Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Buttering Up

Can you imagine the world we would live in if we were all judged based on things we said or did when we were young and foolish?

Actually, if you are a celebrity, you do live in that world.

If we could whip out an instrument, not unlike a defibrillator, and measure what's in Paula Deen's heart at this very moment, then maybe she wouldn't be persona non grata right now.

Maybe she wouldn't be hemorrhaging support from her network and from her endorsement clients and she wouldn't be kept away with a ten-foot pole by her on-air colleagues.

If we could go into that ticker of Deen's and find out whether she is, today, an abhorrent racist Southern belle, wouldn't that be great?

Wouldn't it save a lot of angst and hurt feelings if Deen's true views of those of color were as easily determined, were as black and white (no pun intended), as the fact that she, once upon a time, used racial slurs?

Deen, fired by Food Network and dropped by Smithfield as a spokesperson because of her admission of using racial slurs some 27 years ago, has taken to video to record another one of those apologies that are akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out---an analogy that the Georgia native ought to be familiar with.

The apologies are rather pointless, but yet you don't dare not issue them if you find yourself in a stink akin to the one that Deen is in currently. The apologies are unlikely to sway anyone in this day and age of the 24-hour news cycle, where we all function as judge, jury and executioner in the time it takes to skim an article on our computer screens.

"Oh, Paula Deen used racial slurs? She must be a bad person. Thought she wasn't. Oh, look---a man yanked off part of his penis (click)."*

*actual news item, btw

The apologies that Deen recorded aren't going to gain her any more support or lose her any, really. As I said, we've all cast our vote already. Deen's fans and supporters won't be swayed, because they believe her to be a charming soul to begin with. And Deen's detractors aren't going to be sold on the videos, either.

Yet if Deen didn't apologize, her silence would be deafening. Go figure.

So Deen spoke with as much sincerity as she could muster (Lord knows how many takes of the video were recorded) and literally begged for forgiveness, even as her business empire was crumbling around her.

The only hope someone in Deen's position really has is if someone in the camp of her haters speaks out on her behalf. The Rev. Al Sharpton perhaps came the closest.

"A lot of us have in the past said things we have regretted saying years ago," he told TMZ. "I think she has a lawsuit now about activities now whether it was discriminatory. And whether or not she's engaged in things now. It's not about her past. ... She deserves what's fair, but that's based on what she's engaged in now."

In other words, let's let everything play out. But that's not very sexy, is it?

Deen's admission of using the slurs came in answering pre-trial questions in the matter of a lawsuit brought upon her by Lisa Jackson, a former employee of Deen's who accuses Deen and her associates of creating a hostile, sexually-tinged, racist environment in which to work.

Deen admitted to using the N-word "several times." but not for a long time, she said.

According to the Huffington Post, Pastor Gregory A. Tyson Sr., an African-American pastor at First Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah, also came to Deen's defense. He told local station WTOC the chef is a friend to him and to the black community. Using the N-word, he posits, does not automatically make her a racist.

I find it laughable that as a Southern woman growing up before the Civil Rights movement, Paula Deen's use of racial slurs should be shocking to anyone. And, as Pastor Tyson says, such use doesn't necessarily equate to full-blown racism.

However, the suit by Jackson against Deen and her empire is certainly one worth following. For Jackson's allegations are far more recent than Deen's ribald language of the mid-1980s.

Paula Deen says she isn't racist and that her use of racial slurs in the past does not accurately depict what's in her heart today.

If only we could measure that. Or if only we could just take people for their word. But none of us seems to want to do that. The virulent nature of the Internet and social media calls for a decision right now, not tomorrow, not the day after.

Like Paul Newman said in Absence of Malice, "You (the newspaper) say someone's guilty and everybody believes you. You say they're innocent, and nobody cares."

Newman's character, Michael Gallagher, was speaking about print journalism. But the words ring true about the Internet's yellow variety.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Looney Tunes?

Every summer, I wonder the same thing.

What might it be like to drive an ice cream truck?

Can you make any money doing it? Is it boring? Or is it among the most fulfilling things to do in life?

I don't know anyone, personally, who's commandeered a roving vehicle, selling frozen confections out of the back. So I can't draw on anyone's experience.

Maybe you're reading this and are acting like Arnold Horshack from "Welcome Back, Kotter"---bouncing out of your seat, raising your hand and shouting, "OOH! OOH!"

Maybe YOU know someone who has driven an ice cream truck. Maybe you yourself have. Maybe you do currently.

Hey, I'll just be thrilled if you're reading this, period.

I think about ice cream truck driving every summer because, of course, we have such trucks roaming our streets these days. The thing that strikes me though---and this would be a big negative for me---is the ad nauseam repetition of the truck's music.

The trucks that cruise our neighborhood play the same ditty, over and over. And it's only about 8-10 seconds long.

I have an annoying tendency to have songs stick in my head for days. Sometimes weeks. And, typically, it's not the entire song that is stuck---it's an 8-10 second portion. Just like the clips the ice cream trucks play.

So would my proclivity to have songs stick in my head cancel out the continuous musical clip of an ice cream truck? Kind of like how two positive magnets repel each other? Dunno.

By the way, my days of ice cream truck recollection pre-date the recorded, tinny music heard from today's trucks.

I grew up listening to bells.

The Good Humor truck, that compact, white vehicle sent from heaven, didn't play music. Its driver jingled bells, manually.

The bells were in a row above the driver, center to the windshield.

Look closely and you can see the famous Good Humor bells in the top center of the windshield

The driver did his 5 mph while yanking on the string that jangled the bells. He didn't run the risk of music being stuck in his head, but he sure must have gone home with his arm and elbow throbbing.

The bells were heard, though---every bit as clear as today's recorded music. Those Good Humor bells had an uncanny ability to penetrate brick walls and closed windows in my Livonia burg.

We also had Mister Softee, but I can't recall how he announced his presence.

At times I think it would be kind of neat to drive an ice cream truck. It's honest work. Not sure how much dough you can clear weekly, but I can think of worse things to do.

I wonder if they'd let me drive with ear plugs? Or jingle bells instead?

Frankly, I might have trouble with the 5 mph thing. Driving too slow makes me nervous.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

This Mike Isn't On

Well, lookie here---we have ourselves another "only in Detroit" moment.

Specifically, only in Detroit, when it comes to politics and city administration.

Mike Duggan won't be the next mayor of Detroit. If this was football, you'd say that he got waylaid by an end around. If it was basketball, you'd say that he got backdoored. If it was hockey, you'd say that he got caught with his head down. If this was baseball, you'd say that he got picked off third base while staring into the stands.

OK, enough with the sports analogies. But not enough with the mess that yanked Duggan from the August 6 mayoral primary ballot, for it has only just begun, and it hasn't even yet had an effect on the citizenry.

Duggan won't be mayor because he won't be on the ballot. He can't even be a write-in candidate.

Duggan, bidding to become the first white mayor of Detroit since Roman Gribbs was replaced by Coleman Young in 1973, has been bumped out of contention due to a technicality and his own malfeasance.

The bottom line is this: Duggan moved into Detroit officially on April 16, 2012. He filed for the mayoral race on April 2, 2013---some 14 days before a full year of his residency had gone by. He had until May 14, 2013 to file. So technically, Duggan was ineligible to be mayor because according to the dates, he filed while having lived in Detroit for 351 days, not 365. All candidates have to be full-time residents of the city for at least one full year before filing for the primary ballot.

Duggan unsuccessfully argued that his candidacy's official start date should be May 14, 2013 (the day of the filing deadline)---not April 2, 2013, when he turned in his signatures and formally filed.

Duggan screwed up. No question. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision that knocked Duggan off the ballot, because courts have to go by the letter of the law. Words like "spirit" and "common sense" too often don't have a place in a courtroom.

Outraged folks are calling the residency rule "dumb." They are wrong. Rules aren't dumb---just the people who don't abide by them are dumb.

Mike Duggan

The rule is a good one. Why shouldn't a mayoral candidate have lived in the city for at least one year? That seems reasonable.

Duggan knew the rule, we presume. If he didn't, shame on him for not knowing. And if he did know it, then why did he file on April 2, when he only had to wait 14 days to do so, and still not be in any danger of missing the May 14 deadline?

Now, having said that...

It would be delightful if the courts were allowed to say, "You know what? We acknowledge that Mr. Duggan should have waited until at least April 16, 2013 to file for the mayoral race, but we'll let this one slide because there really is no harm, no foul here."

But courts can't really do that, nor should they. That precedence is far more dangerous than anything done in the Duggan situation.

Can you imagine if courts were allowed to bend the rules and interpret them at anything less than face value? No matter the intention, that would be a very slippery slope. If you don't like a rule, petition to have it changed. But in the meanwhile, just abide by it.

Mike Duggan didn't, and now here we are---a city devoid of one candidate who might have done its people some good as mayor.

Duggan was a frontrunner, according to polls. He was running neck-and-neck with Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, by all accounts.

I had a $20 side wager with my mother that Duggan would indeed become the city's first white mayor since Gribbs gave way to Young on January 1, 1974.

I also told her that the bet was off if Duggan was declared ineligible.

I was thinking ahead, you see.

Too bad Mike Duggan didn't do the same.

His is a dissolved candidacy, and it's too bad. He might have done some things. He might have been the city's saving grace.

Thanks to a silly mistake, we'll never find out.

Only in Detroit. Or at least it seems that way.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The "Other" Amanda Show

The former child star is a breed of his or her own.

You never know what you're going to get once the lights dim and the shows are canceled and the cherubic face is no longer in the public consciousness.

There's almost like a cocoon that the star lives in, in the interim period between the time the last inch of videotape or film is recorded, and when he or she re-emerges. It's during that incubation when things either go fine or terribly wrong, it seems.

Then the former child star emerges, splashing back onto the scene like a frog landing on your windshield.

Too often, the incubation wasn't kind.

The round, full face isn't so round or full anymore. The bright eyes aren't so bright.

He or she isn't 17 years old anymore.

The star is back on the scene, but with a cocktail in one hand, a cigarette dangling from the mouth, and telling the world to go screw itself.

The face is gaunt, the eyes baleful and blood shot. The frame is considerably more bony than what you remember. The mouth starts spewing obscenities.

It's happening again.

This time it's Amanda Bynes whose incubation time wasn't kind to her---at all.

Bynes, 27, who was an anchor for the Nickelodeon network back in the day with her unusual blend of fresh-faced, adolescent sketch comedy, has been on a months-long rant and bender, taking to Twitter to badmouth former colleagues and current stars alike. She's dying her hair, wearing wigs, posting strange photos of herself and generally acting like white trash.

I was suspicious of Bynes when she announced her "retirement" from acting in June 2010, simply explaining that she didn't like it anymore. That's fine, but she really didn't have anything she was retiring to.

I had a bad feeling about Bynes at that time. As rough of a world as acting and entertaining can be, at least it's a world where there are people surrounding you. There are potential interventionists.

But when Bynes "retired" (she "un-retired" not long after but still didn't really work, per se), she cast herself into space without a tether, figuratively speaking.

Needless to say, "retirement" hasn't gone so well for Bynes.

The behavior in the past nine months or so has been bizarre, to say the very least. Rumors circulated that she had been suicidal at one point.

The arrests came, fast and furious, as they always do when the young star is unable to cope with life. She had difficulty operating a motor vehicle without crashing it into things, for one.

Bynes started doing drugs, it was suspected and later confirmed. Marijuana was her flavor of choice.

Just like Robert Downey Jr. (who I wrote about recently) did in his late-20s and early-30s, Bynes is compiling an impressive arrest record and is engaging in weird, perhaps self-destructive behavior. It's only a matter of time, it seems, when Bynes' actions will become injurious, to someone.

I didn't really see this coming with Amanda Bynes---until her retirement three years ago. Just goes to show you how powerful those post-spotlight cocoons can be.

It's not that Bynes never got a job after her Nickelodeon days were over with in the early-2000s. She landed some movie roles and a few of them weren't half bad. She kept acting as recently as 2009. She was 23 at the time and appeared to making the transition from child star to young actor rather seamlessly.

Then she stopped working in 2010 and things went sideways.

Bynes has become a caricature, and now she's hinting that some of this stuff is just a girl having some fun. It's all a joke, she'd have us believe.

As usual, though, when a celebrity gets a little kooky, we have no idea what to think. Joaquin Phoenix, anyone?

Once again we are privy to a celebrity train wreck happening in front of us in slow motion.

No joke.

Friday, June 7, 2013


It might have started with LOL. Not sure. My Internet experience dates to 1998, but my chatting with other folks came several years later.


We need a new dictionary. Not for new words---for new abbreviations and acronyms.

I remember, as a youngster, happening upon my mom's old shorthand tablet, from the days when she was a secretary. I can still see the hieroglyphics on the spiral bound pages. How in the world, I thought, could anyone make heads or tales out of this gobbledygook?

My wife was also in clerical work, and she used to write in shorthand as well. She kept some of her old tablets, too.

It's getting to where the "shorthand" that people use on the Internet, thanks to Social Media, is almost as undecipherable to me as the Gregg shorthand stuff from back in the day.

I know the basics (see above examples), lest you think me a total Luddite.

But the use of abbreviations and acronyms is getting out of hand. I can't keep up.

As usual when it comes to anything computer-related, it's time to pick the brains of the adolescents and the 18-to-25 year-old crowd. They always know best, it seems.

But a teen isn't always handy. So I'm left to decipher this Internet "code" all by myself.

Our boss the other day used PMA in an email message. The tone was that of personal happiness and a positive outlook on life.


Now, some of you reading this right now might be barking out the definition of PMA, like you're watching a game show on TV, and I'm the goofball, dufus contestant.

I didn't have a teenager handy (nor my 20-year-old daughter), so I Googled PMA.

It took me awhile to find anything that was remotely appropriate, given the nature of the e-mail.

PMA= Positive Mental Attitude.

I guess we're all in a hurry---to write.

How else to explain the rampant use of abbreviations? Text messaging is to blame, I think. Texting has given birth to its own language, just about---and that language despises words or phrases that might be hard on the thumbs.

So we get stuff like PMA, and YKWIT.

You heard me---YKWIT.

Someone actually used that one on me, in a Facebook comment.

No Google this time. I asked the culprit what the hell YKWIT means.

"You know what I think," was his reply.

I think that one's a stretch.

First, no fair using a word in an acronym where the first letter is silent. That's just plain evil.

Second, you're on Facebook. Why not just write, "You know what I think"?

I mean, I asked and you had to write it anyway...right?

OK so maybe he was commenting using his phone. Maybe he was short on time---hence YKWIT.

How much of a time saver is typing YKWIT vs. "You know what I think"? Maybe four, five seconds?

YKWIT was in all caps, which is an added step to the texting process, by the way (or, BTW).

The over-reliance on Internet shorthand is going to cause some trouble, I think---if it hasn't already.

This is what I see, sometimes, when I try to read some Internet "shorthand"

Don't you think we're going to start using this "language" so much, that eventually multiple acronyms are  going to be "spelled" the same but hold different meanings? Kind of like Internet homonyms? Couldn't that cause confusion, hurt feelings, or worse?

Blog sites like Tumblr, which are filled with "fan girls," use abbreviations for their favorite celebrities. But that's OK, because they all know who they're talking about. It's when those kids cross-pollinate and start using those abbreviations with us non-hipsters, where some confusion can set in. They sometimes forget to whom they're addressing.

The acronyms of the 21st century are seeping into non-Internet life. A popular one being used lately by retail outlets is BOGO---buy one, get one (free).

Again, feel free to denounce me, but I had no idea what BOGO meant until I asked a co-worker, who seemed to know it, cold. So maybe I missed the bus on BOGO.

I try not to use too many of these new "words," as much as I can help it. Sure, I'll do a LOL or a BTW or even a FWIW (for what it's worth), but other than those, I spell words and phrases to their full capacity.

My "cheat" while texting is dropping apostrophes, so "don't" becomes "dont", etc.

The fear that I have is that folks are just coming up with their own acronyms, like my Facebook friend with YKWIT, which I have yet to see used by anyone else, anywhere.

I tell you what, it sure gives new meaning to the phrase, "in your own words."

Because some of us, I think, truly have them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Those Were the Days...

I've always felt that the best litmus test for measuring the impact an actor has on the audience is asking myself, "Could I see anyone else playing that role?"

Try as I might, I can't see anyone in my mind's eye other than Jean Stapleton playing Edith Bunker.

Could others have done it? Of course. Could they have been good at it? Absolutely.

But could anyone have done it better?

It wasn't until near the age of 50 that Stapleton, who died last week (she was 90), became known to anyone other than hardcore theater goers and sharp-eyed TV viewers in the medium's Golden Age.

She wasn't the first stage and live TV actor to find fame past 50 in the age of pre-recorded television shows "filmed before a live audience" (as they still like to say, up front).

Stapleton finally found her fortune when she hooked up with "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear and co-star Carroll O'Connor in 1971, playing the confused, bemused, and sometimes amused wife of O'Connor's bigoted king of the malapropism, Archie Bunker.

There was a constant warmth to Edith Bunker, and we all knew she had to be a saint in order to be married to Archie. We didn't like the way Archie talked to her, but the fact that O'Connor was often going one-on-three against Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers (Mike and Gloria Stivic, respectively---Archie's son-in-law and daughter), made Archie's acerbic crankiness somewhat bearable. Stapleton, et al enabled us to laugh at Archie, instead of letting him get under our skin.

There is no question that Stapleton's long resume prior to "All in the Family" prepared her for the show's run, as well as letting her tap into the various facial expressions that Edith's character provided. Often, Edith didn't need to speak. We saw everything we needed to see, heard everything we needed to hear, just by looking at her.

That knack for wordless emotions was a bi-product of the Golden Age of television, which Stapleton was heavily involved in, back in the 1950s. In those days, TV shows (especially dramas) were basically nothing more than theater on camera. The stage blocking was similar to live theater. The scripts were rarely made-for-TV; they were all adaptations of Broadway and off-Broadway plays.

The TV directors of the day loved to use this thing called a close-up, which film directors had begun to use with remarkable success a decade or so prior. A full head shot of an actor could tell volumes, even if that actor never opened his/her mouth.

The technique was used mainly for dramas. That's why you'd rarely see a close-up during an episode of "I Love Lucy" or "The Honeymooners." Comedy didn't need close-ups; drama did.

But let us not kid ourselves. Edith Bunker was a very verbal character. There was her voice, for one---high-pitched to the point of grating, her lines often blared rather than spoken. Stapleton's voice as Edith made anything Fran Drescher has uttered seem like child's play.

Archie Bunker was a character more bigoted than life. He was everything that was wrong with the small thinking of the 1960s' Civil Rights Movement, all condensed into one character.

Generally, loudmouth boobs work best on TV when they have a sweet-as-pie counterpart. And that's what Edith was.

Of course, the danger of playing a character as iconic as Edith Bunker is the T-word---typecasting.

Stapleton did work after her character was killed off when O'Connor got his own show spun off the Bunker family, but few of the roles resonated. She did some voice work. She took bit parts and guest starring roles. She went back to Broadway, perhaps her true love. She and her husband ran a summer stock theater for about 30 years, which overlapped the run of "All in the Family."

What Jean Stapleton didn't do, believe it or not, was watch "All in the Family." At the very least, she didn't go out of her way to watch the episodes. Finally, by 2000, she relented, and agreed that it was pretty damn good.

Stapleton eventually tired of Edith Bunker, and asked to be written out of the spin-off, "Archie Bunker's Place," in the early-1980s. But the impression she made on us was indelible.

Stapleton has said that the thing she liked about TV, as opposed to films, is that TV shows are generally shot in sequence, just as plays are performed. She liked the whole "beginning to end" feel of recording a TV show in front of a live audience.

"On the last day of our five-day work week, we did two performances and we had an audience. It was similar to theatre; we went from beginning to end, and it was very pleasing," she said.

Not half as pleasing as it was for us to watch it, Edith, you lovable dingbat.