Two Boring Films to Avoid

Porn sites have to be more interesting than this film!

We had heard many good things about the film Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Directed by Kelly Reichardt, PG, 110 mins.) and the film is gorgeous on the surface. Alas, it doesn’t have much except surface. Well… not quite true; Michelle Williams, as usual, is a riveting force, but not even she can rescue a film in which next to nothing happens. It’s set in 1845 and a small band of settlers is lost in the high desert of Oregon, running low on water, and probably in Indian territory. The film certainly chips away the romance attached to the American pioneer myth and it also exposes the preposterousness of Anglo-Saxon superiority presumptions, but it’s ultimately a film that touches upon but never penetrates the bigger issues it raises. Some critics have praised director Reichardt for not tying up loose ends. Fair enough, though ambiguity isn’t always very compelling viewing and Meek’s Cutoff drifts into a category we might label “So what?” It’s 110 minutes of people trudging across barren land and feels longer than Lawrence of Arabia.

Avoid Love and Other Drugs (2010, Directed by Edward Zwick, R, 112 mins.) unless you absolutely need to see Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal naked. They are both gorgeous, but don’t buy for a second that this film is making a serious statement about Parkinson’s disease or the sleaziness of the drug industry. (Do we need a film to tell us about the latter?) Let’s call this one what it is: soft porn. I enjoyed Anne Hathaway in her birthday suit, but I suspect there are Internet sites where I could have seen her without sitting through this vapid film.


Liberal Democrats and the Weenie Problem

Only in Weenie World is this negative campaigning!

Tomorrow is Election Day and I’m a content man. We elect the new mayor of Northampton, MA tomorrow and I’m fine with whoever wins. I’m well aware of how lucky I am to live in Northampton. Folks elsewhere often have to choose between entrenched politicos and Tea Party crazies. Not Northampton. Our longtime beloved Mayor Clare Higgins—an open lesbian known for her plain talk, acerbic wit, and political acumen–has retired and two men vie to replace her: former John Olver aide, acting mayor and city council president David Narkewicz is squaring off against Michael Bardsley, a gay man with a long record in public education and city politics. In other words, it’s a very liberal Democrat against a very liberal Democrat.

I have no idea yet as to how I’ll cast my vote as it’s been hard to tell the difference between the two. I sort of like Bardsley’s position on a local aquifer issue better than Narkewicz’s, but I like both of these guys a lot and might just toss a coin before I go into the booth. There is, however, one thing that might push me to put an X beside Bardsley’s name, the factor I call liberal weeniedom. Through no fault of his own, Narkewicz has attracted an inordinate number of the sort of folks who think that government ought to be a giant group hug in which harmony and consensus reign. Some of them, I suspect, think a city council meeting ought to end with a massed singing of “Kumbaya.”

Bardsley has been accused by liberal weenies of “negative campaigning.” Count me among those who laments the decline of civil discourse in America, but you tell me if these things descend to the level of “negative” campaigning. Bardsley’s first campaign slogan was “A Mayor Should be Elected, Not Selected,” a reference to the fact that Higgins retired a few months early and is supporting Narkewicz. The Bardsley campaign raised the question of whether a bit of favoritism was at work by allowing Narkewicz to sit in the mayor’s chair in advance of the election. “Perish the thought!” cried the weenies, who insisted that all procedure was followed and that it was a mere “coincidence” that Narkewicz was in the city charter-defined position to take over. Yeah—right! There are lots of detached heads lying about this town that once belonged to those who mistakenly took Clare Higgins for a fool! I can’t prove it, but I’d say she knew exactly what she was doing. Get over it, folks, politics is sometimes Machiavellian, a term I’d apply both to her premature resignation and Bardsley’s attempt to exploit it.

Bardsley’s newest slogan is “Everybody’s Mayor,” and this too has set the weenies on edge. He has raised the issue–an irrefutable one–that Northampton’s business community and upper middle class get more attention than its less affluent residents living in the outlier districts. My goodness—to hear the weenies cry “foul” on this one, you’d have thought that the Aardvark of the Apocalypse just took a stroll down the center white line of the universe! Only a truly air-stuffed brain could get lathered about a slogan such as “Everybody’s Mayor.”

I find myself so amused by the passion generated over this stuff that I don’t talk about the election in public, lest I be viewed as smug. Guilty. I am smug about this. If this election is viewed as “negative,” I have to ask if Northampton voters have ever heard of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. The Tea Party? The Republican Party? Nobody has sung “Kumbaya” for quite some time, except post-election liberal Democrats licking their wounds after getting knocked out once again by boxing according to Marquis of Queensberry rules while their conservative opponents pounded away below the belt!

As a historian I wonder what my city’s squeamish would have made of the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson was accused of being an atheist and a terrorist. Or the 1840 election in which William Henry Harrison was called the sort of man who’d be content to live in a log cabin alongside his jug of hard cider. In 1884, Grover Cleveland weathered the charge that he represented the party of “rum, Romanism,” and rebellion.” Prohibitionists dismantled Al Smith in 1928; FDR hung the Depression on Hoover in 1932; John Kennedy had to sidestep charges he’d turn the nation over the pope in 1960; Lyndon Johnson made Barry Goldwater into a nuclear mad man in 1964…. The list goes on. In the 1964 election, though, GOP operative Lee Atwater learned the lesson that politics was a contact sport and began to fashion the politics of division blueprint that has led to steady Republican gains ever since. Is it pretty? No. Does taking the high road pay off? No again. Frankly, I’ve come to doubt that the Democratic Party has the stomach for modern politics–an irony as it was the Dems who perfected down-and-dirty ward politics during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that made it into the majority party.

This much I know: the Democrats are going to continue to lose elections they should win until they turn their backs on the weenies. Get tough or get off the ballot–that’s just the way it is these days. Regrettable? Yes it is. But that and a few dozen positions papers will get you second place on Election Day.

This is why I’m smug about Northampton’s election. We get to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that politics is about rational people making public-spirited decisions. It still works that way here. Lucky us. I’ll be happy tomorrow no matter who wins: David and Michael are both quality individuals. I’ll be happy, but I won’t look for a group hug. Things just don’t work this way when you drive out of Northampton into the troubled and divided realm known as “America.”