Archive for January, 2009

Perhaps We Misunderestimated You After All…

January 21, 2009

So, in a moment that my office was kind enough to give me leave time for, I watched former (former!) President Bush board a helicopter– Executive One, not Marine One, as CNN unendingly informed me– after giving a half-assed wave to the public that had so intensely turned on him. Seeing him fly off, his supervillian vice president in a Strangelovian wheelchair off in a motorcade, filled me with a surreal moment of joy. Though my knowledge of the Constitution isn’t as thorough as I’d like it to be, I do know that Presidents are limited to two terms. That being said, I genuinely, though not necessarily consciously, thought we were doomed to a lifetime of watching our President bumble through and consequently destroy everything the past 42 had worked so hard to shape. But here we are, that loathsome asshole finally being relegated back to Texas indefinitely, giving the occasional Frost/Nixon-style interview when not clearing brush, wearing a multi-thousand dollar cowboy hat, or drafting a memoir made up entirely of three-syllable-or-less words (My guess for a title? Leading is Awesome.) And it also came as a relief to see our new, shiny Commander-in-Chief walking back up the stairs to get back to business, much like how I would say goodbye to my parents after having lunch with them in college. “It’s been nice, but I have things to do.”


All that being said, there are some things that I will miss about George W. Bush. Yes, miss. Some of this may partially come from the fact that after being swept up in a message of capital-C Change, I’ve apparently forgotten that I hate change, even if it’s from a negative circumstance to a positive. (Hell, I lived in the same apartment in Yonkers, NY, for 3 years instead of moving to the much larger City just south of it.) But some of this comes with the decent ways W affected my day-to-day life. I was surprised as well to find that there were positive ways in which his abysmal administration and his generally dunderheaded ongoings touched me, but they’re there. I suppose I’ll miss the following:


1) Hilarity factor.

The scariest part of an Obama administration, for me, was that I have yet to see a successful lampoon of him. The guy seemingly spent his campaign in a Teflon Bob Mackey suit, brushing off allegations and negative stereotypes like dandelion seeds, from a crazy former pastor to links to a bomb-crazy anarchist to directly stating a large portion of the electorate he was pursuing clung to their guns and religion when things weren’t going their way. And while this was an inspiring bit of political mastery on one hand, it also meant it was damn near impossible to poke fun at him. At first, I shrugged off Fox News’ sad, sad attempt at Daily Show-style comedy via the Half Hour News Hour as further proof that Conservatives– obsessed with the status quo, rules, and morality– have nothing to rage against, therefore aren’t capable of being funny. And while I don’t necessarily disbelieve that, it became apparent that NO ONE could make fun of him. After Amy Pohler and Tina Fey’s inspired takes on the candidates du jour, seeing Fred Armison do an admirable impression of Barack left me empty, in that while it was accurate, there was nothing funny about it. With Bush, you could watch the man sans any commentary but your own sense of decency and find something to laugh at, let alone the hours of material he provided our nation’s laughmeisters. But I’m genuinely afraid that after Bill Clinton’s chicken-fried accent, George H.W. Bush’s neutered blathering, Ronald Reagan’s inimitable diction and senility, Jimmy Carter’s hayseed sensibility, and Chevy Chase’s brilliant non-impression of Gerald Ford, Obama could be the first President since Lyndon Johnson that can’t get a firm comedic prodding. Conservative assholes will insist this is a symptom of the Left’s love affair with him; I argue that there’s really nothing to laugh at. It has nothing to do with the man’s ability as a leader or his personal life, but instead the fact that he’s just not funny. I’ll miss that about W, I suppose: though it usually accompanied nauseating amounts of corruption, dead troops, and disturbing incidents of job-related ignorance, every day was a new day to laugh at something involving our borderline-retarded leader.


2) Moments of disappointment peppered with slivers of less disappointment

For me, it was hard to differentiate between the man and the men behind the man for the last 8 years. Though Bush readily made himself the figurehead of the evils of his administration, I never truly got the sense that he was an evil man. A profoundly dumb man, yes, but never the Nixonian devilry of his vice president or the ulterior motive-packed intentions of his cabinet. When pressed to give an example of a thing Bush did of which I approved, I always point to Christmas 2003, which he spent with the American troops in Iraq. The war was still in the eerie calm before everyone and their mother in Fallujah was bombing shit, and America still hadn’t seen the proof that would justify our thick-headed charge into the country. Bush has stood by his decision to this day and beyond, but it was then that he seemed truly sympathetic, briefly acknowledging the human cost of the war he had waged. Though he’d do worse things after it, and doing the worst thing in sending our guys in there to begin with, it was a moment where I nodded and thought, “Actually, that’s kind of cool.”


Same goes for the day his daughter got married. The Today Show (I caught it in passing. Please don’t mistake me for a Today Show enthusiast.) showed a picture of said daughter and her twin sister on the day they were born, with their wide eyed, dumbly grinning father holding one of them on each arm. He wasn’t the man I’d come to despise after stealing the election in which my first vote ever was cast, but instead someone’s beaming father, right down to the hospital scrubs and the profound look of hope and possibility on his face. Neither of these moments really defined what he did in his presidency, and ultimately didn’t shape my opinion of him. But those bits of sympathy and humanity were welcome breaks from the bile-blooded hatred I reserved for him and his ilk, as that can get tiring after a while, let alone the better part of a decade. I suppose I’ll have to be moved by actual moments of achievement now.


3) Being an immovable member of the opposition.

The great thing about the ’90s was that everything was OK. Things weren’t great, and there were most certainly problems, but for all the bellyaching the Right and Far Left did (and do) about Clinton, he kept things A-OK. Case in point: Rage Against the Machine could rage against more underground issues, like Mumia Abu-Jamal or Leonard Peltier. The underground, radical issues they shed light on would have been lost in the fray in the last 8 years of broad quasi-tyranny and stark partisan divisions. Which is why it always irked me that they broke up right before Bush really started to tear shit apart (the same goes for At the Drive-In and the “on hiatus” Fugazi). But because I was only 7 when Reagan left office and hadn’t even been thought of being conceived in the ’60s, I’d never known what it was like to stand in total opposition to those in power. And I’m not saying that I’m planning on being a total sycophant for Team Obama, but there’s a difference between being displeased and being outraged. Outrage, while more exhausting, makes for better stories and a more concrete sense of victory when the symbol of all the injustice and possible undoing of your nation walks onto a helicopter to go the fuck home after wreaking as much havoc as legally allotted.




That being said, I won’t MISS him miss him. But there are aspects on the fringes of his time as the head of us that I’d grown to enjoy. Now, where’s my new job, Obama? Get on that.



The Overwhelming Meh-ness of Scrubs

January 7, 2009

Our increasingly bipolar culture has come to loathe the middle ground, seeing it as a noncommittal realm where those who don’t have the courage to suck or excel reside. Of course, in actuality, it’s here where most entertainment lies, much of it either unjustly panned or ridiculously praised in order to make it seem more important or offensive than it really is. Though being a moody bastard precludes me from truly appreciating the middle ground, I still wade there, confused about how Night Court is considered a great sitcom, or Bon Jovi is a tried and true band worthy of copious praise or “they ruined music” venom, or even how Spanglish is a movie that marks a new low in American cinema or a true slice of emotional transcendence. To me, they’re just sort of… there. My life is no different knowing they exist, and I don’t think I’d be lacking any enlightenment were they to remain in oblivion. Apparently we’re here to polarize, even though most of what we encounter truly exemplifies “OK.”

The epitome of this for me right now is Scrubs. I’ve spent almost all the time since its inception trying to figure out what in the fuck I think about this show. Is it a slice of impish comic brilliance or a melodramatic succession of unfunny jokes book ended by shallow emotional framing devices that leave the show somewhere between fatally uneven and unwatchable to anyone not run by their gut? Early in the show’s run, I thought the former, and in the last few years, I came to think the latter. But now, with the show in a completely unnecessary amount of syndication (it currently runs on ABC with reruns on Fox, Comedy Central, and TV Land– the latter being a channel devoted to reruns of all television up to now– while 30 Rock currently runs in my darkened living room with a giggling me as its audience), I’ve had time to reconsider. The show is the apex of completely acceptable comedy. It is not, however, the worst show on TV, nor its most consistent. It’s just OK, which of course confounds me as far as its divisive reaction is concerned.

That last sentence isn’t exactly true; I know the show’s Achilles heel/Christ-like figure of emo-humor is douche extraordinaire Zach Braff. His “OK guys, let’s get serious for a minute” voiceovers virtually ruin every episode to some extent. But watching Scrubs regularly makes this akin to having an adorable, sociable, playful puppy come to your house a few times a week, roll around and be insatiable, then end your time together by taking a shit on your floor. You knew it was possible, you knew there was a distinct probability it would happen, and after spending more time with the animal, it becomes apparent that the puppy will do that every time. But it’s not your puppy, so you can’t do anything about it. It’s not your fault, but the fault of the owner. However, it’s still shit, and I can’t think of that many people that want dog shit on the floor.

The “feelings” portion of each show has been justified to me as both “necessary, because it’s set in a hospital” and as postmodernism. I disagree with them both (comedy doesn’t always need to observe the boundaries of realism and decency and that referencing the “feelings” portions within the episode is postmodern, not the existence of the “feelings” monologues themselves, respectively). And that ruined the show for me at first, magnifying the bucket of cringe-inducing earnestness that was Zach Braff’s tour de self important shit Garden State. But there are elements of the show that are damn funny, even inspired.

Like most mainstream entertainment, especially in the time we’re stuck in, it isn’t half bad once the blatant and dissonant emoting is removed from the equation. Though lacking the ensemble brilliance of 30 Rock or the complete absence of regard for sentimentality of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Scrubs has many, many enjoyable moments. Though many of the show’s bits, cutaways, and running gags fall dismally flat, the ones that don’t are the reasons to come back to the show. They range from goofy to shockingly subversive (Scrubs’ more inspired jokes touch upon surprisingly candid jabs at race and filthy, filthy sexual innuendos, among others), and almost always have at least one really exemplary bit in each episode. Not to mention John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox, whose violently anti-emotional counterpart to Braff’s wounded faun makes for the show’s most consistent element, and probably provides the show’s few genuinely likable sentimental moments. Scrubs is like Taco Bell: it’s bad to live on a steady diet of it, but it’s not nearly as bad as they tell you it is.

But of course, this is where my problem lies: to the hipster crowd, defending Scrubs is like drop kicking a child in the middle of a mall. To the legions of its devoted fans, pointing out any of the show’s obvious flaws is akin to murdering their house pets. I have friends who think less of me for liking the show, and  have a friend who’s becoming an EMT due to her fondness of the program. I just don’t get it. I’ve never gone out of my way to watch the show, but if nothing else is on and I want to shut my mind off for an hour or two, there are certainly worse ways to go about doing so. And even in that, Scrubs is fine entertainment, with the upside of its constant seesawing consistently enjoyable, sometimes so much so that it drowns out the “serious” portions. But I refuse to call it a great show, or even one of the best shows on TV. It’s OK, I guess. I don’t think that’s enough, but I also don’t think that’s grounds for calling for the heads of all involved. Really, when television is home to The Hills and Rock of Love: Charm School, there are bigger fish to fry. Or incinerate.