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Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Wrong Questions…

Excerpt from a play I’m writing, which is about a woman who has abruptly left her husband of 8 years with no explanation other than she no longer wants to be married. In this scene, SARA is having dinner with her and her husband’s college friends CHARLIE AND GINA MERRICK. Thanks to Jenny Rouse for the working title.

GINA

You know what they say: “When a friend experiences a tragedy, even a self-inflicted one, her friends rally around her. That’s the power of sisterhood.”

SARA

Who said that?

GINA

Ladies’ Home Journal.  The latest issue’s on the coffee table if you’d like to read it.

CHARLIE

Sorry, honey, I think the girls used that for their collage project.

GINA

Strange. They were supposed to use the stack I set aside with the old Esquires and Sports Illustrateds. Am I wrong to view that as a hostile act? I don’t think so. The girls have been very rebellious lately. I hope drugs aren’t next.

CHARLIE

So, is everyone ready for dessert?

SARA

No, I’m fine.

GINA

Just nibble at the edges, like I do. No one eats a whole dessert.

SARA

That would be wasteful.

GINA

Charlie’s second-grade teacher – Mrs. Martin, wasn’t it? – used to not let him leave the cafeteria until he finished every bite of his lunch. Hard to believe there was ever a time when he didn’t clean his plate. But his big appetite is what makes him so big and strong!

CHARLIE

My penance will be an extra half hour on the treadmill tonight.

GINA

He doesn’t nibble around the edges.

SARA

I don’t think my refusing dessert is similar to what Charlie’s teacher did. She reinforced gluttony in children who were already prone to gluttony as a result of their American heritage.

CHARLIE

She was also huge – not even just by second-grade standards. I think she died a few years later. Sara, you’re going to kill yourself if you don’t try this dessert. It’s absolutely dynamite.

SARA

I don’t think my reaction will be that severe. What is it?

CHARLIE

“Cin-fully Apple Decadence.”

SARA

An apple pie?

CHARLIE

No, it’s from Bonnie’s Bakery across town. A little out of the way but totally worth it. Handpicked Braeburn apples baked in cinnamon with a homemade lattice-top crust.

SARA

So, to be clear: An apple pie?

GINA

No, dear, “an apple pie comes from your grocer’s freezer; only Bonnie Smith can make Cin-fully Apple Decadence.”

CHARLIE

Gina’s company came up with that slogan.

GINA

We like to help small businesses where we can. We charge them a premium for all the hand-holding but when you consider how some people don’t get involved in charities at all, what we do is actually quite heroic.

CHARLIE

(to SARA)

Sure you won’t join us?

SARA

Yes, I’m fine.

GINA

Awkward! See, you nibble around the edges so you don’t make your hosts look like Porky and Babe. Teasing. You’re family. You can watch us eat. It’s not weird at all.

CHARLIE

And I know you don’t drink, Sara, so I won’t offer you this wonderful dessert wine Gina and I got in San Francisco last month.

GINA

Remember Amy from down the hall? She finally got married. She’s Jewish, which is perfectly fine, of course. We’re all Democrats here. I only mention it because the wedding was on a Sunday, which actually turned out well for us because we left late-ish Friday and flew back on Tuesday. Also, childless wedding! Ca-ching! So, we aren’t the bad guys for not bringing the girls.

CHARLIE

But they get better at traveling every day. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Merricks hit Disney World.

GINA

Yay.(to SARA) Europe is the dear friend you club to death with a blunt object once you have kids. But you make other friends.

SARA

Your children might appreciate Europe. There are significant educational opportunities for them there.

CHARLIE

But Disney World’s the happiest place on earth!

SARA

That is their advertising slogan, yes.

GINA

(to CHARLIE)

Honey, do you want to clean up and I’ll take our lovely friend and this even lovelier Elysium over to the
sofa for some girl time.

CHARLIE

Sure thing.

(CHARLIE begins to pick up dishes and take them off-stage to the kitchen, as GINA leads SARA to
the living room sofa.)

GINA

Was dinner all right? Charlie doesn’t like butternut squash as an entrée. He thinks it’s more of a side dish. But I couldn’t resist the recipe.

SARA

It was fine. Very filling.

GINA

Oh, good. And I can certainly empathize with you shying away from dessert, dear, what with you starting all over again… at your age.

SARA

I don’t think you can empathize.

GINA

Because my life’s perfect, right? Guilty as charged. But I’m very empathetic. Just the other day, I covered for a colleague — at great personal cost to me — so she could go to a funeral.

SARA

No, to be clear, I meant the plural “you.” I don’t think empathy is possible, as it implies a degree of personal identification and understanding that would border on mind reading.

GINA

And who says mind reading’s impossible? (speaks in direction of kitchen) Darling, even just another half a slice of that pie will mean 20 more minutes on the treadmill. (to SARA) See? By the way, you probably hurt Charlie’s feelings a bit by not eating the pie. You sort of called him fat.

SARA

That’s not what I said at all.

GINA

He ate the big heaping piece —  I mean, why even slice it? He could have just eaten it from the tin. You just sat there. Fortunately, I joined him, made a joke, so he wouldn’t feel alone, shared in his shame. Me being empathetic again. See, he’s torn up because he’s gained so much weight in the past few years.

SARA

I hadn’t noticed.

GINA

He tries to hide it with those blousy shirts, but he’s not fooling me. Sad really. Just between you and me, I think he might suffer from body dysmorphia. I read an article about it in Marie Claire. It takes a very strong woman to deal with it, especially when he won’t even admit he has a problem. He just projects — like what he said about
his second-grade teacher. She was probably as rail-thin as you are. (pause as GINA looks SARA up and down). I bet women see you and are so envious of your figure. Then they learn you’ve never had kids. It does make it much easier. I’ve had two, so sure, from a distance, I might appear a smidgeon heavier than you.

SARA

OK.

GINA

You don’t notice Jabba in the kitchen but you… forget it. Rise above, I say. Before the kids, the only exercise I really had to do was dodging Charlie’s constant advances. (laughs). No, honestly, he was quite aggressive. Less so now that he hates how he looks. But that’s normal. You and Matt were together longer than Charlie and me. Can you believe it? Sure, we got married earlier because my family wouldn’t condone our living together otherwise, but those are our values. You and Matt were different. That’s fine, too. Don’t think for a moment that those choices are why you’re here today. Look, every couple goes through it: You’re together a certain amount of time, youth feels lost, eyes begin to wander, mistakes are made, and worse yet, they’re discovered and a reaction occurs that perhaps doesn’t look at the big picture. Understandable. Certainly easy when it’s just the two of you. I guess what I’m saying is, Matt screwed up, forgive him, and move on with your lives.

SARA

Matt never cheated on me.

GINA

Said with such confidence! So, you’ve met someone else. You think you’re in love.

SARA

I haven’t—

GINA

(interrupting)

You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me. How long have we known each other?

SARA

Twelve years and seven months.

GINA

And all that time, I’ve never kept secrets from you. And why not? Because we’re family. Family doesn’t hold back. That’s why I’ve revealed to you so many personal things about myself tonight. Charlie might be inclined to take sides. Matt’s his best friend and you’ve shattered him. And you were always really more his friend through Matt. But you two were already “Sara and Matt” when I came along. I’m able to be objective. Now, I’m not hurt that you won’t confide in me, but “wounded” might sum it up better.

SARA

We don’t know each other that well.

GINA

What an accusation! But you’re going through so much. You’re bound to lash out at those closest to you.

SARA

It’s not an accusation. It’s reality. We’ve never spent time together without Charlie and Matt.

GINA

And that’s what I’d like to change. Call it the silver lining in all this. You could use a friend, especially now, and I’m nothing if not a friend. I’m always in the bridal party, often the matron of honor. Not for Amy, though. Fine. Had to be a member of the tribe. I understand. Sadly, Monica was not prepared to plan a bachelorette party for anyone over 25. But did I step in and salvage things? Of course. That’s who I am. And you didn’t have any bridesmaids. Your choice. Totally OK. The reception was at our house, which if they had laws about this sort of thing would technically make me your matron of honor, as well. But, really, I don’t do it for the glory or recognition. So, where are you staying? Your parents don’t live in town, so a hotel?

SARA

Motel.

GINA

Excuse me?

SARA

Hotels have lobbies. A motel room door usually opens to a parking lot.

GINA

Ewww.

SARA

It’s fine. It doesn’t cost much and has everything I need.

GINA

I don’t even like to think about places like that, let alone imagine one of my best friends actually living there! Aren’t you afraid some hobo will assault you by the creepy ice machine?

SARA

I’m too old and female for Bob next door. And Ray down the hall made it clear that we’re OK as long as I don’t try to sell drugs out of my room. He’s very particular about his territory.

(CHARLIE enters from the kitchen)

CHARLIE

Dishwasher is filled and running. (to GINA) And I hand-washed the wine glasses and put them away.

GINA

Thank you, sweetie. (to SARA). Isn’t he wonderful? I am literally or figuratively — one of the two at least — the luckiest wife in the world. (to Charlie) Did you remember to put them on the white wine shelf and not mixed in with the red wine glasses? (to SARA) I’m a wine glass segregationist! Lock me away!

CHARLIE

There’s a white wine shelf?

GINA

Darling, I walked you through it the other night. No biggie. I love that you try to pitch in, and I only really bring this up for your sake, as I know how happy it makes you to help and I just want to make you happier by letting you help me better!

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Hurricane Updates…

Penny: Welcome back to our non-stop, repetitive coverage of Hurricane Irene, the Category 1 storm that has killed more than a dozen people, cost billions in damage, and limited the pizza delivery options of New Yorkers.

Dan: Right, Penny, this is a dangerous storm, which is why we’re here rather than the normal loser weekend anchors.

Penny: Of course, Dan, my presence here has nothing to do with JFK cancelling my flight to Bermuda. Now, instead of actual reporting, we’re going to read you some updates from random people on Twitter and Facebook.

Dan: Susie from Staten Island reports that the little mermaid Ariel has beached herself on Far Rockaway. She probably missed an exit while coming up the Atlantic, which is why we warn you to stay inside where it’s safe.

Penny: Definitely, there’s no sense putting your life at risk. Now, let’s go to our high school intern Chip reporting from a life raft tied to a minke whale on its way to the Cape.

Chip: Oh, my God, I’m so scared. I don’t think this whale is a strong swimmer. It’s sort of dog paddling.

Penny: That’s great, Chip. So, what are you seeing out there?

Chip: It’s pretty much just like the footage you’re showing except I’m out here and in great peril. I am still getting college credit at Columbia, right?

Penny: Exactly, credit at a college in Colombia. Now, let’s go to Dan with more updates from Facebook.

Dan: Thanks, Penny, Marty from Montauk says that trees are down on Route 28 but that Bigfoot is helping clear them away and directing traffic from the more treacherous areas.

Penny: What a swell guy. So, again we want to stress that it’s dangerous out there, please stay home and ride this out. That’s the sane and responsible thing to do. Now, let’s go to Lois reporting live from the Statue of Liberty.

Lois: Hello, Penny, as you can see I’m out on the torch here. It’s closed to the public but I broke in to demonstrate how stupid it would be if you were to come out here during this storm. In fact, I’m going to stand on the ledge in my six-inch heels and wave my arms to reinforce my point.

Penny: Good luck with that, Lois. Dan, any more Facebook updates?

Dan: Yes, Irrationally Worried Grandmother in Ohio is convinced that the hurricane has killed her grandson who lives in Sacramento.

Penny: Well, if he doesn’t call her within the hour, I think that’s the only possible conclusion. Has Irene spread to the West Coast? We’ll have more on that later in the hour but first let’s see if Lois is dead yet.

Lois: I’m still very much alive, Penny.

Penny: Oh, shucks. Well, maybe Chip.

Dan: Yeah, he’s a goner. That whale can’t swim worth a damn. Lois, I see you’re still standing on the torch.

Lois: Yes, Dan, and for my next trick, I’m going to do the Charleston while holding my head back with my mouth open while trying not to drown.

Penny: Amazing, look at her go! And to think she has no training in dance.

Lois: No, actually, I’ve taken dance classes. I just never went to journalism school.

Dan: Well, that makes sense.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Pop Life

 

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Vacation, all I never wanted…

There’s been a great deal of discussion about President Obama’s vacation this week to Martha’s Vineyard, specifically whether Michelle would drive on the way there or back and if the Bidens would take the fold-out sofa or the room with the bunkbeds.

Opponents of the president, who also thought he should not have celebrated his birthday, believe it is inappropriate for him to take 10 days off while the U.S. economy is in peril. It’s possible he might completely forget about the financial crisis while away and have to rely on the tattoos on his chest (“U.S. BROKE” and “BUY GOLD”) and polaroids of himself with Ben Bernanke to get back up to speed.

Mitt Romney claims that if he were the president, he would recall Congress, which is on recess, to Washington to resolve the economic crisis (“Resolving the Economic Crisis in 10 Days” is also the name of a TLC reality series Romney is pitching).

“The first thing I’d do is go back to my office immediately,” Romney said in response to a question about what he would do if he were in the White House. “If  I were president today, I wouldn’t be looking to go spend 10 days on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Remembering that he was at one point the governor of Massachusetts, where Martha’s Vineyard is located, Romney quickly added:

“Now, Martha’s Vineyard is in my home state of Massachusetts so I don’t want to say anything negative about people vacationing there… But if you’re the president of the United States, and the nation is in crisis, and we’re in a jobs crisis right now, then you shouldn’t be out vacationing. Instead, you should be focusing on getting the economy going again. And yeah, go back to the office yourself, pull back members of Congress, and focus on getting the job done. This action of somehow this is campaign time and vacation time is exactly the wrong dose of medicine for the American economy.”

Oh yeah, the GOP would also prefer that Obama not do anything remotely related to campaigning for re-election (part of its “Obama rolls over and plays dead” strategy).

The criticism did not alter Obama’s plans but he did offer to substitute a blow-up doll in his image that the GOP leadership could ignore, walk out on, and demonize on FOX News until he returned.

Sarah Palin, demonstrating her usual level of self-awareness, questioned Obama’s work ethic.

“You know, economies are crashing — markets are crashing — there’s a lot of turmoil right now. And he just seems so extremely absent from the reality that  the rest of us are facing in this country today,” she said. “And that’s illustrated by his desire and now his action to go on vacation again, this time for 10 days  . . . where the rest of us are kind of shaking our heads saying: Really? At this time? Perception being reality in politics, why in the world would he do this?”

What makes Palin uniquely qualified to criticize Obama is that she is arguably a victim of his economic policies. Obviously, his election cost her a potential promotion to vice president. She was then forced to quit the job she had for reasons that are still unclear even after repeated viewings of her resignation speech. Since then, she’s been as gainfully employed as a Kardashian with reality show appearances and her current role as Shirley Partridge, traveling the country on a PAC-funded bus tour where instead of performing songs, she just sort of shows up.

Palin might also have issues with metaphor comprehension: “I don’t know why our president bothers even making promises at this point or spewing those platitudes. One in particular: He said he promised to not rest
until every American who wanted a job got that job.” Her literal reading of the president’s statement might qualify her for the Amelia Bedelia of Alaska Award. She also suggested he invest in adult diapers rather than wasting the nation’s time on frivolous bathroom breaks.

Supporters of the president point out that most Americans with means take summer vacations. In New York, for example, it’s not unusual for executives to work from their Hamptons houses on Fridays because they desire a more pleasant view that the homeless guy outside their window urinating on Broadway. No one demands that businessmen not vacation until the economy recovers. Moreover, vacations are a critical part of the economy for many towns where summer tourism is their chief industry. They are like farmers whose sole crop are overpriced Bud Lights they claim are “local” drafts and crappy souvenir t-shirts.

Ronald Reagan — shortly before calling forth Lazarus — took 25 days vacation when unemployment was at 9.5%. George W. Bush was on vacation “42% of the time” during his first seven months in office. Bill Clinton took just 28 days off during his eight years as president, which reinforces why most people are distrustful of workaholics who can never find time away from the office. They are usually involved in some sort of complex embezzlement scheme or are having an affair with a colleague.

The presidential vacation as political PR stunt hit its nadir with Clinton, who —  taking the advice of Dick Morris, his Faust with a foot fetish — dragged his family to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1996 based on a poll Morris conducted. It’s still uncertain if the public didn’t play a prank on the Clintons. Anyway, the idea was that it would appear less elitist than previous trips to the Vineyard. I think my vote at the time had been for the Clintons to climb into a station wagon and drive cross-country to Wally World.

It’s all rather silly and reflects the less-benign bull-fighting match that modern politics have become. Ardent foes of Obama do not stop to question the logic of thinking he’s doing a terrible job while resenting his spending a few days not doing a terrible job. Not that anyone should expect Palin to question her own logic:

“… (Obama’s) ideology is one of big, centralized government that can plan an economy and make decisions for our businesses and for us as individuals,” Palin said. “So I think that he is not the one to provide that inspiration and that empowerment that is so desperately needed today to get us out of this really chaotic situation that we’re in.”

It’s like the line from “Annie Hall”: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible” “Yeah, I know, and such small portions.”

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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Recurring Feature (at least until I tire of it): “Terrible Things”…

If I had my way, all TV commercials would consist of white text over a black screen that details the objective value of the product advertised… perhaps with a Morgan Freeman or Gene Hackman voiceover. I want to be informed not entertained.

Neither informative nor entertaining is the current HP ad featuring actress Lea Michele:

The promoted product is the HP TouchPad — the Gobot to the Apple iPad’s Transformer (really, “Leader-1” and “Cop-Tur”? That’s the best you can do against “Optimus Prime” and “Megatron”?). CNET provides a more relevant review.

My issue is less with the TouchPad but with the use of one of my favorite songs,Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s “Let Me Entertain You” from “Gypsy.” Rather than commissioning a unique jingle (e.g. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony” —  commercialism disguised as a message of hope but at least creative), it repurposes an existing song whose lyrics superficially match the advertised message (another example is Honey Bunches of Oats’ use of The Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More”).

“Let Me Entertain You” is simultaneously sexy and innocent — as it’s performed in the show as both a children’s vaudeville act and later a burlesque number. The lyrics “I’m very versatile” and “I want your spirit to climb” manage to suit both purposes (Sondheim’s genius at work). It’s also a key song for Louise Hovick, who over the course of three minutes steps out of her sister June’s shadow and emerges as Gypsy Rose Lee.

Michele’s performance conveys none of this. It’s just a flat knock-off for… well, I guess, a flat knock-off.

Sandra Church’s version from 1959 can’t be touched but I leave you with my second-favorite performance of the song from 1987:

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Pop Life

 

Money, Money, Who’s Got the Money?…

Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times on August 14 in which he suggested members of a new congressional “supercommittee” looking at ways to balance the budget to “raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, and even more for those making more than $10 million.”

President Obama immediately agreed with Buffett’s argument. Mitt Romney immediately disagreed, trotting out the old Vaudeville act that high corporate tax rates is the primary motivator for businesses either not hiring or sending jobs overseas (this has also been said about minimum wage laws and employee health insurance benefits). You could remedy this, of course, with tax breaks that benefit those companies that invest in American jobs but who has time for that?

Romney had to say something but he’s on shaky ground contradicting Buffett. It’s not like the guy made his money starring in action movies or kicking field goals. He most likely knows a thing or two about the financial world. Romney’s entire campaign is that the country needs a president with both experience and proven results in the private sector. Buffett’s success in that area makes Romney look like the assistant manager at the local Shop Rite.

Of course, Romney’s position was the epitome of rationality compared to Michele Bachmann’s, who openly and unabashedly attacked Buffett at a campaign event in (of course) South Carolina — to borrow from “Kiss Me Kate,” GOP primary campaigns “open in South Carolina/We next play Texas/Then on to 1950/Lots of closeted gays in 1950!/Our next attack is illegal immigrants/That stingy, dingy menace…”

“We also believe, unlike Warren Buffett, that taxes are high enough already,” said Bachmann … “I have a suggestion. Mr. Buffett, write a big check today. There’s nothing you have to wait for. As a matter of fact the president has redefined millionaires and billionaires as any company that makes over $200,000 a year. That’s his definition of a millionaire and billionaire. So perhaps Mr. Buffett would like to give away his entire fortune above $200,000. That’s what you want to do? Have at it. Give it to the federal government. But don’t ask the rest of us to have our taxes increased because you want to have a soundbyte. We want to have real job creation in this country and that’s what we’ll stand for as fiscal conservatives.”

We might claim that taxes are “high enough” already but evidence — such as our crippling debt — might demonstrate otherwise. This brings us to the two separate views of how the U.S. taxpayer relates to the national budget deficit. There is the conservative view that the government is an employee of the U.S. taxpayer. In that scenario, it’s inappropriate for an employee to demand a raise just because he’s behind on the car payments for his Mercedes and, worse, has a $200-a-day cocaine habit that might result in his dealer breaking his legs if he doesn’t pay him on time. His employee’s debts aren’t his issue. But the country’s debts are our issue. They have a direct impact on us and our way of life, and thus stating “our taxes are high enough” is in many ways tantamount to saying that you’ve paid American Express more than enough already even if your credit card is maxed out.

However, Buffett is not suggesting everyone’s minimum payments be increased in order to reduce the credit card balance — just those in the best position to do so. The vast majority of our debt is attributible to our imperial presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (by the way, it’s wise to consider what caused the fall of the British empire). As Buffett points out, it’s usually the poor and middle class who sacrifice the most in blood for these wars. It would then be in the spirit of “shared sacrifice” for the wealthy to chip in more to pay for the tanks.

Bachmann should know that Buffett has already written a “big check.”  She also ignores the actual substance of Buffett’s editorial when she talks about the “redefinition” of “millionaire” and “billionaire.”

Buffett did not suggest no one could make more than $200,000. President Obama has said he wants Bush-era tax cuts for those individuals making more than $200,000 and families making more than $250,000 to expire after next year. But those people would not have to hand over every dollar made over $200,000, just a higher percentage of that income. And, if the Bush-era tax cuts expire, they’d have to hand over a higher percentage of money made on the stock market.

In 2009, roughly 2% of U.S. households had reported taxable income of more than $250,000. They earned 24.1 percent of all income, and paid 43.6 percent of all personal federal income taxes. Here again we have two separate views on wealth in the U.S. One side believes it’s unfair that 2% of households would earn 24% of all income. While the other side believes it’s unfair that those who earn just 24% of all income should pay almost half of all taxes.

Bachmann would “prefer to lower tax rates for the rich and broaden the tax base, making more Americans pay tax. Currently, nearly half of Americans – those at the lower end of the economic spectrum – do not pay income tax.”

If that’s the case, Bachmann is actually running on a “higher taxes” platform — just one that she would deem more equitable and, curiously enough, would affect more of her potential voters than Buffett or Obama’s proposal would. The only problem is that Americans at the bottom of the income ladder are arguably “too small to fail” — increase their taxes and you don’t cut into disposable income, you cut into basic survival. You might be able to reduce expenses in the former category (less iPods) but in the latter category (food, rent), you are less flexible, so then you might wind up running up debt, which would benefit credit card companies and banks (all those interest rates! All those fees!) and would result in healthy profits and bonuses for the executives at those companies who I’m sure will create jobs or re-invest in the economy or whatever else it is they do that makes things so neat for the poor.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Capitalism

 

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Fun with Bert and Ernie…

Fun with Bert and Ernie…

There was a fairly silly online petition going around proposing that “Sesame Street” marry off Bert and Ernie. I found it silly because Bert and Ernie are not necessarily adult characters but a child’s fantasy of what it would be like to live with your best friend. However, the reaction to this mostly benign petition is even sillier.

“Sesame Street” released a statement on Thursday regarding the petition that struck me as defensive and misguided.

Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.

Peter Roff of U.S. News and World Report further reinforced the Sesame Workshop’s assertion that “puppets” do not have “sexual orientation.”

(Bert and Ernie) are funny, engaging characters who demonstrate to children that people—no matter how different they might be in temperament, likes, dislikes and personalities—can still be the best of friends. But they are also, as apparently has been lost on some people, Muppets—a combination marionette and foam rubber puppet invented decades ago—by the legendary Jim Henson and his wife Jane. Muppets are not people, and while they are in many cases gender specific they, as the Sesame Workshop felt compelled to point out Thursday, “Do not have a sexual orientation.” Nonetheless someone out there thinks they would be useful to further a point about sexual identity.

However, as writer MaryAnn Johanson points out, this retroactive neutering of the Muppets is demonstrably false.

But… Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are puppets, too, and yet they clearly have sexual orientations (not to mention the other more problematic issue of transspeciesism). And Kermit was originally a Sesame Street Muppet. And Elmo has parents, Mae and Louis. So clearly Sesame Street Muppets can have sexual orientation… as long as its hetero.

Johnson is correct and shines a light on one of the more insidious undercurrents regarding how many heterosexuals view homosexuals: They are defined by their sexual identity and that sexual identity is unsettling. Thus, Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship, a core component of most of the films and TV shows involving them, is both normal and appropriate for children. Bert and Ernie as a couple would, as Roff fears, “further the end of childhood innocence in America.”

There’s no logical reason why a child could comprehend a heterosexual couple more easily than a homosexual one. True, there is the relatability of a male and female couple but how much of that is a ramification of most children growing up in such an environment compared to its being a dominant image in books, TV, and film? Also, when children see a couple, their minds don’t generally move directly to what the couple does in the bedroom. Without their parents’ hangups influencing them, they would probably see a homosexual couple through the same lens as a heterosexual couple: Two people who live together and are a family.

Upon reflection, I think the petition’s goal was to show children that a gay couple is not just normal but is as capable of innocence as a heterosexual couple (I also found Miss Piggy’s romantic aggressiveness rather forward-thinking at the time). This is what Roff and others like him wish to deny gays, so they make the specious argument that if “Sesame Street” decided to make Bert and Ernie a couple, the show is suddenly no longer for kids. It’s essentially “Queer as Folk” in felt. Gays are nothing more than their sexuality, the deviant behavior the Bachmanns of the world wish to “cure.” Love, commitment, and family are all the province of heterosexuals.

The petition also makes the valid point that the “indoctrination” Roff fears is not a negative. If we believe that children are not simply sociopaths — I’m not entirely convinced — then we must understand that they are naturally inclined to mock what they don’t understand or what’s different. “Sesame Street” has for years played a part in minimizing those areas of ignorance. If Roff thinks that children are not “sophisticated” enough to be exposed to a gay couple, then what did he think of Christopher Reeve’s appearance on the show, during which Reeve explained his paralysis to Big Bird?

I have no issue with “Sesame Street” choosing to keep Bert and Ernie as heterosexuals. Frankly, the obvious jokes about their relationship was as tiresome and off-the-mark as the ones about Batman and Robin. It’s just unfortunate that the Sesame Workshop would have to fall into the even more tiresome and off-the-mark perspectives of homosexuality.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Pop Life

 

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S&P, O.J., and Tiger…

So, on Friday, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ (along with a lesser reported scaling back of the nation’s fashion sense from “Fierce” to “Vacation Dad”). This should be a shock to no one remotely cognizant of the path the U.S. economy has been on since we decided to enter a post-Bill Clinton Bizarro World where up is down and reasonable taxes on the wealthy is bad while spending trillions (even in U.S. dollars, that’s a lot) on military quagmires apparently doesn’t count.

This revelation that the U.S. Empire has no cash can potentially “rock” the global markets… even though nothing has really changed. The country is as dysfunctional as it was on the Thursday before the announcement and the several thousand Thursdays before that. The closest analogue I can think of is when the story broke in November 2009 that Tiger Woods was cheating on his wife Elin Nordegren with… well everyone but me, it seemed. This punctured the myth of Woods’ squeaky clean image and everything quickly fell apart for him to the point that his financial state now is reportedly as perilous as America’s.

When news broke a few weeks ago that Tiger Woods had signed an endorsement deal to hawk a heat rub in Japan, it was hard not to think of “Lost in Translation,” or of the “Entourage” episode when Vincent Chase goes to China to do an energy drink commercial because he’s out of money.

Although Woods was likely paid in the single-digit millions for the spot — in which he takes a swing, rubs his back, and says, “Go Vantelin!” — it’s a far cry from campaigns for PepsiCo, Gillette, and Accenture. The last time Woods showed up in Japanese TV ads was in 1997, when he promoted Asahi Wonda coffee, back before he became a phenomenon. So the deal with Kowa (maker of the rub) seems more like a moment of desperation than a return to form.

It’s no secret that Woods, once king of the sports world, has suffered financially since his fall from grace. His endorsement list shrank and his marriage ended in a divorce settlement reportedly worth $100 million. But now he may actually be hurting for funds. At the very least, there are signs that he isn’t generating enough to comfortably cover his costs.

A true Faustian bargain: Tiger Woods could be the world's richest and most popular athlete but he'd have to marry and remain faithful to this woman.

Let’s contrast this to June 13, 1994 when O.J. Simpson most likely killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Here you have a clear, pre-and-post murder line in the sand. On June 12, Simpson was the former athlete who starred in the “Naked Gun” movies and advertised cowboy boots in old comic books. On June 13, he brutally murdered two people. This can cast a pall on your enjoyment of his hijinks as Nordberg and shake your confidence in his recommendations for appropriate footwear.

America’s June 13 was December 12, 2000 when George W. Bush won — more or less —  the presidency. Prior to that date, the U.S.was riding high on the wave of Clinton-era prosperity… then we decided to go in another direction. Once the horrible act took place, it was hard to look at the U.S. the same way. The country still defiantly stuck around, claimed it was unjustly maligned, but no one cared to listen.

However, Woods apparently was always an adulterous rake — our eyes were just finally opened to the reality. Thus, the Standard and Poor’s downgrade is the SUV crash that exposes the U.S. economy for what it truly is.  In both instances, there were furious P&R spins and post-mortems. Remember how they trotted out the theory that Woods might be a sex addict, which is a B.S. diagnosis for a lifelong case of douchebaggery? The U.S. is equally addicted to doing everything that S&P claims caused the downgrade — partisan sniping and a pathological denial of how the economy works.

Unfortunately, unlike Woods, the U.S. has no interest in entering rehab — even if just for show. Nothing can tame this country’s arrogance and need to blame others for its ills. Has this country — by its own reckoning — ever done anything wrong? As expected, this weekend we got more of the same on the Sunday morning news Talking Points Swap Meets. Here is where we get out of Tiger’s SUV and hop into the slow-moving Bronco with O.J. Our destination is inexorable. And a Michele Bachmann presidency — heck, even just a GOP nomination — is about as pathetic an end to the American experiment as Simpson’s final fate.

But who knows, Japan might be interested in the U.S. shilling heat rubs for them.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2011 in Political Theatre

 

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