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small red square Saw another film today - a two-movie weekend - those are rare. (Anything to keep my weight and mind off my achin' feet.) The selection was "Good Will Hunting", with Robin Williams and some younger thespians. Provided a plausible view of Life In Boston, although the credits seemed to mention Ontario and Toronto(?), and eventually I figured out the that the university in this college-kid film was MIT (for some reason going in I had the impression it was Harvard). Anyway it was a good drama, essentially the provoking of a troubled genius from a lousy background into realizing his potential; climax: forcing him to address the Big Question of "What do you want to do?" - something people should ask themselves frequently, I think. An aspect of the film which pleased me enormously was its classy, atavistic stance concerning product placement (labels intentionally turned away, etc) - this in contrast to the by-now-common-aggression in "The Wedding Singer" (eg Dunkin' Donuts). Previews: boffo hi-jinx of the "Odd Couple II" (with the false cinema versions of Felix & Oscar <1>), and something dumb-looking with a talking bird - I tell you the animals will have their revenge on the humans' insulting anthropomorphism some day.

small yellow square Last night's This American Life was excellent <2>. The theme was "Death to Wacky". A main gist was that there's no middle ground in the media between the Serious and the Wacky. An interview was featured with Michael Lewis, who has an intriguing book out called Trail Fever <3>. He said "Anyone who's got the ring of authenticity, anybody who behaves the way real human beings behave (in the context of powerful men engaged in their epic struggles for power) gets tagged as being 'wacky' or offbeat or oddball." He discussed the failures of those who attempt to inject some humor into the process: " Politics, you're not allowed to be funny while you're being serious at the same time. A joke in Politics has a certain place, at the beginning of your serious speech, and everybody knows it's a joke because it's at the beginning of your serious speech, and it's not actually funny, it's a ritual joke - but to be actually funny, that's dangerous. To use humor as a way of conveying ideas, that's not so good - it makes people nervous." Host Ira Glass mused about how the same was true in the Media: "in the News itself, Serious and Funny are segregated". Lewis: "People who are in the seriousness business - big businessmen, national politicians, national news reporters - one of their great fears is to be taken unseriously. Their seriousness is what they're selling, and they can never let that guard down... if they let it down then all of a sudden they're opening themselves up to a different kind of criticism: 'Oh, he's not a serious person.'" Ira then said what I felt was the show's most important message, that "we as a nation pay a political price" for this dichotomy, "that everybody gets classified as either the super-serious candidate, a little pompous; or you're just discarded as the wacky goofball." I couldn't agree more - this is why it's so difficult to hear the non-mainstream, anti-status quo, contrary-to-the-conventional-[un]wisdom voice today.

small violet square Another theme of the program was "Wacky Sells": how many films which are too complex for the usual mainstream categories are marketed as "wacky" even though their mood & content may be anything but. A marketing hack from Sony explained how the advertising campaigns used this method for "Brazil" and the recent documentary "Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control". Plus, a Sarah Vowell segment towards the end mentioned another WBEZ program I'd never heard of called "The Annoying Music Show!".

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<1>I never saw the movie until long after the TV show (reruns of which, all through the 1980's, came on just before The Twilight Zone) became familiar Back

<2>As is my general custom, I tape it Saturday night (if I don't catch the afternoon broadcast) and listen to it Sunday while driving 'round. Back

<3>Knopf, 1997 - the "trail" being the Campaign Trail - he followed all the various contenders around during the 1996 Presidential Campaign. Back