TV/media in the 2000s: 10 (or so) key voices in left/right political media

Politically speaking, the aughts have been one long, strange trip. Just think about what we’ve seen this decade: a disputed presidential election in 2000, the largest terrorist attack in world history occurring on U.S. soil in 2001, followed by two wars, the partial erasure of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, a congressional changing of the guard, the election of the first African-American president as well as the first with a foreign-sounding name, and the probable passage of a health care package which, depending on your point of view, is either historic, a mystery, a bit of a sham, or the first step on the road to a Stalinist U.S. of A.

Bubbling beneath all of this has been a series of remarkable changes in the world of media — television, movies, radio, and this thing we call the Internet — that have had a fairly profound impact on politics and, therefore, on real life. What follows are my choices for the ten most interesting and/or influential figures in the realm of political media. To try and slightly compensate for my obvious liberal bias (my side is far more facty, I tell ya!), I’ve got five spots each for conservative and liberal media figures respectively and I’ll be alternating and counting down from the bottom.

#5 Conservative

Trey Parker and Matt Stone — It’s possible that most regular viewers of “South Park” have little idea that Parker and Stone are self-described Republicans and I’m sure most of you don’t think of it as that much of a political show, even though rather subtle and often quite penetrating and/or infuriating thoughts about politics run through many, if not most, episodes. That’s because, like all great satirists, they are just as good at poking holes in the pretensions of their own side as that of the opposition, and their social liberalism puts them so at odds with the increasingly extremist faction that now controls much of the Republican party that some could easily mistake them for liberals. Actually, right now it’s easy to imagine them ditching the party indefinitely, along with any number of smart fellow conservatives who have already done so publicly.

parker-stone

Still, conservative and/or anti-liberal messages are often found on episodes of “South Park,” including attacks on such personal friends of the pair as George Clooney. Indeed, as early as 2001, famed blogger Andrew Sullivan described himself as a “South Park Republican.” (Sullivan is now one of those smart conservative ex-Republicans I mentioned above.) And, of course, there was no stronger, and certainly no funnier, attack on the antiwar efforts of the American left than “Team America: World Police” which had marionette versions of Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, and Janeane Garofalo working in tandem with North Korean madman Kim Jong-il in his plans to destroy Western civilization.

Since the film’s release in 2004, more doctrinaire conservatives have tried to follow suit with such liberal-bashing comedies as “An American Carol” and “The 1/2 Hour News Hour,” a truly wretched attempt to craft a conservative alternative to “The Daily Show,” but only Parker and Stone have been able to bash liberals and their ideas and make targets like Alec Baldwin love it.

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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In which “Basterd” week gets going (updated)

It wouldn’t be the week of a new Quentin Tarantino movie without a little controversy. Now esteemed critic, film historian, and occasional hair-up-his-keister provocateur (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Jonathan Rosenbaum helpfully supplies it in discussing a Newsweek piece, comparing good ol’ QT to both Holocaust deniers and Sarah Palin in one short blog post. (H/t David Hudson.)

Unlike Rosenbaum, I haven’t seen the movie yet so I’ll withhold comment. However, my bias is obviously pretty pro-Tarantino and pro- not seeing it as some kind of dangerous revisionism. What’s one boldly ahistoric movie against thousands made before it? It’s not like Tarantino’s deleting them from Netflix. I also fail to see how Rosenbaum can even begin to speak for the reaction to the film of real-life Holocaust victims. It’s putting an awful lot of power on the movie to imagine it’s causing any real distress to them without some evidence.

I’m a pretty proud secular Jew myself, so I take the Holocaust seriously. At the same time, I take the sort of ownership some Jewish thinkers take over the history of what happened at the time, and how filmmakers deal with it, with a huge lack of seriousness. Some years back, Roberto Benigni’s Holocaust tearjerker, “Life is Beautiful,” started a different sort of controversy and I felt many took excessive offense. I was moved by the movie, almost despite myself, but I could certainly understand why a lot of people disliked it. However, the level of vituperation still puzzles me. I once listened to two well known Jewish critics verbally bludgeon a well-known Los Angeles rabbi for daring to speak well of the film on a local public radio station. What gave them to right to decide how the rabbi was allowed to react?

Many years before that, Mel Brooks took some heat for daring to make fun of Hitler in the original film of “The Producers.” Even the deadly serious, extremely well received, riveting and thought provoking historical drama “Downfall” worried some because it presenting the monstrous dictator as a human being. That was, I thought, deeply wrong. It’s crucial that we remember, always, that Hitler was as human as any of us lest we start to act as if we are beyond evil, a popular belief among the actually evil.

Of course, adding comedy to anything touching on the Holocaust is really asking for trouble from some quarters. I haven’t been able to dig up a review of “Downfall” by Rosenbaum online, but I wonder what Rosenbaum thinks of the “Downfall” subtitle Internet meme? Would he agree with the take offered below?

What does Hitler think of the Downfall meme? – watch more funny videos


UPDATE:
Roger Ebert’s e-mail interview with Tarantino deals with “Basterd” history and actual film history.

  

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The definition of a slow Monday morning in Hollywood

We’ve only got news on one remake, one sequel, and few odd cultural jeremiads on the same theme.

* I’ve just barely finished my decades-long personal boycott of the original, and now there they’re talking about a remake of John Milius’s “Red Dawn”. The 1984 film may seem a bit quaint now that it’s old enough to be ready to finish grad school but at the time it seemed to me an irresponsible act of cultural provocation with potentially catastrophic impact if people took it too seriously. Fortunately, few did and most took its absurd plot about a Soviet land invasion as the balderdash that it was. Back then, Republicans and Democrats alike knew that World War III would last about 90 minutes and result in the destruction of most everyone and everything. (This was before the tinfoil hate hat era of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.)

As political propaganda, the prior year’s “War Games” proved far more effective and possibly even affected movie-bred President Reagan’s thinking on the topic as well. In any case, a film about a Chinese-Russian co-invasion (don’t they still hate each other?) seems just bizarre now and, again, pretty much impossible — assuming it doesn’t end with something very close to complete annihilation.

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Tina Fey IS Sarah Palin!

Like we didn’t know this was inevitable from the moment Sarah Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, but that didn’t make it any less funny

  

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