Monday, January 21, 2008

carpe diem

hey--it's been a while since i posted, but here's my column from saturday. will get some more stuff up here today, i hope.

not that anyone's reading, lol.

CARPE DIEM 1-18-08

Americans are completely schizophrenic. Reading about two unrelated political incidents this past week, it occurs to me that when we look for entertainment, only so-called “reality” will do. But when it comes to the real world, we devour the cheesiest, most transparent of fakery and come running back for more.

Consider the Bush Administration’s bungled attempt to sell a Gulf of Tonkin-like incident with five Iranian speedboats last week. After initial reports claiming that U.S. warships received a radio transmission warning “I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes,” Pentagon officials are now backtracking, saying they never claimed the radio message originated on the speedboats. Experts have said that the heavily accented voice did not have an Iranian inflection. And recently released Iranian video footage depicts a very different exchange between the vessels.

Of course, it’s hard to believe these guys would attempt to manipulate the press and the public with an overblown, phony incident. Just ask Colin Powell.

Next up we get Mitt Romney, winner of the Michigan primary. Last week it was revealed that a down-home, aw-shucks meeting between the Mittster and an unemployed, single mother was actually with the mother of one of his staff workers.

Repeated inquiries were made to the offices of Jesus, but as of deadline He had no comment on whether Romney’s magical Mormon underwear protects him from the sin of bearing false witness.

But on the entertainment side of things there is a definite tug in the direction of relying on real people for amusement. You can’t turn on the television without seeing some new dipwad “reality” show featuring mom’s basement-dwelling troglodytes who own video cameras but lack pride, and who are willing to maim themselves, eat any sort of disgusting concoction involving maggots or testicles or both, or even more horrible and retch-inducing, date Tila Tequila.

But wait! There’s more! American Gladiators is back, proving that steroids, lycra and mullets never really go out of style. And Bret Michaels, former Poison front man—and apparent recipient of some bizarre, experimental facial surgery involving, let’s say, epoxy, shark cartilage, and formaldehyde—is on Rock of Love 2, in which he attempts to narrow a field of 20 airhead bimbos down to one lucky skank. Of course, American Idol has also returned, certain to provide face time for a whole new crop of self-deluded lunatics to begin the process of mental dissolution under the nurturing eye of a national TV audience.

Couple this tiny sampling of “reality” with the perverse, voyeuristic delight we take in peering into and judging the lives of stars we adored as recently as five minutes ago—epitomized by the utterly loathsome TMZ, but repeated ad nauseum all across the airwaves—and what you’ve got is a strange sort of sickness. At the heart of our obsession with witnessing the real breakdowns and faux pas of famous people is a slimy, shameful need to bring them down to our own imagined level.

When we like them we lovingly scream, “You’re better than us!”

When we don’t like them anymore we spitefully scream, “You’re no better than us!”

The bottom line is this: if we are unable to believe anything we see on TV--aside from real people doing inane, idiotic things--if we are so over the whole scripted entertainment thing, which uses talented actors, writers and directors, why are we so helpless to see through the decidedly low-rent, B-movie garbage that our leaders and would-be leaders throw at us every day?

What the hell is wrong with us?


Saturday, January 12, 2008

dancing with the primaries

bill kristol digging for the truth.

here's my column from saturday. :)

Carpe Diem: Primaries as Entertainment

Kurt Brighton

1:05 a.m. MT Jan 12, 2008

OK, there is a lot happening in the world of entertainment this week.

First, the biggest entertainment story has to be that of the new “American Idol” contest.

Er, I mean the New Hampshire primaries. Since the national press and the candidates insist on treating this ridiculous process like it’s a grand-scale “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars”—only with slightly more talented performers—we should look at it that way too. What’s the difference between the deep and probing analysis we get of Hilary’s tears versus the examination of Marie Osmond’s “faint” on “Dancing With the Stars?”

You enjoy endless blather about Sanjaya’s hair? Hey, how about that Obama guy! He’s got a funny name too! Plus, it turns out that Obama is really Jesus, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy all rolled into one, crushing his cowering opponents with a calm, reassuring smile, preparing to lead an unstoppable, inevitable juggernaut, an inexorable movement that will forever change the face of...


Oh. Turns out he didn’t actually win New Hampshire.

Nonetheless, some of the greatest entertainment value coming out of this outdated, hokey, and endlessly spinning process has been watching major media players crack their vertebrae trying desperately to backpedal on their premature announcement of Hilary’s passing into irrelevance. Polls had given Obama an 8- to 10-point edge going into Tuesday, and there was speculation that Hilary might be forced to drop out of the race. The Boston Herald even ran the headline “She’s So Yesterday.” Whoops.

Even more entertaining has been listening to the wise old grayheads of the D.C. establishment try to explain how they—er, actually, all the OTHER wise old grayheads—could have gotten it so wrong.

Apparently, it’s a chick thing. Bill Kristol, the smiling leader of the neo-conservative loon movement—who also managed to get everything about Iraq spectacularly wrong—summed up the general consensus among Terribly Smart People when he said, “It’s the tears. She pretended to cry, the women felt sorry for her, and she won.”

Ah. Well, no wonder all the serious-minded men had no idea what was going to happen. Those kooky wimmen with their emotions and all. You get them involved and the next thing you know, you’re crocheting doilies, holding hands and singing Kum-Bye-Yah or some damn thing.

This is just getting good, and I’m not talking about the candidates themselves. The fun is going to be watching the media attempt to dust themselves off and reclaim their self-appointed mantle of Wisdom once again. Of course, it’s hard to sound wise when you’re burping around a heapin’ helping of crow.


And with the accidental hilarity of the real news, it’s truly a shame that the Writer’s Guild of America strike is still going on—the fake news would have a field day with this. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have returned to the airwaves, but without their writers the humor they are squeezing out of what are essentially 23-minute, off-the-cuff monologues is decidedly thin.

But each of them is making a go of it, skirting the Guild’s rules by not even preparing a monologue for themselves. And, as each of them made crystal clear, their sympathies have not changed. In his typically self-deprecating style, Stewart announced that while the show may be back, during the time the strike carries on it will not be “The Daily Show” we have come to know and love, but rather “A Daily Show.”

For his part, Colbert’s blowhard character made light of the situation by insisting that the way the teleprompter worked was by reading his thoughts and putting the words in the little box so he could say them. When he was told that the words were actually written by his missing team of writers, he said, “You mean those guys on the fourth floor smoking opium bongs and playing Guitar Hero? I find that a stretch.”

Here’s hoping they’ll be back soon—their bongs await.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

dora for president!!

separated at birth?

here's my latest column from saturday. :) read the original here.

Carpe Diem: Dora For President

By Kurt Brighton

If you have yet to experience firsthand the joy of owning your very own child, a test drive will quickly reveal to you the short yet complex list of their wants and needs.

While visiting family for the holidays, I got to take my nephew for a spin one afternoon and I have to say, I don't see what's so hard about this whole parenting thing.

I'm not serious of course. Like puppies and Jehovah’s Witnesses, children are great entertainment—as long as someone else is eventually going to claim them. Keeping one around the house on a permanent basis would surely get messy.

I caught John Alex—who is nearly 3 although he has the lung capacity of a veteran Broadway performer—on a particularly good afternoon. He was enthralled with his brand-new Dora the Explorer DVD, and I was able to sit on the couch and read, just tossing in the occasional over-enthusiastic response to what I surmised he might be saying. I could half-watch him as he squirmed around on the floor watching the TV, playing with his farm animal toy set and occasionally performing a grinning somersault at the sheer joy Dora and Diego bring him.

But as the DVD played on, and then for a second time, and I struggled to shut out the brutally repetitious, often moronic statements Dora would make (um, the bear is on the freakin' TALL MOUNTAIN, Dora. You just SAID so!) I found myself struck by a sad and unfortunate parallel:

The way this show is presented has an awful lot in common with the way we do politics in this country.

Nothing against the makers of the Dora show. I'm sure that clear, unambiguous repetition of simple ideas is exactly what the diffuse, near-feral brains of pre-school-aged kids need in order to begin learning, and more importantly, to begin thinking for themselves in logical steps.

But listening to the simplistic choices the characters asked and then immediately answered (“Is it the green one? Or the red one? It's the green one!”) I began hearing the cadences and stilted nature of politico-speak in their phrasing, and also in the limited palette of answers necessitated by the way the questions are put.

Rudy Guiliani with his 9/11 Tourette's Syndrome: “On 9/11, I personally 9/11'ed, and then freedom flag America 9/11 this great country 9/11.”

Hilary Clinton with the most stiff, awkward delivery style since, well, the last two serious Democratic candidates: “I am leader. I lead. In the Senate, I led. I will lead. Experience. Leader. One who will lead.”

Mike Huckabee's rote bible-thumping: “Jesus, yes. Dinosaurs, no. God—good. Me, like God. Me, God. Like you. Jesus. Worship. Values.”

These people, like Dora and Diego, don't really speak in complete thoughts at all. They repeat words and phrases that are meant to reinforce the words and phrases they've already spoken, planting not-at-all subliminal benchmarks that we are meant to latch onto without benefit of our critical minds. We are supposed to associate them with certain images, and they hope that these images will evoke certain feelings in us.

In a way, we're being trained. Trained to hit the right button, pull the right lever, picture the right image as we cast our vote for a candidate the reality of whom has little to do with those images.

Again, for a 3 year old, that might be fine, and even productive. For adults meant to
critically assess the relative views and potential for leadership that candidates may possess, it's ridiculous. But this is the only “dialogue” available to us as we approach the brutal stretch of primaries that will determine who will become our next leader.
We the public are not without blame, of course. Simple equals good. Us no like think too hard.

But the press and the candidates themselves are culpable in a much more concrete way, as both groups prefer to couch everything in a simple, yet dramatic framework that lends itself to endless speculation without any critical look at the underlying issues that are really important.

Speculation about pantsuits, haircuts and divorces.

At least Dora and Diego eventually get to where they're going. For us, I'm afraid we're already there. Welcome to modern politics, “Access Hollywood” style.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

creation museum

okay, you gotta see this. The article is from the Beast, aka Buffalo Beast. This guy went on a road trip to the creation museum in northern kentucky, under the guise of Dougie, a special guy who writes for an equally special newspaper, The Special Times. And Dougie, aka Ian Murphy, played the whole thing in character, as a drooling, special needs reporter who loves dinosaurs and jesus equally.

after obtaining press credentials for their fictional paper, the reporter and his team descended on the unsuspecting creationists:

"The event we were covering was a quick shot across the Kentucky state line, the grand unveiling of a 60,000 square foot bellwether of our culture’s sheepish intellectually depravity: The Creation Museum. The poured concrete brainchild of Ken Ham, world-renowned creationist douche and president of the Christian apologetics ministry “Answers in Genesis,” this “museum” aims to depict biblical narrative as historic reality. 27 million donated dollars worth of animatronic dinosaurs and humans palling around in the Garden of Eden—madness."

Dougie even got to interview head creationist loon Ken Ham:

'The interview was going well. Ham was spouting nonsensical creationist rhetoric, and I was in full-blown retard mode. We were like long lost twins. He continued averting his gaze, however. My assumed detriments reminded him of man’s fall from grace. It was time to test this man of God.

“What about car-bon dating?” I asked.

Ham shot Bunting an icy stare, as if accusing him of corrupting my impressionable mind with science—or was it worse? Did he know? Was a half-wit’s mention of a scientific dating method too unbelievable, even for someone willing to swallow Genesis in its entirety? Bunting spun around to compose himself and suppress an impending fit of laughter. The cameraman disappeared.'

read it and laugh. lots.


writer's strike

here's my column from last week. hopefully this week's will be up on the FCN site shortly.


It’s a hard lesson that has been learned ad nauseum over the years in any number of “negotiations:” in order to get someone to do what you want them to do, hit ‘em where it hurts. Historically, it’s usually been the people with the deep pockets who are able to pull this off.

But the striking Writer’s Guild of America has taken the lesson to heart, and despite being out of work for the past seven weeks, has declined to issue a waiver for its members to work on either of the year’s two biggest awards shows. They have also denied a request for free use of film clips from movies and past awards shows on which Guild members worked.

As of now, the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes will go on in some form, according to organizers. But without the support of professional writers and Hollywood glitterati sympathetic to their cause, it remains to be seen what sort of presentations the studios and their self-congratulatory awards shows will be able to pull off. What the waiver denial means in real terms is that there will be no scripted monologues or presentations at either show—at least none written by Guild writers. It also means that the star power of each show will be severely dimmed.

For instance, prior to the strike Jon Stewart had been tapped to host the Oscars again. But given his sympathy for the striking writers, it’s unlikely that he would cross picket lines to host a show that is essentially a four-hour advertisement for movies that will put more money in the already overstuffed pockets of the heads of Hollywood’s major studios. And if Stewart somehow did end up crossing the picket lines and hosting, as a Writer’s Guild member he would be prohibited from writing--even for himself. He’s but one of a long list of front-of-camera talent that has shown strong support for the writers’ strike, as has the actor’s union itself, the Screen Actor’s Guild.

Needless to say, the spectacle of A-list actors crossing picket lines to attend the shows would not escape notice in the bitchy little fishbowl of Hollywood.

But the duration of the strike and intransigence of the studios and networks to even negotiate in good faith with the scribes who generate all that money is making some people antsy. Late night hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno announced last week that they would be returning to air on January 2—without writers. As Guild members, the hosts are forbidden from writing monologues for themselves, but can talk off-the-cuff and conduct interviews with celebrities. Stewart and Stephen Colbert followed suit shortly thereafter, announcing that writerless shows would begin airing on January 7.

But all the talk show hosts expressed a certain amount of distaste for the arrangement, despite being able to circumvent the Guild’s rules. With their shows dark for the past seven weeks without writers, the three aforementioned hosts have no doubt been under tremendous pressure from the networks to put SOMETHING on the air to fill that pesky space between commercials. They have also watched as their non-writing staff was laid off. According to several reports, the hosts themselves picked up the tab for their crews’ salaries in the interim. That’s a reported staff of 100 for Leno and 80 for O’Brien who have been without work as an indirect result of the strike.

It remains to be seen if the writers’ refusal to participate in Hollywood’s big annual moment of auto-fellation will get the studios to return to the bargaining table. For now, the shows will go on, somehow. And although you can expect your talk shows to come back, don’t expect miracles from the hosts, most of whom regularly employ writing staffs of 20 or more.

Perhaps Stewart and Colbert put it best in their joint press release acknowledging their decision to return to the airwaves:

“We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence.”

(For an overview of the issues involved in the strike, go here, or go to the writers blog about the strike here. Wikipedia also has an exhaustive breakdown of the strike issues.)

Happy War on Christmas, everyone.


Friday, January 4, 2008


hiya. here's a dream and some thoughts from last night/this morning.


a short and quirky dream I had just before waking: my friend L is at her job, but it’s not the shop where she actually works. It’s some converted older house, with a screened-in porch and broad old fashioned stairs that lead to a gallery on the second floor.

She is sitting at a table on the ground floor, with a newspaper spread open and scattered all over the table, as if she has read it several times already. On top of it, she has a roll of Lifesavers, the minty kind, out of the package and she is examining each of them one at a time, and explains to me in great detail the intricate differences between each one, and how one should go about eating them.

“I haven’t had any work to do for hours,” she said, “so I’ve been going over these. See, this one has a slight crack on the top edge...” -- how she could tell the top edge from the bottom edge, or any other edge for that matter escaped me -- “ when you bite it, it will crack along there. Then there’s these two, which are stuck together, and that’s a bonus, but also very unpredictable. You never know what will happen.”

Not much happened after that.


I worry about copyright infringement in my dreams.
I worry that I might get sued for the images I dredge up.

No, but it is interesting and notable that when I do dream these days, the heavy, almost panicked sense of being lost, or more accurately of needing to find a place that I fear I can’t get to is essentially gone. This has been true for some time now. When I find myself in situations that are bizarre, and in which I sense that I am indeed meant to be somewhere else that is inaccessible, I sort of have a sense of just going with it, rather than a loss of control, and desperation to regain it.

I don’t know if this change correlates to quitting the restaurant or not, or if I consciously feel better about where I am in life during my waking hours, but it’s been pretty consistently that way for a while.

Come to think of it, houses and buildings always seem to figure into my dreams, almost as if they are silent characters waiting to be discovered, or with whom I must communicate on some other level. There is the older, wooden-floored house of the above dream, there is the decrepit factory of the “blocked passageway” type of dream, and I‘ve had a few involving a large, almost communal type of house, one where dozens of people live, or at least stay from time to time, passing through. A sense of family, but an extended one.

Ah, fuck it. I’m probably just insane.


AH! Now it’s come back to me, the other dream that occurred around the same time as the Lifesaver dream: I am in Florida, I guess, at a Magic Kingdom type of place. There is a new, much-anticipated display/ride/event about to be unveiled. As we approach (I have no idea who I am with, but I know them, in the sense of when you go to a concert with a bunch of friends of friends that you don’t really know, but who you shared a ride with) we can see that the thing we’re about to see is a long series of huge iron buildings, a la the Eiffel Tower, strung together in a line. They are somehow suspended above everything else, and there is a series of stairs leading up to the display.

This is a hot ticket, lots of people milling around, and I ask the guy walking next to me where we go to buy tickets as we mount the stairs. He says, “tickets? We don’t need tickets--I’m press.” And he flashes me his press pass, and I also notice his cameras strung around his neck. I say something clever like, “Oh, I love having press passes! I also get to--” and he kind of tolerates me but doesn’t really acknowledge what I’m saying, as we are now approaching the press area.

It is a screened-in porch, with astroturf carpeting, plastic lawn chairs and shitty little tables, all occupied by fat and cynical looking older people. My photog friend manages to squeeze into a single chair along one wall, crammed in with a bunch of other attendees. I try to do the same but there is no room. So I cross over to the far side of the room, looking for a chair I can grab, weaving between these people as best I can, though it is a tight fit. I reach the far side of the room and grab a chair, and make my way back.

But when I go to set it up, it turns out the chair is some terribly convoluted, arcane thing involving strange, origami-like foldings and unfoldings, and I quickly give up and instead sit in a shitty, broken lawn chair listing to one side that was already there. The long bridge of iron buildings is now being lit up by fireworks and a light display, but you can hardly see anything from the angle of the room we’re in. the other press people don’t seem to care--too cynical I guess.

But I want to see more, and I get up from my sunken, broken chair and lean in closer to a window across someone’s table, wondering if there is a place one can stand outside on the walkway to get a better view.

As I rise, I realize I am naked, of course. And an older lady with great huge Jackie-O sunglasses and a jet-black bouffant hairdo notices and points and twitters. I am not really struck by any kind of modesty, however, and decide to just waggle it at her in a playful way. I am feeling quite comfortable being naked. Her entire table laughs good-naturedly, and someone tries to aim a camera at my junk and take a picture. Just as the flash goes off, my hand covers the essentials. We all share a good laugh. Then I’m with L examining Lifesavers.

But I think I’m dressed. Hmm.


freaking xmas travel

i'm back! it's been forever since i've posted here--got shanghaied into going to PA for christmas, and that yanked me off the tracks pretty good. plus getting back and diving right back into 'the harvey project,' another play i'm in rehearsals for.

i don't know about anybody else, but i always feel like i need some vacation time from my vacation when i get home--a few days to get my feet back under me, do all the shit i haven't done in a week.

but at any rate, it was a lot of fun. got to hang wit' my dad and my bro and sis and my nephew john alex. he's three and we bonded over dora the explorer. (she's hot!)

i flew out on xmas day, the day it snowed in denver and chicago, and i was on one of the last planes to actually leave denver that day -- although we sat in the plane on the tarmac for like three hours before we left. they cancelled something like 150 flights so i guess it could have been worse. got to stay in a hyatt in DC overnight on united airline's dime, and then catch a connecting flight in the morning, so, again, it could have been worse. united was actually very cool about the whole thing, believe it or not. food vouchers, room voucher, etc.

anyway, now i'm back and going mad trying to learn lines for the play. we've only been rehearsing technically for two weeks, but we're supposed to be off-book already. i worked mightily to learn some lines over xmas, but that's a pretty busy time, as you know.

will post some more here in the next day or two.