31 August 2012

Grown Men Don't Cry: Mitt Romney's Real Audience

The lead single in the Spring of 2001 for Tim McGraw's Set This Circus Down album was "Grown Men Don't Cry." It was written by Al Anderson, Jeffrey Steele and Craig Wiseman. The narrator is out one day, feeling kinda down for reasons never given, when he happens to see a woman and her son. They're "wearing everything they own, living in a car." Our narrator "wanted to tell them it would be okay, but I just got in my Suburban and I drove away." He goes off and cries, upset at the encounter, then we follow him home to a nice dinner with his family. His daughter tells him she loves him "as she climbs the stairs" to go to bed and he cries again, moved by the moment.

It took me several listens before I cottoned onto what it was about the song that didn't set right with me. Then I realized: It was a paradigm shift.

Prior to "Grown Men Don't Cry," a country song about a mother and son living in a car would have been about the mother and son living in a car. You say to yourself, "A country song...mother and son living in a car..." and automatically you're rummaging through the jukebox in your mind, certain Loretta Lynn or Merle Haggard recorded such a song and you just can't think of the title. But by 2001, country's target demographic had changed. Country had become the sanitized soundtrack for soccer moms, heard in minivans in the suburbs even more than in pickups in the sticks. And the new target demographic related to a narrator who found it depressing to see a mother and son living in a car more than the were going to relate to a mother and son living in a car.

The country music of Haggard and Jones, Conway and Loretta, Johnny and June, Waylon and Willie, George and Tammy...that country music was for and about the downtrodden. By 2001, though, the downtrodden were, y'know, icky in the minds of the people whose money was courted by Nashville. So we get "Grown Men Don't Cry," pitched not to the mothers living in cars with their sons, but to the families who would find their pity party hijacked by seeing a mother and son living in a car.

I was reminded of this song recently when Kevin John Coyne wrote about it for Country Universe, by far the most thoughtful country music blog I've found. It's particularly curious because it was from the twilight of our pre-9/11 world, but that's a subject for another time.

I thought again about "Grown Men Don't Cry" during Mitt Romney's speech tonight at the Republican National Convention. The song was immediately conjured in my mind when Mr. Romney made the following remarks:
Today more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before. Nearly one out of six Americans is living in poverty. Look around you. These are not strangers. These are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.
Those impoverished Americans, living in their cars with their sons...it's just so sad. We should care about them because we know some of them.

It's subtle. I may not have even caught it myself, if I hadn't been recently reminded of "Grown Men Don't Cry" to such specific language and sensitivity to audience, but it's there. Romney's constituency - his real constituency - is comprised of the big money players. He's speaking to the guy who's going to drive off in his Suburban; not to the mother.

Romney's real audience tonight were the Haves, not the Have Nots. Sure, he spoke about the Have Nots, but he spoke to the Haves. Given that kind of an audience, someone might make the connection that was the time to plead for those with the resources to put Americans back to work to do so. To forego their obsessive quest to horde all the money in the world, and pay real living wages to their workers so that their workers could afford to at least rent their own apartments. To bring home their fortunes from off-shore accounts and pay their fair share. You know, if you really wanted to help the Have Nots, you do it by appealing to the Haves because they're the only ones with the resources to make a difference.

Instead, Romney made the argument that what has hurt the Have Nots has been President Barack Obama and his policies. Sorry, Guv'nor, but President Obama hasn't pushed through a single piece of legislation capping worker pay to beneath a living wage. He hasn't urged businesses to replace their full-time employees with part-timers who aren't eligible for benefits; they've done that all on their own.

Hours from now, around the country, there will be plenty of Have Nots who will insist that Mitt Romney spoke to them last night in much the same way that Tim McGraw and country music continued to enjoy their reputation for speaking for the downtrodden even when the paradigm shifted to the suburbs.

28 August 2012

One Year of DC Comics: The New 52

This month brought us the twelfth issues of The New 52 relaunched titles from DC Comics, or at least those that weren't canceled along the way. It's been a mixed bag. Overall, it's been a boon to DC sales and the tide has lifted the chatter boat for the entire industry, though of course that hasn't necessarily translated into a boon in sales for non-DC titles. Some books have been hits, others have already been canceled and yet others have limped along with decent sales but incurring the ire of readers every step of the way. Some characters have been given the short shrift, and some creators, too. You can find a rundown of all that elsewhere. My remarks are going to be confined to my own experience as a reader.

When The New 52 was announced, I was among those who expected it to turn out to be just another in a long line of overhyped event stories. "Everything changes!" Sure. Just like everything changed all those other times. Still, my interest in comics had been rekindling for nearly three years by that point and I found the chance to start fresh with new monthlies appealing. Until the New 52, I had concentrated exclusively on filling in gaps in my collection by rummaging through the back issue boxes at The Great Escape and Half Price Books. I hadn't touched a new comic in ages. I took a look at the 52 titles, even running a series of anticipatory thoughts on each of them here in this blog, noting my level of interest, etc. I became more excited as we got closer to the launch.

Initially, my two must-reads were going to be All-Star Western and Batgirl. What appealed to me about ASW was that it was set outside the rest of the titles, taking place in the late 19th Century. That meant little chance of it being roped into inevitable crossovers and universe building, though I did anticipate plot points would be established there that would manifest in present-day books from time to time, given that it's set in Gotham City. However, out of convenience, I began buying my New 52 comics at Barnes & Noble and they didn't stock All-Star Western so I missed out on it in the beginning and just sort of let it go. I did eventually pick up the first issue at The Great Escape, and I have another issue (#4, maybe?) but it's safe to say I've failed entirely at reading that book.

Batgirl, however, I've read throughout the year. It's been one of the most rewarding monthlies I've ever read. My absolute all-time favorites are, of course, Batman titles. My favorite was/is Legends of the Dark Knight, with The Batman Adventures and Batman: Shadow of the Bat right behind. Batgirl is on the same tier as Shadow of the Bat for me through its first year, and I can easily see it moving up the chain from there.
What I've enjoyed most about Batgirl is that Batgirl herself is a fully developed character. She has flaws. She has emotional triggers. She has a terrific sense of humor. She is steadfast in her values, but still working on her self-confidence. The parallels between her and myself as I've worked through my Year of Hell are obvious, and I readily admit I may have an emotional investment in Barbara that biases me in her favor.

I did pick up some other New 52 books, though. I bought Action Comics #1, intrigued by it being set five years prior to the rest of the New 52 present day. I liked it well enough and I was interested to see where it would go, but then before issue #2 even came out, it was announced that after issue #6 the book would jump forward to the present day. I felt cheated out of the primary appeal of the book and bailed.

I also picked up Batwoman and Detective Comics. I was interested in Batwoman because I was intrigued by the character (I hadn't read anything featuring her before, so it was only intrigue for me). The art by J.H. Williams III was admittedly gorgeous, but that first issue was almost entirely told with splash pages. It took me all of about five minutes to read and I felt it was awkward, full of clunky exposition, and yet simultaneously vapid. The second issue was a marked improvement, but it's been a very inconsistent book. I stuck through the first arc just to give it a fair shake, and decided to try the second primarily because I was interested to see how differently it would go with Amy Reeder handling the art. Then she was one of the various creators unceremoniously discarded by DC mid-story and I only completed reading "To Drown the World" because I was already halfway through it. I did, however, decide that issue #11 will be my last. I'll happily check out the third arc in collected form eventually, as I do like the character and I believe in this series's potential, but I'm just not enjoying the storytelling.

As for Detective Comics, I hadn't planned to buy any Batman solo books originally. I didn't have a strong feeling for which to pick and I didn't even want to start with something that was going to compel me to wind up following all four. But then after I picked up Action Comics #1, it seemed natural to also buy Detective Comics #1. I had a conversation with my pal Jandy about it and I think I was also drawn to 'Tec because it was the first Batman comic I ever bought (Detective Comics #603 in 1989). There's some kind of salmon-back-to-the-stream psychological association at work, drawing us back to whatever titles were our firsts.

The first issue had a few missteps, but overall I absolutely loved the first 4-issue arc. It was my favorite of the three books I read at the time. Then it began to adhere to the law of diminishing returns. I still liked the second arc, featuring The Penguin, but it was a step down from The Dollmaker arc. Then came this stuff with Mr. Toxic and I just can't even say I care about it. The back-up stories featuring Catwoman and Two-Face have been terrific, though, and they've helped offset my waning enjoyment of the primary stories. Writer/illustrator Tony Daniel is leaving the book (or has been thrown off it; I'm unclear) after Detective Comics Annual #1 (due tomorrow) and next month's Detective Comics #0. I'll give his successors a trial, but if they don't wow me, I may bail on this book, too.

I'm told I would enjoy Scott Snyder's work on Batman, but I made the conscious decision to avoid that one shortly after I learned that "The Court of the Owls" story was going to be so long; and that was before it yielded to "The Night of the Owls" crossover that so awkwardly ran roughshod over other comics. Mind you, I actually liked both Daniel's 'Tec and Simone's Batgirl issues but both felt like interruptions in those respective series. I've heard it was even worse in some of the other books. Still, I'm curious enough that I'd like to sit down with The Court of the Owls collected edition and see what I think.
Though they're all published in different weeks, I've been holding off until I have all three books in hand to read them together. I've started with Batwoman more often than not, because it's been the one where my expectations have been the lowest. Each month, I called it a win if the issue didn't make me feel cheated. That's not a very rewarding feeling for an ongoing reader, though, which is why I've bailed. Then I'd read Detective Comics and get my Batman fix. Last is always Batgirl because I know it'll be the best and leave me on a high. I love that when I finish reading Batgirl, I have that rush of "ZOMG! WHY ISN'T IT NEXT MONTH ALREADY?!" That's the hallmark of a great monthly, and I want that feeling when I finish reading each comic. Tony Daniel gave it to me for the first five months of 'Tec, but it came less frequently and with less potency thereafter.

At C2E2, I also picked up two issues of the already-canceled Men of War. I was kind of interested in that one just because it wasn't a superhero book and I thought some variety might be nice, plus I absolutely loved the covers by Viktor Kalvachev. His artwork blew away all other covers on the shelves each month. There were only eight issues published (making it particularly irksome that the collected edition only includes the first six), so I'm thinking with Batwoman off my reading list I might begin rummaging through the back issue bins for the six issues I don't already have of that book. There's no immediacy to it, though.
When The New 52 launched, everyone knew it would go through this kind of attrition, losing readers along the way. The question was, once the dust settled, would it stand as a success? I hadn't touched new monthlies in about a decade. I bought four #1 issues (later another two). I've read three books through the first eleven issues and am still actively reading two of them. I could see myself replacing Batwoman with something else. Obviously, my reading isn't going to make or break DC Comics. But I suspect I'm fairly representative of a lot of readers from my generation who bailed around the turn of the century but have remained fans of the medium and were lured back by The New 52 to sample the wares. I can't say whether there are enough of us that DC is happy, but I can say that as long as Gail Simone keeps writing Batgirl, I'm happy.

26 August 2012

I'm an Unhealthy Malcontent

Wow. This is just my third post this month. I have to go all the way back to March of 2010 to find the last month in which I published a mere three posts. Of course, part of this is the fact that I've taken to reviewing movies on Letterboxd instead of here. At present, you'll find 22 reviews for this month in my diary, including a handful of short films and a couple of re-watches. My movie review style hasn't changed with the different forum; they're still just as much about my viewing experience as they are about the films. For instance, I spend as much time in my review of Roman Holiday discussing that night (I started at the J.B. Speed Art Museum and then met some friends for the feature at The Louisville Palace) as I do the film itself. That was a good night for me; I finally got to spend some face-to-face time with Chester Harding's portrait of Daniel Boone, which I've wanted to do for a few years now. I've seen it before, of course, but with the Speed set to close for three years for their renovation (three bloody years! I know!), I figured it was important that I get down there while I still had the chance.

With Chester Harding's portrait of Daniel Boone.
Following that nearly three-week long flare at the end of July, August was mostly good to me on the health front until yesterday. I was supposed to go with some friends to the Cincinnati Reds game, before which they were to retire Barry Larkin's #11. My friend had come into four tickets, free, so it wasn't going to cost me anything but concession money. I was excited. Plus, Baxter was screening Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at midnight. To date, I've only seen from Star Trek VI onward on the big screen.

I awoke yesterday morning with a migraine, though, that just would not let up. I took Tylenol, drank Powerade, slept as much as I could, blah, blah, blah. Nothin' doin'. By evening, I was sweating profusely and roasting. My migraine had evolved into Ebola, from which I suffer semi-regularly. Around 12:30, I was shaking so violently that my back is still sore, almost 17 hours later. I did not, obviously, get to the game or the movie.

While lying in bed in misery, though, I found myself fixating on my failed marriage. I've tried to remain bright about it all, but yesterday, every time I fell back asleep I found myself dreaming and thinking the angriest things I think have crossed my mind in the last ten months. I have rarely felt as hateful and as bitter as I felt yesterday. I was supposed to have someone to rely on "in sickness and in health." I held up my end of the bargain. I was betrayed. I was abandoned. I was forsaken, thrown under the bus and discarded. I feel more resentful after yesterday than I have at nearly any other point in the entire duration of all this.

I continue to worry about my prospects for meeting someone. Every day brings me just a little bit more discouragement. I confess, on an entirely selfish level, I'm scared of facing my inevitably deteriorating health woes alone. Two of my Crohnie pals went under the knife this past week, neither for the first time. Who would take care of me? My mother, who can scarcely manage to even take care of herself? My 70-something year old grandmother? The cats? It may not be the noblest reason to aspire to companionship, but there it is.

A few days ago, I tweeted about how I have yet to hear back from Tawkify since joining nearly two months ago. While I was on my deathbed with Ebola last night, I received a response:

Of course, that's a very sweet way of noting that I'm almost impossible to help and I do appreciate the gesture of her graciousness about the difficulty I represent. I can't say I have any right to be upset that she's struggled to find someone for me. I obviously can't do it, either.

I vented about all this to two of my closest friends today. One insists she believes there's someone for everyone. When I asked, "Yeah, but do they always find each other?" she replied, "I believe so, when the time is right." I'm not getting any younger, healthier or more viable as a partner. So if whomever is in charge of scheduling such things is reading, I would appreciate a little more haste.

The other friend suggested I begin accepting the idea of being alone. Find fulfillment in other ways, she encouraged. The truth of the matter is, I've never felt as fulfilled as I did as a husband. I felt that whatever is good about me was seen, acknowledged and appreciated in ways that had never been true for me before. There is no substitute for that. Does this make me weak? Fine. Then I'm weak. I admit it. I'm clingy, pathetic, whatever adjective you care to ascribe to me. I need that external validation. I've accepted myself as well as I can (I'm too self-examining to ever entirely accept myself), so this isn't about compensating for a lack of internal validation. They're two different forms of validation, and I don't particularly care to defend myself for desiring the external as well. If it offends you, then just add it to the list of my egregious ways but for God's sake, don't harangue me about it.

In other, less upsetting, news, a friend of mine recruited me to the 101 Things Challenge. You set 101 goals for yourself, to be accomplished within 1001 days. So far, I only have 73 goals (but I've accomplished four of them already!). If you're someone who needs a little extra motivation, and you respond well to checklists, this might be helpful for getting you to...whatever it is you want to do. Accomplish/try/see/do/etc. My list is here. Owing to the logistical restraints of my health and being, y'know, poor, I've tried to select very modest goals. Some might frown on me for not being more ambitious or dreaming big enough, but they're not the ones who'll have to look at a bunch of things that they want to do that they likely never will. I mean, I could add "Get Melody Gardot to fall in love with me" to the list, but what's the point? Better to just add seeing her in concert - which itself is problematic enough.

So this is where I exist, caught between being a dreamer (hoping to find a fulfilling relationship) and a pragmatist (not bothering to set lofty, unattainable goals). I try to be content with the mundane, because that's all that's open to me. Contrary to what Mitt Romney would have me, or you, believe, my ship is not about to come in any day now. Hell, my ship may have already come in. It may have gotten lost at sea, or pirated, or who knows? The point is, for the foreseeable future, I have to accept a paltry existence and make the best of it I can. That doesn't have to mean being content existing this way alone.

05 August 2012

Don't Mind Me, I'm Just Freaking Out

I've always been both very extroverted and very introverted. I can just as easily be the life of the party as I can not even care to be around another person at all. I've always required a certain amount of alone time, but I've also enjoyed the energy of lively settings and lots of people.

Since I was discharged from Our Lady of Peace last October, however, I've found my extroverted self has struggled. My friends took me out that first Friday night (I was discharged on a Monday). We just went to Old Chicago, but it was packed and I threw up thrice. I had to step outside twice, and I felt overwhelmed the entire time. I tried to console myself that I had, of course, spent the previous weekend in the serenity of a mental health facility. The contrast was staggering. I just needed a little more time, I said.

Except that it's now been nearly ten months and I'm still easily overwhelmed by crowds. Last night, my friends and I went out to celebrate a birthday in our group. It was simple enough: dinner at Silver Dollar (their barbecue pork sandwich was terrific!) and then off to Phoenix Hill Tavern for some live music and drinks. We had three tables at the Silver Dollar outside, all the way in the back, so we were as out of the way as could be, but I had to take a Buspar before we ever even placed our dinner order. (Buspar is an anti-anxiety medication.) It helped, but it also wore off by the time we got to Phoenix Hill - which was certainly more intimidating and exciting than the Silver Dollar had been.

I don't know what's going on with my anxiety. There's no conscious thought that accompanies those attacks. I can't say that I find it upsetting to be in such settings for any given reason. Crowds make me nervous because of Crohn's and I'm always afraid I won't be able to quickly get to a bathroom, but at Old Chicago and Silver Dollar, that wasn't really even an issue as they were restaurants. I don't think it has to do with the noise level, any sense of attention placed on me or anything else that would at least explain why I find it so upsetting these days. Maybe I'm just mentally still tethered to the calm of OLOP and it's too jarring to be somewhere that's the antithesis of that? I can't say.

What I can say is that I find it distracting and, frankly, a little upsetting. I'd like to be able to become comfortable again in such settings. I should be able to dine with friends at a restaurant without feeling keyed up to the point that I want to puke. I can't even say whether it's a flight-or-fight energy. I just feel...uncomfortably excited.

02 August 2012

Cinemark Classic Series - Fall 2012

Cinemark has announced their Fall lineup for their Classic Movie Series and it's absolutely terrific! Each movie plays twice; once at 2:00 and again at 7:00.

23 August - Jaws
30 August - High Noon
6 September - Doctor Zhivago
13 September - Chinatown
20 September - The Bridge on the River Kwai
27 September - The African Queen


I'm very tempted by The Bridge on the River Kwai, too, since Sony has indicated they're intending a limited theatrical release of Lawrence of Arabia in November to coincide with its 50th anniversary Blu-ray release. That would give me the David Lean Trifecta all in the span of three months, which would be pretty amazing. However, I've already seen Bridge at Baxter Avenue Theatre; it played there the week after Sir Alec Guinness passed away and I caught a showing of it there with a friend of mine. If I don't make it to Cinemark's showing in September, so be it because...Zhivago!

In case you're wondering why I'm so fixated on that one, you should hop on over to Flickchart: The Blog and read my piece about it for their "Movies You Have to See Before You Die" series. Earlier this year, I finally got around to reading the original Boris Pasternak novel, which I reviewed here.

Trivia: I have won just a single game ever of bingo, in 2010. By the time I split the pot with the other winners, I had little more than $30. I used my winnings to buy Warner's Zhivago Blu-ray Disc!

I've crunched the numbers, and assuming I manage to get to the forthcoming screenings I know about and hope to attend (always sketchy with a Crohnie), I'll wind up seeing twice as many classic movies as new ones in the theater this year. In fact, the only new releases I've seen (or want to see) have been Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [technically a 2011 release, but didn't go nationwide until January], John Carter, The AvengersBrave, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall.

Meanwhile, my classic movie list already includes The Man with the Golden Gun, Casablanca, From Russia with Love and Citizen Kane. This month, I'll have a crack at The Princess Bride (Iroquois Park, Monday), Tombstone (Baxter, Saturday) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Baxter, the 25th). Zhivago plays in September, and last I heard, there was still talk of Dr. No playing for its 50th anniversary nearer to the opening of Skyfall, and Sony has the aforementioned plans for Lawrence of Arabia. This is after I've already missed American Graffiti at the Louisville Zoo and Raiders of the Lost Ark at Iroquois! Plus, nothing has been announced at Baxter beyond early September and I'm almost certain to find at least another movie or two there that interests me. Who needs new movies?