Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blood Isn't Just Red

Each time we ask the same sort of questions: 
  • Did the mayhem stem from a humiliating rejection? 
  • Why is it almost always a young white male? 
  • Was it video games that made an already disturbed person into a crazy shooter? 
  • Maybe it was the Internet? 
  • What role did his family life play in bending his mind? 
  • Were some careless words of irresponsible celebrities rattling around in his head? 
  • Did a dog tell him to do it?
Sorry, I don't know, either. But pretending people do noteworthy things, even strange things, for a single reason doesn't usually get us closer to the truth. So searching for the overriding motive for the spraying of projectiles into a schoolroom or a movie theater doesn't usually lead to any sort of satisfaction.

Nonetheless, in trying to cope we always look, anyway, even if in most case we'll never really understand how anyone could do such a thing. Still, since most other countries don't seem to have the same problem to the same degree, our common sense tells us there's something in America's culture, in particular, that's been contributing to these massacres.

The piece that follows was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 1, 1999 (thanks to the OpEd editor at that time, Robert Holland). The point it makes about the long-term effects of repeated violent images on television still seems apt to me.
Blood Isn’t Just Red
by F.T. Rea

Television has dominated the American cultural landscape for the past 50 years. A boon to modern life in many ways, television is nonetheless transmitting an endless stream of cruel and bloody images into everyone’s head.

However, if you’re still waiting for absolute proof that a steady diet of video violence can be harmful to the viewer, forget it. We’ll all be dead before such a thing can be proven. This is a common sense call that can and should be made without benefit of dueling experts. Short of blinding denial, any serious person can see that the influence television has on young minds is among the factors playing a role in the crime statistics.

How significant that role has been/is can be debated.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as dedicated to protecting freedom of speech as the next guy. So perish the thought that I’m calling for the government to regulate violence on television. It’s not a matter of preventing a particular scene, or act, from being aired. The problem is that the flow of virtual mayhem is constant.

Eventually splattered blood becomes ambient: just another option for the art director.

My angle here is that in the marketplace of ideas, the repeated image has a decided advantage. The significance of repetition in advertising was taught to me over 25 years ago by a man named Lee Jackoway. He was a master salesman, veteran broadcaster, and my boss at WRNL-AM. And, like many in the advertising business, he enjoyed holding court and telling war stories.

He had found me struggling with the writing of some copy for a radio commercial. At the time he asked me a few questions and let it go. But later, in front of a group of salesmen and disc jockeys, Jackoway explained to his audience what I was doing was wrong. Basically, he said that instead of stretching to write good copy, the real effort should be focused on selling the client more time, so the ad spot would get additional exposure.

Essentially, Jackoway told us to forget about trying to be the next Stan Freeberg. Forget about cute copy and far-flung schemes. What matters is results. If you know the target audience and you have the right vehicle to reach it, then all you have to do is saturate that audience. If you hit that target often enough, the results are money in the bank.

Jackoway told us most of the large money spent on production went to satisfying the ego of the client, or to promoting the ad agency’s creativity. While he might have oversimplified the way ad biz works to make his point, my experience with media has brought me to the same bottom line: When all else fails, saturation works.

Take it from me, dear reader, it doesn’t matter how much you think you’re ignoring the commercials that are beamed your way; more often than not repetition bores the message into your head. Ask the average self-absorbed consumer why he chooses a particular motor oil or breakfast cereal, and chances are he’ll claim the thousands of commercials he paid no heed had nothing to do with his choices.

Meanwhile, good old Lee Jackoway knows that same chump is pouring Pennzoil on his Frosted Flakes because he has been influenced by aggressive advertising all day long, every day.

OK, if repetition works so well in television’s advertising, why would repetition fail to sell whatever messages stem from the rest of its fare? When you consider all the murders, all the rapes, all the malevolence that television dishes out 24 hours a day, it adds up. It has to.

What to do?

I have to believe that if the sponsors of the worst, most pointless violent programs felt the sting of a boycott from time to time, they would react. Check your history; boycotts work.

It’s not as though advertisers are intrinsically evil. No, they are merely trying to reach their target audience as cheaply as possible. The company that produces a commercial has no real interest in pickling your child’s brain with violence; it just wants to reach the kid with a promotional message.

If enough consumers eschew worthless programs and stop buying the products that sponsor them, the advertiser will change its strategy. It really is that simple.

As we all know: A day passes whether anything is accomplished or not. Well, parents, a childhood passes, too, whether anything of value is learned or not.

Maybe television is blocking your child off from a lesson that needs to be learned firsthand -- in the real world where blood isn’t just red, it’s wet.
Whether we do it wittingly, or not, most of us choose to expose ourselves to thousands of images every day. The images that are repeated over and over are tattooing our brains. Speculate as we might about how that is affecting us, there's no way to remove those tattoos.     

-- 30 --

Friday, December 16, 2016

Don't Say 'Queen of Claptrap"

If you write about certain figures it can bring on reprisals that can be startling. When I took an assignment to write a column about Dr. Laura for Richmond.com in 2000, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of my column then was "Queen of Claptrap."

Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were afilliated with a group known as Free Republic

Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. Here's the 16-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.

Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.

To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.

However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.

Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.

From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.

Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out stopdrlaura.com.

Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too: drlaura.com.

"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?

Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.

The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.

While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.

Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.

It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.

Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.

Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.

By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.

It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.

With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.

In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.

Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.
There you have it. That's all it took to set off a bunch of creeps. When I read about the threats that are being hurled at anyone who challenges the darlings of the organized right-wing it sometimes reminds me of this episode.   

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Downside of Banning Fake News

by F.T. Rea

Since election day most of the concern about fake news has been focused on the role such off-brand political stories may have played in tilting the presidential race. However, the bizarre Comet Pizza story about a pitifully gullible, assault-rifle-toting vigilante -- claiming he was aiming to rescue captive children -- bodes of more crazy-sounding real news stories to come. 

Happy new year. 

Speaking of craziness, most folks know it's quite likely there are more wannabe vigilantes waiting for just the right provocation. So, dear sane reader, I'm wondering if we may be about to see a snowballing of paranoia over what troubles fake news could animate. Given all the propaganda and misleading advertising we have absorbed the irony of such a national panic would be noteworthy. 

All of which could be seen as an opportunity for some players inside the beltway. Goosed on by a muscular Trump administration, Republicans in Congress might just imagine it's their duty to shield the citizenry from counterfeit stories masquerading as curated news, crafted and published by sources you can find and hold accountable. Accordingly, those emboldened legislators could opt to outlaw forms of fake news deemed to be dangerous.

What fresh hell would facilitate such an Orwellian development? 

More breaking news stories, a la Comet Pizza, but with corpses strewn about the crime scene. In 2017, if planted bogus news is viewed as having played a significant role in a couple of spectacular bloodbaths, one can almost hear a cacophonous chorus of cries for action.

Twelve months from now, picture a Saturday Night Live skit being busted, in progress. In this scenario, it would be for presenting a satirical news item about the White House being painted gold, President Trump quibbling over the deal, cheating the contractors, etc. If this were to happen, SNL cast members would go down in history as the first comedians arrested for violating the new ban on disseminating fake news stories about certain government officials. 

It wouldn't be a matter of putting the kibosh on a comedic performance testing obscenity laws, such as in Lenny Bruce's dirty-talking days. This would be branding satire as illegal when it constitutes a threat to order by transmitting words, sounds and images depicting deliberately false information about specific protected officials. 

In this case, the fake news cops would be protecting a sitting president who may be more thin-skinned than any of his predecessors. What limits on his power Trump will accept are yet to be known. He's already blustered aplenty about how he will curb the "lying press," once he's in power. Furthermore, it's hardly a reach to suggest that President-elect Trump now appears to believe he's got a blank-check mandate to do what he pleases about vexations from the mainstream media. 

After inauguration day on Jan. 20, no one should be surprised if protest marches denouncing the Trump administration's policies are confronted with a more robust response than did those in the days after election day's surprise. No doubt, Trump's "strongman" style is going to be appreciated and emulated by some in the law enforcement/security business. 

Hey, don't say it can't happen here. I'm old enough to remember Selma in 1965 and Kent State in 1970. Our American history is replete with displays of black-boot tactics to quell dissent

Sure the feds ought to pursue criminal hackers and spies, but it would be a mistake for us to ask the government to solve our current fake news problem. The last thing this country needs is a new police force dedicated to imposing a solution. 

If the battered fourth estate and we the befuddled people don't soon find a practical way to solve this problem, one of our favorite forms of push-back humor -- satire -- may be in for a rough ride with Trump in the Gold House. As satire has often been used more effectively by the left than the right, there are surely some Trump advisers already licking their chops at the prospect of scaring lefty satirists out of their wits. 

Meanwhile, the legit news people in the mainstream media have to recognize that their routine mashing up of news and entertainment, a dumbing-down trend that's become more prevalent over the last decade, helped to pave the way for this dilemma. It's on the industry itself to establish and adhere to some rules -- new reliable standards that draw a bright line between a calm reality and attention-getting exaggeration, even hokum

Then the rest of us need to think about the inherent peril of living in an echo chamber that reinforces preconceived notions and makes us more gullible. On Facebook, maybe we should take more care not to share those unverified click bait stories and trashy memes. 

Furthermore, the trending notion that there's no such thing as truth, today, should be rejected. Our media culture -- both mainstream and social -- needs to evolve to where the whole scamming mindset of misleading headlines, doling out fake news and trolling for hire, or just sicko amusement, etc., becomes as uncool as it gets. 

Kaput! 

Promoting that simple concept is a worthwhile cause for 2017. Happy new year, again. What could be cooler than saving satire? 

 30 –

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Seasonal Story, of a Sort

by F.T. Rea

With the recent passing of the 36th anniversary of his death, I couldn't help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about today's music, art and politics. It would be anybody's guess. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling. There's no reason to think such a restless soul wouldn't have kept on changing ... and commenting.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Those two Sunday nights were less than three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation, still trying to regain its balance, had something to do with why those fresh sounding Beatles tunes cut through the fog of melancholia with such verve. Notably, there's been no explosion in American pop music since then equivalent to the impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, on Dec. 8, 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as though a world leader, or a family member, had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. Yet, it was his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that really set him apart from many of his celebrity counterparts, some of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early-'70s, President Richard M. Nixon looked at Lennon and saw in him a charismatic working class hero with the power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearing such potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the USA. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, it seems to me now that even if that particular gunman (a person I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one. Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good.

Accordingly, with assassinations in mind, I’m reminded of a news item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article's lede was this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Mike McAdam and Gregg Wetzel. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s rock ‘n’ roll scene in the late-'70s/early-‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published the pair had moved on and established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — McAdam on guitar and Wetzel on piano.

In a nutshell, Mike and Gregg became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to hunt down another comet. So the boys fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

Naturally, this sort of endeavor is best undertaken in the wee hours. In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were apprehended by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”

Bravo!

Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected and stalked by his murderer was that Lennon did indeed have a rare ability to move people. In that sense, he was slain for somewhat the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago, wasn't Jesus H. Christ taken out of the game for much the same reason?

It's always been dangerous to challenge the established order. To risk changing. To give peace a chance. Indeed, we may be entering an era in which questioning the wisdom of the powers that be will become increasingly more dangerous. Wouldn't it be fun to hear what Lennon would have to say today about our rather mock-worthy President-elect? 

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about his potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that mischief streak aside, Lennon was generally more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

To flesh out the 29-year-old magazine-cover-shredding yarn, Wetzel recently added, “The cops looked at me and McAdam, decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

Peace.

-- 30 –

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wilder the Ringmaster

As a former-governor of Virginia and former-mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder knows a thing or two about campaigning. At 85, he's still at it. Last night (April 6, 2016) in a jam-packed hall on the Virginia Union University campus, Doug presided.

My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.

So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?

Wilder didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several matters, although he sometimes cloaked it in the form of questions. Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's sidekick. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.

The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when they laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe some of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how they evolve.

To sum up I'm going to assign a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.

The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.

No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one deserved an “F” for embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
  • Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
  • Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
  • Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.
Bottom line: The whole shebang went over so well, it's hard to image that Ringmaster Wilder didn't thoroughly enjoy himself.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bernie's Bandwagon


The "silly season" for politics plays out each summer between Independence Day and Labor Day. It can be a period of thriving for off-the-wall boomlets. Opinion poll results published during the silly season often serve better as fodder for jokes than as useful measurements of significant trends.

Thus, with the turning of the leaves inside the beltway, why the hell are we still talking about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Weren't we told they were both populist gimmicks?

Shouldn't they be fading into the mists? After all, in a post-Citizens United landscape, the filthy rich Super PACS are supposed to be controlling the game. So we can't help but wonder about two things:
  • How much longer can Trump stay ahead of the pack in the opinion polls before he's hoisted by his own petard?
  • When will Sanders' unlikely bandwagon be crushed by Hillary Clinton's unstoppable juggernaut? 
Of course, the know-it-all pundits are still saying the Sanders phenomenon is about to wither. But let's not forget, at this point in 2007, Hillary Clinton was the presumed Democratic nominee; the smart money was not yet on Barack Obama. Clinton has spit out a lead before.

Some observers are saying Clinton's steady loss of support over the summer won't matter in the long run. Maybe so, but what if Clinton inadvertently helps Sanders stay in the game? For instance, if former-Sec. of State Clinton stumbles during her testimony before the Select Committee on Benghazi, scheduled for October 22, that's the sort of thing that could be a game-changer.

What if one of Bill Clinton's heretofore unnoticed "mistakes" comes out of the woodwork? Another Monica Lewinsky could fling a monkey wrench into the gears of that aforementioned juggernaut.

If anything like those imagined troubles appears in the weeks to come, it could bring Vice President Joe Biden off the bench and into the game. Biden would immediately peel off some support from Clinton and Sanders. Hard to say how much from either of them. At this writing Biden is still playing it coy.

However, that doesn't mean yet another Democrat won't hear the call for a Clinton-alternative if it gets loud enough. Although Jim Webb's campaign seems to be going nowhere, if an opening occurs some Virginians might wish Sen. Tim Kaine would consider tossing his hat into the ring.

Openings? One of the factors that has allowed Sanders to pick up steam is that when Clinton amps up her delivery during a speech, to drive a point home, sometimes it sounds like she's picked over and practiced her spiel so much she comes off as disconnected from the meaning of the sentences. Cold. While Sanders' natural gruffness has looked at times like charisma, Clinton has too often looked uncomfortable.

Among his growing legions of supporters, authenticity has been playing as Sanders' strong suit. It advances his cause to point out that on his way to the U.S. Senate he served multiple terms as a mayor and a congressman. Furthermore, it buffs Sanders' image when Dr. Cornel West says that if the election were left up to voters 25-and-under, Bernie would win it.

In that light Sanders looks less like a fluke and more like the leader of a new movement. To feed that movement concept, in Atlanta on Sept. 11, the professorial Sanders said: "The greed of the billionaire class is destroying this country and whether they like it, or not, we are going to stop that greed."

Likewise, at least in some respects, Citizen Trump probably isn't a fluke, either. He is speaking for the basic thinking of many of today's conservatives, who love Trump's brand of belligerence -- especially when it comes to his remarks about immigration. The xenophobia coalescing in the USA today is a signal that wall-building on the border is only going to become a bigger issue.

Look at what's happening in Europe, where the escalating migrant/refugee crisis is bound to spawn plenty of mean-spirited reactions across the pond. Yet, today, with modern communications, millions of people trapped in desperate situations know exactly how hopeless their futures are. For young families there's no putting that genie of awareness back in the bottle.

Rather than terrorism, how to cope with rising tides of refugees is likely to be next year's biggest political issue. Rather than a silly season fluke, Trump may be the tip of a spear in America -- a spear of paranoid and unapologetic bashers of "the other." As much as anything else, this trend toward Trump-ism within the Republican Party may have goosed Speaker of the House John Boehner's into his sudden resignation.

Instead of opposing him, conservative politicians in America may soon be falling over one another seeking to trump Trump, by being more extreme. Politicians still planning to follow election year tradition, by changing their tunes to cater to the middle of the road -- such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush -- may just find it to be virtually an empty landscape.

With a no-holds-barred Sanders vs. Trump presidential contest it surely wouldn't be boring. Pundits might see a gaping hole where independent thinking and moderation used to be. Instead of politics of the melting pot, 2016 could be a year for politics of the centrifuge. How far Bernie's bandwagon might go in such a high-contrast milieu is anybody's guess.

-- 30 --

Sunday, June 28, 2015

About Those Monuments


The Confederate flag controversy that exploded following the nine murders in Charleston landed on millions of Facebook pages. My Facebook posts of articles about the flag and other commemorations of the Confederacy, etc., brought in a range of comments. Some of the more entertaining reactions were prompted by a facetious post of mine: 
With the way Richmond has allowed for some plain old buildings to get decorated with murals, mostly with good results, maybe City Hall has enough time before the UCI World Road Cycling Championships, in September, to get some artists to wrap the Confederate monuments in town with fabric -- a la Christo. Maybe throw some abstract expressionist tarps over them, or whatever. We've got the artists who could pull it off right here in town.
It inspired some wiseacre responses, as I hoped it would. But I also hoped it would goose Richmonders into thinking about how the rest of the world sees Monument Avenue's famous sculptures on pedestals 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

Of course, there were folks who took my satirical suggestion to wrap them seriously. Some enthusiastically agreed. Others disagreed, fearing a papering over of history would result.

However, it has become obvious we're living through a momentous time – a tipping point, to do with symbolism referring to the so-called Lost Cause. Hey, I never expected to hear Republican statewide office holders in South Carolina call for the removal of the Stars and Bars from its flagpole on statehouse grounds. The momentum to retire that same image from license plates, etc., ASAP, has skipped to other states – including Virginia.

Stemming from the sea change underway, just how many public commemorations of the Confederacy will be affected remains to be seen. For the time being the focus is mostly on flags. Which makes some sense, because flags are graphic symbols of ideas and events. What about public schools and bridges named after Confederate heroes?

The flags can easily be put in museums. Renaming a bridge might ruffle feathers, but it won't be all that difficult. Bringing it all the way home, what to do about heroic sculpture in our midst that's extremely offensive to a significant portion of the community is a problem not so easily solved in a lasting way.

The story of how the statues situated on Richmond's most recognized tourist attraction got there is interesting enough. Yet how the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee on horseback was generally viewed when it was unveiled in 1890 and how it is generally viewed in 2015 is different.

That needs to be addressed, but there's a complication. So many people who grew up in Richmond still believe what amounts to pickled history. Letting loose of the propaganda many Virginians were spoon-fed as children will be nearly impossible for some folks.

In 1961, my seventh-grade history book, which was the official history of Virginia for use in all public junior high schools — as decreed by the General Assembly — had this to say about slavery at the end of its Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.
In 1961 I had no reason to question that paragraph's veracity. Now those words read quite differently.

Tomorrow, if not sooner, Richmond's citizenry needs to start a conversation about Monument Avenue. It would be nice if leaders would lead. Yes, there will be people who will want to bulldoze the Lee Monument, even though some of Richmond's most respected art experts say it's pretty good art. It's a stretch to say that of the Davis Monument.

Some of my Facebook friends have suggested moving the Confederate statues to a museum or a theme park. Hey, I'm ready to dismantle the Jefferson Davis eyesore on Monument Avenue today and ship it down to Mississippi – his home state.

However, the suggestions that appeal to me the most, so far, go something like this: 
  • Add signage around the monuments to put them in a context, which would turn Monument Avenue into a museum of a sort.
  • Add more monuments to the stately avenue, statues of Virginians who we now want to celebrate; maybe less emphasis on war.  
Two of the first names for new monuments that come to mind for me are Maggie Walker and Lewis Powell. The aforementioned discussion would surely produce more names and additional ideas worth considering. Such a discussion might also open the door to an investigation of how our history books were cooked to facilitate denial and glorify infamy. Who did that? Why?

Regardless of our views about today's political issues, all of us in Richmond probably need to know more about our city's slave market days before the Civil War. That dark chapter of local history needs a good deal more sunlight cast upon it.

These discussions have been a long time coming. As far today's school children in Richmond are concerned, better late than never.

-- 30 -- 
--Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Over-Awareness of the Camera


Behind makeshift barricades in the basement of a small church there will be 18 people, 17 of which will be hostages of an assault rifle-toting, 21-year-old schizophrenic full of sweet red wine and homemade speed.

The cops surrounding the church know he has already killed at least three people. Unbeknownst to the specialist negotiating with him on the telephone, the hostage-taker will have his finger on the trigger of a portable nuclear device.

To buy time the culprit's demand that CNN broadcast his message to the world will be met. His laptop will transmit his image and voice as he announces: "I am the Looney Tunes Bomber, my presentation will be a short subject." Then he will hurl accusations at a list of people, some of them celebrities. The final minute of his rambling performance will be consumed by a rapt audience of millions of viewers. 

After chuckling, “Tha, tha … that’s all folks,” the wannabe celebrity will set off the first nuclear bomb to be used by a terrorist.

It will blow Boise, or maybe Baltimore, off the map. The first video of the suicidal bomber’s diabolical stunt will go up on YouTube less than a half-hour after the appearance of the mushroom cloud.

Somewhere, in Rio, or Tokyo, or elsewhere, a heart will be beating faster in the chest of another angry child abuse victim, a boy who will be inspired by LTB’s bloodthirsty audacity. Instantly, he will decide to somehow set off an explosion to overshadow it.

In 2015 we are watching a generation grow up with an awareness of the camera that goes far beyond previous generations. And, we are witnessing a snowballing of the ability of anyone to transmit words and images about love, hate, religion, style and politics, by way of the Internet, to a worldwide audience.

It’s anybody’s guess where the current generation’s insatiable thirst to record and share voluminous records of their everyday lives will lead ... good or bad. We do already know that revolutionaries everywhere are relying on social media in a way that is mind-boggling.

Meanwhile, more and more we are seeing news stories that are tantamount to stunts staged for willing cameras. While it's fashionable these days to scold the press for its tasteless and excessive coverage of certain events, it's not entirely the fault of media executives and editors. The stories they encounter, in some cases, have been planned and packaged by people who are damn good at planting a story.

A precedent-setter in this area occurred in 1979 with the shameful cooperation that developed between news-gatherers for television and the Iranian "students," who demonstrated on a daily basis in front of the American embassy during the hostage crisis that sabotaged the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Now we know that much of the feverish chanting and fist waving was done on cue. Now we know the camera shots were pushed in tight because the angry horde yelling, "Death to America!" was only a dozen souls deep.

Today, it seems cultural and religious grievances are routinely becoming more heated, here and abroad, by provocative or slanted news coverage. Moreover, much of the reportage these days actually seems designed to inflame situations being covered.

On top of that, in America, the press scrutiny of angry the anti-government firestorm being stoked by some for political gain is surely helping to push some alienated militia types closer to the edge -- the sort that sees Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as a hero.

Speaking of McVeigh, the future’s bomber in the church basement will have already seen how plenty of sullen murderers have been made into celebrities by the press. So his last thoughts might be about who he hopes will play him in the movie about his precedent-setting stunt.

Ka-boom!

-- 30 --

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Hippies Were Right

by F.T. Rea

In Libby Hill Park the convergence of Memorial Day weekend and a longtime friend’s 70th birthday party underlined an observation made in a conversation. A trio of grizzled baby boomers -- Chuck Wrenn, Mason Wyatt and me -- agreed that in hindsight the hippies were right about Vietnam, right about war, in general. The occasion was to wish Chuck a happy birthday.

A few minutes before that particular conversation I had been engaged in another one with different guys. It was noted how the same memories come to mind each time we're suddenly forced to pause and picture our friends who died in Vietnam. Such remembrances aside, the party itself was festive and the atmosphere was convivial.

So much so that when campaigner Joe Morrissey happened upon it, he wasted no time in inviting himself to the gathering. Morrissey had his new family with him -- the baby and its mother. The presence of the three added a touch of surrealism the event had probably been lacking.

It was also be noted here that most Americans now enjoying their geezerhood were not hippies. Most never went to a political demonstration or took LSD, either. No, most members of my generation basically followed in their parents' footsteps, which wasn't all that colorful, so the real story gets blurred sometimes. 

Although, at 57, he's a baby boomer, I have to doubt Morrissey was ever a hippie. One thing for sure: with his 19-year-old girlfriend by his side, wearing a dress that clung to her body like it has been painted on, he obviously still enjoys creating a spectacle. Then the news-makers said their goodbyes to the voters and strolled their way west on East Franklin Street. After all, it was a holiday weekend and there were surely other parties underway in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, it was still a beautiful day for a outdoor celebration and the self-congratulatory discussion about what the hippies were right about touched on other topics. For instance, in spite of being mocked as tree-huggers, hippies were as right as rain about wanting to protect Mother Nature. They were right about various movements to make laws and customs more fair for all citizens.

Speaking of old times, compared to some other eras, a good many of the American movies produced in the hippies' decade-long heyday -- 1967-76 -- were rather interesting. But please don't blame the flamboyant hippies for all the popular culture fads of the '70s; disco music was not part of the hippie scene. Eventually, the culture shifted and punks replaced hippies, just as hippies had replaced the beatniks.

Then the politics of the '80s swung back to the right. The hippies' anti-greed, live-and-let-live style was rejected. Yuppies prevailed. Conspicuous consumption came back into style. The Cold War ended but the notion of perpetual war didn't die. A decade later the fog of 9/11's terrorist attacks made too many Americans willing to send another generation abroad to kill and be killed. In the doing America created new enemies by the million, torture was even justified. 

Now the fog has cleared. Duping the voting public into supporting another wave of rightwing politicians calling for launching another war in the Middle East isn't going to be easy. It looks to me like 2016 isn't going to be a good year for war mongers. Hopefully, the ghosts of those who died in Vietnam and Iraq will rest easier in Memorial Days to come.

Hey, the hippies were right about pot, too.

Peace.