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Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: The Newsroom: We Just Decided To

I had given up on scripted TV.

Great drama was sparse.  Intelligent television got canceled after barely a chance, and somewhere along the line, entertainment veered toward sensationalism with a particular focus on the drunken misadventures of Italian-American twentysomethings who referred to themselves in the derogatory.  Thank goodness for Aaron Sorkin, producer of The West Wing, because within the first nine minutes of HBO's The Newsroom, I was sold.  This is DVR-worthy.

Jeff Daniels does a remarkable job as beleaguered anchorman Will McAvoy, who while on an interview panel at Northwestern University, gets pressured into answering a question that went against his journalistic integrity.  What follows is a five minute pipe-bomb of a rant as to why America is NOT the greatest country on the planet.  (The answer will be the subject of my next blog entry.)   He returns from a three-week exile to find his entire staff turned over and faces the realization that he's not the man he used to be in many of the most important ways.  McAvoy's boss, played by Law & Order's Sam Waterston, hires his ex-girlfriend as his new executive producer, and she tries to get him back to being a newsman.

I never watched a Sorkin series.  Didn't catch a single episode of The West Wing.  I came away thinking maybe I should have.  I can't think of too much TV that left me with goosebumps.

The rest of the supporting cast was incredible as well, but this was Jeff Daniels' star vehicle.   His initial breakdown that set events in motion is something I wish I would see in news today.  Again, that's the subject of another blog.

Intelligent TV is back again, people.  We should watch it while we got it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Can we all get along?

That question has been repeated so many times, played for laughs and effect in so many situations over the last 20 years that people forget it was once not only a legitimate question, but an impassioned plea for peace.  Or at least for a return to the time where the hatred wasn't so open and destructive.

I thought about that question today, as I found out that Rodney King, the man who asked it, was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool this past Sunday.  I thought about the question itself, the time it was asked, the circumstances behind it, and if 20 years later, we are any closer to an answer.

For those of you that don't know, Rodney King was the face of police brutality -- specifically against Black men-- in the early 90's.  The full story is that he was drunk, driving, and in violation of parole.  But when police caught him, they unleashed a massive beatdown, hitting him 50 times with batons and fists, and all of this was caught on a camcorder.  The four officers involved were acquitted of wrongdoing in a jury trial, and the result was Los Angeles burning in a three day-long riot, in which 55 people were killed.  As a result, Mr. King was asked by various media outlets for an interview, and he responded with his famous question, "Can't we all get along?"

I find it ironic, looking back, that the victim in all this was asked to be the healing agent, to call off the dogs so to speak.

It's a shame in any day and age that a question of whether or not individual members of a "civilized" society could get along without killing each other even comes up.  And it's an even greater shame when 20 years later, the answer to that question is still up in the air.  Can we all just get along?  I mean, in general, we all want the same things -- a place to call home, people with whom we can relate, a measure of comfort.  Can't we all work together to achieve our individual dreams?  Can we not cannibalize each other?  Can the color of our skin -- or differences therein -- not be a barrier to accomplishing these shared goals?

The disturbing thing behind this question is that although the answer should be - and in a perfect world, would be - a resounding yes, it's not.  It's not a resounding "no" either, which does instill some hope, but not nearly enough.  Rodney King's death underscores the failed realization of a dream, that while not quite as ambitious or moving or unifying as that other King Dream, is tragically unfulfilled.  Rodney King died in a world that was not entirely dissimilar to the world he lived in.  True, the President is Black, and there are more mixed children running around now than in anyone's memory.  However, the attitudes, the stereotypes, the training hasn't changed much.  I get cross-eyed looks from the police in this little tiny town I now reside in.

So what do we do about it? Can we all just... you know... get along?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Permission (short post)

I recently had a conversation with someone who asked me why I'm going to self-publish again, as opposed to going the traditional route.  After all, if I believe in it enough to sell it out of my trunk if need be, why not sell it to a publisher?  My answer to that is simple; why should I ask permission?

By hawking my project to a traditional publisher, I am asking them to believe in my project enough to sell it for me.  In short, I'm asking their permission for authorship, handing creative control and marketing control to them.  If they deem my project worthy, they will offer me a small percentage of its profits.  There most definitely is an Oliver twist reference in there somewhere.  Think about it this way: Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code made him, let's say, a million dollars.  It made his publisher $30 million.

Through most forms of business and employment, we, the employee are asking the employer for permission to have a better life.  We ask for raises, for time off, promotions, more office space, new co-workers.  And those requests are subject to the whim of whomever we're asking; they evaluate our worth, consider our request, and approve or deny at their will.  I do that enough at my regular job.  I refuse to do it for my passion.

By no means is this a rant against the basic fabric of American culture, or against the evils of work as a whole.  It's simply me saying that this writing thing is mine, and I do it on my terms.  Anyone who works, works in customer service, no matter what your occupation.  And everyone has a boss, be it a manager, regional director, COO, CFO, CEO, the government, or the ultimate boss, John Q. Public, the consumer.   Whether you are a self-employed writer, or a 40 hour a week cubicle inhabitant, we are all beholden to the consumer.  In my model, I want to remove as much middleman between me and the consumer as I can.

I ask permission to work a regular job, earn a regular wage, take a regular vacation, have a regular sick day.  Writing is not regular, and I feel the rules shouldn't have to apply.  Why will I self-publish?  Because I'm sick of asking.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ball Above All

I love NBA playoff time.

This time of year in 1991 started a real love affair with the game.  I've often said baseball is my sports wife, but basketball is most definitely my mistress.  In three short years I was fully invested in the game, and watching my hometown team in the NBA Finals.

I admit to, when I was a teenager, thinking I was a better ballplayer than I actually was.  But there was one constant.  After every game on a Saturday or Sunday, and with that very catchy NBA on NBC theme song freshly in our heads, my friends and I would head to Strickland Park on Mill Avenue, or Marine Park just off Flatbush, and we would take on all comers.  We would go and play for five or six hours, until we could no longer see the ball, and trek home.  In the summertime we would play every day, whenever we could, relying on our parents for bus fare.  The hot summer days spent on the blacktop in Brooklyn really solidified the bonds between me and my closest friends.  And hell, I was in the best shape of my life.

We had dreams in those days of being pro ballplayers.  We were hopelessly deluded.