I’m running off to Charleston for a long weekend, so I’ll be late to Homeland—though if the world explodes on Sunday night, please do email me and let me know—and full-service blogging won’t resume until Wednesday. Have a good few days off, y’all. I promise to tell you all about the Charleston Museum, the jazz, and the food when I get back.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) attempt to push a union-busting “right-to-work” law through the state legislature this week was met with considerable opposition from labor groups, who have protested en masse both outside and inside the state capitol in Lansing since Snyder announced his support for the law on Thursday.
Today, the legislation has a new foe: the National Football League Players Association, which represents players on Michigan’s NFL franchise, the Detroit Lions, and has come out against “right-to-work” before.
“We stood up against this in the past, and we stand against it in its current form in Michigan,” George Atallah, the association’s assistant executive director for external affairs, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “Our leadership and players are always proud to stand with workers in Michigan and everywhere else. We don’t think voters chose this, and we don’t think workers deserve this.”
The NFLPA is no stranger to labor disputes. NFL owners locked out players before the start of the 2011 season, and the players association was vocal in its support of the NFL Referees Association when the league locked out its officials at the beginning of this season.
Last year, the NFLPA opposed Indiana’s push for “right-to-work” just weeks before Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI. “We share all the same issues that the American people share,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told The Nation at the time. “We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like ‘Right to Work,’ I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue.”
Players, including Chicago Bears quarterback and Indiana native Jay Cutler, also spoke out against the Indiana law. While in Indianapolis, Smith marched with the UNITE-HERE union when its hotel workers were protesting low wages, missed overtime pay, and the firing of contract workers at local Hyatt hotels.
With such a short time table between introduction of the Michigan legislation and expected passage, Atallah said the players association had no plans for public actions against the right-to-work proceedings, but he iterated that the union stands with workers in Michigan. “We disagree with it and we’ll continue to stand with Michigan’s workers,” Atallah said.
In an email to ThinkProgress, Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner said his union also opposes the “right-to-work” push.
“Major League Baseball Players Association has always stood by the principle that all who reap the many benefits of union representation should contribute to their operation,” Weiner said. “All union members — either auto workers, teachers, firefighters, or the American League champion Detroit Tigers — oppose legislation designed to weaken unions. The economic health of our country cannot be revitalized by depriving workers of their voice in the workplace.”
What Sen. Joe Manchin’s Complaints About MTV’s ‘Buckwild’ Tell Us About Agency And Reality Television
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is displeased that, in the wake of the end of Jersey Shore, in part because some of that show’s stars started doing things like having babies and acquiring responsibilities other than partying, MTV is coming to his state with a show that will start airing next year called Buckwild. The program will follow the antics of a group of twenty-somethings who live in a 4,000-person town. The Washington Post reports on his letter to MTV:
“As a U.S. Senator, I am repulsed at this business venture, where some Americans are making money off of the poor decisions of our youth,” Manchin wrote. “I cannot imagine that anyone who loves this country would feel proud profiting off of ‘Buckwild.’”
“Instead of showcasing the beauty of our people and our state, you preyed on young people, coaxed them into displaying shameful behavior — and now you are profiting from it. That is just wrong.”
In an interview Thursday before sending the letter, Manchin repeatedly called MTV’s decision “just awful.”
“I have no problem with people in this country trying to earn a profit, but I would ask them: Would they do this to their own children, in their own neighborhood, in their own home state?” Manchin said.
It would be nice of Manchin, in the course of defending the innocent young people of his state, would recognize that his own constituents are among the people who “are making money off of the poor decisions of our youth.” There are definitely reality television programs that can be exploitative. Scenes can be cut to be misleading. Producers can be less than honest with participants about their intentions for a project. And no matter how much anyone does to prepare the subjects of a reality show for the limelight, there’s no way to predict what the reaction to a program will be until it airs, or how people who haven’t previously broadcast their lives will react to being characters, as opposed to actual humans.
But we’re also at a point in the development of reality television where many, many people who agree to participate in it are aware of the genre’s conventions, and go into the process with open eyes and a clear sense of how they can leverage the process to their own advantage. The subjects of Breaking Amish appear to have given the producers what they wanted, no matter the facts of their actual lives. I have qualms about making very young children the main characters of reality shows, but the adults who are participating in a program like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo seem self-aware and happy, and rather than becoming objects of pure ridicule, there are a lot of people who have found them rather likable. Jersey Shore‘s stars showed a determined willingness to make fools of themselves, but in a way that was mostly calculated, rather than desperate.
If I were Manchin, I might have a little more respect for my constituents. The only real argument I can see making is that rather than setting the show in Sissonville, which is in Kanawha County in West Virginia, which has 6.1 percent unemployment, down from 6.7 percent last year, MTV might have considered going to Clay County, where the unemployment rate is 13.5 percent, up from 10.6 percent last year.
I’ve joked at various points this year that 2012 is the year of Walton Goggins, the intense-eyed actor who made a name for himself on corrupt cop drama The Shield, and who’s found an equally juicy role as Kentucky white supremacist Boyd Crowder on FX’s U.S. Marshal show Justified. First, there was his year on that show, where his character found new depths caring for his bitter enemy’s father, and as a political advocate for the residents of Kentucky coal-mining country. Then there was his bravura cameo on Sons of Anarchy as a very funny, sexy transgender prostitute named Venus Van Dam that shook up the conception of what Goggins is capable of. And now he is the common human element of two very disparate movies about the South, racial violence, and the tensions that cracked our country in half, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It’s not just that Goggins has had what could be a career-making year. He’s done so in roles that could have stereotyped him as a googly-eyed, slack-jawed redneck, but that instead work together to explore a common idea, the lingering ghosts of the Confederacy and the struggles of poorer white men to define their identities, 150 years after the Civil War.
In Primary Colors, Joe Klein’s main character, Henry Burton reflects on the rise of white Southern, Civil Rights-supportive Democratic public officials that “Those pale, bland Southern Democrats seemed a down payment on the family dream. It was a whisper of a revolution: there wasn’t much blood or lust to it, just the promise of Northern money—new factories, new branch offices—in return for the appearance of racial harmony.” Tony Horowitz put a different spin on that phenomenon, twenty years after the seventies, in his reported journey through the South he chronicled in Confederates In The Attic. “First, it was the loss of the War and antebellum wealth,” he wrote of the South’s construction of its identity around loss. “Later, as millions of Southerners migrated to cities, it was the loss of a close-knit agrarian society. Now, with the region’s new prosperity and clout, Southerners wondered if they were losing the dignity and distinctiveness they’d clung to through generations of poverty and isolation.”
Goggins tends to play characters who never had access to that antebellum wealth. On Justified, Boyd Crowder is the descendant of multiple generations of poor white criminals. His own father deals drugs. He worked as a coal miner as a teenager, and found a temporary escape from Harlan County through service in the Army. In Lincoln, he plays Clay Hutchins, a Congressman of modest means and power—when considering bribing him to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) says of his asking price “A first-term Congressman who couldn’t earn reelection…I deemed it unseemly and bargained him down to Postmaster.” And in Django Unchained, he plays Billy Crash, a minor member of the entourage of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic plantation owner—his access to plantation prosperity comes from his role relatively low down on that economic ladder, rather than his position as the predator at the top of it.
The bridge is yours.
-The year in hate-watching.
-I’m glad James Poniewozik is as pleased with the development of Nashville as I am.
-X-Men movie chronology is bollixed beyond repair.
-Kristen Wiig. Brick Tamland. Go.
-It’s Always Sunny In Homeland:
In keeping with some of the things that I and Linda Holmes have been writing about an obsession with darkness and grit that’s become more for its own sake than it is for a larger narrative purpose, Stephen Lloyd Wilson has a good piece at Pajiba about the difference between plot complexity and moral complexity:
And even in this hair-splitting description, the language doesn’t quite work right, because complexity also has implications of plots that resemble spaghetti, which isn’t exactly right either. What we’re really trying to get at is moral complexity, not plot complexity. Difficult questions are not the same as complex ones.
In the second season of “24”, the last one I bothered watching, there’s a wonderful illustrative example. There’s the conspiracy to blow up a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, thwarted by bravery and pluck, and for a several episode sequence all evidence points to the plot being a joint effort by several Middle Eastern governments. Planes are in the air, ambassadors are recalled, the world is on the brink. And of course Jack Bauer discovers the key evidence that reveals that the cabal was actually within the American government itself. Complex? Well that isn’t a simple plot. Dark? Well there were nukes and people dying. But morally complex?
All the air went out of the show at the exact moment of that reveal because it turned a terrible moral question of how to respond to a horrific act of war (do you drop the bomb even though the plot failed? Invade three other countries?) into a simple question. Find the bad guys. Shoot them.
I’ve been thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot in this conversation, because it’s a show that largely eschewed physical disgustingness—the Gentlemen and their jars of hearts were about as gross as the show ever got—but had plenty of moral complexity. The fifth season of the show feels to me like a perfect example of a way to pose a range of morally complex questions that aren’t limited in stakes to avoiding violent death, and to do so without communicating those stakes through grotesquerie. Among the issues at stake: what does Buffy owe Dawn, the girl she is brainwashed to think is her sister, but who is actually a construction of ancient monks? Who is Buffy without her mother? What does it mean to parent someone? How do we handle death? How do we—or in this case, Xander and Anya—know when we’re ready to get married? When is self-sacrifice selfish, and when is it necessary? How do we handle people who are, in themselves, innocent, but who can’t help committing unspeakable evil? In the case of Spike, how do we know when someone evil has truly reformed?
There are a lot of plots in play in Buffy, but as a network show, it had a longer season to let them all flesh out—and one downside to the shorter seasons of prestige cable is that sometimes showrunners try to stick too much plot spaghetti into their fewer episodes, rather than limiting the amount of story they try to tell. And the basics of the season were fairly simple: Glory, the main Big Bad of the season, sometimes was stuck in the body of a doctor named Ben, who also happened to be treating Buffy and Dawn’s mother for cancer. The dynamic animating those elements was fairly simple: Glory looked for Dawn, the gang tried to keep her from figuring out what Dawn was, once Glory knew Dawn was the key, the gang tried to keep Glory away from her. There were variations, but the core structure was strong. Sometimes, it seems, moral complexity is actually served by plot simplicity. And as the end of the fifth season of Buffy should serve to remind us, sometimes death is most effective when it comes imbued with deep love, rather than simple brutality.
This post discusses plot points from the December 6 episode of Parks and Recreation.
Last week, I wrote that I was concerned that Parks and Recreation was going back to old wells to little effect. This week, the show at least partially righted ship for me, in part by realizing what it has to do with those old wells: cap them, or tap them. It was the first time I felt like, if Parks and Recreation is running its victory lap, the show is hitting the home stretch and really bringing its characters other than Leslie and Ben to satisfying conclusions.
Part of the reason this episode was so good is that it focused much less on Leslie directly, and much more on Ron, the show’s other, and maybe even true, breakout character. Their friendship has always been one of the staples of the show, or, as Leslie put it when she congratulated Ron on his nomination for his chair, “I’ve had a Ron Swanson Google alert for seven years and it finally paid off.” But the show hasn’t necessarily explored how that friendship affects Ron’s life other than to provide an amusing series of annoyances for him, and us, and it was nice to see it through Diane’s eyes. “Ron had told me so much about you, in that he told me your name is Diane, and you exist,” Leslie greeted her at the awards, before demanding to know all about her aspirations and which house she’d be in at Hogwarts. At first, Leslie got to present the situation from her perspective when she revisited her long-standing rivalry with Tammy: “”This may be the hardest challenge yet for Leslie Knope, Emotional Guardian. Protect a sweet couple from sex-crazed demon librarian who makes me question my stance on using the b-word. Maybe this once. No, Leslie, fight it.” But then we saw it from Diane’s, who realized that Leslie knew more about Ron than he did.
I was glad the show took the time to flesh out the difference between the kinds of friendships between men and women that normally happen on television, where they’re just hanging around until the show needs them to get together, and the kind of friendship Ron and Leslie have, that is genuinely and truly platonic and supportive. Sometimes when someone says “I don’t think of you romantically. You’re pro-government, you never stop talking, and you have blonde hair. you’re my worst nightmare,” they mean it. “At this very moment, Leslie is throwing herself in front of a freight train named Tammy for me, and you,” Ron explained in telling Diane to trust him. “I would rather visit Europe than have something romantic happen with her.” Introducing Diane to Duke Silver—and letting her let Tammy know that she can take her—took care of two old joke wells from Parks‘ past in a single episode, and it made me genuinely thrilled for Ron in a way the show doesn’t always have time to let him be.
Maybe it made sense that the other main story had smaller stakes, and pulled together smaller tributaries. The show’s been doing a nice job of tempering the other characters’ meanness to Jerry and demonstrating some of the consequences of that behavior this season, so it made sense that they would have to reckon with their behavior at some point. True to form, it took some selfishness, and the Voice of Retta, to make Tom, April, and Andy realize that their behavior, at minimum, isn’t getting them what they want, which is access to that buffet, if not Jerry’s friendship. Chris may tell Ben that Jerry’s gorgeous wife and beautiful daughters make “no logical sense,” but for the kindness Jerry puts out into the world, he deserves something in compensation for all those doors in the face, and for the perpetual willingness to see them as accidental.
The one part of the episode that didn’t help resolve problems with this season, or long-standing issues in the show, I thought, was Chris’s confrontation with Milliscent. His therapy’s never been the source of more than one-off jokes like his explanation to Ben that in his dream, “This time, the giant spider got caught in my web.” And while it would be amazing to see him truly transform over time, it’s hard to buy his evolution, especially when Rob Lowe isn’t really selling lines like “Thing with fat in them taste way better than things with no fat!” It feels inevitable that the show is going to get him back together with Ann, but this season has spent next to no season on making that outcome seem plausible. It’s one thing to rush us to the finish. And another to feel like everything’s come together perfectly in a Duke Silver solo, directed at just the right woman.