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John Cleese: FOX News viewers are too stupid to realize that they are stupid


Be afraid, be very afraid…

For some years now, I have been fascinated with the Dunning-Kruger effect. I believe it was some Internet writings by Errol Morris that first turned me on to the idea around 2007. It’s incredibly useful, I feel like I find a use for it almost every day. If nothing else, it’s a spur to humility, because we’re all susceptible to it. Some, ahem, far more than others.

In a 1999 article called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University came to the conclusion that the qualified are often more skeptical about their own abilities in a given realm than the unqualfied are. People who are unqualified or unintelligent are more likely to rate their own abilities favorably than people who are qualified or intelligent. In the paper, the authors wrote, “Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”

However, people with actual ability tended to underrate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be fairly easy mistakenly assumed that the tasks must also be easy for others as well. As Dunning and Kruger conclude: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”
 

 
Charles Darwin put it most pithily in The Descent of Man when he wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” As W.B. Yeats put it in The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Apparently there is a scientific grounding for that line.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is unusually suitable in describing the many frustrating positions and rhetoric of the Republican Party. My favorite (if depressing) example of the Dunning-Kruger effect comes from the mouth of George W. Bush in the days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As Bob Woodward wrote in Plan of Attack:
 

The president said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war.

“You’re sure?” Powell asked.

Yes. It was the assured Bush. His tight, forward-leaning, muscular body language verified his words. It was the Bush of the days following 9/11.

“You understand the consequences,” Powell said in a half-question. …

Yeah, I do, the president answered.

 
Yeah, I do, the president answered. What on earth could that utterance by Bush possibly mean? Could it not be clearer that what was in Bush’s head at that moment and what was in Powell’s head at that moment had very little to do with each other? In effect Powell was taking Bush’s word that Bush had seriously considered the consequences of invasion, when to be frank, all available evidence, both at the time and later on, suggests that Bush was foolhardy about what the actual consequences of invasion might be.
 

 
Earlier this year, the research of Dunning and Kruger was referenced by a relatively unlikely source: John Cleese, the brilliant comedian who famously portrayed one of the single most obtuse and supercilious characters in TV history, Basil Fawlty. Cleese believes FOX’s viewership is too unintelligent to put the proper brakes on their own thought processes: “The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are. You see, if you’re very, very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid, you’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are.”

Apparently Cleese and Dunning are pals—he says so in the video, anyway. Here, have a look:
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Pirate Radio, Revolution and the rise of Radio Študent

00radiostu00.jpg
 
In the folly of my youth I was once involved with a student anarchist group. Alas, this hapless caucus of surly fellow radicals were more inspired by the swagger of The Sex Pistols and The Clash than by any reading of Kropotkin or Bakunin.

On those odd occasions when we met to discuss plans for the overthrow of capitalism, ahem, we did fire up a few interesting ideas. One such was to start an illegal radio station to broadcast revolutionary hymns (and punk rock) across the west end of Glasgow. Unfortunately, we never had enough radicals willing to take responsibility for setting the thing up and it all came to naught. Our lax attitude was (sadly) best summed up by a leather-jacketed Joe Strummer wannabe who kept asking, “Where’s all the free stuff?”

If only we had been a bit more like Slovenia’s Radio Študent who knows where we could have gone?
 
01radiostu10.jpg
 
Radio Študent came out of the political turmoil and student unrest of the late 1960s. Established in May 1969 by a handful of radical students at Ljubljana University, the station originally broadcast for just three hours a day, offering its listeners a potent mix of music and politics—an alternative voice to the country’s heavily censored and state controlled media. The station’s popularity grew during the 1970s as Radio Študent became the main source for dissent. With the influence of punk, the station attracted more journalists and campaigners and Radio Študent played in a major part in the movement for Slovenia’s independence in the Revolution of 1989.
 
02radiostu20.jpg
 
Now Radio Študent has over 250 contributors and broadcasts 24 hours a day. Though money is tight, people become involved with the station “because they believe in what they are doing.”

If you have an interest in radical media or in finding out how others have successfully created their own revolutionary outlet, then Siniša Gačić‘s short documentary on Radio Študent is a must.
 

 
H/T Voices of East Anglia

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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#RepublicansArePeopleToo campaign is a masterpiece of bad marketing, a rich tapestry of idiocy


 
Who the fuck didn’t see this one coming?

The general answer, of course seems pretty obvious—the perpetually clueless and tone deaf Republican Party—but the person in particular, apparently, to blame for this completely idiotic SCREAMING OUT FOR MERCILESS RIDICULE campaign is one of Mitt Romney’s former advertising guru “Mad Men” (and we all know how well that turned out), a Texan named Vinny Minchillo.

Minchillo hopes that his new “grassroots” campaign, on Facebook and on Twitter with the hashtag #imarepublican, will make it harder for people to demonize Republicans, as he told The New Republic:

“On social media, I’ve been called every name in the book,” Minchillo said. “It’s become socially acceptable to talk about Republicans in the most evil terms possible and that doesn’t seem right. We wanted to do this to really remind people that Republicans are friends, neighbors and do things that maybe you wouldn’t expect them to do.

“People, I’m afraid, think that Republicans spend their days huddling over a boiling cauldron throwing in locks of Ronald Reagan’s hair. … We thought let’s get out there and show who Republicans really are: regular folks interested in making the world a better place.”

Minchillo is clearly operating under the delusion that there’s something sly, clever or tongue-in-cheek about what he’s doing. I wonder how he’s going to feel when he watches Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, John Oliver, every pundit, Twitter, Facebook AND THE ENTIRE INTERNET trash this nonsense like it’s the stupidest thing anyone has ever thought up?

#SoylentGreenIsPeopleToo!

See how that works, Vinny?
 

 
MEMO TO THE GOP: If you need an advertising and social media campaign to convince a HUGE swath of people who already think you’re a bunch of fuckin’ assholes that you’re really not fuckin’ assholes, perhaps you’ve got a larger problem on your hands? If you have to TELL other people that you’re just like them, perhaps their perception that you’re not just like them is justified because you wouldn’t really need to point that out in the first place, now, would you?

It isn’t easy being a Republican these days.

There are people who will stick up for Genghis Khan before they’ll defend a Republican. (“Genghis was just misunderstood.”)

We love political discourse. We encourage political discourse. But when did “Republican” become a dirty word?

Here’s the deal: before you post another bullying comment, think about this:

Republicans are people, too.

And you know what? Some of them don’t even have tiny shriveled penises or require motorized scooters to haul their asses around. Many Republicans aren’t racists! Some of them are under the age of 65 and are not angry white males who watch Fox News all day long and shit in Depends diapers. WHICH IS EXACTLY THE PERCEPTION THAT THIS RISIBLE CAMPAIGN IS REINFORCING! All anyone is talking about is “the problem” that this is supposed to be combating!

If this isn’t the equivalent of a gigantic Las Vegas marquee-sized “KICK ME” sign on the back of the GOP, I don’t know what would be.
 

 
It’s the most ridiculous thing in… days to come out of the fetid swamp of what passes for ideas in the Republican Party. If hapless Vinny saw this goofy campaign as a way for him to jockey for position for the 2016 Presidential race, Vinny, I hate to tell ya, brah, you done goofed. This is the worst!

Here are a few choice comments taken from what are probably the most consistently intelligent forums on any political or news blog, Talking Points Memo. Just some random recent comments, I’m not digging deep for any of this:

I believe all Muslims are suspicious and should be rounded up into internment camps. #ImARepublican

Why, yes, my tattoos include swastikas #ImARepublican

“Redskin” is a term of respect, honor, tradition. #ImARepublican

My father punched me when I was a kid, and I TURNED OUT FINE! Right? RIGHT?! #ImARepublican

I am stupid, evil, and utterly devoid of humanity! #IamARepublican

I prattle on endlessly about the necessity for common citizens like me to own guns in case the government infringes upon the people’s rights, and then I vote for referenda that infringe upon people’s rights. #ImARepublican

Of course I’m a hypocrite. #ImARepublican

Disenfranchising minority voters is OK by me! After all, they’re not white like I am. #ImARepublican

I don’t think everyone deserves health care. #ImARepublican

My party will soon be demographically insignificant. #ImARepublican

I pledge allegiance to the Kochs… #ImARepublican

You get the idea. Here’s my favorite because it communicates SO MUCH:

I think this guy should be making decisions that affect millions. #IAmARepublican

 

 
It’s a mite (Mitt?) early for the memes to be showing up in any real number yet, give it a few hours (or even a few more minutes), but the ridicule on Twitter for the #ImARepublican hashtag is pretty good already.

And here’s the motherload of LOL, the video. You’ll note that it’s important for them to have you know that Republicans shop at Trader Joe’s(?), use Macs(?) and “have feelings, too”(?)—and yet there are apparently no members of the LGBT or Muslim communities in the GOP whatsoever. What. there were NO pics of fabulous drag queens, buffed WeHo boys or anyone with a beard and turban in the stock photo database?
 

 
For some reason that video reminded me of this classic Tom Tomorrow cartoon:
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Fascist Groove Thang’: How the BBC banned Heaven 17 for ‘libeling’ Ronald Reagan
09.24.2014
05:57 am

Topics:
Music
Politics

Tags:
BBC
Ronald Reagan
Heaven 17


 
In 1981, the BBC banned Heaven 17’s debut sinlge “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” on the grounds the song’s lyrics were possibly libelous to President Ronald Reagan.

The couplet that caused the Beeb’s legal eagles such wrinkled brows was contained in the song’s third verse:

Democrats are out of power
Across that great wide ocean
Reagan’s president elect
Fascist god in motion
Generals tell him what to do
Stop your good time dancing
Train their guns on me and you
Fascist thang advancing

Reagan’s president elect… A fascist god in motion?

Now, this may all sound like the kind of poetry exercise Rick from The Young Ones might have concocted in his overheated imagination—indeed try saying the lyrics in your best Rick the People’s Poet voice and you’ll see what I mean… Let’s not forget, this was the 1980s, when the drum machine was king and the fictitious “Rick” was far closer to how many on the Left actually behaved than most would care to admit.

Even the language of student rebellion had changed little since the late 1960s: everyone was a “fascist,” “the pigs” were in charge, “the man” had his finger on the a nuclear trigger and Armageddon was imminent. If you don’t believe me, just pick up any review, by say Angela Carter, from back then, and you’ll be hard pushed to get through more than a few paragraphs before the woe-is-me hand wringing fears of Baby Boomer nuclear annihilation is apparent.

“(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” was very much of its time, with the lyrics contain the expected tropes on racism, fascism, Adolf Hitler, nuclear war, cruise missiles and a call to “unlock that funky chain dance.”

And to a man the nation asked, “Why hadn’t we thought of this before? Unlocking our funky chain dance to stop nuclear war?”

Heaven 17 were formed after Martyn Ware and Ian Marsh split from the Human League and teamed-up with singer Glenn Gregory. Among the early songs they worked on together was “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” In an interview, Martyn Ware discussed how the song was written:

The lyrics of the song reference Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan and include a wry joke about cruise missiles. Ware recalled to us how the track evolved into denunciations of the UK and US political leaders:

“We started out jamming together loads of these cut up titles and coming up with ridiculous lines for the song, like, ‘Heart USA. I feel your power.’ What the hell does that mean? I mean, really, what does it mean? We just thought it was a comedy song. I know people will read meaning into it.”

Ware continued:

“Then, as we got more into writing the lyrics, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have some real world people in there?’ We were obsessed with Reagan coming into power and the specter of Margaret Thatcher coming into power and those were some very genuine concerns. The whole world was going to be blown to smithereens. It seems a little melodramatic now, but it was a genuine thing at the time if you remember. So we thought, ‘It’s time for action here. We’re all political people. It’s time to walk the walk.’ So as it evolved, the songwriting – it only took two days to write – it turned into this really bizarre hybrid of politics and dancing and comedy and black American soul influence.”

The BBC has always had a strange relationship with pop music. In 1969, they banned The Kinks’ song “Plastic Man” because it contained the word “bum,” (or “ass,” as you Americans know it). Just a few years later in 1972, they were happily piping out Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” with its lines about “giving head” to the Beeb’s Radio 2 grey-haired Daily Mail-reading middle aged listeners.  Now, they were quaking that The Gipper might possibly, maybe, well you just never know, sue the ass off the Corporation for some rather juvenile political pop posturing? What would Rik have said?

The single made number 45 in the charts and was a favorite of clubs at the time. In 2010 (almost thirty years later), Heaven 17 performed the song live on BBC Radio 6—as Reagan had been dead for six years the Beeb probably felt safe from litigation.
 

‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Become a citizen of Laibach’s global state
09.23.2014
07:21 am

Topics:
Music
Politics

Tags:
Laibach
NSK


 
Wasn’t the nation-state supposed to have withered and died by now? Weren’t we supposed to be a merry crew of free and autonomous subjects, all pursuing our personal dreams with similar but slightly different songs in our hearts, rather than a graying herd of bigoted, suburban, debt-burdened, government-ID-clutching suckers?

Friends, it’s 2014: time to turn in your driver’s licenses and demand something better. For citizens of the universe who are committed to interplanetary cooperation, there’s always the Hawkwind passport, but for earthbound internationalists, there’s never been a better time to join the NSK State. As the world’s first global polity, the NSK State is a “state in time” that “denies the principles of (limited) territory as well as the principle of national borders.” And anyone can apply for an NSK State passporteven you!
 

IRWIN billboard, London, 2012
 
The NSK State emerged from the Neue Slowenische Kunst (“New Slovenian Art”) collective, which had been formed in 1984 by the band Laibach, the visual artists’ group IRWIN, the performance group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater (now Noordung), and the design group New Collectivism. In 1992, the same year that Yugoslavia dissolved and Slovenia was admitted to the United Nations, these groups founded their own transnational state, “a utopian formation which has no physical territory and which is not to be identified with any existing national state.” (According to this fascinating article about the sudden demand for NSK passports that arose in Nigeria in 2006, the NSK State “was conceived as almost the opposite of the new Republic of Slovenia.”)
 

The NSK State passport
 
As of this writing, bearers of this handsome document are actually entitled to like zero of the rights and privileges that accrue to citizens of regular, border-determined countries, so if you have any of those, you might want to hold onto them. Among other important disclaimers to keep in mind: “Ownership of this passport shall not constitute membership in the NSK organisation” and “the NSK State passport is not a legally valid document.” The good news is, the passport’s a steal at €24; the bad news is that unless one of the state’s temporary embassies or consulates is coming to a physical location near you, you’ll have to send cash in a registered letter or pay for a bank transfer to Slovenia to get one.

Laibach released Spectre, its first album of the decade, earlier this year.

For more information about the NSK State, see its official website and YouTube channel.
 

Laibach’s video for “Drzava” (“The State”)

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Witness ‘Simpsons’ actor Harry Shearer’s total transformation into Richard Nixon


 
Between playing bassist Derek Smalls in the immortal metal spoof This is Spinal Tap and voicing dozens of characters on The Simpsons, Harry Shearer has been a key performer in two of the most oft-quoted entertainment franchises in living memory. For his latest project, however, Shearer’s the one doing the quoting. He’s re-enacting, verbatim, moments out of the presidency of the disgraced Richard M. Nixon, recasting the tragic president as a comic figure. The series, created in collaboration with Nixon scholar Stanley Kutler, is called Nixon’s the One. It already ran in the UK on Sky Arts earlier this year, and will soon be webcast weekly on YouTube’s My Damn Channel, starting on October 21st.

The scripts are taken from Nixon’s actual White House tapes—those notorious recordings that figured so heavily in the Watergate investigations that left his presidency and his legacy in utter ruins—and shot in a fly-on-the wall style that makes viewing feel like eavesdropping. A teaser was released about a week ago, in which Henry Kissinger is played by British actor Henry Goodman:
 

 
To play the former president, Shearer underwent some serious transformation—prosthetics, makeup, wig, the whole megillah, as this photo sequence attests.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of Hat Trick Productions Ltd.

Terrific work, but this can’t go unsaid—is it maybe a little much? Shearer’s voice isn’t his only great gift as a performer, he has a marvelously expressive face, and it seems a shame to obscure ALL of it with latex appliqués. It strikes me that he could have made a better-than-credible Nixon just with the addition of a nose and some jowls. One possible reason for the full-face prosthetics could have been to DE-age the actor—this surprised the shit out of me when I looked it up, but Shearer is 70 years of age. Nixon, in the time period being recreated, was around 60.
 

 
About a month ago, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, Shearer released a similar verbatim re-creation of the unsettlingly awkward moments leading up to Nixon’s resignation speech. I’ve included the actual historic footage for comparison. The way Nixon tries to casually goof around with the news crew makes him seem more like your embarrassing perma-bachelor uncle trying to flirt with a waitress than the leader of the free world about to abandon his career in the face of nearly unanimous public contempt. Shearer’s take on that massively uncomfortable frisson works quite well as cringe comedy.
 

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
White House memo suggests Nixon ‘neutralize’ Johnny Cash, 1970
Wasted Richard Nixon talks, slurs his words to Ronald Reagan on the telephone, 1973
Reefer man: Did Louis Armstrong turn Richard Nixon into his drug mule?
Let Nixon play Nixon: Listen to tricky dick tickle the ivories, on a composition by Richard Nixon

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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‘Wattstax’: The ‘Black Woodstock’ music festival


 
The Watts Riots are often referred to by lefties as “The Watts Rebellion.” While both are technically accurate descriptions, “rebellion” is considered the preferable word by sympathists, since “riot” has a negative connotation. For me, the word “riot” lacks any moralist stigma, since rioting has historically played a necessary role in the resistance of oppressed people. I also think “riots” paints a more identifiable picture.

In addition to less explicit economic discrimination, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles was plagued with racist attacks from both white gangs and and a militarized police force (sound familiar?). The 1965 events that incited the riots are convoluted, but (briefly) a black man was arrested for driving under the influence, his brother (who was was a passenger), left to inform the man’s mother, who showed up to the arrest. There was a physical altercation, all three black citizens were arrested, and onlookers from the neighborhood began throwing things at the cops.

Eight days later, 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries and 3,952 arrests. 600 businesses were destroyed and over $40 million was done in damages over a 46-square mile-area.
 

 
In 1972, Stax Records put on a concert featuring their artists to commemorate the riots. Tickets for the Wattstax music festival (held in the massive L.A. Coliseum) were sold for $1 each to keep the event affordable for working class Los Angeles residents. Mel Stuart, who had just directed Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (a box-office bomb, despite its classic status), documented the concert in Wattstax, the electric results of which you see below. Wattstax has been shorthanded as “The Black Woodstock,” but it’s so much more.

The film is something greater than a record of fantastic concert footage, though the performances from artists like The Staples Singers, Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays are mind-blowing. It’s the interviews with Watts residents, who reflect on their lives and politics and what has and hasn’t changed since the riots, that really make the film. Richard Pryor serves as a kind of Greek chorus, and his interactions with the crowd are hilarious and full of humanity. You’ll notice that nearly the entire audience defiantly stays seated during Kim Weston’s rendition of the national anthem.

If you want a good clip to sample, there’s a fantastic bit starting around the 38:30 mark where Richard Pryor riffs on black identity (and pork). It then cuts to The Bar-Kays (looking like a heavenly choir from outer space), who do a blistering version of “Son of Shaft.”
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘Dictator’ cat scratch posts and litter boxes
08.25.2014
10:38 am

Topics:
Amusing
Animals
Politics

Tags:
Vladimir Putin
cats
Kim Jong-un


 
OMG! What a fantastical idea… ‘dictator’ kitteh scratching posts and litter boxes brought to you by The Pussycat Riot. (They aren’t all “dictators” per se, but more “strong men” types who censor the Internet.)

Sadly, the scratching posts are bit out of my price range. They’re selling ‘em for £4,500.00 a pop. I was eyeing that Putin one. According to their website each post was “painstakingly handcrafted by a team of artists and took over 200 hours to complete.”

But-but, never fear, as the litter boxes are only £3.00. Your cat might not be able to afford claw out Putin’s eyes, but practically any kitty from any socio economic group can take a shit on him, Kim Jong Un, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Nicolás Maduro Moros of Venezuelan and Egypt President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.


 

 

 

 
Via Nerdcore

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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‘Men of Crisis’: Woody Allen’s 1972 PBS ‘mockumentary’ that was cancelled for political reasons


 
By the time Woody Allen made “Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story” in 1971/72, messing with found footage as well as the documentary form had become old hat for the restlessly experimental moviemaker. After all, his feature-length experiment of fusing new dialogue to existing footage, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? has been released several years earlier, in 1966. His first faux documentary (and one of the first “mockumentaries” in cinema history), Take the Money and Run, had come out in 1969.
 

 
“Men of Crisis” seems more than a little perfunctory. Wallinger is clearly a substitute for Henry Kissinger, but there’s really nothing about the Kissinger-Nixon relationship (as it was perceived in 1971) that was all that funny; the humor lies in the notion of Woody being “the second most powerful man in America.” The movie was supposed to be an hour long, but the final product delivered by Woody ran only 25 minutes long. Clearly the subject of the reprehensible Nixon presidency (pre-Watergate, of course) did not really animate Woody. The movie feels a lot like an extended sketch from HBO’s “Not Necessarily the News” in the 1980s, which usually juxtaposed perfectly normal footage of e.g. Ronald Reagan with concocted footage to produce a ridiculous effect. One thing that makes “Men in Crisis” noteworthy is that it marks the first occasion Woody Allen and Diane Keaton worked together on a movie. Keaton plays Wallinger’s ex-wife, “Renata Baldwin, who attends Vassar College, where she studies to be a blacksmith.” (As a Vassar alum, I’m pretty fond of this joke.)
 

 
Richard Nixon had a knack for annoying liberal elites that was very similar to that of George W. Bush. Woody Allen was never the most political of artists; even when dealing with politics, such as in “Men of Crisis” or Bananas, the essentially surrealist nature of his humor tends to run roughshod over any particular satire. One gets the feeling, watching “Men of Crisis,” that Woody has contempt for Nixon mainly because he’s not highbrow enough (witness the gag about Nixon and Agnew knowing “almost” all of the numbers from 1 to 10).

PBS was worried about running the program, they were right to be. After all, the Nixon administration was so famously thin-skinned that Nixon personally exerted pressure on Jack L. Warner to remove the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” from the movie 1776 because it seemed to poke fun at conservatives. (You can watch the musical number on recent reissues of the movie; it seems pretty harmless.)
 

 
If nothing else, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” had the effect of cementing Woody’s determination to work in feature movies, where outside interference could be minimized. He said afterwards that the incident had reinforced his preference to “stick to movies.” According to The Vanishing Vision: The Inside Story of Public Television by James Day, the cancellation of “Men of Crisis” went down as follows:
 

The politically charged atmosphere of the early seventies should have warned those of us at NET that the times were hardly propitious for political satire—and certainly not on the public medium. But so eager were we to bring an element of lightness, a laugh or two, to public television’s overarching solemnity that we unhesitatingly accepted Woody Allen’s offer in late 1971 to produce a special. We didn’t even pull back after learning that he intended to use the show to satirize the Nixon White House. Allen approached us after having produced two prime-time specials for the commercial networks, fully expecting the public medium to give him greater artistic license to write and perform the kind of humor for which he is justly celebrated. He was wrong.

…. In the opinion of the PBS legal staff, the Woody Allen show “presents fairness problems … personal attack, equal time and taste problems,” a solid guarantee that no public station in the country would risk airing it. Except, of course, our own WNET.

What I and a brace of our attorneys screened with nervous interest was a mock documentary, Men of Crisis, that mimicked the style of the old March of Time, in which authentic news footage was combined with dramatic elements, a technique Allen later perfected in his feature film Zelig. The original hour-long script had been trimmed to the twenty-five-minute “documentary,” and the balance of the hour had been filled by an interview with Allen on the nature of comedy. Men of Crisis managed not only to lampoon the Nixon White House but to needle both the president’s foes (Humphrey and Wallace) as well as his friends (Agnew, Hoover, Laird, and Mitchell). Allen himself played the fictional Harvey Wallinger, high-living confidant and counselor to the president, whose resemblance to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was more than coincidental. As might be expected, the show included moments of questionable taste. Allen explained that “it is hard to do anything about the Administration that wouldn’t be in bad taste.”

I withdrew the show after the screening, hoping to find a broader context to make Men of Crisis acceptable to the system, perhaps by marrying it with other satiricial pieces that took aim with prudent impartiality at a broader range of political icons.

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Russia to cheeky Bulgarians: Quit messing up our war memorials

ukraine bulgaria
 
Vandalizing Soviet-era war memorials to fallen soldiers in clever ways in Eastern Europe has become an anonymous sport. Well, Russian diplomats call it vandalism. Others call it awesome street art.

The Russian government has gotten increasingly pissed off by the attacks on the frequently targeted bas relief sculptures on the west side of the pedestal of the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Russian embassy officially requested that Bulgarian authorities clean up the most recent incident this month, in which red paint was daubed on the monument on the eve of the 123rd anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, track down and punish those responsible, and do more to protect the statues instead of what they’re probably doing now, which is taking photos of it with their smartphones each time it’s vandalized.
 
bulgariancomicsoviet
 
Earlier this year the monument was spray-painted the colors of the Ukrainian flag. In 2011 the long-suffering soldier statues on the monument were notoriously painted to include Ronald McDonald, Wonder Woman, Robin, Santa Claus, The Joker, The Mask, Superman, Wolverine, Captain America, and an American flag. In 2012 balaclavas like the members of Pussy Riot wore were painted on the figures and, in separate incidents, Guy Fawkes “Anonymous” masks and ski masks were placed over the soldiers’ faces. Last August the monument was painted pink with apologies in Bulgarian and Czech for Bulgarian participation in the suppression of the Prague Spring uprising in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Pink was the chosen color in a tribute to Czech prankster and artist David Cerny, who painted a Soviet war memorial in central Prague (Monument of Soviet Tank Crews) pink in 1991. When Cerny was arrested, supporters repainted the tank pink. Similar defacement of Soviet monuments have taken place in Estonia and Romania.
 
sovietarmypink
 
Cerny is also known for floating a boat on the Vltava River containing an enormous purple hand flipping the bird at the Czech government building last fall.

People who object to this sort of behavior have asked that the Bulgarian memorial be moved to the fairly new and apparently disappointing Museum of Socialist Art. The monument’s most hostile critics think it should have been destroyed after the fall of the Soviet Union, so it’s probably fair game as a focal point for political and cultural protests by activists and general mischief.
 

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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