Star Gazing: Comets, Actors, and Angelina’s Right Leg

 

 

 

                                                     by WALTER BRASCH

 

In 1973, some friends and I went to the rooftop of our apartment building to watch Comet Kahoutek, touted by astronomers and the media as the comet of all comets. We were sure we’d see it since we had the requisite equipment—binoculars and beer.

But we didn’t see the comet. Not that night nor the next night. What we did see was a lot of universe. And while we talked about the ungrateful comet that barely shone against a perfect sky, we explored a lot of questions about life, relationships, and our place in the universe. And we realized that no matter how egocentric we were, or how many kudos we earned from our peers, the universe must have a greater mission or reason for being than just to provide support for a few college students.

Growing up and working in Southern California, stars have been a part of my life. I could go to the Griffith Park and Mt. Palomar observatories; I could also hang around places where stars, near-stars, and pretend-stars walked, shopped, and ate.

Probably, that’s why I have a number of concerns about stars that are light years away and stars that are as far away as a TV or movie screen.

I’m concerned about our planet’s own star. Astrophysicists—the kind who actually know what warp speed means and why Scotty can’t give Capt. Kirk any more power—have determined that the sun is five billion years old, and will burn out in another five billion years. I’m concerned that no one knows how to treat a star for mid-life crises.

And speaking of stars with mid-life crises, I wish the media would stop wasting ink and airtime about every 50s- or 60s-year-old male actor who dates a 20-something female? If they want to date someone who scratches her head when the name Paul McCartney comes up, and then, as if two brain cells connected, suddenly asks if McCartney wasn’t that old guy in some band named Wings—well, that’s their own business.

I’m concerned that weeks before the Academy Awards, entertainment media know-it-alls tell us their predictions, encapsulated by a “who should win/who will win” story of erudite nonsense. Minutes after the ceremony, they trumpet their few correct predictions and mute their pomposity by telling us that such-and-such Oscar was a major upset, as if some magical fairy changed the votes without telling them.

I’m concerned that TV reporters parade their “intimacy” with the stars by calling them by their “close-friend-only” names. We all know about “Sly” Stallone, “Bob” Redford, and “Bobby” Duvall. The media called Elizabeth Taylor “Liz,” possibly because they had trouble pronouncing a four-syllable word; Taylor hated to be called Liz, but that made little difference. Maybe some of the stars should call reporters by their nicknames. Maybe we’ll learn about “Speed Bump,” “Jerkface,” and “Cuddles.”

The pre-Oscar runway special focuses not upon the art and craft of acting or movie making, but upon fashion. This year, ABC-TV sent five co-anchors (three of them fashion experts) onto the red carpet to interview the A-list. There was so much they could ask, and so much that the stars would have preferred to have been asked, but most of the questions revolved around, “Who are you wearing?” Clad in $10,000 one-of-a-kind dresses donated by designers in exchange for the free publicity, the stars gave names and tried to look excited rather than incredulous when asked, “So are you excited?” When not asking about the who, the co-anchors asked questions that focused upon looks. Frankly, it was nauseating to hear Tim Gunn twice tell Melissa Rivers that she had buns of steel, and Rivers saying that women who don’t squeeze their own buns won’t attract men who will squeeze them.

Finally, a week after the ceremony there aren’t many who remember the dresses or the winners, especially who won the Oscars for writing the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Adapted Screenplay. But, probably everyone remembers Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Jolie, who announced the award, wore a split dress, and brazenly showed her right leg. By the end of the awards show, there was a Twitter account (@angiesrightleg). Within two days, the leg had more than 35,000 followers, and was the subject of thousands of stories, parodies, and comedy monologues. For awhile, the skinny knock-kneed leg on one of the most beautiful actors and humanitarians allowed people to temporarily forget rising gas prices, layoffs, and a vicious presidential political campaign. It did for the people what movies and the other mass media do—it provided an enjoyable and temporary escape from reality.

[For those who care, the winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. The winners of the Best Adapted Screenplay were Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants. In other news, Dr. Brasch was recently named a finalist in the USA Book News competition for Before the First Snow, and is a nominee for both the Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin awards for literary excellence.]

 

Star Gazing: Comets, Actors, and Angelina’s Right Leg

 

 

 

                                                     by WALTER BRASCH

 

In 1973, some friends and I went to the rooftop of our apartment building to watch Comet Kahoutek, touted by astronomers and the media as the comet of all comets. We were sure we’d see it since we had the requisite equipment—binoculars and beer.

But we didn’t see the comet. Not that night nor the next night. What we did see was a lot of universe. And while we talked about the ungrateful comet that barely shone against a perfect sky, we explored a lot of questions about life, relationships, and our place in the universe. And we realized that no matter how egocentric we were, or how many kudos we earned from our peers, the universe must have a greater mission or reason for being than just to provide support for a few college students.

Growing up and working in Southern California, stars have been a part of my life. I could go to the Griffith Park and Mt. Palomar observatories; I could also hang around places where stars, near-stars, and pretend-stars walked, shopped, and ate.

Probably, that’s why I have a number of concerns about stars that are light years away and stars that are as far away as a TV or movie screen.

I’m concerned about our planet’s own star. Astrophysicists—the kind who actually know what warp speed means and why Scotty can’t give Capt. Kirk any more power—have determined that the sun is five billion years old, and will burn out in another five billion years. I’m concerned that no one knows how to treat a star for mid-life crises.

And speaking of stars with mid-life crises, I wish the media would stop wasting ink and airtime about every 50s- or 60s-year-old male actor who dates a 20-something female? If they want to date someone who scratches her head when the name Paul McCartney comes up, and then, as if two brain cells connected, suddenly asks if McCartney wasn’t that old guy in some band named Wings—well, that’s their own business.

I’m concerned that weeks before the Academy Awards, entertainment media know-it-alls tell us their predictions, encapsulated by a “who should win/who will win” story of erudite nonsense. Minutes after the ceremony, they trumpet their few correct predictions and mute their pomposity by telling us that such-and-such Oscar was a major upset, as if some magical fairy changed the votes without telling them.

I’m concerned that TV reporters parade their “intimacy” with the stars by calling them by their “close-friend-only” names. We all know about “Sly” Stallone, “Bob” Redford, and “Bobby” Duvall. The media called Elizabeth Taylor “Liz,” possibly because they had trouble pronouncing a four-syllable word; Taylor hated to be called Liz, but that made little difference. Maybe some of the stars should call reporters by their nicknames. Maybe we’ll learn about “Speed Bump,” “Jerkface,” and “Cuddles.”

The pre-Oscar runway special focuses not upon the art and craft of acting or movie making, but upon fashion. This year, ABC-TV sent five co-anchors (three of them fashion experts) onto the red carpet to interview the A-list. There was so much they could ask, and so much that the stars would have preferred to have been asked, but most of the questions revolved around, “Who are you wearing?” Clad in $10,000 one-of-a-kind dresses donated by designers in exchange for the free publicity, the stars gave names and tried to look excited rather than incredulous when asked, “So are you excited?” When not asking about the who, the co-anchors asked questions that focused upon looks. Frankly, it was nauseating to hear Tim Gunn twice tell Melissa Rivers that she had buns of steel, and Rivers saying that women who don’t squeeze their own buns won’t attract men who will squeeze them.

Finally, a week after the ceremony there aren’t many who remember the dresses or the winners, especially who won the Oscars for writing the Best Original Screenplay and the Best Adapted Screenplay. But, probably everyone remembers Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Jolie, who announced the award, wore a split dress, and brazenly showed her right leg. By the end of the awards show, there was a Twitter account (@angiesrightleg). Within two days, the leg had more than 35,000 followers, and was the subject of thousands of stories, parodies, and comedy monologues. For awhile, the skinny knock-kneed leg on one of the most beautiful actors and humanitarians allowed people to temporarily forget rising gas prices, layoffs, and a vicious presidential political campaign. It did for the people what movies and the other mass media do—it provided an enjoyable and temporary escape from reality.

[For those who care, the winners of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay was Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. The winners of the Best Adapted Screenplay were Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash for The Descendants. In other news, Dr. Brasch was recently named a finalist in the USA Book News competition for Before the First Snow, and is a nominee for both the Eric Hoffer and Benjamin Franklin awards for literary excellence.]

 

Hollywood Violence, The Pentagon, & Marlon Brando Oscar Rejection (The Point)

Mimi Kennedy (actress, Midnight In Paris) makes a point about how Hollywood exports violence abroad, and Jordan Zakarin (writer/editor, The Huffington Post) shares his thoughts on the cozy relationship between the film industry and the Pentagon. The final point is on what may be the most controversial moment in Oscars history involving Marlon Brando and Native Americans. Cenk Uygur (host, The Young Turks) leads the discussion with Mike Farrell (actor/activist/writer - president, Death Penalty Focus), Tina Dupuy (managing editor, CrooksAndLiars.com), and Ed Rampell (film critic and author, 'Progressive Hollywood').

Tanness, Anyone? Oscars and the Bronze Beauties

 

                                  by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s the end of February, and one of my friends is still sporting a summer tan. I know it’s phony—and she knows I know it’s phony—but I have long ago stopped teasing her about it. In her never-ending quest to appear to be beautiful and healthy, she has slathered skin tanning lotion into every pore of her body, laid out on roofs and beaches to catch whatever ray was passing by, and goes to a tanning salon once a week. I’m not sure she’s ever stepped into the surf.

For decades, I have endured the scorn of these fake-skin friends, their skin tanned to the color and consistency of obsidian, as they sweat their lives away. Nevertheless, I have always been content to know I don’t need to cremate myself on a rooftop to be healthy.

Once, women desperately wanted to look pale. Ashen was to be admired. Pallid was wonderful! The lighter the skin, the healthier they believed they were, even if it meant hiding in a basement and fighting any attempt by Vitamin D to force its way into their lives. These women would read Macbeth and admire the ghost.  Any darkness of the skin reflected that they weren’t women of leisure, but (horrors!) working women—the kind who go out of doors and have to (shudder!) do things.

 

Then, in the 1920s fashion designer Coco Chanel became bronze, and the Western world decided that suntanned bodies identified women of leisure and privilege. When they couldn’t find enough sun to char their skin and fry their brains, they bought sunlamps, reflectors, and gallons of sprays, gels, powders, and amino acids, guaranteed to make their friends believe they had just returned from a decade in Bermuda—or Nigeria.

In the late 1970s tanning salons became popular in the United States. In the semi-privacy of a casket, people could pay a few bucks for a few minutes of UVA rays, slather on even more lotion, and look even healthier! Have you ever seen what a couple of hours a day in the sun can do to an unprotected body over a few years? If you don’t have to chase knife-wielding scouts from the Tandy Leather Factory from trying to skin you, then you have a chance to live until a ripe old age of at least 50. And if Tandy doesn’t get you, there’s a pile of melanoma waiting. Ever see what cancer of the eye or ear looks like? Ever see a jellyfish on a rotting log?

 Cancer scare? There’s still sunblock. Just pick a number. Any low number. You’ll “protect” yourself and darken up just like that Bain de Soleil model—and look just as good. After all, would advertising agencies lie?

 

While many people desperately want to have dark skin, they aren’t willing to appear to be “ethnic.” So, just in case someone could confuse them with being Black, Hispanic, Jewish, or any other genetically dark-skinned type, they dye their hair screaming saffron blonde. Just as they believe that the advertising agencies wouldn’t deceive them, they believe blondes have more fun. If that great American philosopher Lady Clairol said it, it must be so. And, of course, there are about 65,000 solutions on the market just designed to make you have fun while you lose every follicle in your genetic pattern.

Because of genetics—and wise use of suntan lotion—I can spend hours splashing in the ocean and not have to endure boiling red skin, peeling off in painful layers, and spend half my week visiting expensive suntan parlors and dermatologists.

Sunday, at the annual Academy Awards show hundreds of women will have spray-tanned and baked themselves into looking like brownies. They will have hair styles and colors as natural as what passes as reality on the “Jersey Shore.” Having already gone on extreme diets to look more photogenic, they will stuff what’s left of themselves into designer dresses and designer shoes, and decorate themselves with jewelry that could finance a revolution in a small Asian country. Every woman nominated for an Oscar is talented, but they exist in an industry forged by hype and image.

The day after the awards ceremony, TV shows, both entertainment and news, will feature the stars; newspapers and magazines will open full pages to show tanned women in their $10,000 dresses.

Throughout America, giggly and awe-struck pre-teen girls, their lives fixated upon Disneyesque princesses, will be absorbed by what the mass media show as rich and successful. And they will want to look just like the stars, fake tans and everything else.

[In a 40-year journalism career, Walter Brasch has covered everything from the presidency to awards shows in California. His current book is Before the First Snow, an autobiographical novel set in the counter-culture.]

                       

 

 

ABC-TV: Oscar-Worthy, But Journalistically Unsound

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            The last segment on every Friday's broadcast of ABC-TV's "World News," with Diane Sawyer, is a "Person of the Week."

            Usually, those persons have gone out of their way to do something good for people, or have lived a long and distinguished life, or by their example give inspiration to others.

            Recent "persons of the week" have included a very special caregiver, a wheelchair-bound teen who does wheelchair tricks, and a homeless man who returned $3,300 he had found.

            However, this past Friday, the "Persons of the Week" were two actors. There's nothing wrong with honoring actors and others in the creative arts. They bring us joy and, often, intellectual stimulation. But, the reason ABC News honored Anne Hathaway and James Franco had little to do with acting—and everything to do with advertising.

            ABC is broadcasting the Oscars, Sunday, and Hathaway and Franco are the hosts. To justify their inclusion, Sawyer led off the segment by telling us: "The torch will be passed to a new generation. The baby boomers no longer hosting the Oscars."

            But, for two and a half minutes, we learned about Hathaway and Franco, and not the story of a change in the Industry. We even learned about what each would like to know about the other.

            In television, ratings, mixed with some demographic analyses, determine the price of advertising. The range for 30 second ads for scripted prime time shows is about $50,000–$250,000. For the Super Bowl, with the largest audience, 30-second ads this year went for about $3 million. ABC, which sold all ad time for the primetime Oscars telecast, charged about $1.7 million for 30 seconds advertising. ABC pays about $65 million to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the broadcast rights. The Disney-owned company expects about $80 million revenue and is hoping for at least 43 million viewers for the telecast. And that doesn't include the advertising for the pre-Oscar "red carpet" show, or the on-air promotions for Disney-owned productions.

            By Industry standards, if the ratings tank, ABC would have an obligation to return money to advertisers, something it definitely doesn't want to do.

            So, in addition to running numerous Oscar-related commercials during ad time in the two weeks leading to the Sunday night broadcast, ABC-TV made its "Person of the Week" nothing more than another Oscar promotion to guarantee the network a strong "return on investment."

            That decision alone damages a news operation's credibility.

 

[Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch. Walter Brasch is a journalist/columnist, the author of 16 books, including Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture (3rd ed.). He is a retired professor of mass communications and journalismYou may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

 

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