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Broadcasting For Schmucks, and Other Randomness

Broadcasting For Schmucks, and Other Randomness

Just because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s restriction of what it deems profanity on public airwaves is unconstitutional, doesn’t mean standards are going out the window, says a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.

"I think the notion that broadcasters are going to be dropping the f-bomb in prime time is ludicrous," Dennis Wharton told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. "fI we wanted to do that we could do that from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m."

Nice. But there’s no denying the fact that broadcast TV’s race to catch up with cable has been given a shot of Red Bull by the high court. CBS has a show on its fall lineup called "$#*! My Dad Says." That’s exactly how it’s spelled. Maybe they planned on bleeping out the first word in promos, but can now feel free to toss out an s-bomb or two.

I’m not going to moralize about foul language. In entertainment, it has its time and place. Tony Soprano calling an associate a bloody imbecile would be pretty lame. But something big is going on here. As cool as it was to hear WASPy Tim McCarver use a Yiddishim when he announced the sponsorship of the film "Dinner for Shmucks" on the All-Star Game, it was also weird and a trifle jarring. On morning radio, a pitchman sells his book, "Your Marketing Sucks." There’s not only a mainstream film called "Kick Ass," but the POTUS himself announces on network TV that he’d like to do that to some oil executives.

My complaint isn’t about the change in discourse overall, just the lack of a refuge from it. Eight p.m. is no longer a family viewing slot. Short of Pixar movies, there’s nothing for a family to watch together. And you can’t even turn on the news without your kids hearing words you tell them not to say. The f-bomb in prime time may still be a few years off, but there are plenty of other landmines going off right now.

A Miserable Public Life

A few years ago I wrote a review of "The Quitter," Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel memoir about the life and times of a self-described loser. Never a particularly happy person Pekar, chronicled his trials and tribulations in a series of comics, "American Splendor," and his appearances before a mocking David Letterman made him popular enough to be the subject of a 2003 movie by the same name. In some ways he was an unlikely success story, rising from a struggling middle class Jewish Cleveland family of European origin and finding success as a jazz reviewer and comics writer. Never one for self-aggrandizement, Harvey put his misery out there for all to see, conceding only the happiness that a wife and daughter eventually gave him.

Harvey died from cancer this week, the culmination of years of health problems in the final chapter of a life that was strangely and inextricably compelling in a world where we’re taught to idolize those who idolize themselves. In ‘The Quitter, the only time Pekar seemed to take some satisfaction in past accomplishment is in the thrashings he said he gave out to varous louts and bullies he encountered in his youth. Otherwise, he redefined the everyman anti-hero as someone who draws your intrigue and amusement but never your pity.

Hopefully, Pekar took some satisfaction in his success as a gifted storyteller. Now that he’s gone, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have accomplished if he had higher self-esteem. Then again, that might have cost him some of his charm.

Steinbrenner As A Leader

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s description of George Steinbrenner as a "quintessential New Yorker" was right on target. Steinbrenner was much like Donald Trump, a man whose real success lies not in any great business acumen but in creating and marketing a brand driven by personality. By doing outrageous things, sparring with other oversized personalities and hiring good PR managers to get it all on the front page, you generate interest and become an unstoppable money-making force.

People who know more about baseball than me can argue about the individual wisdom of decisions he made regarding players and managers, but there’s no arguing with the results: the Yankees organization is the most successful sports franchise in history, and George Steinbrenner with his big mouth and bigger ego is the kind of man you want on the front lines of a business that lives off media perception and fan loyalty.

I asked management coach (and fellow JW blogger) Deborah Grayson Riegel if Steinbrenner was either a good boss who motivated his employees to perform well, or a tyrant who held back the team from greater triumphs.

"The answer is yes to both," she answered. "Steinbrenner was famous for firing a secretary over a tuna fish sandwich and constantly meddled in the activities of his management staff. In many ways, he created an environment of fear — fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear of the Boss.

"Did it motivate his employees to excel? From the outside, we might say that his style was abusive and that in our workplaces it would not be tolerated. However the New York Yankees (and professional sports as a whole) are not the average workplace."

Riegel notes that Steinbrenner rarely praised his employees in public, but his desire to win was indisputable. "From the time he bought the team, no other team has had nearly as much success in terms of championships, appearances in the playoffs, or an ability to retain and attract the top talent. (Can you tell I’m a rabid Yankees fan? But even so…) We, more often than not, do not have our successes and failures broadcast on national television or our accomplishments so easily measured. Maybe we can’t really take the full measure of Steinbrenner as a motivator because of that — maybe there was some method to his madness."

Since this is a Jewish blog, I have to toss out this question: In New York, of all places, how could the Yankees have had fewer Jews in their long history than you can count on one hand? I can think of four: Jimmy (Babe Ruth’s roommate) Reese, Ken Holtzman, Ron Blomberg and convert Elliot Maddox. If you know others, post them below.

Mad Mel

Not to jump on the anti-Mel Gibson bandwagon, because that would be too easy, but with all the names being appropriately tossed at this out of control celebrity, there’s one that hasn’t gotten its due: Hypocrite. When Gibson was marketing "Passion of The Christ," his 2004, highly controversial imagining of the Crucifixion, he presented himself as a deeply religious man who couldn’t deviate from his interpretation of the Bible in his telling.

Now, just because a person sins, that doesn’t mean they aren’t religious. We are all creatures of temptation, and not practicing what we preach doesn’t necessarily nullify the faith we profess and nurture deep down. But hopefully anyone who may have looked at Gibson as a teacher when he peddled a version of the Jews’ role in the betrayal and death of Christ that has been formally rejected by the Catholic Church and others can now say forgive him, he knows not what he does.

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