An early Christmas return

Note: As I was watching television the other day, I saw one channel known for saccharine holiday fare — might have been Hallmark, could have been Lifetime — running back-to-back Christmas movies, and not even the classics. These were made-for-TV tripe starring Roma Downey or Susan Lucci or Gail O’Grady or Mitzi Kapture — one of those dames routinely in distress. So, in the spirit of holiday gifts nobody wants, here’s a repeat of something I wrote last year after Christmas, but edited a bit, since it’s still before Christmas (though you wouldn’t know it from watching TV or entering any store). The original post was titled “O holy moley!”

Now that the yuletide holidays are scratching at the window, I’m getting ready to be among those poor souls annually pilloried by the likes of Bill O’Reilly for waging the War on Christmas.

In fact, I rather enjoy the holiday and maintain that, among all the winter festivals, Christmas is far superior to its competitors.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Jesussy, here. Your beliefs and mine are our business and, frankly, of little interest to one another. Rather, the Christmas I happen to dig is the one embraced by most Americans: the convivial secular orgy of gift-exchanging, overindulging and wishing others Merry Christmas, happy holidays or season’s greetings — it’s all good.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a couple of gripes. Here goes:

1. Two verses of any Christmas carol will suffice, thank you. Sorry, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but after “two turtle doves,” I’ve tuned out.

2. Speaking of Christmas carols, I simply find no need for a 24/7 rotation of holiday “favorites” on the radio for days on end. If a station wants to have a Christmas carol blowout on Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day and even Boxing Day, that’s fine. Otherwise, cut it out! (And for those who suggest I can just change the station, too late: I already beat you to it.)

Don’t mistake the aforementioned observations for a disdain for all things associated with Jolly Old St. Nick. In my mind, Christmas as observed by most Americans (regardless of creed) is without peer.

As a “Braveheart”-style rally for one’s august faith tradition and heroic ancestors, Hanukkah is okey-dokey, but as a holiday, well … come on, now. Hanukkah is dreidls. Christmas is Battling Tops. ‘Nuff said.

And Kwanzaa? Kwanzaa and I are the same age, and neither of us is yet eligible for a subscription to AARP Magazine. What the hell kind of holiday tradition is that? Come talk to me when you can grow a little peachfuzz, Kwanzaa.

When the weather outside begins to turn frightful, I typically torture everyone on my social media network with wishes for a joyous Saturnalia, but so far I’ve attracted only one adherent — counting myself — to that ancient Roman yuletide feast, so Christmas remains large and in charge.

Happy birthday!

Is Frosty the Snowman the way and the light? Nah, didn’t think so.

That said, let me take a moment to clear up a couple of things. Christmas parties in public schools don’t represent an attempt to force religion down anyone’s throat, unless that religion is Frostianity.

At the same time, getting your ski pants in a twist when someone wishes you “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” doesn’t make you a good Christian, it makes you a grim and obnoxious bore.

If you’ve got anything to say, leave a comment below or contact me in person: I’ll be on the Island of Misfit Toys. Cheers!

TV, the true opiate of the masses

I was talking to a colleague the other day (yes, I actually have colleagues again, at least for the summer) and we were talking about the crap TV we mistresseswatch. Then I realized that I watch every single show on television.

Well, not really, but I watch a lot of TV. Some of it, like “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” even “Game of Thrones” is quite good.

But I also like TV shows about solving problems, like “Bar Rescue,” “Restaurant Impossible,” and, of course, “Pit Boss” and “Pitbulls and Parolees.”

And, I hate to admit, I’ve been watching “Mistresses,” that is, the American version of the terrific guilty pleasure produced originally by the BBC. Yes, “Mistresses,” starring Alyssa Milano. I’m not proud of it but, I’ve got to say, it’s not that bad. They’ve done a creditable job with the remake (though it’s interesting that all the male character names are the same as in the original, yet the eponymous mistresses were given variations of the original character names — Savannah instead of Siobhan, for instance — though I don’t know how “Trudy” became “April.”) It’s also a little more United Colors of Benetton-esque than the UK version, which ain’t a bad thing.

Hey, at least it’s not “Three’s Company” reruns, though I’d certainly be catching one or two of those if they happened to be airing. And if I’m ever in a position to compete in a “Three’s Company”-based trivia contest, I will kick maximal ass.

No real point to this post, I suppose, except to cop to yet another time-waster. Acceptance is the first step in healing, I suppose.

A ‘special’ message to kids

Sit down. Shut up. Take off your clothes. Pick up a machine gun.

And don’t forget to buy something on your way out the door.

That’s the prevailing message American society delivers to its young people. But you wouldn’t think that to hear the geniuses at “Fox & Friends”  talk, as they jack up Mr. Rogers! Instead, they imagine that telling a child he or she is special is the cancer at the core of a culture in decay. That self-esteem is weakness. That TV is reinforcing bad character.

They’re right about that last one, but not for the reasons they think. The problem isn’t Mr. Rogers telling kids to revel in who they are, or a multiracial (and multispecies) “Sesame Street” making learning fun. The problem is that we have an entire generation of children (maybe two generations) bereft of programming that wasn’t specifically designed to sell them something.

Our beloved cartoon characters were Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo and the Super Friends (even the less-than-super Wonder Twins). Today’s cartoons are half-hour-long commercials for toys made by other, even more profoundly exploited children. Hell, we even had one “Star Wars” movie released before the action figures were dreamed up. Today’s kids got a steady televised diet of “My Little Pony” or “G.I. Joe.”

(Here’s what a bunch of smart people say about the issue. The rest of this post is just my all-too-familiar nonsense.)

When we got a tiny bit older, our television fare was “Drawing from Nature with Capt. Bob,” “Jabberwocky” and “Zoom” (at least if you grew up where I grew up), or maybe “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” (which, I acknowledge, has an advertisement right in the title — though I’m not sure how many kids are bugging their parents for a whole-life insurance policy).

Today’s kids watched “The Hills,” “The Real World” and any other MTV-spawned cavalcade of booty-shaking, bitch-slapping and rule-breaking.

And we have a generation of kids who haven’t known even a single year of peace. America has been at war continually since the 21st Century began, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

So, yeah: Blame Mr. Rogers and his entire neighborhood. I never trusted that X the Owl.

I don’t care what your political beliefs are or what terrible things you had to endure at some point in your life, even if that point is now: If you’ve got a problem with Fred Rogers, you’ve got a problem with yourself.

While many, including me, ridicule today’s “trophies for everyone” culture, and shake our heads at kids clad in Kevlar before every bike ride, none of us would trade our childhood for theirs.

I can only hope that Mr. Rogers’s critics are, in fact, masters of irony. Because no one who had the benefit of “The Electric Company” can be this dumb, right?

The power of effective communication

Aside

Turns out not every long mass e-mail is a bore. delta_gamma

If nothing else, one has to applaud the author’s clarity of communication, her adroit delineation of her sorority chapter’s norms of behavior and the gusto with which she heads off any possibility of misinterpretation.

UPDATED: The website Funny or Die has this dramatic reading of the aforementioned e-mail. Like most things on that site, it’s kind of funny, though hardly side-splitting.

Humor, Ann Coulter and America

Heard any good jokes lately?

I have, and from an unlikely source: the shrill, conservative provocateuse Ann Coulter.

I’m not especially a fan of Ms. Coulter’s oeuvre, her public comments or herann coulter.demonic close-to-continual appearances on the Fox News Channel I watch with little frequency. But, like the proverbial blind squirrel, she occasionally stumbles across, if not comedy gold, at least comedy bronze.

And, predictably, as with her more execrable comments, she catches hell for it.

If you’re not aware of the latest kerfuffle, Coulter wrote in a recent column:

“Obama has been draping himself in families of the children murdered in Newtown.

“MSNBC’s Martin Bashir suggested that Republican senators need to have a member of their families killed for them to support the Democrats’ gun proposals. (Let’s start with Meghan McCain!)”

Coulter is tough to root for, as she’s exhibited plenty of callousness and all-around jackassery (some of it outlined in a friend’s excellent blog), but her joke is obvious and funny: Meghan McCain, the high-profile “child” of one of the country’s most high-profile Republicans, hasn’t been particularly helpful in advancing the conservative agenda, so of course right-wingers like Coulter would “target” her. (At least she didn’t call her fat, unlike fellow shrill, conservative provocateuse Laura Ingraham.)

The joke is certainly not nice, but it’s hardly calling for Ms. McCain’s murder, as many media outlets are reporting. True, there are plenty of dangerous numskulls out there with too-easy access to guns, but Coulter is no more marshaling them to action than Jodie Foster somehow urged John Hinckley Jr. to shoot President Reagan.

That said, Coulter did lose me when she expressed (or feigned) outrage over Bashir’s ealier comment about Republicans needing to lose a family member to gun violence. His point, while piquant, perfectly plays off the “road to Damascus” moments recently experienced by Republican lawmakers regarding same-sex marriage. That is, many finally see the merits of marriage equality only after their own sons and daughters come out as gay.

Coulter’s criticism of Bashir’s comment is every bit as disingenuous as the criticisms of her recent jest. (I’m not including the Twitter responses by Meghan McCain — the target of the joke, who certainly has every right to hit back — and Cindy McCain, who was just being a good mom.)

This whole hullabaloo hasn’t changed my opinion of Ann Coulter. It has, however, reinforced my opinion that Americans need to get a grip.

Rather than getting worked up over a joke (and the rare Coulter one that actually hits the target), we should focus on the larger problem of whether our government has even a modicum of concern over the desires and welfare of the citizens.

There’s a whole Lot missing from ‘The Bible’

I often feel like I watch too much TV. That’s because I watch too much TV.

And I really felt like I watched too much TV recently when I viewed the first installment of the Roma Downey/Mark Burnett-produced “The Bible.”

Sure, the spectacle offers some decent acting and excellent SPFX, but for an enterprise that purports to bring The Bible to the TV-viewing masses, they left out just a few niggling details.

Here’s one: In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, conveniently left out of Lot’s hiding of the angels of the Lord is Lot offering his virgin daughters to be raped by the marauding city dwellers.

Also missing is those same daughters getting dad drunk and, well, allow The Living Word to fill in the blanks.

And this Lot ain’t no Stewart Granger, that’s for sure. Stewart Granger: a Lot to like

Perhaps those details were a bit too icky to find their way into “The Bible’s” shooting script. Fair enough. But how about something from the Book of Exodus? Like the Israelites turning their back on the God of Abraham, who has just led them out of Egyptian slavery, and erecting a golden calf? In the Bible, here’s how it goes down.

But in “The Bible,” Moses just hands the Ten Commandments off to Joshua and pretty much says, Fonz-like, “Knock yourself out.”

Needless to say, I’ve just freed up about eight future television-viewing hours.

Good God, West ‘By God’ Virginia!

Caught about 10 minutes of the MTV “reality” program “Buckwild” the other night while waiting for something better to start. Soon I realized that root canal without anesthesia would be better.

If you don’t know, the show is pretty much “Jersey Shore” in Appalachia. At first I thought, “What the hell’s wrong with these kids?” as they burned stuff and knocked each other around amid a backdrop of ignorant blather.

Then I thought, “What’s wrong with the people who put this crap on TV?”

Help! These children are being held captive by terrorists — MTV and the American viewing public.

But I already know the answer: Teenagers — especially poor ones without an education — are ideal targets of exploitation. At least they’re better off than the young murder victims cable news programs ghoulishly feast on.

Finally, I thought, “What’s wrong with the people who watch this crap?” Morbid curiosity might buy you one episode’s worth of grace. Once you tune in for a second episode, though, you’re part of the problem.

Anyway, this article in Salon sums things up nicely.

UPDATE: I suppose something like this was inevitable. While one certainly can’t blame MTV for Shain Gandee’s death by mud-bogging misadventure, the show “Buckwild” does little to highlight the positive attributes of young people like Gandee and his friends. But I wonder whether his celebrity encouraged his freewheeling, high-risk behavior. Whatever, the case, condolences to his family and others who loved him and, of course, the other victims.

The family you choose

Just after Christmas, I stumbled across this nifty column published in the American Express Open Forum, a site I was oblivious to despite being a cardholder.

In the spirit of the holiday season, the author looks to the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” for real-life lessons for entrepreneurs. Though I’m more of what billionaire basketball team owner Mark Cuban calls a “WANTrepreneur” on the entertaining ABC program “Shark Tank,” I was charmed by the column’s headline. I’m glad I kept reading.

Among the valuable lessons are “focus on local” and “don’t rely on the banks.” But the lesson with the most value — not just for business, but personally — is the last one. The author titles it, “remember the ultimate bailout,” but the real impact of the lesson is contained in its first sentence:

“No man is a failure if he has friends.”

That statement is more than just the Frank Capra masterwork’s cheery denouement, however. To me it’s a mantra, for I’ve somehow been blessed with some remarkable friends. I recently alluded to one of them in this blog, but my other friends have been helpful in their own way, from picking up a humbling proportion of our bar tabs, to sharing the abundant good times to standing by me when things have gotten rough.

The cliche holds that friends are the family you choose. No man has chosen more wisely.

Sacked by Scylla and Charybdis

This is the hardest time of year for me, productivity-wise.

Glorious late summer gives way to temperate early fall to lure me out to the Starlight Lounge for a cigar and a drink while the pro football season gets under way. The combination is Scylla and Charybdis imperiling the creative journey, at least for me.

And it’s not just that I affix my butt to the chair in front of the television for the New England Patriots games. I must monitor postgame wrap-ups, halftime shows and local sports analysis programs. Then I must scour the Internet in search of box scores, out-of-town coverage and any manner of pigskin tidbits to slake my unquenchable thirst for the things of the gridiron.

And, of course, I have to share my own scintillating commentary on social media. Lately, I’ve taken to launching a jihad against the National Football League’s hapless replacement referees, tweeting an interminable fusillade of #ReplacementRefsFacts.

Probably the best one was “The @nfl #ReplacementRefs shine their shoes with kielbasa b/c it says “Polish” on the package.” (Haw!)

Of course, none of that translates to finishing my novel or generating billable hours. It’s fun, and it scratches an itch for attention, I suppose, but it’s hardly a productive use of my dwindling hours.

So … let this be yet another line in the sand, another not-quite-so-new year’s resolution to wrestle my important projects to the ground. If you have any tips to help an inveterate time-waster stay on track, I’m open to suggestions.

Onward!

Cut the s#!t, already!

Hey, “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” help me out with something: When is it OK to cuss on TV?

I’ve been on the radio a couple times recently as part of my work for my bigfoot client, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a television appearance — even if only on public access — is in the offing. So how should I handle things when I feel the need to let a four-letter word fly? (And, believe me, that’s a need I feel with some frequency.)

This morning I was watching your show’s Sept. 19 broadcast on my Xfinity DVR (If you watch TV on anything but Comcast, yer goin’ to hell!) and noticed that your first segment was called “Chaos on Bullshit Mountain.” At least that’s what you said, but the graphic read, “Chaos on Bulls#%t Mountain.” I guess you can say shit, but can only write s#%t.

OK, I think I’m with you so far. But then you crossed me up with a curveball.

In lampooning the typical Fox News dissembling, you say, “I’d expect this from residents of Asshole Cove, but not Bullshit Mountain.” Fine, I get it. “Asshole” is kosher on cable TV. Hell, even the networks were OK with it years ago on “NYPD Blue.” Yet, the night before, in your interview with author Salman Rushdie, “asshole” was bleeped out at least twice, which kind of belies the opinions/assholes chestnut. In your chat with “The Satanic Verses” scribe, opinions were plentiful, “assholes” were scarce.

However, I might have taped the Sept. 18 show (the one with Rushdie) during its 11 p.m. airing (Sorry, but your broadcast conflicts with my mandatory live viewing of “TMZ.”) and I definitely recorded the 12:30 a.m. airing of the Sept. 19 show, which featured the pop/soul singer Pink (or “P!nk). That wee-hours wrinkle might explain things a little.

That might, were it not for the aforementioned pop/soul singer’s performance of her new single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss).” During the first verse, she dropped the “S-bomb” (unbleeped) about a half-dozen times. But in the second verse, that shit was bleeped throughout.

I figured, for sure, Comedy Central allows only so many shits per episode, even during post-midnight airings, and the magic number had been realized.

Nope. As the song wound up, Pink’s “shit” apparently didn’t stink (it went unbleeped), but her background singers’ “shits” in response were censored. And after the commercial break, you, Pink and her guitarist chatted a bit and proceeded to “shit” all over the stage anew.

I’m not offended by the language, per se, but I’m a bit perturbed, or at least perplexed, by the lack of consistency governing vulgarity on the air.

Mostly, though, I don’t really give a shit. Or a s#!t.