Saturday, October 04, 2008

Comedies of Power

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I'm taking a week off from The Wall Street Journal next week; I have a whole slew of vacation and personal days that I can hopefully use up before the year is out (at Dow Jones, vacation and personal days don't carry over year-to-year). I'm not going anywhere special for this particular vacation, so that might mean more blogging than my one-entry-a-week usual---key word being "might."

The truth is, I haven't been in much of a blogging mood recently. With the exception of the Coen Brothers' hilarious tragedy Burn After Reading, most of the movies I've seen in theaters have ranged from art-house disappointments (Carlos Reygadas's visually sumptuous but simplistic Silent Light, Béla Tarr's dull The Man from London) to pleasant diversions (the agreeable Ghost Town, worth seeing for the wonderful performances) to unmitigated trash (Righteous Kill, Eagle Eye, and especially Alan Ball's Towelhead---none of which I was really interested in seeing, all of which I was dragged to by a friend)---so no great discoveries in movie theaters recently (except maybe how much of a hack Alan Ball truly is outside of TV). I've been too wrapped up in other things outside of work to get moving on my Netflix subscription (stuck in between the first and second panels of Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales). And so much has been happening in this country recently---the financial crisis, the controversy over the bailout bill (approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush yesterday), the continuing presidential campaign---that I guess I've started to really sit up and take notice.

Not that I really like much of what I see right now in the news. If anything, seeing Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House of Representatives fumble about on Monday on its way to defeating the initial incarnation of the Treasury's (problematic, to say the least) bailout plan made me think about just how much bleak comedy can sometimes be glimpsed among our supposed elites, not to mention regarding this particular situation we find ourselves in. It's not that I agree with the crowd of House Republicans who, on Monday, after the bill failed, blamed Pelosi's speech for changing people's minds (this after vocally emphasizing the need for bipartisanship in Congress, mind you); it just exasperated the hell out of me that Pelosi decided to choose that moment---on the verge of a vote on an important bill that pretty much demanded strong support from both sides, regardless of reservations---to tear into the Republicans and trumpet how Democrats knew this was coming all along. Really, Ms. Pelosi? You're making a party pitch now, of all times to do it? But then, the Democrats have been so seemingly ineffectual these past two years, even with their majorities in both Congressional houses, that this couldn't help but both amuse and somewhat depress me. It reminds me why politics have almost always turned me off---so much pettiness, so much distortion.

Oh, but you might say, you're being too cynical; you're just looking for an excuse to remain disengaged. Well, look at the country's economic and political situation now and tell me how else I should look at it. Hopeful? If there had been more regulation of lenders, if people hadn't been so reckless with borrowing beyond their means, if banks and other financial institutions hadn't been so reckless with lending...who knows what better shape we might be in now? I know, I know---mistakes were made, but, as Alaska's great political comedian Sarah Palin said at Thursday night's vice-presidential debate, we have to look forward now, not look back, goshdarnit. But with a bailout plan that was conceived more as a temporary band-aid than as an ambitious law tackling root causes (although maybe you just can't regulate human greed), maybe---as with the Iraq mess---dwelling on mistakes made isn't such a bad idea.

Sorry, but this situation can't help but drive me up a wall when I think about it. Why this should be, I don't know; I'm not directly affected by the financial crisis right now. Maybe I'm too much under the influence of Howard Zinn's fascinating People's History of the United States---with example after example of elites giving into power-hungry impulses or influences of business interests, and not representing the interests of their constituents as they ideally should---to get past my (to quote Armond White) "superficial modern negativity." Certainly, the fact that I view both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, with a certain amount of skepticism isn't helping me feel any better.

But I think I'll get to that some other time; for now, I might as well jump back into Eric Rohmer.