Watching the Watchers

Watching them watch the “Classic Replay,” CBS 5.

I sat down to watch a football game yesterday, and I was appalled. I knew it was a repeat, but I did intend to watch as if it was live, and I didn’t know the outcome. But it was a giant fail! Most of the game was framed by three local commentators eating, drinking, and making obscure inside jokes. It was one of those “What is the world coming to?” moments, which are happening with increasing frequency.

I do understand that there are rules. Sports are a form of entertainment, like circuses and magic shows, not an epic battle upon which the fate of the universe or local pride rests. Entertainment is for watching. I am watching it on a screen while eating and drinking, so others must be doing the same. Plus, given that there are 752 channels that run 24×7, content must fill the time, so much of the content is people talking. In fact, there is more content of people talking about sports than there are televised sports, so the cycle of discussion circulates around the same people, sports, drama, behind-the-scenes will so-and-so play or get paid or ask to be traded, &c.&c.&c.

(This plays out elsewhere. I was in the lap pool swimming yesterday, and there were three fellas in the seating area outside the steam room at one end. In between gulps of air, I heard “quarterback.” When I came up for a turn at one, another person not in their party had walked up and was wildly gesticulating while yelling something about Aaron Rodgers. It’s worth noting that said Rogers is not on any team in our local area, but he does seem to inspire many people to get very excited. This is proof of the ultimate success: you generate controversy nationwide even though you are just an aging human being who occasionally throws a ball a long way.)

So this is where we are. There is so much talking to be done about this entertainment form, that when you go to experience the entertainment, it’s packaged as another type of entertainment: “Watching the watchers.” It’s a disturbing trend.

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The Truth about the Movie 1776

It’s a masterpiece I say! They will cheer every word, every letter!

from “The Egg”
Adams, Franklin, Jefferson waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born. Photo from Columbia Pictures.

Yep, the movie is full of historical inaccuracies. But as the Columbia Companion to American Film says, “few are very troubling.” The musical 1776 was produced in 1969, during the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, although it wasn’t especially anti-war or preachy. (Other than the song “Cool Considerate Men,” which was clearly aimed at Republicans, or at least Nixon thought so because he pressured the producer, his friend Jack Warner, to cut it from the cinema version. Warner tried to have the negative destroyed, but someone saved it, and you can see them minuet ever to the right in the restored version. And the anti-slavery part… Anyway…)

The movie was politely applauded at the time, and now it has a cult following. We watch it every year for the holiday. The original musical was more enthusiastically greeted, as it won the Tony for Best Musical, even though the idea of staging the story of Congressional debate over the wording of a political document seemed foolhardy. Where was the romance? Where was the action?

It comes from the moment John Adams bangs open the door to Independence Hall and yells at his colleagues: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! To which they respond:

Sit down, John
Sit down, John
For God’s sake, John
Sit down!

Samuel Chase:
Someone ought to open up a window!

It’s dramatic, it’s bold, it’s operatic, with Congressmen singing back and forth at each other, immediately debating hotly whether or not to let in the flies. Is that historically accurate? Surely, it must be! That’s the beauty of the film. Even if there isn’t proof for every single thing that happens–from Hopkins bullying the aide McNair to bring him rum or the delegates rushing outside when a fire wagon goes by or the stiff argument over about “unalienable” vs. “inalienable” –surely, most of these things happened.

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Man of 600 Roles and Counting

Quick–who’s your favorite Asian American actor? How about who’s your favorite Chinese-Minnesotan actor? This dude, I’ll bet.

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock James Hong Big Trouble In Little China – 1986

James Hong turned 93 this year, and he’s been acting since before the Korean War. In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, it seemed only fitting to celebrate a gentleman who has had to play That Chinese Guy for seven decades. He only just got the star he deserved.

Number One Son

Hong was born in Minnesota in 1929. His father owned a restaurant. James spent a few of his early years in Hong Kong but came back home and completed high school in the land of golden gophers, making pies and serving coffee at dad’s business. Apparently, he hung out with the drill team helping with their sets and props. While he studied civil engineering at USC initially, his interest was more in their acting school.

I must interject to point out that my mother was born in 1930 in the Midwest and also went to high school less than a hundred miles away. She was a cheerleader before she got a Ph.D. in American Studies. Maybe they saw each other across the football field! Cheerleading and being part of the drill team were clearly handled by different cliques by the time I was in high school.

James finished the engineering degree, which sounds more like his parents’ idea than his, and worked as a road engineer in LA, acting on the weekends. He then went into the army during the Korean War (my father, same age, was sent to Germany during the Cold War). While he was in basic training, the army assigned him to Special Services, the entertainment division. They realized, as he did, that the Korean troops would likely shoot at him in a U.S. uniform, and that his own troops might as well. Better to have him tell jokes, do skits. Something tells me he always played the hapless Korean.

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