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Rats, Rocky and Other Racial Matters

As usual, President Donald Trump finds himself in a few “twitter” feuds that are racially-charged. One is with black Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and the mostly black district of Maryland that he represents, and more surprisingly another is with the very white government of the very white country of Sweden.
Cummings is a frequent critic of Trump, so it wasn’t surprising at all when president “tweeted” that Cummings is a “brutal bully” and his part of Baltimore is a “disgusting and rat and rodent infested mess.” Naturally it’s caused an argument for the talk show talkers to talk about and the opinion writers to opine about, and both sides of the argument seem to relish it.
The “tweet” does contain at least a kernel of truth, as there are definitely parts of Baltimore you’ll want to drive through quickly and with the windows up and doors locked on your way to that world-class seafood restaurant we know in one of the better parts of town, and there’s something to be said for frankly acknowledging that unhappy fact. Trump is always brutally frank about his opponents, even if he’s far less forthcoming about his own shortcomings, and his fans love him for it.
The other side has its own arguments, and as always is not intimidated to make them. The part where Trump calls Cummings a “brutal bully” is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black — if you’ll forgive the possible racial implications of that cliche — and there’s plenty to argue about with the rest of it. Trump’s “tweets” were provoked by Cummings’ criticisms of the conditions at the detention camps where the Trump is keeping illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers, but his argument that the detainees are better off than Cummings’ free-to-leave-with-their-families-intact is arguable at best. Trump also “tweeted” that Cummings’ long tenure in the House hasn’t solved all of Baltimore’s problems, which is inarguably true, but his suggestion that Cummings should spend less time in Washington futilely arguing for federal help doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to argue that much of Baltimore and many other cities run by black urban machines are a mess that deserves federal attention and a different kind of local leadership, but it’s another thing to suggest, as Trump seems to do, that those jurisdictions deserve what they get and don’t deserve the rest of the country’s consideration. Trump’s fans will love it, but the rest of the country might see it differently. There’s also a Washington Post story some of the rodent-infested apartment buildings in nearby Baltimore are owned by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Meanwhile, Trump seems to be currying favor witha black Americans by funding with Sweden’s prime minister on behalf of someone who calls himself A$AP Rocky. Being of a certain age and just as white as the Swedish prime minister we had not previously heard of this Rocky fellow, but apparently he’s a popular “rapper” with the “hip hop” crowd, and for some reason was recently in Sweden, where he was arrested for assault and battery in a street brawl for some reason or another. He’s also apparently a friend of bona fide nutcase and popular rapper Kanye West, who is for some reason a good friend of Trump, as well as the husband of Trump’s friend and fellow reality star Kim Kardashian, and Trump has taken a peculiar presidential interest in the case.
Trump apparently requested the Swedish prime minister to release Rocky forthwith, and “tweeted” that he was “disappointed” the prime minister replied that his nation’s constitution wouldn’t allow him to interfere with an independent judiciary. Trump further “tweeted” that the prime minister had betrayed America’s black community by upholding the Swedish constitutional order, and he seemed to care less about Swedish public opinion than how it might curry favor with black voters in America’s most rat and rodent infested neighborhoods.
The fans won’t mind, and might even appreciate how the right-wing talk radio hosts argue it proves that they and Trump aren’t the least bit racist toward well-to-do and well-connected black people. The rest of the country probably won’t be much impressed, on the other, and we think that Trump might be overestimating black America’s emotional investment in someone called A$AP Rocky’s fate at the hands of the previously uncontroversial Swedish justice system.
From our old Republican white guy perspective here on the political sidelines in a fashionable and left-leaning yet well-run Riverside neighborhood here in other conservative Wichita, Trump looks ridiculous on all fronts. Although we don’t want to prejudge Rocky’s case we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the report videotape evidence proves that a prominent American “rapper” committed assault and battery while on vacation in Sweden, and we’ll leave it to the Swedes to sort it out. Trump expects any old Swede or any other foreigner who comes to America to obey our laws and submit to our justice system if accused of a violation, and he should expect the same of Americans who travel abroad no matter who he might know, and he shouldn’t expect any other head of state to act differently than he would if some tourist from Sweden or anywhere else wound up in an American jail.
We’d happily defend any Republican who made a compassionate rather than racist case against the racial resentments and identity group politics and social pathologies and socialist economics that have done so much to make Cummings’ portion of Baltimore and so much of the rest of urban America undesirable places to live, and offered old school culture ideals and free-market ideas and nose-to-the-grindstone educational solutions, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any ideas about how to help and is clearly more concerned with shoring up support from his white base in rat infested neighborhoods with racial resentments of their own.
When we leave our fashionable and left-leaning and inordinately homosexual and almost entirely white yet will-run neighborhood here in Wichita we travel through all sorts of neighborhoods, each with their own political leanings and racial resentments and social tensions, but every journey proves uneventful and friendly. We have no problem with the black and brown and yellow and red folks we encounter daily, and are always happy to open the door for them at the convenience store, and they’re always happy to do the same for us if they arrive at the door first, and we’re sure we’d all do the same for any Swedish tourist who somehow happened to be in Wichita.
That’s how we mostly deal with all these very complicated race and class and sex issues here on the ground level in Wichita, and we’d very much like for Trump and those damned Democrats to do the same.

— Bud Norman

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An Especially Surreal Day in the All-Too-Real Trump Reality Show

By now we should be well inured to these weird celebrity reality shows, but we were nonetheless taken aback by rapper Kanye West’s guest appearance Thursday on President Donald Trump’s hit television program. In case you somehow it missed it, it was a fascinatingly bizzarre mix of “The Jerry Springer Show,” “The Real Housewives of Wherever,” and that show whose name we forget that was about the ongoing mental breakdown of Flava Flav.
Despite being old white guys with old white guy musical tastes, we’ve been aware of West’s existence for some time now, although we can’t claim any familiarity with his music. He’s been a very successful rap “artist” for some time now, and young people we know with more up-to-date and less discriminating tastes than ours have vouched that he’s actually quite good at it, but we mostly know him for his frequent intrusions into the rest of the news.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans he used the podium of some music awards show or another to say that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He later crashed the front pages when he crashed the stage at some music awards show or another to snatch the microphone out of the hands of a pop chanteuse named Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech and complain that the award should have gone to his friend Beyonce, who is apparently another popular hip-hop performer of some repute, which prompted then-President Barack Obama to call him a “jackass.” Since then he’s become more famous as a co-star of the hit Kardashian family reality series, as he’s married to the famously callipygian co-star Kim Kardashian and is thus somehow related by marriage to co-star and former Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner, who is now more highly celebrated as a transgender woman.
More recently, he’s been in the news because of his outspoken support of Trump. A while back he made headlines by ending a concert with a rambling pro-Trump rant, then again the next day when his spokespeople announced that he was seeking mental health treatment. Just a week or so ago, he was back in the news when was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” and started into another rambling pro-Trump as the final credits rolled. The stunt went un-aired but was widely reported, and earned West his nationally-televised guest-starring turn in the Oval Office on Thursday.
If you some haven’t sat through the whole thing we’d urge to summon the courage to do so, because it’s perhaps the most perfect example of celebrity reality show grotesquery we’ve come across yet, and a damning indict of the celebrification of our politics. Clad in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap and some coat-and-tieless street gear, and using street language similarly unsuited to the past dignity of the Oval Office, West went on an unhinged rant for the ages. He derided the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, bragged about bringing the Adidas sports shoe company from a billion dollar deficit to a multi-billion dollar profit, talked about a hydrogen-powered Air Force One to for the “Flyest president ever,” promised to restore Chicago’s manufacturing base and it’s high murder without stop-and-frisk. He also confessed, as if he were on the old “Oprah” reality show, that he supported Trump at least in part because he’d grown up in single-mother home without “male energy” and that the family he’d married into was similarly lacking in “male energy.”
Reigning reality show alpha male Trump sat silently behind the historic Resolute desk with his arms crossed through the whole 11 minutes, never once interrupting to tell his guest to take off his cap and pull up his saggy britches and stop saying “motherfucker” and start showing some damned respect for the Oval Office. Trump was no doubt annoyed by all the airtime West was taking, not to mention that touchy-feely talk about no stop-and-frisk, as well as West claiming preemptive credit for any Chicago revival that might occur, but what he could he do? West was mostly saying very flattering things about him, which always obliges Trump to say nice things in return, and he’s hardly in any position to criticize a fellow reality show star for a self-aggrandizing and obviously exaggerated and inappropriately vulgar and clearly unhinged rant.
Besides, Trump clearly covets a bigger-than-usual Republican share of the black vote. Trump has a history of discriminating against black tenants applying to live in his apartments, continues to call for the execution of black and hispanic men who were once convicted but have since been clear by scientific evidence for the rape of a white woman in Central Park, and more recently found “very fine people” among a deadly neo-Nazi mob in Virginia, but the black unemployment rate is currently low, and Trump can claim that some of his best friends are black. He’s not only got the foul-mouthed and clearly crazed West on his side, but all-time football great and convicted spousal abuser Jim Brown was also in the Oval Office on Thursday. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, an undeniably tough basketball rebounder and defender, a cross-dressing trash-talker who was a reality show star on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and a pal to North Korean dictator Kim Jung long before Trump was, is also on board. Trump also has the friendship of boxing legend and convicted rapist and boastful wife-beater “Iron” Mike Tyson, as well as boxing promoter Don King, who overcame a couple of manslaughter convictions to make fortune exploiting such naive black boxers as Tyson.
Trump’s penchant for braggadocio and bling plays well in certain parts of the hip-hop world, where his admitted pussy-grabbing tendencies aren’t much of a problem, and West still seems to have some sway with that mostly-male audience, so it might nudge Trump’s approval ratings among black Americans into the low single digits. The mostly white and male supporters who were rihghtly outraged back when Obama hosted a similarly foul-mouth rapper probably won’t mind, as it’s not as if Trump actually shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and they surely won’t notice that West’s unhinged rant came while Hurricane Michael was devastating the East Coast, so it might have done him some good.
Even so, we don’t see how it helps make America great again. You don’t have to be crazy to be a Trump defender — although it helps (insert rim shot here) — but this West fellow is is quite clearly off his rocker. There’s something disconcerting, too, about watching a President of the United States sitting with arms folded behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office during such an unhinged rant and then offering such effusive praise. If that makes us Republican in name only, then so damn be it.

— Bud Norman

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A Night When the Stars Didn’t Come Out

Try as we might to avoid the latest entertainment news, we couldn’t help reading about the trouble president-elect Donald Trump has been having booking slots for his inaugural festivities. So far the biggest names that have agreed to perform are the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even those old-fashioned and all-American acts have had some dissension within their ranks.
The Marie Claire magazine reported that several of the Rockettes objected to the gig, and of course the rest of the media gleefully passed it along. The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Radio City Music Hall along with its high-kicking Rockettes, accused the magazine overstating the dissension and violating a confidentiality agreement in the process, and assured the rest of the press that no one would be forced to dance against her will. The company’s chief executive also defended the booking, telling The New York Times “I don’t believe it’s going to hurt the brand, and nobody is more concerned about that than the guy sitting in this chair. I’m about to spend $50 million remounting this summer show, and I’m going to spend a similar amount remounting next year’s Christmas show. I gotta sell tickets.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir doesn’t have the same overhead or commercial incentives as the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, but a few of its members have declined to perform at the inaugural because of religious or political objections to Trump. Mormons have been notably more resistant to Trump’s charms than other conservative religious groups, and many have objected to their tabernacle’s choir singing for a thrice-divorced and six-times-bankrupt casino and strip club mogul, and one woman resigned her spot in the choir for well-publicized reasons that seem to derive more from her liberal political views. Many of the media have been enjoying that flap, too, of course.
The other big name, which we had not previously heard of, is Jackie Evancho, a 16-year-old who seems to have recently become famous on the “America’s Got Talent” television show. She tells the press that she’ll be singing the National Anthem in honor of the presidency rather than the president, and always adds that she also performed for President Barack Obama.
Some bigger names were rumored in the press, but all eventually denied they would be performing. Aging rock star Elton John was willing to perform at right-wing radio talker Rush Limbaugh’s third or fourth wedding but drew the line at Trump’s first inauguration, issuing a profanity-laden statement that suggested Trump try booking “[expletive-deleted] Ted Nugent” or “one of those [expletive-deleted] country singers.” Country star Garth Brook also declined a rumored invitation, but more respectfully, while heavy metal guitarist and “Motor City Madman” Nugent was not even rumored to have been invited despite his outspoken support for Trump. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli offered his services, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary, which probably came as a relief to him after thousands of his Facebook followers threatened a boycott.
So it seems that this will be a celebrity-free inauguration, and given how awful all the celebrities are these days we would usually see that as another reason to be glad that a Republican is being inaugurated. Trump is not a usual Republican, though, and we can’t see him relegating the celebrity culture to its rightful place on the margins. He’s a reality television star himself, first gaining fame beyond the New York tabloids for firing other B-listers on his “Celebrity Apprentice” program, and since winning a presidential election he has taken time out for photo opportunities with the rapper and noted nutcase Kanye West as well as fight-promoter and convicted murderer Don King, and he’s nominated his former World Wrestling Entertainment co-star Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration, and we can’t shake a certain suspicion that he’d very much like to be as adored by the big-timers as Obama has been for the past eight years, and very much resents that he isn’t.
We expect a lot of “Tweet”-for-tat public feuding with the celebrity set for the next four years, and although it will no doubt be great for the ratings on “Access Hollywood,” where Trump once bragged to his locker room pal Billy Bush about how he could be grab women by their deleted expletives because he’s a star, we aren’t looking forward to it.

— Bud Norman

A New Year’s Resolution: No MTV

Way back when the Music Television network first started coming through the cables we watched 24 straight hours of its fare, drinking coffee and keeping notes along the way for a rather snarky feature story in the local newspaper, and since then we’ve rarely tuned in. MTV does occasionally come up in our daily news reading, though, mostly recently when it offered its New Years “resolutions for white guys.”
Being white guys ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering what the network was suggesting. We hoped MTV was urging its youthful white male audience to shave those ugly beards and stop getting tattoos and start taking an occasional glance up from those newfangled telephones they’re always looking at, but of course it was just the usual white guilt-mongering and man-shaming.
The video begins with a head-and-shoulders shot of a clean-cut and pasty young white guy addressing his “fellow white guys,” with the usual quick cut to the same shot of a chubby Latino-looking fellow noting that it’s about to be a new year, with another quick cut to the head and shoulders of a non-threatening young black man who explains that “here’s a few things we think you can do a little better in 2017.”
Another quick cut the to head-and-shoulders of an attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity, who advises that first of we should “try to recognize that America was never ‘great'” — with the disdainful internal quotation marks emphasized by that two-fingered gesture the kids use — “for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.” After another quick cut to a bookish-looking young black woman saying “Can’t we just all agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter?” That clean-cut and pasty young white is quick cut to again to say that “Blue Lives Matter isn’t a thing,” and there’s an even quicker cut to that non-threatening young black again who laughs at the very idea, noting that “cops aren’t born with blue skin, right?”
With the cuts coming in dizzying quickness, a white guy with one of those ugly beards urges white men to stop bragging about being “Wook,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and the aforementioned chubby Latino says to stop saying “Wook” altogether. A bookish-looking young white woman says to “learn what ‘mansplaining’ is,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and to stop doing it. Then there’s that clean-cut and pasty white guy telling us to believe any woman who alleges she has been assaulted by an Ivy League athlete. There’s something about someone named Beyonce and a dig at Fox News, some inside joke about Kanye West that we take to be a dig against his friendship with president-elect Donald Trump, the bearded white guy’s advice to not mention one’s black friends, and the non-threatening young black man’s brief rant that having black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
They throw in a brief admission toward the end that not all white guys are bad, we think it was the bookish looking young white woman who said so, but it’s all in the same cheerfully hectoring tone. Pretty much every word of it is astonishingly stupid, too.
Countless non-white-guys have found America great enough to sacrifice their lives for it, and at the moment it’s probably better for that attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity than it is for those coal-mining white guys who voted for Trump. We agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going to wind up costing a whole lot of young black lives. No, cops aren’t born blue, but that doesn’t mean their lives don’t also matter, even if that isn’t “a thing.”
We’ll go along with the ban on saying “Wook,” whatever that is, but so far as we can tell “mansplaining” is when a man explains something to a woman, and we often find ourselves in dealings with women when we have to explain things to them. Usually we’re explaining our tardiness and temporary penury, but at other times such things as quantitative easing or the infield fly rule, and try as we might we can’t avoid it. That bookish-looking young white woman should also know that we more often find ourselves having women explain things to us, oftentimes with a certain vehemence that we rarely muster, but we suppose she would consider that properly assertive feminine behavior. We’d ask one of our black friends how they deal with the inevitable need for the occasional explanation of something or another to a woman, as “mansplaining” is apparently a behavior unique to white guys, but we’re also told it would be racist of us to acknowledge that we have black friends.
We’re not sure why that clean-cut and pasty white guy singled out Ivy League athletes as sexual predators, rather than the Southeastern Conference or the Big XII or some and blacker and more big-time association, but we suspect it’s because he thought it would sound less racist, which strikes us as a rather racist assumption. There are black athletes in the Ivy League, of course, and even those white guys on the non-Ivy but still pretty highfalutin Duke University lacrosse team turned out to be innocent. We’ll consider these occasional college rape allegations on a case by case basis, thank you, and be glad that it’s ultimately left to the judicial system.
We’ll also happily refrain from any mention of Beyonce or Kanye West, unless it allows us to take a dig at Trump from an old-fashioned Republican perspective, and try to be at least less obnoxious a white guy than the old white guys running MTV and the young white guys they keep sending out through the cables. Although we can’t stop being white guys altogether, not without expensive surgery and a whole lot of explaning to some of the women we know, it’s the best we can do.

— Bud Norman

Just West of Reality

In a more perfect world we’d pay no attention to the comings and going of garish reality television stars, but as things now stand Donald Trump is the president-elect and his high level meeting on Tuesday with Kanye West was unavoidably in the news.
West first came to fame as a performer of rap music, and those with a studied appreciation of the genre than ours tell he is quite adept at it, but he’s lately best known for such attention grabbing behavior as crashing a stage to interrupt another entertainer’s speech at a show biz awards show and she she wouldn’t have won, using another awards show to go on a rant about how President George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people, more generally ranting like a crazy person on afternoon talk shows, and being married into the famously dysfunctional Kardashian family of reality television renown. Such antics led President Barack Obama to describe West as a “jackass,” but have apparently long endeared West to Trump. Hence the invitation to Trump’s transition headquarters in New York City, where the president-elect told reporters afterwards that “We discussed life.”
West later tweeted that two also talked about “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.” We assume that the conversation about bullying concerned how to stop it, although it’s possible they shared favorite techniques, and we also allow them the benefit of the doubt about their earnestness regarding teachers and curriculums and Chicago, but given their public personas we’re skeptical there wasn’t also some talk about various women’s derrières and grabbing them by their wherevers. “I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future president if we truly want change,” West further “tweeted,” but what’s more direct than a little locker room banter between a couple of stars who can get away with it?
“I’ll never say anything bad about him,” Trump said of West during a 2015 campaign rally, apropos of some West brouhaha or another that was popping up at the time, and which Trump apparently felt needed to be addressed in a presidential campaign speech. “You want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.” The very same method of character assessment also explains Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, as well as several other friendships with flattering but unsavory people ranging from Steve Bannon to Mike Tyson to Roger Stone to Dennis Rodman to Jeffrey Epstein, so it’s a convincing explanation for his friendship with West.
Harder to explain is West’s affinity for Trump. Rappers have long shared Trump’s penchant for gold-plated “bling” and shameless self-aggrandizement and constantly upgraded models, and have even acknowledged his knack for it on numerous songs, but they don’t usually like registered Republicans. So far as we glean from the snippets we’ve heard of his songs and rants West’s politics have been of the usual peace and freedom and kill whitey variety found in rap music, and although he has some pretty idiosyncratic ideas about being God and the nefarious forces arrayed against him he’s always seemed an show biz orthodox liberal in most of his political pronouncements, and it’s hard to see where he agrees with Trump on such matters as the violence in Chicago. Even so, West was telling a stunned concert audience during a prolonged rant that if he’d have bothered to vote he would have voted for Trump.
That rant also included something about a feud with a fellow rapper and something vaguely sinister about the show business industry and how he was risking his life by talking about it, and immediately afterwards West was reportedly admitted to the psychiatric wing of a hospital, forcing the cancellation of a remaining tour. The official explanation was exhaustion, which is plausible given that he has such a grueling schedule and is married to the most callipygian of the Kardashians, but the conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringes of internet were theorizing better explanations.
One holds that West was about to expose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile in the back room of a D.C. pizzeria, and that The Illuminati swooped in at the last minute to silence him and make it look like he’s crazy. Another theory holds that the entire entertainment industry, as well as the Democratic party and entrenched establishment of the Republican party, are controlled by the same Illuminati conspiracy, which is plausible to extent that there’s really no other accounting for the wealth and fame of Kanye West or Donald Trump being president, but the same theory holds that they’re two of the last remaining good guys fighting the dark forces, and that’s just too hard to believe.
We’ll not begrudge Trump his friendships, at least the ones that don’t re-align the more or less stable global order, but we do hope he’ll seek advice elsewhere about modernizing curriculums and other pressing matters. There might be some conspiracy afoot in that Trump Tower summit of the reality show stars, and we’re sure it will be coming to a YouTube video soon, but rappers have been dropping by the White House for eight years already, some of them arguably even more unsavory than West, and show biz and politics and all the craziness they entail have long been intertwined, so the more likely explanation is that we all just let it get to this point.

— Bud Norman

At the Vortex of Politics and Show Biz

In our desperation to find something to read and write about other than that awful presidential race we even looked in on the latest celebrity news the other day, but of course we could find no respite there.
The Los Angeles Times covers Hollywood with the same avid interest that The Detroit Free Press covers the automotive trade and The Wichita Eagle covers the general aviation biz, so its internet front page featured a pleasantly diverting take on the disappointing opening weekend box office take for the latest big-budget “Ben Hur,” which the writer reported was the latest summer dud “in a glut of reboots, sequels, and remakes that audiences don’t want.” That only reminded us that the next four years will be either a sequel to the scandalous Clinton mini-series or a re-boot of “Celebrity Apprentice,” however, and we couldn’t help clicking on another front page headline blaring that “Donald Trump delivers his biggest insult yet, demeaning celebrities for their not-hotness.”
After Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took in a huge fund-raising haul on her trip to Hollywood, Republican nominee Trump told a presumably less star-studded crowd in Tampa, Florida, that “The only enthusiastic supporters of her campaign are Hollywood celebrities, in many cases celebrities that aren’t very hot anymore.” With the same company town enthusiasm that The Detroit Free Press celebrated the auto bail-outs, and The Wichita Eagle protested President Barack Obama’s rhetoric against “corporate jets,” The Los Angeles Times stood up for its hometown workers by noting that that Clinton’s contributors included such familiar names as Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Anniston, Cher, Jamie Foxx, Kanye West, and George Clooney, while noting that Scott “Chachi” Baio of “Happy Days” fame was “the closest thing to an A-list celebrity at the Republican National Convention Last Month.”
At that point we were just a click away from the paper’s “Celebrity endorsement tracker,” and of course there was no resisting that vortex of show biz and politics. We’ll assume that The Los Angeles Times’ tracking of celebrity endorsements is definitive, and we’re not at all surprised that it shows the usual Democratic advantage. You’ll have to scroll down nearly halfway before you run out of mug shots of Clinton’s big name and big bucks supporters, and then more than halfway down to get through the ones who were supporting self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the day back when that crazy idea seems possible. Both lists include several other people so darned famous that even we’ve heard of them, even if we’ve never seen any of their movies or heard any of their songs, as well as some folks such as Dick Van Dyke and Tony Bennett who aren’t that hot anymore but we well remember from their glory days, along with the same old lineup of usual suspects that we’ve never heard of all and some others that we are only vaguely and unpleasantly aware of.
By now the gold-plated Trump brand has more universal name recognition than any of those actors or rappers or singers or hoofers or leaked-sex-tape stars, however, and even The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that he has also has some well-known supporters. Along with the aforementioned Baio there’s Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his title role performance in “The Buddy Holly Story” some decades back and is otherwise best known as that crazy guy on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Jon Voight, who brilliantly played Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” and the guy with the “pretty mouth” who climbed that cliff in “Deliverance” among other great roles, but is now best known as the father of that Angelina Jolie woman, and Kid Rock, whose strange combination of inner-city rap and trailer-park country and past collaboration with a midget were sort of endearing to us. He’s also got the support of such sports figures as former heavyweight champion of the world and convicted rapist and admitted wife-beater and ear-biting thug “Iron” Mike Tyson, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the cross-dressing basketball power forward from the ’90s and more recently a good friend of the North Korean dictatorship and contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and basketball coach Bobby Knight, who was fired from Indiana University despite a Hall of Fame-calber career for being an abrasive and insulting and temperamental jerk. The professional wrestling star Hulk Hogan, who recently put the Gawker website out of business by suing them for releasing a leaked sex tape of him and somebody else whose name we should probably know, is also on board with his fellow former World Wrestling Entertainment headliner, as is heavy metal guitarist Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent, who we have to admit laid down a hell of a guitar solo on “Baby Please Don’t Go” way back in The Amboy Dukes days.
The Los Angeles Times has been keeping track of this long enough to note that Republican runner-up Texas Sen. Cruz’ only endorsement was from one of those long-bearded guys on that “Duck Dynasty” show, which we’ve never seen and are not sure is still on the air, and that third-place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich never racked up a single celebrity endorsement. This seems to suggest that celebrity endorsements have some worrisome effect, but at this point have no idea what it will be. We care not a whit what any of these celebrities think, the nominees and non-nominees alike, even the ones whose careers we have enjoyed and whose personalities we have found pleasant enough presences on our popular culture, and we can’t discount that possibility that even the worst of them might by happenstance be right about whose more awful in this horrible presidential race.
Lately our tastes in entertainment and culture have run more to the “alternative” offerings, and we’ll also wind up casting a meaningless vote in that direction. Except for the exceptional case of Ronald Reagan we haven’t paid any attention to an actor’s political opinions since John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart died, and we’re not about to start now. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky is said to be a brilliant linguist, but his political opinions are pure idiocy, and the Nobel Prize-winning William Shockley was undeniably sharp about physics but as clearly batty about his white supremacism, and we don’t see how a proficiency for acting or singing or rapping or rebounding, or even such a square jaw as George Clooney posses, is a better indicator of political wisdom.
There used to be something of value to be found in America’s popular culture, back in the days where we mostly seek our alternatives, but that was in the late 19th Century when Lew Wallace had a best-seller of a novel in “Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ,” and then again in the roaring ’20s when Ramon Naverro starred in a state-of-the-silent-movie-art  version, and as recently as the year of our birth, when Charlton Heston had the title role in a remake that had sound and widescreen technicolor and thirty years of other rapid technological advances going for it. Since then all these computer generated images and other high-tech gizmos don’t seem to have improved on story-telling movie-making, and we don’t expect that “Story of the Christ” subtitle has much box-appeal these days, and the celebrities aren’t nearly so intriguing as they used to be back when they mostly kept their political opinions to themselves. That the two most recognized celebrities of the moment are pitching a Clinton mini-series sequel or a “Celebrity Apprentice” reboot suggests that by now pretty much everything is just reboots and sequels and remakes that audiences don’t want.

— Bud Norman

When the Music Stopped

A television was on Sunday evening at one of the locally owned stores we frequent, and as we made our purchase we caught a glance of what looked like Madonna cavorting in a skimpy outfit among a chorus line of beefy fellows in what looked like minotaur costumes. We momentarily assumed it was a Super Bowl half-time show before recalling that a Super Bowl had recently been played, with some other scantily-clad chanteuse doing the half-time honors, and we figured there probably wouldn’t be another one until next winter, so we asked the clerk and he explained that it was the annual Grammy awards ceremony honoring the best of the recording industry. That was all we saw of the show, and the snippet of the forgettable song being performed was the most we’d heard of the recording industry’s latest offerings in a long while, and we didn’t worry that we’ve been missing out on anything.
The next day’s news was full of stories about the event, however, with some of them spilling over into the political pages that usually command our attention. This led us to wonder if we were blissfully ignorant of some important cultural phenomenon blasting through everyone else’s car stereos while we’re listening to the monophonic sounds of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee on the old folks’ station, and if we might soon arrive at some social event and find ourselves in the embarrassing position of being the only ones there not wearing a minotaur costume. Then we headed out to a writer’s meeting for the upcoming Gridiron Show, a satirical song-and-sketch fund-raiser that is our annual amateur theatric experience, and were confounded by all the unfamiliar titles of songs that the younger members of the ensemble wanted to parody. We had thought that popular music was no longer a significant influence on the broader culture, not like in the days when shaggy-haired, shirtless rockers were exhorting the youth of America to burn to their draft cards and speak truth to power and do it in the road and all the rest of that youthful rebellion schtick, but apparently one is still expected to have some familiarity with the sort of music that is being played on those newfangled FM stations and performed at the Grammy’s.
Judging by the breathless coverage of that extravaganza, studded with stars whose names we vaguely recognize, it hardly seems worth the effort. The big brouhaha of the evening involved someone named Kanye West interrupting one of the winner’s acceptance speeches to protest that the award should have gone to someone named Beyonce, which is apparently his habitual practice at these sorts of affairs, although there was also scandalized talk of the outfit Madonna wore off-stage that revealed her 56-years-old but still shapely buttocks. At the edges of the conservative media there was worry that prominent Democrats Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz were in attendance and might have been there on the taxpayers’ dime, and others were mocking the president’s video-taped statement made the dubious claim that one-in-five American women have been raped and urged the audience to knock it off, but at this point it hardly anyone seems to find it worth mentioning that the entirety of the recording industry except for a few studios in Nashville is outspokenly associated with the Democratic party. If these people do exert an influence on the broader culture, all the more reason they should be ignored. This Kanye West fellow strikes us as merely rude rather than revolutionary, even the most callipygian fifty-something should have acquired some sense of dignity and decorum, and with no draft cards left to burn and speaking truth to power no longer required during a Democratic administration all that seems to be left of the youthful rebellion schtick is doing it in the road, which seemed to be the Big Profound Message of that Madonna number we happened to catch at the store, and so far as we’re concerned the Democrats are welcome to it.
We console ourselves with the belief that the popular culture isn’t so popular as it used to be, and that the recording industry’s influence in particular has waned along with its rapidly declining sales. That’s largely because the music streaming freely through the internet has dismantled the industry’s old model of pitching music through a limited number of radio stations and then selling it on long-playing albums or cassette tapes or compact discs or MP3 downloads or whatever the tech guys have lately come up with, but we suspect it’s also because no one thinks it is worth paying money to have the music permanently. The plethora of terrestrial and satellite and internet radio stations has fragmented the market, which happily allows listeners to indulge a taste for doo-wop or Dixieland or polka or Hawaiian slack key guitar or techno-house whatever other obscure genre they might prefer, and no one seems to have a truly mass appeal even if the marketing schemes for them existed. A handful of highly publicized acts still dominate free streaming audience at sites such as YouTube, and cash in with concerts full of elaborate choreography and high-tech stagecraft that fill huge arenas at exorbitant ticket prices, but none are nearly so ubiquitous as Glenn Miller in ’41 or Elvis Presley in ’56 or The Beatles in ’64, and even the most hyped of them will likely have little effect on the sizable chunk of the country that won’t shell out for the over-priced shows.
Although we’re heartened that the likes of Kanye West aren’t a particularly pressing problem, it’s kind of a drag that there isn’t a popular American musical culture. In a golden age that ran from about the early ’20s to the early ’70s there was a flood of great of music pouring out of America’s radio speakers, from low down blues to up-tompo swing to rough-hewn country laments and sophisticated pop standards to fervent gospel and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll straight from the garages, and sharing the experience of the best of it with everyone else was one of the cultural advantages of being an American. We’d love to see that old American musical inventiveness revived, and a new generation of performers emerge who will cover up their buttocks and ditch the elaborate showmanship and share some lovingly hand-made music at reasonable ticket prices, and we’d even shell out for a vinyl record or compact disc or whatever else it takes to put it permanently on our shelves to share with posterity. In the meantime, we’ll be tuned into the old folks’ station.

— Bud Norman