Month: March 2016

TV ADS

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OK. Yes. I know: advertising is vital to capitalism. Madison Avenue ranks right up there with Wall Street and Main Street as a pillar of the American system. But, really, does it have to be such an obnoxious element in what is probably our most important means of entertainment? (Well, generally, anyway. MY first choice for diversion is still and always a BOOK.)

Why on earth must TV ads be so LOUD? You tune the program to a level that is tolerable to your ears and then the ads come and blast you out of your comfort zone. Was there, or was there not, a law passed a few years ago that forbade that practice? If not, why not? And if so, why is no one (FCC?) seeing to its enforcement?

We all know that REPETITION is one of the basic principles of propaganda (and of education). TV producers are famous for gearing their programming to the level of twelve-year-olds, but even twelve-year-olds just tune that stuff out after the second or third repeat. Pause for commercials and you get 10 to 12 ads and often as not the VERY SAME AD at least twice in a two-minute ad cycle. And then in case you dummies didn’t get it before, you get the very same stuff during the next pause! If I have to watch that poor man eat that one piece of kale one more time, I think I will throw a shoe at the TV. (A slipper, mind you—I still want to see NCIS.)

I heard or read someplace (Facebook, probably) that the AMA or some other group of doctors had come out against ads on TV for prescriptive MEDICINES. Hear! Hear! “Ask your doctor . . .” but be sure you ignore his or her advice and insist on thus- and-such a miracle medication. Then the ad goes on to say don’t take this medication if you are allergic to it or its ingredients. For God’s sake! What sane person (even a twelve-year-old) would knowingly ingest something to which he or she was allergic?!

Madison Avenue’s primary stock in trade is SEX. There seems to be absolutely NO product whose sales cannot be increased by adding some sort of sexual allusion. Buy this brand of toothpaste or kitchen wrap and he or she will find you irresistible. Yeah, sure. Of course those ads for erectile dysfunction and feminine itch are beyond the pale. In prime time yet! On “family” shows yet! Arrgh!

Why don’t state legislatures—any legislative body—take up some of these issues instead of trying to close down Planned Parenthood or trying to circumvent gay marriage rulings?

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EMPATHY

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Empathy: the ability to identify with or vicariously experience thoughts, feelings of another.

If you watched the Academy Awards show to its end, you caught Lady Gaga’s moving tribute to victims of sexual assault on college campuses. The song told us repeatedly that “you can’t know how I feel because you did not experience what happened to me.”

I disagree.

The ability to do precisely that is what being human is all about. Empathy is at the core of all art—witness Munch’s “The Scream” or Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” But it is never stronger than in the literary arts. I need not engage in patricide or incest to relate to the terrible anguish Oedipus suffers on discovering he has killed his father and lain with his mother. Nor do I need to lose a rebellious, treacherous child whom I have loved dearly to understand the depth of sheer pain in David’s cry, “Absalom! Absalom! Oh, my son Absalom!” It is empathy that allows me to share Wordsworth’s feeling of humility and wonder as he is overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of that scene near Tinturn Abbey.

On a much more mundane level, it is empathy that brings the audience to share the scariness of scenes in a horror film or the eroticism in a romance novel. Isn’t that why we choose the films we see and the books we read? We want to share, to feel vicariously. Perhaps this is what Aristotle really had in mind with the term catharsis.

So, yes, you survivors of the unspeakable—I do feel your pain. Of course, I am grateful that I am not suffering it directly, but that fact in no way lessens my understanding of what you suffered—nor my empathy in sharing the pain you still endure—NOR my sincere hope that you can move so far beyond it that your experience comes to be but another “something” you endured and learned from. In learning from heinous experiences, let us hope the “lessons” are not so much about the physical reality of the abuse one has suffered, but that we realize our own resilience and ability to move far beyond it.

Everyone—everyone—has scars and handicaps. Some of them show; some of them don’t. So, please, do not underestimate another’s ability to understand the pain.

TERM LIMITS?

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Bear in mind that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I am still not a firm believer in term limits. (I don’t like the idea of messing around with the constitution unnecessarily.) I have always seen the concept of term limits as limiting the people’s right to choose whomever they wish to represent them. Republicans, frustrated by FDR’s unprecedented third and fourth elections, managed to push through the 22nd Amendment to limit a President to two terms. I have always thought that was a mistake, even though without it we might have had another decade of Ronald Reagan in the White House—Alzheimer’s notwithstanding. The checks and balances built into the system should take care of such anomalies.

The key word in that last sentence is should.

Unfortunately, lack of term limits on members of Congress has given us at least a decade and a half of gridlock in Washington. So—I am slowly (ever so slowly) coming to Warren Buffet’s view that we should limit the number of years that one can occupy a chair in either the House of Representatives or the Senate—or even the Supreme Court, for that matter. It does take a certain amount of time to settle into a new job and it helps to have some old hands who have “been around” to teach the newbies how to get on. Limiting senators to two terms and representatives to five, seems a reasonable goal—one that exceeds the maximum for a President. Supreme Court justices need to be free of any sense of obligation to the man (or his party) who appointed them. The present life term does that, but probably a limited term of, say, 15 years would work as well.

And while we are in the business of limiting their terms of office, how about doing something about the inordinately high salaries and cushy retirement bennies members of Congress have managed to set for themselves?

Trouble is: these ideas would require a Constitutional Amendment. Can you see Congress initiating such an amendment? Even more improbable is the idea that such initiation would come from the electorate or from State governments.

Still—consistency be damned—one can dream . . .

A WOMAN PRESIDENT—IN THE U.S.???

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The idea of a woman as President of the U.S. is appalling to many. I suspect that, often as not, those who say, “I am not opposed to a woman President. Just not this one” are really ignoring—or unwilling to acknowledge—their antipathy to the very idea of a woman in the highest office of the land. This attitude is usually held by men “of a certain age,” but, sadly, some women (brainwashed by such men?) also hold the view that a woman is incapable of performing the tasks of the highest office of our land.

They fail to recognize that women have, in fact, already performed some of those tasks—and in America yet! Edith Wilson was probably much more than merely her husband’s mouthpiece after he suffered a debilitating stroke. Nancy Reagan, who was invariably at her husband’s side during public appearances in the last years of his Presidency, showed a remarkable understanding of issues that must have been discussed previously in the oval office or the White House situation room. Eleanor Roosevelt was so outspoken about public affairs after her husband’s death that it is hard to see her as merely a “stand-in” for her crippled spouse at public events during his Presidency.

In recent decades, we have seen women perform ably as the chief executives of other countries: Golda Meier in Israel, Indira Gandhi in India, Benazir Bhutto next door in Pakistan, Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Angela Merkel in Germany. But not in the United States, though women in Congress have shown remarkable understanding and insights to issues affecting the body politic, not to mention those who have served as governors.

Moreover, earlier history also gives us examples of women leaders who commanded tremendous power. Think Cleopatra of Egypt, Elizabeth I of England, Christina of Sweden, Catherine the Great of Russia, for starters.

If you oppose a particular individual because of his or her policies and/or previous performance, fine. But gender should not be a factor in choosing public servants.

A READING DISAPPOINTMENT (OR A RANT—TAKE YOUR PICK)

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Several writers provide “go to” therapy when I am feeling down, or when my own writing hits a glitch and I want to get away from it for a while. But if a work by one of these fails to lift me out of the slump (of either kind!), I am hugely—profoundly—monumentally disappointed. And this happened to me recently. 😦

No, I am not naming names. Suffice it to say that this is a writer who has written dozens of books and I have enjoyed almost all of them. But not this one. And this was neither an early work nor her latest offering. (Yes, it was a female writer and yes, it was a romance novel.)

Let me make perfectly clear that the writing itself lived up to the author’s usual excellence. (Sheer professionalism can make up for many a fault.) The sentences flowed nicely. Details were chosen carefully, giving the reader adequate grounding in setting. The basic premise of the story could have worked very well.

So, what, then, did I find so off-putting? This very experienced writer fell down in areas that one is more likely to see in the works of a newbie.

The characters—even the hero and heroine—were merely “stock figures.” You know: those that scream to the reader “I am an irresistible hero/heroine of a romance.” Perfect people—he, big and handsome and masterful and immediately able to solve every problem; she, not only tiny and beautiful and (of course) “feisty,” but also so damned knowledgeable and quick-thinking that she could have resolved all those issues all by herself but for the fact that the story (or an editor?) required lusty male-female sex scenes. The minor characters, which included a bitchy old dowager and a requisite set of villains, were simply clichés.

The story itself was weak. From the beginning (the very entrance of the hero!) the story is so dependent on coincidence that it challenges even the most willing reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. The resolutions to all the problems that beset the h/h come far too easily—and too often from outside themselves (fairy godmother figures sweep in to save the day).

Finally, in a manner typical of many less able writers, this one fails to provide a sense of “value” to many of the descriptions. The reader is often distracted by extensive (albeit well-written) passages about things or incidents that are not important enough in the story to warrant that much attention. When everything is of equal importance, nothing gets special attention. In other words: the pacing is off.

Will I read any more by this writer? Of course I will. Anyone can have an “off day” now and then.