Tyler Cowen wrote an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday called, Innovation Is Doing Little for Incomes. In it, he talks about how much people’s lives changed over the course of the first half of the 20th century, but not so much the second half. (That isn’t the main point of his article, but it is is what I’m most interested in.) This has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve tried to make the argument (mostly to conservative- or libertarian-minded people) that life just isn’t getting any better for most people.
I like to use my older sister, Mary, as an example. She drives a car that is pretty similar to the car she drove twenty years ago. She eats the same food. She listens to the same music, although now she listens to it on CDs instead of records, cassettes, and 8-tracks. She watches TV programs that are generally of a lower quality than the ones she watched twenty years ago. Her life is pretty much the same as it has been.
For me, things have changed more, but not all that much more. I have a cellphone now that I didn’t have twenty years ago (but I had one 15 years ago). That hasn’t really improved my life, though. I listen to music when I am out and about on the MP3 player in my phone; twenty years ago, I listened to a Walkman. Big deal. The biggest change in my life has been the Internet (which I have been on since 1988, but I’ll let that slide because it is better organized and more useful than it was then). Even here, however, the Internet has not greatly improved my life. I still do the vast majority of my research offline—mostly with books. (And people are even better; I had a three hour lunch with Latin scholar Justin Shannon where I learned things about Roman, Latin, and Horace that I’m not sure I would have been able to learn any other way.)
So I think we have stagnated—and for good reason. For the last two centuries, we’ve been following the wrong path to happiness. Yes, it is important that we all have food to eat, places to live, and medical care. But once those basic needs are filled, we need things to laugh at, ideas to wonder about, and most of all, people to love (in the Greek sense of the word). The stagnated path we have chosen to follow has resulted in the path we should have been following stagnating.
Back in 1948, Don Callender started his business Marie Callender’s—named after his dear mother—to sell pies, wholesale, to restaurants. Eventually, of course, he turned it into a chain of restaurants and finally into some of the finest frozen food you can buy for less than two dollars. Indeed, Safeway has all of their Marie Callender’s dinners on sale for $1.89. I couldn’t pass up that deal, so I bought a couple. As I was microwaving this dining delight[1}, I noticed something: the picture of the woman and child cooking on the back.
<%image(20110130-marie.jpg|350|243|Marie and Child Reunion)%>
Of course, it is kind of funny in and of itself. It is almost as though the makers are saying: this is the culture that we are proudly destroying with our products! But there is something more. I know from years of looking at models pretending to be Marie Callender, that the woman in this picture is supposed to be Mrs. Callender. That’s why it isn’t really funny that this frozen dinner has a picture of people actually cooking as opposed to mindlessly scooping potatoes out of a dish while they watch reruns of The Biggest Loser; it’s a picture of Callender doing the home cooking that we all are just too busy to do.
But let’s move in a little closer on this pretend mother of Don Callender:
<%image(20110130-mariecu.jpg|250|280|Close-Up of Pretend Marie Callender)%>
Note anything strange? The hair looks okay: sort of “active person’s gray.” But her face! She’s younger than I am! She can’t be more than late thirties! I guess it is no longer true that sixty is the new forty. Now eighty is the new thirty.
I am now determined to die old, just so I can get as ugly and old-looking as possible. If I get the money, I’m going to start my own old-person’s network where people look their age and don’t give a damn. And we’re going to stage demonstrations against Marie Callender’s and anyone else who pretends to be old. There are so many great things that go along with getting old. One of them is becoming knowledgeable. A world run by 80-year-olds wouldn’t need over a gram of salt to make frozen food taste better than cardboard.
Long live the old, and anyone under thirty is best neither seen nor heard!
1What was this dining delight? It is hard to say. I could read what it says on the box, but they are all pretty much the same. There were mashed potatoes, some kind of meat product thing, and then a vegetable medley that was mostly corn. And 1.09 grams of salt, which I think is your recommended monthly allowance.
I’m a little late on getting to this, but it’s been on my mind since I saw it in real time. During the State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on earth.” Oh yeah! That’s because everyone in that room was rich and had health insurance. As I’ve said before, I’m grateful to have been born in the United States—most of the world is much worse. But that doesn’t mean that the United States is the best nation on earth. If you are at the top of the economic/power ladder, there is no better nation than the United States. If you are not, there is.
I have a quotation from Roger D. Hodge’s excellent The Mendacity of Hope that encapsulates the problem in the United States:
TARP participants were asked to fill out a simple two-page form, several orders of magnitude less complex and less onerous than an application for unemployment insurance or food stamps.
And that about sums up the United States of America. If you are at the bottom and you need a couple hundred dollars for food, the government will treat you like a common criminal. If you are at the top and you need a couple hundred billion dollars, the government will treat you like the leader of the Allied Forces in World War II who happens to have fallen on hard times. It might be that poor guy’s own fault that he’s hungry, but he isn’t making anyone else hungry. Those who took billions of dollars from TARP not only made themselves hungry—they made millions of others hungry. And for doing so, they were generously rewarded.
I watched the State of the Union Speech and even Paul Ryan’s response. They were both pretty pathetic. Obama didn’t say anything that was really offensive, but it left me wondering: how can we invest in the future if we can’t invest at all because we have to cut the budget deficit. The speech seemed like it was designed to make everyone a little happy and no one really happy. Of course, you can’t help but feel a little bit like Obama was talking out of both sides of his mouth. I wouldn’t say that it was downright lying; for that, you had to wait for Paul Ryan’s response.
Everyone in the so-called liberal-media claims that Ryan is a smart, knowledgeable, and serious, guy. He does seem to be fairly smart—not as smart as I am (even in my really stupid middle-age when I really have to concentrate to solve differential equations in my head), but still pretty smart. I can’t say about how knowledgeable he is, but I know he has a whole staff to research things for him, so we should count him as knowledgeable during prepared speeches. And serious? Well, at least he’s serious about making himself rich by further enriching his rich donors. He doesn’t seem too serious about that whole idea of equal opportunity, unless it is the opportunity to be rich and pay ridiculously low taxes. So I guess we can say that Ryan is smart, knowledgeable, and serious (about some evil things at least).
Given this, we must assume that Paul Ryan is a liar. Paul Krugman has already called him to task on equating us to “Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe.” But it is much more than that. Ryan is clearly smart enough to understand that we have high unemployment because demand is low, not because there are hundreds of thousands of employers out there just itching to hire new workers if only they were sure what their future regulations would be or that their taxes would be low. Ryan cannot possibly believe these thoroughly debunked notions are true. (See Mike Konczal’s amazing and insightful article, Last Redoubt of Structural Unemployment: Policy Uncertainty.) But just in case—hey, Paul Ryan: Employers are not hiring because they already have enough workers to make the stuff they are selling; they don’t want to make excess stuff because then they’ll just have to pay to have it stored. The issue is demand not supply. If he doesn’t accept this, he is either a fucking idiot, or a liar. I choose to think the best of him and call him a liar. But if he wants “Fucking Idiot” as a moniker, I can live with that.
More on Ryan
TimesDaily’s beternU writes in Paul Ryan—friend of the rich:
Paul Ryan—the darling of the right wing budget hawks, has a “roadmap for reforming the tax system. “The Ryan Roadmap raises taxes on Americans making between $20,000 and $200,000 while slashing taxes in half for the wealthiest Americans.”
Sound like an exaggeration? It’s not.
 Workers’ pay is a business expense and thus is not taxed.
For the past few weeks, I have been in a life-and-death struggle with TB 152371 on Netflix. Let me explain. I had given up writing “reviews” on Netflix, because I found the voting unfair. No one seemed to actually read the reviews; they just clicked “helpful” or “not helpful” if they agreed with your rating. For example, “3 out of 29 members found [the following] review [of Idiocracy] helpful”:
I made the mistake of thinking this movie was co-written by Ethan Coen of The Coen Brothers fame (he has been known to write without his older brother). It is actually co-written by Etan Cohen of King of the Hill fame. Directing and co-writing is Mike Judge, the creator of such gems as Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill. So if you are looking for a movie that pretends to be intelligent, but is really just an excuse for countless fart jokes, go for it. If not, insist upon being paid to sit through this tiresome stink-bomb. It is interesting, however, that Mike Judge decided to make a film noting the dumbing-down of our culture when he has been such a big part of it. I give it two stars because the film is not completely without merit—few films are; two stars usually means I hated a film about as much as I possibly could. And that is certainly the case here. (As for the review above about people not liking this film because they are idiots and don’t get it: satire is a hard business. I doubt anyone missed the satire in this film—it simply wasn’t well done. Also: the film is certainly not a statement about our future but about our present; see, for example, the ending of the movie where the whole process is starting over again. Regardless of all this, I find it offensive that a reviewer would claim that  this film is worth 5 stars—right up there with truly great films like The Gold Rush, It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, The Bicycle Thieves, Mr. Arkadin, Dr. Strangelove, The Conversation, Videodrome, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; and  that anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion of this movie is an idiot. On one point I will go with Idiocracy—a film as much about intolerance as stupidity: it is well on display in some of the reviews here.)
Add to this, the fact that the top three vote-getters are always listed first and you can see that your review rating is based almost entirely on when you wrote it and how closely your opinion comports with other viewers. I can accept the former problem, but not the latter because my reviews are usually pretty clear in helping people decide if they will like a given film, regardless of how I feel. Take, for example, my review of The Gin Game—a movie that most people don’t like very much, but which I gave five stars:
This is a very strong production of The Gin Game. The acting is superb: not necessarily better than the Cronyn and Tandy Broadway original (not available on DVD at this time), but different. In particular, Dick Van Dyke’s Weller has a fragility that Cronyn’s did not; I think it is Van Dyke’s best work. D. L. Coburn did a good job of expanding his play into a movie. In particular, he added a touching dance scene that deepens the characters and theme. He also added some scenes outside the sunporch that, while somewhat sentimental, add much welcome ambiance. In terms of the technical aspects of the film, they all work in the service of the script and acting. The description of the film provided here (and the DVD cover photo) will give those who are unfamiliar with the play a very skewed idea of what to expect. This is not an extended episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. It is a serious, thoughtful, adult drama. It is most definitely not light entertainment (even though it is quite funny at times). Despite having read and seen the play before, this film put me through the emotional wringer—but without pandering. It is deeply affecting.
So I feel that I have often been wronged by the Netflix community (and Netflix itself, which has created the rules and continues to monkey with their user interface, making it worse each time); they have not shown themselves to be worthy of my keen insights. Just the same, I am an attention hog and when I find a movie that few have reviewed, I can’t help myself. This leads us to a fateful date: 20 December 2010. This is the date when Netflix made four episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 available via Instant Watch only: Devil Doll, Devil Fish, Robot Monster, and Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (all four are available as Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XIX [Limited Edition]). Thus, there were no reviews on four episodes of a show that I’m a big fan of (Crow T. Robot is one of my heroes). I immediately watched the episodes and wrote reviews. I think I was the first person to review all of them except for Devil Doll.
This episode of MST3K is from the eighth season and so features the final cast: the Pearl crew. Two hosted segments involving “not the devil: a devil” (played by writer Paul Chaplin) are particularly funny, as is Tom Servo’s soul being transfered into a toaster strudel for the entire last act of the movie (you have to see it). The riffing is also very strong. My one complaint is that the movie, Devil Doll, is actually rather good and I found myself drawn into it and missing a lot of the riffing. It deserves a second viewing for this reason. Overall, this episode is up to the highest standards of MST3K. It isn’t the best (I think Devil Fish, for one, is better), but it is very good.
This episode of MST3K is from the first cable season when Josh Weinstein played Tom Servo and Dr. Erhardt. In general, it is better than most of these early episodes. Just the same, it is weaker than later seasons. I figure there are half as many gags (or riffs) as there were during the later years (with TV’s Frank and beyond). Robot Monster is the classic “alien in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet” movie, which is beloved by bad-film buffs everywhere. As a stand-alone film, it is far harder to get through than any Ed Wood film—even though Wood’s films are almost all longer. Because of its short length, this MST3K includes two episodes of “Radar Men from the Moon.” The riffing on these is substantially better than it is on “Robot Monster.” The hosted segments are much better than usual for MST3K during this period. Overall, this is quite a watchable episode, especially for this period.
Bride of the Monster
This episode of MST3K riffs on Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster as well as the first part of a GM training short, Hired! (The second part is on the MST3K Manos: The Hands of Fate.) Overall, the riffing is about average for this period of the show: very good. It is even better if you know a bit about Ed Wood. The hosted segments are weaker than usual, with the exception of a light opera inspired by Hired! that Joel and the three bots perform. At the end of the episode, CamBot re-edit the end of the movie and although it isn’t really funny, it is indeed a great improvement. What is most striking about this episode of MST3K (although probably irrelevant to most viewers) is that this print of Bride of the Monster is exceptional—the best I’ve seen. In the end, this is a better than average episode—well worth spending an hour and a half watching.
And that’s when I met her—TB 152371. As soon as my reviews showed up (it takes Netflix a couple of days, not only to process a review, but to even process a “helpful/not helpful” rating), similar reviews of the same episodes written by TB 152371 also showed up. It was scary. First, she is actually beating me in votes for our Devil Doll reviews and she’s nipping at my heals on Devil Fish (thankfully, I have a substantial lead on the other two). Second, her reviews are so much like mine. She says, for example, “The movie ‘Devil Doll’ is pretty fun and we get to see Tom Servo as a toaster strudel, so that’s awesome.” Of Devil Fish, she says, “The riffing provided some real laugh out loud moments and the host segments were also pretty funny, including the Pearl/Bobo/Brain Guy storyline which I normally can do without.” And she even takes special note of the Hired! light opera, “The ‘Hired’ musical during the host segments is one of my favorite songs of the whole 10 year MST3K series, so its a definite highlight of the episode.” Who is TB 152371?!
So I did a little research on her. She lives in Burlingame, California—where my older sister lives. She has been a Netflix member for over seven and a half years. And here’s the kicker: she has reviewed 34 films—all of them Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes! I was immediately smitten. (Of course, I don’t have crushes like other people; when I find a woman—or man—who is interesting, I don’t want to date them; I want to interview them! So if TB 152371 finds out about this article: please contact me; I really want to do an interview. Really.)
This all came to mind because of the movie itself, Parts: The Clonus Horror. It is about clones that are being created to serve as organ donors for the rich and powerful. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t that what that awful movie The Island is about? Indeed it is, and that is why the producers of Parts sued the makers of The Island, pointing out 103 similarities between the films. The Island was a clone of Parts, why couldn’t TB 152371 be a clone of me? The evidence, it turned out, was in the review itself. First, let’s look at TB 152371’s Parts review (you may not be able to see this if you aren’t a Netflix member):
My mom would always tell me about this episode of MST3K and how it was her favorite (it aired during the Sci-Fi Channel era of the show after it left Comedy Central, I had already left for college and didn’t have cable any more). I finally watched it and mom knows best, because this [is] probably one of the funniest episodes of the whole series. Solid, hilarious jokes throughout the whole movie. And normally I don’t really find the antics of Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy funny, but even their parts were good in this. The film itself is about a facility called Clonus where clones of carefully selected people are created in case they ever need replacement organs. The poor clones have no idea unfortunately and when it is time for them to be harvested they are told that they are going to “America”. Somehow Peter Graves and Dick Sargent got involved in this disaster too, so this episode is an opportunity to see them at the low points of their careers.
I would never have written such a review, and I would certainly be highly disappointed if any clone of mine had written it. Although I agree about not generally finding the antics of Pearl & Co. funny, I disagree that this episode is an exception. In fact, I find them more annoying than usual. What’s more, TB 152371 attacks the base film, calling it a “disaster” when it is actually a rather good movie. She falls into the common trap of judging a $200,000 movie (Parts) by the standards of a $100 million movie (The Island). But no one’s perfect; I still think she is an excellent judge of MST3K episodes. However, she cannot be my clone.
But is she anyone’s clone? Not if we are to believe her generally very believable reviews. She claims to have a mother, which we all know clones do not have. But the question still remains, as TV’s Frank would put it, howling despondently, “Who is TB 152371?!”
I just noticed another Netflix member: Flak Magnet. He has reviewed 820 films. I started looking through them and I noticed that he was often the top rated review. But I noticed something else: his “Helpful” scored tended to be right around 18. So if the film he reviewed hadn’t been reviewed much, he was at the top. If it had, he would be buried—with roughly 18 “Helpful” votes. What’s more, his vote totals have gotten significantly lower since the Netflix “Friends” feature was removed. This got me thinking: Flak had about 18 friends on Netflix; when he reviewed a movie, he told his friends and they all voted it helpful. Once you get a head-start like this on Netflix, it is almost impossible to lose your lead. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea for Netflix to get rid of its “Friends” feature.
On the positive side, Flak Magnet has reasonably similar taste in movies to me (that is: good) and his reviews are, on the whole, pretty informative—far better than usual for Netflix. He’s put together his own blog called The Movie Distillery that seems to just contain his short reviews. It ain’t Frankly Curious, but it isn’t without merit.
 It just so happens, I have my own favorite MST3K song. It is Tom Servo’s Super Agent Super Dragon—I wish I had the single. And look at the duds Crow’s wearing!
Keith Olbermann is leaving MSNBC. According to the Los Angeles Times, Olbermann’s leaving has nothing to do with the upcoming Comcast merger; this is based upon an MSNBC email announcement. Others say differently. TMZ reports that, “Sources connected with the network tell us … Comcast honchos did not like Keith’s defiance and the way he played in the sandbox.” If this is a case, it is a huge mistake. Olbermann is MSNBC. He is the reason that MSNBC has turned around over the last several years. I really like Lawrence O’Donnell, but If MSNBC really thinks that O’Donnell can fill Olbermann’s shoes, they are crazy. People watch MSNBC because of Olbermann; they watch O’Donnell, Ed Schultz, and yes, even Rachel Maddow because of him. If Olbermann moves to CNN, his viewers will move with him. Bottom line: this was a stupid move on MSNBC’s part. They should have done everything possible to make Olbermann happy. And if they are happy about his departure, it only goes to show that highly-paid executives owe their jobs to something other than intelligence and competance. MSNBC is a brand only in so far as Olbermann is a brand. Good-bye MSNBC! Maybe if you ask real nice, Phil Donahue will come back.
The main thing to notice is the brightly displayed sign in the back. Because I have a terrible phone-camera, you can’t make out what it says, but you should be able to tell that it is one of those warning signs that they have on the highways to inform motorists of important information. For example, the sign could explain that there is an accident ahead and that drivers need to be cautious. It could say that, but it doesn’t. In general, such signs are only used for a single thing and that was the case this evening:
SIL TOY CORROLLA
CA LIC XABC123
That’s right: the sign was alerting us to the fact that some child had been kidnapped and it really pisses me off. “Why?” you ask. “Isn’t it important for people to be on the look-out for children who are kidnapped?” Yes and no. Yes, real kidnapping is a serious business that we should all work to stop. But this is never the case with these alerts. When Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped, there were several witnesses. It should surprise no one, however, that none of these witnesses had the ability to not only take note of the color, make, and model of the car, but also to read (And remember!) the complete license plate number. If these signs alerted us to such abductions, I would have no problem with them—but they never do.
What the signs do alert us to should be clear enough by the accuracy of the information provided. This “kidnapped” child was not only in a silver Toyota Corrolla, it was in one registered in the State of California with a license number XABC123! It certainly sounds as if whoever witnessed this kidnapping was quite the trained observer. But, of course, we know this isn’t the case. Most likely, there was no witness at all. The child was simply “kidnapped” by one of its parents—the one who doesn’t have legal custody of the child. That’s why we know exactly what car the child is in.
These signs that could be very useful to motorists in saving time and decreasing the risk of accidents, are used almost entirely to police custody battles that are part of contentious divorce proceedings. I am not suggesting that when a parent resorts to kidnapping his or her own child, it isn’t very upsetting for the child. I’m also not suggesting that some of these cases aren’t very serious. But these alerts only serve to distract drivers without making anyone safer. In almost all cases, the situation will resolve itself within days or even hours. Meanwhile, we move ever closer to a police state—making the idea that policing your fellow citizens is the way things ought to be—over the most minor of problems.
I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but it is so much fun to watch. So watch it again; now!
The one problem I have with the Congressman is how he pronounces his last name. Yes, of course, everyone has a right to pronounce their own names however they want. But it bugs me that his last name is pronounced like that cigar-shaped thing from Oscar-Mayer, when it could be pronounced as it would normally be in German: Viner. Now that’s a cool sounding now. But let’s face it, when you can go on the floor of Congress and do what he did—it doesn’t matter; you’re a cool guy, even if your name is mud.
1It is widely believed that the clause “your name is mud” dates back to Dr. Samuel Mudd who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This is not the case, because the phrase dates back to a time before Mudd had even been born. The whole story is given at The Phrase Finder in a wonderful article Your Name is Mud, which shows the good that can be done on the Internet by people who care.
It’s really pretty simple. The process is based on the ancient art of information dissemination, commonly known as gossip. Here’s how it works. In the endless quest to satisfy the voracious appetites of vicarious attention-whores (A.K.A. National Enquirer subscribers, etc.), Site A posts a fascinating, albeit negligible, glimpse into the life of Celebrity 1. Then, Site B ever so slightly tweaks the information to lure in readers with as little effort as possible (and to avoid outright plagiarism).
Martha Stewart needed a plastic surgeon Tuesday after her otherwise adorable French bulldog Francesca, apparently startled out of her nap, slammed right into the media icon’s face.
“She bolted upright with such force that she hit me in the face like a boxing glove hitting an opponent’s face,” Stewart blogged today. “I was entirely startled and my neck snapped back. I felt a bit of whiplash as blood gushed forth from my split lip. Frannie was as upset as I was and cowered in her bed.”
Realizing she had a “pretty serious gash,” she took off for the ER at Northern Westchester Hospital, a few miles away from her home in Bedford, N.Y. She had her daughter call ahead to make sure a plastic surgeon was on call and, once there, she documented the experience in pictures.
Stewart was patched up in time to make it to NYC for her 9 a.m. Martha Stewart Show taping, and today’s show featured a recount of her trip to the hospital, as well as a crackerjack tutorial on how to organize your kitchen.
I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone feel the need to sex up an already great story? It’s a tale of attempted murder, bravery in the face of facial pain, and the indomitable will of a woman who refuses to let possible disfigurement keep her from helping others organize their stuff.
I’m almost certain that Martha is telling the truth, and not lying to keep her dog from being euthanized. True, it looks bad. The dog had motive, opportunity, and a definite chip on her shoulder. Being a bulldog (and a French one at that), Francesca must struggle every day against specists who think of French bulldogs as sinister-looking little freaks. Then to be dressed like the member of a chain gang on national television must have been beyond mortifying.
Even so, I do not think Francesca is a passive-aggressive little bitch, but rather a victim of circumstance. Being startled from a sound sleep by her Master, Francesca briskly hopped to, as would any smart member of Martha’s household. With the delirium of sleep and beady little eyes hampering her depth perception, the poor dog whipped up her head and collided with Martha’s lip. I’m sure she felt terrible, but I suspect that Frannie cowered in her bed, not so much from remorse, as from fear of dismissal.
Martha was the real hero in all this. Who else would have the presence of mind to have her daughter call the hospital to have a plastic surgeon waiting at the door, implements in hand? Most of us would have raced to the E.R., only then to realize that someone else had already called dibs, and we would be forced to sit in the waiting room for three hours using a towel to stop the gushing blood.
(Author’s Note: In fairness, I saw the dog attack headline first. Thinking perhaps that one of Martha’s chows attacked her like a Vegas magician’s tiger, I was concerned that Ms Stewart may have been seriously injured. Then I clicked on the “reportedly” link (because I thought it odd) and was led to the first, less meretricious article.)
I’m working on an article about the absence of meaning in the universe, so I thought I would take a break and write something fun—not meaningful, but fun. I just watched On the Waterfront for, probably, the fifth time. The scene everyone knows is the one where Terry tells his brother, Charlie, “I could’ve been a contender.” And that’s the line everyone remembers, although I think most remember it with the wrong emotional overtone—it is actually forlorn. This is not the line that I remember when I think of this scene, however. To me, the critical line is, “It was you, Charlie.” Let’s watch it, shall we:
Most people see On The Waterfront as Elia Kazan’s answer to those (most notably, his close-friend Arthur Miller) who criticized him for testifying at the House Committee on Un-American Activities and providing names of former communists. Maybe it was in Kazan’s mind. It is certainly the case that even into his 90s, Kazan sounded very defensive about the whole thing. Also: the screenwriter, Budd Schulberg, similarly testified. But all such intentions, if real, are irrelevant. First, standing up against real corruption when it might cause your murder (the case in the film) is very different from standing up against a phantom enemy when it would at worst cost you some friends with the upside of most definitely making your career more stable. Second, writers create stories; readers create meaning.
Thus, I don’t see the film as political, and the main reason is the cab scene with Terry and Charlie. Although you don’t see the whole scene in the clip above, Terry has come looking for Charlie to get his advice. And Charlie has advice to give. First, he tries to bribe Terry with a great job. When that doesn’t work, Charlie threatens to shoot Terry. The arc of that scene is the arc of the movie. It is also the arc of Brando’s great monologue. It starts with, “It wasn’t him, Charlie: it was you” and ends with, “It was you, Charlie.” In this expression that he couldn’t even depend upon his own brother, Terry realizes that he is ultimately responsible. He enters the cab still a child—still hoping that his older brother will help him make his difficult decisions; he leaves the cab as an adult, understanding the impossibility of his expectations of Charlie. This scene is the turning point of the movie and of Terry’s life: the point at which he decides to take control of his destiny.
Even before he knows that Charlie is dead, Terry has begun to make his own decisions. And as the movie winds up, those decisions get better and better and show that he isn’t a bum; he is a contender; he is someone who really matters in a way that a prize fighter never could. It is ironic, then, that in becoming “a contender” in the real world rather than the boxing ring, he is almost beaten to death by Johnny Friendly’s associates. Afterwards, Terry stubbles, barely conscious, to lead the other workers into the dock to work. His arc is complete: he has found himself—a leader of men. Thus, the film is not about corrupt union bosses or whistle-blowers. It is about one man’s journey from follower to leader—in the best, and least used, sense of that word.
It wasn’t him, Terry: it was you. It was you, Terry.
1I say the enemies were “phantom” because almost no one who was ever named was even a socialist, much less a communist. Of the people Kazan named, all were ex-communists (like Kazan himself). Even the most fervent supporters of the USSR backed off or broke completely when Stalin signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. The House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings were political theater—nothing more. And Kazan risked nothing by testifying.
2In discussing the difference between “afterward” and “afterwards,” Fowler (in 1926) says, “Afterward, once the prevalent form, is now obsolete in British use, but survives in U.S.” I must check a more up to date reference. I tend to prefer “afterward,” but what Jesus Christ is to many, Henry Fowler is to me.
Some of the most entertaining bits posted on CNN.com are the headlines. Here are a few gems that I’ve noted:
03/26/10 Man drunk, opossum dead, CPR futile; Man arrested after trying to revive roadkill (PETA would be proud.)
9/07 Human remains found at bridge collapse (No kidding. Dead bodies can rarely stand on their own for any length of time.)
9/14/07 Benoit diary talked to dead wrestler (Said Benoit’s desk lamp.)
9/17/07 God sued for terror acts (No worries. His legal counsel is Satan.)
Crocs, kids and escalators a bad combination? (I don’t think crocodiles and anything are ever a good combination. I admit, the problem here was me: I had to read the article before I understood it was referring to the footwear rather than the animal.)
9/21/07 ‘God’ strikes back at lawsuit, claims immunity (I told you. Satan never loses a case.)
01/02/09 Kids thought with triple-murder suspect (At least they didn’t kill with him.)
Baby born in midair (And it isn’t on YouTube? The mother must have trained for years, first with ping-pong balls before working her way up to a bowling ball.)
01/25/08 Why women should feel good naked (Because men feel good when women are naked. Duh.)
What tots want Obama to accomplish (Repeal nap time?)
02/16/09 Is it possible to predict mass murder? [Video] …and directly underneath… ‘Friday the 13th’ slashes records
05/06/09 Gunshot from boy, 4, kills man (That’s why you should never leave a loaded child lying around the house.)
05/27/09 Couple damaging cars part of stripping (Because nothing spices up a marriage like bashing windshields while undressing.)
06/22/09 Sexual assaults on the high seas come (Is this a heretofore unknown Nostradamus prediction, a typo, or the staff writer’s pirate fantasy?)
06/24/09 Woman, 82, injured by pit bull saving pet (This is why you should never get between a pit bull and his lifesaving efforts.)
And my favorite so far: Is an ugly baby harder to love? (Only if it’s someone else’s.)