Gnat has become quite the card shark. We play UNO every day now, and she’s good. I don’t mind being beaten by a four 1/2 year old at cards, since I long ago realized I have no aptitude for cards whatsoever. And I actually like UNO. It’s better than Go Fish, or, as we call it around here, Depart to Engage in a Piscine Apprehension System. They both pass the time, although time has a way of passing of its own accord. Today, for example: another quicksilver interlude, gone before I had the time to tote up the moments and figure out what the hell happened. “Typing” is what happened, alas, and little more.

After I finish this I’ll finish “American Splendor,” which is a great little movie about an uninteresting fellow who couldn’t draw. I first encountered Harvey Pekar on the wall of a comic book shop, but since the comic was drawn by Robert Crumb I didn’t pick it up. Never liked Crumb – his work always gave off that foreign 60s vibe that was so beloved by a certain demographic of the Stoner-American community, the Loser Whom Time Passed By. By the mid-70s there was nothing so pathetic as someone who held on to 1968 as the ne plus ultra of civilization, and felt content to ride out the subsequent decade in a haze of genial aimlessness. I used to wait on these guys every night – they’d get off work at the U, order up a pitcher of 3.2 beer, and wander over to the jukebox to play Janis Fargin’ Joplin tunes, A sides AND B sides, with a little Marley to show off their spiritual side. Urgh. One of them drew Mr. Natural on the wall of the men’s room. They were distinct from the other Stoner demographic, the guys who would play old Stones tunes and play pool and smoke the strongest cigarettes allowed by law and give you an Elvis sneer if you came back to empty the ashtrays. They hated, on sight, the other college stoner clique, the Sensitive Types who listened to complex progressive rock and ordered tea with six packets of honey. (Dude, pack the bong. This cut has 7/8 time AND a Mellotron!) But somehow, if you were a stoner, you were supposed to appreciate Crumb. I never got it. Weird thick chicks with hobnailed boots were his muse, not mine.

I’ll finish the movie if I finish this, which seems likely. Day’s done and I’m spent. But I will alert you to an interesting piece from the Hartford Courant, on “24.” I stopped watching “24” after one episode, because everyone at the CIA had Macs with Cinema Display monitors, and worked in an impossibly cool and underlit room. It also featured lots of Serious Typing, the means by which any “hacker” can get any piece of information. I understand it’s pretty good for network TV, Gripping and Fast-Paced, etc., but it’s all I can do to keep up with Carnivale. Still, I was unware that “24” had taken leave of its senses entirely, as this piece suggests. Apparently the producers have not just gone mad, but given in to age-old American desires for stereotyping people for devious reasons. Hold tightly to your chair and your hat: “24” suggests that America might be targeted by Islamic extremists.

I am not kidding you.

Now, on the Fox network's new season of its beat-the-clock crisis jamboree "24," America's evil du jour appears in the person of the jihadists next door. Inside a swell suburban home in America lurks a Turkish family whose hearts belong to an extreme form of Islamic fundamentalism. They may share your ZIP code, your paperboy and your cable line. But behind closed doors, they are plotting to bring America to its knees.

"This year we deal with it," the show's co-creator Joel Surnow told Frank Rich of the New York Times. "This is what we fear -- Islamic terrorism. This is what we are fighting."

What is striking about Surnow's comment is not so much its relationship to the truth, which cannot be argued, but its combat readiness.

Call it state-of-siege license.

Before we go on: the International Convocation of Journalists needs to ban, right now, the “Call it” line from all future feature pieces. It’s a writer’s way of saying “look at the clever turn of phrase I came up with all on my own,” and it’s never as clever as the build-up suggests. What’s more, no one will ever call it that, unless they are reading the piece aloud, and chances are they will do so in a mocking voice. “Call it state-of-siege license.” I have no idea what the hell this means.

In choosing to capitalize on Americans' fears of Islamic fundamentalists, the "24" creators have accomplished two things: One is to draw a critical outcry from interest groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The other is to boldly lay claim to America's (and the rest of the world's, for that matter) not-so-proud history of demonizing various ethnic groups for the sake of our national amusement.

The “rest of the world” line makes the entire point of the column moot, since it’s not only America that does this, it’s the entirety of the human species since the boys from Cave A decided that the clan in Cave B must be bad because they wore the strap of their tiger skin over their right shoulders, instead of their left. So is America’s record better or worse? Has the rest of the world done its demonizing for “national amusement” or as a means to set the stage for pogroms, genocide, and the rest of the merry diversions in which the Old World has specialized?

The rest of the article veers between fatuity and superficiality, frequently sideswiping both in a single paragraph:

In service to story lines calling for "bad guys," America's film and television industries have made cardboard savages of blood-thirsty Apaches, devious Mexicans, Japanese bomber pilots, goose-stepping Nazis and wise-guy Italians, each of whom represents a new wave of fear, cultural bias and the resulting vilification -- some richly deserved, some exaggerated for dramatic purposes.

Generations of actors have been cast not to play a character but to speak lines while exhibiting their DNA and everything audiences believe it to stand for.

Yes, in 1939 someone made an Apache say “ugh,” the motivations for which can be directly tied to including Islamic fundamentalists in a 2005 plot about terrorism, for some peculiar reason. That’s like saying audiences were so steeped in the lessons of Buck Rogers serials they might have expected the trial of “Apollo 13” to be caused by Emperor Ming. If the “wise-guy Italian” stereotyping made outraged WASPs sweep into little Italy and hack people to death with machetes, it didn‘t make the papers here. In fact I seem to remember everyone thinking the mobsters were darkly cool in a fascinating way, but the subsequent absence of Mafia-themed movies obviously puts the lie to my recollections. As for goose-stepping Nazis – well, if the jackboot fits, Fritz, wear it. But even at the height of WW2 we got Nazis like Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca – cool, cultured, measured, not without his snakelike charm. But never mind, never mind. Here’s what amused me:

So into a vacuum where the few Muslims visible in our culture are generally seen under FBI wanted signs, "24" has dared to tip the scales by feeding the fears of a worried population. The structure of "24" -- with its ticking clock and frenetic pacing -- is an unlikely format for a nuanced portrait of "the enemy." Even if the end result of this "24" season is to balance the representation of Muslim characters, it can be argued that, culturally speaking, we are retrograding.

“The enemy.” Got that? They’re not the enemy. Even when they’re fictional. I’m not saying that the TV screen should bubble and boil with grinning swarthy throat-slitters (Tonight on “American Idol” – everyone dies!) Hoorah for positive Muslim characters. But it seems a bit much to complain that a show about terrorism gets around to Islamofascists in its third season.

You get the feeling some people watch Star Trek and get irritated because they can’t figure out who the Borg are really supposed to be?

Perm link: here.

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