Good News!

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Why are we so hung up on the Olympics while the world seems to be falling down around us?  Precisely because the world is falling down around us.  As Ira Gershwin once wrote, “With politics and taxes, and people grinding axes, there’s no happiness.”  We crave good news.  Election coverage adds to whatever anxieties we already have.  The Middle East?  Russia?  Natural disasters at home and abroad?  Wars and rumors of wars?  Then  Simone Biles wins multiple gold medals, and for just a moment the walls don’t seem to be closing in as relentlessly.

Perhaps that’s why we sometimes pay so much attention to sports in general. Even if the euphoria of victory on the field or the court or the mat fades quickly, at least we had euphoria.  At least there was a flicker of relief from the latest crisis.  And even when our team or our athlete loses, at least the winner doesn’t have the power to raise our taxes or regulate our lives.  In the case of the Olympics, we have the privilege of seeing a host of young people who are models of self-discipline and drive.  We can admire abilities that took years of tireless, determined effort to build.  Like the best of the best that they are, the Olympians make it look easy.  The way Fred Astaire made dancing look easy.  The way the Beatles made music look easy.

Recently, the editor of the newspaper in my small town wrote an editorial in which she requested that readers inform the paper of any positive, uplifting news in the community.  She expressed her belief that too often, the bad news is the star of the show.  And how right she was.  Years ago, a co-worker told me that he never ate while watching the news.  He explained that the news and good digestion were incompatible.  Think of the famous headlines of history such as “Titanic Sinks” or “Stock Market Crashes!”  It seems as though the only good news is bad news, or at least that seems to be the perspective of the media that transmit news.

Why were movie musicals so popular during the Great Depression?  For a few coins, we could imagine ourselves in beautiful evening clothes, dancing our way up silvery staircases to a life of limitless possibilities and endless positivity.  We escaped – at least mentally – the question of where our next meal was coming from.  The musicals spread the good news that even in troubled times, it was possible to find at least a little happiness here and there.

So enjoy the good news of the Olympics and the stories of people who reach the century mark and still have their wits about them and the couples celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary and the young people making valuable community contributions.  They remind us that despite it’s “sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,” life can be beautiful.

Shut Up!

When I was in high school they used to show a film that started with a guy in a Nazi uniform putting on a swastika armband.  As the camera drew back, you could see he was on a contemporary American street among many passersby. He started handing out leaflets, getting frowns for his trouble.

The idea of the film was that Constitutional free speech meant the freedom to say things that other people might find offensive.  In those days, Nazi rhetoric was considered the ultimate in offensive speech.  Today, the standard has changed to anything Donald Trump happens to be saying.

Maybe we should review the source for the whole free speech idea.  It’s the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It was a little hard to swallow back in the old days that somebody could actually stand on a street corner and say a bunch of Nazi stuff and get away with it under the First Amendment.  The free speech idea is still difficult for some people.  For example, some college campuses like Yale have “safe zones” where students are “safe” from any speech that offends them.

The First Amendment has been used to justify a lot of things that the people who wrote it never imagined it applying to. The real focus was speech about politics and society.  That was the kind of speech that was important to a country that had recently managed to fight its way out from under what they saw as an oppressive  Big Government, the rulership of Britain.

So I was surprised the other day when I listened to a Donald Trump speech, and heard disruptive outbursts from protesters about every four minutes.  It might be argued that they had a right to protest.  However, the security guards escorting them out were evidence that they didn’t have a right to protest inside the hall where the speech was taking place. This is happening a lot.

But there is a bigger concern, a concern far greater than whether or not a Donald Trump speech is disrupted.   If we’ve come to the point of shouting down every idea with which we disagree, we’re in trouble.  It seems self-contradictory to use speech for the purpose of shutting off speech.  We’ve already seen in history what happens when the right to speak is dictated by the group with the loudest volume.  I don’t hear such disruptions at Hillary speeches.  Is this because nobody disagrees with her?  Hmm.

The purpose of this piece is not to defend or promote any political candidate.  Perhaps it is simply to remind ourselves of something Rod Serling once said: “For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized.”  Telling people whose ideas don’t jibe with our own to shut up is the first step toward a place where none of us really want to be.

Cary Grant

Did he accidentally violate a “safe zone?”

 

 

 

Is Donald Trump King Kong?

Are you having trouble dealing with the Presidential campaign of 2016?  We’ve had weird before.  Teddy Roosevelt and his “Bull Moose” party.  Strange.  William Jennings Bryan and the “Cross of Gold” speech.  Stranger.  LBJ treating reporters to a look at the surgical scar on his flabby stomach.  Stranger than strange.  Now we have perhaps the strangest twist ever to burst onto the scene of Presidential politics.  With a population in excess of three hundred million people, Americans have somehow chosen Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to compete for the most powerful position in the world.

Getting a handle on this bizarre election requires bizarre tactics.  So instead of comparing 2016 to past elections, pull out a new frame of reference.  Only the horror/sci-fi movie genre can lead us to a full comprehension of what we’re facing right now.

Let’s start with King Kong v. Godzilla.  Think about it.  If you’re a pedestrian in the screaming crowd when King Kong faces off with Godzilla, are you rooting for one monster over the other?  Are you better off if Godzilla wins?  If Kong triumphs?  No, you’re just trying to get out of there between the falling skyscrapers!  But looking at these movie characters helps us better understand the characters fighting on our Presidential stage.  Who’s who?  It’s obvious, isn’t it?  Godzilla is a calculating fire breather.  Kong is a lumbering ape who lets his emotions get ahead of him every time.  You decide who’s who.  Using this analytical lens, we suddenly gain a clearer picture of what we have here.  And again, which way are you better off? (Watch out for that building!)

King Kong v. Godzilla

Want another lens?  Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.  Which is which?  Again, it’s obvious.  The Wolfman is vicious.  He will tear your throat out because that’s what he does.  When you see the Wolfman coming you have to hide.  The way White House staffers used to duck through doors to avoid First Lady Hillary.  Frankenstein is big, clumsy, and uncomprehending.  He doesn’t mean to do the damage he does.  He can’t help it.  Either way though, you don’t want to be on hand to celebrate the victor, do you?

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman

Finally, let’s look at Billy the Kid Meets Dracula.  Yes, there really was such a movie.  It’s hard to believe, but then it’s even harder to believe that we’re having this Presidential campaign.  In B.K Meets Drac, You have a ruthless Old West outlaw versus the Prince of Darkness.  Billy is frighteningly freewheeling, and doesn’t give a flip for consequences.  Count Dracula is a careful, cunning bloodsucker.  Billy is always unscripted; the Count measures every word and every move.  Again, you figure out who fits whom,  AND, ask the question: which adversary do you want to see win?  Really.

billy-the-kid-vs-dracula-42

The good news is that in horror/sci-fi movies the two battling forces usually end up destroying each other.  They’re both eliminated in the end so that the world can go back to sleep.  Perhaps what we need in this Presidential race is a little movie magic.