Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On this season of 24

Tonight, I was lucky enough to watch a screening of the last two episodes of Season 7 of "24" with about 1600 of my closest friends. Actually, it was a SAG screening, a week prior to the episodes actually airing. After the screening, cast members, director and producers talked to everyone. It was bliss. But all of that is for my entertainment page and podcast.

What I wanted to talk about here are some of the questions addressed in this season. Let me also say upfront that in my entertainment writing I'm already talking about 24 taking the Emmy for Best Drama this season. I truly believe it deserves it.

My thesis, though it was applicable moreso in the West Wing years than in, for example, the year The Sopranos won, is that the Best Drama, in large measure reflects the themes of where we are as a country. The issues we are struggling with, the landscape of what matters to us.

For me, that's what separates what is labeled "Best" Drama over just good shows. It's everything all together. The direction, the writing, the acting, the set design, the costumes, the cinematography, the editing, the music--everything that goes into a great show. But when you have five (or this year, seven) shows that all fit that qualification, what pushes a show further to finally take the statue?

It's those big question things. I'll save the discussion of the other shows I think are going to be contenders for another blog. This is in-depth on 24.

So, in case you are unlucky enough to not be watching this season of 24, let me walk you down the path of what happened in this season (and don't worry, I'll leave the key details out of the last two episodes, since most people haven't seen them yet; though I do want to talk about the themes in them).

The biggest hot button issue, ripped from our own headlines, is the subject of torture. Anyone who's seen any episode of 24 knows that Jack Bauer (our hero) is pretty much down with the torture thing. (Didya see him rip that guy's ear off with his teeth? Ok, then.)

When our story opens... well, not including the pre-story where Jack was a good guy, saving kids in Africa... the agency that Jack's worked for for six previous seasons (CTU) has been disbanded, primarily because of its torture tactics, to say nothing of its blatantly ignoring the law at its convenience. Jack, in fact, is before a Senate subcommittee as our season opens.

What you must know about Jack, if you don't already, is that although no one is completely "a good guy" or "a bad guy" in this show, Jack is about as good a good guy as you can get. His motives are pure, and driven. Through seven seasons, you can say this for sure about Jack: he does what's right. That is, if he's tasked with guarding the president, guard the president he does. If he is tasked with getting information out of someone, he does that too. In both cases, by whatever means necessary. Some of these means, I assure you, are pretty gruesome.

Along the way, he does care for his family and friends and innocent bystanders to the greatest degree possible. If he could save everyone and torture no one, I genuinely believe he would do that. But he deals mostly with some pretty shady characters, and sometimes has to go to their lengths to fit in (as he did this season). So even just there, it got into some grey area. But that's the gist of it. He drives, pushing through concrete, to get to his objective. 

That is why, in short, he is our hero. He can filter through all the competing agendas and distractions and multiple things going on to get to the main point: save the president, extract information from the bad guy, whatever.

So, as the season starts, he gets taken out of the hearings, to help the FBI with one little case, which lasts a very long 24 hours. So much happens in this season, it's unbelievable.

But at the beginning, he is tasked to work with two FBI operatives who absolutely and unequivocally don't believe in torture. They work within the confines of the law, and that's it. They are appalled by Jack Bauer's brutal tactics, and tell him so, frequently.

Of course, as the season wears away, they are put into situtations which require a change of attitude on that score.

And that, then is what is different about this season of 24. The characters this season really have more of a conscience. Even the smaller characters. There is one, bombs are armed and ready. One guy says: Push the button. He actually refuses. Little things like this never happened on 24 before.

What are the repercussions of our actions, it seems to be asking. When is torture justified? Ever? This conversation is being played out on our political stage right now.

What I wanted to look at is the bigger picture. If our new President Obama is indeed rebooting our ship of state as this season of 24 is rebooting the fictional government picture, let's look at what really needs to happen here. We can argue endlessly about how we all got off course exactly, but this is the deal. We need to all reboot ourselves individually so that what is at our core is not cynicism and sneaking around doing the most convenient thing. No cutting corners and saying, It's good enough.

But simply this: DO THE RIGHT THING. The most humane, the kindest, the most letter of the law. We all know the difference between good and bad. CHOOSE GOOD. Simply that.

We have three characters now whom we can count on to do the right thing: Jack Bauer (our hero), Renee Walker (introduced this season, who has been built up to be like the female Jack Bauer, but with more of a conscience) and our new female president (and btw, 24 had the first black president too!), Alison Taylor.

They have goodness at their core. We can count on them for this, we can root for them because of this. It's good to have good people to root for again.

Like I said, there were 1600 fans of 24 filling the theatre. It was exhilarating and thrilling, first of all to be watching the show with all of them, but what was also remarkable to me: they cheered, loudly, when the right choices were made. When characters chose to do the right thing.

Believe me when I tell you that all choices on 24 are difficult ones. But we, as a country and individually, need to get back to the place where what guides us forward is doing the right thing. Whether that is giving a quarter to the person begging for it on the corner, and not asking questions about it; or refusing to commit felonies just because our bank manager boss asks it of us; or whatever our own personal situation is.

Hone in on what is the right choice. Instill it in ourselves. Make it part of our makeup. And when we are faced with a choice, we choose the right thing. Every time. That is truly what President Obama is tasking us with. That is what we, collectively, need to be doing right now. Bringing back that crazy thing called integrity that totally disappeared during the Bush years.

Prosecuting those who condoned waterboarding, instead of looking the other way. That's what we have laws for. There is no "putting the past in the past" crap. Wrongdoers are punished. Criminals are brought to justice. That's how this country really works. Part of our job as citizens is enforcing that.

I love 24 as a show because it reminds me, through Renee Walker and Alison Taylor and Jack Bauer, that this is what we need to do. In every small action. In every big action. In every case, at all times: The right thing.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On the importance of hand shakes

This blog is in response to this post:

Wow. Michael Arrington. My first response, dude, is that you seriously need to deal with that little OCD problem you've got going on there.

(Most normal people don't freak out when touching others to this degree.)

But I want to address this from another perspective. While it is true that all sorts of touch can spread all sorts of disease, so do public toilets and whatnot. DEAL.

The more relevant point to me is that most people live large parts of their lives today where they never even get away from their computer, or leave their homes. And when in public, they are hypersensitive to touch. I say this living in Los Angeles, where the whole celebrity "don't touch me" thing just compounds the problem. People just flat out don't touch here.

And that is as big a problem as the OCD discussed previously.

Touching IS a part of socialization. Touching, handshaking as he describes, may have its origins in wanting to show you have no weapon, but there are other, more spiritual things that are also exchanged in a simple handshake.

You look in the person's eyes. You assess what type of person you have in front of you. And just this act of initiating trust (whether socially motivated or not) increases intimacy between two people. I don't know about anyone else, but someone who fist pumps me, or bumps my elbow, instead of shaking hands, I'd be highly suspicious of.

Course, I'm German, and handshaking is HUGE over there. (In fact, Mr. Arrington, maybe you should avoid going there. They are all about the handshake, even in casual meetings.)

I am a hugging type of person, and once I become friends with someone, I HUG them. People in our culture don't get nearly enough hugs. When was the last time you got one?

People need/desire/crave touch. The handshake is one of the few types of touch that is totally socially acceptable. To take that away would provoke even more serious consequences for our society than the "disease" craziness that you talk about.

So get over your damn self. Be a man, shake that hand.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Politics of Retweeting

As most Internet things do, this all started with Dave Winer.

More specifically, this:

Now, I admire Dave Winer immensely. I try, whenever possible, to give him the props he deserves. If it weren't for him, as a podcaster, I wouldn't exist.

However, on this Retweeting thing, I think he is just flat out wrong.

Winer likens retweeting on Twitter to voting something up on Digg or Reddit. While there is an element of that, that's certainly not all of it, in fact, for me, it's not even most of it.

So first, what is it that gets me to Retweet something? Just because someone says: Please retweet? Um, no.

I look at Twitter (and really all of social media) as this whole flow of information. I do my part to share what I know or am encountering, and others share back the same on their end. It's a back and forth flow. But I don't wanna clutter up someone's stream with lots of cute/wise/funny crap, any more than I'd want them cluttering up mine.

Twitter, for me, is not the place to post links to good stories. In fact, that's what I use Facebook and Digg for. And, for me, if someone else has posted a link to a good story, one that moves me in some way, I don't retweet it. I post the link to my Facebook page. Or Digg it up, or both.

I personally save the Retweets for something special. Some witty turn of phrase. Some interesting situation that seems funny. Or a memorable quote that I think is gonna help someone through their day, as it helped me through mine. I don't ever, in short, Retweet something unless it means something to me.

And the other crucial aspect that Dave Winer is completely omitting/forgetting is the people factor. Now, he's got nearly 22,000 folks following him. Maybe he doesn't care so much what each and every one of them has to say. But our Twitter streams reflect only those we've chosen to put on them. We get their posts, and no one else's. Unless it's a Retweet.

Depending on who else has Retweeted it, that post can come from four or five or 25 levels away from my inner circle. And so, I may find someone else interesting, worth following. Or, someone may find me that way. I value my new followers, and I enjoy finding new people to follow (given Twitter's draconian rules about following...).

The Retweet is more akin to the word of mouth on a movie, or the recipe passed over a fencepost. It's from me to you, my followers. Do with it what you will, but it means something to me. And because of that, I want to know WHO the original post came from. I wanna see that it's a retweet, because it makes me look at it differently. It makes me know that it's something outside the normal people I follow.

As I look at Winer's post again, I see he's really stressing the whole "linking" concept, and railing against that. I do agree with him on that point. I try to keep the links I post in my Tweets to a minimum. I personally don't feel that Twitter is the place to bombard people with links, and really don't read the links of others, by and large. He's right. Digg is the place for that, or one's Facebook page.

But Retweeting an idea, a concept, a funny story? I'm all over that. I wish Dave were too.

PS: also commenting on this tempest this week was a blog I liked:

What do you think? Do you retweet?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

XMEN: Origins-Wolverine


Here is what happens in "X MEN: Origins-Wolverine." Cute kid ends up killing after someone kills his dad. Kid and brother run into the woods, on the lam. Ten minute opening montage (nice camerawork) of killing through various wars from the Civil (I think) to Vietnam. Boys end up in Africa working for some mercenary team, killing. Despite the fact that they've been killing for a long time now, Wolverine suddenly has a crisis of conscience which causes him to leave the group. The rest, it is assumed, go on killing.

Wolverine begins a life of simple basics in Canada with the woman he loves. She tells him a mystical story about Wolverine. Brother, meanwhile, inexplicably starts killing. The woman Wolverine loves is involved. Revenge set up. Wolverine is willing to go through unspeakable amounts of torture and nearly die to avenge this wrong. He bolts out of the tank naked (OK, that was cool). Runs away.

Meets the best characters in the movie, two sweet kind farmers who give him clothes and food. Major FX scenes, they (of course) get killed. Lots of stuff blows up real good. Wolverine kills one bad guy who was really on his ass.

Drives away on a cool motorcycle.

He finds rogue members of his mercenary band who (inexplicably) haven't yet been killed. They tell him of another mutant who escaped "the Island," where the bad guy is doing his experiments. Wolverine sets out to find him.

(Now, as an aside, Wolverine can supposedly hear/feel/sense things that most can't. This power seems to only work sporadically, since the biggest things that happen he is unaware of, or, as he says: "I didn't listen to my instincts." --When was the last time a superhero didn't listen to their instincts? But I digress.)

In a flurry of flying cards, the luscious Taylor Kitsch (from "Friday Night Lights") is introduced as Gambit.

Wolverine's revenge mission now (supposedly) is to find this Island, so he can kill his brother. Wolverine is again ignoring his instincts as the guy he's seeking is currently right out back, smacking the living tar out of another guy he brought along. OK, he gets killed too.

Screaming, "I will never go back there," gorgeous Gambit rips a hole in the wall. Wolverine falls out of it and finds his brother. He proceeds to try to kill him.

Gambit inexplicably stops the fight. Lots of stuff gets destroyed in the process. Wolverine's brother, known in later movies as Sabretooth (played in the first XMen by a different actor), inexplicably leaves, even though his mission is ostensibly to kill his brother.

Gorgeous Gambit and hunky Wolverine team up to seek out the runaway brother and kill him. And kill everyone each man hates just for good measure.

They arrive. Wolverine enters the compound. Gambit inexplicably disappears.

Double cross. Major double cross. Things are not what they seem. Wolverine wants to kill. Bad guy has been created to fight Wolverine, named Deadpool. (This is only relevant for the inevitable sequel.) Both Wolverine and Deadpool are indestructible, you see.

Major kick ass set piece on the top of a major notable landmark. Wolverine, his brother and Deadpool involved. Fight, fight, fight. Landmark destroyed, Deadpool decapitated, Wolverine's brother (now inexplicably on his side) disappears.

Gambit (who was who knows where all this time?) reappears. Rather than helping him (when he clearly needs it), Wolverine tells gorgeous Gambit to go save some kids. "I'm on it!" he says, cheerfully. By the time they get there, the kids are getting safely into a chopper guided by a character we know and love from the other XMen movies.

Gambit shrugs his shoulders, goes back to help Wolverine, whom if he'd stayed there, he could've helped in major ways. Instead, death and major injury occurs. Wolverine, as a consequence, loses his memory.

Buildings are crumbling, authorities are coming. Gambit realizes that Wolverine has no memory, tries to convince him he's a friend and get him out of there. Wolverine wants to "go it alone." Despite the fact that he has no memory and obviously shouldn't be wandering around alone, Gambit lets him do so.

The end.


So, yeah, if you like killing and stuff blowing up real good, this could be a movie you wanna see in theatres. If you are a person who craves a semblance of a believable plot, you might want to avoid this. On the other hand, Taylor Kitsch is gorgeous and makes a stunning movie debut as Gambit. He alone is almost worth the price of admission.