet you never even knew existed.
7) A little sour lemon with your Teabagging, sir? I wondered how much longer the ridiculous TeaBaggers movement could avoid dealing with the Jesus freaks. Get the popcorn, Mother!
8) The competitors in the 2010 NCAA college basketball tournament will be picked this weekend. My Cinderella pick this year is West Virginia, who I think will surprise a lot of people with how deep they get in the tournament.
9) Wolves eat teacher. That will become, unfortunately, a more common headline.
10) Facebook punked out, probably because Glenn Beck cried.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Diversion From My Usual Rantings

Normally, I'll ignore some dumb celebrity's tragedy because a) other people are more interested in it than I and therefore will be either more informative or more entertaining and b) I really, truly, honestly could not care less.
Something about Corey Haim's story resonates with me, however.
I think this story of a child star gone and stayed bad is one that highlights a really despicable part of the business: the way this supposedly "liberal" industry chews up and spits out people.
Mostly actors, of course, but also directors, writers, crew, administrative people and so on.
One of the big reasons I never even tried to become famous was I saw the price fame demanded back in friends who have made it. You lose your soul. You become this 24/7 publicity machine, simultaneously trying to promote yourself (which I find odious enough) while trying to promote a thing, a movie, a film studio, a production company, a director (OK, not so much a thing, but an externality).
Why? That's the deal you make with the devil. One hand washes the other, but neither hand really wants to wipe your ass. So long as you keep scrubbing, you'll get scrubbed and thus have the delusion of keeping clean. So long as you make money, in other words, for the product, you'll be treated like someone.
"I cudda bin a contendah, I cudda bin SOMEbody!" There's not a lot of difference between a prize fighter who throws a fight and an actor who does it for the money. Eventually, you'll be asked to go in the tank for someone else.
This is, where I think, Hollywood gets out of hand and invasive. The lure of stardom, of easy money, is powerful. The studios know this and so can let you peek thru the keyhole if you have even the slightest bit of marketability (talent never comes into it. Never.) but to get the door open, you have to know the Wizard and the only way to know the Wizard is to sell yourself out.
Acting is not hard work.
No, let me rephrase that: most of the acting you see on TV or in movies is not hard work. It should be hard work, but we've settled on a system where the ad campaign will draw people to the box office to see pretty people in extraordinary circumstances and hopefully, they'll feel good enough about what they're shown to tell other people about the movie. This kind of acting, shallow, superficial, cartoonish, that's easay work. Stand on your mark, deliver your lines, and if you're supposed to be funny, you might get a laugh.
The hard work of acting, the painful work, is divesting yourself of your ego and presenting a portrayal of a real person, fleshed out from your own experiences and therefore living your pain. You present your reality through this character by living his life.
That. Hurts.
One of my favorite actresses (you've probably never heard the name, I bet, so I won't embarass her) is also one of my favorite people on the planet. I've worked with her. I've seen the work she puts into a character. She appeared in a trilogy of blockbuster films...which is clue enough. She created a very real character, one who appears on screen and you can pretty much instantly identify her story.
So real, in fact, that I had to be told it was her doing the role. I didn't recognize her, didn't even know she was in the first film until I got an email from my acting teacher.  Oddly enough, she has her life together. Maybe she's a bit neurotic, but you know what? She's one of the most grounded people I know and she's 20 years younger than me. Women my age aren't as put together as she is.
Now, I've never seen a Corey Haim film. I can only presume that he was one of the basically interchangeable actors of the 80s and 90s, pretty faces who could barely recite a line, but was sooooooooo cute they ended up with a teeny bopper fan club. I mean, I've seen Corey Feldman in movies, and I know he's for shit and since they are pretty much equivalent, I can surmise Haim was about that level.
So how does a human being reconcile being bad at what they do with the stardom that is thrust upon them because they were in a cult classic (like Lost Boys) or a teen exploitation film (like License To Drive), both of which earned gobs of money for the studio? How do you go through life knowing that Jason Patrick or Anthony Michael Hall could replace you at a moment's notice in any film and probably do a better job?
In other words, how stressful is your life knowing you're walking a tightrope that only you can walk and the rope is fraying?
The studio system in America sucks dogtails, but worse than that is the damage it causes to people who work in it. Now add to that the fact that most actors start out in the business fresh out of school, because God forbid we have a real movie system that portrays real life situations and drama that involve an ounce of physical maturity, and you have a recipe for repeating disasters. Like Corey Haim. Like Heath Ledger. Like...well, name five actors who died last year of anything other than old age, and I'd bet at least two fit this description.
Sad. Really.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So, I Took A Night Off...

...and went to Nerdstock last night.
There's been a theme running around my mind, and apparently other people's minds, about the psychologic future of America and Americans (read the comments in the thread in particular).
Mourning has come to America. The instillation of fear by the right wing (and by some on the left) is complete. We seem paralyzed.
Barack Obama's election was supposed to be about hope and change, but the GOP marched in opposition, and threw all their considerable financial weight behind the astroturfed TeaBaggers, and succeeded in punching holes in that optimism, at least for now and at least to enough of an extent that it has become a narrative in the Mainstream Media.
How does this tie into Nerdstock? The lecturers at this event, Drs. Joseph LeDoux and Daniela Schiller, lectured about fear: how it works in and on our brains, the psychochemical processes, and more important, how experiments have dictated a new way to overcome fear.
The lectures, while generally at the lay level, got a little technical even for my massive manly brain-the-size-of-a-planet, but I can boil out a few bromides (err, no pun intended):
1) Fear is instantaneous learning. Evolution dictates that the engagement of the amygdala (the brain's center of fear) bypasses rational thought and creates an immediate and immediately learned response to fear. You can't afford to get it wrong a second time.
2) Fear is very hard to unlearn. It takes only one event, say a terror attack, to learn fear. It takes any number of similar contextual stimuli without the fear-inducing event for the body to relax (the classic Pavlovian experiment where a rat is shocked when it hears a tone, and then hears the tone without shock: it still responds to the shock and it takes many repetitions to minimize the reaction).
3) Fear is usually controlled with medications: serotonin or Valium, as examples.
4) The research that the doctors performed suggests that another, more effective and less pharmaceutical therapy might be to replace the stimulus/response with another similar stimulus/response mechanism, but this time, one that will have less impact on the individual's daily life.
A click went off in my head as I listened. If the right-wing is instilling fear, and that fear is intrasigent in the American psyche then the only way, short of dumping a boatload of LSD (which short-circuits the amygdala) into the water supply is to replace that fear with another, equally fearsome boogieman.
Right now, the object of fear is Barack Obama, who represents the left and all that is wrong with the left wing in America: socialist, unAmerican, minority. All the things that play right into the fear response of middle Americans.
What we need to do is to pair Obama in the minds of these low-normals with another object of fear, and let that object gradually draw the fear away from Obama to itself.
What we need, in other words, is something the right wing could truly be afraid of, thus framing Obama as a more moderate and therefore more acceptable choice. We need a sacrificial lamb to run a left-wing opposition to Obama's policies and to be taken seriously.
But who?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Here's To Women

Much can be said about the role of women in the world but I think the overriding point to note is that, as the majority gender on the planet, women deserve a larger voice in the way things ought to be.
It seems that when women run a country, it seems to be run just a little more equivalently. There are exceptions of course...Maggie Thatcher springs to mind...but those exceptions seem to be mostly influenced by hard-line autocratic political machinery rather than a woman's passion and dedication.
Given what a woman has to go through in order to be heard even on a local level, it seems to me that successful women have what we Finns call sisu, or a stick-to-it-tiveness that eventually melts opposition away.
And that's unhealthy. Opponents should be swayed by argument and logic, not by "Here, let her have what she wants."
Indeed, part of the conservative backlash in this nation is the self-perception on the part of conservative men that they've "given in," which allows them the illusion that their arguments were petty, weak, and wrong-headed. It's not the argument that's wrong, the logic goes, but the arguer who was weak.
Which is why stupid ideas like "tax cuts = wealth for all" still hang around despite thirty years of facts and evidence compiled against them. Worse, there's an element of fear, of loss of control, influence and entitlement that makes conservative men (and their chattel, conservative women) into mindless automatons unwilling to listen to new ideas that mean progress.
We liberals are sort of stuck with this, and praise the Lord for that. I'd rather be on the front end of where the world is headed than on the ass end: the view is better and it smells infinitely preferable.
Here's to women. Long may they reign.