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Christmas Movies

23 Dec

This was published yesterday at Breitbart.

The original Star Trek series, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, promised that in the future there would be progress.

While later Star Trek franchises featured apocalypse, from the Borg, the Dominion, etc. and while Star Wars gave us a malevolent Empire with a Death Star, in the original 60s, John F. Kennedy era Star Trek, there was no war (back on earth anyway), no poverty, no famine, no disease.

There also seemed to be little private Enterprise in Gene Roddenberry’s space.  The Federation of Planets is a European Union on steroids, and Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise, despite its name, is a socialist project in a socialist economy.

It’s hard to see how we get there from President-elect Trump promising deregulation and proudly appointing billionaires – not academics, lobbyists, or community organizers – to his cabinet.

Apparently the collective subconscious of Hollywood saw Mr. Trump coming.

In the new Christmas release Passengers, Jennifer Lawrence (writer “Aurora Lane” – really?) and Chris Pratt (“Jim Preston”) play starship voyagers who may become star crossed lovers, in a world where government is never mentioned.  The two are on a corporate-owned ship, the Avalon, with 5,000 passengers in suspended animation, leaving a gentrified earth, where real estate is so expensive, people like mechanic Jim Preston are leaving for the new Nashvilles and Austins on other planets, where the rents are low and the demand for people who can do Mike Rowe’s dirty jobs is high.  The planets are being developed kind of like townhouse condominium communities by the same corporations that build the starships.

Though the earth they are leaving doesn’t seem to have war, famine or pestilence, it does have more financial inequality than Star Trek did.  Preston, who awakes years too early due to a malfunction in the ship’s systems can’t order expensive Starbucks style coffee drinks from the ship’s Siri like automat because he is not a “gold class passenger,” and must settle for regular coffee and oatmeal.  When Aurora is awakened she can buy him all the fruit, bacon, and pumpkin spice lattes he wants, because she has the first class (and round trip) ticket.  [Passengers is actually somewhat of a pro-capitalist syfy remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 leftist Swept Away, where an upper class woman and a blue collar stud find passion while stranded on a deserted island.]

It’s a very good but not great movie, perfect holiday fare, part love story, part adventure, with beautiful visuals, including starscapes, Lawrence swimming in a giant gravity free bubble of water, and Pratt providing some beefcake in a shower scene.  The audience is invited to contemplate some choices involving selfishness, love, forgiveness, and life boat ethics, and this future seems free of cant, social justice jargon, and political correctness.

Joan Rivers, RIP

7 Sep
Joan Rivers always seemed libertarianish.  Pro-gay, somewhat anti-tax.  Willing to say the Emperor had no clothes.

Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe recalls his encounters with Ms. Rivers (via FaceBook Note).  (I had a former landlady who was at Barnard contemporaneously with Joan Rivers.  And also Norman Podhoretz, who was at Columbia I believe when Joan was at Barnard.  Now that might be an interesting recollection too!)

It was late September, 1991. I had been fired from QVC a few months earlier, (justifiably,) rehired, (inexplicably,) and banished to the graveyard shift for my sins, (permanently.) There was a nasty flu going around, and most of the prime-time hosts were home puking their guts up. So I was summoned on a rainy Saturday afternoon to fill in for one of the stricken. I was halfway through a riveting hour called “Ideas to Make Your Life Easier,” and reflecting on the troubling trajectory of my career in television, when Joan Rivers walked into the studio.
Joan was spending the entire weekend at QVC, touting her line of clothing and jewelry. I’d never met her, and it was unthinkable that my boss would have ever allowed us on the same stage at the same time. QVC was committed to earnest, heartfelt, G-Rated content. I was not. Which is why I rarely saw the light of day. Joan was scheduled to appear later that evening with a more reputable host, but on her way to the greenroom, she stopped in front of the stage and watched as I explained the mysterious virtues of The Healthteam Infrared Pain Reliever. Then she pulled something out of her giant purse, walked onto the set, and began asking me questions on live TV.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Where did you get that tie?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your tie,” she said. “It’s awful. Did you steal it from a Lutheran?”
“Actually, I made it myself,” I said. “On a loom in my attic.”
“Well it’s truly hideous,” said Joan. “And what’s up with that suit? You look like an unmade bed.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It helps me sleep on the job. You look positively radiant though, if I may be so bold.”
“Well look a little closer,” she said. “One more facelift and I’ll have a goatee.”
It took me a second, but when the image sunk in, I chortled. I may have even guffawed. Had I worn dentures, I’d have likely spit them across the room.
“You seem like a nice young man. It’s a shame you don’t have any taste. Is there a woman in your life?”
“Several,” I replied. “But none that can compete with your many years of experience.”
Joan laughed and gave me the finger. She then presented me with a “Tie-Button Tie,” a fancy piece of silk with a button-hole in the back that allowed a gentleman to affix the tie to the button on his shirt in a way that – in her words – “might keep it from swinging into the spaghetti sauce the next time I took one of my “special ladies” out for a big night at The Olive Garden.”
She went on to tell me about the various other trinkets and fashion designs that would appear in the following hour. She showed me a simulated diamond set in 14-carat gold and suggested it would be perfect for any of the women in my life. “Remember ladies, fake jewelry doesn’t have to make you look like a slut, even if you are one.”
She also described a stretch jersey in her fashion line as as “a pretty little thing with a nice comfortable lining that won’t get stuck in your ass-crack.”
Joan made me laugh, partly because she was funny, but mostly because I knew my many masters were trembling in fear as they watched from home, thrilled by the fact that millions of people were tuning in to see Joan Rivers, but equally horrified by the prospect of what she might say next. In this way, she became heroic to me.
I didn’t see Joan for the next year and a half. By then, she had become a fixture at QVC, and was well on her way to selling a billion dollars of stuff. Literally – a billion. I on the other hand, was still sequestered away at 3am, hawking products that appeared to have been sourced from the midway of a condemned carnival. But then, I caught a break. QVC and CBS agreed to produce a pilot around Joan, tentatively called “Can We Shop?” Under the terms of the deal, Joan could select any of the QVC Hosts to work with her as a co-host. For reasons I still don’t understand, she picked me.
I can’t express how profoundly surprising this decision was – to me, my fellow QVC hosts, and most of all, to those who had consigned me to the graveyard shift. It was madness to reward a smart-aleck who routinely made fun of the products he was entrusted to sell, but Joan insisted, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting next to her on a soundstage in New York City, doing my very best Ed McMahon impression. Go figure.
In television, like anything else, way leads on to way. You don’t always know the significance of a thing when it happens. But this was different. Appearing on CBS with Joan Rivers was the first thing I did that actually looked legitimate, and I knew I had turned a corner. Sitting there with Joan, cracking wise in a CBS studio in front of a live audience, I finally came to believe that somewhere, a job was waiting for me in television that didn’t involve a 2 am wake-up call.
I left QVC soon after that, and never saw Joan Rivers again. Not in person, anyway. Like the rest of the world, I saw her on the red carpet, and I watched her shenanigans here and there. How could you not? Icons have a way of being everywhere at once. I also watched her documentary a few years ago – A Piece of Work. I wanted to call her after that, and tell her how brave it was to be that forthcoming. I wish that I had.
I remember a holiday party at her penthouse on 5th Avenue. It was a black-tie affair, but I wore one of her Tie-Button Ties, which amused her to no end. I also brought her some cookies. My mother – upon learning that I would be visiting a bone fide celebrity in her actual home – was afraid I might arrive empty-handed, or worse, with a six-pack of Rolling Rock tucked under my arm. So she made a tin of chocolate chip cookies, and told me to give them to Mrs. Rivers with her compliments. Which I did.
I don’t know if she actually ate them, but she accepted them with grace, and placed them next to a menorah. That still makes me laugh.
RIP, Joan.
And thank you, very much.