September 20, 2013

Is the gangster saga a myth?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:30 pm

Good clean Sixties style fun in Berkeley in the digital age.

“The Family,” the newest edition to the gangster film genre, plays fast and loose with reality and that may explain the many tepid reviews, but in the future members of Joseph Campbell’s academic posse may point to this new flick as a noteworthy step in the mob saga’s journey from “based on a true story” to the realm of myth.

Joseph Campbell contended that the heroes in a culture’s folk stories took on supernatural qualities that manifested the group’s virtues and some skeptics may complain that gangsters and deities seem like an incompatible mix.  At first look having a kill-happy family as the heroes might seem inappropriate but cynical critics in other countries may see a connection as far as gangsters playing a role usually reserved for a diety as being a metaphor for American Exceptionalism.

Since a genre’s transformation from “based on a true story” to mythology is accomplished in slow stages, then a look at this gangster saga may, in the future, show the first stages of the change.

In the film the family of Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) is in the witness protection program and becomes the Fred Blake family living in the Normandy section of France.  The realistic details of the witness protection program are irrelevant to the myth of a mob boss who is trying to live anonymously in a foreign country.  The Blake family lives, as Campbell’s disciples would see it, on The Road of Trails and their handler, played by Tommy Lee Jones, would be described by the advocates of the myth interpretation of “the Family” by the words of Campbell:  “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”

“The Family” makes a point of stressing the fact that saying a naughty word is much more vile than using a gun as a sacrament to deliver eternal punishment to a transgressor.  The same point was mentioned in “Apocalypse Now.”

The fact that Manzoni is given carte blanch for committing new crimes in return for his “ratting out” his associates is the first clue that reality has been abandoned.  Yes, a Boston mobster was given a similar pass in real life, but as myths tend to do the reality dial for “The Family” is twisted way into the unbelievable exaggeration red zone.

If guns and gangsters are in the process of being mythologized, some gun control nuts might soon start making dire predictions that the gun cult will raise the spectacle of mass shootings to the level of a sacred rite, which will mean that the topic of gun control will be subject to cancellation on grounds of religious freedom.

Are the debates between gun owners and gun control nuts more or less heated than the conflict in the Muslim religion between Sunni and Shiites?  Don’t all of them share the same level of commitment to their beliefs?

We had a chance to ask a fellow Berkeley columnist about the premise of this column and she voiced great skepticism about the idea that gun control advocates had become so inured to rounding up the usual suspect talking points for the mass shootings debate.  She refused to accept the idea that the advocates of gun control might only react to an extreme idea such as the possibility that shooting massacres will eventually become a religious ceremony, in the USA.  We tend to think that liberal talk radio schedules the third week of every month for the latest installment in the series of body counts outrage and gun control suggestions.

Perhaps some academic will take the premise of this column to the level of a doctoral dissertation and firmly proclaim that the gangster genre is entering the realm of myth in American culture.  The World’s Laziest Journalist would find such a tribute flattering and would hold the Legal Department in check as far as any law suite alleging plagiarism is concerned.  We don’t have the time or energy to expand this column into a book length treatise.

When film fans read a review they don’t want to get mired in a deep philosophical topic that uses terms such as “aesthetic arrest.”  They want to know if the flick is worth the price of admission or not.

Conflicted?  Giovanni Manzoni is the type of person that Travis Bickel tried to exterminate.

John Wayne won his Oscar™ by portraying a marshal who was a parody of the roles Wayne had played earlier in his acting career.  Nostalgia motivated Wayne’s award and so it is interesting to note that numerous reviews of this new film point out similar roles that Pfeiffer owned when she was younger.  Are the critics dropping subtle hints that a similar better late than never award for three time Oscar™ nominee Pfeiffer might be a good idea?

Apparently the World’s Laziest Journalist is the only columnist to note a similarity between Fred Blake’s speaking appearance in France and the one that Holly Martins makes in Vienna (in “The Third Man”).

Gangsters had refined the philosophy of a pre-emptive strike years before the births of the American politicians who would preach the redemptive benefits of the “bomb the bastards while they are still planning their first attack” philosophy that revolutionized America’s war policies.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; but do it first!”

It is more appealing for Americans to believe that Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the end zone of a sports stadium than to fact check the idea that he was taken to a union butcher shop and that an industrial strength garbage disposal unit destroyed all vestiges of a corpus delecti.  The 1964 film, “Goldfinger,” contained a delightful sequence illustrating a popular way of rendering a dead body unavailable for the medical examiner.  A copse inside a crushed automobile will be destroyed if the metal is melted to gain access to the evidence.  Gangsters knew this in the Sixties but Joe on Barstool mountain never stopped to think about that and preferred to believe the urban legend about where Hoffa is (allegedly) buried.  (The new San Francisco 49ers stadium will have an opening reception any day now.)

For a columnist desperately seeking column topics, this film was well worth the price of a bargain matinee.

[Note from the photo editor.  Ideally a publicity still of a scene from the new movie would be the ideal photo to accompany this column, but, since our legal staff always encourages us to err on the side of caution, we used a photo of a Sixties activity which attracted a great deal of interest from folks with digital cameras.  A photo of a Sixties era activity was deemed a way to use the image of something that is the antithesis of the gangster’s family values.  It was selected as a pragmatic and safer course to follow.]

Some poet advocated the theory that the saddest words are:  “It might have been.”  Somc comedian suggested that was wrong and that the saddest words you will ever hear are:  “Mr. Gotti says:  ‘Get in the ******’ (gosh darn) car!’”

Now the disk jockey will play “Gangster of Love,” “Stagger Lee,” and the soundtrack album from “The Godfather.”  We have to go find a news report on the Bouchercon being held this weekend in Albany, N. Y.    Have a “deus otiosus” type week.

March 14, 2011

Celebrity Gossip Pulitzer Prize?

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:33 pm

In all the times that this columnist traded words with Andy Warhol, the celebrity artist never managed to work his prediction that everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes into the conversation. After reading the New York Times Sunday edition for March, 13, 2011, we were appalled to realize that an irrelevant tidbit of information about conversations with Warhol might be a better way to start a column than mentioning the work done by the support group which helps the parents of murdered children cope, which we learned about while chatting with a fellow passenger on the Amtrak taking us back to Berkeley from Los Angeles.

In that day’s edition of the paper, the magazine section contained an article by Bill Keller that attempted to answer the question: “How much more of itself can the media consume?” He reports a relevant encounter with Arianna Huffinton and then succinctly encapsulates the challenge facing news aggregator sites: “They seem to have realized that if everybody is an aggregator nobody will be left to make real stuff to aggregate.” Do you think that the fact that writers are on strike against Huffington might be a “checkmate” bit of relevant evidence for his contention?

No use stepping on her toes if their paths will (inevitably) cross again at another future of journalism seminar.

That epitomizes the Catch-22 limitations of Celebrity Gossip Journalism. If you piss-off the celebrities you will be ostracized and be cut off from all possible content without access to the views, quips, and insider information that comes with belonging to the In crowd. If you go along to get along, your supply of material will be unlimited.

The In Crowd isolates itself from the real world and hence looses touch with the reality of the working class world.

While on the aforementioned train ride we chatted with a student at Fresno who was going home for a weekend of mom’s good home cooking. Since it was a chance to get a random sample of what the college students are thinking these days, we asked him if he thought George W. Bush was a war criminal. He couldn’t say one way or the other. He wanted a career in criminology and he had no opinion on the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or the use of torture. We know we have the raw material starting point for a good trend-spotting column, which we may have to talk to some more college students to get a better basis regarding the trend or statistical aberration aspect of the conversation with the Fresno student. (Name dropping tidbit. This columnist saw the Jefferson Airplane perform in Fresno . . . a while ago.)

In the New York Times’ Op Ed area for March 13, 2011, we enjoyed Frank Rich’s piece titled “Confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist.” His anecdote about how, as a teenager, he had his first encounter with Walter Lippmann might be a useful tidbit to have ready to use when we do our annual National Columnist Day installment, honoring the memory of Ernie Pyle, when April xx approaches.

The folks at the NSNC organization might want to use the Book Section’s essay by Anthony Gottlieb, essentially inferring that Michel de Montaigne should be considered the patron saint of bloggers as a basis for voting Montaingne as the inspiration for nominating him to be the patron saint of columnists.

In the Gottlieb piece, he explained that Montaigne used an early version of the stream of consciousness style writing to great advantage. Perhaps we should relay the link for that to the editors at a web site where some of our attempts to contribute cross posting efforts are rejected for not having one dominant connecting theme. Then again, when older Americans have to explain who the Jefferson Airplane was, maybe an effort to imitate Montaigne is asking for too much digital leeway.

Columnists (such as Ernie Pyle during the Thirties) used to go out into the hinterland to ascertain what the Average American was thinking. Now the Fox College of Cable Knowledge is readily available to tell Americans what they should (if they want to be “hip”) be thinking and it saves Rupert Murdock a bunch of silly irrelevant expense checks and it saves the audience brain cells they would need to use up to think. In America, it has become easier to tell folks what to think and not ask them what they are thinking.

When we spent a recent evening chatting at the Cow’s End Café in Venice CA, we spoke with a hypnotist and amateur magician, who had worked in the psy-ops section of the military, and were surprised to learn that his pick for the next fellow to be dealt the “stolen election” card will be JEB Bush.

If the Celebrity Gossip In Crowd gets a tip that JEB is trending “hot” on the political radar, then all the bloggers will (as they sometimes do in Congress) confirm that bit of news by a voice vote (that is as accurate a measure as is the throwing of spaghetti against a wall) and tossing in the word “acclamation.” Until then, rogue columnists have to do the salmon going upstream imitation act and have faith that the old “nose for news” style of intuition is still a valid (albeit nostalgia laden) method for journalistic trend spotting.

Here’s a question for those who think that the assertion that today’s celebrity journalists are trapped inside a bubble: “What are the chances that this columnist can send the link to this column to Bill Keller or Arianna Huffington and get either one of them to read it?”
Not bloody well likely?

In a true capitalist country it is easier to manufacture propaganda than to encourage intellectual curiosity, which hold the danger that it could wind up biting a mogul on the ass. (Solidarity means everyone shouts “yes, sir!” in unison. [Remember the old axiom: “When I say ‘jump,’ you jump and ask ‘How high?’ on the way up!”]

Who is America’s leading “counter culture” journalist these days? Is there no market for a modern “underground” voice of dissent? When Hunter S. Thompson was leading the charge against the establishment press, he got his efforts mentioned in Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. When was the last time any of those publications made reference to a blog that was not written by a member of their own staff or by a celebrity?

BTW the three times that this columnist spoke with Andy Warhol, it was rather brief encounter but the one time we did ask if Warhol’s visit to L. A. and a recent Truman Capote sighting in the Venice CA area, was sufficient evidence to do a trend-spotting article. Warhol quizzed us about the Capote sighting and left the trending possibilities un assessed.

Bill Keller has written (The New York Times Magazine Sunday, March 13, 2011, page 11): “The other, more insidious reason that I have been deemed more important than the founder of Amazon or Hosni Mubarak is that our fascination with capital-M Media is so disengaged from what really matters.” To which, we can only add: “Amen, brother!”

Now the disk jockey will mark the 35th anniversary of the release of the movie “Taxi Driver” by playing the soundtrack album and Frank Ocean’s “Bitches Talkin’” and Sky Ferreira’s “Haters Anonymous.” We have to go do some preliminary fact finding about the Yosemite Conservancy and their fund raising efforts. Have an “all the news that’s fit to print” type week.

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