Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.... John Crowther's Cartoon Odyssey

I think of it as The Fool's Journey. I've been asked who the "fool" is. It's me, but in the classical sense of the court jester. Only the fool was allowed to tell the king of his follies. All cartoons are available as prints or originals, framed or unframed, through my website or e-mail. For mugs, t-shirts, and other products visit my gift shop at* (be sure to include the *).

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fish or Cut Bait

What could possibly be a better activity for a retired person than fishing? Except I hesitate to call it an activity. Oh sure, you have to get yourself to where the fish are, and afterward get yourself home. But once there, and you've done whatever you need to do to prepare, like baiting hooks or tying a lure onto the line, then you do, well, nothing. Oh sure, you see fishermen pretending to do something, moving the line back and forth gently, staring intently at the water as if engaged in psychological warfare with their intended victims, but it's window dressing. The fisherman wants to look as if he's doing something, after all. The problem is that once he's caught a fish there's a flurry of really unpleasant activity, clubbing the poor helpless creature to death with the ferocity of an Abu Gahraib torturer, removing the hook from it's mouth, and then slicing it open and scooping out the guts. Genuinely nasty stuff. The best part is still when you're doing nothing. Now that I think about it, it's not the perfect retirement pastime, not when there are things like televisions and surfing the Net that allow a person to appear as if they're doing something without even the pretense of mental or physical exertion.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ego Ergo Ego

Steroids isn't the problem in sports. Money is. As long as it's just about fun nobody is going to mess with their body chemistry for the sake of it, but put big bucks into the mix and you've got trouble. Come to think of it, money isn't the problem in sports either. The problem is people. We cheat. There was a big flap in NASCAR recently when some of the major teams were caught doing illegal fiddling. It came as no surprise to anyone. The only surprise is that they were discovered. As someone said, "in car racing, if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin' hard enough." I used to do a lot of amateur auto racing, and the cars had to undergo a tech inspection before every event. The tech inspectors hated to go over a car without finding something, so some guys would give them a minor violation just so the techies could have their "aha" moment and miss the big one. It doesn't matter whether someone's competing for massive salaries, endorsements, world titles, the promise of a lucrative conract, a plastic trophy, or just to best Bob who lives down the block in a game of horse, ego is ego. We might as well face up to it and allow steroid use, because if it's not that sooner or later it's going to be something else. Maybe if we know darn well that our heroes, who are making millions of bucks to play kids' games, are doing it with substances that make their testicles shrivel up, it'll be less appealing. Perhaps the real thrill of sports, amateur or professional, is seeing how far you can push the envelope without getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. It gives new meaning to the term personal best.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What's In a Name?

I don't know which is scarier, the power of a single word to arouse mighty passions, or the power of a mob to turn a simple word like values into a weapon that can alter the course of history. There's a large percentage of Americans for whom their own safety and well-being is less important than their desire to dictate to others how to conduct their lives, what they're allowed to read and view, even what they're permitted to think. The astonishing thing is that the definition of the word "values" has become distorted. Some of us place a high value on personal freedom, on the right to live our lives as we wish as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. So it's become a case of "my values can beat up your values." There's a big flap going on now over the winner of this year's Newbery Medal for children's lierature, The Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Early on in the book Ms. Patron uses the word "scrotum," so the morality naziis have gone on high alert, fighting to keep the book out of libraries. Don't they know the surest way to get kids snickering about a word is to ban it?

Meanwhile, in today's news there's a story about a 14-year old boy with cystic fibrosis who was given the chance by the Make-A-Wish people to spend a weekend at an Army Rangers camp, going through actual maneuvers with the soldiers, dressed in fatigues and toting a rifle. I trust the grunts watched their language as they showed the lad how they learn to become effective killers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Let Us Pray

For an essay project when I was in high school, a teacher asked us to imagine an archeologist thousands of years from now, after everything we now know was long gone, digging up a nickle. The assignment was to write about all the things that could be learned about our society and culture from that one coin. Now suppose the guy found an Oscar statuette. It goes without saying he would assume that it was a god we worshipped. Imagine further that tonight, during the Academy Awards ceremony, an earthquake struck, the Big One, and Hollywood was buried like Pompeii. Our archeologist, discovering the ruins eons from now, would conclude that the Kodak Theatre was a temple, and he would reconstruct the strange rituals and customs of our religion, the parade on the red carpet, our high priests and priestesses decked out in elaborate costumes and jewelry, the seemingly interminable service of litany, oration, and prayer, envelopes containing the names of the chosen ones, and everywhere you look the golden effigies of the beautifully sculpted ideal man/god, naked, grasping his long sword in front of him. At the very core of our religion, the future scientist would assume, is a worship of sexuality. And in support of his theory, he would uncover at one of the feasts attended by the elite of the elite the remains of desserts, little cakes adorned with tiny chocolate replicas of the golden man/god, which get eaten to ensure sexual potency for another year.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Delusion Springs Eternal

One of the fascinating things about acting is that the actor is the art and the artist in the same moment. On top of this, acting is an art that only exists in the instant that it is happening, and then is gone, only to exist again for a moment at each subsequent performance. (There are those who would claim that movies refute this, but I'd argue that a motion picture isn't one performance, it's bits and pieces of many performances, or "takes," selected and assembled by an editor, usually in a completely different order from how they were filmed.) The result is that among artists the actor is the least objective about his own work. Denial runs rampant in acting schools. Psychologists tell us that denial isn't simply a conscious choice to ignore an uncomfortable truth, it's a complete inability to see it. Thus, inept wannabees continue their migration to Hollywood armed with stacks of photos and resumes, look for agents, and shell out their hard earned bartending tips to teachers all too willing to take them. Teacher to student: "Your character is supposed to be angry, but I didn't see even a trace of anger in your performance." Student to teacher: "I don't understand, I was feeling angry." The envelope please.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Government Intelligence? Hah!

I don't know why we worry about government agencies snooping into our private lives. It seems like ninety percent of the time they get it wrong. On the other side of the coin I'm all for better and better ways of ferreting out secrets. I'd like to see the day when spying technology gets so invasive it'll be impossible to keep any secrets at all, and the equipment is as easily available to everyone as a cheap cell phone. Then everyone will simply have to suck it up and tell the truth. Pedophile priests, Britney Spears' drug use, closeted gay evangelist preachers, even the president will be open to scrutiny. Obfuscation, distortion, and cover-up will be out of the question. Everybody's a liar, even the most presumably honest among us. We learn to lie early, the first time our mothers ask us who broke the lamp in the living room. "I did, mom," we answer. "Go to your room immediately, young man [or lady]. And maybe now you'll know better than to go in the living room without permission." But that's not what we learn at all, we learn that from now on we say, "it wasn't me, mommy, the cat must have done it."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Fiendly Skies

In the snowstorms that blanketed the east coast last week, Jet Blue airlines got caught with their flaps down. If it had only been about widespread flight cancellations nobody would have noticed. But Jet Blue had people trapped in planes on runways for up to ten hours, in most cases with "overused" (translation: disgusting) toilet facilities, and nothing to drink or eat. The upshot was a public apology, and the issuance by Jet Blue of a new "Passengers' Bill of Rights." Now there's talk of a federally mandated Bill of Rights for passengers. Huh? It used to be if a company screwed up, people stopped using their service or product, and they went out of business. This thing could spread. Next thing you know there'll be diners' rights in restaurants. If they get an order wrong, the mashed potatoes are cold, or the steak is overcooked, management will be in violation. We'll have audience rights in the theatre. The actors stink? Violation, pay a fine. Guests' rights in hotels. "I didn't get mints on my pillow before I went to bed." But air travel is getting worse and worse, and it's not just the airlines. The other day the pilot of a commercial jet with 158 souls on board asked permission for an immediate emergency landing because he was running low on fuel. The controller on duty refused his request and made him circle around to a different runway, taking significantly longer. How about the passengers' right to get back on the ground alive?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Support Tech Support

I was watching a PBS documentary the other night about the building of the New York subway system back at the end of the 1800's. It was a massive project, designed to greatly improve life in that city, and it worked. Still today, despite the fact that nowadays the subways there can be dirty, depressing, and dangerous, a person can get around with remarkable ease. Across the country, railroads and super highways in the last century provided the same thing, jobs and utility, and both still function with a high degree of efficiency. Despite traffic jams in and around major cities, once you hit the open road our highway system is amazing. The building of subways, railroads, and highways all accomplished the same things, they put thousands and thousands of people to work, and they improved life. They made America strong. Of course, they also made it possible for corporations to increase profits. Today, crazed with greed, corporations are outsourcing jobs, shipping as many as they can elsewhere while the quality of life here in America is spiralling downward. If corporate honchos and their politician lapdogs would wake up, they might look around and come up with projects here at home that would provide jobs and make life more liveable. As our leaders whip Americans up into a frenzy in the name of patriotism, they're constantly finding ways to suck the lifeblood out of America.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Arms Race

They're ubiquitous, loud, inefficient, and do little to no lasting good. I'm not talking about leaf blowers, I'm talking about politicians. A few years ago here in Los Angeles the city council spent hours and hours debating and finally passing a law banning the use of leaf blowers, to absolutely no noticeable effect. A day didn't pass before the gardeners were all out there as usual blowing the leaves around, making a horrendous racket, and kicking up clouds of choking dust. The police didn't bother to enforce the ban, and who could blame them, given that they've got their hands full with gang bangers and bank robberies? The town fathers ignored the fact that their legislation was being ignored. And the gardeners chuckled in glee. The leaf blower is a perfect metaphor for government, solving problems with hot air, moving them from one place to another, creating a problem somewhere else.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Somebody's Going To Have To Say They're Sorry

Public apologies have become de regeur. One gets the feeling that celebrities' PR people are busy thinking up outrageous things for their clients to do so they can issue an apology, enter rehab for couple of days, and grab more headlines. Last week, former NBA point guard Tim Hardaway, in a TV interview, went on a verbal rampage against gay people, prompted by the revelation by another former basketball pro, John Amaechi, that he's gay. Athletes and gays are a volatile mix, and Hardaway's spewage of hatred came as no surprise. What was a surprise was the swift action of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who barred Hardaway from the All-Star game festivities last weekend. So Hardaway suddenly turned abjectly apologetic. It's only a baby step, but hopefully homophobia is on the retreat. Evangelist minister Ted Haggard, meanwhile, was declared "one hundred percent straight" by a panel of "psychologists" after three weeks of intensive therapy. I want to know what the heck he said to get those born again doctors to look past his romps with a male prostitute in a Denver hotel room. It must have been one heck of an apology.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Non-Profit? That's No Challenge!

I've never been able to figure out what the old saying "charity begins at home" is all about. Shouldn't it be more like "poverty begins at home?" My entire life has been a not-for-profit organization. Not officially, but it's sure as heck worked out that way. And "disorganization" is more like it. That's why I'd make a great president, I know how to "make do" in a pinch, and Lord knows this country is in a pinch, big time. More than a "pinch," actually, a shove off a cliff. And speaking of that, I'm excited to say that my campaign received an endoresement from Ralph Nader this week. (You remember him, don't you?) Well okay, he didn't mention me by name, but he did say on a radio interview that what we need in this country are more third party and independent candidates. So here I am, ready to answer the call. My exploratory committee is still looking into it, though they did come to me and complain that they're not sure what they're supposed to be exploring. I told them to dig through the garbage cans out in the alley and collect tin cans and bottles. I'll take it from there.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Everyone's Got An Opinion

As the son of a film critic, I learned early on about the nature of criticism, and the fragile relationship that exists between critic and criticized. I grew up to become an actor and artist, as well as writer and director (there are those who would say the aforementioned never grow up), and as such have faced my share of slings and arrows. As a result I've developed a fairly thick skin. I know what I'm trying to accomplish, so it doesn't matter to me whether a critic likes or doesn't like what I do, I'm only interested in whether or not I've succeeded in my intentions. To me, therefore, criticism is less of a judgment about me than about the critic. And there are very few genuinely skilled critics. Most of them are arrogant dunderheads, who pontificate and take great delight in their own cheap shots, and then, if criticized themselves, snootily declare, "well, it's only my opinion." The fact is, I haven't learned any more from most of the critics who've loved my work than from those who've slammed me, and the harsh review from the rare skilled critic can be very instructive. I got my best and worst notice on the same project, a play by my friend Bayard Johnson that I directed, and in which I played the lead role. The Los Angeles Times raved, even singling out my performance for recognition at the end of the year. The Dramalogue reviewer said, "John Crowther would have done himself a favor by casting a different actor, or perhaps hiring a different director, or better still, both." Ya gotta love 'em all.

My friend Jean Burman, an artist and writer in Australia, had some wise words about criticism recently on her blog ( And while I'm at it I also strongly recommend the blog of another friend, Vernita Hoyt, also a wonderful artist living and working in Texas(

Friday, February 16, 2007

Too True To Be Good

I heard on the news a couple of months ago that the ubiquitous but unspecified "authorities" in Kenya had started cracking down on those e-mail scams where you're promised untold sums of money if you'll provide a bank account for someone in a foreign country to transfer their fortune to the U.S. Sometimes it's a Bishop somebody-or-other who's died and his family is being persecuted in a warring African nation. In one variation "it has been discovered that you're the last remaining heir" to an Anglican minister who died decades ago after having socked away his pennies in a secret bank account that has now turned into gajillions thanks to the accrued interest. I'm guessing the Kenyan wrong-doers have agreed to cut government officials in on the take, because the e-mails keep flowing in, at least one a day. The amazing thing is that there are still people out there willing to fall for it, misspellings, bad grammar, and all. But there are other ways scammers have to dupe a gullible public. We call them advertising, politics, and religion.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Balancing Books Isn't a Circus Stunt

One of the things I plan to do when I'm elected president, aside from my main message of "keeping politics out of government," is to issue a proclamation declaring a moratorium on all unpaid bills. This way, people will have more money to spend, which will provide a much needed shot in the arm for the economy. It's like a crash diet, where you lose weight fast so you can start pigging out again. Okay, you say, businesses will never go for it, but remember, businesses owe lots of money, too. The fact is, everyone owes up to their eyeballs. It's no different, really, from forgiving the debt of emerging third world countries. Which reminds me, I read that Bank of America is now issuing credit cards to undocumented aliens. They don't need a social security card, or a credit record, just a bank account with no "recent" bounced checks. Of course, the interest rates give usury a good name. Way to go, Bof A, fleece the newcomers. You can imagine that a lot of politicians are up in arms because, they claim, it's a threat to national security. That just doesn't make a bit of sense. Terrorists don't need credit cards, they're funded. My idea is to keep an eye on any alien who doesn't want a credit card. He's unAmerican.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Roses Are Red, etc.

I'm wondering how Valentine's Day has managed to escape the wrath of the holiday nazis: irate parents groups, religious zealots, and political trouble-makers. After all, it commemorates the death of an early Christian martyr, and yet somehow it manages the modern-day miracle of bringing together Christians of every stripe, Jews, Muslims, Janists, Bhuddists, Coptics, Wiccans, and everybody else in the name of love. Interestingly, no one is sure which of the three possible eponymous martyred Saint Valentines we're celebrating, nor when and why roses and heart-shaped chocolates got into the act. Let's enjoy it now, while it lasts, until some atheist dad comes along and throws a hissy fit that's heard all the way to the Supreme Court because little Samantha is forced to suffer in silence while her first-grade classmates exchange cards that begin, "Rose are red, violets are blue."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

School Daze

It's interesting that educators make a big deal out of how it's important for kids to be with their "peers," and yet the only time in our lives when we're lumped together with our own age group is in school. Once we get out we're expected to interact with people of all age groups, older, younger, a whole range of people from which we select those who will be our friends. And most people move right through school, from grade to grade, suffering the company of the same limited bunch of faces. It's not natural. The old one-room schoolhouse was a little better, and since there was a single teacher the older kids helped pass on the lessons they'd learned to the younger kids, which is a pretty decent pedagogic model. Still, school was never designed to educate well. Indeed, I'd argue most schools don't educate at all, but rather they teach. We educate people to think for themselves, we teach them to think like we do.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Big One Zero Zero

This is it, folks, the 100th cartoon, and as I promised, celebrations are in full swing around the country, nay, around the globe. Well, actually it hasn't all come off exactly as I described yesterday, there have been a few glitches. It turned out it was impossible to verify all the virgins. Well, actually it was impossible to verify any of the virgins, and the trumpeters haven't been showing up as planned so in most places we've had to make do with a couple of kazoos and jews' harps. And it would have been good if we could have had white doves like I promised, but it worked out just as well using pigeons. You may have seen them in your city, pigeons fluttering and swooping and dive-bombing, not just a hundred, but hundreds of them, crapping all over the place. I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am. Trust me, I can't. Unfortunately, the media didn't show up as we'd hoped. We got preempted by "breaking news" almost everywhere, a dog bit someone in one city, the mayor passed gas in another, you know, important stuff, so I'm not upset. Oh, and in an amazing bit of synchronicity a friend's daughter celebrates her one hundredth day of kindergarten today, and all the kids are showing up with a hundred of something. Little Taylor Jane is bringing in one hundred Cheerios. I like to think that a little piece of their celebration is for me.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dear Old Dad(s)

In the NBA the players are all taking DNA tests to prove they're not the father of myriad children, but with millions at stake all those wannabe daddies to Anna Nicole Smith's baby are racing to the lab to support their claim to the fortune. I predict a few more will come out of the woodwork before this thing is settled. You never know, there might turn out to be as many "pretenders to the throne" as there are Democrats running for president. And by the way, just to end the suspense that's been building these past weeks, I am forming an exploratory committee prior to actually announcing my candidacy. All proceeds from the sale of t-shirts, mugs, and aprons with my cartoons on them will go toward my campaign. Just hurry over to*. Nice segue, huh?

Another announcement, and this is a biggie, folks. Tomorrow I will be posting my 100th cartoon here. To celebrate I've arranged for 100 virgins accompanied by 100 trumpeters to release 100 white doves each from the tops of 100 building in 100 cities across the country. Locations to be announced. Watch for the media coverage, it should be an amazing thing. To join the celebration, I suggest you go to the above website and buy a t-shirt, mug, or apron.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What's the Harm, It's Just Good Clean Violence

How much more evidence do we need that ours is a dysfunctional society? I don't know if you saw the Super Bowl ad in question, but to me it was downright shocking, a series of grown people in all walks of life smacking each other on the face, like, "hey, this is fun, let's hit each other just for the heck of it." As if football itself isn't already an invitation to crude, physically devestating brutality. And it wasn't just this one commercial, they all in one way or another were designed to shock us with sociopathic behavior. The kicker came this week, when activist groups protested the ads and the sponsors reacted with varying degrees of contrition. It's become a game in itself, we'll broadcast something really outrageous, you complain, and we'll claim we're going to rethink our advertising policy. "Our bad." Meanwhile, the ads resonated all week long, they didn't go away, the media kept hyping the invented "controversy." Then later this week Anna Nicole Smith died and the media went bonkers, dedicating hours and hours, and pages and pages, of "news" coverage to the sad, sordid, lonely death of an untalented stripper, gold-digger, erstwhile Playboy centerfold who had absolutely nothing to give to the culture but sex. Not even interesting, alluring sex, but a bloated, desperately needy parody of sex. All the while, not that anyone really noticed, the death and disintegration continued its downward spiral in Iraq while conservative lawmakers and talk show bullies worked themselves up into a frothing frenzy because Nancy Pelosi was using a jet assigned her by the Pentagon to get her back and forth to her home in California, a jet they considered too big for her because it didn't have to stop for refueling. By the way, I wonder if there's an acceptable reason to "slug gramps?"

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's Playtime

Sex is supposed to be fun. Or is it? Did Adam and Eve actually have fun? Was it their giggling that caught God's attention and caused him to throw them out of the garden of Eden? This original sin thing has me sincerely befuddled. It seems to me God would have planned for sex to be fun so that people would be encouraged to do it. I mean, why in heaven's name would He discourage it. This is where the so-called intelligent design folks lose me, right there in the garden of Eden. When the Almighty created Adam and Eve, the book tells us, they were naked and without shame, so God made them be so ashamed they donned fig leaves. And then the good book gets a little smarmy on us, and instead of calling it like it is, puts it in terms of eating forbidden fruit. In other words, Adam and Eve had themselves a little fun and it pissed God off. So what was that? A programming glitch? Should God have done some beta testing before sending mankind out on his own? And here's another thing, they had kids, Cain and Abel, and Cain killed Abel and headed east to the land of Nod where he found this cute little number and had some fun with her and they made babies, and that started the begots that go on for pages of weird names, like Cainen who begot Mahalaleel, and Zillah and Lamech. So if Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, where did all those Noddians come from? I think the whole thing maybe needs a rewrite.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Okay, I admit it, this is a cheap shot, but I'm unrepentant. I had no thought of doing a cartoon about the latest NASA foray into the headlines, but then NASA declared itself disturbed by all the jokes people were making at their expense and my comedic bells started to ring. I just had to get into the action. And after all, nobody got hurt. I mean, it's not like two-bit O-rings bringing down a billion dollar mission, or pieces of shuttles falling off on lift-off because of cheap glue. (When Alan Shepherd was asked how he felt before becoming the first American to hurtle into near space, he said, "How would you feel sitting on top of a rocket comprised of a hundred thousand parts all made by the lowest bidder?", but nowadays Halliburton gets the contract and we taxpayers get to shell out big bucks.) What happened in Florida the other day wasn't a tragedy. It had all the makings of a really bad French farce, complete with a cheap disguise, mace, rubber hose, BB gun, and a new mallet. Bit by bit NASA's carefully nurtured image of heroism and perfection has come unravelled and over the years we've gotten glimpses of the bunglers and misfits that make them just like our neighbors. I'll never forget the faces of those first seven astronauts on the cover of Life magazine. As Mel Brooks said in one of his routines with Carl Reiner, "those aren't men, they're models."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What Comes In Must Go Out

You've got to hand it to the banking industry. They figured out how to get their hands on all the money. When I was a kid we were taught to make a budget when we grew up. You listed all your fixed expenses, rent, food, clothes, utilities, and so on, and you were supposed to allow for a certain amount to be put into monthly savings. Then, when you had enough, you could dip into that "rainy day" stash if you needed a new car, say, or the washing machine broke, or you wanted to take a vacation. Your bank paid you interest on this money, because basically what you were doing was lending the bank money. If you were careful the amount you had socked away grew, and so did the interest it was earning. But then the banking wizards came up with the great credit card scam. They would lend you the money instead, in increments so relatively small you didn't notice as they piled up. Now, instead of budgeting for savings, you have to budget enough to make your minimum credit card payments. You're now paying the bank interest, far in excess of the interest they once paid you. It has to be that way because of all the third world countries defaulting on their billions in loans. So next time you make a payment, don't think about how the banks are ripping you off, think about all you're doing to help the despots of the world maintain their lavish lifestyles.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gotta Love That Sin

This "hate the sin, love the sinner" stuff is nonsense. It should be the other way around, at least when the sinner publicly cloaks himself in the robes of righteousness, as so often happens. Sin has gotten a bad rap, and it's a darn shame. The thing is, it's been confused with morality, and morality was long ago preempted by the immoral. For centuries things such as murder, rape, incest and the like were legislated against by the likes of Pope Alexander VI, who sired his illegitimate daughter Lucretia Borgia with one of his mistresses before he assassinated his way to the papacy. And don't think his ascendency to St. Peter's throne tempered his evil ways. He went right on bumping off his enemies, sometimes in the most ghastly ways imaginable, and fathered his own grandson with Lucrezia, who from all accounts enjoyed it as much as he did. Not that he was the only rotten pope in the Vatican apple barrel. Far from it. It's time we took another look at sin, and morality. I say it's only immoral if you do something that hurts someone else without their consent, which definitely puts Alexander VI on God's hit list. And the only real sin is condemning something that you go right ahead doing in secrecy, like clergymen railing against homosexuality and substance abuse while engaging in drug-addled sex with male prostitutes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The American Idle

It's not about the game at all. It's about talk. Endless "analysis." Meaningless chatter. Before, during and after. It's like sex for some guys, the really meaningful orgasm comes later, when they're telling their buddies about it. I was in Zagreb back in the 60's, when it was part of Yugolslavia and Yugolaslavia was part of the USSR. I stayed in a big old hotel, and my room looked out on the huge central square that served as a massive trolley hub. All night long and into the morning hours it was jammed with people waiting for the trolleys that would take them to their jobs or home from their jobs. The noise from the loud and incessant arguing kept me awake. I had the romantic notion that they were discussing politics, the pros and cons of the socialist system, but it turned out they were just arguing about soccer. I knew someone there who was about to take a trip to London. "Have you ever been to England before?" I asked him. "No," he said, "in fact, this'll be my first trip behind the iron curtain." Life is the same eveywhere you go.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Stupid Bowl Redux

Yesterday's newspaper was a gold mine of irony. My favorite story was about the NFL cracking down on churches that hold Super Bowl parties because it violates their copyright. It's not that the league is anti-religion, it's just that they can't keep track of how many people are watching, which makes it difficult to set advertising revenues. Between God and the almighty dollar, guess who wins. The copyright, the NFL insists, stipulates that groups watching on larger than 55 inch screens are trampling on their -- I love this -- "intellectual property rights." So you folks with a large-screen TV having friends over for a "brawl and barf" get-together, just know you're breaking the law big time. Sports bars, for some unspecified reason, are exempt. A pious lady in Indiana got so angry she sent back the $20 t-shirt she bought from the NFL. She did say, however, that if the Colts won she might just buy another one. This all seems especially unfair in light of the fact that both winning coaches are, according to the news, deeply faithful Christians who have "credited their wins to the Lord." So today's outcome is really about which team God prefers. You can be sure all those hulking linebackers are praying their jockstraps off this morning.

In an unrelated story yesterday, a man dressed as Chewbacca was arrested at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for head-butting a tour guide. As he was being hauled away by the cops he shouted, "nobody messes with this wookie." You can't make this stuff up.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Stupid Bowl XLI

What can one say about the Super Bowl that doesn't instantly lapse into parody? Never in the history of the world was there anything so over-hyped and over-bloated that commanded the rapt attention of millions of people, not just for a few hours on a winter Sunday afternoon, but for weeks leading up to it. Millions of people, who care what happens, and don't understand that they've been conned into caring about.... well, nothing. Just the fact that the hucksters have got millions of people slathering about the advertising is hysterical, millions of people who spend big bucks on Tivos so the rest of the year they don't have to watch commercials. Are we sick, or what? A second-rate lounge act has a nonosecond, hard-to-see "costume malfunction" and it winds up being debated in Congress while kids go hungry and elderly suffer without health care. And meanwhile they show over and over an ad that condones an office full of morons getting totally, destructively wasted on the sponsor's beer. I guess that's okay for the nation's children to watch. If we want proof that as a country we have a short memory, look no further than the fact that year after year, despite all evidence to the contrary, we buy into the big lies that politicians tell the truth when they make campaign promises, and the Super Bowl is going to be the most exciing game of the year.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Art For the Artist's Sake

It was in France around the middle of the 19th century that the role of artists' representative took root. Before that if you were an artist and wanted to be successful you had to be a good business person, doing your own promoting, taking care of marketing, keeping the books, and so on. There were actually laws in the middle ages that made the "middle man" illegal. If you were going to sell for a profit a product created by another person, you had to do something to it to increase the value by the amount you were adding. But once gallery owners took over from the artist the business of selling their paintings for them, the artists retreated to their garrets and learned to disdain the marketplace that made their survival possible. The idea of actors having agents began in the 20th century. Originally the agents were just bookers, providing vaudeville acts to theatres across the country. Louis B. Mayer invented the actor's agent. When movies became popular his relatives flocked to Hollywood and he gave them jobs in his studio. But eventually there were too many of them, so he set them up as agents and insisted that his actors who were under contract have representation. Thus the actors had to pony up 10% each to sustain Mayer's myriad cousins, nephews, great-nephews, in-laws, and so on. Brilliant!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Look Ma, No Hands

Andy Warhol once claimed he never said that everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame. What he actually said, he insisted, was that fame lasts fifteen minutes. The latter is probably a lot closer to the truth, at least as a metaphorical observation on the nature of celebrity. The word fame comes from the Latin fama, which is strictly translated as talk but means something closer to "idle chatter." Either way Warhol said it, taken in this light he had it right. The mistake is to think of fame as something to be desired, when in fact it just means that you are briefly, whether literally or metaphorically, a subject of gossip, often mean-spirited. I thought of this as I was watching The American Idol the other night, which is akin to watching people in the Coliseum being ripped apart by lions. In pursuit of fame, the delusional subject themselves to the demeaning demands of waiting for hours and hours in a cattle call in hopes of about fifteen seconds of public flogging, without ever understanding the degree to which they're being horribly, abusively used. And then, unless you're that boy who was so unbelievably, over-the-top dreadful that he had his full "fifteen minutes" of notoriety (with his own website), you're gone, cast back down into the flaming hell of ordinariness.

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