George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘entertainment

BAD NEWS

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There is a bigger problem with the media today than the bias that often distorts stories. It is not “fake news” either. It is rather, no news. There is a paucity of real news everywhere and far too much goes unreported or is very briefly summarized. Cable news gives us mostly talking heads expressing opinions and not much in the way of real news. Broadcast news isn’t much better these days to the extent that there are too few stories that are selected in a rather arbitrary way, while hiding the fact that they have seriously cut back on correspondents covering various subjects or parts of the world. On cable “news” you see few correspondents reporting actual stories. Newspapers, and news magazines, even the “serious” ones aren’t much better, again with fewer correspondents now covering things regularly. News sites online aren’t all that informative either, especially to the extent that they are simply extensions of the television and publishing companies. 

A recent search I attempted clearly illustrates how shallow all of this is. The other day Vladimir Putin made what seemed to be some important statements, and from the news summaries my curiosity was engaged. But that’s all I could find, anywhere- summaries. I wanted to see more of the substance of what he said but could not find it anywhere from any “news” organization despite fairly extensive Internet searching. But the search engines are part of the problem because if the information was out there they weren’t showing it and what you usually get nowadays is top listings that re mostly paid followed by more that are basically off-topic. I find this happening time after time. Just try this with almost any other story. The idea that we are now able to easily obtain more serious information online is false. What one gets is the usual repetitive nonsense. 

 What we actually have now is mostly a repetitive echo chamber. In other words one source comes up with a story, say, the New York Times or Washington Post, and it is picked up by everyone else and repeated. This creates the illusion that they are actually covering the story from multiple points when in fact they are mostly repeating and uncritically passing on the same story. It is not just a herd mentality, but lazy, superficial reporting, Furthermore things that might really matter are often subsumed by nonsensical, superficial stories. Just think about what stories dominate the news every single day. Barring some sort of natural disaster the news contains a lot of trivia when not devolving into entertainment stories. As a result we are getting dumbed down news provided by dumbed down reporters and commentators. 

It gets worse. What we now get is more “entertainment news” instead of real, hard news. The entertainment news is ubiquitous, with each having its own entertainment program. In the recent past this did not exist at all and there were basically only gossip columns in this area, but now it supersedes everything. We get a huge amount of attention devoted to dopey “celebrities” that in reality are of no consequence in the larger scheme of things, and who are getting far more attention than they deserve. The media that now show unprecedented hostility to Donald Trump are largely themselves responsible for producing his presidency in the first place. Thus for all the information the we are supposedly being overwhelmed with, the truth is that we are less informed than ever. 

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Written by georgesarant

October 22, 2017 at 7:26 PM

HISTORICAL TRUTH & HISTORICAL LIBEL

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One of the most irritating phenomena in contemporary entertainment is how exceptionally good production values are combined with thoroughly juvenile, idiotic, inaccurate, and historically ignorant screenplays. It is true there has always been “poetic license” to fabricate things presumably in the interests of some “larger truth.” However it becomes problematic when it is distorted to the point of creating an outright lie, because producers can count on the widespread historical illiteracy of contemporary audiences. Some examples:

The film Titanic depicts its subject very well but has a thoroughly ridiculous storyline. Worse, it mixes in some people who really existed and sullies their reputations. Most egregiously, in the film, the First Officer, William Murdock, is shown shooting passengers before shooting himself. Nothing of the sort ever happened and in fact the real man heroically went down with the ship. To libel his memory in this way is simply outrageous and there is no possible justification for it.

In Gangs of New York, which grossly distorts history in an otherwise good production, Horace Greeley, editor of the NY Tribune is shown collaborating with Tammany Hall figures; the complete opposite of what the man actually stood for. One of the most egregious cases occurs in an obscure film titled Hoodlum, wherein a character says they have to pay off Tom Dewey, which is preposterous. Thomas Dewey was in fact an excellent prosecutor, Governor of New York, and a two-time presidential nominee who was known to be incorruptible. To slander him in this way is inexcusable, but few now remember the truth. There are many more examples, but the point is that there is too often a gross dereliction of responsibility and decency, made all the worse by  purporting to be telling a true story. Even dead people deserve to be treated fairly.

However, it is more prevalent to find a great job being done depicting the background with an over-the-top portrayal of real characters, doing things that never happened,  accompanied by people that never existed. This happens a lot in fiction, but it matters when it goes beyond trivial matters and portrays things of consequence in a totally misleading fashion, A good example is current series about Renaissance characters, such as The Medici, and The Borgias.  The former is somewhat better, but the latter is totally warped by a completely fabricated screenplay. The real Borgias have a grossly exaggerated reputation for evil, even in 19th century novels, but this show uses that as a starting point along with rumors and innuendo from their enemies as a basis for an endless series of awful events that go much further, are completely made up, and devoid of any historical foundation. Anyone who thinks this is history is being played. (This is the Showtime series; the other Borgias series on Netflix is much better). But the most preposterous show being currently aired is Marco Polo, which has virtually nothing to do with the real Marco. The producers of this series have clearly never even bothered to read Marco Polo’s journals, which actually contain enough interesting material for drama, but none of it appears here. They simply have taken a real figure and period and then run off into a kung-foolery universe.

It is possible to do a credible job with historical situations, when carefully produced, as in the History Channel’s Vikings series which uses some historical, some mythological and some fictional characters in a way that, while sometimes fanciful, nevertheless does not seriously deviate from overall spirit of the source material. Real figures can also be faithfully portrayed successfully, such as in the HBO series John Adams, (although an old PBS series titled The Adams Chronicles was even more accurate). Rome, on that network was also not bad, if you ignore the excesses. But apart from these, the best are from the BBC or PBS. Unfortunately the excellence of the UK productions does not extend to continental Europe, which has gone Hollywood with previously mentioned shows. 

Even the greatest have done both. Shakespeare was surprisingly accurate in some of his dramas based in ancient Rome, since he largely relied on Plutarch as his source, and it is actually his depictions that largely inform people today about these characters. However, when it came to more recent characters from British experience, Shakespeare wrote in a way that frequently glorified the Tudor version of history. Further back even Virgil did this in the Aeneid, a second-rate epic that grossly flatters Augustus, and which Virgil himself actually wanted destroyed, At least in those days it was excusable in order to keep one’s head. However in an age when far more people get their information from movies and TV and sadly far fewer people read, entertainment producers have at least some responsibility to tell the truth. 

THE DEATH OF HOLLYWOOD

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Once there was a time when Hollywood provided millions of people with an escape from the travails of daily life in America and around the world. The objective was nothing more than to provide mass entertainment to a wide audience without any further pretense. In the days of the great studios patriots like Louis B. Mayer ran a tight ship. But eventually due to ill-advised government anti-trust proceedings and the rise of television the studio system broke down, and in that vacuum power was grabbed by sleazy agents. The glamour days persisted through the 1950s, but eventually the great stars passed on and were never really replaced.

Hollywood stood for entertainment, and as long as that was the case it was appreciated by everyone. it was something we had in common. No matter what political divisions there might have been in the outside world they seldom were manifest in entertainment, which was there for everyone, despite their differences. In the 60s things started to change due to sharp political divisions, and stars, untethered by studio common sense, became overtly more political. But then there was still some balance, and for every Jane Fonda there was a John  Wayne, but all still behaved professionally. Jane Fonda won her Oscar at the pinnacle of her political radicalism, but even she, when accepting her award, did not go off on a political speech, but instead, to her credit, said that there is a lot the say but this isn’t the time or place to say it.

How things have changed. Now too many feel the self-indulgent necessity to make political statements, taking advantage of a public moment in the spotlight they were provided only because of their entertainment work, not for their political insight.  It isn’t just the “talent” that feels compelled to behave like this; it permeates the whole industry from the very top, as the industry leadership is of one mind politically. Anyone taking not just an opposing viewpoint, but simply wanting to remain apolitical is subject to pressure and hostility.

But the end result is that they have killed the Hollywood that once pleased everyone. They have alienated half the audience and have gone a long way towards turning “Hollywood” into something of an epithet by abusing a platform that exists only because of the achievements of old Hollywood, not this pale echo, this decrepit residue, of what once was. The more this goes on the less audience there will be for various award shows, and this will likely be the case with this year’s Oscar ceremony. The decline will continue thanks to these unbridled egos. The Grammy’s at least provide a great deal of straight entertainment. The Oscars are worse than a bore, they are an irritant and I, and millions of others wont’ be watching.

Written by georgesarant

February 26, 2017 at 1:22 AM