Thursday, June 24


Ross Douthat Blog™ "Did 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars' Ruin Hollywood?" And Does the Times Stylebook Really Call For Titles To Be Put In Quotes? June 22

I HAVE a cold, which is currently taking some Viral Baedeker of the charming but less-visited off-season attractions ("The mandible offers adventurous Picomaviridae an opportunity to view the rare Third Molar close up") its host has to offer. I don't think I've ever had a cold in the summer before. The novelty wears off quicker than you might imagine, and downing NyQuil shots in the heat is like drinking Port in the tropics.

Wingnuts haven't helped matters, not that they ever do. One is reminded, particularly reading that Brooks thing Tuesday, that they are never so obnoxious as when they imagine themselves in the ascendant, which they attribute to God and Middle America being resolutely behind them. (Nor did the fact that I'm presently too weak to grab the remote from my Poor Wife, nor run from the results as she switches to Channel 13 Eyewitness News for thirty seconds, just long enough for me to hear the male hairdo introduce the story of a threatened lawsuit over McDonald's Happy Meals by the Center for Science in the Public Interest thus:
The so-called Food Police...

"Excuse me? Could I get this with extra Blatant? And substitute Corporate Bukkake Whore for the Deep-Fried Crisco Sticks?" Sheesh, somebody wrote that, before the natural-born shill behind the desk read it sounded it out phonetically. Though it might be that 13 is Dennis Miller's last stop in showbiz.) You'll note, too, that the obnoxiousness and the delusion of ascendency are near simultaneous; that Ho ho! Back from the Dead! shit began when the Obama administration failed to get health care legislation before the 2009 summer recess, and it's continued with every Town Hall meeting gone viral, and every Teabagging event that drew 200. Compare just how long it took for any of 'em to admit they had a problem in Iraq, in New Orleans, or with Bush II in general, and just how much virtual ink was spilled confronting that.

Anyway, I had plenty of good reasons not to open the Times but I did anyway. McChrystal McKabuki? Seven stories, and three Opinions? Pass. Max Boot didn't think he should be fired. That alone is enough for every American to support, or at least consider, summary execution, of McChrystal and whomever books freelancers for the Op-Ed pages. Matt Bai, given space above the e-fold to demonstrate--unwittingly, apparently--that the supposedly smartest Bush Brother is a nitwit? Didn't we know this already? Are our lives not busy enough?

And a glance at the Opinion Corner catches a tease for Douthat's "blog", and in the Cherry Haze of an early-morning Dextromethorphan buzz I briefly hallucinate the possibility of an original thought from Linkmaster Ross.

Insert Reefer Madness laugh.

So far as I can tell, the impetus for all this is that the Summer Blockbuster Season has disappointed some middle-aged white guys (John Podhoretz and David Edelstein, to use the two examples Douthat links) who used to be the target audience for such shenanigans. Enough so that they've become retro-nostalgic for a Golden Age that was over before either could get into an R-rated movie. And they blame this on the concept of the Summer Blockbuster, as ushered in by Jaws (Podhoretz) and not-Jaws Star Wars (Edelstein).

It's a common-enough argument--I've used it plenty myself--though I have to question, yet again, how "conservatives" such as J-Pod manage at one and the same time to be Profit's harlot and Art's chaste handmaiden.

But I think there's something missed in not having lived through it, or not as an adult whose intelligence could be insulted. I'd say, for example, that Edelstein has to be watching Jaws through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old to call it the Best Anything ever made, but I'd agree with him that it didn't usher in the modern Summer Blockbuster. At the time it felt more like a one-off; popular movie made from a popular trash novel. So was Valley of the Dolls. It was when the damn thing started spawning sequels, and people flocked to those, that the real danger became clear, but by then it was Too Late. And, hey, I'd like to think that Podhoretz is onto something there, even if he's slightly off, but only the oldest Boomers were out of their teens when Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate hit the screen. Italian neo-realism, the Nouvelle Vague, and post-war Japanese film all found an audience here before Boomers were out of grade school. It's the rise of the Blockbuster which is the aberration, or was before it went on for thirty-five years and no abatement in sight.

Nor did it happen in a vacuum. It coincides with the rise of Happy Talk news, People magazine, Good Morning America, of Disco and Anthem Rock. It heralds the coming of the New (Carter) Democrat and the already withered Reagan Republican, the transition from Elvis to Elvis impersonator. They dumbed down game shows, fer chrissakes, so that none a' your fancy book-larnin' got in the way. Astute moves, swing of the pendulum, faddishness run amok, or fiendish Straussian cabal; it happened.

And I spent ten years expecting it to swing back, particularly, say, for some bright-boy at the nets to counter-program Baba Wawturs Pweesents Suhlebwuty Gossip an' Headwines with someone reading real news in English. Never happened. At some point I decided you can only worry about your own reading list, anyway.

So I don't blame Jaws and Star Wars, or not really; they're just the pustules the thing broke out in. It would'a been something else otherwise. The bigger question, I think, is this: Podhoretz imagines the Golden Age as the result of executives recognizing the boomer insistence on more complex fare. How is it no one's decided to give that another whirl in two generations since?


R. Porrofatto said...

I was going to make some pointless comment about media consolidation run by the equity boys, blah, blah but I'd rather just wonder yet again how the author of such wonderfully crafted and funny lines like I have to question, yet again, how "conservatives" such as J-Pod manage at one and the same time to be Profit's harlot and Art's chaste handmaiden, among so many other, hasn't yet pushed a Waste of Space like Douthat off the Times Opinion page.

ice weasel said...

Add sincere and fawning agreement here.

mac said...

More fawning: Dextromethorphan completes you. That's some funny shit.

heydave said...

like drinking Port in the tropics... good times, good times.

Colin Escherich said...

The cognitive dissonance always amuses me when these conservatives discover that the free market is not a faithful servant, but a cruel master.

bjkeefe said...

When you said Baedeker I immediately thought of bukkake, so I had to stop and look up the former, so I was ... um, encouraged probably isn't the right word ... to see the latter come along a couple of paragraphs later.

Okay, there was probably a better verb choice than my last one there, too.

bjkeefe said...

@R. Porrofatto:

Wouldn't it only be consistent with the phenomenon being described in this post for Douthat to be a NYT employee and Doghouse to be forced to work for free?