Catching up on my reading Wednesday night, I read of the death of Judith Crist, a film critic who was occasionally barred from advance screenings of films, due to her acerbic style.
I read Crist every week in TV Guide, back in the days before that magazine adopted the People/US Weekly approach, dumbing everything down to its lowest possible denominator.
There are two phases in my life when I read TV Guide. In the 1960s, I read it pretty much as many others did, I suspect, glancing over the articles and checking over what was on that week.
Ah, TV Guide. The little mag that actually covered the entire 24 hours of the day, and gave not only descriptions of movie and TV episode plots, but lists of guest stars.
In 1969, my father was stationed to Germany, which I have written about before.
In the states we had three channels, but in Europe the pickings were much slimmer. In Northern Germany, when we were stationed as part of a small American contingent on RAF Bruggen, we had access to American and British movies and TV shows on Dutch and Belgium TV. At the time these programs weren’t dubbed into the languages of the respective countries, but simply had sub-titles across the screen.
Even so, you might only have one or two shows a night in English on TV. We listened to a lot of radio plays.
A few months later, we were transferred to Zweibrucken Air Force base, further south, where we had American Forces Television (after a while).
One channel, but we didn’t quibble.
But it’s an interesting thing when your viewing choices are limited; you start paying closer attention to what is offered. Sturgeons Law that 90 percent of everything is crap holding true for television just as it does for everything else, you’d really appreciate the ten percent that fell your way.
And between American Forces Network and the programming we saw at RAF Bruggen, I first became aware of the world of film. Not just movies, where you plunk your money down and waste a couple of hours, but actual movies, where skill and art went into their making.
Dutch television used to offer “film festivals,” where for weeks they would show films based on the novels of Graham Greene, or John Steinbeck.
It was like watching Turner Classic Movies long before anyone ever thought of it.
On AFN I saw films like Gentlemen’s Agreement, which exposed anti-Semitism in the United States after World War II, and other such films.
We didn’t have TV Guide, but a sort of guide put out by AFN.
Coming back to the states in 1972, upon buying a copy of TV Guide, I discovered Judith Crist. Now, I had been reading movie reviews in Time and Newsweek, but they paled in comparison to her style, which grabbed the reader by the jugular.
She made no allowances for ignorance on the part of her readership, or bad film-making on the part of those whose films were on TV on any particular week. And she was a good writer, too.
She didn’t suck up to anybody, and if she described any films as “awesome” I have thankfully blocked it from my memory.
Later, I discovered Pauline Kael, who wrote that Roscoe Lee Browne (one of my favorite actors) acted John Wayne right off the screen in The Cowboys.
Okay, no great accomplishment there, but still a nice piece of writing, especially when you take in the whole review.
But Judith Crist wasn’t the only treasure to be found in TV Guide. Cleveland Amory reviewed new programs every week, and the articles - some with big words in them! - were often entertaining, and thought-provoking.
And it was even cool - though I despise the man and pretty much everything he writes - to have a political column written by Patrick Buchanan included in the Olden Days. It would have been nice to have seen a liberal voice to counter his views, but it was fascinating to see a political column in a TV magazine.
There were an awful lot of crap issues of TV Guide, but for the most part, anyone who grooves to the US Weekly style it has now adopted (they don’t even print the last names of half of the people who write letters to the editor, giving it the look of a junior high paper) might find it rough going through TV Guide if they were to travel back in time and pick one up at the store.
It occurs to me that I may have just insulted junior high school papers. I apologize deeply for that; I have worked on a school paper my self, and know how hard young people work on their papers to put out quality products.
There aren’t very many Judith Crists in the world today.
In 21st Century Earth, anyone with a keyboard can set themselves up as a “critic,” tossing out the word “awesome” like flecks of dandruff. Which is why, I suppose, we see so many reviews which seem to come from not from actual human beings, but from websites, as if that made their reviews more, well . . .
. . . awesome.
Critics like Judith Crist (and Pauline Kael and Harlan Ellison, among others) are one of the reasons that I love movies so much. They pointed out when they were done well, and when they weren’t - and why.
Give ‘em hell, Judith Crist, wherever you are now.
In the future we’ll have hundreds of TV channels!
That sort of prediction sounded really great, especially when your choices were pretty slim, whether it be one channel or three.
But little did anyone realize that in that future of many, many channels that so many of them would simply be running the same drek that the other channels run.
“Ancient Astronaut Theorists” who can explain everything from the Bubonic Plague to tiny things flying in the background in Renaissance paintings.
Ghost hunters who, no matter how many hauntings they investigate, always appear as shocked and frightened as if this were their first adventure.
Conspiracy theories galore: who needs history books?
Cats from hell? What? You’re afraid of your cat? Don’t get me started.
Teenage mothers and their dysfunctional (and screaming) families.
And, of course, the vast number of documentaries about women who are raped, tortured, maimed, kidnapped or just vanish without a trace. You watch too many and you feel a little unclean.
Unpleasant representatives of the working class who do their best to make every working person in America look as stupid and gross as possible.
And all of these shows get recycled and rerun on every other channel. Hell, even Oprah’s channel, which began with such great fanfare, is loaded to the gills with a lot of this crap.
The Newest form of child abuse
Among the number of “enemy combatants” held at Guantanamo Bay are a number of teenaged fighters. “These are not children,” declared former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, meaning that they could be treated just the same as any adult detainee. The truth is far more complicated, and one that we as a nation should take a close look at.
As youngsters, many of us thrilled to the fictional story of Johnny Tremain, the young boy who runs off to fight in the Revolutionary War. Indeed, history of filled with the stories of young boys and girls who run off in a patriotic fervor and fight for their homeland.
And many is the young boy who has harbored glorious childhood visions of combat.
Reality paints a much grimmer picture, however. Especially today, when boys and girls are rarely - if ever - volunteers, but instead are brutally torn from their families and thrust into a cruel world in which it is truly, “Kill or be killed.”
In Children at War, P.W. Singer has provided a chilling look into the world in which children are forced by cruel adults into a world of murder and sexual abuse. It is certainly a book one should read before nodding in agreement with fatuous remarks like those made by Donald Rumsfeld.
I would imagine that for most people, the idea of forcing children as young as twelve years old to fight is unimaginable, something that might exist only in the realm of science fiction. The tragic truth of the matter is that across the globe, from Colombia to Sudan and Sierra Leone, and a score of hot spots in between, children are kidnapped and forced into combat every day.
Throughout the exhaustively researched book are stories from many of the young “soldiers” themselves, and their harrowing accounts of rape, and of watching their parents murdered and mutilated before their eyes.
Some armies of liberation who count female children among their “recruits” claim this as being proof of their being “progressive.” Well, if one accepts rape as a recruiting tool and forced marriage within the group as “progressive,” then you obviously have a different dictionary than I do.
The problem that many troops in the field experience when facing teenage (or younger) soldiers is a reluctance to take them seriously, or realize just how ferocious they can be in a fight. They have been taught how to be cruel by cruel men. One military expert, describing what happened to prisoners in Liberia, gives this advice in the book:
“They will capture you, strip you naked, run you through the streets, cut off your testicles and fry them in a pan in front of you, fillet you from head to toe and then cut off your head to put on a stake.”
In many cases, the children are forcibly addicted to drugs, so that they are effectively in an altered state when they are fighting. It is a horrible life that we, in our comfortable easy chairs, can scrcely imagine.
But there is hope for the young people who are separated from the militias who have robbed them of a normal life. It involves a lot of therapy, and acceptance back into the community. Even so, many of the children experience nightmares for years afterward.
But they are still children, despite what they have been forced to do, and despite what armchair experts may have you think.
Quote of the Day
Never eat more than you can lift. - Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life, as told to James Beard
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