Hollywood Squares

*This column originally appeared in The Nugget News, 3.8.2016

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Choke Yourself

I’m a movie buff, all-in, but while I love the experience of a good film—in a theater, particularly one as comfortable and inviting as our own Sisters Movie House—I confess that I have become increasingly tired of the people making them. The yearly, over-anticipated, under-compelling pomp of the Oscars, where Hollywood celebrates itself and chides the rest of us, is enough to make an old cowboy belly sick.

Here’s the rub:

I have a difficult time taking life lectures—and the Oscars ceremony now revolves around acceptance speech lectures on various topics, to varying degrees—from people who fly around in private jets, and whose after-parties cost more than the GDP of the African nations from whence they adopt their children.

I don’t want to be lectured by anyone, particularly someone who makes a living pretending to be somebody else, that I am a racist, or a sexist, or that my Ford truck is destroying the world. Especially as they are whisked away in chauffeured limousines, clutching their $200k dollar swag bags, to private clubs where minorities aren’t always invited, with a paycheck in their wallet roughly double that of their female colleagues.

And there is one more bit difficult to digest, given the righteous self-indulgence we are treated too on every conceivable topic: the entire event takes place in a city that exists principally because of the environmental rape of the Owens Valley, the utter destruction of a once vast and rich wetland, and a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway.

It’s fodder for the masses, I suppose, this circus, chewing up ad hours and steamrolling on its own hype, but I’m over it, and I don’t watch. It isn’t even interesting, unless one gets a strange thrill from watching an endless parade of celebrity narcissists with political chips on their shoulders.

The Hollywood awards season now lasts as long as a presidential campaign, and the combined spectacles seem to be in competition for the Best Absurdity Award.

In this presidential season, it seems, the roles have actually been reversed: the actors all think they are politicians, and the politicians are all behaving like actors, berating menials, comparing make-up habits, or cavorting with dictators.

Isn’t this all just very weird?

And even more weird is that the spectacle exists inversely proportional to the quality of movies they are making. I’m deeply afraid they are mostly out of ideas, given that the movies themselves, with rare and celebrated exceptions, now resemble those horrendous housing developments that have swallowed southern California, an endless and repetitive grid where every third house enjoys the same floorplan, mile after mile of Vista Verdes and Ocean Vistas and Seabreeze Estates.

Fast and Furious 10, anyone?

What we have created, over the years, is a cult of celebrity worship, where actors and actresses have, it appears, and by virtue of celebrity alone, increasingly succumbed to the notion that they are actually better people than the rest of us.

I’m reminded of the old dustup alleged to have occurred between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, when Fitzgerald tells Hem, “You know, the rich are very different from you and I.”  And Papa, ever the egalitarian ambulance driver, says, “Yeah, they have more money.”

I don’t begrudge these celebs their professions, their fame, or their money. I’m actually very happy for them. It’s America, make money whatever legal way you can, and if you are good at it, I hope you get paid a lot for it. But please don’t mistake celebrity for expertise in foreign policy, warfighting strategy, or moral and ethical righteousness, or use that platform to deride or cajole the rest of us into some position.

That’s my job. I do that. I do the work, and I decide what I think.

My celebrity heroes are one. Pat Tillman. He was passionate, driven, some say brilliant, and very, very good at his profession. And then one day, quietly, without fanfare, he walked into a recruiter’s office, enlisted, and became an Army Ranger.

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Pat Tillman

And he died as an Army Ranger, an enlisted man, a grunt, in Afghanistan.

He had his beliefs and might have used his celebrity to sing from the rooftops, enjoying the attention and the perks along the way. The Army tried to do that, for spurious reasons, but he didn’t. Pat Tillman, the man, never asked you to agree with him, or even to support his cause. But he believed in it enough himself to walk away from fame and fortune, and what would likely have been a long and successful career.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, that’s precisely my kind of hero.

I’m glad we have these celebrities running around, doing their thing. The world takes all kinds. But I wish they were making better movies, and some days I wish they would spend the next ten years or so in their trailers, reading scripts, eating star shaped sandwiches, and quietly staring at themselves in the mirror.

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16 thoughts on “Hollywood Squares

  1. Perfectly stated and — IMO — 100% on point. Oh the irony of being…ironical. Spending a million on the party, to raise a thousand for the charity, etc. Using the pulpit to stand and say: “I’m passionate about cutting down on carbon emissions, though later tonight I’ll be banging 9 supermodels on my way to a party in Iceland while my GulfStream-5 cruises at 35,000 feet spewing sh## into the upper atmosphere for 9-hours.”

    And oh yeah… How can anyone take any “Academy” seriously when films such as the most recent iterations of BATMAN and THE ROAD WARRIOR are nominated for “Best Picture”? Obviously, that’s a painfully obvious and rhetorical question…

    Love the writing!

    –dave

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    • Thanks Dave! And yeah, the crop of contenders keeps filling up with weeds. I guess that’s another symptom of the narcissism, they can’t even see what bad movies are anymore. Or maybe they know and don’t care, which is worse. Too bad, given so much talent and potentially great scripts at their disposal. I am composing some replies to your emails…will get back to you on the writing stuff, I swear it. I’ve got a couple of interviews lined up for the newspaper I need to get done, then I will answer properly and like a human being. Thanks for reading!

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    • Yeah, but you sing a lot better than I do 🙂 Although I’m pretty good in the shower. This morning I belted out Amazing Grace and the reverb off the tiles was pretty awesome…I sounded gooooood.

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  2. Well put! I saw a t-shirt  that had “I don’t care what actors think” printed on it… I think I’ll order one… 

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    • You are right, of course. I haven’t watched in years either. Mostly I’m responding to the spillover that filters into my legitimate news sources. Above the fold, even. Tired of it. I try to be as balanced as possible in my intake of “news”, to form an intelligent opinion based on the available information, but it keeps getting harder to find any serious stories about anything, because I must first dig through several layers of what Oprah said about Weight Watchers, or how Leonardo feels about the internal combustion engine. It is especially aggravating after the months long self-congratulatory narcissism fest of their awards season. Pshaw. Soon I will likely abandon most news outlets altogether. And I’m conducting an independent study: I’ve noticed a tendency now for news outlets to run headlines in the form of a question: “How far north is Zika Spreading?” or “Whats Going on Between LeBron, Kyrie?” I’m fairly certain there is a mathematical correlation between headlines with question marks and a tremendously poor quality of actual news coverage and analysis.

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  3. Craig…
    You now join the ranks of blogs I have actively participated in. It’s a very short list. That list would include Jim C’s Frontier Partisans and Tom Russell’s Notes From The Borderland before it became defunct.
    Not enough time or interest to join the fray elsewhere. Gotta keep it real and worth the effort.
    So on with the show…
    I lean very heavily these days on documentary films. I want to really learn and benefit from the truth as best it can be revealed to both inspire and teach.
    Truth does not need to be exaggerated to resonate. Presented well is all that is required. Sure there is a place for hyperbole and that might be the spice of life.
    Maybe even CGI can fit in here and there. Seldom wirks for me though. Most films that take me in seldom have a large audience, which is an indication of the slim offerings of quality mainstream films playing today.
    As a rule I prefer the small films. The ones that really dig into a real person. Such an example of this is a documentary film I saw a few years back titled: BUCK a film out Buck Brannaman. I saw it in a small theatre with only a few in attendance. One of those films with a one day release in the middle of the week showing. An example of the power of hype and marketing that wrangles the herds into the blockbusters ( mostly worthless crap ) while the good stuff barely sees the light of day. BUCK on the other hand should be required viewing. It goes into his early days of his childhood performing rope tricks with his brother and his physically abusive father and being saved from that situation and becoming the horse whisperer. This is a perfect example of films that are worth my money. This is the trail I follow these days. No false bravado with empty results. The good ones are stil out there. You just have to dig a little deeper and refine the definition of quality. My interest are far ranging and I have stumbled into another good one here in The Bunkhouse Chronicles along with your neighbor Jim C. over at Frontied Partisans. A pair to draw to.
    As THE BEATS were children of both Whitman and the cowboys there is room for all of us. Yeah Kerouac was a cowboy!
    Hope BUCK fits in here as well…

    — ST

    My idea of a good film:

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    • Well, I am a huge fan of Buck Brannaman, and am familiar with the documentary of which you speak. There has been any number of recent documentaries that I’m in love with, and have pondered the notion of creating one or three myself–I’m drawn to the form and the possibilities. I appreciate your interest in this site, and I will try not to bore you out of your gourd. Thanks again, Jeff, pleasure having you here.

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  4. P.S. Pat Tillman has the Arizona half of an iconic bridge named in his honor.
    Fitting that a bridge be named in his honor. Bridges and not bullets where we can. We will never know for sure what his conclusion would now be.

    Regarding everything else in between we may well be running a Zeno’s paradox of a race between Achilles and The Tortoise here. A race that cannot be won.

    My conclusion is a Zen one:
    More or less, and I paraphrase here, a quote I came across years ago from D.T. Suzuki in that ” trying to figure it all out is like trying to ride a horse on a horse JUST RIDE [ THE ] HORSE ” was his advice.
    I agree. I don’t need to know why water quenches my thirst only that it does. When it works it works.

    The closer one looks the less we know. Take what you need and throw away the rest. You take up your position and live with the consequences good or bad. Seldom if ever is it cut and dry. If I know anything at all it’s that I don’t know. You just keep moving. A closed mind is a dead one…
    Best of luck to you Craig with all of your efforts here.

    — ST

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    • Thanks Jeff, I appreciate your readership and active participation. Sorry for the delay in replying. Suzuki’s quote is a good one, and true, although with a horse its often best to know something about them ahead of time. Sentient beings acquire and utilize any number of nasty tricks.

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      • ” Sentient beings […]
        Advice well given. Advice well taken.
        I agree Craig. Horses are sentient beings ( and smart too ).

        Quoth Will Rogers:

        ” Horses are smarter than people you know. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people have you? ”

        Looking forward to your documentary…

        — ST

        Getting oats for the horses at the TA in Tonopah, AZ.

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