Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday...

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
William Blake

After five days of filming, followed by five more days wrapping stages – hundreds of lamps and tons of cable for two different shows – I awoke feeling like the Tin Man who’s just spent a month out in the rain. All my joints were full of rust, my every move unleashing an atonal, discordant symphony of pain. Everything hurts - knees, ankles, thighs, lower back (really bad), upper back, neck, shoulders, wrists, and hands.

Some days, there really is no escape. You just have to hunker down and let the healing proceed – which means this pain-wracked Wednesday is a fine day to read the newspaper.

The LA Times (“Great Newspaper! Great Use-paper!”) has slimmed down quite a bit recently, victimized by the mass migration of classified advertising to the Interet. Newspapers across the country are drowning in a rising tide of red ink thanks to the (entirely understandable) popularity of sites like Craig’s List. I hate to see this happen. With a newspaper in hand, all you need is a little daylight to catch up on what’s going on around the world – you don’t have to worry about plugging it in, turning it on, booting it up, or forgetting to charge the batteries. You can take it into the bathroom, leave it on the front seat of your car, or stick it in your back pocket and head out to the beach without worrying someone might steal it. Once read, you can use that newspaper as kindling for the fireplace or to soak up an overflow from the kitchen sink.

Try that with your laptop.

The Internet is an amazing place, but if the time comes when it has driven the printed newspaper out of existence, we all may look back with regret. I don’t know, maybe just those of us who grew up with newspapers will miss them, while everybody else will be perfectly content staring hypnotized into their tiny cell phone screens. But when the newspapers are gone, where will you go to learn the news? “Fair and balanced” Fox News? MSNBC? Rush “Where’s my goddamned bottle of Oxycontin?” Limbaugh?

If the great (and not so great) newspapers disappear, we’ll be in a much darker place. All those great sources of actual news on the Internet? They feed off and link to newspaper web sites. When the newspapers fade away, so will their news-gathering organizations that have been generating all that “content” for last hundred years, and their reporters will scatter to the four winds. Without professional reporters in the field doing the hard grunt work of real journalism, we’ll end up depending on the self-serving, not-so-tender-mercies of corporate news for our information – and whether you fall on the liberal or conservative side of the political fence, if you think “the media” is biased now, just wait until the independent newspapers wither to dust and blow away with the wind. For a preview of coming attractions, you might want to rent a DVD of Mike Judge’s film “Idiocracy” – not a great movie by any means, but with enough memorable scenes to be worth the effort. Unfortunately, our newspaper-free future of collective ignorance won’t feature quite so much slapstick humor.

Newspapers aren’t quite gone yet, though, so I sat at the kitchen table this morning catching up on the world – and there I spotted a headline shouting “Vonn cuts thumb on champagne bottle.” It seems American ski star Lindsey Vonn cut a tendon in her right thumb while celebrating her downhill victory in Val d’Isere, France. To quote the Times (the italics are mine): “Vonn’s problems began when she couldn’t open the champagne bottle because the cork broke. Someone used a ski to extract the remaining piece of cork, breaking the bottle in the process. Vonn didn’t realize what had happened and grabbed the damaged bottle as the champagne flowed.”

Now, it’s been a while* since I’ve opened a champagne bottle, but I don’t ever recall employing a ski to help get that cork out. Last time I looked, a champagne cork is very small, while a ski is relatively large. Seems to me that a Swiss Army knife would have been a lot more useful to extract a broken cork, and with these party-hearty skiers in France -- just a hop, skip, and jump away from Switzerland -- why use a ski to liberate that bubbly? I can only assume youthful exuberance carried the day, and that someone employed the edge of a ski as a hatchet blade to break off the top of the bottle. Still, this doesn’t sound like an easy task. We’ve all hefted a few bottles of champagne over the years, and those suckers are solid. Sure, you can shatter that dark green glass against the steel hull of a ship or a concrete floor, but otherwise, it’s pretty durable stuff. To break the top off with a ski would require some serious effort and probably a lot of elbow room.

Well, that’s what being young is all about – having fun, making mistakes, and learning. I think we can all be sure Lindsey Vonn will take a closer look before grabbing her next bottle of champagne.

So much for Sports – next up was the Calendar section, and here’s where the sun really began to shine. I noticed the byline of Mary McNamara, who has been one of my favorite LA Times writers ever since I stumbled across her regular (and wonderful) column about LA, “Drive Time.” Reading these columns was like paddling down a familiar, yet unexpectedly exotic river with a very perceptive guide pointing out out the absurd juxtapositions and contradictions of life in LA around every bend. Eventually – probably due to the ongoing contractions in the newspaper world – the Powers That Be assigned her the task of reviewing television, and although I do miss those “Drive Time” columns, her TV reviews are terrific. Her sharp eye, deadly wit, and perfectly crafted prose make reading about television a lot more entertaining than watching it – especially when it comes to reality-trash like “Real Housewives of Orange County.”

I can’t think of anything that would induce me to watch such garbage, even to mock it. Orange County is famous for many things – the John Birch Society, Disneyland, a popular teen soap opera called "The O.C.", and is considered by many who live outside The Orange Curtain to be a bland, vapid wasteland where American culture is slowly strangling on its own suburban bile.

Having spent only the occasional day working on location in Orange County, I don’t know the place at all – but if the actual flesh-and-blood females down there bear any resemblance to those in “Real Housewives,” then it's one very scary part of the world.

Who knows – "Real Housewives of Orange County" is just a TV show. Mary McNamara’s review, on the other hand, is a masterfully biting, snarky piece of writing. Read and see for yourself.

*Why? Don’t ask – all I can say is getting old really sucks…


Leetal said...

Oh my god. That review was. Amazing. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

So I have been reading your wonderful blog for about a year now, and as usual, great post. It made me think about what Hesse called the age of feuilleton, and I reflected on the significance of the demise of the newspaper as we march steadily forward in this frivolous age.
I thought also about the champagne incident. Perhaps they were trying to open it this way:
Sabre Champagne (sabering begins around 1:50)
(credit to my brother, who is a chef and told me about this technique some time ago)
Keep writing!

Michael Taylor said...

Leetal -- Mary McNamara is a gem. Everybody who appreciates good writing will enjoy her work.

Gennaro -- Thanks for the kind words, and the link. I was astonished how easily that guy beheaded a champagne bottle. You must be right -- those skiers tried to saber the bottle with a ski. But like the man wearing those white gloves said: "Do not try this at home"...

Thanks for tuning in.