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Monday, April 30, 2007

24 Season 6: Hr 20: Secy Heller - Take Your Attitude...

I knew Lisa Miller was not to be trusted! First, she's played by Kari Matchett, who last played a woman taken over by some sea creature alien from outerspace on Invasion last year. She was perfect and excellent in that role. So I was naturally suspicious as soon as she stepped off the plane with VP Daniels - the one and only Powers Boothe - on 24 this season, I can't remember exactly how many hours ago.

And, sure enough, she's sleeping with Stargate's Michael Shanks, who's some kind of bad guy giving info to the Russians. I'm still suspecting Jack's father is somehow involved. And now that Daniels and Lennox have Lisa working for them, we should find out soon.

Meanwhile ... Audrey's catatonic (I'm sorry, but for my money, she always seemed a little catatonic even in the best of circumstances). Nadia, who has taken over from Buchanan, at first is willing to let some robotic, overweening shrink "shock" her back to reality - even though the treatment could kill her. Doyle shows he's a good guy, helps Jack get Audrey away from the shrink, and Audrey is able to give Jack one useful piece of information. But just as things might be getting a tiny bit better, William Devane - former Secretary Heller, Audrey's father - comes in to CTU and lays an attitude on Jack - stay away from my daughter... you're cursed, Jack ... everything you touch winds up dying ...

Sheesh - doesn't Heller remember that Jack saved his and Audrey's lives two years ago, when Jack called Tony and the two shot their way out of a garage or something and saved Heller and Audrey? And didn't Heller make some serious errors last year?

You know what?

I'll be happy to see definitely Audrey and maybe Heller go, too.

Jack's sister-in-law - Graem's widow - was in the coming attractions. She's by far the best for Jack. Though, Kate Warner from Season 2 would be fine, too...

Useful links:

listen to 3-min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

The Tudors Continues: Tectonic Chess

The TudorsI've had the privilege of seeing Showtime's The Tudors through Episode 8. You're in for a real treat for the senses and intellect, as Henry continues to pressure the Church to approve an annulment with Katherine so he can marry Anne. This is the tectonic heart of the story, moving people and continents closer and further, shaking what's left of the medieval world like dice in a cup till we end up with much like the world of today.

These fine episodes have some new elements, too - like The Sweats getting England - but I won't give anything away, except to say that the portrayal of doctors and medicine in The Tudors shows how close and far they were to our own times. They understood all too well the deadly contagion of illness, even as they let blood as a last resort to help the sick. But I'll save that for another post.

Here let us look at Episode 6, now available On-Demand. Henry and Wolsey learned in the previous episode that Pope Clement has been taken hostage by Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor. This is the worst news for Henry and his annulment aspirations, because the Pope cannot be relied upon to rule in his favor as a prisoner of Charles, who has sworn to do what he can to help Katherine.

But the wily Wolsey sees an opportunity: with the Pope held hostage, Wolsey can convene a conclave of Cardinals to approve Henry's request. This will provide the double benefit of pleasing Henry and making Wolsey the de facto Pope.

Sam Neill's performance as Wolsey is incandescent. I'm predicting right here that Neill will be nominated for an Emmy for this role, and will be a tough contender.

Wolsey is a master at the chess game of politics and religion in this age, but the problem is that there is more than one chess game being played, and one man can only do so much. As Wolsey goes to France to convene and rally the Cardinals, Charles allows the Pope to partially escape - meaning, he can now function as Pope, so there is no need for Wolsey's conclave. But the Pope is still very much under Charles' thumb...

Neill plays Wolsey's increasing frustration perfectly, including a confrontation with Thomas More - also played wonderfully by Jeremy Northam - in which Wolsey tries in vain to convince More to support the conclave. Wosley says whenever you deal with the elements of life your hands get dirty. More puts his hand in water and says this is my element, and my hands are clean...

So Wolsey and Henry are checked again, and the action moves back to England for the next episode, one of the very best in the series...

Useful links:
Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: More of What the FCC Would Deprive Us Of

The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church G. W. Bernard's 2005 book

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution my 1998 book

The Tudors Michael Hirst's brand new book!

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

my reviews of other episodes of The Tudors: Episodes 1 and 2: History So Colorful You Can Taste It, Episode 3: History So Real You Can Feel It, Episode 4: The Penalty of Royalty, Episode 5: Madrigal Musical Chairs, Episode 7: Henry's Imperfect Apothecary

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Sopranos: Fourth of Nine: Post Scripts

It's become clear that these last nine episodes of The Sopranos are not really a mini-season, but a series of post scripts, carefully and satisfyingly rendered. Rather than a new story, we've seen a sequence of older stories wrapped up, and existing characters clarified and in some cases brought to fruition. In the previous three episodes, Bobby has asserted himself with Tony, Christopher made his movie, and Junior tried in vain to free himself from the psychological shackles of his institution.

Tonight the focus was on Tony's friend and advisor, loan-shark Hesh (played by Jerry Adler), and AJ's relationship with Blanca.

Tony owes Hesh two-hundred-thousand dollars. Usually this would be no problem for Tony to re-pay, but Tony is afflicted with a gambling problem. I don't recall this from any previous year, so the series loses points for bringing in a major new problem that we didn't know about before, just to support the action tonight. Other than that, though, we get some fine exposition of the relationship of Hesh and Tony - most especially Hesch's fear that Tony might kill him rather than re-pay the money.

Hesh probably speaks for every other major man in Tony's organization, with the possible exception of Silvio. They all must think, somewhere deep down, that Tony might kill them, given the right wrong circumstances. This certainly went through Paulie's mind last week.

But Tony has changed, and may be unlikely to kill any of them - if in fact, he ever would have been. Certainly he would never have killed anyone close to him over money.

Tony's money problems also brought him into conflict with Carmela tonight. But their big conflict - over what happened to Ade - has yet to come.

And poor A.J. ... Unsurprisingly, Blanca leaves him in the end. Life is tough for every son of a mobster in The Sopranos ... including Vito's son, whose story also wrapped tonight.

Hesh and Blanca likely put in their final significant appearances.

Nancy Sinatra put in a fine cameo - crooning to Phil Leotardo - continuing the great cameo tradition of Geraldo Rivera in these final nine hours.

We've yet to see much of Silvio, and Christopher and Carmela still have major unfinished business with Tony, and only five hours left to conduct it...

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: First of Nine, Second of Nine, Third of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lost ... Words from the Woman Who Fell

We still can't tell if Juliet is bad or good on the evidence of tonight's episode. She seems genuinely wanting to be helpful about Sun's baby, but leaves a message for Ben which ends with her saying she hates him - which strongly implies that she hates what he's making her do, which implies that can't be very good...

But the most fascinating, provocative action tonight came along the woman who fell from the sky. Last week, she said Desmond's name. Tonight, she said she was going to die, in a variety of non-English tongues--

Then, out of the jungle comes the Russian guy with the eye patch-- But didn't we see him pretty convincingly fried by that fence a few weeks ago? Perhaps people not only heal quickly on the island, but come back from the dead. No, some of our people have apparently really died in the past 90 days. Maybe the Russian guy was almost completely fried, and made a quick recovery.

But the biggest jolt of all comes at the end when the woman who fell from the sky, recovering nicely thanks to the Russian's help, speaks in perfect English and says that she knows about Oceanic Flight 815 - and everyone died on it.

So, here's what we have: Desmond sailed or claims he was sailing around the world and landed on the island. He can see the future, sometimes, and in the last show thought he saw Penny fall from the sky, but it turned out to be this multi-lingual woman who says Desmond and thinks everyone on the flight perished.

One explanation is Penny sent her looking for Desmond, after the plane crashed, but who gave the woman who fell from the sky the idea that everyone of the flight died?

In the first year of Lost, lots of people were saying it was a purgatory show. Whatever the creators might have originally intended, that would have been too easy an explanation, and I'm glad that's not, apparently, what's going on - at least, I think and hope it's not.

But what the woman from the sky tonight said is certainly consistent with a purgatory explanation.

But, ruling that out, what else could be going on?

Desmond and this woman are in one timeline, which has been crossed with the timeline of our people on island, and somehow Jack and Desmond meeting on the steps of the stadium was part of that intertwining?

I don't know ... but Lost has my attention...

Useful links:

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

The Enjoyable Trouble with Time Travel

listen to free 4-min podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Heroes in Focus

The best television series always take new paths. They not only tell new stories, but tell them in unexpected ways. Sometimes part of the unexpected is taking the audience for a ride that veers close to going over a cliff - and never recovering. But the best shows not only recover, but whisk the viewers to new heights.

Each does this its own way. Lost ended its first season with so many unanswered questions that it was talked about all Summer and Fall. It was great TV and a cultural phenomenon. But when it became clear the next season that almost none of those questions were being answered, Lost almost lost its way. It took until last month for it to get really on track again.

Battlestar Galactica had the best opening shows this Fall I've ever seen in a series. Then it started to coast, and dive. It took the season finale and piece of unexpected music to surprise us and take the show to new heights.

I enjoyed the first few episodes of Heroes in the Fall. I'm always in the mood for a good time travel story, and the powers of most of the other heroes were intriguing. But as the story progressed, I didn't get enough central story line development. If Lost had too many unanswered questions, Heroes had too many heroes, and not enough clarity about what they were supposed to be doing in the story.

All of that changed in February. Family lines were revealed, relationships were explained, tightened, brought into satisfying, provocative focus. Less important threads were woven into the main one - saving New York City.

Heroes resumed this Monday, in its high-octane, laser-tight mode. The loose ends are pulling themselves together into a tapestry of real originality.

I'm looking forward to the next few shows...

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Monday, April 23, 2007

24 Season 6: Hr 19: The Heads of CTU

I gotta talk about Buchanan first. CTU has had some vivid leaders in the days we've seen - all across the spectrum of good and evil, competent and not. Nina was of course in class by herself that first year. Her incredible treachery set the tone of the series. Then George Mason, who seemed a bit of weakling at first, heroically went down on the plane after being exposed to a fatal dose of radiation in the second season. And Jack had to kill Ryan Chappelle - irritating but by no means ineffective - in what remains one of the powerful sequences in the entire run of the series, in the third season.

Buchanan, played superbly by James Morrison, brought a strength and confidence and fundamental honesty and decency to the job that none of the other CTU heads had. When Buchanan was in the room, when he spoke, you knew that there was definitely still some hope.

So I hated to see him go tonight. Fortunately, he's alive. And I couldn't quite believe that Karen would resolve the situation by firing her husband - I would've liked to see her stand up to Hawk and his federal attorney blackmail. But we may yet see Buchanan return. If not this day, definitely in another.

Meanwhile, Jack saved Audrey, and it's a good thing for us that Doyle intervened, because that saved Jack.

But Audrey's not herself. The Chinese got to her, messed with her mind. Was anyone else thinking Manchurian candidate?

And I'm telling ya, I don't trust Lisa Miller. There's something going on in her head - and I'm still thinking she's in league with the people who tried to blow up Wayne Palmer ... a group that may or may not include Jack's father.

Should be a great four remaining episodes.

Useful links:

The Manchurian Candidate: 2004 movie and 1962 movie

listen to free 3-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips - or call it at 415 223 4124

The Tudors Continues: Madrigal Music Chairs

The TudorsNations were new in the time of The Tudors. In Episode 5, England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire shift alliances like dancers of the Branle - Charles has left Henry, who moves towards a rapprochement with Charles - and the personal lives of Henry and the characters in his court are swirling even faster, veering close to out of control...

In our reality, Cardinal Wolsey opposes Henry's annulment of his marriage to Catherine. In The Tudors, Wolsey does not so much oppose it as is incapable of swaying the considered opinion of England's theological experts. The result is the same: Henry is growing increasingly frustrated, including, for the first time, at Wolsey himself. The scheming of Thomas Boleyn and Lord Norfolk may soon find some fruition.

Henry is angry at almost everyone except Anne Boleyn, with whom he's finally getting some good face and other-parts-of-the-anatomy time. Their relationship grows emotionally deeper, too, as Henry, in a rare display of self-control, refrains from ravishing her, until they are married.

Henry's not very happy with his sister Margaret, who has married Charles Brandon. He rages at them, too, and banishes them from court.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Henry and his furies finely. Whatever the real Henry was really like, I'm happy with Meyers in the part. Sam Neill as Wolsey is also superb - his facial expressions alone are worth a subscription to Showtime. And I have to give a shout-out to the little boy who played Henry's illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy - nothing illegitimate about little Zak Jeno-Ragic's performance!

In close to the last scene, Henry learns that Rome has been sacked by the Emperor Charles, who has taken the Pope hostage in the process. Not good for Henry for many reasons, including the Pope's likelihood to decide in Henry's favor in the matter of his annulling his marriage with Catherine...

Useful links:

Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: More of What the FCC Would Deprive Us Of

The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church G. W. Bernard's 2005 book

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution my 1998 book

The Tudors Michael Hirst's brand new book!

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

my reviews of other episodes of The Tudors: Episodes 1 and 2: History So Colorful You Can Taste It, Episode 3: History So Real You Can Feel It, Episode 4: The Penalty of Royalty, Episode 6: Tectonic Chess, Episode 7: Henry's Imperfect Apothecary

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

PaulLevinson.net digest #10: John Edwards' favorite book

just one I want to call out to your attention today ... John Edwards' Favorite Book ... is I. F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates ... which says that Edwards loves history and philosophy, is concerned about what can go wrong in a democracy, is tolerant of diverse opinions ... pretty impressive and rare qualities in a President...

if you enjoy listening: 15-minute Light On Light Through podcast on this subject...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Sopranos: Third of Nine: Slow, Simmering Sauce

Tony's tomatoes are coming in, and he wants to be around to pick and enjoy them, but the Feds are digging up a body that he and Paulie dispatched years ago, so the two have to get out of town for a while in Florida.

Tony has always had a conflicted relationship with Paulie. He loves him as he would an older brother. But Paulie and his mouth and his thinking represent everything that Tony would like to leave behind in his life, if only he could, and devote himself to his tomatoes.

Paulie is a threat to Tony, and on some level, both men understand this. But I can't believe Tony would for even a minute seriously consider killing Paulie just as a way of keeping him quiet. Tony has never killed anyone in such a pro-active way, and it certainly didn't make sense that he would embark on that course tonight. At the very time when he's thinking more and more of what life would be like without the business, killing Paulie just to keep him quiet on general principle would be about the worst piece of business Tony ever did.

Still, the day on the boat in Florida was suspenseful.

Meanwhile, Uncle Junior, who did put a bullet into Tony, is doing the best he can in his institution. Which isn't very good. He tries to get a card game going, to bring back some of the old zing, but of course that doesn't last. He has a choice of being drugged and docile or cheating on the drugs - which makes him incontinent. Not a good place to be.

And as tonight's episode ends, we're still in a status quo. But one which is slowly simmering to a boil. Phil's back in power. And Tony will be his competition.

Which he'll face with his imperfect, fraying relationships with all his top guys - Paulie, Christopher, Bobbie - with the exception of Silvio.

Who in fact may pose the greatest threat of all to Tony, since Silvio was the one who killed Ade...

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: First of Nine, Second of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes

Saturday, April 21, 2007

John Edwards' Favorite Book

John Edwards' favorite book is The Trial of Socrates.

This is I. F. Stone's superb 1988 philosophic investigation, published a year before his death at 82, about why Socrates allowed himself to die. Why he drank the hemlock, after Crito (according to Plato) had given Socrates a chance to escape. Why he allowed himself to go on trial in the first place, rather than leave Athens. Why Socrates went out of his way to antagonize a jury which, by most accounts, was not really out to sentence the great philosopher to death.

Stone, a journalist gadfly and publisher of I. F. Stone's Weekly from 1953-1971, had given up contemporary journalism, taught himself to read ancient Greek, and devoted himself to understanding what had gone wrong back in ancient Athens - what had driven the world's first recorded democracy to kill someone who even then was recognized by many as a world-class thinker. Stone's conclusion, based on his fresh reading, was astonishing: Socrates had allowed the Athenians to bring him to trial, had to some extent even provoked the capital verdict, and then accepted it, because he loathed democracy, and wanted to embarrass it - show the world and subsequent history just how corrupt a democratic system could be.

I had never bought Plato's account of the last days of Socrates. From the first I read and discussed it, in Professor Henry Magid's "Introduction to Philosophy" class that I took as a freshman at the City College of New York in 1963, I didn't believe it - didn't believe that Socrates wouldn't have taken Crito up on his good offer, to continue his philosophy in a city other than Athens, rather than submit to the painful, unjust death of hemlock. (I know I would have certainly said no thanks to the poison, had I been in Socrates' place.) So when I first came upon Stone's book in 1988, I was delighted.

I didn't agree completely with Stone's explanation, and went on to offer my own, in my novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, first published in 2006. But Stone's book remains one of my all-time favorites, and on many days, it is my favorite book, too.

Which brings us back to John Edwards. What does his putting Stone's The Trial of Socrates at the top of his list tell us about this candidate for President?

It tells us he loves philosophy and history. It tells us he has a taste for the intellectually daring, because that's what Stone's book is.

It tells us John Edwards has a keen interest in and sense of what can go wrong in even the most democratic societies. It tells us he is an enemy of censorship - Socrates was put to death for his words - and a friend of societies tolerant of dissidents and their views.

When was the last time we had a President like that? Franklin Delano Roosevelt? John F. Kennedy?

I'm not sure, but I know that John Edwards' favorite book puts him in excellent company indeed.

Listen to free 15-minute podcast about this at Light On Light Through

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lost ... The Woman Who Fell from the Sky

We learned on Lost tonight why Desmond calls everyone "Brother," why Desmond has been so keen on saving Charlie, that Demond's visions of the future are far from perfect, and Bernard (the last of the Tailees, as far as we know) is still around!

The Bernard part is the easiest - Sawyer mentions his name in the present tense. Presumably Rose is with him. They're not the most major characters on the show, but I was glad.

As for Desmond, he does apparently have the capacity to see the future - imperfectly, in part because his very knowledge of the future causes him to behave in ways he might not have (to either make that future happen, or prevent it), and this in turn can change the future. This puts Demond in the company of a long line of visionaries in science fiction and other genres, my favorite of whom is Paul Muad'dib from Frank Herbert's Dune.

There has been a lot of speculation that Desmond not only sees the future in his mind, but travels to and from it - as in time travel. No evidence of that tonight, but I guess it's still a possibility.

Desmond did prove that he's more than just single-mindedly selfish tonight, by not letting Charlie die to help fulfill his vision, and in that unselfish act he joins Sawyer and others who seem to be behaving a bit better on the island than in their earlier lives.

But the woman who falls from the sky, the woman Desmond has worked so hard to get to the island, turns out ... not to be Penny, though she does say Desmond's name.

Is this because Desmond saved Charlie, and thereby changed the ingredients necessary to insure Penny's delivery? Or was Penny never supposed to get to the island in the first place, and it was Desmond's wishful thinking that was blurry all along?

Enjoyable questions - and I'd still like to know how that coincidence of Jack running into Desmond in the stadium came about...

Useful links:

The Enjoyable Trouble with Time Travel my blog post

listen to 3-min free podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Dune David Lynch's movie of Frank Herbert's novel

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Monday, April 16, 2007

24 Season 6: Hr 18: Pure Punch and Action

It's often occurred to me, over the years, that 24 might be an even better show than it is if all the action took place in 8 or 9 rather than 24 hours - we would have a leaner, meaner, 24. More action, surprises, thrills, less hum-drum and blather.

Not that 24 has much of that - it's always been more streamlined than any other show on TV - but, hey, even something that good can benefit from a little improvement.

The almost-ending of the nuclear-Arab-Russian terrorist story last week provided just an opportunity.

And 24 made good on that tonight.

I can't recall another episode packed with so much storyline and punch. Jack and Doyle have more than one crucial confrontation. Wayne Palmer stands down VP Daniels - only to succumb to a serious stroke. I know, a lot of viewers, including me, saw that probably coming, but it was still fine television. Chloe and Morris have some goes at it. And when the dust clears ... Jack's going it alone once again, with all sides seeming to be against him.

The most interesting side, for me, is Daniels, played by Powers Boothe perfectly, and now back in President power, much more securely than before. It's not 100% clear if he is working for himself or the sinister forces that tried to kill Wayne Palmer (these forces may or may not have some connection to Jack's father), and I still think Lisa Miller (Kari Matchett, of watery blonde Invasion) has some role in this which we haven't quite seen as yet.

Ok, I'll go out on a limb: I think Lisa is working for the bad guys who tried to kill Wayne. They wanted Daniels in power, but Daniels doesn't know they're behind this. Lisa allowed Lennox to set up Daniels with the taping because, at that point, it looked like the recovered Wayne Palmer was going to finally do the right thing...

Lots of great material to be resolved, and we haven't even gotten to Jack's rescue of Audrey... for which Jack is clearly ready to give his life.

For the first time in the six days/seasons of 24, I think Jack Bauer may genuinely be at some risk. He's already been exiled, turned into a drug addict ... In a series that keeps upping the ante, there's not much left to take, except his life...

Nah, they couldn't, wouldn't do that ... I hope not...

Listen to the 5-minute free podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

The Tudors Continues: The Penalty of Royalty

The Tudors
People often say that in today's mediated world, celebrities have no privacy. Whether in politics or entertainment, once you've been noticed by the public eye, it takes a long time to turn away or even blink.

Episode 4 of Showtime's The Tudors, which continues to present a compelling tableau of social history, shows this is nothing new. If what we saw with Henry's sister Margaret (played appealingly by Gabrielle Anwar) is any indication, being married to a monarch - in her case, the aged and repulsive King of Portugal, at Henry's implacable order - was not only no bargain. It was living in a gilded fish bowl.

Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette made this same point. Not only does everyone and their grandmother at the court watch you eat, but a select group watch you go to bed. The witnesses even keep a cocked ear to hear how well a marriage is consummated.

As amazing as these scenes were between Marie Antoinette and Louis, I found the bedroom of poor Margaret and the Portuguese King even more eye-opening. Better to be a dirt-poor peasant, and be spared having to tell a Cardinal waiting just outside the curtain, and listening to every sound, that the union was successful. Fortunately for Margaret, there is an option....

Meanwhile, back in olde England, Henry's undergoing a transformation. He gets scant satisfaction from the Pope's making him "Defender of the Faith" as reward for his polemic against Martin Luther, and moves ever closer to getting a divorce from Catherine.

This is something the Pope will certainly not want to reward Henry for, and will lead to consequences that will change the course of history.

Useful links:

Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: More of What the FCC Would Deprive Us Of

The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church G. W. Bernard's 2005 book

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution my 1998 book

The Tudors Michael Hirst's brand new book!

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

my reviews of other episodes of The Tudors: Episodes 1 and 2: History So Colorful You Can Taste It, Episode 3: History So Real You Can Feel It, Episode 5: Madrigal Musical Chairs, Episode 6: Tectonic Chess, Episode 7: Henry's Imperfect Apothecary

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Sopranos: Second of Nine: Media on Media

The Sopranos was a superb media-on-media story tonight. Daniel Baldwin - great on Homicide: Life on the Street, and a notable hack actor of late - put in a fine perfomance as himself playing Tony in Christopher's movie.

Geraldo Rivera, fresh from his heated exchange in real life with Bill O'Reilly, appeared in tonight's episode as a talk show host interviewing guests about who will be the next mob leader. (Actually, this was likely taped for The Sopranos before Geraldo and O'Reilly went at it - which was probably somewhat staged, too - but it's fun to think that what we were watching on The Sopranos tonight was happening in real time.)

And the director Sydney Pollack was a pleasure to watch, not as himself, but as a doctor who murdered his wife serving time in Johnny Sack's cancer ward in prison. This had little to do with the central story, but had some of the best scenes in this magnificent episode, anyway. Johnny Sack - played masterfully by Vincent Curatola - has been one of my favorite characters in the series.

The media-on-media that did animate the central story tonight, and indeed spilled over into Soprano lives - as all good media-on-media stories do - was the realization of Christopher's Cleaver movie. "Godfather meets Saw," as Christopher put the story of the movie, is just what it sounds like. Baldwin plays a slightly hefty mob boss who gets his just desert from an axe-wielding monster.

Now, Tony might have enjoyed this homage to himself, and in fact did, at a screening attended by the whole Soprano extended family. (I could relate to this - not that anyone has made a movie about me - but I've attended at least two similar screenings for movies produced by my wife's cousin.) But Carmela, no dope, notices that the Tony character played by Baldwin is having an affair with a sexy young thing.

As Carmela of course explains to Tony, the axing of Tony/Baldwin at the end of the movie is Christopher acting out his true feelings about Tony in the making of this film: Christopher wants Tony dead.

And, as we can see clearly in a great psych session with Tony and Melfi, the media-on-media story has come full cycle. Christopher made this movie and now, in real life, it is starting to eat at Tony, kindling misgivings he already had, maybe even leading him to believe that Christopher is a threat to him.

The final hug at the christening of Christopher's baby carries the delicious, unsettling ambiguity of some of the great, pivotal hugs we have seen in gangster movies at christenings and weddings and funerals over the years...

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: First of Nine, Third of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

O'Reilly v. Rivera: look again, not what you think

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Four Imus Fallacies

Not to worry ... I'm not going to turn this blog into a never-ending series of posts about Imus, no longer in the morning or at present anyplace in the media. But I thought I'd offer one concluding contribution, and then back to my regularly scheduled diatribes, barring something new about Imus ...

I've seen a lot of faulty analogies bandied around the media regarding Imus, his insult of the Rutgers women's basketball team, and his firing. I'll discuss (and puncture) four of them here:

1. Why are people offended by Imus, but not by the same kind of language used in rap and hip-hop records and culture?

Poor analogy. Rap and hip-hop make general statements (bad, good, insulting, whatever) about general classes of people in society. Imus insulted real individuals - in fact, women who were not celebrities, but players on a college basketball team. General insults, not specifically directed at you, can be easily ignored. An attack on a real individual cannot - certainly not by that person.
Here is an example: I'm a college professor. If someone says, "college professors are schmucks," I can laugh that off. If someone says, "you, Professor Levinson, are a schmuck," I'd still laugh, but would probably want to respond to that.

Bottom line: There's a world of difference between a general insult and a targeted insult. Rap is social commentary, and does not need to be restrained. What Imus said was personally damaging, and has no place in our media or our culture.

2. Imus apologized to the Rutgers women; why don't the Revs Sharpton and Jackson apologize to the Duke lacrosse players, wrongly accused of rape?

Also a poor analogy. Although Sharpton and Jackson do owe the lacrosse players an apology, the two situations are not comparable. Sharpton and Jackson were commenting on an alleged crime. What crime or anything of negative note occurred with the women's basketball team at Rutgers, to warrant Imus's comment? None. In fact, they were in the news because of a positive accomplishment, doing well on the basketball courts. Imus's comment was thus worse than insulting: he attacked people who should have been praised and toasted, not insulted, for their accomplishments.

3. Why don't we go after other media celebrities who traffic in insult - Ann Coulter, Rosie O'Donnell, take your pick - now that Imus has been held to account?

See my response to #1 above: Imus's insults were in a class by themselves. Coulter goes after people who are already in the news about some political or social matter. Her statements are often reprehensible, but they are directed against people who choose to enter the public arena. (Her attack on the widows of 911 was about the worst - the widows, obviously and tragically, did not choose to be widows. But they did decide, bravely, to enter the public arena on post-911 issues). In contrast, Imus went after people who had not entered any arena except the basketball court. Meanwhile, O'Donnell's language is also either directed against other celebrities, or to general classes of people (her remark about the Chinese, for example).

To be clear: None of this excuses the language and behavior of Coulter and O'Donnell - but they are not in the same league of blindsiding, personally-directed insult as what Imus said.

4. If you believe in freedom of speech and the First Amendment, how can you be happy about Imus taken off the air?

Easy: Imus's speech was not restrained, restricted, or fined by the FCC or any part of government. In fact, he is still free to say whatever he likes - that is indeed his right, under the First Amendment to our Constitution.
What he does not have a right to do is say whatever he pleases and be paid millions of dollars to say it, or be given access to a microphone that will broadcast his words to millions of people.

The distinction is crucial. The First Amendment receives an almost daily beating by the FCC, and it is important to focus on that and oppose it. Bringing Imus into the picture only confuses the issue.

In sum: Our culture and our media do not really need to change. Imus needed to go.

Useful links:

Listen to my 20-minute podcast about Imus at Light On Light Through

Memo to Michelle Malkin re: Imus and rap

Day After Imus: What Doesn't Need to Be Done

Following comments are from my original posting on PaulLevinson.net on 14 April 2007. Feel free to post any new comments right here.


Here is an example: I'm a college professor. If someone says, "college professors are schmucks," I can laugh that off. If someone says, "you, Professor Levinson, are a schmuck," I'd still laugh, but would probably want to respond to that.
Are you saying it's more acceptable to insult a wide range of people than a very specific target?
By that logic, people should dismiss something like a racial slur, because it encompasses a large group of people and not a direct target. It then follows by that logic that Imus' statement would've been more acceptable if he had insulted ALL blacks, for example, instead of singling out the basketball players he insulted, because after all, he'd be insulting a group with a sweeping generalization and not a target specific insult. Seems a little ridiculous, does it not?
Posted by: doctornine at April 14, 2007 08:53 PM
Read what I wrote, doctornine.

Does it say anything about insults to general classes of people being "more acceptable"?
In fact, I'm not talking about "acceptability" - what I'm talking about is personal hurt.
And, yes, I stand by my point that an insult directed against a real, specific individual or group of real, identified individuals is much more hurtful, and less easily ignored, than an insult against a general group.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 14, 2007 10:35 PM

Thank you for your response Paul. I appreciate it.
Posted by: doctornine at April 14, 2007 10:40 PM

Although Imus should be disciplined for his actions, it bothers me when his comments are deemed racist, when in fact, I believe that they were not. He made a positive comment about the Tennessee women's basketball team just moments before his comment about the Rutgers girls, and I do not believe that this country will make any progress if people have to sit and live in a state of paranoia just in case they make a statement that is considered non-politically correct. I honestly thought that you Professor Levinson, would be much more forgiving for a mistake made by someone who has, over the years, provided such a good commentary and insight into political life as Dom Imus has. Whereas he did make a mistake, isn't it a staple of the university you work for, to forgive?
Posted by: Johnny D at April 15, 2007 02:02 AM

Johnny D - thanks for the comment.
First, let me say that although I'm a professor at Fordham University, I'm in no sense speaking for the university when I comment on public events - either here, or on television and radio, etc.
A fundamental principle of academic life, which Fordham endorses and respects, is that professors speak and write for themselves, presenting their own views on matters of public import.
As for Imus, it's not a question of forgiving.
It's a question of whether CBS and MSNBC wanted to continue to give him the salary and access to their microphones. This a free society, which means corporations have every right to fire employees who, in the corporation's view, are not acting in the corporate interest. That's part of the deal you accept when you take that big salary.
Is Imus a racist? I don't really know - I can't look into his soul.
But, clearly, his statement was racist and sexist.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 15, 2007 10:47 AM

You, Professor Levinson, are a schmuck.
Well, you kinda asked for that.
To expand: Your response to alleged fallacy #2 is wrong in at least two respects. It is not more acceptable to make extravagant statements about people accused of a crime than it is to make them about people not so accused; it is worse, because it does palpable harm to them and their case at a time when the law deems them to be still innocent. Additionally, your statement that they were commenting on an alleged crime is not strictly true; many of their statements ventured into personal slurs on the accused themselves.
Posted by: Chuck Hardin at April 15, 2007 07:15 PM

Thanks Paul, I think the personal attack vs. public you mention is important. However, I think the racial/sexist content of his message must be kept in context. When I watch the clip, it seems clear to me that it is in jest, it is an exaggeration. This may sound stupid, but I believe that because he thought he could tell such a joke, this is actually indicative of how far we have come.
Perhaps Imus thought that because these are frequently used terms they would be appropriate for his crowd, that his crowd would understand the absurdity of such a statement. Deriving that a woman is a ho from basketball footage is absurd. And frankly I didn't even realize 'nappy' was a racist term, I thought it simply meant mussy, or unkempt. I do think that these words, especially in this context, do not carry the same meaning that they might of say 60 years ago. (for example, I think it is great that every other word in rap songs is 'nigga'. I don't think you can kill hurtful words, but you can redefine them which is much more effective.)
I do not think this was as controversial as everyone would like it to be. That it was a personal attack, that is why Imus should apologize /be fired. This matter did not warrant this sort of attention, and I doubt it would have got too far if Sharpton and Jackson hadn't involved themselves. There are very real issues that do harm blacks in America, and I think it is unfortunate that this is what Sharpton and Jackson choose to attack.
Posted by: tobydog at April 15, 2007 10:47 PM

Do you think that the corporations who pulled their advertisements, or even MSBNC and CBS themselves, took the swift action that they did because they were reading the winds of the coming political environment? I mean, the two front runners for the Democratic nominee for president, Clinton and Obama, certainly weighed in on the controversy in public comments.
Imus regularly called Hillary Clinton "Satan" among other less-than-flattering names.
Posted by: John Furie Zacharias at April 15, 2007 10:59 PM

Chuck - thanks - I was hoping some reader would rise (sink) to the bait ... and you did! Congratulations! :)
Meanwhile, as to your points about Sharpton and Jackson:
So you seriously think that someone (Imus) who blindsides people for no reason whatsoever is better than someone (Sharpton or Jackson) who comments on people accused (wrongly, it turns out) of a serious crime?
In this country, unlike England, we permit and even encourage discussion of crimes while they are under investigation. Yes, it can do damage to the wrongly accused. But it also can help the wrongly accused, by calling attention to poor prosecutor performance.
Which is just what it did in the Duke case.
Indeed, whatever the motives of Sharpton and Jackson, their comments - along with many others - kept the media focused on Duke, which eventually led to the charges being dropped, the lame Prosecutor resigning, etc.
So, actually, I think Sharpton and Jackson may have done some good, there - again, unlike Imus.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 16, 2007 01:35 AM

tobydog - but surely you don't think that most women would enjoy being called a "ho'", do you?
John: I think MSNBC and CBS moved almost 100% because sponsors were dropping Imus. That's almost all the suits in charge care about.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 16, 2007 01:38 AM

Always happy to oblige, son.
Yeah, I do think that it's worse to attack someone who is already beleaguered, who is already under attack by a well-funded and powerful opponent, than it is to attack someone who's on top of their game and totally not expecting it. In the first case, you're piling on and making things worse. In the second, you're easily dismissed by the person, who can just shake their head and wonder if you've really stopped drinking.
Cut the debate-club bullshit and answer honestly: Do you really think that any athlete who's tough enough to master college basketball is going to be affected much by the unjustified rantings of some dried-up radio loudmouth? They won. He's pissed. Waaaah.
As for your disingenuous nonsense about Jackson and Sharpton calling attention to the situation...why would you put an argument like that in your mouth? I wouldn't pick it up with my hands. The only thing their rantings attracted was a lynch mob of idiots. It was their opposition who called attention to the actual injustices of the situation. If you were an honest man, you'd thank them.
Posted by: Chuck Hardin at April 16, 2007 07:45 PM

Chuck - I'm sorry if you think what I've been saying is "bullshit debate" - because I stand by every single word I've written about this.
And to answer your question: I rather doubt that you have much if any real experience with college people at this age and in this situation or similar situations.
I have - as a parent, and much more often (of course) as a college professor, and even more so as a Chair of a Department, where I get to see students who need advice on all kind of things.
And you know what? If anything, being on a successful team makes many people even more vulnerable, because, having succeeded in one area, they feel a lot of pressure to succeed in other areas.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 16, 2007 08:02 PM

If being on a successful athletic team is stressful, do you know what is certainly worse? Being on a successful athletic team and prosecuted for a felony you didn't commit, Paul, that's what. And having half-witted slavering ghouls pile on to you, convict you in the court of public opinion, because your alleged guilt conforms to their nasty political prejudices...that'd be nigh-intolerable.
I guess the worst thing of all would be to have the nation's newspaper of record join in the pile-on, printing ignorant tripe and rancid speculation as fact...and the faculty of your university nod their bespectacled heads and cry "Aw-men". Yeah, by God, that'd be a blow, wouldn't it?
I wish I didn't believe your protestations of sincerity. I could almost tolerate your bad arguments when I thought they were mere casuistry. If the bad reasoning you've displayed here is an example of your real, sincere thought process, I believe you don't deserve your position at Fordham. A professor simply shouldn't be this poor a thinker.
Posted by: Chuck Hardin at April 17, 2007 04:10 AM

PaulLevinson.net digest #9: Don Imus

No Place for Imus in the Media

Memo to Michelle Malkin re: Don Imus and rap

The Day after Imus: What Doesn't Need to Be Done

Four Imus Fallacies

bottom lines - Imus deserved to go ... there's a big difference between the generalities of rap and the insults that Imus hurled at specific, real women (college students, whose only "crime" was playing on the basketball team and winning, no less) ... the fault lies in Imus not our culture ...

listen to my free 20-minute podcast about Imus on Light On Light Through or call it at 415-223-4122

Friday, April 13, 2007

Day After Imus: What Doesn't Need to Be Done

It's the day after Imus, and lots of people are saying: let's not let Imus getting fired having been in vain - let's use this as an occasion to reexamine our culture.
There are at least two varieties of this: (a) let's see what we can do to clean up the language in the rap and hip-hop communities, (b) let's start holding other radio and media commentators to stricter account.

I don't see a need for either.

First, we don't need self-appointed guardians of our culture, or any part of it, however well-meaning they may be. If people enjoy the language of rap and hip-hop, if they like it to the point of spending money on it, then it will and should survive. Anyone who doesn't like it can ignore or walk around it. I don't know any place in the country where people are tied to a chair and forced to listen to any kind of music or lyric.

And the "damage" that this language is supposed to do to our society, our children? I doubt it. As I said in my previous posts about Imus, there is a world of difference between musical performances, general culture attitudes, on the one hand, and someone (Imus) hurling a racist, sexist insult to real people (college students) on the other. People can and do get hurt from insults specifically directed at them. Have you ever met anyone hurt by a piece of music?

What about the second lofty goal - holding our media personalities to higher standards.

I don't think that's necessary, either.

The standards we have now are working fine. They held Imus to account for his unacceptable conduct. They would do the same for any other media personality. We don't need a witchhunt on shockjocks or anyone else in the media. If anyone behaves the same as Imus, he or she should receive the same treatment.

In short, we can chalk up the response to Imus as, by and large, a job well done. MSNBC and CBS took a little longer than they should have to do the right thing, but they did it. People may look for greater meaning in all of this, but, in the end, a mean-spirited person who crossed the line with a microphone got what he deserved.

The fault was mainly in him, not in our culture.

Following comments from the original PaulLevinson.net post of 13 April 2007. Feel free to comment further right here.


Well said.
Fact: we own the radio spectrum. It is government property.
If you piss off the public, we are going to kick you off the property. Black or white. Conservative or republican.
My Statement: (finally, I have an opinion) This is such a farce that this much media coverage was completely unnecessary. Manufactured outrage. McOutrage. I believe that most of the public at large really didn't care. And still don't.
Posted by: Tone at April 13, 2007 02:36 PM

McOutrage! Good call, Tone.
**ring ring**
"Hello. This is Mel Karmazin's office. How may I help you?"
"Tell Mel that Don is calling."
--- meanwhile ---
"Hello? May I speak to Mr. Smiley? Tell Tavis that MSBNC is calling."
It's all good.
Posted by: John Furie Zacharias at April 13, 2007 11:01 PM

"And the 'damage' that this language is supposed to do to our society, our children? I doubt it."
I disagree with you here. I feel that certain aspects of mainstream media (especially hip-hop) and music DO hurt our youth. Often times I've been witness to a young person trying to imitate the lifestyle they see glorified in the MSM, such acting "hard", throwing around profanity (even sometimes directed towards their own parents), and disrespecting others and their property.
Posted by: doctornine at April 14, 2007 01:38 AM
doctorine - thanks for the comment
But on whether rap damages anyone ... you know, this debate goes back at least as far as rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, which was condemned then as damaging the morality of our youth.
I thought then as a kid and now as prof that music and lyrics never damaged anyone.
Inequality and racist attacks hurled by people in authority at individuals do the damage.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 14, 2007 10:40 PM

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Memo to Michelle Malkin re: Imus and rap

Michelle Malkin gave us her thoughts about Don Imus a few days ago. I think they deserve a response, because she is by no means the only person to make the points she makes.

Here they are, in a nutshell: Imus was wrong to insult the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team. But why don't people like Al Sharpton, who have taken such umbrage at Imus, do more to clean up the language in the rap and hip-hop communities?
Malkin thus apparently completely misses the whole point of people's anger at Imus:
Rap recordings are not directed against specific people. They are statements about the world. As such, they can be walked away from and ignored if they give offense.
And in the rare circumstances in which they are directed against a specific person - say, a rival rapper - they are directed against someone who has already volunteered to be in the rapper's arena.

In contrast, Imus's comments were directed against real, specific people. In fact, people who are students at a college, trying to get an education, trying to get some success in this life by being on a basketball team.

They were blindsided by Imus's racist, sexist vulgarity. They had no reason to expect it. And, in fact, could not just ignore it.

Could anyone ignore being called out like that, insulted, by a figure with a microphone such as Imus?

I'm surprised Malkin and so many other people don't get this.

It's Communications 101.

Maybe it's more obvious to me, because I've been teaching this for so many years, but there's a world of difference between a public generality, and a public insult hurled at specific people. The law recognizes this, too. The second kind of speech can land you at the end of a slander suit.

In Imus' case, he has so far been fired by MSNBC. Just as he should have been. No one is taking away his right to speak, only his right to be paid for it, and his right for it to be heard by millions of people.

CBS - wake up! Your turn to do that right thing.

As for Michelle Malkin, I'd be happy to recommend one of many common textbooks on communication to her.

Useful links:

Day After Imus: What Doesn't Need to Be Done

Four Imus Fallacies

Snoop Dogg's thoughts on the matter - he gets it


I disagree with the statement of rappers not directing their offensive words at the public and being statements about the world. Ten years ago I would have agreed wholeheartedly however, in recent days rap has become a way to promote living in bad neighborhoods and the gangster lifestyle. Specifically songs like "This is why I'm hott" and "Tipsy" have nothing to do with trying to better the way of life for the downtrodden. They are not even in a rival rap war it is just trying to mainstream the lifestyle that many people fought to escape. I strongly feel we shouldn't promote songs like this that encourage wanton acts of sexual promiscuity and recreational drug use. So if Imus is getting punished, so be it but it is a complete double standard to let recording artists say things ten times more offensive then this. And if we restrict them then it's only a matter of time before our right to freedom of speech is all but gone.
Posted by: Mike at April 12, 2007 09:24 AM

Thanks for posting this.
I, for one, didn't really know what to think. I was perturbed by the issue, as I knew something was wrong with the comparisons that I was hearing, but could not pinpoint what it was.
The comments I heard were more in the vein of comparing Imus to comedians who entertain using racism that they have experienced, thus because Imus was doing it for entertainment, it is also acceptable.
While I was listening to this stuff, I was thinking to myself is that Imus is behaving like a spoiled bully picking on someone else to assert his own authority. Your point has definitly put it into perspective for me, that he is picking on individuals who are easily identifiable to the public versus anonymous, generalized accounts of comedians or rappers.
Posted by: Laura at April 12, 2007 01:11 PM

Laura - thanks!
Mike: I'm not sure what statement of mine you're disagreeing with. I said rappers do not generally attack specific, real, individual people - but rather attack, disparage, promote, etc general societal classes and conditions.
The examples you cite support my point.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 12, 2007 01:20 PM

The only point I was disagreeing with was the one that rappers, comedians, or any other type of media icon only attack general concerns or ways of life. There is an immense amount of name dropping in recordings and other things. I find it hard to take when the only type of person who isn't allowed to make bluntly conservative jokes and poke fun at racial stereotypes is a white male. Maybe viewer discretion should be advised on his show. Maybe it was wrong for me to blame the rappers and such for committing many of the same acts and point out the double standard. I do not want them to be punished I just want freedom of speech for everyone.
Posted by: mike at April 13, 2007 10:16 AM

Your commentary is the typical "You're distracting us from the real issue" train of thought. The real issue is not whether Don Imus' comments were wrong, but that his firing is indicative of two very troubling trends that currently exist in the media. Issue number one - Imus' firing was wrong because it is based on a double standard that exists in the media today, that double standard being that whites must operate within more rigid boundaries in terms of what they can say compared with media pundits of other races. Comments made in the media should not be consequence-free, however individuals must face those consequences equally. If this were the case, all religious radio and television broadcasts in which religious leaders are heard to be condemning homosexuality as wrong and immoral, should be removed from the air. If this were the case, Steve Harvey's show would be banned because of a skit he did recently called "Redneck Radio." Of course none of this will happen because the true nature of this fight is not to address equality in the media, but to further the interests of the PC crowd, which is issue number 2. Before this media frenzy is over, the opportunity will be seized to gut the airwaves of any controversial voice, any person who is deemed making politically incorrect comments or comments deemed insensitive to others. If nobody takes a step back, takes a breath and assesses the situation, before we know it there's going to be a hostile climate where free speech is literally going to be restricted. I understand that the Imus case is not a free speech issue, but it is quickly turning into one of free speech. The way things are going, those on the Sharpton-Jackson-PC side are already making the push to "clean up" and "reform" the airwaves, and anyone not conforming to their clean or reformed standards (i.e. speaking in a way that they deem innappropriate) will be in jeopardy of losing their jobs. The movement has gained a lot of power from the Imus firing and it could very quickly and easily turn into a witch hunt. I mean, if you want to gain a true measure of the power this movement has right now, see the Hilary and Obama statements condemning Imus' comments. The leading Democratic candidates for president are issuing statements about a radio show host's firing. Why should that even be an issue to them? There's a war going on, remember? But if either remains silent, they risk the other using it as an opportunity to pounce and gain the upper hand. Politicians always have to say the right thing, but soon enough, they're going to be "doing the right thing" and agreeing with calls for stricter FCC control of the airwaves or backing legislation to the same effect. Race may be a part of this issue, but it's just a veil for the elephant in the room that nobody's paying attention to.
Posted by: Brad Schmidt at April 13, 2007 10:35 AM

You really just put this whole issue into total perspective for me. Much thanks.
I feel ashamed that as journalism major I didn't pick up on this immediately. My professors would he shaking their heads at me.
Thanks Paul.
P.S. I love the Snoop gets it part. Its funny how all his critics on the linked post don't.
Posted by: Testify! at April 13, 2007 11:30 AM

Brad, I totally agree. I know I danced around the issue a bit and maybe spent too much time worrying about the existing double standard. This should not be a political issue at all. The only change that should come of this is a slap on the wrist, a viewer discretion advised and an apology to the offended if Imus is truly sorry. I agree with all of your points and I hope that we can continue to use our freedom of speech in any medium we choose.
Posted by: Mike at April 13, 2007 12:42 PM

I understand the distinctions made between calling out public figures and innocent college students whose only crime was coming to the public's attention due to their athletic excellence. Point granted, and Imus owed them a profound apology, which he rendered and to their(the Rutgers Basketball Team's) everlasting credit, classily accepted!
Now to some of the other points. Is it OK to ignore the proposition that all men (or boys mostley in this case) are presumed innoccent until proven guilty just because of the heinessness of the crime? If not why are Al (I don't know nothin' 'bout Twana Brawley, just paid the $50,000 fine 'cause I thought it was outreach.)or Jesse (the James) Jackson ( need I bring up his Hymetown remark?) who smelled money , or at least TV time, and weighed in with his pungent remarks as to their guilt?
Two college athletic teams; two sets of remarks. Both teams innocent. Who should get the hammer? Answer: All three
Posted by: GUILLIAM at April 15, 2007 06:03 PM

Gulliam - see my post Four Imus Fallacies - I think it answers your questions. If not, let me know.
But, in short: of course it's never right to ignore the principle that everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
That was not done in the Duke case, and the lacrosse players should sue the DA's office down there for every last penny!
And, yes, Sharpton and Jackson do owe the Duke players an apology.
But, as I explain further in Four Imus Fallacies, the Duke situation is nonetheless different from Imus's.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 15, 2007 06:47 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lost: Back in Business and Balance

One of the best Losts in years tonight, as we learn a lot about Juliet, and with her a host of details and answers to dangling questions.

Claire was kidnapped because women on the island cannot bring babies to term - mothers die because their bodies reject their babies as invasive organisms. Juliet was brought to the island to develop a cure. She administered it to Claire a few months ago island time (two years ago in our time on the other side of the television), and Claire had her baby - only to fall prey to some delayed reaction to the treatment in tonight's show. Juliet comes to the rescue, overcomes the suspicions of the Losties, and administers the antidote. She's proven herself - though Jack already trusts her-

Except that's by no means the complete story-

We see a great scene of the Others as the plane splits in the sky and crashes. Ben tells the Russian guy with the eye-patch to get all the details on the passengers - that's how the Others know so much about our heroes. Except - how does Juliet know that Sawyer killed someone the night before boarding the plane? Who had a record of that?

And is Jack right in his faith in Juliet? In a very convincing scene near the end, he says he saw in Juliet's eyes when the submarine blew up that Juliet was devastated, because she wanted to leave, and that in Jack's mind made Juliet one of the Losties-

Convincing - except Juliet turns out to have been part of Ben's plan to trigger Claire's reaction, just so Juliet could save her and win the Losties' trust. A fine twist, which my wife for some reason saw before I did ... (for some reason, I like Juliet)...

Meanwhile ... Desmond's still seeing things in the future ... And we still have huge unanswered questions ranging from Hugo's numbers to Walt's strange powers to the inexplicable coincidences in the back stories ... And, if pregnancy is really fatal, what's going to happen to Sun?

But Lost's back and on track. It's beginning to engage some of the really crucial questions. And if it still has a long way to go, that's beginning to become a lot of fun, again, and no longer a frustration. The indefinable ratio of answers and questions has been brought back into balance.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like we're thoroughly back in good hands on the show.

Useful links:

Listen to free 4-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips or call it on the phone at 415-223-4124

essay: Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No Place for Imus in the Media

I like to be controversial in these posts, and say things that may not be obvious, or at least not already said or urged by a lot of people.

But sometimes an issue comes down the road that needs addressing, even though everyone else is addressing it, too.

Don Imus.

I think he should be more than suspended for two weeks from MSNBC for his stupid "nappy-headed ho's" remark. He should be fired, period, and not only from MSNBC but from his radio and any of his other media jobs. And any media operation that rehires him should become a righteous target of public outrage.
Life's just too short. Why should we tolerate this kind of nonsense from a media personality? Why should we risk any one having to hear it again?

Just to be clear: it's not against the law to speak as Imus did. In fact, as my readers well know, I don't think it should be against the law for anything to be spoken.

But nor do the media have to give people like Imus a microphone. I wouldn't want him in my house. I don't want him in my car, either, if he happens to be shooting his mouth off on the radio when I happen to turn it on.

Is it the worst thing that he could have said?

Of course not.

Is he sorry?

It doesn't matter. The damage has been done.

There's no reason the world has to be subject to any of this garbage in 2007. We've had more than enough already to last for millennia.

Useful links:

Memo to Michelle Malkin re: Imus and rap

Day After Imus: What Doesn't Need to Be Done

Four Imus Fallacies

Following comments are from the original PaulLevinson.net post of 10 April 2007. Feel free to comment here further.


I'm not a big fan of politically correct speech. At the end of the day, media corporations will decide Imus' fate from purely financial considerations. According to a NY Times article running today, Imus brings in about $50 million in revenue every year to CBS and MSNBC.
Compare Don Imus to Rush Limbaugh. Personally, I'd rather see Imus continue the few years left in his life on the radio than listen to 30 seconds of Rush's propaganda.
Posted by: John Furie Zacharias at April 11, 2007 01:00 AM

As a black man, I can't keep up with all the things that "WE" should be offended about. I wish it was so much easier, like a handbook or something out there for people like me. "the When to be Offended Handbook", in this case, I could just turn to, say, the Media chapter and find the page number for this instance and say "Oh, he needs to get fired!" or "Meh". Quite frankly, I'm only partially offended. Hell, I can barely even raise a damn. I just know that part of me hates Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson. Remember Jackson's "Hymietown" comment anyone?
Will this mean that more media personalities will be walking on egg shells about certain race related topics? I personally hate that.
Posted by: Tone at April 11, 2007 01:11 AM

John - I'm no fan of pc speech either - in fact, I hate it. But there's a far cry between racially demeaning speech (Imus) and speech that's not pc (for example, a man saying a woman is sexually attractive - or anyone saying anyone is sexually attractive). That's the spice of life. What Imus said is just insulting.
Tone - You're of course more than entitled to your view on this. But neither one of us can speak on behalf of our ethnic groups. Obviously, many people find what Imus said insulting.
As for media personalities walking on egg shells: I don't think they should, either. Rather, people with microphones should know how to talk without minding every single thing they say. They should be naturally decent people.
Whether it's Michael Richards or Mel Gibson or Don Imus, I think it's clear that they're not. Booze or whatever Imus's problem is doesn't suddenly or accidentally turn someone into a bigot.
But I will say this: if the media and the advertisers think that enough people will continue to listen to Imus, and they'll still rake in the money, then he'll continue on the air.
And although I hope that doesn't happen, I'd never want to pass a law against it.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 11, 2007 01:38 AM

"But nor do the media have to give people like Imus a microphone."
So instead, we pass microphone to artist like 50-Cent or Young Jeezy or Mims. Point is, humanity has a common bond, it is fear that keeps people like you blind to it.
If you weren't scared you would be helping.
A case in point.
Posted by: Mark ElRayes at April 11, 2007 11:14 PM

Right, Mark - I'm so scared and blind, I even published your comment ... and its link to Malkin's post, which misses the point completely.
Which is - rappers etc are talking in generalities, they're not directing attacks on specific, real people.
Actually, what Imus did was even worse than that. He didn't attack some specific person in the media - he attacked some college kids, who, yes, stepped into the sports arena, where their performance as athletes might be criticized, but not who they are as human beings....
See the difference?
If you do, maybe you'd be good enough to pass it on to Malkin ... I didn't see a place on her blog where I could put in a comment...
Posted by: Paul Levinson at April 12, 2007 03:14 AM

Monday, April 9, 2007

24 Season 6: hr 17: old and new seasons!

Tonight's was the kind of 24 we'd expect to find not in hour 17, but hour 24: the main story of the season all wrapped up, only to find Jack and/or us pulled into a new story...

Except it's not the end of the season, the main story is mostly but by no means completely wrapped up, and the new story Jack is being drawn into is not new, but unfinished - Audrey and the Chinese! The Chinese who kidnapped Jack at the end of last season, because of something Jack did (he broke into the Chinese embassy and their ambassador was killed) the season before!

That's what I call one unusual move, in a show that continues to surprise us.

In fact, I'd say tonight's episode marks the beginning of a new kind of over-arching 24, in which story lines from previous seasons are not just woven into the action, but take center stage themselves. This is something I don't recall ever seeing on television before.

Here's what happened tonight in the now apparently mostly concluding story of the 24 this season: Wayne Palmer was convincingly bluffing about nuking the Arab nation. But this gets them to mostly cooperate, which leads after some fine twists and turns to Jack finally killing Fayed and getting the nukes.

So this story is mostly wrapped, except ... Wayne's not in great shape at all, and he doesn't want to fade out of office and leave it to Daniels, again. And speaking of serious conditions, whatever happened with Logan? And, even more important, there's still Jack's father ... it's hard to believe we've seen the last of him this day/year.

If he has anything to do with the Chinese and Audrey, we may well see Jack's father again - hey, we may well see Audrey's father, the former Secretary of Defense again, too.

So the guns are loaded for an exciting seven hours of television. Doyle is feeling his oats and not exactly following Jack's command without objections. Who knows what condition Wayne will be in the White House, or what Daniels is likely to do or try, even with the goods that Lennox has on him.

The only thing I can't quite see is how Jack's daughter Kim might figure into this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her again, too, and if Jack's father is still calling some shots, anything's possible, family wise.

Good for 24 for giving us a second, mini-season, and continuing to pull the rug out from under the TV narrative.

Listen to the free 4-minute podcast of this episode at Levinson news clips

The Tudors Continues: History So Real You Can Feel It (no spoilers)

The Tudors
I saw the third episode of Showtime's The Tudors on-demand last night. It had everything that I loved about the first two episodes - History So Colorful You Can Taste It. A vivid display of fine dress, swagger, political intrigue, and sex. These people survived the Dark Ages and the Black Plague, and had a zest for life and learning that was about to usher in the Renaissance and the Modern World.

Episode 3 was especially good on the powerful ideas that moved those times. Martin Luther has challenged Christians to read the Bible for themselves, rather than blindly follow Church teachings. Most learned people, including the monarchs, scoffed at him at first. Just another heretic that history would forget. But Luther had the printing press on his side. For the first time, there were actually Bibles out there for people to read. And the press could also bring Luther's writings to the masses...

Thomas More, Cardinal Wosley, and Henry, all still devout in their own ways, are aware of the problem. Henry pens a scalding attack on Luther - Assertio septem sacramentorum - An assertion of the seven sacraments. He's fighting fire with fire. His writings against Luther's. And just for good measure, he orders More to put Luther's writings to the flames.

Henry will fail in the end, and indeed will come to welcome the independence from Church doctrine that the Protestant Reformation provided. But, in the meantime, he proves himself a monarch savvy in the media of his time. He not only makes wars and beds almost any woman in sight, but thinks and publishes his analyses.

When was the last time we had as intellectually keen and passionate a President in America? Not since John F. Kennedy...

And speaking of America, it has begun to play a role in England, and therefore The Tudors, as well. In a great little scene, Henry's eyes light up when Charles V tells him of Cortez's conquests in Mexico...

But I think my favorite single scene in this episode of The Tudors has Wolsey and More flanking two of Charles' envoys, as the four take in a saucy Renaissance morality play. The four are sitting just right, as if they came from a painting, which for all I know they did. The image typifies everything that appeals about this series.

It's good to see such near-modern history leap out from paining to life on the television screen.

Useful links:

Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: What the FCC Doesn't Want Us Too See

The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church G. W. Bernard's 2005 book

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution my 1998 book

The Tudors Michael Hirst's brand new book!

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

my reviews of other episodes of The Tudors: Episodes 1 and 2: History So Colorful You Can Taste It, Episode 4: The Penalty of Royalty, Episode 5: Madrigal Musical Chairs, Episode 6: Tectonic Chess, Episode 7: Henry's Imperfect Apothecary

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Sopranos: First of Nine

As the opening credits rolled on The Sopranos' first of nine concluding episodes on HBO tonight, I was reminded about how much we owe to this show. Before The Sopranos, there was no Deadwood, The Wire, or Rome on HBO. No Dexter or Brotherhood or The Tudors on Showtime, either. For that matter, nothing like 24, or Lost at its best, on the networks, either.

The Sopranos changed all of that, and made television grow up. With The Sopranos, television entered a new golden age.

The Sopranos did that by doing just about everything different from what had been done before. Not just the obvious language, but the pacing, the characterization, the locales. Always surprising us with a twist from the mob stories and surbuban lives we had come to know.

And The Sopranos did that again, tonight.

An amazingly slow-motion story, like an oil painting come to life. It felt like 20 minutes of the story were on Tony and Carmela, Bobby and Janice, playing monopoly at Janice and Bobby's summer home up near Canada. Bobby doesn't like The Soprano change of rules (I'm with Bobby), everyone gets drunk, Bobby punches Tony, they fight ... and before the show is over, Bobby has killed someone for the first time in his life. No, not Tony, but some guy Tony has ordered Bobby to kill, to facilitate a deal Bobby has helped set up with some drug-dealing Canadians.

Now, in regular television, all of that could have taken five minutes.

Why so much longer tonight?

Because we only have nine - now eight - hours to go with this story, and we need to enjoy every minute of it.

So the tableau is set.

Is Tony really a new man after his close encounter with death last season? Maybe not - he is still ready to kill on behalf of good business, and he hasn't lost a beat in his genius of killing two birds with one stone. So he does the Canadians a favor, and sticks it to Bobby, at the same time.

But he's stuck with a nickle-and-diming gun charge from something that fell in the snow three years ago, and everything's seethingly unsettled with everyone else, just as it was last year.

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: Second of Nine, Third of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

Only Idiots Don't Watch Television my op-ed, originally published in Newsday, 26 July 2006, as TV's new golden age

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes

Saturday, April 7, 2007

O'Reilly vs. Rivera: Look Again, Not What You Think

Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera went at each other this week over immigration policy - in particular, whether the hit-and-run killing of two girls by a drunk illegal immigrant was due to illegal immigration (O'Reilly) or drinking when driving (Rivera).

The confrontation, which indeed looked pretty heated, has received more attention than the subject of the debate. Rivera is getting points for arguing down O'Reilly, whose detractors are also taking pleasure in O'Reilly almost losing it on camera.

I say nothing of the kind happened. Although there is no doubt that both men felt strongly about their positions, neither was close to losing it, and in fact both were in almost total control.

Indeed, both commentators know full well the value of being passionate about a topic and expressing that passion on television. Both have made their careers on it. I have seen both talk in interviews about the value of losing their tempers on TV, of wearing their hearts on their sleeves in front of the camera.

Does this mean the entire heated discussion was staged? I wouldn't go that far.

But I would say that both men let themselves go - let themselves get angry to the point of shouting and practically snarling at each other - because as pros they knew how much television audiences eat this kind of stuff up.

Contrary to what O'Reilly's critics would like to believe, there was never a chance that O'Reilly was on the verge of punching out Rivera. And contrary to what Rivera's supporters might say, he wasn't especially brave in standing up to O'Reilly, for as a TV veteran he knew how helpful this would be to the ratings for his weekend show.
If you doubt this, look at how quickly the two buried the hatchet at the end of the shouting match.

The public gets pleasure in thinking they discover that people on television are just like them. In fact, it's a whole different world on the other side of the camera.

O'Reilly v. Rivera

O'Reilly v. me (and more of my Fox, MSNBC, etc adventures)