The Slap

I swore I wouldn’t do this.  I said to myself, “Self, don’t you dare!  Walk away!  Just walk away!  It’ll be over soon, and nobody will care!”  But in the end, it was just too delicious to resist, too off-the-wall funny, too hilariously 21st century to pass up.  So here are a few thoughts on The Slap.  (Notice, at a time when Hong Kong politics, Sri Lanka protests and the French election need a few words of explanation, everybody knows what I’m talking about.  Sad but true!)  Anyway:

1 – Since the Oscar altercation, both Oprah and Ellen have offered Will Smith big money – Oprah for an exclusive tell-all interview and Ellen to help with her staffing problems.

2 – I’m pretty sure that if the Rock had been onstage — instead of Chris Rock — none of this would have happened.

3 – Likewise, Wanda Sykes wouldn’t have gone as quietly as Chris Rock did.  Lay a smack on her, and she’d have let loose with a haymaker and put the boots to Smith on the way down.

4 – Plus, co-host Amy Schumer, who was making jokes about it 5 minutes after Smith went all “hands on,” confessed that the next day she felt “physically sick” over the whole event.  Amy, that’s a hangover!

5 – And “physically sick” seems to be the celebrity go-to reaction — although most of them aren’t too sick to get out of their hospital beds, get on a talk show and tell the world how “physically sick” they feel.  Oh, and get a few belated kicks into an A-lister while they’re at it.

6 – And remember these are the same people who clapped and cheered when Smith walked up on stage – the second time – to collect his Oscar, listened attentively while the recent felon gave a thank you speech and clapped and cheered some more when he was done. (Damn that subsequent integrity!)

7 – Meanwhile, B, C and D list celebrities, who were at home eating pizza the night of the Oscars, are suddenly calling Chris Rock, “Chris” and speculating on what drove “Will” to that level of unacceptable mayhem.

So, what have we learned?

1 – A celebrity assault can knock Climate Change, a Pandemic and a War off the front page — which proves, beyond debate, that we’re living in an intellectual, cultural and spiritual Brave New World, and the Betas are definitely in control.

2 – In an age when every celebrity on the planet is lip-syncing gender equality, it would have been a lot more fun if Jada Pinkett Smith had done her own slapping.  Who’s the bad guy now, Twittersphere?

Movies Haven’t Changed

Mack Sennett, one of the greatest directors ever (over 1,000 films!) believed that movies were just an excuse for a chase scene.  And if you look at the highest grossing films of the 21st century, you can see he wasn’t that far wrong.  Movies may have changed a lot in the last hundred plus years, but … for the most part, film makers still rely on a few blaring clichés.  Here are some serious film tropes that maybe – JUST MAYBE – have become overused. 

Policemen, private detectives, firemen, Special Forces personnel, Forest Rangers and Boy Scouts all have a sordid past.  This has left them cynical, sleepy, slightly constipated and world-weary.  They live alone (mainly in squalor) and even though they have maximum trouble relating to women (past, present and future) they still attract the hottest females on the planet.

Evil men are good looking, usually corporation rich, have impeccable taste, beautiful wives and/or girlfriends, but despite being highly intelligent, always surround themselves with some of the stupidest henchmen in history.

All Assistant District Attorneys, world-renowned scientists, cryptographers, pathologists and assorted assassins wear push-up bras.

When confronted with evil, men will have body armour, guns, knives, grenades, poison darts, a jousting lance, nunchucks, assorted landmines, two bazookas and a sword. Their female companions, however, will have a thong, high heels, that push-up bra again and a butter knife.

Contemporary push-up bras are so comfortable that women normally wear them during sex, whereas men generally find their shirts far too constraining.

Dumb-ass sidekicks will invariably do some dumb-ass stuff that puts everyone in danger – more than once.

Every older relative (over sixty) of policemen, private detectives, firemen, Special Forces personnel, Forest Rangers and Boy Scouts has Alzheimer’s.

The deadliest marksmen in the world will always miss the first shot and then go nuts, spraying bullets around as if they’re flinging pennies to the poor.

Speaking of which, bullets love plate glass windows.

High speed car chases always occur in congested urban areas where the average commute times are measured in hours, yet the chaser and the chasee will somehow manage to weave their way through traffic at speeds approaching Mach 1.

When fleeing an explosion, if you run as fast as you can, you will get flung into the air and bounced on the ground like a rag doll.  However, if you just calmly walk away (in slow motion) you will not be harmed.

Hand guns prefer to be just out of reach.

Villains never just kill the policemen, private detectives, firemen, Special Forces personnel, Forest Rangers or Boy Scouts as soon as they catch them, but always take a few quality moments to reveal and outline their nefarious plans.

When you hear subtle North African music, innocent North Americans are going to die.

When you hear a British accent, that’s the bad guy.

Like grouchy old men, petty thieves, prostitutes and crack addicts generally have a heart of gold.

Most criminal investigations, including parking tickets, will involve a strip club, a seedy bar, a scuzzy hotel or a crowded Techno-Rave nightclub before ending up at an abandoned warehouse, a deserted dock or an empty office building.  

Policemen, private detectives, firemen, Special Forces personnel, Forest Rangers or Boy Scouts can be hit by a train, dragged behind a speeding motorcycle, trampled by a herd of panicking wildebeests and beaten senseless by sixty blood-crazed Shaolin monks without ill effect, but will wince painfully when a female dabs their wounds with a Kleenex.

So, what have we learned?

As much as Hollywood likes to pat themselves on the back for its oh so-o-o-o sophisticated storylines and complex characterizations, not a whole lot has changed since the Keystone Cops were falling all over themselves on the silent screen.

Shakespeare Without Tears – 2021

Apparently, Shakespeare’s birthday was a couple of days ago (nobody really knows for sure when it is) and I missed it.  That’s okay really; I don’t care when Shakespeare was born.  Nor for that matter do I care to wander into the great discussion about whether he wrote his own plays or not.  As far as I’m concerned, they could have been written by Fetchin’ Gretchen, the German barmaid at the Golden Hind Hotel.  Shakespeare’s plays exist: if a local boy from Stratford didn’t write them, so what?  Somebody did.

Actually, the only reason there’s any debate at all about who quill penned what for whom is scholars can’t figure out what else to do with Old Bill, now can they?  It’s not like there’s a nerdy little war going on in the Ivory Towers about whether Shakespeare is crap or not.  Rhetorically speaking what do Shakespearean scholars do all day — sit around telling each other how great he was?  That’s the point: Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language and nobody disagrees except sophomores trying to be difficult and people who’ve never seen the plays.  Everybody knows Shakespeare is the best, but I would venture to guess that 8 people out of 10 haven’t got a clue what he’s talking about.

Shakespeare appreciation runs into a bunch of trouble in the 21st century.  First of all, unless your education was terminally New Age, you got stuck with the guy sometime in your high school career.  Since modern education means kicking the delight out of everybody but the janitor, chances are good Macbeth was ruined long before Macduff got hold of him in Act V.  Besides, I’d bet even money that the person running the show in Lit. 12 probably didn’t know much more about the Bard than you did.  In those days, Cliff Notes worked both ways.

The other problem is Shakespeare wrote his plays in Shakespearean English, and we don’t speak that language anymore.  A lot of the clever stuff and the beauty of it is simply lost in translation.  For example, “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” doesn’t mean much if you don’t know anything about courtly love.  And that’s the major problem: Shakespeare is talking about things people in the 21st century know nothing about – love and power.

These days, we have reduced love to its lowest common denominator: the relationship.  This is a cerebral little device that cuts our emotional well-being off at the knees.  Having a relationship is akin to owning a small kitchen appliance like a juicer.  You buy the thing, make juice at every opportunity for six weeks or so, but slowly by slowly, it ends up largely unused, sitting in the kitchen, getting in the way.  Occasionally, if guests come over, you might crank it up again, but eventually it gets stored somewhere out of mind until it’s time for the yard sale.  Shakespeare didn’t think that way about love, neither did his audience.  They knew love for what it is and wanted to hear the words that spoke its name.  They didn’t talk about “having feelings” for someone or “taking the relationship to another level.”  (What is this crap?  Angry Birds™ with benefits?)  No!  The Elizabethans were engulfed by love; that’s where “swept off your feet” comes from.  They felt it: they didn’t think it.  They looked forward to it and mourned its passing.  To them, it was what life was made of.  Even though we proclaim our sensitivity at the drop of a puppy, we just can’t get there from here; we don’t know anything about it.

Nor, for that matter, do we know anything about power.  In a world that no longer recognizes obscenities, the mere mention of power can still cause an embarrassed hush.  Power is to us what sex was to the Victorians: a slightly icky necessity of life that nobody should ever speak of.  It’s considered ill-bred to publically pursue power, so we dress it up in altruism and team-building.  Demonstrations of power are the last faux pas in our society, and people who have power are somewhat suspect.   They are always the villains in our stories.  They weren’t in Shakespeare’s time.  His four great tragedies are all about power.  They show the obligation powerful people have to wield it wisely and the consequences if they do not.  It’s not power itself that corrupts Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear and Othello; their demise comes from a deep flaw in their own character.  Their tragedy is magnified by the height from which they fall, not caused by it.  At the end of each play, they die, but the institutions of power are cleansed with their blood.  It is the province of the powerful who remain to set things right again.  In the Elizabethan Age, power was, for the most part, a benevolent force sometimes corrupted by the people who manipulate it — not the other way around, as we see it today.

It’s a shame that a lot of the contemporary “feelings” we have for Shakespeare are just talk.  Unfortunately, it’s too difficult for most people to enjoy Shakespeare these days.  However, it`s not impossible.  But start slowly; Shakespeare’s plays are a big chunk to take in one chew.  You don’t have to sit through an entire play to begin with.  Just go to YouTube and check out Marlon Brando delivering Mark Antony`s “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” speech, or Kenneth Branagh (as Henry V) calling his troops “a band of brothers,” or anything Shakespearean Lawrence Olivier ever opened his mouth for.  Me?  I like to curl up with a bag of Doritos™ and watch The Lion King which is Hamlet without the blood bath.

Originally written – 2012