Gone fishin’. Back Tuesday, complete with episodes 7-9 of the first season of The Wire and the straight dope on The Amazing Spider-Man. Have a gorgeous weekend.
I’ve sung the praises of Spike Lee’s dramatically misunderstood Red Hook Summer, which I saw at Sundance, before, but now we’ve got a trailer, which gives you some small sense of why the movie, which follows a boy named Flik over the summer he spends with his preacher grandfather, is so excellent:
A lot of what makes Red Hook Summer excellent is the way it incorporates politics into its characters’ conversations, and how its plot points grow out of realistic political and economic issues. Characters talk about unemployment because they, and people they know, are unemployed, and about the pollution caused by docking cruise ships in Brooklyn because their health is affected by it. And Lee draws drama less from emotional contrivance than from the politics of life in gentrifying neighborhoods. Flik and Chazz, a girl who attends Flik’s grandfather’s church, have an ongoing, pranky war with a white woman who has moved into Red Hook and gets hysterically angry when they write their names in the concrete in front of her steps. The cost of Chazz’s asthma medication and the fact that she loses expensive inhalers provokes one of the movie’s dramatic climaxes. Hollywood characters often live in a world that is mysteriously untouched by political systems, economics, bureaucracies, and environmental issues. Spike Lee’s characters actually live in the world.
FX Promised Introspection In Charlie Sheen’s ‘Anger Management.’ It’s Serving Up Vicious, Sexist Trash Instead.
In January, John Landgraf, the president of FX, told the assembled writers at the Television Critics Association Press Tour why he’d decided to give Charlie Sheen a half-hour comedy, in which Sheen would star as an “unconventional anger management therapist.” “I think if Charlie wants to get his house in order, and that includes his issues with substance abuse and his relationships to his own family, it also encompasses his desire to have greater consciousness about his public persona,” he said. “[His character] is struggling to foster for a daughter a positive self-esteem and sense of how to be a woman in society. My opinion is that could be a really good thing. That could be a good thing for Charlie, it could be a good thing for society.”
When I talked to Landgraf after the session to clarify why he’d decided to work with Sheen, given Sheen’s record of violence against women and repeated relapses, he had this to say:
Part of what the show is about, frankly, is a kind of comeuppance. For example, he has a teenaged daughter, he has an ex-wife, his ex-wife has questionable tastes in men, and he was the first of her questionable tastes in men. But now, as a co-parent, he has to deal with a series of men in his 13-year-old daughter’s life, and that’s a kind of comeuppance for him. I can’t know what’s in Charlie Sheen’s heart. I can only tell you that as an artist and as a performer, he made a choice in terms of what he chose to do next that to me is indicative of somebody who wants to grow, and he wants to play a more self-aware, more dimensional character, and he wants to make a more complicated, more nuanced show.
I think you and [Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan] imagine that some of the same things that happened in the past will probably happen in the future, and therefore in your estimation, I’ve stepped into the role of an enabler that was exited by others like Warner Brothers and CBS. And in my estimation, we make a really good show and Charlie grows as a human being…
I don’t lack empathy or sympathy for [Maureen]‘s point of view. But my point of view is I’m not Charlie’s judge, jury, and executioner. I’m not ready to declare him someone who should be banished forever from the public eye and from his work. If he’d come in and indicated no interest and ambition in progressing his work on-camera as well as no ambition to progress his life than I wouldn’t have chosen to get involved with it.
I quote Landgraf at such length here, because I think it’s important that people be clear on what FX said about Anger Management before it premieres tonight. It might have been one thing for FX to have baldly admitted that they signed up Charlie Sheen because they thought that even though his behavior was heinous and the pitch was not even close to their creative standards, they thought he would make a lot of money that would let them support their other programming.They could have even tried to sell the show as a solid but unremarkable sitcom. But instead they said “it could be a good thing for society.” That the pitch was “indicative of somebody who wants to grow…and make a more complicated, more nuanced show.” Sheen himself told Playboy “I’m done playing a drunken, womanizing, immature character. This time I’m playing an adult.” Networks always talk up their new shows. But the gap between the spin that Landgraf gave me and other critics to convince us to give Anger Management a chance and the reality of the show they’ve produced is unusually striking.
The two episodes of television they’re airing tonight suggest one of three options. First, that the spin was always nothing but spin. Second, the episodes that were turned in didn’t live up to the hopes that Landgraf had for the show. Third, and scariest, that they think the episodes they’re kicking off the season with are reflective of those high standards. That option is particularly frightening, given that the second episode of Anger Management is one of the ugliest, most callously sexist things I’ve ever seen on television.
In the pilot for Mindy Kaling’s excellent new sitcom debuting on Fox this fall, The Mindy Project, the titular character, an OB/GYN, tells the son of a patient, a single, observant Muslim mother, to promise her that the family will have health insurance by the time she was due to deliver her baby. It’s a familiar trope in medical procedural shows: a doctor makes the decision to take a patient on who doesn’t have health insurance, frustrating hospital or private practice suits, or a doctor who’s previously worked for wealthy patients has their life and worldview changed by working among uninsured patients and witnessing their normally abysmal level of care. The former reoccurs in almost every medical procedural. The latter was the premise for CBS’s now-cancelled A Gifted Man, where the ghost of a surgeon’s ex-wife encourages him to begin spending time at the free clinic she ran, and it’s at the heart of the USA Network’s Royal Pains, about a concierge doctor in the Hamptons who also runs a clinic for low-income clients.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act today, starting in 2014, there will be many fewer uninsured patients, thanks to a combination of a mandate to purchase health insurance or pay a compensatory tax. It’ll be harder for television shows to generate drama and opportunities for doctors to demonstrate their compassion out of patients who were denied coverage because they had preexisting conditions. In the absence of that kind of emotional stimuli, I’ll be curious to see where medical procedurals turn to generate drama and to generate opportunities to demonstrate human kindness. Will they challenge things like doctors’ lack of engagement with patients, a rebuke to the brusqueness fetishized on House that is not so cute when it happens in person? Shifts in the profession that have made nurses more important and made them key points of contact for patients? The Affordable Care Act will dramatically change who is insured in the United States, but it will hardly eliminate all the issues in our medical system.
But if shows do want to tell stories about uninsured patients in the future, it’ll be interesting to see if they acknowledge that those people are insured for political reasons. As Matt Yglesias explains, the Supreme Court’s decision means that the federal government will be offer states new money to subsidize the coverage of poor patients through Medicaid, but not to penalize states who decline to kick in 10 percent of the cost of coverage themselves. “Since your state’s citizens have to pay taxes to the federal government one way or the other, you’d have to be pretty crazy to refuse the carrot if you ask me,” he writes. “But ideological zeal may well lead some states to turn it down.” Previously, medical procedurals were able to treat uninsured patients like they were an accepted fact of the practice of medicine. Treating them in defiance of commercial pressure allowed television doctors to demonstrate apolitical concern for individuals. And taking as an assumption that a vast tide of uninsured patients would always exist means television doctors are essentially exempt from questioning the larger market in which they operate. But in the future, uninsured patients (who are not undocumented immigrants or prisoners) will not be an inevitable fact of American life—they will be created by the very specific decisions of individual states. Whether any television show will have the courage to identify that fact will be a fascinating question for the genre, which has yet to have a show that does for medicine what shows like The Wire and The Shield have done for law enforcement.
The production cycle in American television is long—but so is the time it takes to implement major societal legislation. I hope there’s a smart writer somewhere out there who is looking forward to the 2014 fall television season and seeing in today’s historic decision an opportunity to reinvent medical procedurals as our health care system undergoes its most dramatic changes since the invention of the form.
The bridge is yours.
-Eight summer love songs for 2012.
-How the Justice Department assigned restitution for actresses whose nude pictures were leaked.
-Life lessons from Nora Ephron.
-New music from Janelle Monae!
-Bryan Cranston will continue to be a wonderful heavy in Total Recall:
A lot of the time, I write about the fact that it’s frustrating that, when pop culture tackles politics, it often reduces complex issues to matters of will and determination. I understand that these reductions are a means to of telling simplified stories, and that they feel good to tell. But it’s a convention that both reduces the actual drama of a story, and blurs the reality of our political system.
But as Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan joked on Twitter this morning in response to the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision, “Roberts is the Severus Snape of the Supreme Court.” There are extremely rare moments where enormous political issues hinge on the will of single political actors. And while this is a mixed victory—the narrowing of the Commerce Clause may have wide-ranging consequences—this was, against popular expectation, one of those moments. Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision reaches into my life, and the lives of so many others, and truly made a difference. It’s a reminder that people who write television and movies aren’t wrong to believe that sometimes, the better angels of our nature can govern our nation. But that sometimes, they should save the speeches that turn the tide and the wrenching personal decisions for the good of the nation, recognizing them as the truly unusual things that they are, and understanding that they’re powerful precisely for being so rare.
Well, this strikes me as sadly typical:
[Eidos life president Ian]Livingstone said that the recent controversy about Tomb Raider’s E3 trailer was “quite extreme” and “blown out of proportion.” He went on to say that Rosenberg’s comments were the result of a “live interview that went slightly wrong. Quotes were misinterpreted and blown out of proportion,” Livingstone made the comments during an appearance at the Game Horizon conference in Newcastle, England.
He also said that, while rape may be a topic that can be covered in other mediums, it is a different beast in video games. “I think about my responsibility as a developer – films can deal with these themes, but it’s different in games when the user controls the action,” he said. “We should be celebrating what’s great about the game. I guarantee fans will be delighted with the new Tomb Raider.”
Now, clearly there’s an extent to which Tomb Raider’s president Ron Rosenberg mischaracterized his own game by saying that assailants would try to rape Lara Croft. What Lara Croft faces is not a penetrative rape, but, from what I understand from people who have seen the walkthrough, a sexualized assault that, if the player lets the scenario play through without acting, results in the character’s brutal murder. But people were reacting to the information that had been given to them. And give what they had been told was going to happen was a cliche and often ugly way of giving a female character a “dark” backstory or something to “overcome”, and given that Rosenberg suggested that players would be excited to rescue Lara rather than to embody here, a negative fan reaction seems reasonable. In this, as in so many other cases, telling people that they’re blowing something out of proportion or that their reaction is “extreme” is often just code for complaining that they reacted in a way someone hadn’t be prepared for or that discomfited them. It shouldn’t be that hard to admit you had a communications failure, say that you respect the concerns and feelings of people who found the news upsetting, and that you hope and expect fans will be excited by what they see, and to do all of that without blaming anyone for their reactions. But time and time again, that seems to be a real challenge. Maybe we need walkthrough videos that explain how to level up with an appropriate clarification or apology.
I’ve written before about Beasts of the Southern Wild, the apocalyptic fairy tale about people living outside of the levees in Louisiana, which was my favorite movie at Sundance, remains one of my favorite movies of the year, and stars the most original superhero of the summer in six-year-old Hushpuppy. It’s a deeply, intensely political movie, though not along conventional lines: director Benh Zeitlin told writer Jeremy Butman of his characters, who live through a hurricane and resist efforts to relocate them behind the levees, that “It’s not like the movie is advocating that people not be rescued from disastrous situations. But it’s that condescending notion of, ‘We know better, you should live somewhere safer,’ which definitely infuriated me after the storm and that was a big entryway into the movie.”
I was also intrigued by what Zeitlin said in response to what I think is the most substantive critique of the movie, that it can seem to glorify extreme poverty, an answer that also clarifies the ideas behind his world-building:
The Bathtub is not a place where money exists. The whole idea of the Bathtub is that it’s a society where all the things that divide people have been removed. So there’s no religion, no politics, no money, no one sees race, there’s no rich and poor because there is no currency. So, I never thought about that because to me the Bathtub is this utopian place. And the poverty thing, to me it’s much more like it’s been cut off from the world, and it’s a survivalist place where they have to build everything by hand, they have to live off the earth. You don’t have any commodities to sustain yourself, but to me there’s no poverty there. There’s this ultimate freedom that exists there. But part of it is that when people see a trailer it’s like, “Oh, it’s a trailer. Poor people live in trailers.” That’s how I know it has been looked at, but I think that people are bringing certain preconceptions. When you see a trailer there’s a certain association. When you see black people in dirty clothes there’s an association. Those are things that people are bringing in because they’re used to those aesthetic elements communicating a very specific narrative about misery and poverty. So, it’s not that I don’t understand the reaction, but I don’t know that it’s in there.
Science fiction and fantasy can create new things, of course. But I think it’s easy to forget that they can also help us question the associations we have with images and signifiers, and pose challenges to our visions of what counts as affluence, or comfort, or an aspirational lifestyle. Respecting Hushpuppy means, at least for the duration of the movie, accepting her worldview. As she puts it, “Daddy says on the other side of the levee, on the dry side, they afraid of the water like a bunch of babies…The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world…Daddy’s always saying that up in the dry world, they ain’t got none of what we got. They only have holidays once a year. They got fish stuck in wrappers and babies stuck in carriages…Me and my daddy, we stay right here…We’s who the earth is for.”