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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"A frail Nelson Mandela, now 93, has gone back to Qunu, his ancestral home in rural Transkei, and his handlers have announced his withdrawal from public view. Even while he lives, unseemly squabbles have flared over the TV rights to his funeral. Since he officially retired in 2004, Mr. Mandela has concentrated on his foundation, the charity that is already his earthly embodiment. It owns his archives and mementos and controls his endorsements, which it uses to raise money for social-justice projects. There is even brand Mandela—a fashion line called 46664 after his prisoner number. The clothes feature an embroidered outline of his palm. Meanwhile, his grandchildren are launching 'Being Mandela,' a TV reality show that is being pitched in the U.S. as a 'docu-soap' with an anti-Kardashian philanthropic twist. Globally, Mr. Mandela, who emerged from 28 years in apartheid prisons to vanquish any thought of racial revenge, is already iconic—a symbol of our better nature, the personification of forgiveness and nonracialism. But this legacy, which is championed primarily by earnest foreigners and white South Africans, is not the only one. Mr. Mandela's lasting political bequest to his own people and to the rest of Africa is more nuanced. What was crucial to South Africa's chances of a functional future was not so much anything he did in his short presidency, from 1994 to 1999, but rather his decision, like George Washington in the early days of the American republic, to step down. He easily could have stayed for a second term and then have ventriloquized his rule through some pliant placeholder." (WSJ)

"To: The Upper Ones From: Strategy Committee Re: The Counterrevolution //As usual, we have much to celebrate.  The rabble has been driven from the public parks. Our adversaries, now defined by the freaks and criminals among them, have demonstrated only that they have no idea what they are doing. They have failed to identify a single achievable goal. Just weeks ago, in our first memo, we expressed concern that the big Wall Street banks were vulnerable to a mass financial boycott -- more vulnerable even than tobacco companiesor apartheid-era South African multinationals. A boycott might raise fears of a bank run; and the fears might create the fact. Now, we’ll never know: The Lower 99’s notion of an attack on Wall Street is to stand around hollering at the New York Stock Exchange. The stock exchange!  We have won a battle, but this war is far from over.  As our chief quant notes, “No matter how well we do for ourselves, there will always be 99 of them for every one of us.” Disturbingly, his recent polling data reveal that many of us don’t even know who we are: Fully half of all Upper Ones believe themselves to belong to the Lower 99. That any human being can earn more than 344 grand a year without having the sense to identify which side in a class war he is on suggests that we should limit membership to actual rich people. But we wish to address this issue in a later memo. For now we remain focused on the problem at hand: How to keep their hands off our money." (Bloomberg)


"Anglophobia is on the march in Europe today after Britain 'vetoed' a full EU treaty change that would require all member states to submit their budgets to Brussels for approval. I don't quite understand the fuss. Britain is mercifully not in the euro - thanks to Thatcher, Major and Brown. Why would Britain give up basic sovereignty for a safer future for a currency it doesn't share - especially when the new treaty would also hobble London's financial sector? In any case, a deal that is not a full-scale treaty change will be easier to implement quickly. So the Frogs and the Germans get their 'solution', forge ahead more speedily on the Titanic, and start to create a new EU centered on Paris-Berlin and maybe Warsaw. Good luck to them. They're going to need a lot of it. It's also worth noting that Cameron is still prime minister of an actual democracy. A big majority of the voting public back him in his refusal to join in. His own party would have split in two if he had caved to Merkozy. And his Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have said that Cameron's requested exemptions on the financial sector were modest and reasonable. Sarko has used the crisis to bolster his own cred at home with the usual perfidious Albion crap. He's desperate to get re-elected." (Andrew Sullivan)



"TWENTY years to the month since the Soviet Union fell apart, crowds of angry young people have taken to the streets of Moscow, protesting against the ruling United Russia Party ('the party of crooks and thieves') and chanting 'Russia without Putin!' Hundreds have been detained, and the army has been brought into the centre of Moscow 'to provide security'. Although the numbers are a far cry from the half-million who thronged the streets to bury the USSR, these were the biggest protests in recent years. The immediate trigger for this crisis was the rigging of the parliamentary elections on December 4th (see article). But the causes lie far deeper. The ruling regime started to lose its legitimacy just as Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, declared a final victory for 'stability', promised to return to the Kremlin as president and pledged to rebuild a Eurasian Union with former Soviet republics. The Soviet flavour of all this had been underscored at United Russia’s party congress at the end of November, where Mr Putin was nominated for the presidency." (Economist)


"I sound like a broken record because it’s another disappointing domestic box office. And the second weekend in a row where the overall movie total won’t make more than $80M for possibly 2011′s lowest haul. It’s also down 8% from last year. No surprises in the Top 10 since Warner Bros’ New Years Eve was expected to unseat Summit’s Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 after three straight weeks at No. 1. But what is alarming is that the latest in this holiday-themed franchise is coming in way less than the studio predicted — between $5.3M and $5.8M –especially with all those name actors and actresses cast. Showing yet again that in 2011 stars don’t mean much to audiences anymore. Audiences gave it a ‘B+’ CinemaScore. “Not much champagne for that opening,” one rival exec snarked to me. Fox’s The Sitter came in second but worse than the lowered expectations going into this North American weekend. Audiences gave it only a ‘C+’ CinemaScore. Good thing this Jonah Hill pic cost next to nothing." (Deadline)


"Today my guest looks like what he is, a 77-year-old actor on a lunch break from rehearsals. His hair is dyed dark and combed in a slightly unkempt manner over one side of his head. Grey stubble covers his cheeks. He wears a blue-checked flannel shirt over a red vest. But the effulgent spirit of Edna isn’t far away. Even in mufti, without the Ednavian props of mauve wig, glossy lipstick and diamante glasses, he bears an uncanny resemblance to her. On the table sits his script. There is also, squatting between us on a plate, a slice of Brazilian carrot cake, bolo de cenoura, which he spotted at the cafĂ© counter as we ordered our food. (Humphries must be a regular here – later, when I check the prices for our lunch, I find I was given the 20 per cent discount for actors working in the centre’s rehearsal space.) The Brazilian cake is a toxic shade of orange unlike that of any carrot. Topped with a brown slick of chocolate, it looks repulsive. I am reminded of a prank Humphries played as a youthful provocateur: on flights he would surreptitiously decant Russian salad into a paper bag, pretend to vomit into it and then appal fellow passengers by eating the contents of the bag. 'Scorn and disgust were my favourite occupations. If you could have been in Melbourne in the 1950s, you would have understood,' he says. His voice is theatrical and deliberate, swooping on certain words as if to hold them up for inspection with tongs. 'It was a very nice place. You see, ‘nice’ is the epithet. Everyone aspired to be nice.' His rebellion against niceness took several forms." (FT)


"Call it a cable squeeze play. Cable television networks may be the most lucrative divisions of many large media companies, but the networks are beginning to feel the pinch of dramatically higher programming costs. In 2006, TV sports giant ESPN spent $3.5 billion on programming for its flagship channel. This year, the channel's content costs have mushroomed to $5.2 billion — a nearly 50% jump from five years ago, according to consulting firm SNL Kagan. Programming expenses for Time Warner Inc.'s TNT channel have soared 55% since 2006 to $1.1 billion this year, propelled by sports rights fees for NBA and NCAA basketball as well as a lineup of original dramas including "The Closer" and "Falling Skies." History Channel, which previously concentrated on history documentaries, has seen its programming costs increase by more than 50% to $283.5 million this year from 2006. It is now a top-five cable channel with gritty reality shows including 'Pawn Stars' and 'American Pickers.' Inflation in programming costs is the new reality for cable networks. No longer able to simply stock their channels with reruns of 'Seinfeld,' 'Golden Girls' and old movies, cable programmers have ratcheted up spending in the last five years to distinguish themselves with marquee franchises such as ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' or provocative original shows including AMC's 'Mad Men"' and FX's 'Sons of Anarchy.''" (LATimes)


"In the 20-plus years since Twin Peaks first premiered, television’s approach to incest had changed little, with few shows daring to break that taboo. But, particularly in the last year, scripted television shows have reversed their disinclination to deal with incest. Premium cable is allowing creators to push boundaries with storylines that weren’t previously permissible. And with incest at the forefront of the national conversation—as classical-music troupe The 5 Browns come clean about the incest they suffered at the hands of their manager father—it is providing grist for the story engines of some of television’s most daring and controversial shows. HBO is leading the charge here. At the pay-cable network this year alone, three of its shows have featured incest storylines or themes, including two such stories—on Boardwalk Empire and Bored to Death—within the course of one week. On the Dec. 4 episode of Boardwalk Empire, a flashback-heavy installment revealed a sexual relationship between Gillian (Gretchen Mol) and her son, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). While the shameful act leads Jimmy to enlist in the Army to fight in World War I, the truth of their encounter explodes into an Oedipal tragedy, with Jimmy savagely murdering his father (Dabney Coleman) after nearly strangling his mother. It’s an intense and deeply disturbing sequence, especially when coupled with the sex scene between the then-17-year-old Jimmy and his mother earlier in the episode. It speaks volumes about the damage caused by incest, the sense of secret humiliation, and the psychological rawness that lasts years after such abuse has ended. In the case of Boardwalk, it validates precisely why Jimmy and Gillian, both victims of abuse (Gillian was raped when she was 13 and Jimmy is the result of that union), are both so profoundly broken." (TheDailyBeast)


"WHEN Megyn Kelly was starting out in television, a prominent TV newswoman told her, 'You’re going to need to choose: you can either have a family or you can be a major anchor.' Ms. Kelly — now a Fox News anchor, ex-Jones Day lawyer and blond GQ pinup with the alabaster good looks of Katherine Heigl and the can-do-ism of a former aerobics instructor — decided to ignore her. 'It was terrible advice,' she said, recently speaking from her studio.  Ms. Kelly, 41, is part of a new generation of TV anchors — Erica Hill of 'The Early Show' on CBS, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s 'Morning Joe' and Soledad O’Brien, formerly of “American Morning” on CNN — who have juggled their careers and family life full-throttle in front of millions of viewers in a way that Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer notably did not." (NYTStyle)


"William F. Buckley Jr. was an immodest man with much to be immodest about. Not only was he the high priest of the modern American conservative movement and the founding editor in chief of its leading intellectual publication, National Review; he was also a gifted polemicist, best-selling novelist, sesquipedalian speaker, television star, political candidate, yachtsman, harpsichordist, wit and bon vivant. Small wonder that I once saw him nod approvingly when a tongue-tied freshman referred to his 1951 autobiographical best seller as 'God as Man at Yale.' He performed his many roles with such panache, and such obvious enjoyment of being William F. Buckley Jr., that he captivated people who otherwise would have despised someone who did much to move the United States politically to the right from the early 1950s until his death in 2008. But even liberals had to laugh when Buckley, asked whether he slouched in his chair as host of the TV program 'Firing Line' because he couldn’t think on his feet, drawled, 'It is hard . . . to stand up . . . under the weight . . . of all that I know.' Perhaps the most notable distinction of Carl T. Bogus’s generally admiring biography, 'Buckley,' is that the author, a law professor at Roger Williams University, is a self-professed liberal. At a time when liberals and conservatives agree on almost nothing, both sides can unite in their esteem for Buckley. What this unlikely convergence suggests, however, is that neither side has an accurate view of his real significance. The left misconceives his role as the founder of the conservative movement, and the right ignores how far the movement has diverged from Buckley’s example. Bogus aims to explain conservatism’s rise to success by concentrating on Buckley during 'the seminal period of the creation of the modern conservative movement,' from the inception of National Review in 1955 to Richard Nixon’s election in 1968." (NYTBR)

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