Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 197: Over Time

There's a lot being made this week about the Muppets being back onscreen after a twelve year absence -- "...and they haven't aged one bit!".

What's not much mentioned is that their creator, Jim Henson, died in the Spring of 1990 and his puppeteer partner Frank Oz, the genius behind Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, refused to have anything to do with the new film because he didn't like the way the Muppet characters were portrayed.

I don't know what that says about the film one way or another. And it's far from the first time that characters have outlived their creators or been rebooted for a new generation or a new round of sequels.

But there's something about the relationship between puppets and a puppeteer that's -- different.

If you've ever watched puppeteers rehearsing, there's a great deal of intimate interplay between the artist and the inanimate object being brought to life. It's almost like watching people with their kids.

There are tales aplenty about ventriloquists who treat their dummies like real people. And who among us has not interacted with a puppet as if it were a completely separate entity from the guy with his hand up its butt?

Somewhere, there's an element in our humanity that simply accepts that our teddy bears, dolls and other beloved toys have some kind of life of their own.

Which means that "they" must be aware that the person who brought them to life is no longer around.

Here's a beautiful French film that uses that premise. It's one of the most moving shorts I've found in a while.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Overtime from ouryatlan on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Drawing On Your Creativity

sheepdog in rain

It’s raining where I am today. In fact it’s raining really hard.

So hard the dog took one look at all the wet, turned around on the porch and backed up just enough to tinkle without getting more than her butt soaked.

Then she shuffled back inside, content to sit out the rest of the day – but not be happy about it.

When I was a kid and pissed off because it was raining too hard to go outside, my mom would plop my ass down at the kitchen table with a big newsprint drawing pad and instructions to “amuse” myself.

So I did. And, in the process, discovered how much I could amuse both myself and others.

Sometimes I think that’s all creativity really is, finding a way to make yourself and others happy in the face of realities attempting to prevent you from doing that.

Can’t get a network to listen to your pitch? Can’t find financing? Can’t get anyone to help you realize your vision?

There’s always a way. Perhaps one that doesn’t depend on attracting star talent, having money or even much skill.

You just have to be a little more creative.

Creative in the face of rejection by all the powers that be.

Creativity that will get you through, no matter how long the rejection and the rain go on. Because sometimes, the longer you’re rejected and the longer it rains, the more creative you become. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Being On the Right Side Of History

2011 has been rough on a lot of people. Some more than others…

Be thankful for what you have.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Got Anything Planned For Tonight?

SockDrawerSay around 10:00 pm Eastern or 7:00 Pacific – 02:00 for those on Greenwich Mean Time…

Uh, lemme see. Wednesday. Let’s check the book…

Cops knocked down the Occupy tent, so I don’t have to do that anymore…

There’s the News or “Coronation Street” on the CBC – neither of which will have much Canadian content…

Everybody else has celebrity gossip or reality shows. Again, not much that’s recognizably Canadian…

Whoa, are there ever a lot of reality shows on Wednesdays…

No hockey games…

Okay, might I suggest you flip open the laptop, surf here and listen to the LIVE “Dyscultured” podcast.

60 minutes of 100% Canadian cultural news and opinion delivered as entertainingly as possible.

I’ve posted my affection for “Dyscultured” before and I continue to be a die-hard fan.

Name me one other forum for cultural discussion that broadcasts live while offering listeners the opportunity to join in the discussion via a chatroom every step of the way.

What’s more, you can go on Twitter, hashtag tonight’s episode #dys161 and get a sense of what they’ll be discussing. You can also toss in your own suggestions. Chances are good it will get picked up.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – “Dyscultured” is essential for anyone in Canadian show business trying to find their way through all the tech, politics and fragmented media landscapes we deal with daily.

These guys may be as lost as we are. In fact, you can count on it. But they’re having fun and firing off flares that help to light the way.

Here’s a taste of last week’s podcast…

If you can’t enjoy “Dyscultured” live, archived episodes are available for free at the show website and iTunes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

And The Change From A Dollar On 95 Cents Is...?


It's fashionable, especially in Canada, to voice your disdain for “Nickleback”.

Much of this comes from the knowledge that we have given the world far more worthy musical icons like Celine Dion, Justin Beiber and Raffi.

And although as we would like everyone beyond our borders to think we only listen to “The Tragically Hip”, “Arcade Fire” or Leonard Cohen and all own an original vinyl of “After The Gold Rush” protectively wrapped in a room temperature beaver pelt -- we know that's not true, don't we?

Pour a few fingers of Crown Royal down any Canadian and you'll discover that we all know the lyrics to "Burn It To The Ground" -- and can sing them even louder after each subsequent shot.

Not long ago, the venerable British publication, The New Music Express, (who once predicted “Darkness” would surpass the popularity of “The Beatles”) voted “Nickleback” the worst band in the world.

Yet another reason we need to rethink the Monarchy thing if you ask me…

Hard on the heels of this, an online petition in Detroit demanded that the Detroit Lions football team rescind their invitation to the band to perform at halftime of their Thanksgiving Day game, the complainants insisting that the booking was a slap in the face to Detroit's musical legacy.

I'm sure the Lions were shaken by this. After all, it was an online petition.

But I'm also sure they had already checked to see if the surviving members of "The Temptations" could get out of their retirement home for the day and that there was a construction crane available to haul Aretha Franklin to the 50 yard line.

If there's a couple of things I've learned about the music business and the media over the years it's that the critics and the Rock intelligentsia mostly love bands who will never make it and the mainstream media only loves those who are mostly over the hill.

How else do you explain year end Top Ten lists including nine bands you'll never hear from again and shows like CBC's "Cover Me"?

This week, “Nickleback” took time out from the tour schedule that earned them over $100 Million last year alone as well as promoting their already multi-platinum just-released album to respond to Detroit with a cute video over at "Funny or Die".

Of much more importance, they'll be back home in Vancouver on Sunday to perform the halftime duties at "The Grey Cup Game" -- where fully 1/4 of the country will be tuned in and, dare I admit it, singing along.

Here's a snippet if you need to practice.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lazy Sunday #196: The Lame Street Media

WHEAT BOARD 20111115 

Often, while watching television, I get the feeling broadcasters think I'm stupid. A guy without any critical faculties, connection to the real world or ability at rational thought. And that's not just when they program a Sunday long "According to Jim" marathon.

Mostly it happens when I'm watching the news.

And maybe broadcasters don't think I'm any of those things. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive or overly suspicious -- or both.

In a lot of ways I can't help that. In my first career as an actor, I was taught that the skills to hone involved observation and interpretation. Watch and listen. Notice the way someone walks or their emphasis in a turn of phrase and work backward to what created that gait or motivated the choice of those particular words.

That process is enhanced in writing as well as producing. A television writer, in particular, needs to know the ways of quickly establishing character, making a point and efficiently moving the story. A producer eliminates the unnecessary and focuses the essential to better serve his budget, schedule and most of all the target audience.

So forgive me for coming to the conclusion that a lot of what I see on TV News these days makes me wonder if anybody is giving me the facts instead of what they want me to believe is true.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Living in the rose colored world of showbiz has kept me incredibly naive. But I can't help that either.

Last Friday on his SUN-TV program "The Source", host Ezra Levant broadcast a segment in which he snuck onto the "Occupy Toronto" site at 4:00 a.m. with infrared cameras, revealing that "99% of the tents were unoccupied". To further make his point, Levant managed to inspect a couple of those tents before being set upon by either Occupy security or thugs depending on your point of view.

Finding the story full of that "All The President's Men" Chutzpah that Hollywood has taught me to imbue in journalists, I shared it with a few friends. One in England got back to me with the news that Ezra's "exposé" was not original and perhaps not even accurate.

He supplied me with a link to a British newspaper, wherein I learned that several UK tabloids had conducted an identical experiment in September with the same results. Only those results were now being dismissed by experts in infrared imaging who stated that insulated tents or sleeping bags would erase the heat signature of an occupant, making you believe the tent was empty when it was not.

Now keep in mind that the newspapers who conducted the experiment tend to advocate for the Right and those who dismissed it lean in the other direction.

Still unaware of who was giving me the unvarnished truth, I decided to go directly to "The Source", asking Levant if he'd been aware of the British study going in and wondering if this was one of those "poke the bear" moments he gets up to every now and then. Levant's response was quick, courteous and -- evasive.

To wit, "Hey Jim. Did the UK newspaper also refute what I saw when I opened up the tents and looked inside?"

Well. Er. No. But the SUN-TV story seems to indicate that Levant only inspected a couple of tents before he was accosted. Enough to determine that 99% were empty?

I'm still not certain if I'm getting the real story or I'm being played. But that's not all Ezra Levant's fault. I was feeling quite uncomfortable with news coverage in this country long before Friday night.

The photograph at the top of this post appeared last week on the CBC News website and later the same day on that of the Toronto Globe and Mail. It depicts a demonstration by farmers unhappy with the Canadian Government decision to eliminate a law requiring all sales of Canadian wheat to go through the Canadian Wheat Board.

Unlike other marketing groups like those that control the sale of poultry or milk, the CWB is not run by the farmers who produce the marketed commodity. It's an arm of the government.

Last summer, an uncle in Saskatchewan in his 80s who still farms told me how he's allowed to sell canola, soybeans, lentils, almost anything he grows to anybody he wants. But if his wheat doesn't go through the wheat board he can be sent to jail. He recalled a tough winter when ranchers across the border in Montana were begging for grain to save their cattle. Any farmers who tried to help had their trucks seized and were fined tens of thousands of dollars. Some even went to prison.

That's what the government is trying to address. But over at the CBC News Network you see endless debates in which we hear that the vast majority of farmers are outraged and the Feds are once again trying to destroy "Canada as we know it!".

Okay. Maybe they are. But here's a photograph of that same demonstration that didn't get distributed by either the CBC or the Globe and Mail.

wheat two

Does that look like a "vast majority" of any kind to you?

Does it make you wonder why the CBC and their constant defenders at the G&M chose not to let you see the entire picture?

But not supplying the entire picture or the whole story seems to be the realm in which CBC News operates these days.

A couple of weeks ago, I awoke to learn from CBC that this was the day the Harper Government would choose which two of our three major shipyards would be granted huge government shipbuilding contracts. It was a decision the network predicted would set off a "political firestorm" as diverse regions of the country were pitted against one another.

All day long, pundits insisted Harper had better not exclude his political base in the West, must not ignore the economic woes of the East coast and could not slap Quebec down for mostly voting for opposition parties. He was in a no-win situation that could spell the beginning of the end for his government.

In the end, two yards were chosen and there was no firestorm. Not even a brushfire.

But not until after the decision did CBC report that the shipyard left out was-- uh -- er -- in bankruptcy protection and had acknowledged it might not have been able to fulfill the contract if they'd gotten it.

Kind of an important point to ignore, don't cha think?

Unless you're maybe looking for ways to slag the guys who might be about to reduce your budget.

But CBC News has too much class to do something like that, don't they?

I mean, they keep running a commercial where one of their hosts states every politician they've encountered calls them "Tough but Fair". Y'know like Fox News assures you, with complete sincerity, that they are "Fair and Balanced".

Can I be forgiven for thinking that news organizations only want me seeing the part of the story that fits their own world view? And since the Web provides any number of places will give me a different angle on any story, does that mean I am the one being naive -- or is it they?

Thursday the host of CBC News Network's "Connect", Mark Kelley, did his show from New York to cover the "Shut Down Wall Street" demonstration by the Occupy Movement. For weeks, Kelley and others had been wondering if this was North America's version of "The Arab Spring". And since I'd watched him broadcast live from Tahrir Square in Cairo, I figured who better to compare the two.

As we know, the demonstration didn't halt a single financial transaction, unless you were maybe a stranded commuter trying to find an ATM.

But Kelley's show concentrated not on its failure but its icons, like a Marine famous for chastising cops in a viral video and an 84 year old activist who'd been pepper sprayed, as it reiterated how influential the movement had become.

There was, however, no mention of its dark side or what that part of the movement might mean.

No interviews with the dozens of women who'd been sexually assaulted in the encampments.

Nothing about the murders or deaths from drug overdoses among occupiers.

No mention of the participant in LA arrested for masturbating in front of a group of children.

Nary a word on the participants in Oakland who had pelted street vendors in Oakland with urine for not giving them free food.

No discussion at all about the moment of solidarity held in Washington for the Occupy participant arrested attempting to assassinate Barack Obama.

Nope. In the world of CBC News, "Occupy Wall Street" was intelligent people power, where if the downtrodden and broken 99% could be given voice, they would almost certainly agree with blowing away the President of the United States.

Thursday night, "The Daily Show" gave us a glimpse of the Occupy Movement that struck me as being somewhat more honest. (Click for full screen to work around any visible format error in your browser).

Have we really reached a point where we can only find unbiased insight into the news from a comedy show?

Maybe it's time to turn off all of these guys until they promise to give us the whole story.

As for me, I'm sticking to sportscasts for a while, where you know it's all bullshit and stuff that doesn't really matter anyway. But at least it's entertaining.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 195: The Future of Television

future of TV

There's an old screenwriter's trick, when you're bereft of ideas, to open a newspaper and link 2 or 3 random articles to devise a story premise.

I'm told some hedge fund managers similarly link a handful of current events to concoct the argument that their clients should buy or sell a certain stock.

This week a few unrelated events caught my own attention which, when combined, might just reveal the future of television.

The first actually began about three months ago, when a crew of university students rented the house across the street.

Like a lot of students, they're either too broke or too disinterested to buy curtains. Unfortunately for me, there are no side benefits in that since they're all guys. On the other hand, being guys, the first piece of furniture they moved in was a massive HD television they hung on the wall facing the front window.

So every night when I walk the dog, it's not hard to notice what they're watching. But what I've come to realize is -- I've never seen them watching a TV show.

The set gets used for a lot of video games, facebook updates and twitter messages. One night I thought they were watching a movie, when the screen suddenly went black and returned them to the familiar "Recently Added" Netflix screen, where they clicked another selection.

Now, I'm not sure how pervasive their habits might be, but it shed some light on a business article I read last week about how there are something like 3 HD television sets in Canada for every HD cable box that can actually supply them with the proper signal.

This was spun as a huge revenue opportunity for cable providers as they sold boxes to all those people who hadn't realized they needed one to fully enjoy their new flat screen.


I think what's happening out in the real world is exactly the opposite.

First, I'd wager that more and more people are mostly using their smart TVs to watch DVDs, play games and stream online content.

What's more, about 3 years ago, I bought a HD antenna that allowed me to get several local channels in better quality than my cable provider without having to pay a monthly fee for the privilege. At the time, the dealer told me about 1000 people a month in Canada were making the same decision I had.

While that number may have leveled off, I would seriously doubt it's in decline.

I think the reality is that more and more of us have become our own content programmers, having had enough of the multi-channel universe of programming that just seems to repeat shows we've already seen from one specialty channel or tier to another.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, news came out that the once mighty and unchallenged "Number One" American television network, NBC, the home of "Appointment TV", has lost 18% of its audience this year and is regularly eclipsed by the Spanish language Univision network.

Like the cable box article, this news was spun as "an opportunity" since a single hit might -- I repeat "might" -- get their numbers up. At least for one night of the week.

But what if the night that potential new hit was to debut was Tuesday, when last Tuesday 6.5 Million Americans and Canadians stood in line to purchase the new version of "Call of Duty"?

Don't you think there's a good chance that Tuesday night there were upwards of 6.5 Million North Americans not in the least interesting in watching whatever NBC or anybody else put on TV because they were trying out their new game?

call of duty

"Call of Duty" earned $400 Million worldwide on Tuesday. And between now and Christmas there are a half dozen similarly popular gaming titles issuing new versions and anticipating equally rabid fans -- and rich paydays.

Maybe Gamers don't watch that much regular television to begin with. But you get the feeling their ranks are growing much faster than those who are just happy to plop down on the couch and let whatever is being served wash over them.

Final observation…

Wednesday night, I was watching a hockey game while surfing my Twitter feed and on the latter heard about the riot at Penn State University. I jumped over to CNN, only to find Piers Morgan interviewing somebody nearing the end of their personal 15 minutes of fame.

I dropped down a channel to Headline News to see if they had coverage, finding Dr. Drew kibitzing with somebody just beginning their celebrity 15. Over to CBC who were running a documentary repeat. Way down the dial to SUN TV where somebody in a bad suit was really annoyed about -- something.

Thirty seconds later, I found the live coverage I wanted -- on my laptop.

In this era of 24 hour news cycles, the guys who seem least aware of that fact are those broadcasting the news.

They remain locked into the decades old model of news at noon, six and eleven -- or ten at CBC -- or nine if you want to see the exact same version of "The National" on the CBC News Network.

I came to the conclusion that all of this is happening because, while you and I are embracing all the new technologies on offer, our television networks and cable companies are locked into business models that support their own internal needs but fail to service the audience.

This week, the usual suspects will troop up to Gatineau for CRTC hearings on OTT (Over the Top) services. Nothing will likely evolve from these meetings beyond arguments for regulation to shore up or sustain the collapsing business models that we have. There will then be another round of hearings in May.

And in the meantime, more and more people will either discover the new entertainment options they have or discover how easy it is to devise workarounds to watch what they desire.

More of us will become our own program directors and program schedulers. And we'll have less and less interest in a system that says you need four separate sports channels to watch your home team, or you need your news filtered and interpreted before its presented for your consumption.

More of us will find that "Call of Duty" is more engaging than "Republic of Doyle" or yet another singing competition.

In short, more of us will realize we can make our own choices.

And those people won't be interested in handing that freedom back to somebody else.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Evil That Walks By Night


I did a few hours of Community Service last week. Not the court imposed kind. My life's not that exciting. This was the type where somebody phones you up and you kinda feel obligated to assist.

In the middle of carving the pumpkin on Halloween I got a call from my local church. They have one of the oldest graveyards in the country and last Halloween somebody pretty seriously vandalized it.

This year they called the cops in advance to see if somebody could keep an eye on the place and were told that the night was one of the local constabulary's busiest, so we were on our own. The only option was finding a few brave souls who wouldn't mind spending the night among the tombstones.

Now that's the sort of invitation you can't turn down.

So, as Midnight drew close, I packed the sheepdog in the car and headed over. Along the way, I passed the elementary school. They had cars backed against all the entrances and a foursome with flashlights patrolling the perimeter. Apparently, the police didn't have the staff to look after them either.

I later learned that the year previous, schools and churches in my small corner of the world had sustained tens of thousands of dollars of damage on Halloween. I don't know why those two institutional groups were singled out. For that matter, I don't see what's achieved by tagging the walls of a gym or busting up 200 year old headstones under any circumstances.

But then I also don't understand how people who set out to challenge crooked financial practices end up throwing bottles of urine at street vendors or maintenance workers and still think they're somehow "stickin' it to the man".

The church's Priest and the guy I call the Pre-Priest (he doesn't get ordained for a couple of weeks) were on duty when I arrived. They'd already put in a long night, after putting in a long day doing all the things Priests do. Which in this day and age, when most of those with a degree in theology also hold one in psychology or sociology, is a lot.

The deal was, we'd mostly hang in the church and about every 20 minutes, a couple of us would make a sweep of the graveyard. What we'd do if we actually found anybody up to something, we didn't discuss. Hopefully, anybody casing the place would see the flashlight beams and go elsewhere. And more hopefully, if they didn't, the sight of a dumpy guy holding back a sleepy sheepdog would surely be enough to make them scamper.

The graveyard was suitably spooky in the pitch darkness. Now and then, our flashlight beams would catch a rabbit or a deer foraging between the graves. But after the first few, even they didn't make the dog anxious to make another circuit. She was quite happy to curl up between the pews and snooze.

It looked like we were in for an uneventful evening. We checked our watches. The bars were long closed. We hadn't heard a car go by in at least an hour. Maybe we could call an end to the vigil.

Then the dog suddenly lifted from her spot between the pews, her head cocked. I listened too. Nothing. Then…

The chained rear doors of the church shook, yanked hard from the outside.

We weren't alone.

We grabbed our flashlights and bolted for the nearest door, running around to the back of the building. By the time we got there, who or whatever had shaken the doors was gone. The night was perfectly quiet. The dog sat down and yawned. The Pre-Priest and I shared a look. Maybe we'd imagined it.

Then I played my light across the steps of the rear door. The imprints of a pair of heavy work boots were clearly visible in the dew.

The next day, I wondered who our visitor might have been. What would he have done if the doors hadn't been chained or we weren't there? What kind of a person takes satisfaction in pointless and wanton destruction?

I was interrupted by a call from another friend asking if I could help out with the annual Legion Poppy drive. The Canadian Legion, not the faux outfit I run around here.

Like most Canadian Legion Posts, the vets are getting on and standing around a shopping mall for an afternoon isn't as easy as it once was. So I said, "Sure", put on a suit and headed out.


99% of the people you meet when you're holding a tray of Poppies and a donation box greet you with a smile. They know what that little paper flower symbolizes and that the money goes for a good cause. They even exude a certain pride when they pin it on. It's one of those things that says, "I'm thoughtful. I care. I appreciate the sacrifice".

But after about an hour of smiles, this guy strode up looking a little belligerent. "I'm not buying a Poppy! You know why?" I shook my head. "Because I don't believe in war!"

"Neither do we," I said.

Big mistake.

He glared at me. "Bullshit! You're selling those for the military."

I glanced down at the floor, wondering what was the best way to handle this and noticed...

He was wearing big, heavy work boots.

I looked back at him. The possibility that this was the same guy was beyond remote. But what if it was…?

"First of all, we're not selling anything," I said. "People donate what they want. Hell, we even give them away free if somebody asks."

I held out a Poppy. He slapped my hand away.

I met his eyes. "All the money goes to veterans and their families. Every penny."

The muscles around his jaw tightened. By now I'd decided this was the kind of asshole who trashes church yards. And I almost hoped he'd try something. Even though there was no trusty sheepdog nearby with its dopey tongue hanging out or an almost Priest to provide me with absolution if I went into "Defender of the Faith" mode.

A guy bigger than both of us interrupted. "Why don't you piss off!" he said to the guy with the boots as he dropped some change in my box and fished a poppy from the tray. Boot boy looked up at him and slunk away. The big guy smiled and I realized he was wearing a uniform.

He pinned the poppy next to one he already had on his chest. "Good to have a spare." And he was gone.

There was a point back in the 1930's when Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party and Mussolini's Fascists were indistinguishable from street thugs. Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi, the serial rapists of The Lord's Army, the Sudanese Pirates and any number of tribal warlords were and are, when you come right down to it, no different from petty criminals.

There is an evil that walks by night, stalking a nurse just off the night shift, stomping a gay guy, snapping the crucifix from a headstone.

Unchecked and unchallenged, it becomes bolder, enjoying the ability to strike fear or cause pain or create suffering. Sometimes it finds like-minded companions and begins to feel safe in the daylight and to contemplate even larger evils.

When that happens, there have always been those willing to force the evil back into the night. Some of those brave men and women don't come home, leaving families in need of help. Some return from the battles with scars it takes time to heal.

That's where the money raised by Poppies goes. And wearing one designates you as one who understands that sometimes sacrifice is required and you respect those who chose to pay the price.

But it also marks you as one who knows that there is evil in the world and that you stand against it.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Greenlight “Cover Me Finland” Immediately!

Somehow I missed the first 6 or 7 episodes of “Cover Me Canada”, the CBC’s latest effort to discover talent it doesn’t actually employ anywhere on its network.

But last night, I gave them a shot.

Can somebody tell me why CBC gets a Billion+ ever year and can’t come up with something even fractionally as entertaining as what follows…

Yeah, that’s how you do a cover song! Finland’s “Porkka Playboys”. Somebody give them a show!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 194: Happy Trails


Fifteen or twenty years ago, for reasons I can’t recall, I found myself in Victorville, California, home of the Roy Rogers Museum. I had a couple of hours to kill so I decided to look around.

Roy had been a huge Western star for a couple of decades before I discovered him in my childhood. By then he was well known as “The King of the Cowboys” with a weekly TV show starring himself, his wife, his horse and his dog.

Though not an actual monarch, Rogers was as wealthy as one, listed among Hollywood’s box office leaders from 1943 – 1952.

But Roy’s empire wasn’t restricted to the movies.

Born into poverty in a Cincinnati tenement, he’d had to seek factory work as a child to support his family. He never finished high school, quitting after he was chastised for falling asleep in class – after a night shift making shoes.

His family travelled West during the depression, with Roy learning to play the guitar and sing in the transient and worker camps later made famous in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”.

He broke into show business in the 1930’s as a country singer, forming a group called “The Sons of the Pioneers” and meeting his wife Dale Evans (later “The Queen of the West”) at an Oklahoma radio station where she gave him with a lemon pie to coerce him into playing a song she’d requested.

The Sons had several hits that eventually landed them spots in a few Westerns, including a Gene Autry movie that the star exited on the first day in a contract dispute. Stuck for a star, the producers noticed the handsome young man with the guitar, handed him a white Stetson and the rest – as they say – is history.

But Rogers not only copied Autry’s singing cowboy character, he improved on it. In a 1940 contract negotiation he gave back some of the money the studio was offering to acquire the rights to his likeness, voice and name.

roy comics

Within a couple of years, he’d parlayed that into his own production company, radio serials, comic books, adventure novels, public appearances, records, action figures, western clothing and toy six guns of all description.

Only Walt Disney had more merchandise bearing his name.

Already a cottage industry, one that soon expanded to include Dale, trusty mount Trigger and dog bullet, Rogers took over creative control of his films, shooting them in color when everybody else was still making their low budget oaters in B&W.

The West of Roy Rogers films had nothing to do with the Real West and he knew that. But he understood that most people dealt with enough reality in their own lives and wanted something else when they bought a ticket to one of his films.

I thought the museum was kind of tacky. It was weird looking at the taxidermied Trigger, Dale’s horse “Buttermilk” and Bullet posed around the corral set from Roy’s Ranch I’d remembered from childhood.

The racks of rhinestone and silver saddles, handmade Technicolor boots and shirts all seemed phoney and dated.

And after watching film clips of shows I’d loved that now came across as awkwardly concocted and badly produced, I wondered why so many people had bought into the Roy Rogers myth.

I got my answer yesterday as the media marked the 100th anniversary of Roy Rogers’ birth.


In an interview with Rogers’ son, who still makes a good living touring with his own son performing a show featuring the music and stories of his father, there was this insight…

"He came at a time when World War II was coming on pretty heavy and a lot of people, their dad didn't come back or they came from broken homes, so Dad, was a father figure to a lot of kids."

"And so they looked up to him and they knew they could hang their hat on what he would ask them to do. To go to church on Sundays and to keep yourself neat and clean and take care of your animals and obey your mom and dad, and just basic, common sense things."

The museum in Victorville closed a few years ago and its artefacts were sold for millions. Trigger alone went for more than six figures.

Roy Rogers may have been a cowboy caricature and a walking merchandising campaign, but he spent much of the fortune he  earned realizing the values he espoused, advocating for adopted children, kids with polio and research into Downs Syndrome.

He also did much for environmental causes, animal rights and ensuring that the history of the west, the “Real” West was preserved.

He closed every episode of his TV series singing one of his biggest hits, “Happy Trails”. You always felt he really meant the sentiment and maybe that’s the part of the man we should most remember.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Get Over It!

don't tread

"You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin' everybody down
Complain about the present and blame it on the past
I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ass."

-- Glenn Frey/Don Henley

Sometimes I feel like I've become the local Internet Go-To Guy for an opposing opinion.

At least five times in the last week, I've had people asking me to blog about Rob Ford and the CBC, the Occupy Movement and other issues the Left and Right like to take sides on in order to pontificate on what morons the other bunch are.

And I'll admit I have opinions on all those issues. But since everybody and their dog is already filling up Column inches, Op-Ed pages and as much blog, podcast and TV panel space as they can on those topics, I ultimately came to the conclusion that nothing I add will be all that and a bag of chips.

Yes, I'm capable of throwing a pretty good fit from time to time on topics where I figure I have some inside perspective. But that's off the top of my head stuff. I really don't have the time or inclination for subject matter that doesn't concern me personally.

Tackling such issues also makes me think too much and being a Libra that ultimately means I'm gonna see the other side of the argument as well and end up either confused or catatonic or both. And we don't want that. At least, I don't.

But that still doesn't stop people, even weeks after some "outrage", from needling me on Twitter with "new information" or some "inside scuttlebutt" even the Press doesn't know. As if most in that profession actually look for much more than how to wind somebody up enough to tuck some change into the "Pay Here" slot.

My particular favorite is when somebody refers to some politician who has miffed them and asks "So what do you have to say about 'Your Guy' now? " as if I'm that idiot's mom or personally responsible for their current Gazebo building binge or whatever.

Other than making a mental note of who to call should I ever need a Gazebo, my honest response is, "All politicians are junkyard dogs! You can't even trust the ones you vote for!" I mean, we all live in hope -- but seriously…

For instance, while I know Jack Layton has now been beatified, there's still news footage of him screaming at police to arrest peaceful demonstrators outside an abortion clinic and threatening to have any cop who doesn't fired.

Put those same words in the mouth of somebody demanding an Occupy encampment be removed and those who admire Jack would be equally horrified.

Where did we move from a common sense of decency and maybe skepticism as well as acknowledging we don't own the moral high ground to needing to take up an immediate implacable stand?


"They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else
Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat."

Do I think the CBC crossed the line with Rob Ford? Yeah. Do I think Ford over-reacted? Yeah.

Do I think the man is a Buffoon? Sometimes. Is he going anywhere else for the next three years? No.

But what's amazed me the most is how little so many people who work in my own film industry are aware of how video can be tweaked, sound bites clipped and additional perspectives omitted (by all sides) to skew the final impression. We do that every hour of every day in our own work but ignore the possibility that others might do the same for their own reasons.

So while the Left has used the incident to make Ford come across like more of a doofus than he already is, the Right has used it to successfully eviscerate the CBC.

I don't like to put anybody through the agony of tuning in to SUN-TV with its bad 1970's Game Show sets and caricature personalities. But they went to the trouble of simply removing the fake laugh track from the CBC broadcast, revealing the cause célèbre as little more than a blown joke that somebody whose creative skills outranked their ideology would have binned and replaced.

I'm just saying that anytime you can make Ezra Levant come across as the voice of reason, you have completely failed as artist or activist or both.

But it seems we've become a society where it's okay when our side does something wrong and a capitol offense when somebody else does it.

Even more than that, we seem to have become a people more intent on shouting down opposing views than considering they might actual have a kernel of merit.

A couple of days ago, I chatted with a good friend who has the unenviable task of getting Dwaine Lingenfelter elected Premier of Saskatchewan.  He was wrestling with the fact that he couldn't get anybody from the local media to write about how Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party was using subliminal images in their attack ads -- in direct contravention of the Elections Act.

He pointed me to a Youtube video where Lingenfelter's image had been photoshopped to make him look somewhat demonic and then surrounded by further Tarantino-esque imagery to brand him as a mud-slinger instead of the one on whom mud was figuratively being slung.

With Wall polling somewhere around 186% of the popular vote, it seemed such contravention of election rules raised no interest among media types. Was that because nobody wanted to alienate future government ad dollars or because it wouldn't alter the outcome of the election, or -- wasn't there enough controversy since Lingenfelter's people had been caught doing something similar not so long ago?

It's weird how we jump at the chance to make a Federal case out of the slightest things but appear to have no interest when an actual Federal case can be made.

"The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let's kill all the lawyers, kill 'em tonight
You don't want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing."

All this got me thinking about a couple of comedians I admire. Bill Maher, who continuously inflames the Right. And Dennis Miller, now firmly entrenched as a conservative radio host.

I still think Miller is the best "Weekend Update" anchor SNL ever had and I'm enthralled by the intelligent wordplay that permeates his material. But mention Miller to those leaning Left and he's almost universally dismissed as "no longer funny".

When I lived in LA, I made it to as many tapings of Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" as I could, enjoying his visceral outbursts. But now, not a week goes by that some aspect of his new series "Real Time" angers those on the Right to the point of demanding he be silenced.

Have we fallen so far that we not only can't laugh at our own sacred cows being skewered, but we can't even acknowledge that somebody with talent might not think exactly the way we do?

And why do we feel it imperative to insist they change their minds and think just like we do?

Aren't those the kind of people who go around knocking the dongs off statues or burn books or crucify those who make them feel uncomfortable?

Aren't those the kind of people that form in pods if we should fall asleep?

If a joke's funny, it's funny. If it's not, maybe you shouldn't try to wrap it up as something else in order to make your point. And if you don't like the joke -- maybe you should consider that it's just a joke.

"It's like going to confession every time I hear you speak
You're makin' the most of your losin' streak
Some call it sick, but I call it weak.

All this bitchin' and moanin' and pitchin' a fit
Get over it, get over it!"

There was a time, less than 10 years ago, when Maher and Miller could be on the same stage and enjoy each other even though they disagreed.

This clip was recorded a few months after Maher was unceremoniously turfed from ABC for remarks he made about the 9-11 attacks. Instead of celebrating his newfound status as only "politically incorrect" comic remaining on TV, Miller put his own career on the line by bringing Maher on as his guest.

Their discussion on the importance of free speech and making room for dissenting voices has as much power a decade later as it did at the time.

And here's that Eagles song some of may need to listen to a little more closely…