James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street’

“W” and “An American Carol”: losers left and right

Posted by James McPherson on October 11, 2008

Two politically oriented films have been released just before the election. One has an obvious liberal bias, the other an obvious conservative bias. Interestingly, these are entertainment films, not documentaries along the lines of “Farenheit 9/11” or the equally slanted ABC miniseries “The Path to 9/11“–which means their success will be determined as much by box office dollars as by political influence.

Oliver Stone, who has done some very good films (“Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Wall Street,” “World Trade Center“) and some bad history (“JFK” and “Nixon“), tells Maxim that his latest film, “W,” is being released this month not to influence the election but “because Bush is still around.” He also questions his potential influence: “I did three Vietnam movies, and what good did they do? People still lined up in support of the Iraq War. People don’t remember. It shows you the futility of what we do.”

The other film is largely an attack on Michael Moore, the creator of “Farenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.” The new film, “An American Carol,” is produced by another well-known filmmaker, David Zucker (“Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” from back in the day when we thought O.J. Simpson was funny). Zucker, who in 2004 produced anti-John Kerry ads, and who in an interview with the neoconservative Weekly Standard compares Barack Obama to “a really clever virus who adapts”–says he hopes his film will persuade people to vote against Obama.

That seems unlikely. In fact, neither film is doing particularly well, despite the unpopularity of President George W. Bush or the heavy promotion on Fox News for “An American Carol.”

Early reviews of “W” from Variety (an “unusual and inescapably interesting” movie that “feels like a rough draft of a film it might behoove him to remake in 10 or 15 years”) and Hollywood Reporter (“a bold but imperfect film about an imperfect man”) are obviously mixed. And it seems to me late-night TV hosts have skewered the president pretty thoroughly. Besides, watching the real Bush flounder is bad enough–and no longer particularly funny, considering the state of the nation thanks to the Iraq War and the economy.

Of course conservatives quickly and ludicrously complained that liberal bias and “ticket fraud” (?!) were keeping “An American Carol” from doing well, but judging by the preview, I suspect that the primary problem is the combination of unsubtle political commentary combined with even less subtle juvenile slapstick humor. It is notable that the filmmakers refused to release the film for critics, usually a sure sign that the filmmakers know they have a dud on their hands (though in this case they spun it as a defense against liberally biased critics).

It’s difficult to imagine whom “An American Carol” is trying to reach. After all, most of the college-age males that the preview seems to want to engage likely will turn to something equally goofy, but which also offers the prospect of nudity.

Young people look for Adam Sandler and David Spade, not Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper, and for Angelina Jolie rather than her father, Jon Voight. And even moviegoers who like Kevin Farley, the film’s star, want to laugh with their lovable losers, not at those losers, and they want to see their heroes win in the end. That doesn’t happen here. Instead–ironic spoiler alert–the end of the film apparently has the character intending to do a new, more accurate version of “JFK.”

Older audiences need a stronger reason to go watch a film than do older audiences, and I can’t see Farley being such a reason. The film is broadly obvious–and therefore uninspiring–in its intent, and apparently lazy in execution. And anyone who wants to see Bill O’Reilly acting stupid can do so five nights a week on television; there is little reason to pay 8 or 10 bucks to do so.

This won’t be an election turned by film fiction, or even by based-on-a-true-story depictions offered in movies (or in political ads, for that matter). The fact that soon perhaps no one will be able to afford to go the movies, anyway (though escapist entertainment films were popular during Depression), will play a much bigger role in the probably election of Barack Obama. By then you’ll probably be able to check out both of these films on video.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Media & GOP embrace socialism; Aerosmith offers emergency diet plan

Posted by James McPherson on September 21, 2008

Journalists now are lambasting the government for not warning us about the onrushing economic train. Aside from the fact that some economists and others have been trying to warn us, of course, the bigger problem is that the news media themselves just didn’t care enough about the issue.

Yet again the press has failed as miserably as the government, just as it did with the Iraq War. After all, charging bulls and bears are oh-so-boring compared to pigs with lipstick. Why attack complicated problems, when your audience is more entertained by political attack ads? Besides, in the words of Barbie and journalists everywhere, math is hard.

So now we have a nation in which “socialism” is bad if that government intervention would provide health care to all Americans, who live in a nation that despite its wealth is ranked just 37th in the world for quality of health care. Yet at the same time, “socialism” that bails out rich people who do stupid things with our money is good.

It almost makes you long for the stock market crash of 1929, when at least some bad investors supposedly had the moral fortitude to throw themselves off of buildings rather than begging for a handout. How many of these folks do you suppose are among the crowd that regularly criticize the poor for their own poverty because of “bad choices”?

The difference, of course, is that the poor–and their children–will pay disproportionately for their choices, aided in large part by the taxpaying largess of the dwindling middle class. Stupid bankers, who could get rich off of hair-brained schemes that went well, will now be bailed out by that same middle class since those schemes have gone awry. And neither Congress nor most of the media likely will demand reasonable concessions such as those described by former labor secretary Robert Reich, in return for the blank check we’ll all be backing.

It might be funny if it weren’t so disgusting. Now the nation is in the biggest economic trouble it has been in at least since the Great Depression (we may still fall much further), thanks to the actions of the current administration–and, to be fair, the three previous administrations. After all, despite his reputation as our “first black president” I’ve long called Bill Clinton our most successful recent Republican president, and though his economy was much stronger, he shares much of the blame for the deregulatory nightmare that allowed the current crisis.

I find it appalling and amazing that anyone wants to continue the policies of the current administration–policies supported strongly in most regards by John McCain, who tonight on “60 Minutes” said deregulation had probably helped the economy. But in truth it probably doesn’t matter a great deal whom we elect as the next president. Those current TV commercials that have news people saying this is “the most important election” of our lifetimes? They’re wrong. The last two were more important, and we managed to blow them both.

The Iraq War, the incredibly inept response of recent years to virtually every foreign and domestic crisis, and the massive bailout of Wall Street all mean that the next president’s hands will be tied in terms of the economy. And because things likely will get worse before they get better, I’d almost support McCain just so he might get a rightful share of the blame.

One huge problem with that, of course is that a McCain victory would also mean that he–or Sarah Palin, after McCain drops dead upon finally realizing the magnitude of the problems he faces–likely would end up nominating a couple of Supreme Court justices. Then we’d likely be in deeper trouble for a couple of generations, instead of “only” the decade or two that may be ahead of us (others such as my ecologist–yes, ecologist, not economist–brother, who long ago predicted the current crisis, anticipate an even an even more dire future, of course).

One bit of good news for rock music fans: I sense a comeback for Aerosmith’s 1993 song, “Eat the Rich”–even if a lack of electricity means it has to be an acoustical version. Perhaps that title might also be a survival plan for downsized journalists. Though one drawback to eating human flesh may be that it leads to insanity, many in journalism and government would seem to have little to lose in that regard.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is trying to turn the bailout into yet another executive branch power grab. Also not surprisingly, most of the media are largely ignoring that attempt. One hope, however: Faced with the prospects of a Barack Obama presidency, some conservatives may help contain the proposal.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »