Friday, May 15, 1998

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 40 (Old Styx)

Life in the Styx vol. 4, no. 40; May 15, 1998 (Excerpts):


Frank Sinatra, an American icon whose virtuoso talent and notorious public image made him a defining and dominant celebrity for more than five decades, died last night at age 82.

He was "The Chairman of the Board," "Old Blue Eyes," "Frankie," he did things His Way. There, I got the damned cliches out of the way quickly. His talent was too good to let the hacks and jackals of the press apply their pedestrian rot to his legacy.

I urge those of you who know of Sinatra as the opening song of "Married With Children" actually hear some of his music. Those who only know of his attitude from "My Way" to hear the majority of his work -- to know that popular music at one point had lyrics that carried a sober, wise pathos.

And the man could sing! He had a powerful limousine voice that never seemed to end -- he could probably hold a note longer and stronger than almost any singer who thought to be his rival.

And yes, he was the Chairman. His hep-cat, master of the cool years appeal to many across the generations. I am one of those who believe that "My Way" was written purely with me in mind.

While "My Way" does read as a perfect epitaph (first line: And now, the end is near;/ And so I face the final curtain") I prefer another song, possibly my private favorite, that combines his ballistic voice with the maturity and boldness that should be his legacy: "That's Life" [In the original Styx, I sent out the full lyrics]


I find it appropriate that just when the hype from the end of Seinfeld reached the level of farce, when people who classify "The Wedding Singer" as a nostalgia movie are both pining and cynically criticizing their emotions over a TV show that purports to be a classic, fate helps put things in perspective with the death of Sinatra. While Seinfeld may have been the Upper West Side, Frankie was New York.

And I can't help but think that Seinfeld would be grateful. It wasn't he who blew up the hype; it was both NBC who is looking down the barrel of a long painful reconstruction after losing both America's #1 show and pro-football.

It was also the collection of streetwalkers known as the American Press Corps who blew this out of proportion. Thursday morning, the day of the last show, one of the "top stories" on the Reuters wire was a very special scoop indeed. It seems that one of their investigative crack reporters picked up a leak as to the exact plot of the finale! So I read about the car-jacking and the trial 12 hours before it was shown -- serves me right for be a news-junkie, right?

Why was that story news? Why was it a "scoop"? We press-critics each have our high-water mark as to when we declare that the press has gone 'too far' -- some people think it's O.J., some waited until Monicalewinskygate. But in some ways I think this is a far worse sign. It shows that there is no longer any break between entertainment and news. It shows that the only ethics left to the reporters are: (1) a need to "scoop" and (2) a need to destroy privacy.

The only reason why the temptation to know the plot existed was because NBC tried to keep it a secret; and it seems like something so petty and trivial as that was enough to waste a "top story" (not like anything else was happening: nuclear crisis in India-Pakistan, hundreds of people killed in Indonesian riots; Arafat pushing for armed struggle in Israel etc.) See below for more journalistic-wickedness.


Everyone should be sick unto death of reading analysis articles about Why Seinfeld Is So Popular. Then there are the counter articles -- probably by the same misanthropic cranks who felt a need to attack Titanic -- who tried to tear down the belief that there's something to miss with the passing of Seinfeld.

I read a column in Time Magazine, the Marvel Comics of news, that tried ever-so-vainly to convince the reader that Seinfeld was a used-diaper compared to the laudable librettos of "The Andy Griffith Show."

Thank the TV-gods for providing us with Nick at Nite so we can finally match up the cinematic gadlus of the bygone era with ours. Folks, I don't want to surprise you, but early TV sucked. If I had only "Andy Griffith" to watch I'd drink Drano.

But here's a surprise: comedy is a cultural bench-mark. Material is only found to be funny by the intended audience. And it is ooo-kaaay to have different tastes within the genre. But I guess reporters are just two-speed bicycles that can only trash or hype.


Of course, I do need to give my two-cents on why Seinfeld was so popular. That is the most interesting question anyway. Especially since the show had a strong amorality that was part of its unavoidable message (something that came to haunt them in the distinctly unfunny finale) and why I couldn't be a regular viewer.

The trick here is to realize that people weren't watching it for the amorality, even though it became an unintended side-effect. This is how the marketplace works: you buy a product because it's the best available, not the best there is; there may be aspects you don't like about your chosen purchase, but they aren't significant enough to dissuade your acquisition.

However, the sub-standards still exist and will affect you. Seinfeld did manage, in my analysis, to debase the discourse on television towards a more tawdry and even raunchy level. Because of the show's power and appeal, they were able to broadcast an episode about masturbation -- a plot-line that I believe is the quintessence of the show -- which would not have been possible had Seinfeld not been so popular. And once you break that barrier of propriety, it's very difficult to go back.

This psycho-social phenomenon can be summed up with this aphorism: there aren't always moral reasons but there are moral consequences. The amorality wasn't why The People watched, but it did affect The People afterwards.

So why did they watch? Very simple: the principle of the show wasn't that it was "about nothing" (a phrase repeated so often that I had a standing threat to pole-axe the next person who said it within ear-shot). The other phrase Seinfeld had for it was: "no hugging, no learning."

All one has to do is compare Seinfeld to the other two comedies that went belly-up this week: "Ellen" and "Murphy Brown." Ellen became a one-trick pinto. It was gay gay gay and I'm not sure if *any* one note show could survive, let alone one with such a moralizing tincture. Murphy Brown was moribund for years and it needed to jolt itself alive with dramatic plot grafts (a baby! a cancer!)

Seinfeld was one place you could go where it was 100% jokes. Once you were over the hurdle of accepting the basic characters & premise, you were guaranteed non-stop payback. And that, very simply, is why it was so popular.


One message about Israel. This is probably the only instance that I remember where the New York Times, good ol' German Serge Schmemann, was more anti-Israel than even the Reuters wire. Reuters placed the Israeli backlash to the current Palestinian riots by saying, straight out, that the Israelis only fired into the mob when (a) they were fired on first! or (b) when they were about to be over-run. Reuters also claimed that in some areas the Palestinian police were doing little to stop the violence. I didn't save the Reuters story, but here's the AP: [May 14, 1998, 4:41 p.m.]

While most of the marchers -- 1 million by official Palestinian
estimates -- were peaceful, thousands of young men broke away and
headed toward Israeli army outposts. In clash after clash, they
hurled stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas,
rubber bullets and, sometimes, live rounds.

Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant, the Israeli commander in Gaza, accused
Arafat's government of deliberately organizing demonstrations so
large as to be uncontrollable. Galant also said Palestinian police
and civilians fired wildly in at least one confrontation, and may
have been responsible for some casualties.

Israeli officials recovered about 200 casings of the type of
bullets used by Palestinian police, he said. Israeli troops also
displayed two armored vehicles that had been shot.

The Times, however, paints the picture like it was a mad orgiastic Klan-like attack by the Israeli army against innocents. See the picture on page A11 (Fri, May 15 1998) to see a pure example of how newspapers can gush falsehood under the guise of news. Disgusting and despicable.


As of last looking, Kenneth Starr is chomping at the bit, trying to break the government stonewall over the Secret Service silence. Besides the obvious lesson that a Secret Service, by definition, is secret, there's the head of the service saying that forcing the agents to testify would lead to the death of a president.

OK, granted, it sounds like the chief is freaking out, but I'd far more trust his opinion on these matters than Starr who, by all accounts -- probably even the psychotic Rep. Dan Burton agrees -- has *got* to have his priorities straightened out!

Kenneth! (I'm sure he hates 'Ken') Dude! It's just not worth it! Somebody better tackle Starr and hose him down with some PERSPECTIVE. Maybe the secret service, they do that for a living ya know.


This is bad. We do not need to have India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea in a shoving match. But my grasp of geopolitics doesn't merit a column on this topic. I do want to point out a twinge-ing moral inconsistency by, your friend and mine, the New York Times.

Their Thursday (5-15-98) editorial claimed that the CIA failed because they didn't know about the nuclear tests beforehand. Maybe it's me, but all this complaining can be answered by a simple question -- why didn't we just pay an Indian citizen in their Navy intelligence division to give us information? This hypothetical person, we'll call him Mahatma Pollard, could have been an American hero, right? Right?

Have a good Shabbas.