I do wish all the world would shut the fuck up about the “heroin epidemic” that is underway in the United States. Is there a heroin epidemic? No. Heroin use seems to have been on the rise for the last decade or so, but there isn’t anything especially dramatic about its rise. Drug use waxes and wanes over time, just as do all human behaviors that are not physical necessities. But all day long, I’ve been treated to scare articles about how many people are using heroin and how many people are dying from heroin and this new super potent heroin. I want to rip my fucking hair out.
It is sad that Philip Seymour Hoffman has died of what looks like a heroin overdose. He has a long history with the drug. I don’t doubt that there is some amount of psychic pain that is involved with all of this. I also don’t doubt that this had something to do with his skill as an actor. When I recently saw A Late Quartet, I thought that Hoffman’s highly emotional performance seemed pretty close to the surface, as though there wasn’t a great deal of difference between actor and character. But I gather that is true for a lot of actors. Regardless, audiences always seem to want great artists but are intolerant of what they see as their non-productive habits.
Can’t we leave this man in peace? He was a fine actor. But now he is being turned into an unwilling spokesman for the “ain’t heroin awful” campaign. This is, of course, the campaign that seems only interested in “helping” addicts by throwing them in jail. And it is only sad when a junkie dies if he’s famous. The truth is that junkies die all the time and no one gives half a fuck about them. In fact, as I’ve argued at length elsewhere, most people just want junkies to crawl away and die so the society doesn’t have to deal with them. And the legal status of the drug and the treatment of its users bears this out.
What’s going on with Philip Seymour Hoffman is the same thing that goes on with heroin users all over the nation. He is losing his individuality in order to paint him as the face of heroin addiction. But he’s a lucky one. I suspect that in 20 years, he will be remembered for a handful of movies he made. That is as it should be. This media blitz will not last. But that doesn’t make it any less disrespectful. And here I’m not just talking about Hoffman. I’m even more focused on all the heroin users who just don’t matter to anyone in the nation except in so far as it can vote for another “three strikes” law or another “get tough on crime” politician.
I would much rather people just admitted that they didn’t care. After all, would it be any less sad if Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of cancer or in a rock climbing accident? And in my experience, when people start talking about “heroin epidemics,” their solutions are most likely bigger penalties for drug crimes. When I see someone riffing off Hoffman’s death for the purpose of providing greater access to methadone treatment, I’ll be on board. But that’s not what I’ve seen. And I’ve been following this stuff for over two decades.
Dave Weigel wrote a very good article over at Slate today, Bill O’Reilly, Asking the Wrong #Benghazi Questions. In it, he goes over why conservatives are so focused on exactly what the administration said about the attack. Bottom line: they have a very simplistic take on the attack. In reality, a number of things led to the attack, and the very first thing was anger about the video. But in the right wing media, there is no room for nuance. It was either entirely about the video, or there was an administration cover up. This is indicative of a level of intellectual immaturity that ought to shock the nation. But instead, it is business as usual.
O’Reilly went into the interview thinking he was going to blow the lid off the conspiracy by getting to the bottom of what the very first thing Secretary Panetta told him. It’s just pathetic. But no one bats an eye. It’s just to be expected even though it was just slightly less ridiculous than Alex Jones asking the president when he’s going to send in the black helicopters. Of course, O’Reilly had similarly “clever” traps set regarding Obamacare and the IRS non-scandal, where he pressed the long debunked talking point about the IRS chief bing “cleared into the White House 157 times.” Somehow, this is all acceptable.
Bill O’Reilly is often called out for his bad journalism. This is because he wants to be accepted in polite company. He wants to be allowed on The Daily Show. So his argument is that he’s just an entertainer—just a clown. And that he’s not a hard news guy; he’s an opinion guy. The rules are different for him and Hannity. But when it is the turn of Fox News to do the pre-Super Bowl interview with the president, no “hard news guy” is available and so they send in the clown. Funny that.
I should be clear: I think we as a nation show far too much deference to the president. So I don’t have a problem with a reporter being direct and asking tough and tenacious questions. I was, for example, thrilled with Carole Coleman’s interview with Bush the Younger. I would argue that what O’Reilly has now done twice is not that. The whole point of his interviews seems to be to signal to his audience his disdain for the president. But regardless what he’s trying to do, O’Reilly would certainly be against it if anyone were doing the same thing to a Republican president. (And yes, I am well aware that O’Reilly claims to be independent. He also claims to be pro-choice. He flatters himself that he is something other than a right wing ideologue. He isn’t.)
But what I really don’t understand is why President Obama agreed to do the interview. It isn’t like pre-Super Bowl interviews are required in the Constitution. I understand that Obama has nothing to worry about being interviewed by a mediocrity like Bill O’Reilly. And Obama did indeed destroy the angry pundit. But it soils the office to have someone like O’Reilly get to do his interruption and innuendo infused interview. There is no way that the president can be that close to the intellectual filth that is at the center of Fox News without being soiled himself. An interview with Bret Baier or Chris Wallace would be okay, I suppose. But Fox News has said what they think of the president by allowing a joke pundit to interview him. I don’t see why the White House is okay with that.
On this day in 1874, the great writer Gertrude Stein was born. Her work is difficult, but playful. I’ve often thought that she isn’t as big a literary star as, say, Joyce because she was a woman. On the other hand, her fascist sympathies doubtless don’t help. She’s still interesting to read, but I find it tiring as I do most of the avant-garde writers. You know the drill: it’s important but doesn’t really age well. But I still enjoy listening to Four Saints in Three Acts.
Norman Rockwell was born in 1894. I admire the wit of his work. He strikes me as the kind of guy parents like to keep away from their children because he would inspire them to be devilish. Of course, being a representational artists in the 20th century has tended to make people dismiss him. And now he’s seen as totally inoffensive. But I think we could use Rockwell today. Our society has become obsessed with celebrities from Justin Bieber to Jesus Christ. And yes, Rockwell was sentimental at times. But he wasn’t romantic—he celebrated actual humans—you know, people who work for a living. It’s amazing what a radical concept that’s become.
Other birthdays: composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809); newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811); bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd (1904); actor Robert Earl Jones (1911); actor Blythe Danner (71); the least annoying The Kinks brother Dave Davies (67); actor Nathan Lane (58); situational economist Greg Mankiw (56); and actor Maura Tierney (49).
The day, however, belongs to one of the great stand-up comedians of my youth Shelley Berman who is 89 today. He was basically just a storyteller. Much of his work doesn’t especially have punchlines. He just has an amusing way of looking at the world. His buttermilk routine is more typical of his work. But here he is doing one of his classic telephone routines, which is brilliant and as funny as ever:
Happy birthday Shelley Berman!