A New Candidate?

For fans of the horse race, this presidential election comes up a little short. The remaining contests are worth watching to see how the Republican Party's competing factions reconcile the fact that they must put aside their differences and support Romney if they hope to defeat Barack Obama, but any semblance of drama disappeared once Romney won the first two nominating states. He now leads the polls in the upcoming primary states. Thank god for Stephen Colbert. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed that 5 percent of South Carolina Republicans would support the fake news host if he were a presidential candidate. That's 1 percent more than Jon Huntsman and falls within the margin of error for Rick Perry and Ron Paul. On last night's Colbert Report, the comedian hinted to his fans that he might have something up his sleeve, winking at a "major announcement" for Thursday night's show. “This just got real,” Colbert said. “I’ve got to ask, what do you think, nation? Should I run for...

Harmony in the U.K.

A Londoner on Downton Abbey’s second season

M uch about the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey , the hit British television show about a stately home, an aristocratic family, and their shadow kingdom of servants during the second decade of the 20th century, has come as a surprise. For one thing, the series is shown here on ITV, known to my grandmother’s generation, born around the time season one is set, as “the commercial channel.” (To understand the full impact of this descriptor, imagine it emerging in a splutter from the pursed lips of Downton’s grande dame, the Dowager Lady Grantham, played in a state of permanent quivering outrage by Dame Maggie Smith.) It is not that ITV has never been able to produce this kind of quality television— The Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead Revisited, and the original Upstairs, Downstairs all sailed triumphantly under its colors. But the once-sluggish station had been taken over in recent years by reality shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. So the appearance of Downton Abbey...

Yes We Camelot

What cultural artifacts will come to embody the current presidential administration?

F eel free to try this at home, but I guarantee you won't get anything out of it except a migraine. Imagine you've been a bit prematurely asked to fill a time capsule with telltale cultural artifacts of the Age of Obama—the evocative movies, TV shows, hit tunes, and other creative whatnots that will someday exemplify the ineffable atmosphere of our 44th president's first term. Realizing nobody has called these times "The Age of Obama" since early 2009 should be your first clue that this is no easy job. Try to persevere, though. Um—J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot, maybe? Obama's partisans and detractors alike do dig comparing him to Mr. Spock. TV's Glee and Modern Family? Hey, how about post – everything pop diva Lady Gaga? That's the best I can do off the top of my head, and they're all a bit of a stretch. The multiculti on steroids—OK, asteroids—of James Cameron's Avatar may be less of one. Yet the movie's conception predated not only Obama's presidency but George W. Bush's. Anyway,...

It's a Wonderful Lie

Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase's ad campaigns portray the institutions as your friendly neighborhood credit union.

At a time when legislators, consumer advocates and the Occupy movement batter big banks for their questionable business practices, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have gone soft and fuzzy. The nation’s two largest banks are running saccharine television commercials that portray the massive multinationals as the Bailey Building and Loan Association. Bank of America recently rolled out its “Opportunity” campaign to highlight the company's nationwide bid to lend a hand— i.e. , money— to small businesses. (Ironically, It’s A Wonderful Life director Frank Capra modeled the Bailey's bank on BoA.) In Brooklyn, tenants of a green affordable housing project partly funded by BoA gush over their sleek new apartments, replete with AC and electric keys. “No one can pick the lock,” notes a tenant in a web version of the ad. Another tenant, a formerly homeless girl about ten, says of her new digs: “I feel smarter." In Los...

The Journal vs. Fox (Huh?)

Hard though it be to believe, a Wall Street Journal editorial Monday actually had the temerity to criticize Fox News. Not by name, of course—Murdoch editorialists are nothing if not discreet when going after other parts of the Murdoch empire—but the criticism was directed at some unnamed organization that puts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly on television every night. The criticism came in an editorial on the late, lamented Herman Cain campaign. After noting that Cain was in no way ready for prime time, the editorial asserted that Cain had too many flaws to take on President Barack Obama. At that point, the Journal dipped its toe, gingerly, into criticism of the right-wing media. Cain’s unelectability, it said, is the weakness that the talk-radio establishment overlooked when it dismissed the sexual-harassment accusations against Mr. Cain as one more left-wing conspiracy. Whether true or not, the accusations resulted in settlements by the National Restaurant Association, where he had...

The Barney Frank Greatest Hits Reel

You knew it was coming. Some fabulous news organization would assign someone to come up with the Barney Frank YouTube highlights. Here it is at HuffPo. And here HuffPo's Ryan Grim fondly recalls being chewed out by the honorable member of Congress from Massachusetts, adding a few others' such memories: Politico's Glenn Thrush describes walking the same route to an answer. "Interviewing Barney Frank a 4-step process: 1. Ask question 2. Get told question is stupid/phony/immoral 3. Say 'yeah, yeah' 4. Get quote," he tweeted. Meanwhile, I've been having a debate with myself. I know Barney Frank's picture will soon be in the dictionary. But will it illustrate the word "irascible" or the word "curmudgeon"? Discuss.

A Quick-Step Forward

Dancing with the Stars challenges ballroom dancing's rigid gender roles.

You’d be forgiven if, like me, you spent several years avoiding ABC’s ballroom dancing contest show, Dancing With the Stars . It belongs to that saccharine genre of reality show geared toward “families,” which usually means it’s sterilized and scrubbed until there’s nothing left to either like or be offended by. It’s a cousin of the ready-to-be-euthanized American Idol . Its pen pal is the British show Britain’s Got Talent , which gave us Susan Boyle. This genre has a lot to make up for. But one night not long ago I caught the 13th Season on Hulu. The moment I was hooked came in week three, when J.R. Martinez, a former All My Children actor who had served in the Iraq War. (SPOILER ALERT: Martinez won last night). When he was 19, his Humvee hit an IED. It burned half his face, and on the show he’d already talked about his 32 surgeries. On this episode, he dedicated a Viennese Waltz to all of the soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Watching it, my pasta turned into a soggy...

Reality Check

TLC's new show, All-American Muslim, could educate the public about Islam — or not.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Sandwiched in TLC’s fall schedule between Toddlers & Tiaras and Sister Wives, is a new reality series named, All-American Muslim. The show follows the lives of five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan, and will premiere its eight-part stretch November 13. All-American Muslim does not fall into the trend of other reality shows: It does not profile rich socialites or rambunctious 20-something libertines. Instead, it tries its hand at a new, more dangerous formula: using religion as a basis for entertainment. In today’s volatile sociopolitical environment, All-American Muslim treads new and murky ground by attempting to “explain” a very diverse community of Muslim American citizens and the religious doctrine they follow— all in a one-hour timeslot. The cameras document its families as they face new stages and challenges in their lives. In an eventful premiere episode, both a wedding and a conversion take place. Many Muslims in America today face an onslaught of Islamophobia...

Blame Where It's Not Due

The Wall Street Journal editorial page keeps outdoing itself for sheer sophistry, but today’s op-ed on Joe Paterno sets a new record. How about blaming the Penn State scandal on … the media? In today’s Journal , the editorial writer, after the appropriate clucks, concludes: Given the relentlessness of modern public scrutiny, and the thousands of young men who have traveled through the Penn State football program, it's something of a miracle that Mr. Paterno could coach for 46 years without a previous notable blemish. We doubt it will happen again. It's also something of a relief that in a culture as libertine as ours at least some behavior—sexual exploitation of children—is still considered deviant. The events at Penn State are indeed a tragedy, and doubly so because they give new license to cynics who want Americans to believe that no one who achieves prominence in public life can be honorable. So let’s get this straight. “Given the relentless of modern public scrutiny,” it is “a...

Coulter's Race Relations

Even for someone who specializes in consistently saying the most offensive and irrelevant things, Ann Coulter's statements about black Republicans in an interview with Sean Hannity Monday crossed the line. In a segment discussing accusations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain, Coulter and Hannity completely sidestepped the allegations and instead ranted about why liberals target African American Republicans. Of course the argument moved away from issues of sex and workplace harassment and moved on to how Barack Obama is only half-black and his father wasn't even an American.

In Defense of Rachel Maddow

After Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C., last year, Rachel Maddow convinced Stewart to sit down with her for over an hour to discuss politics and the media. She dedicated her entire show that night to the interview. I don't see how anyone could have come away from that interview thinking Maddow had not given serious thought to the state of the media today and her own role in it. So you can imagine my astonishment when The New Republic listed Maddow on their list of Washington's 10 "over-rated thinkers." But sure enough, alongside Newt Gingrich and Ayn Rand, there she was: Maddow is a textbook example of the intellectual limitations of a perfectly settled perspective. She knows the answers even before she has the questions. The truth about everything is completely obvious to her. She seems utterly incapable of doubt or complication. Her show is a great tribute to Fox, because it copies the Fox style exactly. TNR seems to have missed the Stewart interview, as...

All the President's Frenemies

Barry Blitt
This piece from our October 2011 issue won an award from the National Association of Black Journalists on June 24 for best magazine commentary/essay. It's a packed house at St. Sabina's Church on the South Side of Chicago. The pews are full, and attendees who didn't come early on this August Sunday must huddle in the back, though they don't have to strain to hear the speakers, media maven Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West. Chicago is Barack Obama's home court, yet this is the last church meeting where you'd find the president, lest he confirm the right-wing fantasy that he's a fellow traveler of leftist radicals. Fruit of Islam bodyguards stand in their pinstriped suits looking like the Secret Service outfitted by Al Capone's tailor, fingers pressed to their white earpieces as the man they're protecting, Minister Louis Farrakhan, sits in the front row. Next to him is Father Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina's, whose caustic remarks about Hillary Clinton prompted...

More on the Playboy Club

Here's a follow-up to my mini-review last week of NBC's The Playboy Club : a Daily Beast article, "My Mom's Life as a Playboy Bunny," by Susanna Spier. Spier interviews her mother about what things were really like. Was Hugh Hefner's comment -- that bunnies could be anything they wanted to be -- accurate? Ha. We had only a handful of options, and being a Bunny was a brand-new one. ... Teacher, nurse, stewardess, secretary. Bunny increased our options by 20 percent. It didn't mean we could be brain surgeons. Hef's dots do not connect. So why did she do it? Duh: for the money.

Cheesy Does It

How Glee became the most beloved show on television

The Glee cast (Flickr/Gudlyf)
Musical theater is as close as it comes to religion for me, so you can consider Glee 's 8-to-9 Tuesday slot on Fox my "Hour of Power." Like a missionary outpost in D.C.'s cultural desert, each week a local gay bar screens the latest episode on a large projector. For that short span of time, the club music and cruising stop while patrons from their 20s to their 60s sit in reverent silence to watch the high-school travails of McKinley High's glee club. If you ask me, any show that can hold a club queen's attention for that long deserves its title as "the gayest show on television." Glee , which wrapped up its second season yesterday, has already become so mainstream and commercial that critics are nostalgic for the good ol' days. The Globe and Mail 's John Doyle proclaimed a year ago that "the gaiety is gone from Glee . ... You should have seen it in its prime." Of course, the line between cheesy and sublime is a fine one, and if your high-school experience doesn't incline you to...

A Liberal's Guide to Middle Earth

HBO's new show Game of Thrones goes beyond the black and white of good versus evil and delves into the gray.

Mark Addy portrays King Robert Baratheon in a scene from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" premiering Sunday, April 17. (AP Photo/HBO, Helen Sloan)
Caution: Spoilers In 2009, National Review ranked Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy No. 11 on a list of the best "conservative movies" of the past 25 years. The magazine's reasoning was simple -- after September 11, the adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novels were the perfect Manichean fable for conservatives as they cheered on and spurred America's march to war against an amorphous Muslim enemy in Iraq. "The debates over what to do about Sauron and Saruman echoed our own disputes over the Iraq War," wrote Andrew Leigh, referring to the franchise's two epic villains -- a common reading for conservatives at the time. This spring, a more morally complex fantasy epic will hit the screen. Just as Jackson's battles between the kingdoms of man and the dark armies of orcs and ringwraiths once spoke to Americans who believed that they were engaged in an epic battle between good and evil, Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels, speaks to...