1/31/2004 04:31:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Political bloggers have been called upon to disclose their voting preferences, and I, on the off chance that anyone is reading this, shall comply.
I intend to strategically vote in the IL primary in the unlikely event that it ends up mattering. I have been a Dean supporter since he announced, basically, but I really can't envision a scenario where he ends up with the nomination, so if my primary vote matters, I will be punching the card for whoever is the more viable candidate between Edwards or Clark. Obviously, I'm not a huge John Kerry fan, but I would have no problem supporting him (or Lieberman, Allah forbid) in the general election over Bush.|W|P|107554510794320085|W|P|full disclosure|W|P|1/27/2004 09:40:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|I'm going to start a new religion so that I can declare that Lent begins tonight so that I can give up predicting anything for 40 days.|W|P|107526144652840065|W|P|ugh|W|P|1/27/2004 03:01:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Purely for recreational purposes, of course.
Kerry wins a tight one over Dean, with Edwards a pretty strong third and Clark a somewhat disappointing fourth.
I don't hate Lieberman with the intensity that a lot of liberals do, but I'll be glad to see him go.
Picture: I like Return of the King, Mystic River, Cold Mountain, Lost In Translation and...ummm...In America.
Director: Peter Jackson (ROTK), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River) and Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation) are the relative locks. The Director's Guild always throws a few curveballs, so how about Robert Altman (The Company) and Gus Van Sant (Elephant)
Actor: Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Johnny Depp, Ben Kinglsey and Jack Black
Actress: Charlize Theron, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Evan Rachel Wood
Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Albert Finney, Alec Baldwin, Peter Saarsgaard, Sean Astin
Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson, Patricia Clarkson, Hope Davis, Keisha Castle-Hughes
Original Screenplay: Lost In Translation, 21 Grams, In America, Love Actually, Anything Else
Adapted Screenplay: Cold Mountain, LOTR: ROTK, Seabiscuit, Mystic River, American Splendor
|W|P|107519581542848008|W|P|calling my shot, vol. 3|W|P|1/26/2004 10:39:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|read now.|W|P|107517840349169215|W|P|hella funny|W|P|1/25/2004 06:14:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|...historical parallels (in the context of judging the strength of a presidential campaign) are just plain stupid. Baseball stat-heads talk about the importance of "sample size" when evaluating performance...that is, you can't tell how good a player is by his performance in 1, 5 or even 10 or 20 games.
We're in the midst of the 10th presidential election since 1964. That's way too small of a sample size to judge the relative importance of any one factor.|W|P|107503345467065935|W|P|on second thought...|W|P|1/25/2004 05:50:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Just a quick thought. Fifteen minutes ago's chic historical parallel was Dean=McGovern, which was silly, of course, but such are the ways of historical parallels.
Try this one on for size: it's 1984 all over again. Kerry is Mondale, the obvious, anointed (and dull) frontrunner. Edwards is Hart, the youthful-seeming guy with sometimes-vague "new ideas." Dean is Jesse Jackson, giving a coronary to the party leadership but without a credible shot at winning the whole thing. Clark is John Glenn--perfect resume, disappointing results.
We shall see.|W|P|107503197823033537|W|P|dubious historical parallels ahoy|W|P|1/24/2004 12:45:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|If nitrogen was tiny spiders you'd be really unhappy until you died.|W|P|107492680808837880|W|P|just so you know|W|P|1/23/2004 08:18:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Looks like Dean's numbers are on the uptick again in New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Edwards and Kerry have come out of nowhere to be competitive in the latest poll in Oklahoma, but Clark still leads the field there.
My "Immunity Challenge" hypothesis argues that the press (for economic and narrative reasons) really wants to cut the field down to three, but so far, the numbers ain't cooperating. If Dean ends up with a solid second-place finish in New Hampshire, none of the four serious candidates has a good reason to back down: Kerry is the presumptive winner of NH, Dean will have won back his luster, and Edwards and Clark are strong in a number of Feb 3 states.
The only candidate likely to be out of the picture after New Hampshire is Lieberman, whose campaign has been a flop from the start.
On the other hand, you can probably stick a fork in Howard Dean if he screws up again between now and Tuesday and finishes a weak third or fourth.|W|P|107491217662613973|W|P|second thoughts on immunity|W|P|1/23/2004 02:39:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Maybe I need to not be following politics right now. The superficial nature of the process is really starting to get to me.
The entire system is a pitiless machine designed to wear down grown men who are (pace our present president) reasonably bright fellows and transform them into a palatable, content-free mush.
The history of presidential politics is littered with people who lost out because of their one moment of deviation from the narrow path of behavior circularlly defined as "unpresidential." (Circular? Yeah. Presidential behavior is behavior that's not unpresidential, and vice versa.)
Think Romney saying he was "brainwashed" w/r/t Vietnam.
Think Muskie crying (or "crying") over scurrilous attacks on his wife.
Think Mondale saying that he would raise taxes.
Think McCain saying that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are a drag on the Republican Party.
All of them got carved to smithereens for their tactical foolishness. All of them have gone down in politics-junkie lore as the worst gaffes ever. All of them are cautionary tales which draw the lines beyond which candidates dare not pass.
Oh yeah, and all of them were right and all of them would have made better presidents than the dildos that were elected those years.
The presidential selection process seems to consist of little more than constantly needling the candidates until one of them acts like any normal human being who's being constantly needled would react, throwing him on the scrap pile, and then repeating the process until we end up with the one who has not yet demonstrated any visible human characteristics.
The lack of flaws is itself a flaw.
Judging a presidential candidate by his ability to do and say exactly what convention compels him to do or say leaves you with a field full of goodie-dispensing robots. (Convention compels you to give the people what they want, which is "everything without having to pay for it.") That's what you want, fine. But don't come whining to me when you get two candidates who live in such utter fear of saying something real that they never say anything at all.
This is not to say that I believe the canard that "there's no difference between the two major parties," as Ralph Nader liked to say. Far from it. The truth is that this inability to critically evaluate a candidate above and beyond his superficial adherence to convention means that the voting decisions we do make are based on junk information.
One of the reasons I've been looking forward to this election for months is because I (naively?) hoped that it would be a decisive up-down/yes-no vote on the direction the country has taken for the last four years. What troubles me about the seeming voter preference for Kerry and Edwards over Dean and Clark is not so much the differences on the issues (which are minor, except as regards the Damn Fool War), but rather the flight to the "nicest" candidates in the hopper--that is to say, the candidates that upset us the least--that is to say, the candidates least likely to tell us "no."
"No" is a good platform this year. George W. Bush is the ultimate "yes" president--yes, you can have a huge-ass tax cut from now until the end of time, and yes, you can have a war, and yes, you can have all these neat-sounding social programs, and yes we can fly to the moon or Mars or whatever space-nerd whack-off fantasy is this week's Big Idea, and none of this costs anyone anything, because it's all on DeficitCard!
Even his seeming "no" moments are fake ones: he's tough on (e.g.) the horrible threat of gay marriage because a) it keeps his mouth-breather constituency angry about something, b) it appeals to the majority of people who want to pretend that there's no such thing as gay, c) it doesn't really offend gay Republicans, who have obviously (and correctly) determined that all of this "family values" talk is just a bone thrown to far-right airheads who don't have the brains to realize they're being manipulated.
A Democratic candidate who sent shockwaves through the system by refusing to go along with this charade would have a shot at making people choose between an honest path of living within our means and The Way of the Wimp.
Sure, we'd probably lose. But we're probably going to lose, anyway. Better an honorable defeat than a sniveling, bootlicking one.|W|P|107485263086828171|W|P|stream of consciousness, vol. 1|W|P|1/22/2004 12:35:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|If there's one thing more irritating that pop-culture metaphors in political analysis, it's pop-culture metaphors from people who aren't familiar with the pop-cultural phenomena they're referencing. And yet, I feel a compulsion to do exactly that here. So, fair warning: I've never actually watched an episode of Survivor in my life.
That having been said, doesn't the presidential primary system seem like the "immunity challenge" rules on that show? After Iowa, Gephardt has dropped out, and Edwards and Kerry (by virtue of the radiant glow of "winner-dom") get a free pass no matter how things shape up next week.
Here's the deal: the cost of news-gathering goes way up after New Hampshire. There's only a limited amount of time the presidential campaign is going to get, and only a limited number of news crews to follow each campaign as they hustle for votes in seven or so different states. So someone's likely to get anointed a loser after New Hampshire--though they're free to keep campaigning, they'll be shunted into the hellish pool of "marginal candidates" like Lieberman and Sharpton if they do.
But that eliminated person won't be the Iowa winners, Kerry and Edwards. They have been immunized--Kerry by his big win in Iowa and Edwards by a surprise second place and a consensus that he'll be stronger in the southern and pseudo-southern states coming up.
Therefore, New Hampshire will be Thunderdome for Dean and Clark. Two men enter, one man leaves.|W|P|107475624919215155|W|P|immunity|W|P|1/21/2004 10:42:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|So. Monday night, the Iowa results come out and I look like an ass yet again, because my best guess coming in was a close finish that went Gep-Dean-Edwards-Kerry, and it ends up being Kerry-Edwards-Dean-Gep with a massive gap between each candidate.
Years ago, my family used to have an annual Oscar prediction contest, and I would do well, but I'd typically lose to my dad. Why? Because I had this nasty habit of actually seeing some of the movies beforehand and thus I was tainted by my own rooting interests. (This is actually still a problem; I'm occasionally reduced to apoplexy because a brilliant movie like Lost In Translation is a scrappy underdog that'll be lucky to get nominated for things, while a good but not great flick like Return of the King is the hands-down favorite.)
So, my perception of events was pretty heavily colored by the fact that I've been a Dean guy for months. As a result: I'm bummed.
Doubly bummed by the fact that the winner's stump speech just simply sucked the air out of the room. I don't so much mind his politics, but it's clear that Mr. Kerry is, Jah love him, an android. I've been told that he has a good one-on-one debating mojo hand, but I'll have to see that to believe it. I'm still waiting to be sold on this guy. For the life of me, I can't see what anyone else (let alone 38% of Iowa caucusgoers) see in the sumbitch.
Trebly bummed to hear the deafening chorus of tut-tuts from pundits after Dean's high-decibel non-concession speech. Said speech was, admittedly, a bit unhinged, but you don't fire up the troops with mumbled platitudes, and you don't declare a campaign this well-organized and this well-funded dead after Iowa.
I accidentally watched the State of the Union address, which did very little to improve my mood. The speech was a pathetic agglomeration of empty promises, frontal assaults on straw men, squirmy equivocal lawyer language (viz. "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities," a phrase which needs to be thrown back in that man's face a hundred times a day from now until November), and a deficit-funded bonanza for EVERYONE, responsibility to future generations be damned. Bummer.
The opposition response to the SOTU is always fairly lame, but this particular one didn't even live up to its typical weak standards. Nancy Pelosi, I'm sure, is a great person and a heck of a representative and probably even a good minority leader, but damn was that a bad job of public speaking. When you're demonstrably worse than George W. Bush in your rhetorical skills, questions need to be asked. Daschle was merely bland instead of cringeworthy, but by that point the bad taste was already in my mouth. Isn't there anyone in this party with some pep?|W|P|107474978704335877|W|P|basically a long string of bummers|W|P|1/19/2004 12:16:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Seen just now: the single most baffling copy I've ever read on a banner ad:
"Get Britney at Sbarro!"|W|P|107453617101153385|W|P|offered with no particular comment|W|P|1/19/2004 09:03:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Amusement!|W|P|107452461788344926|W|P|tom|W|P|1/19/2004 06:26:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Anybody who says that they know how tonight's Iowa Caucus is going to turn out is full of it.
A new poll has the race Kerry-Edwards-Dean-Gephardt, which is stunning to arrogant, lazy commentators (such as yours truly) who bought into the media orthodoxy that Iowa was Gephardt's to lose, and then the subsequent orthodoxy that Dean had it in the bag, and then the subsequent orthodoxy that it would be a two-horse race between the two of them.
But never mind that. Here's the real truth about Iowa: The polls don't necessarily account for the oddball nature of the caucus process, so it's tough to make a solid prediction. What's more, the TV and print reports of Iowa are going to report the results as a vote-count, as if it were a primary. (It isn't.)
The fact is, unless the polls are way off, the numerical results we get tonight are going to be almost totally inconsequential in real terms--the difference between "first place" and "fourth place" is a few more or less delegates to the Iowa state convention that will end up unanimously voting for whoever ends up surviving the primary marathon, anyway.
The real Iowa caucus results that TV news guys and political junkies will be salivating over tonight are a purely invented narrative. Success or failure will come not from the number of votes a candidate gets, but how tonight's results will be framed by the news media. Since those results are likely to be for all intents and purposes a four-way tie, the real Iowa story will only be comprehensible in the context of the expectations observers have had for months at a time, and never you mind the fact that those expectations have been based on guesswork, dubious historical parallels, and polling of people who are speaking from positions of almost complete ignorance. (Up until a couple of weeks ago, it's safe to assume that most Iowans, like most Americans in general, knew almost nothing about the candidates.) Furthermore, the primary effect of this story will be to change the expectations that we will use to frame future inconclusive results.
In short, news commentators will be reporting tonight about how an inconclusive vote total will affect how news commentators will be reporting in the future, and if that isn't the definition of a non-event, I dunno what is.
(Not that I won't be watching, mind you.)
Anyway, my point is that (barring a wildly unexpected result), Dean and Gephardt have already lost, and Edwards and Kerry have already won, even if Dean and Gephardt finish 1-2 or 2-1 in the vote tally.|W|P|107451521228002570|W|P|iowa|W|P|1/17/2004 09:19:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|OK, so the joke is this:
Q: How many indie rock fans does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You don't know?
(maybe you had to be there.)
It popped in my head when I was off on my rant about the Slate/MoveOn article below, but I didn't want to lengthen that post any more than it already with a tangent about a tossed-off line in the review, but I'd hate to spoil perfectly good ruminations by not posting them at all.
Anyway, in the article, the critic rhetorically asked if the MoveOn grass-roots people wouldn't prefer something with a more rough-edged and less mainstream approach to its subject, leading up to praise of a spot whose production values are "indie," which he didn't exactly mean as high praise, but it's definitely something which would presumably appeal to those nasally-pierced loons at MoveOn.
Depending on your definitions, some of the movies and music I like are "indie," but a big part of the problem with nailing down the exact extent to which that's true depends on coming up with a useful definiton. And that's hard.
Is "indie" a business category? That is to say, can it be defined as mass-cultural art forms (like movies and music) which are underwritten by companies independent of the large conglomerates that control most of the industry's market share? Not very well. Most "indie" production companies are still dependent on those self-same conglomerates for distribution, and a fair number of them are nothing more than semi-autonomous tiny divisions of big studios or record companies.
Also, what about Miramax? Back when The English Patient was inexplicably winning the Best Picture Oscar, people were talking about how it was the "Year of the Independent" because four of the five nominees were supposedly indie films from indie studios like Miramax. How silly does that seem in retrospect? Setting aside the obvious links Miramax had (has?) with Disney, the fact is that Miramax had arguably been a pretty "major" studio for several years before 1997, and certainly has become one since then.
What Miramax did in the 1990s is simple: they took advantage of an inefficency in the market. Studios were overpaying for potential blockbusters, despite the fact that there's a finite number of good scripts in the market in a given year and a finite number of bankable actors to create the huge opening weekends that Hollywood types obsess over. By taking advantage of the cheap cost of producing other (underexploited) genres, they were able to bank consistent but not spectacular profits, which add up.
Miramax, in other words, is the Oakland A's of movies. But that doesn't make them an independent, any more than signing Scott Hatteberg instead of Jason Giambi makes the A's minor league.
Is "indie" a style? Not hardly. What does Mogwai have in common with Guided By Voices? What does Resevoir Dogs have to do with Secrets and Lies? Part of what attracts people to "indie" in the first place is the fact that "indie" films and music represent a much wider spectrum of stylistic elements and genres than the "mainstream" does.
Is "indie" a way of relating to the audience? This gets closer to the mark, perhaps. William Goldman once wrote that Hollywood films reinforce while "art" films challenge. More broadly, the purpose of mainstream entertainment is to make the audience feel that the world is as they want it to be, and "indie" is defined as that which leaves us feeling unsettled and unresolved. I think that's a true and useful distinction between two classes of entertainments, but I'm not sure those classes dovetail with what we call "indie" and "mainstream." Take a relentlessly crowd-pleasing fairy-tale like the movie Swingers--like many (most?) indie flicks, it's very much the product of an author's mind as opposed to a committee process, and that's a major source of its appeal. And yet, nothing about it does the first damn thing to challenge our preconceived notions of what we want out of the story.
Is "indie" a mark of quality or intelligence? Scheeya, right. There's a lot of crap out there, including high-toned, low-budget crap. Never forget this fact.
Rather than continuing to flog this horse, let us simply state that though indie-ness is a rather nebulous category, it's the Potter Stewart-ish kind of nebulousness where even though you can't define it, you know it when you see it, rather than the sort of nebulous things that are nebulous because they might not actually exist. Having done so, the proper follow-up question (I think) is, what is indie-ness good for, anyway?
Indie entertainment shows the power of low expectations. When it costs a relatively tiny amount to produce a movie or a record, you don't have to appeal to everybody and their mother to make your nut. This lowers the barriers to entry to such an extent that crazy bombthrowers, people who laugh at convention, can have a shot at revolutionizing the medium. If they fail, enh, who cares, the film cost $200,000 or the record cost $20,000. When you can only recoup your losses by selling millions of tickets or CDs, you've got to be cautious and give the people exactly what they pay for.
Another advantage of indie-ness is really more of a matter of perception. Say there's 40 big budget Hollywood flicks a year at your local Hell Plaza Octoplex, and you end up liking three of them, and there's 30 smaller indie flicks that make it to your local "art theater," and you end up liking seven of them. You might conclude from this that you have a much better chance of liking any one random "indie" movie than any one random "blockbuster."
But bear in mind that there are thousands of movies made each year, and most of them are pretentious, inscrutable or unwatchable crap, far too amateurish or insane for even the "art theater." If you're not a crazed cinephile but you're willing to step a bit outside of the mainstream, the "indie" movies you will have a chance to see have already been specially chosen because they appeal to people like you. Percentage-wise, if you're like most people, you're more likely to be entertained by the median Hollywood film than the median piece of independent cinema.
The third advantage of indie-ness is related to the notion above that Hollywood reinforces while "art" challenges. Mainstream pop culture offers a non-stop stream of vicarious experiences, which is great and fun and even necessary at times, but it doesn't match the intellectual stimulation of a good exploration of the dark corners of the human psyche. Look at the "reading group guide" you sometimes find in the back of middlebrow trade paperbacks of the Oprah stripe. A lifetime of experiencing art that reinforces rather than challenges leaves people underequipped to think about any work of art beyond the level of "What would you do in this situation if you were Atticus Finch?"
Consider a classic "Hollywood" film like Casablanca vs. a classic "art" film like Citizen Kane. When you watch Casablanca, you want to be Rick, because Rick is cool. He's got the situation under control the whole time. Yes, things end on a bittersweet note for him, but accepting that pain for a nobler cause is part of what makes him so damn cool. The whole thing is an exercise in wish-fufillment for us all. On the other hand, we may be taken along for the ride as we experience Charles Foster Kane's life, but we rarely experience a moment of simple giddy thrill in Citizen Kane, in part because you know life's going to turn out to be painful and unfulfilling for him, and not for any one simple reason, either--it's not a morality play where you can say "if only he had done that one thing differently..."
Both are great movies, but which one tells you more about how squalid, boring old life really works? "Indie" art is a reflection of the difficulties of our own existence.
So here's the problem with a notion of an "indie" political advertisement. The very medium demands a narrative which casts the candidate as a heroic
figure struggling against the evil forces of (insert despised "special interest" here), and they invite the audience to vicariously join the fight by casting their vote. Political TV ads can have all the artfully shaky hand-held camera work in the world, but they can't authentically reproduce the "indie" experience.
|W|P|107434528161464998|W|P|indie|W|P|1/15/2004 01:58:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|According to tracking polls in Iowa conducted on 1/11-1/13, Dean, Gephardt and Kerry are all in that dreaded "statistical dead heat" thanks to a late surge by Kerry. Dean's numbers in New Hampshire seem to be softening a bit, as well, though that could easily be sampling anomalies.
Also, the DC "primary" results showed a relatively unimpressive win for Dean over Sharpton: 43-34, with Braun (who's apparently on the verge of quitting the race) and Kucinich way the hell back.
Any one of these alone is a rather silly basis for concern. All three together is worrying, however.
I'm concerned that Dean may have hit the upper bound of his support in IA and NH, and I'm concerned that disillusionment is setting in in the ranks of the faithful everywhere. For a campaign whose success is supposedly contingent on winning the early knockout, it's an odd time to slack: tiny turnout at the DC primary combined with a vote-total percentage that's lagging behind predictions leads me to question the committment of the Dean people. Where's the show of strength? Where's the shock and awe?
I'm standing by my prediction--Dean will win Iowa, and Edwards will take third. But I'm less than totally confident about both calls--esp. Edwards.|W|P|107415496311476553|W|P|slippage?|W|P|1/15/2004 12:59:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Condensed Return of the King|W|P|107415002911108287|W|P|funny|W|P|1/14/2004 09:33:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Baseball Predictions:
NL EAST: 1. Florida 2. Philadelphia 3. Atlanta 4. New York 5. Montreal
NL CENTRAL: 1. Houston 2. Chicago (wild card) 3. St. Louis 4. Milwaukee 5. Pittsburgh 6. Cincinnati
NL WEST: 1. San Francisco 2. San Diego 3. Arizona 4. Los Angeles 5. Colorado
AL EAST: 1. Boston 2. New York 3. Toronto 4. Baltimore 5. Tampa Bay
AL CENTRAL: 1. Kansas City 2. Minnesota 3. Chicago 4. Cleveland 5. Detroit
AL WEST: 1. Oakland 2. Anaheim (wild card) 3. Texas 4. Seattle
NL Playoffs: Chicago over Florida, San Francisco over Houston, Chicago over San Francisco
AL Playoffs: Boston over Anaheim, Oakland over Kansas City, Boston over Oakland
World Series: Chicago over Boston
(a boy can dream, can't he?)|W|P|107413802702363353|W|P|calling my shot, vol. 2|W|P|1/14/2004 03:58:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|So, apparently, the MoveOn ad that I liked won.
And this guy hated it.
Hmm. He is free, this being land of the same, to feel that way. But I think his critique is misguided on several counts:
1. He says that "Child's Pay" is the ad "that most looks like it was dreamed up and executed by the Democratic National Committee," which leads me to wonder what kind of political ads he's seeing where he lives, because the ones I see are almost uniformly crappy. Sure, some production effort goes into the glossy biographical ads, but negative advertising almost inevitably features rock-bottom production values and a sledgehammer's lack of subtlety due to the fact that these ads have to leave no one in the audience mystified by their message.
(Well, virtually no one. In your typical negative spot, you have fifteen seconds of black and white photographs of Bill Doberman accompanied by ominous industrial thrum and a scratchy-voiced announcer snarling things like "Bill Doberman wants to SLASH your Medicare coverage," followed by fifteen seconds of color video of Bob Forehead frolicking with his kids and hugging old people while the announcer (who seems to have popped a cough drop in the meantime) says things like "Leadership you can trust. Caring you can depend on," and you know damn well that there's still some dipshit scratching his head because he's not sure who that there commercial was for--it was showing pictures of the one guy for a while, but then they started talking about the other guy! Day-um!)
Anyway, if you ask me, the big difference between "Child's Pay" and the typical negative political ad is its willingness to not shout its message at the top of its lungs for fear of losing the leftmost 10-25% of the IQ bell curve. Typical political advertising dogma seems to be "Restate the point, verbally or visually, at least every five seconds." The twenty-five or so seconds it takes to get the punchline in "Child's Pay" is a relative eternity. Stevenson criticizes this fact on grounds of message clarity, which brings me to point number
2. Specifically, Stevenson says "When this actually airs on television, I'm not sure how effective it will be with the audience...Only at the end do we get the punch line, and even then it leaves us a little puzzled."
I say that this puzzlement is "Child's Pay's" greatest strength.
Picture, if you will, local TV ads for car dealerships, or mom n' pop muffler and brake places, or the sort of store at which you buy jewelry for people you feel mirthlessly obligated to buy jewelry for--the sort of ads that look like they cost less than $500 to produce and feature either a) the owner of the company, or b) his 23-year-old niece, who he falsely believes to be an attractive spokesperson, or c) the least distinguished member of your local NFL team's secondary or offensive line.
Can you picture this ad? Good.
The business in question no doubt features quality selection, at low prices, and great people. And the ad no doubt tells you so. Why? Because they all do, dammit. Absolutely nothing distinguishes one message from another.
A majority of living Americans cannot remember a time before TV, and people below the age of, say, thirty, cannot imagine a world that's not saturated with it. We've grown up parsing TV commercials our whole lives, and we have a not-unrealistic expectation that people who try to sell us things should provide some sort of entertainment or stimulation in exchange for thirty seconds of our rapt attention. Ads that fail to do this drift into the background noise of chirpy nieces and mumbly strong safeties selling no-frills auto insurance.
All of which brings me back to my point about "Child's Pay." I can't see how Stevenson can simultaneously claim that it's the most conventional-looking ad while complaining about the unconventional presentation of its central idea. It's either different, or it isn't. I say that it's different, and in a good way--it makes an unconventional pitch to the media-saturated masses for whom the classic (read: safe, boring) form of TV ads has become just another thing to ignore.
The problem used to be: how do we get a message across that virtually no one will miss the point of? The solution used to be that old sledgehammer-to-the-forebrain subtlety-free approach. Now, the problem is: how do you reach the most people when any approach cuts out a huge percentage of your audience? I say, better to aim high and miss than to resort to techniques so old that even the parodies of them on Saturday Night Live have become clich?s.
3. Stevenson missteps in imputing attitudes to the "MoveOn crowd" that rather simplifies the sort of people involved with this sort of organization. The galling thing is that conclusive evidence to the contrary does not dissuade him of the essential excellence of his assessment. Quoth he: "What's more, this ad completely ignores the MoveOn crowd's single biggest issue: the war in Iraq."
Never mind that both the celebrity panel and the MoveOn voters (it won the "People's Choice Award," too) embraced this ad in large numbers. Because it doesn't conform with the author's preconcieved notion of what motivates liberal activists, he's baffled.
Guess what? There's plenty of people for whom deficit reduction is a big deal. The conventional wisdom is that young voters are shallow and disproportionately interested in culture-war issues where you can sum up your feelings on a bumper sticker, and maaaybe that's true of people at large, but the committed activist types drawn to organizations like MoveOn are a different breed.
Recall that MoveOn was not created as some sort of simplistic Stop The War Machine reaction to Bush--it had its genesis in the Clinton impeachment scandal.
It's not a reaction to a specific set of policies as it is to a style of governance. Republicans impeached Clinton on a surreal grab-bag of charges utterly unrelated to his conduct in office rather than try and work with him to, you know, run the country. George W. Bush won the presidency in the disputed Florida election by virtue of connections, superior gaming of the system, and the political equivalent of basketball's Four Corners offense, running down the clock until the Supreme Court stepped in and declared the issue dead, like it or not. The massive deficit we currently face was occasioned by a tax-cut bonanza for the wealthiest Americans. The attorney general refuses to even deign to listen to the complaints of those who feel he's overstepping his bounds in counter-terrorism law enforcement. The rationales for the war in Iraq were an amorphous mass of pseudo-justifications, most of which have fallen apart upon further review, and no one in power has displayed the slightest twinge of public remorse over this fact.
The agonizing thing is that Clinton did behave in a censurable manner in office, Bush did have every reason to believe that a vote count in Florida would have proclaimed him the winner, modest and targeted tax cuts could have provided some relief for squeezed-out working people and stimulus to reduce the effects of the depression, there are some valid reasons to rethink our present attitude towards civil liberties in an age of terrorism, and there were perfectly valid reasons to pursue a (multilateral) policy of regime change in Iraq. And yet, every time the Republicans have had the opportunity to moderate their course of action in pursuit of laudable goals, they've instead taken the path of petulance, short-term selfish gain, and paranoia.
It's this style more than the substance of Republican policy that gets a lot of people's blood boiling, and it's the failure to understand the depth of anger with this style that leads tons of commentators to misconstrue the present current in liberal activism (e.g., MoveOn and the internet grass-roots campaigns for Dean and Clark) as, say, an anti-war movement, when it is, if anything, an anti-this-war-at-this-time-for-these-reasons movement, but more largely, a desire for a more mature, long-term-minded conduct of public affairs.
I can't speak for people who actually are members of MoveOn, or people who are actually actively working for the candidates tapping into these feelings, but to me, a desire to focus on the deficit as a campaign issue has a lot to do with this question of style. The Bush administration's tax cut and deficit spending creates a mess that will have to be cleaned up ten or twenty years down the line, but they don't sweat it because the people who stand to benefit vote and the people who stand to get hurt don't, or can't.
If you personalize the matter, give a human face to the people you're borrowing your government largesse from, you might think twice. That's the appeal of "Child's Pay." If you prefer to think that young liberals are incapable of making this argument because they're a bunch of upper-middle class slackers hanging aroud the hip coffee shop all day and spewing Bush Hatred because they think he's, like, sooo tacky, that's your right. But don't invest too much, emotionally, in your own propaganda, and don't act surprised when reality fails to live up to your expectations.|W|P|107408053533664397|W|P|moveon ad update|W|P|1/12/2004 03:05:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|While I'm beating up on the channel 32 news, I gotta rip on one other story they did: a sensationalistic piece of tabloid crap about an eight-hundred pound (!) woman who (not surprisingly) is on disability because she (not surprisingly) can't get out of her bed. The newscast kept trying to get the blood boiling by pointing out that this means that YOU'RE PAYING THE BILL!
Look, I've been known to push the envelope of sloth and gluttony. I (sometimes) eat too much and (often) exercise too little, and as a result, I'm on the bad side of 200 pounds. Fine. If I were to claim that because of this, I was the victim of some horrible fate and that the government should send me a check every month, TV news faux-populists would have every right to tell me to go pound sand with the rest of humanity. But we're not talking about me. We're talking about someone who's almost four times as heavy as me.
No one gets to be that big simply by breaking the bank at the Old Country Buffet.
Something severly pathological has made this woman a prisoner in her own body.
When a TV news program enters this woman's home and invites us--practically begs us--to gawk, to giggle, to feel righteous moral indignation at her claim that she cannot live without government support, we are being asked to laugh at the disabled before we vote to snatch away their wheelchairs.
I find that reprehensible.
Oh yeah, not that you asked, but the average recipient of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) gets the princely sum of $400 a month, and the program pays out about $40 million a year. Heaven forfend the TV news ask serious questions about a war whose price tag (so far) is well more than twice the annual budget for a program that provides a tiny monthly pittance to the most defenseless members of society, but if we find out that one of those defenseless people is, like, really fat, we get team fucking coverage.
I weep for this couuntry.|W|P|107389832479716440|W|P|while i'm on the subject|W|P|1/12/2004 02:22:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|I don't usually watch the local TV news, but I got sucked in by the end of the Eagles-Packers game and two hours of quality comedy. (Or an hour and a half of quality comedy and the Bernie Mac show, which I could take or leave. Or, possibly, an hour of quality comedy, seeing as the Simpsons has gotten distressingly lame...but never mind.)
Anyway, one of the teaser stories for the evening news was "Why Howard Dean is no longer a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination" and I kept checking to see if he had said "fuck" or gotten shot or something. Nope. It's just a reference to the new Zogby Iowa tracking poll which has him in a "statistical dead heat" with Gephardt.
(I'm scare-quoting "statistical dead heat" because I hate that term: it's an overly simplistic approach to the concept of margin of error. You could characterize a candidate who leads 55%-45% in a poll with a 5% margin of error as being in a "statistical dead heat," but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't place money on the guy polling at 45% winning the election, especially if the 55%-45% spread is consistent with other recent polls.)
So but anyway, I hate to sound like an excessively testy or paranoid Dean partisan, but the disconnect between the story (Dean is no longer a frontrunner for the nomination because he's in a dead heat in the "all-important" Iowa caucuses) and reality (Dean is no longer the frontrunner in Iowa, assuming he ever was, which is debatable, and the Iowa caucuses are far from "all-important," and there's no reason to believe that he's not the current front-runner for the nomination, win or lose in Iowa) is pretty fishy. It's one thing to say that Candidate X is no longer the frontrunner. It's another to say that he is no longer a frontrunner.
And here's the kicker: at the end of the story, words were uttered to the effect that polls were showing that Dean was no longer leading in New Hampshire, either. (Sorry, I forget exactly what was said.) I'd love to see this poll, but I don't think it exists. The Concord Monitor gives Dean a 20 point lead, and the ARG tracking poll has Dean's lead at 15%.
Anyway, I'm trying not to attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence, and lord knows the Channel 32 news is pathetic even by the debauched standards of Chicago local news, but that big fat FOX brand name sure doesn't inspire confidence under the best of circumstances, and this kind of clumsy "reporting" doesn't help reassure me one bit.|W|P|107389577965611780|W|P|couch tater blues|W|P|1/11/2004 06:13:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|(funnier than me)|W|P|107386639780252615|W|P||W|P|1/11/2004 02:48:00 PM|W|P|PJ|W|P|PJ Judges the MoveOn.org Ads:
Child's Pay: Excellent, excellent. Makes a simple point and makes it well. Doesn't try to cram every talking point down your throat. Brings up an elephant-in-the-room issue that politicians are shying away from talking about because old people vote and young people don't. If they run this (and they should), they'd better be ready to defend that $1 trillion figure.
In My Country: Meh. Pretty decent. I don't think civil liberties are a big winner of an issue in 2004, and taking on the Bush administration on religion ("group of religious extremists") is probably a mistake, no matter how fundamentally true I think that assessment is. (I'm not the target audience.)
Polygraph: Hate it. It's decent if you already know the moveon talking points that inspired it, but in a nation where half of the citizens believe in their heart of hearts that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and probably had something to do with 9/11, this looks suspiciously like a Bush ad. Plus it assumes you know how a polygraph works.
What Are We Teaching Our Children: Good, not great. I don't like the kids' line readings, but that's the nature of directing kids.
Imagine: Bo-ring. "Corporations" are not good enemies, and people who have been conditioned by constant references to "the liberal media elite" for years and years aren't going to turn around and believe in a "corporate/conservative media elite" just because you say so. Preaching to the choir is not a winner.
Human Cost Of War: Essentially the same ad as "Polygraph," but more skillfully done, and it does a better job of making its point. Still, talk of "slaughtered" civilians is going to be a turn-off. Concern over dead Iraqi civilians is not a winning issue in Middle America, sorry. Talk more about American soldiers-- about pay cuts and lost health benefits, about families hurt by 18-month tours of duty by reservists, about the disruption in our military readiness because we've overstretched ourselves on a pointless adventure in Iraq. That's an ad.
Wake Up America: Contempt for your audience--that's a real winner. If the main thrust of your ad is "people would realize that Bush is a bad president if they were just smart enough to pay attention," you need to throw away that script and think harder.
Desktop: Loser. I don't like the sneering reference to "Bible Study," I don't like the whacking great continuity flaw (am I deleting one item or 16?), I don't like the metaphor. Better execution and less snarky contempt for religion would make this a decent spot, maybe.
Army Of One: Pretty good. Hits the right issues. Good reading of the voiceover. Hate the tagline, though.
Bankrupt: Meh. I don't like the juxtaposition of the MasterCard "priceless" spots with the overall somber tone. Calling the future "bankrupt" is probably the wrong finishing note.
Hood Robbin': Pass. If we make the next election a referendum on GWB the person, we lose.
Leave No Billionaire Behind: Pretty good, though you need a better voiceover reading if you're going to parody charitable-foundation ads. I'd love to see a deadpan sendup of the ubiquitous Save The Children-type ads ("for the price of a cup of coffee..."). This came close, but no rolled-up wad of tobacco.
Bush's Repair Shop: Well executed. Not funny.
Gone in 30 Seconds: Standard-issue boilerplate. Instantly forgettable.
"Child's Pay" is good. A couple others are decent. Most of the rest are tragically flawed. I'm a bit disappointed, frankly.|W|P|107385408028893616|W|P||W|P|1/11/2004 05:57:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Calling my shot re: the Democratic primaries:
1/13: DC: Dean wins in a walk. No other serious candidates in the race. Vote tallies go virtually unreported.
1/19: Iowa: Dean by 2-3 points over Gephardt. Edwards finishes third by a whisker over Kerry thanks to last-minute ad blitz, becomes buzz story of the news coverage.
1/27: New Hampshire: Dean beats Clark 35-20. Kerry finishes third and drops out. At this point, press focuses on Dean-Clark-Edwards three-way race, with all other candidates shunted to one side.
2/3: Dean wins Oklahoma, Delaware, North Dakota and New Mexico. Clark wins Arizona. Edwards wins S. Carolina. Gephardt wins Missouri. Lieberman drops out.
2/7: Dean wins Michigan and Washington. Gephardt drops out: nothing but a Michigan win could sustain him.
2/8: Dean wins Maine.
2/10: This is the key date if everything plays out as outlined above. Either Clark or Edwards (probably Clark) will probably have emerged as the stop-Dean candidate. Success for Dean will depend on the strength of his mojo hand in the southern black communities. On 2/10, if either Clark or Edwards sweeps the Tennessee and Virginia primaries, we have a race. If they split or Dean wins anything on this date, game over. I predict a strong media focus on Clark in the run-up to 2/10 in the interest of keeping the race interesting. Prediction: Clark sweeps, Dean finishes second, Edwards drops out.
2/17: Dean wins Wisconsin. Press reaction muted because it's expected. All eyes on the big races on 3/2.
2/24: Dean wins Idaho. No one cares.
2/27: Clark wins Utah. No one cares.
3/2: Dean wins Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. Clark wins Georgia, New York, and Texas. Dean clearly in the driver's seat, but pressure mounts to put it away.
3/9: Clark wins Florida. Dean wins Mississippi and Louisiana. Press consensus is that Clark needs a big win in Illinois on 3/16 to stay alive.
3/13: Dean wins Kansas. No one cares.
3/16: Dean wins Illinois. Clark concedes.
As for Veep:
Obvious Senators as VP candidates: Jon Corzine (NJ), Dick Durbin (IL), Bob Graham (FL), Mary Landrieu (FL), Bill Nelson (FL)
Obvious Governors as VP candidates: Mark Warner (VA), Bill Richardson (NM), Ed Rendell (PA)
Other VP possibles: Wesley Clark (AR), Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (NY), Rep. John Lewis (GA), Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL), Former Gov. Doug Wilder (VA)
People talk about 'em but I don't believe they're really options: Evan Bayh (IN), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Tom Harkin (IA)
How confident I am that it's one of the 13 names I just rattled off: Not all that much.
|W|P|107382226197814524|W|P||W|P|1/06/2004 01:46:00 AM|W|P|PJ|W|P|Aw, man. I gotta move to Idaho.|W|P|107337521842238915|W|P||W|P|