I’m fond both of movies set in Africa and movies with political subtexts, so I hope frustrations over rising gas prices somehow sends more people to the movie theater to see Viva Riva! than might otherwise check out a movie set in Kinshasa and in French and Lingala:
I get so visually fatigued by skyscrapers, by the grayness of American landscapes, that this is a delight to look at. (As a side note, I cannot wait for Viktor Bout‘s trial to begin in September so I have an excuse to talk about how underrated Lord of War is again.) Viva Riva! will probably end up being a fairly conventional Have Geopolitically-Induced Economic Opportunity, Will Have Girl Trouble movie, but that’s okay. There’s something weirdly refreshing about an action movie where said action is inspired by actual problems actual people face like gas shortages, instead of baroque foreign syndicates, or giant meteors, or aliens who want our water.
Thanks to Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann, I now have a new plan for life in the post-Osama bin Laden pop culture industry if this whole blogging thing ever becomes unviable. It used to be that I was going to write a She-Hulk movie*, but now I’m pretty sure I’m going to enter the lucrative field of writing Navy SEALs romance novels instead.
I had not actually know that such a subgenre existed until Nick gave me a copy of Marliss Melton’s Know No Fear, one of seven books she’s written about hunky guys with dog tags. One of the frequent jokes after bin Laden’s death was that a lot of guys were going to dine out for years on claiming to be the dude who pulled the trigger, but judging by Amazon search results, SEALs had a built-in advantage with the average American lady even before they took out the world’s most infamous terrorist. There’s Stephanie Tyler’s Hard to Hold series, which uses crises in Africa as a catalyst for romance, Mary Margaret Daughtridge’s SEALed series, which sticks closer to home with issues like child custody and who gets control of the family car dealership, and even, I kid you not, the Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance.
Having read Know No Fear last night, I can attest that SEALs romances have the same essentials as their counterparts in other bodice-rippers: hot, secretly wounded hero; heroine who tries to be too brave for her own good; terrorists/FARC rebels/insane weapons dealers instead of Regency baddies, etc. Although the sex is more likely to be “implacable,” apparently. The SEAL thing is more a way of creating heightened situation for the characters to angst in before they get hot and heavy than it is any particular fetishization fo the military. But now I know about these, now that gamers have their Bin Laden Raid and their Counter-Strike maps, Kathryn Bigelow has signed up the guy who’s going to kill bin Laden in her movie, and the clubs have their bin Laden party anthem, I’m pretty sure we’re set on bin Laden Pop Culture Artifacts For Every Occasion. And it didn’t even take us two weeks.
I’m sympathetic to the idea that SyFy should maintain its dedication to science fiction programming, particularly given the quotas on “genre” shows on network television, and—until recently, of course—the comparative lack of attention to science fiction and fantasy on the prestige networks. But I do get the impulse to effectively subsidize niche programming with something unrelated but popular like wrestling.
The key, I think, both for long-term fans and for folks who come to SyFy for the smackdown is to find ways to make the juxtaposition between the kinds of content less jarring. How do we get people to come for the wrestling and stay for the superheroes? I actually think there’s more potential for crossover than might be immediately apparent. Wrestling and science fiction have in common outsized personalities and suspension of disbelief. If you can get people to tune in an hour early, or to stick around for another hour of programming, the benefit to the network can go beyond subsidy to bring in new viewers entirely.
One of the things that’s struck me most since I started at ThinkProgress is the question of how to build a progressive arts policy. Most of the conversations that bubble up to the national political debate are about funding, most recently, public broadcasting funding in particular. It’s not that I don’t care about arts and broadcasting funding, because I do, but it strikes me that an easy way to lose the debate is to cede ground to the point that we’re debating a question as basic as “should the federal government fund the arts” rather than starting the conversation by talking about what outcomes we’d like to achieve, and then how best to get there and what it’ll cost.
It’s both the blessing and the curse of arts policy debates that people have contact with the arts and highly personal investments in arts programs, and that paradox was on full display yesterday at the House Appropriations hearing on the National Endowment for the Arts FY 2012 funding. It’s wonderful that Jose Serrano is still touched by the experience of performing Chekov as a teenager, and that he can hold himself up as a success story when lawmakers single out individual grants as silly-sounding. Similarly, it’s helpful that Mike Simpson, who chairs the subcommittee with jurisdiction over NEA has very direct experience with access to arts as an equity issue. But those small-bore, personal commitments don’t necessarily add up to an overall arts policy framework that would be helpful in sorting out priorities at a moment of intense budget crunch.
Similarly, a conversation based in the personal case for the importance of the arts also opens the debate up to a lot of discussions of personal irritants. That’s how we end up with a hearing where Jeff Flake and Betty McCollum end up talking about whether university presses and institutions like the Yale Repertory Theater are actually funded by university endowments or if the universities are just their financial agents. It’s not that the question of whether universities are taking a cut off NEA grants for administrative expenses before passing the funding along to the intended recipients is unimportant, but it’s not exactly a core issue.
As was Flake’s attempts to anger the powerful accordionist lobby by complaining repeatedly about an NEA grant to the International Accordion Festival (which is, in fact, a thing). “Whatever kills off the accordion, whether it’s the market or not, should get our applause,” he said. “There are some things that need to go extinct.” Serrano pointed out that such a stance isn’t going to win the NEA any supporters among “Argentinians, Polish-Americans, or Norteño musicians.” Maybe we can get Weird Al on the case:
At least having a sense that we should subsidize accordionists is a policy priority one step more detailed than the most basic question of whether to fund or not to fund. But if we’re building our arts policy on piecemeal passionate testimonials, we risk it suffering death by a thousand little cuts.