There's an art to losing with dignity
This seems to be an appropriate week to comment on the art of losing gracefully. Or simply the art of losing.Politicians, like movie people, tend to blame their fate on the media. But when Sarah Palin told Fox News that she found journalists to be “impotent and limp,” she took this antagonism to, well, a gut level. Hollywood, too, has blamed hyperbolic coverage by the press for flops going back to “Howard the Duck” and “Waterworld.” The so-so critiques accorded “Hereafter” also have been attacked — surely an icon like Clint Eastwood deserves more respect. On the other hand, a new study by three academics concluded that negative reviews and bad publicity can actually have a positive impact on sales. Awareness is the key thing, even if it’s nasty awareness. One media guru argues that the Internet has further fueled polarization and gridlock rather than spread knowledge. According to Micah L. Sifry, who runs the Personal Democracy Forum, “The social media has generated more talking than listening, more pushing than parsing.” Several of this year’s losing political candidates have a reason to personalize loss. Defying the old Hollywood axiom never to invest in your own productions, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina pumped in more than $240 million of their own money and lost. To be sure, those Republicans who won on Nov. 2 — and there were many — sold voters on the doctrine of smaller government. This attitude is vaguely reminiscent of the Hollywood studios, which demand tighter budgets yet keep making bigger movies. Symbolically, Rupert Murdoch used his media muscle at Fox News to advance the Tea Party agenda at the same time that his movie company closed a deal to make two expensive “Avatar” sequels. Murdoch might remind his friends on the extreme right of one key element to Hollywood’s survival: The industry has conquered tough times by rejuvenating its arcane inventory of heroes and superheroes, ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Batman and Spider-Man. The new Republican establishment could use a hero: The apparent new House speaker, John Boehner, has all the panache of an Amway salesman. Back in 1963 the Republicans hired a new ad agency to reinvent a superhero — Uncle Sam. The ads declared: “You remember Uncle Sam, don’t you? There was a lean, hard look in his face, the kind of look that even whiskers didn’t soften much. He spoke softly but carried a big stick.” The campaign asked for a meager $10 contribution, and the money poured in. Uncle Sam seems like a more unifying figure than Aunt Sarah does today. There are a number of movie debacles that seem to be as firmly etched into our collective memory as the political ones, and they’re memorialized in an odd new book titled “My Year of Flops.” Written by Nathan Rabin, the book exults in cinematic horror stories — some 50 films that managed to capsize careers and studios. “I’ve always been a failure junkie,” writes Rabin, who’s on the staff of the Onion. “I get giddy over toxic buzz, noxious press and scathing reviews.” Clearly, he’s perfect casting to write a book that embraces fabled flops like “Heaven’s Gate” and “Gigli” or the more obscure, like “Skidoo” and “O.C. and Stiggs.” Some of his listed “flops” will be disputed — entries like “Cable Guy,” “Rent” and “Cruising.” Rabin denounces the casting of “Rent” as “fake twentysomethings playing fake bohemians” — a vivid example of why the cast of a hit stage show does not necessarily belong in the movie. On “Cable Guy,” he is dumbfounded why “Jim Carrey was getting paid $20 million to behave like an ass — empty and vacant.” The problem Rabin confronts, however, is that he clearly venerates most of the flops he exhumes. He acknowledges being a fan of Cameron Crowe and finds himself admiring the doomed “Elizabethtown” even while denouncing lines like “This loss will be met by a hurricane of love.” Even “Howard the Duck” elicits a sort of sublimated praise. “No film should subject audiences to two hours of labored duck jokes,” he writes, adding, “But in some alternate universe, the movie qualifies as a secret success instead of a failure.” Well, maybe Rabin’s problem is that he feels a “solidarity with misfits, outsiders and underachievers” and therefore rejoices in “the dregs of cinema.” Rabin is in his element when he watches “Waterworld” open with Kevin Costner guzzling urine from his filtration machine. Surely he should be producing movies rather than writing for the Onion.