Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Alan Alda Film Festival

I heard this particular grouping of words recently on a right-wing talk radio program, the context being something like "You have a better chance of running into Bubba at an Alda Alda film festival than you do of getting him to submit to Hillary's socialist agenda". Such a statement of course is not correct, even assuming that the lady named actually has a socialist agenda; however the power, equal parts merriment, revulsion, and contempt, which the invocation of the name "Alan Alda"--and it is invoked quite a lot on this type of programming--summons up seems to, if handled in an appropriate measure, merit some brief commentary.

Now even I know that, in a serious society and culture, Alan Alda would not exist, or at least would not be a prominent public figure about whom anyone would have to bother to consider (indeed, in a serious society the likes of me would not be attempting to consider anything either, but would be kept steadily at work on tasks appropriate to my ability level and directed away from all mechanisms and outlets for individual expression by my wiser masters); however, as Alda's oeuvre seems to be considered an embodiment of at least one major strain of what is substandard in our collective intellects, characters, and souls, and since so many people, including myself, feel a visceral recoil at the sight of the man that is far beyond what either his work or politics in themselves would really seem to warrant, I am going to task myself with trying to describes what exactly it is that is so dreadful, and what it means. It will, in contrast to my usual no-contact, unacknowledged attempts to play footsie with real works of art, be disconcertingly sweaty, intense, and embarassing stuff. But this is roughly the toll I have to pay my personal gods to be allowed to play with the shadows of the other things.

Very late one night two or three years ago--around three or four am or thereabouts--I happened to be awake giving one of my babies a bottle, as is wont to happen to people with babies, and as the child required rocking as well, I was flipping through the television channels to see if anything bearable might be on when I came upon the opening theme of an old M*A*S*H episode. I had used to watch the reruns almost nightly for a period when I was twelve or thirteen--I watched a staggering amount of television as a child, it is really unbelievable--and, I suppose in a fit of nostalgia for something related to that time, though I cannot imagine what it would be, I decided to watch some of the show, anticipating that I would now find it abysmal. To my disappointment (this with the serious people in mind), I have to say that I did not find it abysmal, or even particularly stupid; at the very least, I was taken with the characters, and found them overall, just as I did when I was twelve, a more likeable specimen of homo Americanus than most characters one sees either on television or in actual life; this especially as it was one of the earlier shows, when Henry Blake, who was always my favorite character, was still on the scene. It is of course impossible to imagine the U.S. Army being portrayed now in anything close to the same light as it was on this program--almost none of the major characters on the show, except Colonel Potter and Hot Lips, I think, were professional military people; on the other hand, the idea that we used to fight very bloody wars with conscripts, many of whose devotion to the military ethos was ambiguous at best, is equally hard to imagine. Another interesting thing is that although almost all the major characters act in ways that would be considered unprofessional and immature now, they seem to be more "grown up" as in being more developed and complicated adult people, than similarly aged characters with similar educational and professional credentials, and more focused ambition, are, to my mind, in contemporary shows. It is also odd that all the main characters are Northeasterners, Upper Midwesterners, and Californians, and that no one is from the South, which region preponderates in the real army: New England is well-represented, with Pierce being from Maine, and Winchester being apparently a neighbor of John Kerry's on Beacon Hill; Henry Blake of course always sported his University of Illinois sweater though an absurd war in a country that I presume was little to never thought of by Americans prior to 1950 was raging all around him; Radar was from Iowa, Klinger from Ohio; I don't know if it was ever given out from Father Mulcahy was from, but it does not appear to have been Mississippi, or anywhere remotely proximate to it. Even the jerk Frank was from Indiana, which most coastal people have mixed feelings about (James Dean, small-town basketball games, good; perceived higher than average historical rates of Ku Klux Klan participation, bad). The social atmosphere of the unit was also probably too sophisticated and collegiate to be plausible. The educated doctors were running all the parties as well as setting the tone of dialogue and conduct for the enlisted men, though at least with regard to the latter perhaps this is the norm in medical units. As far as Alda is concerned, while there is undoubtedly an unpleasant mix of smarminess and self-righteousness always emanating from his Pierce character, it is not a disaster within the context of the show; there is, after all, a war going on, which he frequently expresses he is not really into in the conventional military sense, so it would likely be necessary for such a man to be a bit of a jackass if he was going to maintain his inner dignity, and perform his functions adequately, in that setting. Apart from people who just cannot handle any portrayal of the Army that is not worshipful, especially if the viewpoint taken of it is that of someone whose emotional investment is heavily directed outside of its organization, I don't think this show alone was sufficient to take Alda to the level of despisement that he currently enjoys. That is why the film festival is necessary. The series of films that Alda starred in in the late 1970s--works whose names I cannot bring myself even to write, so upset does the idea of them still make me--are perhaps the worst films ever made that clearly set out with some intention of being art. If one had to choose to live out the remainder of one's life either trapped exclusively in such a world as that depicted in Expressionist films of Weimar Germany or in that of a 1970s Alan Alda movie, anyone with a remote attachment to intelligence or humanism would have to pick the German option, for if you chose the Alda world you would be guaranteed to never encounter either of those states again. On the other hand you would have ready access to plenty of extra-marital sex, you would sip a lot of chardonnay and ogle your friends' teen-aged daughters, and, it being the 1970s, perhaps even commit that most, to us, egregious bourgeois sin with one of them (about which you will be tormented afterwards with horrible guilt, and go right back and repeat the action every chance you get), you would listen to a lot of classical music pieces that movies like this and the types of characters portrayed in them have made disreputable. These films are essentially suburban/gentile versions of Woody Allen's movies that were popular at the time, which are themselves in large part an American interpretation of the mysterious adult pleasures and alluring deviances that Europeans, the French in particular, give off that they enjoy. By the time all this gets filtered down to the Alan Alda demographic it is pretty unbearable gruel. The great problem of this demographic when confronted with artistic endeavor is that they bring to bear the deadly combination of minds that lack structure with personalities that lack force...

O.K., I am giving up. There are certain subjects to which one can only allot so much time and then one needs to move on.

In these types of movies it is quite remarkable to note how much sexual tension is expected, as well as accepted (as well as acted upon) in situations in which it would be considered completely inappropriate, even borderline criminal, to even hint at today. It is of course much more agreeable on the whole that most men, or many of them at least, are now considerably restrained from attempting to pursue every whim of desire that strikes them. At the same time it is a little odd, and and even a little silly, to find oneself really in the prime of one's life, at least by traditional standards, fairly strong, reasonably educated by the standards of the day, etc, and a figure of no real interest, even 'harmless social' or intellectual interest, to anyone. Of course we are all egomaniacs, and have to imagine that somebody ought always to feel something for us even when there is no reason to whatsoever. But it impossible to feel the truth of this (that in fact they needn't) at all times and with all people.

I am not particularly an Audrey Hepburn fanatic, though I do like her. For some reason this picture came up in a search among a whole page of Alan Alda pictures and I thought, that's a pretty picture, I'd like to put it on my page. But as to romance, I don't believe Audrey and I would have made a very good couple even if she had just been someone who went undiscovered and worked at a coffee shop. The connection I don't think would be there.

February is a bad month for the blog. I thought about giving it up again, but, I am getting 3-5 views a week on the author page or whatever it is (I still don't have one of those services giving me more statistics, page views, how many hours, where they're from, etc). This does not really justify keeping it up, but, until I can find another habit, other than gambling, that will at least offer some similar hope of eventual satisfaction, I find it is actually hard to stop. The office where my computer is at my house, I should add, is unheated, so that discourages from going in there sometimes (it is still 45-50 degrees even at the worst; one assumes it was frequently colder in Dostoevsky's apartment).

I have to stop now.

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