It’s that time again. Time for the second installment of “Things that are so ridiculous you can’t believe they exist but they do” – a friendly rant about the ridiculous, hoping to turn my thinking into the sublime. There are three on the list this time – read one or read ’em all!
First up has to be Rupert Murdoch and the British outrage about tapping into cell phones as a journalistic enterprise. And just in case you think you’ve read everything there is to say on this subject, read on, because I think we’re all missing the point.
Let me start by saying that all this fuss about Murdoch is long overdue. This guy has been a money-grubbing muckraker for as long as forever and single-handedly responsible for the downfall of the Fourth Estate. Too harsh? I think not. So I’m glad to see him squirming under public scrutiny, although it seems way too little in the squirming department (The Man in the Glass Booth is more like it) and way too late. But what irks me most about the ridiculousness of it all is that the Brits are making such a commotion over techniques the most infamously unscrupulous newspaper owner ever born has used to get them their tabloid news. Say again? Their tabloid news. That’s the biggest oxymoron since Fox News (and don’t even get me started there).
The Brits are well-known for their ravenous consumption of tabloid trash, and Murdoch’s rags lie, cheat and steal their way to “stories” on a routine basis. But the Brits eat it up anyway – Murdoch’s UK papers enjoy some of the largest circulation anywhere (The Sun has the highest of any English-language daily paper in the world). So the fact that they hacked into some cell phones as part of their unsavory shenanigans should come as no surprise at all to the Brits or to the world, for that matter. I think Murdoch and his evil empire deserve their comeuppance, but I think there are larger issues at stake for public debate than cell phone hacking. Did he or didn’t he? Ridiculous! Of course he did. But it’s like getting Capone on tax evasion – it just doesn’t satisfy. How ‘bout some better regulation over what news organs (whether newspapers, TV, or websites) should and shouldn’t be allowed to claim they are? Like what, you ask? Like whether they can be called news.
Next up: the jury selection process. Most Americans would rather have a tooth pulled than serve on a jury, which is beyond ridiculous and somewhere closer to heartless, and also bad karma, if you ever need one yourself. Everyone seems to have advice for how to avoid it. I got the all-time best tip from a woman I met while poll watching during the last election. While we were chatting, I happened to mention that I’d been on jury duty the day before, and she exclaimed that she knew the perfect way to avoid it. Looking me straight in the eye, she said to simply tell them I listen to Rush Limbaugh.”They don’t pick people with open minds,” she announced triumphantly. Oh my.
This woman’s mind-numbingly oxymoronic statement, although ridiculous in the extreme, is not what I’m getting at here. Or it is, but it’s more of a symptom of something bigger, which is the way juries are picked in this country. It’s appalling, at least it was in my recent experience. I’d received my summons in the mail, and as usual, phoned on the appointed morning, fully expecting to hear the recorded voice telling me I wasn’t needed. Instead, a few hours later, I was making my way to the Justice Center. An hour after that, I was in the running for one of the seats in the jury box of a murder trial. An elderly man was accused of killing his wife.
What got me wasn’t the way they herded us about like so many cattle, or having to sit on a hard wood bench for eight hours, or the 20 minute lunch, or even the fact that many of those being considered for the jury admitted that they couldn’t see the accused as innocent. No, not even that. What got me was the judge. See, in my book, if someone can’t understand and see the importance of considering the man innocent until the prosecution proves him guilty, they have just cut themselves out of the justice picture (and preferably out of the gene pool, as well). This is a much greater indictment of someone’s inability to serve on a jury even than listening to Rush Limbaugh is (or watching Fox “News” or reading The Sun). But the judge saw it differently.
Evidently, he felt if he just spoke loud enough and repeated enough times that the accused are innocent until proved guilty, these dim wits would see the light. And I guess, in a way, he was right because one by one these folks gave in and agreed that the man was innocent after all. But I could tell, anyone could, that they were lying. Lying because the judge was intimating the hell out of them. It was unbelievable. Particularly in the case of one young woman who really was trying to be honest and admit that she just couldn’t see the man as innocent. The judge berated her and glared at her, and then outright bullied her. Teary eyed, she finally caved. The defense was forced to use their peremptory challenges on people who should’ve been released for cause. It was obscene. And it wasn’t like there was any shortage of us to choose from either. The woman sitting next to me was the final juror selected, so I never got off the bench. But the poor man accused of murder, he never got a chance at a fair trial.
I’ll end this installment with something a bit lighter: the fact that Firefly is long gone after just one short season, but Cowboys and Aliens is still in theatres. This is not only ridiculous; it’s plain wrong.
In case you aren’t familiar, Firefly is the brainchild of the brilliant Joss Whedon, which he dreamt up, wrote and directed for TV in 2002. Just eight delectable episodes – like a box of homemade truffles. Whedon’s idea was that at the end of the world as we know it, only the US and China remain, and when humans find their way to a new star system, the two cultures have merged. In this pioneering time, people live in old west conditions (the dresses are dirty gingham and the preachers are called Shepherds) but with space technology, so they fly between Gunsmoke-like planets in star ships and wield lasers side-by-side Colt revolvers.
Wikipedia calls it a space western, which is exactly what Cowboys and Aliens (no duh) is touted to be. But where Whedon’s Firefly was clever and fresh (prostitution has been elevated to an esteemed profession, with a guild run by the High Priestess to establish best practices), Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens is as dry and hackneyed as old toast. Nathan Fillion plays the lead role in Firefly. Need I say more? Handsome, with great comic timing, and a cadence to his speech that’s perfection for Whedon’s weird Chino-American dialogue. Daniel Craig (of current James Bond fame) plays the lead in Cowboys, with Harrison Ford creaking alongside him. Let’s just say neither one of them is doing the other a favor in this film. I’ll take Firefly over Cowboys any day of the week and twice on Sunday – and you can too: the DVD set is available on Amazon.
And just in case you’re wondering what in the world this last segment has to do with the first two, guess what network cancelled Firefly, depriving us of one of the rare greats in television? That’s right: Murdoch’s Fox.
On the list for next time’s tirade: traffic, reality TV, general admission, and more. Feel free to add to the list!