1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown, January 10-16, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Welcome to issue 10 of the Weekly Tendown, your overview of the best cultural happenings of the past seven days; Last Week, I discussed Better off Ted, strategic defaults, Goodluck Jonathan, and the return of the Hit Man, Bret Hart.  What....what do you suppose we'll talk about this week...

First: I'm With Coco

I'm not going to run counter to conventional hipster wisdom on Late Night Wars the Sequel.  It's been a blast and should remain so at least for the next week before NBC pays Conan to go away; its reductionist, but I could probably be well defined by the following: I really enjoy it when things happen; except when they're happening to me.  I'm about a decade, hell maybe two, too old - I swallow whole as much up to the minute information as I can get and let the newsy juices drip down my chin; I am well constituted for a universe in which my pants vibrate whenever AP has a breaking story. 

All of the late night shows felt like must see television last week, A couple of dozen clips are here. ('cept for Letterman, who isn't on Hulu, and that's too bad as his stuff has been excellent) and thats largely why this merits the top spot on the Tendown; as I've said before I like my television unpredictable (which is the main reason why the old Letterman show worked, it felt jagged) and from Letterman calling Jay "big jaw" to Leno responding with intern blasts to Conan foresquarely saying he's been screwed by Leno and NBC to Kimmel (in the single best spot of the week) burying Jay on Leno's own show - it was a good week.

On the merits - your job doesn't love you is the takeaway from this.  Five years ago Conan's deal was up and NBC kept him around by promising him Johnny's old show (and that's...that's the comedy takeaway from this - the thing you have to dig to find is from that letter Conan wrote this week, Conan wrote he wouldn't take part in the "destruction" of The Tonight Show - ostensibly what he was referring to was the proposal to move it to midnight after Jay went on at 11:30 - but really he was saying what comics have said about Jay for years - that Jay destroyed the Tonight Show; Jay Leno used to be funny but gave that up to pander for ratings - and despite what Triple H would have you believe, the guy with the most eyeballs on him isn't necessarily a critical success; Home Improvement and Two and a Half Men did very well commercially, but at no point did anyone outside of the production of those shows think of them as anything but pablum - we understand that the American public's artistic palate can run dumb, so dumb is what we are fed.  But Johnny's show "mattered" in that way that institutions sometimes do, which is why all the sturm and drang when Dave got moved aside in favor of Jay 17 years ago.   And now it barely matters at all, which is one of the reasons for the anger in some of blowback Jay's faced this week; Rosie O'Donnell on her radio show talked about being angry at Leno since '95; Patton Oswald compared Jay to Nixon on a podcast.  Conan doesn't just want the 11:30 slot - he wants the Tonight Show, and when he says he won't take part in its destruction, he's saying the Tonight Show as a comedy brand has been devalued by Leno even with its financial success) and when the time came to do that, instead of sending Jay on his way, NBC decided to stick him at 10:00. 

That cut Conan off at that knees, both ensuring a low rated lead in for local news (NBC knew Leno would lose badly at 10, but it was a cheap enough show to produce that it made some financial sense) which would mean a low rated lead in for Conan - but also it meant that Conan was still positioned as the number two show behind Leno.  And if The Tonight Show is the number two show on NBC, it's not really the Tonight Show anymore. 

Conan's spent the past 17 years working at a company that, this week, has an executive call him "chicken hearted and gutless".  If you're Conan, and you feel as if you've been a good company man for 17 years - earning critical acclaim and youth buzz, single handedly keeping NBC late night culturally relevant when Leno was effectively hosting CSI: The Tonight Show, staying in that 12:30 spot for five extra years with the promise of The Tonight Show, not publically complaining when your company paired your move to 11:30 with the extraordinarily destructive decision to move Leno to 10 - to now have an executive, on the record with the New York Times say that you're the failure - that you're the one who couldn't deliver when called upon - the takeaway from that has to be your job will never love you.  It will pay you (and Conan's gonna get paid) but it won't love you. 

The rest of the Tendown after the jump.

Now - the rest of the Tendown:

1. Title IX

There's a kid in upsate New York who gets beaten up because he's gay.

And that's an overly broad statement only if you need to parse your words carefully.  But this is a blog.  And it's clear that's what's happened.  And it's also clear the public school the kid attends has shown no inclination to stop it.  The Obama Justice Department is doing something the Bush Justice Department never did, intervening in an action on behalf of a gay rights plaintiff. 

Lawsuits where white plaintiffs alleged voter fraud, those were important to the Bush Justice Department.  But harrassment of gays - not so much. 

I am displeased, as I've written, with the Obama Administration - and in a broader sense, I've written multiple times that the distinction between the two corporately controlled political parties in our American plutocracy is far less than is presented to the public.  But sometimes its good to note that there are real people, real 14 year old kids, getting gay bashed and having that ignored by those in positions of power - for whom the difference between Democrats and Republicans, the difference between Obama and Bush, is the difference between aid and silence. 

2. But Don't Let Your Hair Grow in Dallas
Perhaps the next intervention should be here, theres a 4 year old suspended from a Dallas area public school for having his hair be too long.

In 2010.  A quarter of all mortgages underwater, trillion dollar endless mideast wars, ten percent of Americans without jobs, a quarter of American kids on food stamps, Americans dying every day because of a lack of health insurance..

but that kid, a four year old nicknamed Tater Tot - he can't go to school until he cuts his hair.  Public school.

3. A Better Blog Than Mine

I know, can't be, right?  What blog dare challenge the Tendown! 

It's this one, letters of note.  It's scans of actual letters, letters like by Kurt Vonnegut to his parents in 1945 after being captured and sent to a work camp in Dresden, or this memo from Trey Parker and Matt Stone to the MPAA when they were fighting to get an R rating for the South Park movie ("we cut the word hole from asshole as per our conversation"), or this 1997 handwritten letter from Monica Lewinsky to the 42nd President of the United States "I feel disposable, used, and insignificant". 

Which is how I feel in comparison to this guy's blog.  Go read.

4. Wait, Who Did Tim Brown Kill?

There was a terrific GQ piece that came out this week which essentially makes the case that the 6th greatest wide receiver of all time is a murderer. 

Remember how Marvin Harrison was alleged to have shot a dude, and then it wound up not being prosecuted and then he vanished from the face of the earth?  Remember Marvin Harrison?  You know, as the Colts are headed to the AFC Championship game next week, the guy who was with Manning every step of the way during this era of greatness, the guy who has become a complete non-person in NFL chatter? 

This article essentially makes the case that Marvin Harrison (1) did shoot that dude and (2) had someone finish the job after that dude talked to ESPN and (3) is enough of a neighborhood kingpin that he terrorizes the locals into silence about it.

It's persuasively written and a good read.  Why it's here is because Marvin Harrison was always framed  by the sports media as the epitome of the "good guy" - a paragon of sportsmanship.  When Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocino were defiling the sports landscape with was Marvin Harrison who was repeatedly put forth as possessing the virtues of the good athlete.  Reserved and Respectful.  No steroids.  No infidelity.  No end zone celebrations.  Why can't we all be like Marvin Harrison?

Could be that Marvin Harrison is Stringer Bell.  The potrait painted in this piece is Marvin Harrison is a bad, bad man.  And it could be the sports media is entirely full of crap.  ESPN did an end of the decade recap show over the holidays.  There was a story on Barry Bonds - entirely framed in the way his accomplishments were framed at the time - as not really having occurred.  There was a story on Lance Armstrong - entirely 
framed as a glorious athletic accomplishment - not just an accomplishment in overcoming cancer - but an accomplishment in his standing up to the French, who weren't positioned as angry at Armstrong for literally exactly the same reasons American sports fans are angry at Bonds - but instead angry at Armstrong because, you know, they're French - they're so anti-American they were against the Iraq War!  And we know how history has proven them wrong there. 

That was unsurprising to me, as was the tag on the Armstrong piece "Lance Armstrong has never failed a drug test" - what caught me a little by surprise was the uncritical piece on the 2004 Red Sox - ESPN, even with the hindsight of the positive drug tests by Ramirez and Ortiz, told the same story about the Sox they would have told 6 years ago - a team overcoming decades of failure.  They were so married to that original story that they were unable to incorporate new information into their worldview - a networkwide case of cognitive bias. 

My guess is that unless Marvin Harrison goes to prison for homicide that he will continue to be looked at by the sports public as the classy wide receiver; evidence to the contrary be damned. 

5. Evolution is Hooey.
How issues are first presented to us, how people are first framed, how ideas first come to exist fully in our brains is likely to significantly shape how we see those ideas throughout our lives.  Marvin Harrison = good guy will be a difficult concept to get away from.

That's why the best piece I read this week was this piece from Washington Monthly discussing the fight over the Texas high school history textbook standards.  Texas is incredibly important in dictating what publishers will put into textbooks given its purchasing power; if Texas says, well, here's one of the leaders of a group looking to rewrite the Texas standards:

Evolution is hooey...the secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation, but we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan—he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.”

California, as the story in the Monthly notes, is out of the textbook buying market until at least 2014 - that puts Texas front and center as the dominant force in the market - and make the current fight of major importance.  One of the experts writing the new standards is David Barton, former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican Party.  Quoting from the piece:

Barton’s goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes—if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as “ethical capitalism.” They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, a project McLeroy endorses. As he put it in a memo to one of the writing teams, “Read the latest on McCarthy—He was basically vindicated.”

On the global front, Barton and company want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.” What’s more, the group aims to give history a pro-Republican slant—the most obvious example being their push to swap the term “democratic” for “republican” when describing our system of government. Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and that, given the “atrocious” treatment blacks have gotten at the hands of Democrats, “it might be much more appropriate that … demands for reparations were made to the Democrat Party rather than to the federal government.” He is trying to shoehorn this view into textbooks, partly by shifting the focus of black history away from the civil rights era to the post-Reconstruction period, when blacks were friendlier with Republicans.

Coming to a history textbook near you.

6. You Complete Me 
This guy is attempting to amass the world's largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes.

Do with this information what you will.

7. Coming up - Gary Finds Life as a Zorgon More Than He Bargained For

The best comedy troupe thus far of the new century was Human Giant; Comedy Central had a marathon Saturday as part of promotion for Aziz's standup special which airs later tonight.  I watched 8 episodes.  There was laughter and enjoyment.

8. The Hottest Decade on Record

It was cold this week.  'Cause its winter.  And the right wing media did what it does. 

"Hey, it's cold - what about global warming?"

Which sort of has the intellectual sophistication of:

"Hey, I can walk without losing my balance - what about the earth being round?"

The facts are here.  The decade which just ended is the hottest decade in recorded history. Please stop talking about global cooling.  You sound like a flat earther. 

9. Smoke Weed, Talk Shit, Like Lane Kiffin

My Trojans lost their football coach last weekend.  Which was discouraging, as the past decade has been easily the best USC football stretch of my lifetime and possibly the best stretch ever.

We replaced him with Lane Kiffin.  And anyone endorsed by L'il Wayne is good enough for me.

The character element of this doesn't sway me at all; big time college sports are systemically corrupt; everyone but labor gets paid.  I don't have any more affection for the Coach Ks than do I for the Tark the Sharks.  In fact, while there's really nothing in Kiffin's on field record to point to that moves me positively or negatively, what I do love is the swagger.  Stanford ran up the score against us last year - that's not Pete Carroll's fault and if we wind up on Reggie Bush (helluva game yesterday!) probation those beatings will continue - but if the options are a good, gentlemanly, respected coach like Herman Edwards or a trash talking outlaw - the guy least likely to take an ass-whup from Jim Harbaugh lying down is the guy who Weezy sings about. 

Fight On!

10. What In the Hell is Ladanian Tomlinson Doing?

It's 2010, but running the ball is still like makin' romance. 

That's this week's Tendown.  I'll see you next time..if there is a next time...

1 comment

Blog said...

How about getting ahead of everyone else and picking a winner: Jets or Favres?

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