Ted 2 Steals My Eddie’s Father Reference

The Courtship Of Eddie's FatherI saw a television commercial for Ted 2. I didn’t see the original film and I have no interest in seeing this one. It reminds me of ALF. It is this idea that if you have a puppet, you don’t need to make its personality charming. In Ted you have the bear who is annoying and then you have Mark Wahlberg who is a nonentity. You know who he is, right? He’s the Wahlberg who isn’t Donnie or Robert. But as a Seth MacFarlane film, I’m sure that it will be by turns hilarious and offensive. Whatever. That’s what people want and I was born in the wrong century. I’m okay with that.

But in the commercial, they are using the Harry Nilsson song “Best Friend.” And when I heard it, my heart sank. In “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour,” I use a parody of The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father. I hate that! I wrote the first two episodes of it three years ago. And here these people are stealing my thunder. Of course, maybe it’s obvious. The whole point of using The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father is to highlight the the power dynamic. Although it makes a lot more sense in my case because Darren (the puppet) is a child. Ted, as far as I can tell, is just Peter Griffin in a bear costume.

Also, I do something interesting with it. The thing that I remember from The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father was Eddie and Tom’s philosophical conversations at the end of each episode. So I thought it would be funny to parody these. Steve (the Tom character) is kind and understanding, but Darren (the Eddie character) is a narcissistic puppet. So the first episode has the following typically circular conversation:

Steve is riding a bike on a city street. Darren is sitting in the child seat. They both have helmets on.

Darren: Steve?

Steve: What is it, little buddy?

As they ride, the light at the intersection ahead turns red.

Darren: What does it mean to be great?

Steve: What? Why do you want to know?

Steve slows the bike to a stop at the intersection. At the corner on the left is a woman with her young son getting ready to cross the street. Steve turns toward Darren and continues to talk.

Darren: I wanna be great. If I’m not already. I am though, right?

The mother and son cross into the crosswalk.

Steve: I don’t know, Darren.

Cross traffic cars pass by in front of the bike.

Darren: You don’t know if I’m great? That can’t be. You don’t know what greatness is?

Steve: No. It’s just that greatness means a lot of things.

As the mother and son reach halfway across the street, the boy notices Darren and points at him.

Boy: Look mom!

The mother hushes her son.

Darren: As it applies to me. That’s all I care about.

The mother and son reach the other side of the street and continue down the sidewalk. The cross traffic stops. The light changes to green.

Steve: I’m still not clear on it.

Steve accelerates the bike into the intersection.

Darren: Jeez! If everyone applauds when a man walks in the room, is he great?

Steve: I suppose.

Darren: So I’m great!

They turn left into the driveway in front of an office building.

Steve: People applaud when you enter a room?

Darren (gravely): Pretty much.

Steve gets off the bike and walks it up to the front of the building and to a bike rack.

Steve: Who applauds when you enter a room?

Darren: Well, you for one.

Steve: I applaud when you enter the room?

Steve starts to lock up his bike.

Darren: Oh, yeah!

Steve: I have no memory of ever doing that.

Darren: Probably do it subconsciously.

Steve looks away from his work and stares at Darren.

Steve: And why do I do that? Do I say?

Darren: No. I figure because of my greatness.

Steve shakes his head and goes back to his work.

Steve: And why are you so great?

Darren: Don’t ask me! I’m not the one applauding.

I doubt there is anything like that in Ted 2. For one thing, Darren appears to be nothing like Ted. But I’d like to claim my own take on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. The second episode involves a discussion of artifice. Each conversation involves the theme of the episode. And then the episode ends with Darren getting some comeuppance for his plotting against Steve throughout the episode. There is probably a very limited audience for “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour,” because it is the absolute perfect representation of the kind of entertainment that I want to see. It includes the supposed writer of the show locked in a cage on the set.

I’ll bet that’s not in Ted 2!

Whiny Comedians Are Just Growing Old

Jerry SeinfeldYou may have heard the recent brouhaha regarding Jerry Seinfeld who claims that he no longer performs at colleges because all those mean kids are so politically correct. He specifically complained about the fact that one of his jokes doesn’t play because of the sensitivities of the youngins. On Late Night With Seth Meyers, he said, “I do this joke about the way people justify their cell phone — ‘I need to have it with me’ — because people are so important. Well they don’t seem very important the way you scroll through them like a gay French king…” My first reaction was that maybe the reason that joke doesn’t work that well is because it isn’t that good a joke.

There is the common response to that, which I’ve heard for years from professional comedians, “If people don’t laugh, it isn’t funny; if they do laugh, it is.” I agree with that. That’s why I try very hard to say “I didn’t think that was funny” rather than “that wasn’t funny.” The truth is that something I don’t find funny at one moment I might find hilarious at a different moment. What’s more, different kinds of people like different kinds of humor. But here is Jerry Seinfeld explaining that his joke just is funny and there is something wrong with the kids who don’t find it funny. Could it be that Seinfeld is now 40 years older than the college kids and the problem is with him? Could it be that he’s like the old Borscht Belt comedians who didn’t get Lenny Bruce?

Bill MaherI was listening to Sam Seder the other day and he was talking about Seinfeld’s recent whining. He wasn’t sympathetic — but for a very interesting reason. He said that he was a huge Sam Kinison fan in the 1980s. Now Kinison was known for pushing the envelope of what was considered acceptable. And so there were always television talking heads discussing what Kinison had recently said that was totally over the line. And, Seder said, it seemed that there would always be Jerry Seinfeld there as the example of the “good” comedian. And Seinfeld, while not criticizing Kinison, would talk about how he worked clean — or something along the lines of what those Borscht Belt comedians used to say when they facilitated the attacks on Lenny Bruce. So to Seder, there’s a kind of hypocrisy in what Seinfeld is doing now. Of course, the great irony is that Kinison was in trouble because he was pushing comedy forward; Seinfeld is upset because he’s being left behind.

Nathan Rabin wrote an excellent editorial about this over at The Los Angeles Times, Seinfeld and Maher: More Cranky Than Comic These Days. This sums up his point:

Both comedians seem to think they are taking stands against oppressive touchiness, but when I watch them rant, I think of old men yelling at kids to get off their front lawns. They see that their jokes don’t get the responses they once did, but instead of blaming themselves, they blame the world.

Maher is an even bigger issue for me. I’ve never liked Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve always thought he was a middle of the road comedian doing tired observational humor. And I thought the show was so hateful that I had a hard time getting into it. But Maher is a different matter. He does wear his politics on his sleeve. And even though I disagree with him a fair amount, I admire the attempt. At least he has an edge. But he falls into brainless libertarianism and I tune him out. Humor depends upon the listener’s connection to the truth of the material. When a joke is premised on something that goes entirely against my worldview, it is jarring and so not funny. I’m the wrong audience for the joke. But if Bill Maher is performing for an audience of people like me, it’s his fault a joke dies, not ours. He is not paid to stand up there on the stage and say things that he wants to say; he’s paid to entertain us.

No comedian is perfect. It’s a hard job. But the fact that Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher may not get quite as big a laugh on some of their jokes is hard to be sympathetic to. There are new comedians who are up on stage alone dying night after night. Seinfeld ($800 million dollars) and Maher ($30 million) are rich men. They don’t need to perform at all. In fact, if they stopped performing, they would provide some room for up and coming comedians. But the least they can do is to stop whining. None of us care.

The Economic Progress Lie — It Ain’t All Good

Dean BakerThere is an issue that makes a lot of people think that I don’t understand economics. It is this idea that we are so much better off now than we used to be. This is used as a justification for things as diverse as excessive and ever growing inequality and deforestation. The theory goes: well, there may be bad things about our economic system, but everyone has so much higher a standard of living, it’s worth it. But do we really have a higher standard of living? In one way: yes. Sugar used to be a luxury; now it is cheap. But in another way, we don’t. Now we have sugar in all our foods devaluing the extra sugar we get.

But I accept that increases in food availability are important. But there haven’t been major improvements in this regard in my lifetime. When it comes to the technological innovations that people think of, I am unimpressed. Remember the great Peter Thiel quote, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” I always think of music distribution. When I was very young, I had a transistor radio and we used to walk around listening to it. Later there were Walkmans. Then MP3 players. And now Pandora. Each of these are marginal improvements, but hardly revolutionary. None of it is any better than wandering around a used record store and finding Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat and having a religious experience.

I was very pleased to read a recent Dean Baker article, Is the Middle Class Better Off? Economists’ Poor Logic on New Goods. The article is in reference to the hypothetical, “Would you be willing to trade an income of $50,000 in 2015 for an inflation adjusted $100,000 income in 1980, knowing that you can only buy the goods and services available in 1980?” The answer is supposed to be, “Of course not! How would I ever live without Netflix?!”

This falls right into what I was talking about before. At that time, we had VHS players. What’s more, there were actual good local rental companies where you could get what you wanted. I’m not saying that things aren’t better now. But they aren’t substantially different. And if you are interested in things that are a little out of the ordinary — little films like Medicine River — you may not be able to find them at all now. Of course, you could instead go to your satellite television where you will find half the stations running paid advertisements, reruns of Pawn Stars, and other content that is in no way better than the reruns of Gilligan’s Island that I grew up watching.

Baker noted that this question is a false one. “Ask someone who lived in the suburbs in the 1960s how they would feel living without a car. It would be pretty awful, but just 30 years earlier most middle class families did not have a car or think they needed one.” I’ve lived without a car for many years now. Overall, I think my life is better for it. Sometimes it’s a pain, but that is due to the way society is now organized around the car. Or consider the cell phone. I now feel freaked out if I leave home without my phone. But that’s ridiculous and I quickly realize that it is no big deal. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would gladly give up their cell phones if it would mean that their free time was unmolested.

But the biggest issue with this hypothetical is that a $100,000 income would provide something exceptional that no amount of consumer gadgets will ever compensate for: economic security. The biggest thing that limits happiness in modern America is economic uncertainty. Along with that better income at that time comes certainty that you will maintain that job and retire with a pension. It means allowing you to do what you want with your time. Sure, you wouldn’t have your movies streamed by Netflix. But if you lose your job tomorrow, you are going to lose you your Nixflix account anyway.

Technological progress is a great thing. But it comes at a cost. More and more, I don’t think that cost is worth it. But regardless of where anyone comes down on the question, everyone should agree that there are very real costs we pay for our constant marginal improvements in the “goods and services” that we can buy.

Morning Music: The Bob Newhart Show

The Bob Newhart ShowMy first real introduction to jazz was probably listening to theme shows in the early 1970s. One of my favorites was the theme from The Bob Newhart Show called, “Home to Emily.” It was nominally written by the series co-creator Lorenzo Music. It’s a pretty enough tune. But it is actually what film composer Patrick Williams did with it in terms of arranging and producing the song. I just love the sound of it.

When I was in college, I really wanted to start a band that could play like this. But even if I had those kind of organizational skills, I would have had no business playing in it.

Anniversary Post: Giordano Bruno Crater

Giordano Bruno CraterIt is almost impossible to resist marking this day as the beginning of the Tang Dynasty. But I am a science nerd at heart. And so on this day in 1178, the Giordano Bruno crater was formed on the moon. How do we know? Well, there were these five monks in Canterbury and they were looking at the moon. Being the 12th century, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. Then as now, everything on television was crap. And they saw more or less an explosion on the moon.

Gervase of Canterbury was more or less the Christ Church historian at that time. And so he related what the other monks had told him. He then wrote, “From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.” Pretty amazing!

The truth is that we don’t know that this asteroid impact was what created the Giordano Bruno crater. There are other explanations. For example, what they could have seen was a meteor exploding in the earth’s atmosphere, but aligned so that it looked like there was an explosion on the moon. Either way, it’s a pretty cool thing. I like to think that it was the Giordano Bruno impact. Because that crater was named after — You’ll never guess! — Giordano Bruno.

Giordano Bruno is the man who only 400 years later would be burned alive by the very same church because of various ideas he had — including that the stars were suns that were very far away and that there were other worlds. I know a lot of my atheist friends like to blame this on religion. But that’s really unfair. The problem is humanity itself. We are a fearful species and it brings out our greatest cruelty. At the same time, there are incredibly liberal religious people and incredibly fearful, vicious non-believers.

But let’s just say happy anniversary to the Giordano Bruno crater. And let us ask forgiveness for what we did to Giordano Bruno. All too often, we know not what we do.