America Fantasyland Part 1

Disneyland, the epitome of the American dream. If you believe hard enough and spend a lot of money, all of your dreams will come true.

Good god. Has it really been just over a year since Donald J Dumbass was elect president? How are you holding up? I haven’t handled it well and it shows. To quote Hamlet, “I have of late lost all my mirth”. I’ve lost the passion to blog, to read, and to some extend I’ve been far to slow to move past the last election.

Looking back to November 8th, 2016, it is clear to me now that I’ve spend the last year going through the five stages of grief. At first I denied it, (oh he’ll never take office-he looks as stunned as the rest of us), then I felt anger, to the point of rage when he was finally sworn in, and then on to a long bout of depression as I watched him make a mockery of the office of the Presidency and everything it stands for. Worse yet, watching as Congress defends his shredding of our Constitution and the principals on which is was written.

The last stage of grief, according to Elisabeth Kubler Ross, is acceptance. No, I am not there yet; I can’t bring myself to say his name and the title President in the same sentence, but I can say I am starting to accept the fact that millions of Americans voted for him. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out why.

Like many of my fellow liberal Americas I know people who did in fact not only vote for him, but did so not out of a sense of irony or sadistic glee, but because they honestly fell for his bullshit. And not just his bullshit, but also the bullshit being flung around by social media and the sharing of said bullshit. No, seriously, how do you fall for a guy who on one hand says, “I’ll hire the smartest people” and on the other says, “I am your voice, I alone can fix it”. Fix what?? The guy filed for bankruptcy four times! How do you lose money owning a casino?? Damn, I may still be in the anger stage. Moving on.

My questions of why expanded beyond wanting to know why so many people I know and respect (and millions I don’t know) fell for his con. But not just his con; cons and hoaxes in general. Truth be told, I’ve been asking myself for quite a while now, “is America becoming dumber”? Long time followers know this is a topic I hit on once in a while. In 2014 I reviewed a book titled “Idiot America” in which I talked about the dumbing down of America. Who knew two years later millions of voters would prove me right?

I made some connections between our decline in good judgment and religious like idolization of all things connect to consumerism that seems to be paving the way for a dumber America. Whether we are talking about materialism (I’ll feel better, look better, be better, if only I had X) or how we greedily consume our news and “information” without an ounce of critical thinking. How did we become the nation whose mantra seems to now be, “It feels right, so it must be true”?

I wish I could say after careful study of our culture I came to a solid answer; that my months in hiding have given me insight to what is wrong with our country, but I have to give credit to a book I recently picked up. Kurt Andersen’s book, “Fantasyland How America Went Haywire” put a lot of things in perspective and helped me connect the dots. I can’t say it’s a great book (although I do recommend it) as Andersen does tend to veers off into weedy thinking, and expresses some personal opinions in order to make a view seem like fact. Ironically this is the very thing his book argues is wrong with America. Yet some of his simplest statements are powerful truths and should be recognized as such.

America was created by people resistant to reality checks and convinced they had special access to the truth, a place founded to enact grand fantasies. (p.72)

Andersen begins his book with the European explores who risked their lives (and reputations) for the promises of golden mountains waiting to be plundered, and the mystical Fountain of Youth. He then quickly moves to the Puritans with their idea of a religious utopia; setting the stage for a history of people who are resistant to reality checks, even as reality hits back. There were not mountains of gold, or flowing waters of eternal youth. There was no religious utopia; instead, to the Puritans utter shock, there were “pagan savages” everywhere they looked.

One would have thought that the Puritans would’ve had the good sense to go home as so many had done when it was discovered there was no easy spoils to be had, but no. They believed they could convert the savages, and when that didn’t work later generations set out to annihilate them, firmly believing it was their God given right to do so.

Andersen’s book pulls the veil off the myth of American exceptionalism and exposes the truth of how we became fantasyland. How today we’d rather listen to our gut or a conspiracist, rather than a medical doctor. How our political views are shaped by labels rather than ideas. Why being offended now allows us the “right” to protest and boycott free speech and opposing views. And so much more.

Andersen may not have gotten everything right; his bias against religion shows loud and clear and clouds some of his thinking about what is found strictly in America and what is not. Yet he gets enough right that his book is a jumping-off point for cultural self-reflection and deep discussion. So much so, that in the coming weeks it will be the focus of my posts. We will look at various stops on our journey to fantasyland. It is my hope that in time we begin to reflect on what came before and how it has shaped our understanding of who we are now and what improvements we can make so that Fantasyland doesn’t turn into Nightmareland.

 

 

Shakespeare buffs may be surprised by “Will”

Marlow & Will. Of course they are beautiful. It’s an American show after all

Damn it’s hot; unseasonably hot even by Nevada standards. Normally the west eases into summer with the temperatures slowly rising so that by the time late August rolls around we are acclimated to the heat. But oh no, not this summer. This summer started in the triple digits and there seems to be no sign of cooling down. How hot is it, you might ask? Last night’s thunder clouds didn’t result in any dry lighting. It was as if even the lighting didn’t want to be anywhere near the scorching heat.

Compounding the heat wave issues the air conditioner in our office building isn’t working properly, forcing us to work in stifling conditions. Forget hot yoga, I’m doing hot work. For a woman of a certain age (cough, cough) this is beyond acceptable as I have my own private summer to deal with. The quote “I’m melting, I’m melting”, springs to mind as I do nothing more after work than lay under a large fan and pant. Will this horror never end?

I haven’t attempted to write these last few weeks as my brain is fried by the time I get home. I have tried to do some reading, but this summer’s choices have been duds. I think I will do a book review on what to avoid, later in the week.

I did, however, manage to watch the pilot episode of TNT’s “Will”. Between all the hype & criticism I figured I would keep an open but skeptical mind and decide for myself if this is a series worth watching. For those of you who may have missed the announcement, here is how they are selling the series:

Will tells the wild story of young William Shakespeare’s (Laurie Davidson) arrival onto the punk-rock theater scene in 16th century London — the seductive, violent world where his raw talent faced rioting audiences, religious fanatics and raucous side-shows. It’s a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s life, played to a modern soundtrack that exposes all his recklessness, lustful temptations and brilliance. 

My first thought when I originally read this was, ‘Does TNT know something scholars do not?” How do they know he was reckless and lustful (his brilliance is obvious) and so dismissed it as part of the dumbing down of the American youth. I mean really, is this the best we can hope for as far as showing Shakespeare to a young TV audience? But then again, we are talking about America so, you know…

Someone mentioned to me that if this turns out to be a gateway to an interest in Shakespeare, it couldn’t be all that bad, could it?

Thanks to Amazon video, I was able to purchase the first episode. So, fan overhead, a glass of ice water at my side, I got through the entire show without falling asleep or screaming at my TV.

Without giving some of the plot away (what little plot there is) here are my initial thoughts.

The set and wardrobe designs are bright, I mean dazzling! For 16th century London where most everyone was poor and shabby, all the characters were dressed as if Yves Saint Laurent personally picked out their clothes. The only difference between the well off and the poor was the amount of dirt rubbed into the designer clothing. This brilliance of color on every pixel of the screen didn’t pull me in; it was actually a little jarring at first. But, as the London scene unfolded I realized the desired effect wasn’t to pull the viewer into 16th century London, but to 70’s London, more specifically the underground punk scene. This begs the question, if the producers want to modernize Shakespeare for young audience, why the punk era? How many kids born after 1990 know anything about mosh pits and rooster comb hairstyles? And yes, we get both in this show.

Having it set in the Hip-Hop era would have made a little more sense. And given that one scene was a takeoff on a rap battle (battle of words in this case) may have played better. Not that I am complaining, the punk era worked for me, but I’m old enough to have been in a mosh pit and spent hours listening to The Clash (the background music of choice for” Will”).

And of course, this being an American show, the entire young cast is beautiful; complete with dazzling white teeth. This has led to some criticism of the show by others, so I won’t go to deep into this topic. Only to say that I was not as surprised by this as others were. Again, we are talking about American TV.

The plot was on the thin side, but then again, how much plot can you have when it involves a young 16th century playwright and his quest to become famous? The opening scene informs us Will is a married man with three children so there cannot be a love interest, right? Wrong! On his very first day in London Shakespeare meets a woman who finds him attractive, and he her. We see where this is going… And of course it gets there quickly.

There is some tension built around the religious persecution of Catholics. We are led to believe that Shakespeare’s family has strong Catholic views, and even though it may mean death, his father instructs him to deliver a letter to his uncle; a letter that if falling in the wrong hands would out the family as Catholic Doesn’t this man have his own raven? Oops, sorry, wrong show. But the explanation as to why the Catholics are being rounded up and tortured is brief and if one is not paying close attention is lost. If I remember correctly it is an eight-sentence discussion between two men. If this is to be the sub-plot then I would have expected more because those who are not history majors may wonder what all the fuss is about.  

Though the show was not bad, I’m just not sure it will work. The characters are far too stereotypical to be interesting. The torture and brutality may wear thin (I’m told later in the series there is a bear baiting scene in which the poor creature is disemboweled), and the plot is so thin you can see right through it.

But yet, I encourage those of you who are fans of Shakespeare to at least watch the first episode because surprisingly, there are a few smart scenes that only true Shakespeare buffs can, and will appreciate. It was fun to “see” Robert Greene calling Shakespeare an “upstart crow” and losing face while doing so. I am sure the anti-Stratfordians would not appreciate the idea of Shakespeare writing a play and giving credit to Marlow, but I snickered.I wish it the show was a little more interesting, because it is obvious someone on the writing staff knows their Shakespeare.

“Will” is not a show I care to watch, but to be fair to TNT, I am not into any show (save GOT) that uses graphic violence as a plot device. I’m not opposed to it, I’m just over it (sorry Walking Dead). Others may not be so sensitive.

I cannot tell if this will bring about an interest in Shakespeare; there was no reciting of any of his work in the first episode. Perhaps as the story processes there will be brief scenes involving his work and making it relevant to today’s youth. But even if it doesn’t I can think of worse ways to spend time out of the summer heat. Reading a poorly written book comes to mind.