Yesterday, I wrote another three pages of Chapter #3 of Alabaster: The Good, the Bad, and the Bird (13, 14, and 15). It has gone to a surprising place, and that's why I don't write outlines. Because outlines have a way of setting things in stone, and instead of unfolding organically fictions sired by outlines are more likely to just follow what's expected of them. I need unruly, wild fictions. Anyway, I expect to finish tomorrow, which gives me two days to get ready to run off to the Catskills for the lion's share of December. Oh, I'll still be working while I'm away. I'm a freelance author. We don't get those newfangled vacation-type things.
Oh, shit. It's December. Well, that crept up on me. Traditionally, my second-least favorite month of the year, after January. Here in Rhode Island, that may no longer hold true. February – which I have always seen as the beginning of the end of winter, here it's more like the middle of winter, dark and deathly, white and still. So, maybe I need to let December off the hook.
So, last night we finish Boardwalk Empire, and the last two episodes were even more exquisite than I'd expected. Also, yesterday when I wrote "...is able to create exquisite movies that play out over months and even years, rather than only two hours," then added that footnote that I was unsatisfied with the comment as an explanation, well, I meant something more like this: The format afforded by New Television provides filmmakers – because these are filmmakers – with a more expansive canvas than they are likely to be provided by a two (or even three) hour theatrical film. Subplots and minor characters are permitted to unfold in their fullness. It is easier to allow any given scene, any given series of events, any given development in the life of a character to take the time needed, rather than being shoe-boxed into what the economics of the multiplex can (or will attempt) to support. Now, in no way does this diminish the medium of more traditional film. It merely offers a more expansive and equally artistic alternative to filmmakers willing to explore it. In the last decade, storytelling via television has evolved in leaps in bound. It is maturing. And I for one am grateful, especially with the ever steeper prices of movie tickets and with the emerging alternatives to cable television that will still afford access to cable networks, along with the emergence of series produced by Netflix and Amazon. It's a new age, and Boardwalk Empire stands as a showcase for this revolution's potential.
We also began watching The Newsroom, which is smart and hilarious and biting, and I was not at all surprised to see that it has failed to garner the ratings required to allow it more than three seasons. It's not the sort of shit people want to hear, that CNN and MSNBC and (gods forbid) Fox News are spoon feeding the masses pablum, that people in this country are more divided and willing to embrace hatred and ignorance than at any time since, perhaps, any time in American history. That here, past the age of the greats like Morrow and Cronkite, it's mostly puerile shit for morons. Here's an excerpt from the opening scene of the first episode one, when anchorman Will McAvoy finds himself on a panel an Northwestern University faced with the question "What Makes America Great" (asked by a clueless student who asks the question be answered in "One sentence or less"). On his right is a liberal commentator ("Sharon") and on his left a conservative ("Lewis"):
Will: Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck, but he gets to hit you with it any time he wants. It doesn't cost money, it costs votes; it costs airtime, column inches. You know why people don't like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?
Will: [without letting her finish, he directs his attention to Lewis] And with a straight face, you're gonna tell students that America's so star-spangled awesome, that we're the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. [laughs] So 207 sovereign states in the world, like a hundred and eighty of them have freedom.
Will (to student who started this all): And yeah, you, sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there's some things you should know, and one of them is, there's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force, and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined. 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the worst. Generation. Ever. So when you ask, "What makes us the greatest country in the world?" I dunno know what the fuck you're talking about. Yosemite? [Pause] We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it, it didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in our last election. And we didn't... we didn't scare so easy. We were able to be all these things, and to do all these things, because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. [Pause, then to the moderator] Enough?
Also, Sam Waterston is brilliant in his role as Charlie Skinner, the alcoholic Atlantis Cable News (ACN) president and former US Marine, disillusioned but hopeful, who remembers a time when things were different, a time when the news what done right because "We just decided to do it." When news was news, not good television, not entertainment, not talking heads and fluff and pandering. When anchormen were not afraid of being governed by dumb people.