MY FIRST BOSS, a crusty city editor on the Chicago Sun-Times, was a man with set habits. Each morning upon arriving at work he would plow through the newspapers, pausing only to groan “gimme a break” when he came upon an item that exasperated him.
Well, I find myself perpetuating his ritual. Over the past few days, three items in particular have fallen into the “gimme a break” category.
- The proliferating “think pieces” about the suicide of Jay Moloney, all of them asserting that the former CAA agent was victimized by Hollywood’s malevolent subculture. “Death in the fast lane,” read the People magazine headline.
Now I never was a friend of Jay’s, but I knew him well enough to state the following: The poor guy would have succumbed even if he’d been an actuary in Boston or a teacher in Portland. Manic-depression is not a disorder endemic to Hollywood, and cocaine dependency is hardly limited to show business. Arguably, Moloney’s problems might have overtaken him even earlier had he not basked in his great success as an agent.
The terrible reality about our delicate psyches is that the “slow lane” can destabilize us even more effectively than the “fast lane.” Failure and frustration are greater enemies than glitz and success.
Having said this, I realize that at least three or four books will be written detailing how Moloney was undone by Hollywood. They will be cautionary tales; they will also be gravely misleading.
- According to the seers at Entertainment Weekly, 1999 was “the year that changed movies.” Oh, really? The magazine continues: “You can stop waiting for the future of movies. It’s already here.”
And what were the films that caused “the old, boring rules of cinema to crumble?” Well, according to Entertainment Weekly, they were “The Matrix,” “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Fight Club,” not to mention “Being John Malkovich.”
“Time doesn’t move in a straight line,” in these movies, says the magazine, and even more important, “If Hollywood’s old guard tends to kneel before the Ten Commandments of screenwriting (thou shalt insert a plot point on page 27), the new guard behaves with blissful sacrilege.”
WELL, HOORAY FOR ALL the brash young shooters who are quoted in the magazine as taking credit for re-inventing our cinema, but is it really appropriate to hang this sort of orgasmic praise on neophyte directors who are hooked on cyberdelic cuts, who shoot movies as though they were videogames or turn their backs on plot and character? “I’ve never read a screenwriting book,” boasts Paul Thomas Anderson, but he’s also never learned how to make a movie in under three hours.
Innovation should be applauded, but gimme a break, Entertainment Weekly.
- The TV programming gurus, several recent stories tell us, have come to the conclusion that they must stop neglecting the American family and must develop shows that the family can watch as a unit. Coincidentally this sentiment is consistent with the pronouncements of all the presidential candidates, who continually pledge their fealty to family values.
THOUGH TOGETHERNESS MAY SEEM appealing to the networks and candidates, the problem is that these Norman Rockwell families are fading as quickly as the networks themselves. The latest data shows that only 26% of all households now consist of the standard-issue two parents and children compared with 45% in 1972 . The new model? An unmarried couple with no children — that type of household has grown from 16% to 32% over the same period.
According to the National Opinion Research Center, these trends are now accelerating. People are marrying later, if at all. They’re having children later, if at all. Not only are more women working, but a quarter of all wives now earn more money than their husbands.
So where are all these conventional families that supposedly will be huddled together in their media rooms? More likely, the wives will be working late and the kids, if there are any, will be helping Daddy, if there is one, fill out his Medicare forms.
Maybe the programmers and politicians alike better reconsider their pitches and bring their priorities back in line with reality. And as for these articles about the glories of family programming, well, it’s “gimme a break” time yet again.