Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I saw a couple of the type of movies Joe Mulder described to me as "homework" this weekend: Mystic River and 21 Grams. Both were well-acted dramas, and I'd give an edge to Mystic River, with the slight caveat that I'm perfectly content with the fact that Naomi Watts has taken off her top in every movie I've ever seen her in. Tim Robbins is really fantastic in Mystic River. I also was intrigued by the scene where the film got all out of focus, then jumpy, and then melted--but that may just have been the cheap-ass Academy 6 theater in Pasadena. I don't think I'd ever actually seen film melt on the screen before, but it looks pretty cool, even if the spontaneous "intermission" was pretty annoying.

Jeff also rented Bowling for Columbine and we watched it on Saturday. While it was certainly worthwhile, I'd actually recommend instead the book that seems to inform much of the movie--Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear. The basic premise is that, thanks largely to sloppy and/or misleading journalism, Americans are constantly getting worried about problems that are either unreal, grotesquely exaggerated or unlikely to affect any given person. Examples include razor blades in Halloween candy (no actual documented incidents, ever), child abductions, Gulf War Syndrome, and road rage. Furthermore, all the focus on the problem of the week distracts us from the real problems of society, which tend to be structural (poverty, lack of health care for all), or which don't reinforce what we like to think about ourselves (that most abductions, and most violence, are against family members, not random strangers). Glassner's pet statistic becomes one of Moore's in the movie: the murder rate has declined 20% in recent years, while TV news coverage of murders has increased 600%.

I also wanted to say a few things here about the Democratic race. I guess we have to look at John Kerry as the frontrunner now, and I have mixed feelings there. I'm glad the party is actually trying to stake out separate ground from the GOP by getting away from the Clinton-Gore Republican-lite mold, and I am currently dancing on the grave of the rotting corpse of the Joe Lieberman campaign that exemplifies it.

I'm not sure what to make of Kerry exactly--my senior history seminar paper was on Vietnam Vets Against the War, and I found Kerry to be something of an opportunist who tried to speak for the movement and in some ways lead it without really being of it. He certainly didn't represent the proletarian, angry constituency personified by a Ron Kovic, for instance. I'm not sure what to make of the "electability" question--yes, nominating a Massachusetts liberal may mean giving up the South, but is the South truly up for grabs anyway? What states do the Dems have to win to take the election? I'm really not sure. I also think, though, that "electability" is a weird self-fulfilling prophecy--in the end, electability will have a lot to do with whether the press deems a candidate as electable or not.

Ultimately, though, there's one lesson I hope the American public has learned from 2000 (though I doubt it)--presidential elections are not and should never be about two individuals. OK, maybe you'd rather sit down and have a beer with W. than with Al Gore. Great. But you don't get to have a beer with the president, so that's a stupid criterion. Electing Bush was not just electing Bush--you elected Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Norton, tax cuts for the rich, drilling in Alaska, the "Patriot" Act, pre-emptive war, and a scary number of federal judges. If that's not a zillion times more important than whether you personally like the guy at the head of the ticket based on his TV appearances, then my compass is just totally disoriented.

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