Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

2016 Election Celebration

Tomorrow is the day everyone in the United States waits for with unparalleled anticipation; the day where everything changes. The second Tuesday of November is one of the most important days of the year, no matter if you follow politics or not. It is the day when all the politicians finally shut up a little bit and leave us to get on with our lives while they either gloat in their 15 minutes of limelight behind synthetic humility, or seethe in private anguish at their unprecedented injustice. Is that flippant? Yes. It is a learned response. Perhaps it is a bit of a cynical view, but cultivated ire for politicians can hardly be among the greatest of sins, especially with the stellar crop of buffoons we’re served up year after year. 

Our local representative race is a classic example of sleazy politics at its best. We’ve had endless campaigning with focus on personal attacks over substance on television ads, endless YouTube ads, nightly phone solicitation, door to door campaigning, radio spots, and particularly annoying attack mailers sent in bulk. I started collecting the mailers early since this race was very nasty in the last cycle and I anticipated nothing less this time around. I missed a few at the beginning, but my collection of insulting, vapid drivel in snail mail was soon the envy of…well…no one. As of November 7, I had collected 85 separate pieces of attack mailers that were sent to my house in an unceasing flow. Barely a day went by in the past 45 days where we didn’t receive at least one, but sometimes up to four pieces per day. The race is so nasty, it has gotten party headquarters heavily involved and gotten national attention. A recent editorial piece by USA Today picked one of the TV/YouTube spots as one of the five worst political ads in the country. Way to show that Illinois pride ladies. As if we need more reasons to show how awful Illinois and its politics are.

Dirty Politics

Most of the time, we aren’t home during the prime door-to-door hours, so I know we missed a few choreographed visits, but I was home for one. My doorbell rang one night at about 6:45, just moments after I sat down on the couch to have my dinner and watch anything that was on TV. With an exasperated sigh, I shook off my I-just-got-home-from-work-now-leave-me-alone face, and I opened the door to what I thought would be a girl scout cookie sales pitch. To my surprise, the solicitor at the door was our state representative, Kate Cloonen, telling me how important it was to get out and talk with people in her district and find out what issues mattered to them. I’ll admit that as I held the storm door open and leaned on the door frame listening to her talk, I was at a momentary loss. Here I was expecting to be reluctantly charmed by a fumbling young entrepreneur, aided by the bewitching spell of Thin Mints, and instead I was greeted by rehearsed, superficial pandering. I tried to recover while she finished her greeting and introductory prelude. She handed me a familiar political flyer and my sourness returned in a flash. 

When dealing with rehearsed or scripted salesmen at work, I have learned an invaluable lesson in combating their manipulation; do something they don’t expect. It can be quite funny to hear the equivalent of “does not compute” in their silence or stammering. I saw my opening with the politician when she asked me “So what issues are important to you?” Her assistant held his pen and clipboard at the ready to scribble something that would likely never be read, and I held up the flyer in front of me and said, “I just want these to stop!” They both looked at me blankly for a second and then tried to get clarification on my puzzling statement. “You mean the pamphlets?” In my head I heard, “Well, allow me to retort!” I then launched into a deft soliloquy on the evils of negative smear campaigning and the long-dead virtue of honor among statesmen in an environment that crushes the common man. It would have been pretty cool if that was what actually happened, but I honestly don’t remember exactly what I said. There were words like “disgusting attacks” and “insulting oversimplifications” and “offensive volume”, but I’m not sure what order they came out of my mouth so it could have been completely incoherent. Something must have been intelligible because she hesitantly reasoned that I should check to see who sent the mailing since they don’t have control over all the mail that comes out. They could, however, make sure that nothing more came directly from her campaign. The assistant gave me an earnest nod, as if he were my buddy about to do me a solid, and they agreed with each other that they would certainly do what they can to make sure I didn’t receive any more political ads. In reality, I’m sure they were recoiling at the thought of further discussion and looking for any way out, so as they both visibly retreated, I accepted their tepid offer and they quickly left.  

Looking back, my encounter with my representation was a bit of a lost opportunity. It may have been the leftover angst of dinner interrupted, but I thought later that I could have actually discussed the problem with her, brought up tangible concerns and proposed solutions. Later that evening, I began to write an email to Kate Cloonen to express some of these thoughts, but my cynicism won out and I abandoned the email in frustration. The critic in me decided it would have made no difference if we had shared a genuine conversation or not. I have learned that politicians say anything to get elected, and I was sure my opinion would have been written off as soon as my vote was in a column…either column. Not that I think the interaction would have been much different had her opponent, Lindsay Parkhurst visited my house, but she has yet to be elected and prove my cynical theories. Judging from the volume of negative garbage I have received from her side, I expect nothing less than a politician. I’m not totally cynical I suppose, it very well could be that Cloonen and Parkhurst are both nice, decent, well-meaning ladies and it is the system or their party is to blame for the nasty demeanor. But that doesn’t represent me, and that they would allow it to happen in their name is disgusting.

My disgust in general at politicians is that they constantly underestimate us. They think we are stupid enough to believe their statements and fall for their carefully framed tricks. And you know what? It works. Americans feed this beast by consuming and believing the one-sided arguments. But I don’t think it is stupidity. Instead, confirmation bias is to blame. We only hear what we want to hear, and believe what we already think is true. If you hate Politician A and Politician B says something awful about Politician A, you tend believe Politician B, even if it is an outright lie, or if B is a disgusting person themselves. B sends out floods of negative ads confirming bias in all directions and everyone gets all fired up to vote. B wins and deduces that negative campaigning works. This is your fault! If you hate the negativity, don’t feed the cycle! Think for yourself and don’t parrot others opinions. And as much as you hate it, really listen to other opinions, you don’t have the monopoly on “right”.

A simple concept that most people seem to forget, is that when someone is elected, they are supposed represent ALL of their district, city, state or country, not just the portion of the electorate that voted for them. I think that is especially important for this year’s Presidential race. It is an idea that I am sure both major candidates will forget the moment the winner takes office, but it is equally applicable to you the voter. Accept the results, don’t threaten moving to Canada, it is all a bit silly. The great thing about our country is that if something is broken, we can try again the next cycle and someone else gets to try their ideas. Talking heads excel at whipping people up to think that their world is going to end if the opposition gets in power. That kind of thought creates fanatics. Use reason instead. Believe it or not, you can say, “That’s a fantastic idea! There is not even the slightest chance in the world I am voting for you, but…great idea!” You can actually say that sentence and not devolve into a brawl over who “won” your debate. Just once I would like to hear a reasonable discussion about Hillary and Trump without hearing about fascism or socialism or the end of America, or moving to Canada. They are nice people up North, why send our bitter, angry people there?

One terrible aspect to our elections is that the common voter feels as though they have no real choice in a two-party system. To give back some choice, wouldn’t it stir some stew to have “None of These Jokers” as an option on the ballot? Imagine how many votes that option would receive for President this year! Plus, it would be very satisfying to hear a news anchor announce a forecast: “And we can now officially call the state of New Hampshire for None of These Jokers.” Have the NoTJ vote mean a vote of no confidence, if NoTJ actually wins, the person that gets the next most votes gets to be President or Governor or Mayor, but only for a year, or in a temporary fashion until we get someone we actually want. We’d certainly avoid some of the messes we find ourselves in now. The idea worked in the movie Brewster’s Millions as “None of the Above.” And while I’m at it, why are we voting on Tuesday?! Shouldn’t this be a weekend, where it is easier for people to “rock the vote?” At the very least, make it a holiday so no one has an excuse to not vote. The old idea for voting on Tuesday was designed to accommodate a day of travel after Sunday to be able to reach polling places, how many people do you think would vote now if they had to drive for a day beforehand? I also have opinions on the electoral college, third-party candidates, term-limits and districting, but I’m tired of thinking about politics…tomorrow is a celebration day, go out and vote so they all shut up faster! 

Movie Review: The Artist

The Artist

The ArtistI have to admit that quite a few people may not like The Artist (2011), and that’s really too bad.

This is a movie that has a number of issues that conspire to keep it out of the year’s “most popular” lists.  It’s first “problem” is that it is black and white.  Who wants to see a black and white movie these days?  It just feels so…old!  The next issue, no one in the States knows the lead actor or actress. Sure, there are some recognizable faces in the cast, but where is the star power?  But, perhaps its biggest issue is this: it is a silent film. Say what!? That’s right, a silent movie! Most movie-goers will be shrugging at the concept and instead plunking down their cash (more likely, their credit card) to see a big time action movie, with big time stars, than to see this film. It almost seems like a tragedy to me because I loved this movie. So much so that I thought I would break my self-imposed embargo on writing film reviews to come up with some words to describe just how much it impressed me.

I really did love everything about this film.  So many times I see movies and it’s fairly easy to nit-pick about things that I think should be changed or improved somehow, less of _this_ and more of _that_, a better way to tell the story, a better choice of actors.  Although it usually doesn’t prevent me from enjoying movies, it is a fun exercise to dream up ways to tweak things, even in great movies, just to make it better. With The Artist, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The film is not a parody, and neither is it an insolent exercise in snobbish self-importance.  It is a loving homage to the history of cinema told in the wrapper of a charming story that stands on it’s own beyond it’s tribute.  The arc of the story is familiar, as is the story’s setting of a silent film star (played by Jean Dujardin) at his peak of popularity in 1927, but perched on the verge of irrelevance in the emerging era of “talkies”. The way the director (Michel Hazanavicius) shares this familiar story, however, feels fresh and original.  He deftly uses the quintessential old-school Hollywood style, shots and techniques as tools to tell the story and not as a gimmick for laughs.  At the same time, this isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously…it is presented with a wink to the audience as if to say “Yeah I know! Isn’t this fun?”.

The Artist IS fun.  It is a lighthearted comedy that occasionally pricks your heart with a sharp pin. There are a great many laughs, but it is one of those stories where you find yourself a bit surprised at how much you connected…you really feel for the characters. Everything about this film makes you feel like you are watching a film made in the glory days of early cinema.  Even the sparse dialogue cards in the film fit right in with the overall mood, although most of the time, the cards are only required to drive home a specific point.  From start to finish this movie entertains smartly, and never treats the audience as if they need their hand held or the actions explained.  The filmmakers understand very well how the images on the screen communicate to the audience.

With an incredible eye for the beauty of black and white, the scenes are staged in a way that can only be described as art. A few scenes really stand out for their beauty, but at almost any moment you could stop the film and it would be a frame-able photo or poster. The rest of the cast are perfectly chosen (including: Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller) and I would have a difficult time imagining others in their roles. Even the music throughout the film is used in a way that compliments the film rather than telling the audience what to feel, by itself a rare accomplishment these days. It is not as easy as it sounds to have all these elements work together to create a mood or a moment in a film, yet throughout,  The Artist makes it seem like the work was effortless.

It is fairly certain that if you are not already interested in seeing this film, my words will do no more than vanish into the morass of critique and commentary that plagues the Internet and numbs brains worldwide.

And that’s OK.

In a way this is just a very wordy “Like” button to acknowledge the creativity of a great film, and a simple wish that it gets the armloads of Oscar nominations and other accolades that it deserves.

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