keep-calm-and-obey-your-reptilian-overlords

It’s been a big week or two. Like 1960s level big,  particularly in the context of all other social-political issues going on in America. On the one hand the supreme court finally stepped in and cleared up the matter for the divisive states by making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. They also upheld the President’s Affordable Care Act, struck down portions of the “three strikes law”, and the President authorized progressive overtime pay-rates for workers shifting things in that arena closer to their levels pre-Reagan era erosion. National discussions are leading to the removal of the Confederate flag from government sites. On the other hand, violence against African Americans in their places of worship have accelerated with the Charleston shooting and the arson of historic black churches across the south. As if to show they can’t deal down only on the Progressive side the Supreme Court struck down EPA regulations and ruled against clean air safeguards thus giving the dirty energy lobby and industry a big win. They also upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection. Some progress, some slip-back, and miles to go before we even approach justice and equality.

I understand most responses to these issues even when I do not agree with some of those responses. Here I want to address the most baffling and in some ways most infuriating response as it in its subtlety does damage and undermines progress in any area. The response I’m referring to I dub the “reptilian overlord” response. Obviously that’s a bit tongue in cheek because not everyone that gives this response is deep into conspiracy theories. In short, this response is: “While you and everyone else are worried about (fill in the blank), this (fill in the blank) is going on.” To the one giving this response, every issue reported anywhere with enough reach to inform the general public is simply distracting the masses from the real issues at hand. At the extreme end of this line of thought are those who think there is indeed a real conspiracy by a group of political, financial, and news industry leaders to control, manipulate and utilize the news to keep civilians unaware of the “real” issues. Now, there are of course many kernels of truth in this rationale. Certainly there’s no shortage of bad journalism corporately owned and used to spread particular views with definite agendas. And yes, there is always something else going on that is arguably “bigger” than any other issue at hand. Unfortunately there are always ongoing wars (declared or not) and conflicts around the world that result in death, destruction, and all levels of damage. There are always “bigger” systemic issues and societal ills as well–poverty, class-ism, unchecked corporate greed, ecological destruction, etc.

Yet…some things that make the news are still a big deal. Some news is worth reporting. Hell, some things are worth celebrating, debating, discussing, and being aware of–and regardless of the issue, when really discussing a particular issue it’s usually best to initially limit one’s focus only to that issue in context and peripherally at most the issues that directly intersect with that issue. Global warming and ISIS are still threats but do not factor into the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Let’s debate, discuss, and celebrate that decision in isolation of such other discussions for a moment. It’s historic. It matters. If you think it does not matter in any form or fashion good or bad I am thoroughly confused and have to assume you do not know or care about a single LGBT person.

Yes, I know–we should all be worried about the TPP trade deal that the President and a shadowy council of villains have met secretly to devise in order to bring about the Armageddon. Truthfully, there may be a good deal to debate about that trade deal–its precedent, Clinton’s NAFTA bill, certainly didn’t benefit US blue-collar workers in the long run. But most people who point at TPP before (and instead of) the issues of Charleston and legal gay marriage show a certain level of callousness and lack of compassion. For such naysayers, issues of equality and justice for particular groups are unimportant whether progress or pitfall and only large, overarching goals without a particular immediate human face are what matter most.

So sure, the celebritarianism aspects of Caitlyn Jenner’s public coming out might strike some as PR overkill in light of the Kardashian media machine from whence many first came to know her but that doesn’t make Transgender issues, rights, and celebration any less important nor her re-introduction “not news”. Sure the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states does not spell the end of the struggle for LGBT equality but it is historic, it is a big deal and it is news. No the removal of the confederate flag from government institutions will not spell the end of racism in America but it is right to have this conversation now and more than that to go ahead and move those flags from public spaces to museums. These things are news and are worth talking about. I can’t help but wonder if the same folks angry at these topics being so widespread would have wondered why everyone was talking about Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam in the 1960s.

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david-letterman-retirement

I’ve been vaguely bummed out ever since Dave’s last show. My wife and I DVR-ed the last couple weeks of the “Late Show with David Letterman” and it was some of the best pure television (in a classic sense) I’ve seen in some time. Certainly each episode, especially the last, was touched with a bit of sadness as each of Dave’s favorite guests said goodbye. But it was funny, warm, and entertaining. I guess more than anything it was nostalgic in the best sense of that word (I’ve written here a few times about the dirty side of nostalgia).

Yet it’s that nostalgia I suppose that is most causing my vague sense of bummer. Dave has been on TV since I was born. He’s hosted “the Late Show” on CBS since I was a child/pre-teen. Pretty much every time I watched a late night talk show for the first 20-25 years of my life it was Letterman’s. Leno always had the top ratings but I never really met a Leno fan in my life, so that’s always confounded me (and pretty much every other fan of comedy). Of course, Leno was middle-of-the-road always making the safe jokes in a generally likable way so that’s probably the biggest explanation for his success. Letterman was a wiseass, but a loveable wiseass. My wife was an even bigger Letterman fan than I was, watching it on a pretty regular basis through her childhood and teen years. The other kids in her family and their friends were little comedy students and comedians in their own right so it’s obvious the appeal Dave had for them as he’s responsible for so much of the comedy that came after him. She even had VHS copies of his 10th and 20th anniversary specials which she  watched religiously.
But I really haven’t watched the “Late Show” other than a random moment here and there for the past 5-7 years. Watching it these past two weeks reminded me of why I loved it, but had it not been coming to an end I know I wouldn’t have tuned in. Letterman was something I always watched when I was near the TV at that time before or after a night out, when in a hotel on the road, or when up watching TV when I was home for the holidays. It’s been since my college years that I’ve caught the show much at all. Not that I replaced it with one of the Jimmy’s or Conan’s TBS show. I’m simply not up at that time since I hit 30 and work in the mornings. I’ve always caught “The Daily Show” when possible, particularly in the age of DVR as it’s a quicker next morning catch-up process (and alas my trusted news-anchor Jon Stewart is also retiring). But knowing that Dave is no longer on the air is just sad. Network TV (and TV in general) are just so different now—fractured, niche, on-demand, internet spliced for YouTube)- Dave’s show ending feels like the end of an era—and I feel older.

So thanks, Dave. You were the best to do this whole late night thing (and I’ve watched all the old Carson highlights). I hope Letterman has a long happy retirement with his family and that maybe his fans will get a chance to see him do a special or something in some capacity in the future.