Page Two: Once in a Lifetime
Obama and Clinton are the future – a real future that is better than any fabricated past
At any cost.
But how long, babe,
Can you search for what's not lost?"
– Bob Dylan, "I'll Keep It With Mine"
"You can't always get what you want,
You can't always get what you want,
You can't always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you just might find,
You just might find,
You get what you need."
– The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"She knows there's no success like failure,
And that failure's no success at all."
– Bob Dylan, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"
There is currently so much discussion in the Chronicle's online forums that even posts that are less than a week old are getting buried in the archives. One of the more entertaining threads has been in response to a letter headlined "Getting a Good President Now Would Have to Be Accidental." The letter is of the genre of those bitter and disillusioned with what American politics has evolved into in this modern world. As some posters point out, this is one of those water-from-rocks-in-the-desert miracles. The only way that the notion that voters' being stuck with choosing the lesser of two evils can be characterized as a late 20th century mutation is with a near-gleeful ignorance of history. As one poster suspected, "The last consensus candidate for president was Washington, George himself." Actually, to some extent this is almost ahistorical, as well, in that Washington was enormously popular, but neither his candidacy nor presidency was without substantial controversy and opposition. Not the least of this was that Washington was a strong, visionary federalist dealing with anti-federalists in literally every colony/state. Still, most of the really important political battles during Washington's presidency were between the very different visions of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Although the latter has been granted political sainthood by many historians, populists, and the public in general, for the most part it was Hamilton whose views won out.
In retrospect, it is easy to champion certain politicians and presidents while denigrating others. If you read contemporaneous press or detailed histories of damn near any period in American history, I'm sorry, but other than featuring the spectacular inadequacy of Bush and his appointments (as well as Karl Rove's parochial, partisan political strategizing), the current period is really not much of an anomaly in this country's history. Actually, the above is really a weak excuse to get in some more cheap shots at the current administration, because its spectacular ineptitude and miserably inappropriate political appointments really are not that unique. Partisan favoritism has frequently elevated loyalty over ability and expertise. Admittedly, Bush's anachronistic enthusiasm to gut the federal civil service, returning to essentially pre-Jacksonian federal feudalism, is surprising only in light of his lack of intellectual and historical curiosity.
In general, the view that this country has entered a dark age after a couple of centuries of being a republic of light and righteousness has more to do with rose-colored glasses than with any history. As the Talking Heads pointed out, "Same as it ever was ...."
"And it's the same across the nation,
Black and white discrimination."
– Frank Zappa, "Trouble Coming Every Day"
My first real awareness of Barack Obama came from watching the Chicago news while visiting family in Illinois. It might have been as recently as his senatorial race or as far back as one of his previous campaigns. A local reporter approached five white women to ask them about the race.
I lived in Boston during the violent racial turmoil over busing, when stones thrown at school buses and curses hurled at schoolchildren were daily occurrences. For years, the Boston school board had known it needed to do something to integrate public schools but had always moved in exactly the opposite direction. Whenever a new school needed to be built, they would locate it deep in an ethnic neighborhood rather than near a border, thus preserving the de facto segregation. When a federal judge ordered busing, certain city neighborhoods became war zones.
During this time, I returned to Boston after making my first visit to Texas (I lived in Jamaica Plains, then a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood). Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, I had become addicted to barbecue. In the greater Boston area, not only the best but almost all barbecue joints were located in black neighborhoods. In those areas, it was not safe to stand on the corner or sit in a car if one was white (it should be noted that much of the violence then was white against black). Buying barbecue thus involved carefully planned expeditions. A friend would drop me off right in front of some place like Bucket O Ribs in Roxbury, then cruise around until I emerged and hustled into the car.
Daily TV news fare was working-class, Irish, white women screaming insults at police, bus drivers, and bused students, their faces often contorted in outrage.
Watching the TV in Chicago, I knew what the women on the news would say before they opened their mouths.
Except I was completely wrong. They talked about Barack Obama with a love and protectiveness that was unique for almost any politician. He was theirs, and they were his. His opponent, though ethnically similar to the women, was not even worth considering. In a way, it was as if they were saying, "How dare he run against Obama?" If I have ever witnessed the moments of true revolution, this was one of them.
As much as we may want to get into costumes to execute the dances of doom and despair around the center pole of "it used to be better," it never really was. The real present has trumped any tenderized, pasteurized, fictionalized version of the past. Obama's and Hillary Clinton's performances in Iowa and New Hampshire are unique. They are the future, regardless of what you think of either candidate – a real future that is better than any fabricated past. This, of course, can still pale next to the fictions of all too many who offer opinions based on personal fantasies and perceptions. But in despairing over the current state of things in the context of these versions of history, they might as well include fairies, gnomes, wizards, unicorns, and dragons in their laments.
"I can't help it
If you might think I'm odd,
If I say I'm not loving you for what you are
But for what you're not."
– Bob Dylan, "I'll Keep It With Mine"
"flotsam and jetsam
are gentlemen poeds"
One of the ugly secrets of publications such as this is that some of our most devoted readers, the ones who wait impatiently each Thursday for the new issue, are not attracted to writers they like or agree with but find their greatest pleasure in those whom they contemptuously regard as idiots. Ah, the dark pleasures of reading a review by someone whose taste, knowledge, writing ability, and opinions are so clearly inferior to one's own. Thinking of rebuttals to each and every inane point of the critic provides endless hours of intellectual pleasure.
Often, as I have previously discussed, mere disagreement with writers' opinions is hardly enough. Instead, readers dismiss contributors' writing abilities, attack personal heritage, deny that any thought has gone into reviews, and use every tool at hand to point out that their wrongheaded opinions are barely the tip of the iceberg of the critics' personal, intellectual, and aesthetic failings.
Reading these dismissive rants is entertaining, but sometimes lines are crossed. In a recent diatribe against Chronicle film critic Josh Rosenblatt, a letter-writer acknowledged he had not yet seen Sweeney Todd but still took Rosenblatt to task for his review, sarcastically noting, "By the way, Johnny Depp got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy for his role in this movie, but who knows? Maybe the 86 journalists who vote on these awards know less about movies than your esteemed Josh Rosenblatt."
I'm sorry: There is opinion, there is fact, and then there is sheer, uncut fantasy. The Golden Globes, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are one of the endearing, enduring Hollywood mirages that all insist is real. Given the timing of the Globes and that they include television and film categories, the awards ceremony has become one of the industry's most star-studded events. But it isn't like anybody is fooled by what is really taking place.
Using the term "esteemed" as a means of deriding Mr. Rosenblatt is absolutely delicious. If anyone could find 30 or 20 or even 10 "esteemed" critics among the 86 "journalists" that compose the HFPA, even the rest of the members would be astonished.
The New York Times has noted that the HFPA "functions like an exclusive club, admitting a maximum of five new members a year, though more often ... accepting only one. Any single member may object to a new member, making it extremely difficult to join. The association does not represent internationally renowned publications like Le Monde or The Times of London – indeed, it has repeatedly rejected applications from a correspondent for Le Monde, while accepting applications from freelance writers from Bangladesh and South Korea."
Another Times article offers, "But the Foreign Press Association has always been a bit mysterious, even by Hollywood's slippery standards. Its members' publications are rarely listed in the phone directory. Some of the journalists don't seem to write much. And over the years several of them have reportedly also owned boutiques or worked as waiters."
Every few years, another exposé on the HFPA appears in some publication, to the point where there now are volumes of them, but the organization makes Teflon look adhesive. Recently, I was in L.A. with a friend who was going on about how well known it is that a nomination and sometimes even a win could be bought – not for cash, but by entertaining the HFPA members or giving them expensive gifts. The Times article recalls perhaps the most well-known example: "[T]here was that unfortunate incident in 1981 when the group heralded Pia Zadora as newcomer of the year for her performance in the flop Butterfly. It was later revealed that Ms. Zadora's producer (and husband), Meshulam Riklis, had flown the group to Las Vegas, Nev., before the vote for a few days of nonmoviegoing."
Now, I do not challenge any reader's opinion that any Chronicle writer or critic is an ill-advised hire, a pathetic amateur incapable of writing complete sentences or forming a simple thought. Instead, quite happily I find myself often included among the least gifted of this crew, many of whom are so moronic and singularly untalented that they are undeserving even of condemnation. This is not a defense of inadequacy or ineptitude. Just please don't beat us with a stick as wilted and lacking genuine respect as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.