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Grossed Out

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Message Sherman Yellen
A curious change has occurred in the way we regard films, politics, and life itself. Figures, statistics, polls, box office results, have taken on a new significance in the press, and I suppose, in the minds of many in the American public. When I was growing up in the dark ages, or, as I prefer to think of that time, a golden age, there was a place for the box office earnings of a film - and it was on the business page. Today, The New York Times, runs the box office figures of the latest film in the Arts section. The Arts section? Do millions of Americans really hold their collective breath waiting to discover if "The DaVinci Code " has made it to top place in the box office, or if it has earned in its first week the millions necessary to justify its enormous cost? Do I care what the gross is? Do you care? I doubt it. I do care if it's a good film, that if I go to see it, it won't waste two precious hours of my life. Quality no longer seems the big issue in entertainment - financial success is the key. Sure, if films fail at the box office it is more difficult for the artists and businessmen involved to get the financing for other films - but success and failure are not to be measured by the standards of The Wall Street Journal. So, I am truly grossed out by all the talk of grosses.

Some of this I attribute to the winners and losers psychology that has overtaken this country. In these Bush years, the winners are the multi-millionaires whose numbers have increased exponentially, those who have bought and sold power,or real estate, and the losers are the middle class whose numbers are declining as outsourcing of good jobs and the "global economy" has taken away their livelihoods. Just as we are supposed to celebrate the box office grosses of the latest manufactured megahit, we are encouraged to enjoy the profits of a Wallmart or the cavorting of the Paris Hiltons, the Donald Trumps, and the other gross figures of excess. They are not disconnected. Popularity at any price is what they share. We will sell it cheaper - even if it hurts this society - we will profit from our proflicacy via a personal sex tape - or we will become a household name by domesticating the law of the jungle ("You're fired! And I'm admired") in a popular TV show.

Now, I like horse races. But only on the track. It may seem a harmless endeavor - this preoccupation with "what it made," or "what he/she made" or what he/she polled" but I think it harms people, it harms art, and it harms our political discourse. It coarsens the way we look at all aspects of life. It is a demonstration of the Oscar Wilde remark, "He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." I would less than candid if I denied my pleasure in the low poll ratings of Bush and his administration, but I would be happier still if the public's attention was focused not on the polls but on the lies, the misdeeds, and the criminal acts that have been committed by this administration. It is not sufficient that there is a general discontent, a malaise about this President and his people, it is important that the nature of the misdeeds be understood so that we, as country, never make such catatrophic mistakes in judgment again.

On another subject, the new Unity Party has been making its rounds of the various talk shows, promising a coalition of concerned Republicans and Democrats who wish to enter the next election with candidates who can break the hold that bi-partinship bitterness has on the nation. My instincts shout "Ralph Nader" - the spoiler - for whom we can partially count the blessings of the Bush Presidency. Why does this Unity Party seem to me a desire to save the Republican party from a well deserved defeat - one which will lead to a true investigation into its misdeeds - as oppossed to a genuine grass roots movement to reform our politics. The fact is our politics can't be reformed unless the Democrats come to power again and restore the balance of government power. The Republicans will own the Supreme Court for the next forty years, and it is essential that the Congress become Democratic soon. I have few illusions about the Democrats, they are sure to screw up in their own blundering, compromising fashion, but it won't be the Republican fashion, with a war brought on by lies and greed, and an environment so compromised that the world of our grandchildren will still be suffering from the Bush Administration's misdeeds. Without a thorough investigation of where we went wrong as a nation, we cannot correct our course. This is no time to kiss and make up in some "Unity Party" - a utopian dream that can only help to perpetuate our particular Republican nightmare.
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SHERMAN YELLEN, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the musical, The Rothschilds. His screenwriting has won him two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, for his drama John Adams, Lawyer - in the PBS series The Adams (more...)
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