Category Archives: In defense of

In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

I have to admit that my first response upon reading Dylan Farrow’s open letter was a rather inappropriate one: I found myself thinking ‘who does she think she is? Bush?‘ As I said, not the most appropriate, or charitable, of responses under the circumstances, but the thing is that while I have no way of knowing whether or not her allegations are true, I found her attitude of ‘if you are not with me you are against me’, and her assumption that the fact that one of the most influential filmmakers of the past half century -a man who is fast approaching eighty, and who was never charged with a crime, let alone convicted- was being presented with a lifetime achievement award was all about her to be more than a little jarring.

No, I’m not denying that her hurt is real, nor am I denying that she is convinced that what she is saying is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In fact I’m not even denying the possibility that the events may have unfolded just like she says they did. I wasn’t there, so I can do nothing but speculate. What I do know is that our memories are seldom as reliable as we like to think they are, so I can’t help but to feel that her story -a story I personally feel has a few too many holes to be entirely believable- shouldn’t be enough to damn the man… especially not in light of the climate of hatred that is likely to have permeated the Farrow household at the time, a climate of hatred that seven-year old Dylan wouldn’t have had the means to recognize, defend against, or escape. Continue reading In defense of Woody Allen… sort of

When grandpa rocks (In defense of Miley Cyrus)

This week one of the stories I have been following are the responses to Miley Cyrus performance in the VMAs. It was also the first time I’ve actually watched her (though I did so long after the fact and mostly to figure out what the big deal was supposed to be)… and while I agree that the whole thing was racist and more than a little tacky, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘sad’… sad, and maybe a little pointless.

To me it looked like an attempt at being outrageous that wound up sounding more like a temper tantrum than anything else, but at the same time I realize that that’s just me.

Oh, in a way I get where she and her generation are coming from. For more than fifty years -almost since it became possible for individual performances to reach a mass audience thanks to the radio- music, and to a lesser extent dance, have provided safe outlets for the next generation as it tries to define itself and to find its own voice, a that voice is almost invaribly raised in defiance (and I realize that, trapped as she is by her lily white past as a Disney megastar, Miley Cyrus has more to rebel against than most if she wants to remain relevant to her own contemporaries). The problem is that there are few boundaries left for young rebels to tear down. We’ve been there, done that… and to add insult to injury this generation is also having to deal with the fact that their parents get it, at least to a certain extent.

Let’s face it, Rock Around the Clock was written more than sixty years ago, and was already topping the charts back in 1955. Paul McCartney, who wrote When I’m Sixty-Four some forty-five years ago, is now in his seventies himself. In fact When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the same year in which Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild gave us the term ‘heavy metal’… and let’s not forget that a quarter of a century ago the parents of Miley’s generation were already grumbling about the fact that a forty-year-old-plus Mick Jagger looked kind of pathetic singing Satisfaction. If James Dean were alive today, he would be in his eighties.

The point of this little digression is that  Miley and her cohort are trying to express themselves using a language that was first developed by their grandparents, one that had already been tamed, at least to a certain extent, by the time their parents came along. That is going to make it hard to for them to be outrageous enough to shock their elders no matter what they do.

That, I suspect, is part of what lies behind that particular performance, but at the same time there are other issues that hardly anyone has mentioned, issues that, with all the scorn that is being poured over Miley’s head, deserve some attention. To me the most striking of these is the question of whether or not the idea behind that performance was hers at all. She was not alone on that stage. In fact what we saw was a very sophisticated production, and the truth is that Miley has always been a prepackaged product. Yes, she may be trying to rebel, she may be trying to break free, to show the world that she is a grown up, and she may be willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant to her own contemporaries -who are themselves itching to prove to the world that they have outgrown her- but Miley Cyrus is the puppet, and in the end the one responsible for the puppet’s actions is the puppeteer.

There were others that had the power to put the brakes on that one, they didn’t.

I’m not trying to argue that Miley had no control whatsoever over what happened on that stage or that she was an innocent victim. Even if she was not the driving force behind that performance she was certainly a willing participant, one whose voice must have made itself heard at some stage, but to all the parents out there that are outraged because their little girls are still clinging to her former image, and don’t want to have to explain to those daughters what they saw in that particular performance, the only thing I can say is: kids grow up, deal with it. Miley Cyrus is no longer a child, she’s no longer even a teenager, and asking her to remain frozen in time, to deliberately allow herself to become a has-been at the age of twenty to help you ‘protect’ your much younger daughters’ so-called-innocence is absurd.

No, I didn’t like her performance. There were plenty of things I found objectionable, if not downright disgusting, in it  and I most definitely don’t get it, but at the same time I do realize that in a way that was precisely the point, that I wasn’t meant to get it. It wasn’t to people like me that Miley was addressing her message.

In defense of porn

I can’t believe I’m writing this. No, I don’t like porn, and I agree that it is too easily available (in fact at times it seems to be all but inescapable), but at the same time I am fed up with moralists who want to restrict what others see and do in the privacy of their own homes to protect their children’s innocence, or some such nonsense. Let me be clear about it: they are your children, and while I applaud your determination to shield them from the big, bad world, that doesn’t give you the right to restrict what other adults see and do. Your job -a job you signed up for- is to world-proof your child, not to child-proof the world.

What got me thinking about this is the push by the British government to force ISPs to put content filters in place, and to have them turned on by default. If you want to turn them off you have to notify your ISP, and by extension the government, of your desire to do so. I don’t know how things work over there, but in most places you have to be an adult (or have parental consent) to sign a contract… so why shouldn’t the people who sign up for a service be treated as adults by default?

The thing is that while trying to argue against protecting the children feels wrong, I can’t forget that the crew that wants to shield the children’s eyes is mostly the same crew that -using what is basically the same argument- opposes marriage equality. It is also akin to the crew that not too long ago passed a law in Russia outlawing ‘gay propaganda’… and please don’t even get me started on how wide ranging, inaccurate and unreliable those filters happen to be.

These filters have never really worked, not like they were supposed to anyway, and requiring people to opt-out of a government mandated filter in order to access a certain kind of content is, to put it bluntly, nothing but an intimidation tactic.

Oh, I’m not that naive. I know that, filters or no filters, internet activity is monitored. I know there are very powerful interests that seek to control what I see and do while online. I know that the advent of mobile platforms built with the internet in mind, ridiculously restrictive app stores you can’t bypass (at least not legally), large social networks and walled gardens has effectively enabled the corporate world to set itself as a gatekeeper to the internet, and I know that even now efforts are underway to restrict my access even further by pushing the app store model onto the desktop. In that regard a government mandated filter that denies me access to a specific kind of content in order to ‘protect the children’ is just a small step. Other kinds of content are sure to follow. The wild, untamed internet poses a threat that makes both governments and corporations uncomfortable, and they are desperate to get a hold of it.

Yes, there is plenty of content out there that I find objectionable, but as long as the content doesn’t cross a legal boundary, I acknowledge that it has a right to exist. I realize that I don’t have a right to shove my opinion down other people’s throats… and, for better or for worse, that means that porn is one of those things I have no choice but to live with.

As I said, I’m not in the UK, the proposed law does not affect me, not directly, but I fear that these laws will spread, that sooner or later they will be adopted by other countries, and once porn is gone, what will the next target be?

In defense of Lance Armstrong

With the 100th edition of Tour de France underway Lance Armstrong is back in the news.

To begin with let me make a couple of things perfectly clear: the guy is a liar, a bully and a cheat, to say nothing of an arrogant SOB, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away scot-free. Now that we have stated the obvious let’s see if we can dig a little deeper, because the truth is that things are rarely as simple as they seem.

First of all, to blame him for the culture of doping that is/was/whatever prevalent in cycling seems a little disingenuous as far as I am concerned. Yes, he was part of it, in fact he was a major player in it, and that is something I suspect everyone knew at some level all along… but the sad fact is that pretty much everyone that was ever in the podium with him has been suspended for a doping offense at one point or another. That is why, when he was disqualified, his former victories were declared vacant rather than being credited to the guy who had come in second as is usually the norm. In that regard he is not wrong when he says that at least in those days it would have been impossible to win the Tour without doping.

Second: yes he is an arrogant SOB, but then again that –along with a ruthlessly competitive spirit– is pretty much par for the course for most top tier athletes. No one can make it to the top in that fiercely competitive environment without being utterly convinced that s/he is unquestionably the best… and without them being determined to do whatever it takes to prove it.

The thing is that while I am not defending what Lance Armstrong did as an athlete –or what he did as a human being in his attempts to cover up for what he had done as an athlete– I think that the question of what he did with the bully pulpit his success granted him  is one that should also be taken into account, and the answer is that he was the impetus behind a multi-million dollar foundation that was dedicated to the fight against cancer. Let’s be clear about that: even with his personal history, he didn’t have to do that, and it was in his work with that foundation, not in the roads of France, that he earned my respect… and it is also here that the extent of his downfall bothers me.

That he should be disqualified is undeniable –that is a matter of fairness– and the same is true of his being deserted by his  sponsors. In fact I will even go so far as to agree that, as far as role models go, he makes for a pretty questionable one, but at the same time I can’t help but to feel that the extent to which he is being demonized is excessive and unlike anything we have ever seen before. As I said, most of the guys he ever shared the podium with were caught doping at one point or another, and none of them has been hounded to the extent that Lance Armstrong has been.

Now, I understand the principle of the higher they rise, the harder they fall, and I realize that few have risen as high as he did, but at the same time I feel that things got a little out of hand in that regard. I mean, to have sponsors demanding their money back ten years after the fact? Sorry but as far as I am concerned those sponsors got their money’s worth. They built successful marketing campaigns based on his image for well over a decade, those campaigns kept being produced because they basically paid for themselves, and if those sponsors were so blinded by their greed and the comeback kid narrative that the man seemed to embody that they chose to look the other way when it came to the widespread allegations of doping that have surrounded the guy all along, then they have no one to blame but themselves. The race organizers are well within their rights when they say that they want their prize money back, but as far as I am concerned they are the only ones… after all, I don’t see those sponsors rushing to offer a refund to those customers whose purchase choices may have been influenced by their campaigns (I mean, try to return a worn out pair of sneakers that you bought some ten years ago arguing that Lance Armstrong’s image influenced your purchase and see how fast you don’t get your money back).

As for where I stand on Lance Armstrong and this whole sordid mess as a whole, the truth is that I (and I suspect a good chunk of the population) care a lot more about the fight against cancer than I do about either cycling, the Tour de France or doping, and –like it or not– the man was one of the most visible champions of that fight. It is that champion that has been sacrificed in an attempt to clean up sport, and while I agree that putting an end to doping is a worthwhile goal, with millions of people dying of cancer every year I can’t help but to feel that Lance Armstrong’s downfall is something of a Pyrrhic victory.