Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saving for a "Collagen" Education; Can We Go Any Lower Than Toddlers and Tiaras?

"I did awesome. I'm better than all the other girls," boasts beauty queen, Torran Robinson, age 8.

Watch five minutes of Toddlers and Tiaras, TLC's controversial reality show featuring virtual infants learning all the wrong life lessons in the guise of a beauty pageant, and tell me the world isn't coming to an end.

It's bad enough we have the ever-popular "my-success-is-contingent-on-your-failure" mantra governing almost every adult-oriented reality show, but do we really need to sink to the level where we're offering our kids up as bait in exchange for a shot at the big time? Thanks to the success of the aforementioned, the answer is apparently a resounding, "Yes!"

Not only do we get to see five-year-olds playing the competition game to the max, complete with a visit to the chiropractor to gain that 'extra edge,' but we're treated to a glimpse inside the mind of one of these "Mimps (Mommy-Pimps)" as she openly brags that her goal in life is to mooch off her young daughter's celebrity for as long as she can. Is she talking about her daughter or a used car? The next logical step for the networks is to shoot a reality version of The Hunger Games.

A few years back, Sacha Baron Cohen's film, Bruno shed some light on the disturbing subject of mothers willing to exploit their children in the pursuit of fame when he secretly filmed the mommy of a two-year-old agreeing to subject her baby to plastic surgery if it meant the possibility of landing a national commercial. As bad as that was, "T&Ts" takes it to a whole new level.

Child beauty pageants have been around for a long time. Knowing they exist is one thing, but watching the carnage unfold firsthand in your living room is another. After all, aside from Extreme Home Makeover, aren't the main ingredients of almost every successful reality show a toxic blend of humiliation, tension, and aggression? And, while the producers of Toddlers and Tiaras haven't yet bestowed upon us a throw-down between two six-year-olds, in my opinion, what they're doing is much worse.

Just watching one of these future "Veruca Salts" as she learns to be a sore loser (or worse, an ungracious winner), and overhearing a starstruck mother as she imparts upon her impressionable child life's most valuable lesson: the need to be better than everyone else, one can't help but feel that by simply tuning into the show, you're an accomplice. An accomplice in the destruction of a dozen childhoods per week.

Where "T&Ts" really succeeds is in its ability to give viewers an up-close-and-personal glimpse into what will most likely amount to a sadly confusing, vanity-filled, twisted adolescence and adulthood for many of these little girls. Thanks to the magic of reality television, the stars of the show are no longer just beauty pageant contestants, they're now pint-sized celebrities - signing autographs, endorsing dolls, landing their own spin-off shows, etc. And, I think we've seen at least one or two of those derail in recent memory.

The big question is, where does it end? Are reality shows becoming our reality?

The Internet is overrun with clips of teenagers beating homeless people for sport, parents encouraging their kids to fight each other, and countless stories of teen celebs relapsing after rehab. But, who can blame them for their neanderthal behavior when everywhere you look is the message that living a "screw you" lifestyle is the preferred way to succeed? You don't have to be a sociology professor to see there's something wrong with this picture. On one hand, reality shows like Toddlers and Tiaras keep reminding us, indeed, we can sink even lower. On the other, I can't wait for Bravo's UFC Kids this spring.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shame on Steve McQueen (No spoilers)

Is it me, or are the majority of movie critics out there real-life examples of The Emperor's New Clothes?

Given that Shame is on almost every well-respected -and, more importantly, non-respected- critics' top ten list for 2011, I decided that was enough motivation to get me to leave the comfort of my warm apartment and brave the one mile Iditarod from Hoboken to Manhattan's artsy "cinema nouveau" section, where I hear they're actually crazy enough to show movies that get an NC-17 rating.

First, let me say, Michael Fassbender is terrific as Brandon Sullivan, hopeless sex addict extraordinaire. No one could have gotten as much from that role as he did. And Carey Mulligan is quite compelling, herself, as Sissy, Brandon's lost and confused sister. Now, off with McQueen's head.

I think I would've liked the movie a lot more had I completely missed the first hour. Maybe it's me, but I prefer movies where something actually happens in the first hour. Doesn't have to be anything crazy, like a plot or character development, but something would be nice. You know what happens in the first half of this movie? Nothing. I'm serious. I mean, stuff happens -i.e., you get to see an all-too-frequently appearing waiter reciting the specials then asking if they'd prefer "bottled or tap," and you get to see a fairly boring and completely meaningless version of New York, New York performed in it's entirety -complete with a closeup that lasts so long it makes one wonder if Mulligan is actually dating the director and not the Mumford and Sons guy. Thus, aside from a passing sex scene or two, the first sixty minutes of this movie has no plot, rather, it 'plotzes.'

McQueen could've easily stuffed this self-aggrandizing, look-at-how-cool-I-am, hour into fifteen minutes and we all would've been much better off. (Are you reading this Noah Baumbach?) To be fair, maybe it's not all McQueen's fault. It's hard to build a plot when the main character waits until the movie's three-quarters in to put two sentences together. Oh, he wrote it, too?

The main reason I'm so upset with this film is that it had serious potential to go places few have gone. When I read that Shame was about a sex addict, it immediately peaked my interest, as I love dark, twisted movies like Happiness and the Human Centipede. Heck, I just watched A Serbian Film by choice, and that's as dark as it gets. Being about sex-addiction, I was hoping to see some great flashbacks that would clue us in as to why this guy is the way he is; were he and his sister forced to turn tricks in a trailer park, early on, while living with their crack-head mother? Did the father or uncle molest them for years and the family not know about it? Did the parents promote incest? If so, why? Were they raised in Arkansas or might they have been a prominent, well-to-do family with a dark secret? I was waiting - and waiting- for any family history to come to the surface. And, while the film features several apartments with nice views, ultimately, it's the backstory and character development it lacks most. And, isn't that the first rule of screenwriting 101? Character development? The movie begins with this guy's personality fully-formed and the director never gives us more than a hint or two as to what happened to make the characters they way they are. If I was McQueen's professor and he turned this script in, I would've laughed him out of the room. "How is the audience supposed to care about this guy? Sure, due to Fassbender's tremendous performance, we empathize with Brandon's suffering, but, Mr. McQueen, in order to really get lost and connect with a character you need to know what makes them tick. D minus."

Rotten Tomatoes reviewer James Kendrick sums it up best: "If we are to suffer through 101 minutes of Brandon’s wretched, unsatisfying existence, shouldn’t we at least have some inkling of who the man is and what makes him tick?" (Great minds think alike)

And, I'm sorry, you don't call a guy watching online porn, sleeping with the occasional prostitute, and masturbating in the shower, a "sex addict." You call him "single." Perhaps I'm inadvertently revealing too much of my own existence, but we don't really dive into his addiction until much later. And, by then, well...

When things do finally get going, somewhere near the last twenty minutes, the movie actually gets pretty intense and gripping. But, alas, the poor viewer has been put through so many mundane scenes and boring conversations, it's too few and far between. Shame had such potential, especially considering all the New Year's Eve's and other mindless drivel that leave you begging for a story that doesn't involve a cross-dressing Adam Sandler. It's a real shame.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Should Jules Mason Be Arrested for Calling for Obama's Assasination?

Is threatening to kill the President a crime or not? I always thought it was, but apparently, it's not that simple. Obviously, it is if you're serious, but who determines that? What are the criteria for deciding if someone is to be treated as a harmless prankster or a serious contender for Alcatraz? And, isn't the seemingly innocent act of joking about it a crime in itself? Not to mention, if it's a crime to joke about a bomb in an airport, surely it must be a crime to joke about assassinating the President, right? Not exactly.

According to Ed Donovan, Director of Public Affairs for the Secret Service, and free speech advocates nationwide, it's a considerably grey area. "Each case is investigated and a determination is made as to whether or not the threat is real," said Mr. Donovan. I asked, "Isn't the act itself, joking or not, a felony?" He responded by saying, "It depends on whether or not charges are ultimately brought," and concluded with, "You'd have to ask an attorney."

If the Secret Service can't tell you whether or not it's a crime to threaten the life of the President, in any manner, who can?

The law states, "Threatening the President of the United States is a class D felony under United States Code Title 18, Section 871. It consists of knowingly and willfully mailing or otherwise making "any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States."

Nowhere does it mention, "All charges will be dropped if you then yell, "Gotcha!"

But, maybe it should. As, in this day and age, with literally billions of tweets and posts and blogs and texts being posted and pasted and tweeted and texted to points across the globe every day, there seems to be a massive grey area when it comes to determining what violates a person's right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment, and what constitutes a legitimate threat of violence?

A perfect example is the unconscionably asinine, and blatantly racist, Facebook post authored by fervent Tea Party supporter and failed California Councilman, Jules Manson, calling for the assassination of President Obama, as well as his wife and kids.

By now, many have seen the virulent post - which has since been removed, but not before Manson received hundreds of outraged emails and a snapshot of the message was taken and posted online.

After being pinned with his back to the social media wall, Manson replied "Once you have taken the position that anyone should be imprisoned for careless emotionally driven remarks that had no real substance, you deserve what your government has become."

Were they simply careless remarks or were they legitimately threatening? You decide:

"It must be countered with assassinations onto them and their children... Assassinate the f----n n---- (N-word) and his monkey children."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a threat was knowingly made if the maker comprehended the meaning of the words uttered by him. (Check). It was willingly made, if in addition to comprehending the meaning of his words (Check), the maker voluntarily and intentionally uttered them as a declaration of apparent determination to carry them into execution.

Okay, maybe not Manson, himself, but are you telling me the above rant doesn't read eerily similar to a Muslim extremist seeking potential martyrs? It even reads 'Biblical'.

I'm all for forgiving careless words said in the heat of the moment. Heck, I want to kill everyone at Cablevision every time my Internet goes down. But, there's a clear difference between "careless" remarks made in anger, and racially motivated slurs designed to inspire an "open call" to violence against anyone, let alone the President of the United States. Manson's extremist words were put out there for any right-wing lunatic to take and make his mission statement, as if they needed any more help. To me, what Manson said reads like a textbook Fatwa.

You also need to take into consideration who said it. This did not come from some stoned high school kid posting on his parent's laptop. It came from a well-educated, politically motivated, right-wing businessman and politician. Would others be apt to act upon his words once sent into cyberspace, as opposed to the rants of a kid or drunken crackpot?

It certainly seems we need to work on defining the parameters of a 'credible threat' when it pertains to matters of any type of violence -be it domestic, kids on kids, and especially against the Commander-in-Chief. And especially when it concerns a "Manson."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twas the Night Before... Hannukah?

Another holiday season has arrived and, to tell you the truth, I'm not too thrilled. Why, you ask? Simple. I'm Jewish. Most of the year I'm perfectly happy to be a card-carrying member of "The Chosen Ones" -we have everyone from Mel Brooks to Ben Stiller on our team -but this is the one time of year when I wish I were Christian. Why? Because, compared to Christmas, Hanukkah just doesn't "hold a candle."

It's like Christmas is the pretty, popular, prom-queen and Hanukkah is her nerdy, friendless, can't-get-a-boyfriend-because-her-nose-always-runs little sister. To illustrate my point, I've come up with a few comparisons of both holidays. For starters, when was the last time you were at Macy's for the Day After Hanukkah Sale? That's what I thought. Here goes:


Christmas has its very own tree: The majestic Evergreen. Proudly displayed as an elegant addition to any living room, the fragrant tree is strewn with multi-colored lights, glittering tinsel, candy, and collectible ornaments, then finished with a shining star or winged angel.

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, has The Menorah. After lighting the candles, there's a good chance you'll wake the next morning to find eight little piles of dried wax covering your counter top or dripping down into your stove's burners.


Christmas has mistletoe: How great a tradition is this? You get to plant one on your hot cousin from Pittsburgh!

Hanukkah has no similar tradition, so I propose we Jews hang a piece of Gefilte fish from the ceiling in order to achieve similar results (Remember to take it down right after the party or you'll need to move).


The centerpiece of a Christmas dinner is usually a lovely, juicy, honey-baked ham or freshly-basted turkey, served piping hot from the oven.

The centerpiece of a Hanukkah dinner is the latke. Turns out, McDonald's serves these every day with an Egg McMuffin.


Christmas has Egg Nog. It's Saint Nick's version of Red Bull - a sweet, creamy, sugar rush combined with an alcohol buzz. Need I say more?

Hanukkah has Manischewitz. Need I say more?


On Christmas, you can sing along with gems like White Christmas, Silver Bells, and Winter Wonderland. Songs written by Jews who were obviously so enamored with what the other holiday had to offer they switched sides.

On Hanukkah, we get to sing Dreidel while spinning a plastic top for fun. Please. I'd rather watch a Kardashian marathon with electrodes strapped to my nether regions.


Christmas has all those great CBS classics - Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, etc.

Hanukah is so lame it doesn't even qualify for it's own claymation special. Is it too much to ask for A Charlie Brown Hanukkah? We could show it on the Food Network.


Christmas has the Candy Cane - a beautiful, multi-colored, striped confection which leaves your breath nice and minty for the all-important office party mistletoe.

Us Jews have the ever-popular Hanukkah Gelt - These thin, round, pieces of chocolate "coins" are sold in fishing nets (I imagine to honor history's great Jewish Bassmasters). Just what we need. Money that melts.


Christmas falls on the same day each and every year; December 25. Done.

The start of Hannukah has been, and always will be, a complete crap shoot. Next year it falls on July 4.


Lastly, is it too much to ask of my people that we agree on one, single, universal spelling of our second-class holiday? Hanukah, Hanukkah, Chanukah? Can we take a vote or something?
Don't get me wrong. There are lots of benefits to being a Jew: We control the media, the World Bank, and we make a mean pastrami sandwich. But when December rolls around, some of us "Chosen Ones" would like to feel a little "Goy Pride," too.

Happy Holidays

Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm Not Voting For Obama, I'm Voting Against the GOP

I'll give Obama credit. He's made tremendous strides in health care, ended the war in Iraq, caught the world's most wanted terrorist and repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' There's no doubting his intelligence or his commitment to the job he's been elected to do. Not to mention, he's got a great sense of humor, which, in his job, can carry you a long way. Yet, why, when many other presidents have been re-elected for accomplishing far less, does it feel like he's let us down? I believe it has to do with the expectations he, himself, set on the campaign trail. Could it be that the thing that rocketed him from obscurity to the front of the pack -his incredible ability as an orator -is also to blame for his downfall? I'd have to say "Yes." We all know you're not supposed to fall for most of what a politician says when they're campaigning, but I believed him. Like many others, to me, he was more than a politician. Live and learn.

I don't know about you, but I'm still seriously pissed off at him for not being the 'kick-ass' type of guy he campaigned to be, and I just can't bring myself to support him, wholeheartedly, for another four years, no matter what his accomplishments are, because I still feel he let me down in a big way.

That being said, I'd rather stick an eighty-foot straw into a recently fracked natural gas well and start sucking than vote for any of the circus clowns the GOP have reluctantly paraded before us. Watching Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry, and of course, Cain, is like an episode of the $1.98 Beauty Show. And, I definitely feel we're overpaying.

One example of why Obama is a major disappointment, is Obamacare. Wasn't he elected on health care reform? So, what went wrong? It's not so much the policies, or the individual mandate, "It's the COST, stupid!" But, Obama & co. totally blew it, as a great majority of us still think Obamacare will add a trillion dollars to the deficit. And, since we're going broke, who would want that? When the Congressional Budget Office came out with their evaluation of the first incarnation of Obamacare, the republicans did a masterful job of screaming to the heavens about it. And when they did, did Obama go before the cameras and say, "This is not what I asked for. Now get yer butts back in there and give me the damn health care plan I promised the American people?" No, he did not. He and his peeps quitely put their tails between their legs and went back to the drawing board. Then, when they ultimately emerged with a new version of Obamacare, one that the same Budget Office determined would SAVE the deficit over a hundred-billion-dollars-plus down the line, did he scream to the heavens and burn that result into the minds of the people and make sure the republicans' unsubstantiated cries were silenced once and for all? Let's put it this way: If you asked 100 people right now if Obamacare would subtract from or add to the deficit, I'll bet ninety percent would say "Add." And that's a shame, but the republicans apparently know much more than the democrats about first impressions.

Granted, it's just another in a never-ending string of failures by the Democrats as a whole to defend themselves, dating all the way back to Kerry not demanding a recount, but it's also a failure of our Commander-in-Chief, who seemed to wear that red cape like a glove when he was campaigning, but, inexplicably, the moment he took office he fashioned the cape into a skirt.

I applaud his effort for attempting to reach his hand across the aisle and offer it to the GOP, but when they chomped, chewed, and bit down on it to the point where all he pulled back was a bloody stump, that was the time the gloves should have come off. And, they didn't. He kept allowing them to take pot shots until he resembled the frozen meat Rocky pounded on in the freezer.

When Mitch McConnell publicly stated his one mission was to make sure Obama was a "one-term president," there should have been outrage. Working against Obama means working against the American people. So, where was the fury he demonstrated so eloquently on the campaign trail now that he was up against a clearly unmotivated and immovable object? Ya got me.

Where is the fury now that it's been exposed Congress can legally commit insider trading fraud? (This one just boggles the mind.) Where is the rage when we send Wall Street crooks to jail for decades, yet our Congressmen and women are rewarded with huge sums of money for trading on the same information? Supposedly, there's a bill "in the works" but that could take years and in the meantime, the Facebook IPO is just around the corner. Merry xmas, Congress.

Unfortunately, it seems Occupy Wall Street, and all its spin-offs, are a direct result of Obama's lack of command over this rag tag bunch of hooligans. He could have been a one-man Occupy Wall Street. After all, wasn't that also part of his campaign? Instead, he seems like the substitute teacher who took over Mr. Kotter's class last Tuesday and still hasn't figured out he's got a "kick me" sign on the back of his jacket. No doubt, his re-election campaign will attempt to put the horses back into the barn with all their "This time, we're really gonna crack that whip," but had he cracked that whip a bit earlier the horses would still be in there.

Of course, I'm voting for him, but I'm also hoping Eliot Spitzer throws his hat in the ring for the next one. Any guy who can piss off Wall Street to the point where they hire a private detective to tail him while he's getting tail is exactly the kind of guy we need in the White House. If Spitzer were in office, Mitch McConnell would be stuffed and hanging in the oval office as we speak.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tim 'Tea Party' Tebow

There's no doubting Tim Tebow's having a heck of a run at the moment. The guy's almost unstoppable. His mojo even screws with the heads of normally clutch players on the opposing team, causing them to make inexplicable mistakes at the most crucial of moments. Tim Tebow is definitely a special player; that unique breed of terrific athlete combined with a selfless team player and motivator. The Force is definitely with him.

But, Fox News' Todd Starnes is defending Tebow's "post-game preaching" and wants to know why everyone's jumping on what he calls the "anti-Christian" bigot bandwagon?

I'll tell you why.

There are two reasons. First, as far as I can tell, never in the history of professional sports, never at anytime during the careers of superstar athletes such as Michael Jordan, or Derek Jeter, or even Tiger Woods, did we ever see the "Jesus flag" being waived so blatantly in our faces to where we can't see the field anymore. You never saw, nor will you ever see, Derek Jeter do an anti-abortion ad before game seven of the World Series because, even if he is against abortion, he's too smart for that. He's too smart to willingly air his personal beliefs about such an incredibly sensitive nation-dividing issue in the arena of professional sport. He's too smart to try and use his influence for such a controversial issue. The great ones use their influence to sell sports cars and watches. Not birth control.

It also doesn't help that Tebow's mantra, and subsequent outcry, has been shoved down our throats on what seems like an hourly basis. Between the dozens of online sound bytes, and the interviews and commentary replayed like broken records by the cable news and sports networks, you literally would have to live in a cabin in Montana in order to avoid exposure. And even then you might have a carrier pigeon land on your windowsill with a "Jesus loves you" leaflet in its mouth, courtesy of "C.A.T.S. - the Conservative Audubonners for Tebow Society."

The other answer to the question of why anyone would jump on a guy who's "honoring God," as opposed to all the other athletes who turn out to be less-than-stellar role models, is that these less-than-stellar role models, even with their drinking binges and infidelities, usually possess the one thing these ultra-religious types lack; Tolerance.

This kind of blind faith in Jesus, this kind of 'glazed-over' look you see when Tebow mentions his bff, is also usually accompanied by seriously radical beliefs. I don't know about you, but when I hear someone that hopped up on goofballs about Jesus, I don't feel love at all. I feel fear. Sure, he might build a few hospitals and help a few orphans. But those hospitals might turn away a seventeen-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion, and that orphan might be locked away if he/she displays homosexual tendencies.

When was the last time you met a Jesus-loving, bible-quoting person who also supported gay marriage or civil rights of any kind? With these types, it's not so much "live and let live" but more, "We'll let you live if you let us tell you how to live." I'm not saying that's how everyone of them are, but if there are religious conservatives out there who believe in keeping God out of your personal life, I bet you'd have a hard time getting a chess game at the annual picnic.

Most of us would rather see Tiger Woods get caught cheating on his wife than a wackjob like Rick Perry constantly quoting Jesus as if he personally phoned him that morning with his mission to segregate everyone from each other. It's not their love of God that scares me. It's what they feel they- AND THE REST OF US- must do, in order to be sent to heaven. That's what scares me most. They're just as radical and intolerant as the Muslim extremists. Except, their destruction isn't caused by bombs. Their destruction comes in the form of happy (never gay), fund-raising socials where they serve you punch and quietly talk about stripping funding for stem cells and arts programs and holding back progress on basic human rights issues. They've become Stepford People because their love of God has given them a common sense lobotomy and replaced it with unquestioning obedience. "One of us. One of us. One of us."

Personally, I always wondered if these religious sports zealots think Jesus loves them more than the losing team? Just once, I would love to see an interview w/ a guy on the losing side who says, "I'd like to send a big "F You!" to Jesus for making me drop that ball in the third quarter."

Religion is a very personal thing and it doesn't belong in schools, in the workplace or in professional sports. It would be best for everyone, including Tebow, if he just left Jesus in the manger where he belongs. There's no questioning Tim Tebow is the flavor of the month. But, some of us just prefer chocolate to "Jesus Jubilee."

I'd like to thank Moses for giving me the strength to write this article.