Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Retreading America

(BEWARE - this is an unusually long PTF posting today - but stick with me until the end, if you can - I think I actually have something to say today. -FP)

I was sort of blown away by the huge numbers posted this past weekend at the box office for the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean - $55 million in a single day and $132 million for the weekend.

Don't tell me about how great it is or how awful it is - I haven't seen it. This isn't about the quality of the film, per se. This is a film at least initially inspired by a ride in Walt Disney World. And as much as I'm a complete and utter Disneyophile (critics be damned), this pissed me off a bit.

I began to look at the other films that have set records for single - day box office. In the Top 10, there are only TWO "original" films - Spiderman, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerror's Stone. And both of these films are based on characters created outside of the cinema. Continue down the list through the Top 30, and you'll note that there are only TWO films that aren't either sequels, or films based on another source, be it book, comic book character, or the like.

If you look at the all-time top domestic box office numbers, it gets a little bit better. although not much. In the top 20, there are SIX films that are not at least blatently based on another source material.

Are we that hard up for inspiration in America?

It's not just on film. It's everywhere. Take a look in my profession - theatre. Broadway largely defines the pinnacle of American theatre, though I would be glad to argue that point.

Here's a partial list of Broadway musicals that originate from film over the last decade or so:
Beauty and the Beast, Big, Catch Me If You Can, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Color Purple, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Footloose, The Full Monty, The Graduate (not a musical, but still cashing in on the fame of the movie), Hairspray, High Fidelity, Legally Blonde, Lestat (technically based on the Anne Rice's books, but the films didn't hurt it's popularity, although it certainly didn't help on Broadway), The Lion King, Mary Poppins, The Producers, Saturday Night Fever, Spamalot (essentially Monty Python and The Holy Grail), Tarzan, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Titanic (technically not based on the Cameron film, but close enough), Tommy, Urban Cowboy, Victor / Victoria, The Wedding Singer, and A Wonderful Life
These are all shows on Broadway that routinely now cost $100 or more to see, and one could rent them at Blockbuster for $3.99.

This, of course, doesn't count the plethora of revivals, shows produced based on the music of a singer (ala Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, Lennon, Movin' Out, Ring of Fire, ad NAUSEUM), or the ever popular solo artist performances, which are really glorified comedy routines or cabaret acts booked on to Broadway because of name recognition.

Are you kidding me?!? Where's the American notion of creativity and inspiration???

So, as you're aware, I always tend to bring things back to politics. And if you look closely (or even not that closely), you'll see exactly the same patterns emerging.

Most obviously, one could look at the White House, and the patterns there. Bush, Sr. was Vice-President for eight years, followed by his own Presidency for four years. Then came Clinton for eight years. Then Bush, Jr. came along for another eight years. When pundits begin talking about potentials for 2008, who are two names that almost always get mentioned? Hillary Clinton, for sure, and Jeb Bush, to a lesser extent. For the sake of argument, let's give both of them a single term.

That would mean that for THIRTY-SIX years, we'd have someone with either the last name of Bush or Clinton in the White House. For God's sake, Chelsea Clinton, born in 1980, would be eligible to run for office by then!

Is this the best we can do? In a nation of almost 300 million people, can we only find two families with members worhty of leading our country? We, as Americans - ALL of us - should be ashamed.

The real shame comes with Congress, of course. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has held his Senate seat for over 47 years, and he achived his status of longest-serving Senator only because Strom Thurmond (R-SC) retired - at the age of NINETY-NINE. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has served for over 43 years. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has held his Senate seat almost as long as I've been alive. In fact, I count a total of SEVENTEEN Senators who have served (or will serve, provided they remain alive until the end of their current term) thirty or more years. 17 out of 100 - and that number goes a lot higher if you drop the bar to 20 years or more.

Without going through the entire 435 Members of the House of Representatives, you can guess that the situation isn't a whole lot better. John Dingell (D-MI), the current Dean of the House (member with the longest consecutive service), has served for over 50 years. The average age in the House of Representatives is 55, the oldest its ever been in American history.

"Well, FleshPresser... that's quite an interesting array of statistics you've got there, but so what?"

Let me get one more stat in here, and then I'll explain. In a recent poll, Americans gave Congressional Republicans a 38% approval rating, and Republicans scored 32%. Prety abysmal view of Congress by most everyone.

Here's the interesting part - in a CNN poll taken earlier in the year, the poll asked if incumbents, in general, should be re-elected. 42% of those responding felt that most Members of Congress deserved re-election. 60%, however, said their own Member of Congress deserved re-election.

See where I'm going with this? Most Americans believe that Congress, across the board, is doing a lousy job. When they look at their own "known commodity," however, that opinion changes, and they more often than not send their own elected officials back to Washington. Over and over again.

Call it the "Sequel-ization of Politics" in America. Rather than taking a chance on an unknown candidate, people are more likely to simply vote for the individual whose name they recognize, or the face that looks familiar. Rather than educating themselves on the candidates and the issues, people keep the status quo, and yet complain about the results.

So what ultimately ties Hollywood, Broadway and American politics together? Say it with me - "MONEY." Hollywood and Broadway producers are almost always more likely to bet on a known commodity - a sure thing. If a product isn't as well known, or doesn't have immediate recognition, it's less likely to receive support.

The same is true in politics - why would the DNC or the RNC support the notion of unknown candidates running against an established incumbent? The truth is - they don't. Unless that incumbent happens to be with the opposing party, of course.

If this isn't the case, then tell me why America is paying such close attention to the run Ned Lamont is making against Joe Lieberman in Connecticut? If it weren't such a big deal, then why is Lieberman already making plans to run as an "Independent Democrat" - whatever that means.

All I can say is "Run, Ned, Run!" If voters in Connecticut like the job that Joe Lieberman has done, they should vote him back into office. If not, however, they should fire his ass immediately and elect someone else to represent them.

In fact, I think every Member of Congress should have to face a re-election challenge from within his or her own party. What's the alternative? That we simply allow each Member of Congress to stay in office until they're ready to leave? That's ludicrous.

Everyone has to prove themseves in order to keep their job, and Congress should be no different. Those who we place into office should not be allowed to remain simply because they have a (D) or an (R) after their name. If there's more than one qualified person to play a given position on any pro sports team, those athletes have to fight for the starting position. Once they make the team, they go out and play against the other teams.

"But FleshPresser," one might point out, "Do you have any idea how much money it would take to run that kind of a campaign?"

Well, that's my next point. Forget the money. Get rid of it. We need to completely overhaul the methods by which our elected officials are sent to Washington.

FIRST - Money should not be a determining factor in waging a successful campaign. The airwaves are owned by the public, and we should take them back. Every candidate reaching a stringent criterion (a percentage of the voting population that the candidate wishes to represent) would be allocated a block of time to use on television and other media. Use it in one shot, a la the Ross Perot infomercial, use it as a barrage at the end of your campaign, stream it out throughout your campaign - whatever you choose. But once you've used it, that's it.

SECOND - term limits should be instituted. I've never been a big supporter of term limits, but the time has come. I used to believe that we HAD term limits, and those came in the form of elections. Clearly, however, voters are not taking those responsibilities seriously - one has only to look at voter turnout results to see the proof af that. I would recommend that those elected to the House of Representatives be limited to SIX consecutive terms, and those elected to the Senate limited to TWO consecutive terms - in either case, if an elected official can't accomplish what they set out to in twelve years, it's time for some new blood.

THIRD - the day of the state-by-state Primary for Presidential elections should be finished. Institute a series of Regional Primaries. No more than four. They can be split up according to population, geography, or another format. I'm tired of having a candidate already decided upon by the time New Hampshire and Iowa are finished, as the other candidates have run out of money. Let those who care enough to have a voice in the process actually CONTRIBUTE to that process of selecting a candidate, regardless of whether they live in New Hampshire, Iowa, California, or Rhode Island. And God forbid that a candidate doesn't spend two years running back and forth between Iowa and New Hampshire prior to the actual Primaries.

Will our current politicians like these ideas? More than likely not. How do we institutionalize these ideas, then? Vote the incumbents out. Keep voting them out until they get the message.

I'll do my part in November by voting Rick Santorum out.

The alternative is to continue to pay too much money to see the sequel, and the one after it, and the one after it. And being disappointed over and over again.

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Posted by FleshPresser at 9:40 AM /


  • Blogger ModFab posted at 12:22 AM  
    Ummmm...that's the longest post in the history of...posts.

    My reactions:

    1) Go, boy, go.
    2) This relates to CATS somehow, right? It's all Lloyd Webber's fault, right?
    3) Sondheim=Socialism.
    4) If money is the great corruptor, then the answer is publicly funded campaigns, right?

  • Anonymous Anonymous posted at 2:56 AM  
    Great post. The only thing I would change is the term limits. I would make it so that there would be a built in "Refresher" time period that someone must be out of office in order to run again. So House of Rep, you get THREE consecutive terms and then if you wait 2 years, you can get THREE more. Senate would stay at TWO consecutive but if you've been out of office for 4 years you qualify for TWO more. It would force people to get back in touch with regular society but still allow those few that are truely gifted the chance to remain.

  • Blogger SadButTrue posted at 5:00 AM  
    Great Post! And no need to apologize for the length. The problem with EVERYTHING is the tendency to try to reduce everything to a sound byte. Just because the MSM does that does NOT mean that bloggers should too. I have been gravitating away from the 'one paragraph (or sentence) and a link' formatted blogs, because what's the damn point of that? It reduces the blogosphere to an echo chamber, with no original thought. One of the most informative blogs is Glen Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory. His posts average the length of this one, and often some of the comments are just as long. Much preferable to say Atrios or ThinkProgress, who can't be bothered to add anything editorially to the link they provide.
    This is just expanding on what your blog is saying about voters who are too intellectually lazy to find out about what a candidate's position is. They chose an Alfred E. Newman clone like G. Dubya because he reduces his whole platform to 'what, me worry?' Kerry might have known what he was talking about, but the voter is yawning halfway through his first sentence. It's all part of an instant gratification videogame culture, where you push reset 10 seconds in because you missed the first bonus power-up.
    It will be a damn shame when America slouches into FASCISM because the electorate was too busy sucking the electronic pacifier to do anything about it.

  • Blogger The Xsociate posted at 5:00 AM  
    I agree with you that Congress should have term limits placed on them. Not only will this force them get whatever initiatives they wish enacted during their time, it will allow for a continuous injection of fresh blood in the political process.

    I also feel the the President should be limited one term in office.

  • Blogger The Professor posted at 8:43 AM  
    An interesting post, but alas, I don't think your conclusions in the first part are accurate, and drawing a parallel to politics is a non-sequitur.

    Derivative movies are more successful on "opening day" (remember, that's the metric you chose) simply because of expectations. It is far easier to generate expectations for something about which we have some experience. Once we get past the opening day, then the experience of this movie will overtime influence perspectives, and either increase or decrease the value of that franchise. And, that being said, the audiences still judge the new movies on a variety of attributes to include the freshness of the story line (and special effects, and acting, and...)

    On the other hand, people judge politicians based on what they are able to do for their constituents. Long standing politicians have acheived that status by being able to deliver the bacon (whether through Pork, or solid statesmanship) to their constituents in a consistent manner. To condemn politicians simply because they have been there a long time is, in my mind, simply another outlet of frustration without thought.

    Why do most people (58%) support removing members of congress "in general" but then that same percentage (okay, 60%, and admittedly not the same people, per se) support the re-election of their own member of Congress? Simply this: I don't like those evil so-and-so's from the OTHER side of the aisle, and life would be better without THEM. This is either based on real political positioning (I would love to see Ted Kennedy gone, for instance) or just because the public has been listening to anti-Congress rhetoric for so long, but either way, their experience, with THEIR representative, leads them to conclude that THAT person is "alright." [I have commented before how this same thought process is true in education. In the early 90s studies showed that a majority of Americans thought the school system was broken, but a far greater percentage said "but my school is fine.")

    Perhaps another day I will tackle your points towards reform, but for now, I felt I needed to address the thought that time in office is the big bad meanie.

    Imagine if, in your profession, someone were to come forward and argue that "Flesh Presser" has been the director for far too long. Hey, we realize he has been doing a good job, and the local theater going public likes his work, but don't you think that it's just been a little TOO long in one job? No one should have such a long stay in what they do. Yeah, the analogy has it's flaws, but the point still holds--tenure (time in office) should not be a determinant for whether someone should remain in office. Don't keep em because they have "always been there" and don't ditch em for that reason, either.

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