Here are a couple of topics that have caught my attention lately. Feel free to discuss:
1. Fanboy Panties in Bunch Over The Dark Knight
Okay, so the Academy Award Nominations are out, and the only major nod given to The Dark Knight is a sympathy nomination for the now-dead Heath Ledger. Fanboys across the world had themselves convinced that this was their year, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would finally recognize one of "their" movies as the Greatest Cinematic Experience of All Time.
Frankly, I'm pleased that the movie got passed over, as I'm one of the few people on the planet that thought it was only an okay film. I can see why all the little fanboys wet themselves over this: it's dark, it's gritty, and it's incredibly nihilistic, just what the little comic zombies seem to go for these days.Unfortunately, it's also unpleasant, too long, and badly filmed.
First of all, let's talk about Heath Ledger's performance. I make no bones about the fact that I've never been a Heath Ledger fan. I thought A Knight's Tale was god-awful, The Brothers Grimm was even worse, and The Order was a steaming pile. In my not-so-humble opinion, had Ledger not died just before the opening of The Dark Knight, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now. He was, at best, a B actor who someone made it into a couple of A movies.
Ledger's Joker was a one-note character, who simply moved the plot along by destroying things. He had no motivation, no reason, and no goal in mind; he just was. Proponents of the film hail his characterization as "a force of nature," or "an anarchist spreading chaos through fear."
The fact is, the cinematic world is filled with "forces of nature" like this. Just look at Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, the Aliens, Godzilla, etc., etc. These are all characters that kill for the sake of killing. They are plot devices that serve to provide something for the hero to contend against. As cool as they are, they are not three-dimensional, well-rounded characters. Ledger's Joker was over-the-top all the time. There was no shading to his character, and nothing that required any kind of acting skill. It was a competent performance, but nothing more. Ledger's performance didn't leave us with anything to think about or ponder, outside of, "Gee, I wonder of you really could kill a guy with a pencil like that?"
I've heard the movie called "revolutionary," "groundbreaking," and "important," but I don't see how any of these adjectives fit. Birth of a Nation was groundbreaking, in that it helped establish a new cinematic language that had never been seen before. It was revolutionary in that it demonstrated that movie-going audiences would embrace a feature-length film (most pictures before Birth were one- or two-reelers). Terminator 2 was groundbreaking in that it introduced a level of CGI that had never before been seen in the movies. The Dark Knight was none of these. It was unrelentingly brutal and mean-spirited (as well as being confusing and meandering), but it certainly wasn't revolutionary, groundbreaking, or important. Only obsessed fanboys with no sense of cinematic history could believe that.
The Academy's charter in awarding the Oscars is to "reward the previous year's greatest cinema achievements as determined by some of the world's most accomplished motion picture artists and professionals." It is not simply a popularity contest. Box office success, or failure, should not influence the voting of the Academy's members one way or the other.
So does the Academy always get it "right?" Of course not. But simply screaming that The Dark Knight should receive Best Picture, Director, Actor, etc. nods merely because it was a box office hit is ludicrous. Box office has nothing to do with the quality or achievement of a movie, as we all know. I really wish the legion of fanboys who are so up in arms about this "slight" could just relax and revel in the fact that so many comic book movies are being made today. Iron Man was great (far better than The Dark Knight in telling a compelling story with believable characters), The Hulk was a definite improvement over the Ang Lee version, and we have Watchmen to look forward to in a few months. Let's face it folks: we won. The geeks have inherited the Earth, and we should be celebrating that fact, rather than bemoaning the fact that TDK hasn't been canonized as the Most Transcendental and Uplifting Film in the History of Mankind.
I don't really want to go into a long discussion/critique of the film's weaknesses, but looked at critically, there are quite a few, from bad acting to sloppy storytelling to bad cinematography to a seriously excessive running time. Was it a good summer action film? Apparently so. Was it Oscar worthy? I say no.
2. Teaching Creationism in Public Schools
Apparently, the religious right is at it again, rallying in Austin to demand that Creationism (or "Intelligent Design") be taught in public school science classes right alongside evolution.
What a load of crap.
Why are we still having this discussion? You'd think that we were living in Salem, Massachusetts during the time of the witch trials. We're talking about science classes here, classes with a mandate to teach science. Not mythology. Are conservative Christians so weak in their beliefs that they can't abide any opposing argument be heard?
And why, when they talk about providing a "fair and balanced" approach to generative issues, are they only concerned with teaching the Christian doctrine of creation? Would they agree that a fair and balanced approach would also necessitate teaching the Muslim creation myth, or the creation stories of the various Native American tribes, or the creation myths of other, even more obscure and uncommon cultures? Of course not. This is nothing more than a totally transparent attempt to shove their particular religious beliefs down the throat of a public that doesn't necessarily want anything to do with them.
The issue here is that Creationism (or Intelligent Design, if you prefer) isn't science. There's absolutely no physical or objective proof that some outside intelligence created the world and everything in it. It doesn't stand up to scientific rigor in any way, shape, or form. It's faith, pure and simple. Yes, I know it's in the Bible, but that's no more proof of the existence of God than Action Comics is proof of the existence of Superman.
The proponents of Creationism are insisting that "the strengths and weaknesses" of evolution be taught in the classroom, yet they've never identified any of these so-called weaknesses. It's a weak position, and one that really shouldn't be argued anymore in this day and age of increasing scientific understanding. Do we really want to close our children's minds before they've even had a chance to be opened.
That, simply, is why it should not be taught in science classes. Evolution is a scientific principle that we see in both large and small ways. Large, in that we can study the fossilized bones of extinct creatures and examine the way they developed over time. The development of the modern horse, descended from Eohippus, is a great example of this. Small, in that we can see cross-bred plants produce entirely new organisms and we can see the results of directed breeding in dogs throughout the years. Evolution is a fact, not a theory, and just because we don't have all the answers yet regarding the origins of life does not diminish the fact that evolution, the survival of the fittest, is the way things are.
But I understand that some people don't agree with the above, and they have a right to educate their children in the ways of their faith. That doesn't mean their specific belief structure has to be validated by the State Education Department. Thomas Jefferson advocated the separation of church and state for a very good reason.
Here's a thought: if you're a Christian, and you want you child to learn about Creationism from the point of view of your faith, send them to Sunday school. That's an appropriate venue in which to teach them all about your beliefs. By learning about evolution in school and Creationism in church, your kid will be well-prepared to make an informed, intelligent decision as to what they personally believe when he or she grow up.
But that's not what these people want, obviously.
3. A Modest Proposal for Economic Recovery
Like many people, the current economic crisis is very much on my mind. I read about businesses receiving billions of dollars in Federal bailout money, but I have yet to see any positive results of all this governmental largesse. A large part of the reason for this is that the money was handed out under a corrupt administration with no strings attached. Why was the Federal government so hesitant to treat the banks in the same way that the banks have always treated their borrowers? It makes no sense to me. Now, of course, the auto industry has its hand out, and I hear that the retail industry is going begging to Washington to shore them up after a disastrous holiday season. When does it ever end?
Frankly, I think the wrong people are getting the cash.
Personally, I have no interest in bailing out a bunch of banking or auto execs, who knew exactly what they were doing when they put in place corporate practices that got them into this mess. The banks held a carrot in front of the noses of the poor and lower middle class, encouraging them to take out mortgages they could never afford, under terms that only benefitted the lenders. Did they really think that someone making $50,000 a year could really afford the mortgage on a $500,000 house? And yet they pushed those mortgages out there anyway, with balloon payments that looked good for the first year or so, but quickly became a monster, threatening to devour everything in sight. And these same banks that are now asking to be kept afloat on a raft of taxpayer money made a fortune sending out pre-approved credit cards, looking to hook the public into easy money with exorbitantly high interest rates, knowing that the vast majority of people would get themselves into trouble. But did the banks care? Not as long as they were making money.
And what about the auto execs, who insisted on making large, gas-guzzling, high maintenance vehicles, even during a time when consumers were telling them they wanted smaller, more fuel-efficient, better built cars. Hummers? Are you kidding me? The fact that auto sales for Ford, GM, and Chrylser are in the toilet should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all these corporate big shots who knew exactly what they were doing when they kept on rolling out Ford F-150s that got 12 miles to the gallon. And now they want us, you and me, to bail them out and ensure that their bloated corporate salaries and benefits packages stay intact. The writing was on the wall years ago, and they chose to ignore it. Now they want us to take the fall for their bad decisions.
I think we need to cut these guys loose. They've proven that they can't run a business, and the days of what amount to Federal grants to the exceptionally wealthy should be over. Here's what I propose instead:
Instead of giving the money to the guys at the top, give it to the guys at the bottom. Roosevelt's WPA programs in the 1930s are a good model, but we have to reinvent them. During the Depression, America's economy was largely built on labor and manufacturing. Therefore, when FDR instituted a policy of public works, which included building new roads and structures, it was perfectly suited to a time in which a large percentage of the workforce were laborers.
Today, however, we are an information-based economy, and with that realization comes the need to find a way to employ people who are not laborers in the traditional sense. Computer programmers, for example, aren't going to be your best road workers. WPA-like projects to improve our infrastructure should definitely continue, but they can't be our only solution.
There is a way to create jobs and put people to work in a variety of areas, however. I'd propose that the Federal Government make available non-taxable grants to anyone on, or eligible for, unemployment who can outline a plan to use the money constructively. For example, say you're unemployed and you want to go back to schoool or write a book or make a movie or start a business or whatever. When your plan is accepted, the government would, in effect, fund you for one year. At the end of that year, you would have to show some sort of measurable result (i.e.: a B average if you were in school, a completed manuscript and evidence of submission to publishers, an established business, etc.) or be required to pay the money back. This way, it would be clear that the government was not funding you to sit on your ass for twelve months, but would be actively looking for results, much like an employer would. If you could show substantial progress, you would be eligible to apply for an additional year of grant money.
Freed from the necessity of finding a full-time - or worse yet, part-time - job, these people would be able to better themselves and make a contribution to the life of society at large. They would also be able to spend money, putting it back into the economy and fostering growth. They would be able to work with their strengths, which should be the goal of any public employment program.
To properly implement this new program, it would be necessary to establish offices in all major cities, staffed with enough people - experienced in various disciplines - to process and turn over applications quickly. This would create a large number of Federal jobs in addition to all the people that would be helped by the grants. Jut by taking the amount of money spent on the ridiculous bailout package, we'd be able to help almost 1 million people with a plan like this, not counting those that would be put to work administering the plan.
We've seen that money flows in just one direction: up. Reagan's voodoo economics program - the "trickle-down" theory - was an utter and abject failure. when you give money to the people at the top of the pyramid, they keep it for themselves. Very little of it "trickles down" to the people it was intended to benefit.
When you give money to the people at the bottom of the pyramid, however, they spent it - on things like rent, food, cars, entertainment, etc. - and circulate it throughout the economy, benefiting people at all levels of society. This seems like a simple concept, yet few of those in charge seem to have a firm grasp of real-world economics, preferring to look down from the mountaintop rather than up from the valley.
So really, it comes down to this: who do you want to help - a relatively few wealthy individuals at the top of the food chain, or vast numbers of real, everyday people struggling to do their best and make a living in this fragile economy?
I know which group I choose.