Monday, July 18, 2011


Rigoletto on PBS

What would it take to make me turn off a production of Rigoletto within fifteen minutes?

1. It would need to be presented by a British woman with a posh accent, emphasizing that it was filmed in "authentic" Mantua locations.

2. It would involve a superannuated tenor whose giant ego has led him to believe he should remain before the public in baritone roles, doing violence to the composer's intentions.

3. It would be conducted by Zubin Mehta.

4. It would open with a chorus dressed as 16th century courtiers, dancing the polka.

5. You need more? I repeat: the polka.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Department of Scrupulous Fairness

Michelle Bachmann has taken a lot of abuse for saying that Waterloo, Iowa, was the birthplace of John Wayne, when it turns out -- this is priceless -- that it's the birthplace of John Wayne Gacy. See? She can't tell a movie star from a serial killer! I'm doubling over.

What the smart kids may not know is that John Wayne, ne Marion Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa. I know, lots of people think he was from Texas. They also think he was a war hero. Nope -- draft dodger from Iowa.* Frau Bachmann (horse whinny in the distance) should take note. It's not easy buttering up the Iowans by pretending their state's history is full of significant events. For instance, all you need to know about Davenport is that Bix Beiderbecke was born there and Cary Grant died there. Like Gacy and Wayne, their careers took place elsewhere. Iowa is the only flyover state where same-sex marriage is legal, but I don't expect Republicans to act happy about that.

It's more disturbing that a would-be president confuses John Adams with John Quincy Adams, and that she may actually believe the endlessly invoked "Founding Fathers" wanted to abolish slavery. Some of them not only approved of it (and depended upon it to generate the wealth that allowed them to hang around Philadelphia for months, founding) but incorporated it into the new Constitution to give the states with the most slaves disproportionate representation in Congress. As far as I can tell, Jay and Dave and Craig have not dwelt on this display of ignorance, probably because they would need to explain it to their adoring audiences. The trivial and the cheap make for easier laughs, just as the obsession with Anthony Weiner's creepy hobby was far more interesting than the points he was trying to make about Clarence Thomas's gutter ethics.

As Barack Obama slides inexorably toward total capitulation to the Rightzis, we need thoughtful people to discuss the gravest problems we have faced since the 1940s. We're not going to get that. Instead, we're going to hear which candidate has done the most to shore up the declining white birthrate, who has the best hair, whether the Latter-Day Saints are a religion or a cult, and why a proposed federal law should be written so as to fit on a pizza box. Politics in America smells like John Wayne Gacy's crawlspace.

Sixteen months to go.

*It's a textbook example of the way image trumps reality. Like the 1988 convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who cheered former National Guardsman J. Danforth Quayle, and booed decorated World War II bomber pilot Lloyd Bentsen. As somebody remarked in a John Wayne Western, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Print it? It's tattooed all over us.