Tonight the 83rd Academy Awards Ceremony takes place in Los Angeles (5 PM PST). To be honest, there’s nothing like being in LA during the Academy Awards. The evening starts early and you have an extra four hours to party hop or do whatever-it-is people do before the limo traffic gets thick. The hype around Oscar is just infectious.
There are two films up for best picture (out of 10) that catch my attention. They both depict two different kinds of privileged classes and two different reactions to privilege. They are “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network.” These are two films I have seen and they are two films highly favored for Best Picture. The upsets would be “Winters Bone,” “True Grit,” “The Fighter,” “127 Hours,” and maybe, just maybe “The Kids Are Alright,” “Toy Story 3,” and “The Black Swan.” I managed to see 5 of the 10.
In some ways I think the Best Picture race is between “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network.” It pits traditional Hollywood against the younger more tech savvy movie masters. Voting for “The Social Network” may make some boomer members feel that they can keep up or even patriotic for supporting American innovation. But here’s why these two stand out for me.
In “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth portrays the soon-to-be King George VI of England, a man of great privilege, the symbolic master of the fading British empire, who must be the voice of the country that is about to go to war, a very serious and ultimately deadly war with Germany. It’s not a matter of “Me Talk Pretty One Day” for George VI, but to overcome an embarrassing and potentially politically debilitating stutter even though he is on the top of the chain in terms of title, class, and privilege. If this was Henry the VIII, people would be put on the rack for bringing attention to the King’s speech. Soon to be King George VI’s encounter with the speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), who is also the lowest of the low on the class pecking order for being an “actor” by trade and Australian, brings out the substance of both men. George VI has another hurdle in his struggle — his class prejudices. Lionel has to hold the future King accountable to a goal and purpose. Whereas duty does not strike a chord with the older brother King Edward who abdicates the throne for the woman he loves, Wallis Simpson of Baltimore (a nice little class jab made in the movie on that accord), George, somewhat begrudgingly must assume the responsibility as sovereign at the brink of a greater crisis.
“The Social Network” depicts another kind of privilege class sometimes called the “Masters of the Universe” at Harvard University. The film is based on a kiss-and-tell kind of biography about Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook and now its CEO and president as well as “Time’s Person of the Year in 2010″ and the world’s youngest billionaire ever. As in “The King’s Speech,” real names are used, real situations, but liberties are taken for the sake of drama. Aaron Sorkin of “West Wing” fame, pinned the script adaptation. “The Social Network” kicks off with a multi-page dialogue between Mark played by Jessie Eisenberg, and his girlfriend who attends Boston University. It’s obvious to Mark (and should be to his girlfriend), Harvard has the upper hand in this situation. Can the girlfriend keep up? Can an audience so accustomed to seeing more action in front of the camera? Words matter in this film too. Mark is so kinetic in his back-handed compliments, insults, subject shifting, and almost combative conversation rhythm you start to wonder, “How did these two hook up in the first place?” And I guess that’s what the girlfriend realizes when she dumps him on the spot. Thus the catalyst for “The Facebook.”
Mark is not one of “the chosen” on campus like his roommate and future Facebook partner Eduardo Saverin (played by Andrew Garfield) who is tapped to join one of the exclusive student clubs. But Mark does believe in his intellectual superiority. Mark hands Eduardo some back-handed compliments about making the first cut for the club as well as if Eduardo was the ex-girlfriend. Eduardo is moving ahead of Mark on the social scale. Mark wants and needs some social currency, and the way to get it is to create a new social currency. The Winklevoss twins who are rich in social currency as well as being legacy students, have sort of the same idea, but on a Harvard playing field. They invite Mark in (but no further than the bike room) to build the social network platform. Mark instead builds his own with Eduardo’s help. Eventually Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) discovers the new emerging master of the social network, and inserts himself into the business plan. It takes a lawsuit for Eduardo to pull the knife from his back. Mark spends half the movie in litigation with the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo. Oddly, since “The Social Network” Eduardo Saverin has shown up as a search term on search engines more than Mark Zuckerberg according to Forbes.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” the saying goes. “The King’s Speech” brings a character with privilege into a situation where he must be accountable to more than just himself. There’s something bigger at stake than meeting girls, revenge, or being the big man on campus and eventually the world. “The Social Network” taps into a different kind of privileged class where the tools of warfare are money, appearance, charisma, brains, and, often in these environments, legacy (did your dad, grand dad, etc attend Harvard). Personally, Facebook became more interesting for me as an organizing tool. Maybe that’s “The Social Network” sequel.
“The Social Network” is not your daddy’s Harvard University of “The Paper Chase” where impressing a legendary yet stern professor gave you a self-esteem jolt. Professors are at the bottom of the social pecking order in the paperless Harvard where a blog post or a can of Red Bull will do just as well for the jolt. There is no parental filter to block anything in “The Social Network.” I can’t imagine being sued for millions of dollars and not having at least one of my family members either in the room during the litigation or outside the door for support.
Class is so much easier to peg when top dog is a monarchy. Either you are or you aren’t. It’s much trickier here in America. There’s the perception that it’s an even playing field. All it takes is talent and ability and when that pays off in terms of insane profits, you’re in. One thing “The Social Network” does well is show the potholes in that playing field among its own peers; even more so by the people you don’t see vying for a spot in that order, and the activities of women who spend more time stripping for the future Masters of the Universe than finding an internship route to being a hedge fund manager.
On Harvard’s Admissions website, it is written:
There is fairly universal agreement that much of the value of a Harvard education lies in things learned outside the classroom and in the relationships established with others in the community, especially with fellow students.
Maybe it is important that Harvard be seen as a “networking” opportunity and state schools are where you actually learn something. The upper hands always get a pass for their social deviance or defiance. There is no accountability to anything or anyone in “The Social Network” except to one’s self. Can’t wait to see the film about two best friends fighting over finding the cure for cancer.
The budget has been so distracting to me, that it’s difficult to concentrate on President Obama having another Lee Iacocca moment this time inside the Intel campus in Oregon. This is not a resurrection story for Intel but a message for the future of American jobs. The path, as this administration sees it, is “innovation” through advanced education. Once upon a time a high school diploma could get you on an assembly line in Detroit, a decent wage, pension. What are the business models for the future? It seemed when everyone and anyone was going to college, tuition skyrocketed. Admission criteria got more competitive. Many college graduates are looking at mounting student loans.
Nevertheless, the Washington Post reported today that those most adversely affected by the economic downturn, African Americans and Hispanic Americans, feel hopeful based on a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll. White Americans were found to be less optimistic. News media likes a race story, and I try not to indulge them much, but the article is worth the read. Check it out here. The economy poll is in someways a snapshot of what’s coming down the road in 2012. E-bert and I had a talk about this earlier today. You can read the poll results here. I try not to indulge polls either, but the findings confirm some observations outside the bubble.
The House budget has been described as far more “draconian” in terms of cuts to arts, public broadcasting, culture and humanities. For the purposes of this blog and its focus, need it be said that the “cease to exist” (read defunding) list includes the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Tonight or tomorrow Congress will vote on H.R. 1 – the resolution to continue funding the government through the rest of the year. Right now they’re hashing it out with all of the amendments including the ones to cut or cut off funding to certain programs. Whatever happens in the Congress still has to jump the hurdles in the Senate. So…to be continued.
The good news is that the two amendments to eliminate the NEA altogether were introduced, but never offered up for a vote by the sponsors on Thursday. That is a testament to the advocacy efforts of the arts community and the strong supporters for the arts in the Congress, including Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who gamely handed our Creative Industries maps out to House members on the floor before the vote.
The NEA funding was cut to FY2007 levels ($124.5 million) per the House budget. The President’s budget requested $146.255 million ($21 million shave from last year).
Not much is being said from an advocacy arm to support the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) or not as loud. Somehow, I believe with Jim Leach at the helm, he still has friends on the Hill. The NEH along with the NEA, funds programs seen on PBS and exhibits in museums as well as other community and educational projects. The NEH, with its 4% cut gets the same amount as the NEA in the President’s budget, but is cut out all together with the NEA, and CPB (which funds PBS and NPR) in a House budget amendment. Nevertheless there’s the National Humanities Alliance Action Center that monitors these things on behalf of the humanities; and they have an “action center” page.
The Smithsonian Institution, which still maintains “no admission fee” to visit its museums in Washington, DC, was a Winner in both budgets. Funny how the LA Times Arts and Culture blog has a photo of polo players in front of the Smithsonian castle on the national mall.
And the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and National Gallery of Art are probably in a position to breath easy. They are also the most visible arts and cultural institutions based in Washington, DC and the nation. Can’t the same be said about PBS?
Somewhere in the House, lawmakers have forgotten that four letter word that’s on the hearts and minds of most Americans these days — JOBS. People who create the products, performances, experiences, and institutions these organizations support aren’t hobbyists or lightweights. They are workers. And based on what I saw and heard on Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, we just can’t leave our nation’s cultural and artistic legacy solely in the hands of money changers.
So, after a decade of rising deficits, this budget asks Washington to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future. It cuts what we can’t afford to pay for what we cannot do without. That’s what families do in hard times. And that’s what our country has to do too.
The President’s Weekly was the preface for the release of the 2012 federal budget Monday. One thing I was not looking forward to was hearing lawmakers frame an explanation of the federal budget in middle class household budget speak.
How many households have yearly budgets with guaranteed income even when holding outsanding debt? How many household budgets cover 300 million people? Other than a bolt lock, alarm systems, and some other little items, how much goes into home defense? When was the last time someone had to cut their contribution to “future” plans (retirement, tuition fund, household savings) because a rainy day came sooner than expected?
The federal budget does not fit in the household and personal budget frame narrative.
When it comes to budgets, present and future have to hang in the balance. How will decisions made today affect seven generations from now? Wouldn’t the environment take priority in that kind of philosophical or values framing? Then again, someone should have thought of that a generation ago.
Is there an O. Henry short story frame to explain the impending cuts? Do we call cuts “sacrifices”? Does the budget mention “poverty” or “the poor”? Will they be serving franks and beans in the White House and Hill cafeterias? Will we hear Della’s sniffles in the halls?
By looking at the increases and cuts in the President’s budget plan one can see the “priorities” of the administration while addressing the deficit for the next 2 years (and perhaps a 2nd term):
The Republican majority in the Congress doesn’t think the cuts in the President’s budget are deep enough. The Washington Post has assigned parts of the President’s budget to their staff to break down the numbers by agency.
Here are my brief notes based on the analysis of the Washington Post
President Barack Obama’s 2012 Federal:
This ‘n’ That
Department of Interior – no change
This is the month where programmers and cultural professionals go gaga. It’s always a February feast kicking off with Langston Hughes’ birthday (February 1). If you want to savor the history of the African American experience in the arts, you must, must, must get a copy of Black Magic: A Pictorial History of Black Entertainers in America written by Langston Hughes and history writer/professor Milton Meltzer. The time line for Black Magic begins in Africa and ends at the time of Langston Hughes’ death in 1967. He never saw the final published book. Meltzer died in 2009 at age 94.
As for what’s going on in February I can barely scratch the surface. “Negro History Week” founder and DC resident Carter G. Woodson may have be astounded.
The U.S. Capitol Historical Society celebration of African American History Month Tribute to the First African American elected to the United States Senate – Hiram Rhodes Revels.
WHEN: Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 12 Noon to 1:00 PM
WHERE: Cannon House Office Building – Room 12, Independence Avenue and First Street, SE
(Metro Stops: Capitol South or Union Station)
WHO: Keynote speaker Laura Turner O’Hara, Historical Publications Specialist for the U.S. Office of History and Preservation. Ms. O’Hara is also Co-Author of ‘Black Americans in Congress 1870 -2007.’
RSVP: RSVP, email email@example.com or call (202) 543-8919, x. 38, (Automated line: leave message and contact number). This event is free and open to the Public. Seating is limited.
AFRICA: THE ROOTS OF SALSA
Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars – Quimbara – Zaire Africa 1974
WHEN: Thursday, February 17, 8:00 PM
WHERE: The Dome @ Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA
Drumming traditions brought over to the new world by the enslaved peoples from Africa were forbidden in the U.S. The authorities feared the Africans would communicate over distances by way of the drum. However Cuba did not place severe restrictions on the newly arrived Africans. In Cuba the traditions continued. The presentation highlights the marriage of African percussive rhythms with traditional Cuban music-very European in nature in the 20s and 30s. The decade-by-decade journey pays tribute to the Afro Latinos that created a new musical style. Arsenio Rodriguez, Beny Moré, Chano Pozo, Antonio Machin, Mario Bauzá, Machito, and Perez Prado are some of the artists that will be covered. Full circle and back to Africa– artists like Laba Sosseh, Ricardo Lemvo and Africando will be highlighted. Eileen’s presentation is punctuated with vintage film and music clips.
JESSICA B. HARRIS, “HIGH ON THE HOG”
FOOD & FOLKLORE at EATONVILLE RESTAURANT
WHEN: Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 PM
WHERE: Eatonville Restaurant, 2121 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010
TICKETS: $45 (plus tax and gratuity) To make reservations, go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/155216 or call 202-332-9672.
Jessica B. Harris is the author of eleven cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. Harris is one of a handful of African Americans who have achieved prominence in the culinary world. In May 2010, she was inducted into the James Beard Who’s Who in Food and Beverage in America.
In High on the Hog Harris takes the reader from Africa across the Atlantic to America, tracking the trials that the people and the food have undergone along the way. From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form such an important part of African American culture, history, and identity.
The menu, prepared by Eatonville’s Chef Garret Fleming, includes West African Shrimp and Spinach Soup; Sweet and Spicy Curried Goat with Chapati Bread and Smashed Plantains; and Banana Fritters.
BILL T. JONES/ARNIE ZANE
Bill T. Jones can’t be put in the “black box,” or any box for that matter. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company is coming to The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to perform Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray. According to the program description, “the work, danced to live music, investigates the myriad meanings of Lincoln, rejecting accepted truth in favor of challenging and celebrating the lasting contributions of this great man. By envisioning the America that might have been had Lincoln completed the Reconstruction, Mr. Jones exposes the great distance between what is and what could have been.” With the Lincoln theme, this can be tucked into “President’s Day” as well as Lincoln’s birthday. Bill T. Jones was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient for 2010.
WHEN: February 24 and 25 (there is a post-performance discussion on February 24 with members of the company)
WHERE: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater
TICKETS and SCHEDULE: Go to this link.