Tagged: The Daily Show

John Ostrander: New Boys In Town

Trevor-2

Well, it’s been a few weeks since Stephen Colbert assumed command of The Late Show and Trevor Noah has taken the reins of The Daily Show. In both cases the hosts are taking over from prior hosts who had long tenure at their respective shows (David Letterman and Jon Stewart). The new boys have been there long enough now to form some opinions.  Admittedly, they’re just my opinions but this is my column.

I want to start with The Daily Show and Trevor Noah. To be honest, this was the one that was of greater concern to me because I really loved watching Jon Stewart. I felt that he (and the show) had an important role on television. It was very funny and had a real point of view and delighted in deflating personalities and kicking other networks and other media up the butt when needed (and it has been an ever increasing need over the past few years). Jon Stewart had a keen eye and a well developed sense of outrage to go with his highly developed sense of comedy.

Could Trevor Noah compete? Could he fill those shoes? Would The Daily Show still be a must-see show for me?

Trevor Noah, for those of you who don’t know, is a South African of mixed race parentage. In fact, at the time when Noah was born in 1984, apartheid held mixed race marriages to be a crime. He’s been an actor as well as a comedian. He joined The Daily Show in December of 2014 and was there only a few months when it was announced he would be Jon Stewart’s successor.

So – how’s he doing?

Very well, I think. He is easy and relaxed. He has a knowing smile that he flashes frequently during the broadcasts. He is sharp, witty, and in command. He has shown himself to be adept at interviews which account for at least a third of each show. He is also skilled at playing the straight man for the group of loonies that make up The Daily Show’s corps of correspondents. That’s a significant trick and one that Jon Stewart was very good at playing.

Is the show different? Somewhat, but it still feels like The Daily Show I knew and loved. For me, it’s still something I want to watch.

Stephen Colbert also used to be on Comedy Central as the star of The Colbert Report, a spin-off from The Daily Show. (He had been a correspondent with Jon Stewart.) The Colbert Report was even more satirical with Colbert playing a version of himself that parodied right wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and those populating Fox News.

Sometimes he was so good at it that I couldn’t bear watching; a lot of right-wing commentators give me mental hives. The Bush White House evidently bought into the gag and made the mistake one year of inviting Colbert to host the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. That was a large mistake on their part. Using his TV persona, Colbert blistered both President Bush (who was seated only a few feet away from him) and the media. The primary audience was not terribly amused but the tape of it went viral and the rest of us liberal pinko commie types gasped, laughed, and cheered. It was a brave and bravura performance.

I’ll be honest. I always liked The Daily Show with Jon Stewart more than I liked The Colbert Report. I admired Colbert tremendously but The Daily Show made me laugh more. So I had questions when it was announced that Colbert would be taking over for Dave Letterman. The big question was – could he escape the shadow of his own Colbert Report persona?

I think he has and he hasn’t.

Some of the bits Colbert has done on The Late Show could have been done on The Colbert Report. Stephen still likes to grab the mike and sing, usually with his guests. He doesn’t have a bad voice but I don’t think he’s as good a singer as he evidently thinks he is.

When the show started, Colbert would come out dancing, doing high kicks and girly twirls which I found disconcerting. He’s stopped doing that now and that’s for the better. He was also his own opening announcer and the show now has someone else doing that job which I think is a better transition.

His first guest and his first interview was George Clooney who is usually a great guest. He’s very entertaining and can tell wonderful stories and you just point him in a direction and let him go. Colbert, however, was into doing some kind of schtick and it really hobbled Clooney. I’ve seen this continue off and on.

However, I think Colbert is evolving as an interviewer. He had Oprah Winfrey on last week and they got into a discussion of faith and belief.  I’ve noticed when he has guests on like that we see more of Colbert himself. He is evidently a man of deep belief and, with Winfrey, the interview became a conversation. He listened and responded, she listened and responded, and we got to listen in. I think that’s how interviews on these types of shows should be – conversations.

Every host on late night TV has their own persona and it’s a question of how comfortable we are with those personas. We need to at least feel we’re getting something genuine about the interviewer. I don’t always get that with Colbert but I think he’s relaxing more into his new role and we may see more of it.

He also has interesting segments I won’t see elsewhere. He often has young entrepreneurs on, people doing things that I never heard about before. I think they’re geared for a younger demographic and that’s okay. It’s a question that most late night TV will have to face – how do they attract the generation that is more likely to be on the Internet?

His musical segments are also varied. There’s been a few too many older musicians who have bad cases of old man’s voice where they sound like aging echoes of who they were and some up and coming people who I don’t know and find it hard to summon an interest. However, he gets the occasional interesting performer as well. For example, he paired Misty Copeland, the first African American prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theater who danced while master cellist Yo-Yo Ma played. That was sublime.

Another musical guest was Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer who won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. She gave Stephen a tap lesson (which was great) and then performed with the house band, Jean Baptiste and Stay Human (who are very good). That’s new, that’s different, and very interesting.

Any late night show needs to find a way to stand out from the others, make people want to stay up to see it while, at the same time, be what they want to watch just before they go to sleep. I think the more Colbert shows of himself and the further he gets away from his old persona, the better his show is going to be.

Right now, I think both he and Noah Trevor are doing good jobs. I like The Daily Show a little bit better, I admire The Late Show a little more and I’m interested in seeing what they will be like as the hosts get more settled in.

But I really need to get to bed earlier! Sighhhhhh.

Box Office Democracy: Rosewater

[[[Rosewater]]] is a movie that Jon Stewart basically had to make after The Daily Show played a major role in the imprisonments of Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. It works really well as an apology and as an effort to further Bahari’s mission to increase the visibility of journalists who have become political prisoners. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly good piece of filmmaking.

Stewart is quite green and it shows in almost every facet of the movie. The performances he gets from his actors aren’t quite up to the level of the material he’s trying to create. The movie lumbers along at times where they should move faster and speeds through moments I would love to see breathe more. It doesn’t feel like a student effort, that would be a bridge way too far, but it does feel like a movie by a director that’s learning as he goes.

(more…)

John Ostrander: The Chicago Pizza Way

Ostrander Art 131117Ordinarily, I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. However, on last Wednesday’s night show, he took almost the whole second segment to castigate deep dish pizza, also known as Chicago-style pizza or just Chicago pizza. The whole flippin’ middle segment.

I’m from Chicago.

I love Chicago pizza.

I’d like to refer Mr. Stewart to Sean Connery’s speech in the Untouchables where he talks about “the Chicago Way.

I think it’s time to get all Rahm Emanuel on your ass, Mr. Stewart.

The main component of New York pizza is grease. There is more grease on a single slice of New York pizza than a school of teen-agers with severe acne who have just eaten New York pizza. New Yorkers act as if grease was one of the basic food groups. There is enough grease in a NY pizza to fuel Willie Nelson’s biodiesel tour bus twice around the country. There is so much grease on a slice of New York pizza that it will pass through your intestine without stopping. In Chicago, if you poop your pants it’s referred to it as laying a NY pizza.

BOOM!

The proper way to eat a slice of NY pizza is to fold it in half lengthwise. That way you don’t have to look at it. It’s also the only way to keep the cheese and sauce or whatever else they want to throw on it from sliding right off the slice onto your shoes. Hold it folded in one hand and hold your nose with the other and slide it into your mouth. Ah, that’s a good New York pizza!

BOOM!

Every place that sells pizza in New York City has to be named Ray’s – Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Original Famous Ray’s. Famous Original Ray’s. Spam Spam Original Ray Ray’s and Spam, and on and on. It doesn’t make a bit of difference – they all taste the same.

You can make NY pizza at home. It’s easy. Get an unsalted cracker, squirt some ketchup on it, add some toe cheese, warm it under your armpit, and there ya go.

BOOM!

Chicago pizza you sit and eat and it’s a meal. One pizza can feed a family. It’s food. NY pizza is a lubricant.

and

Not content with defaming Chicago pizza, Stewart then went after Chicago hot dogs. Seriously? Those Anthony Weiners they serve from a sidewalk vendor’s cart? First, they dredge the East River, then put the dogs in that for three days, and then add a lukewarm stale bun, something yellow that’s vaguely like mustard, and a healthy dose of salmonella. The only place you should eat hot dogs in NYC is at Nathan’s and then only at the original stand at Coney Island and even that doesn’t quite stand up to a Chicago dog and you know why? Vienna Hot Dogs. The best places in Chicago use Vienna Hot Dogs with natural casings. Nothing else even begins to compare. Certainly not a NY alleged hot dog,

One area I think we can both agree. California so-called pizza is an abomination. Pineapple on a pizza? Really? No red sauce of any kind? Why even bother? So. how about a truce, Jon Stewart? I’ll hold down a California pizza lover and you can kick ‘em.

BOOM!

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Dennis O’Neil: Daily Devotion

O'Neil Art 131010Pretty day outside, if you like bleak. Mist, rain, a world of grey. October in the northeast. Bleak.

Not much better inside. It’s becoming a chore to watch some of my favorite television programs. The other night, after sitting through about 10 minutes of The Daily Show, I walked out of the room. I deeply admire Jon Stewart: he’s a national jester and as such, one of our treasures. Four nights a week, he manages to inform and entertain simultaneously, and he does this nifty trick consistently, show after show. He was riffing on the shutdown of the national government and suddenly I didn’t want to hear about it anymore, not even when Jon Stewart was the messenger and the message was leavened with comedy. To hear yet again of the antics of that herd of egotistical narcissists who are our elected leaders – enough! Let them take the nation to hell. I’ll just shut my eyes and cover my ears and try not to breathe in the dust.

Remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep for ever.”

I’m not blaming the politicians. They are what they have to be. In a system that values greed above all else, in which congressmen, who are charged with regulating an enormous and ever increasingly complex commonwealth must spend 30 hours a week on the phone begging for money instead of learning what they should know, and in getting what they beg for place themselves in indentured servitude to the check writers, who were taught that education is passing tests, whose egos might need to be damaged before they can even aspire to the jobs they hold, and who have begun to behave like history’s great mischief makers, zealots who are incapable of questioning their zealotry, who are unable to identify with human suffering other than their own…yeah, they are more to be pitied than hated. But such creatures can foster ruination, pitiable or not.

There’s nothing I can do about the Washington mob that’s shaping our collective destiny. But please don’t ask me to share an elevator with any of them.

So I ducked an episode of The Daily Show. Then, the following evening, I got over my snit, stopped wishing that reality to be something other than what it is, and tuned in for my eleven o’clock Jon Stewart fix.

•     •     •     •     •

And now to answer a question you may or may not be asking: can’t we please, for the love of Pete, end on a cheerier note? Okay, how about a dose of…

RECOMMENDED READING: The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics: Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling, by Carl Potts. There are a number of books like this currently available, including one I wrote. This one, I think, is the best.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

 

John Ostrander on… The Substitute!

Ostrander Art 130811On June 10th of this year, Jon Stewart took leave of his job hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central to go direct his first film, handing the hosting duties over to John Oliver, one of the show’s top “reporters.” This was a big deal to me – I’m a huge fan of the show but Oliver has never been my favorite performer on it. He’s been a little too over-the-top manic, playing at a character rather than being the character as predecessors like Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert have done. Or Samantha Bee who comes off as a genuine lunatic (and I mean that as the highest compliment). I thought he was trying too hard to be funny rather than being funny.

Someone I would have picked over Oliver was Larry Wilmore – the dry and droll “Senior Black Correspondent.” I saw him doing a documentary about African-Americans and the Mormon Church in a Showtime special titled Race, Religion and Sex. His interviews were first-rate. I was somewhat disappointed they didn’t pick him to sub for Stewart.

I was also concerned that The Daily Show itself would suffer. Stewart has been so identified with it, rarely taking a night off even when obviously physically ill. There was simply no one else to do the job. Until now.

So, the summer wanes and Labor Day approaches and with it Stewart’s return to the desk of The Daily Show. How’s it gone without him?

In my view, surprisingly well. Oh, no question that I will be glad to see Stewart’s return but John Oliver has, overall, done a very good job. I get a better sense of Oliver as a person in his work as anchor for the show. He’s also been willing to play the straight man for the gang of comedic lunatics that comprise the show’s “reporters.” He’s been an adept interviewer, which is important because the interview sessions comprise about a third of the show. Stewart is still the better interviewer but Oliver is better than David Letterman. And he’s getting better.

An early criticism I had for Oliver’s anchorman duties was that he appeared to be imitating Stewart’s intonations and gestures and even posture. Understandable – you go with what works and you don’t want to lose the audience (I’ll bet that is one of Oliver’s recurring nightmares; that he loses the audience for Stewart). It’s gotten less as the summer has gone on, however.

My larger concern was the show itself. Stewart’s not just the anchorman for the series; he’s a writer and co-executive-producer for the show. He has set the tone for The Daily Show, I think, and that’s important. It’s not only a satire of news programs in general but of the news itself and how it’s covered. There’s a sense of real moral outrage running through the show that gives it the edge it shows. There’s a point of view that is consistently presented.

The show is biased and that’s fine; those who say it should be more balanced forget that this is actually a comedy show and not an actual news show. They proudly proclaim themselves a “fake news” show. However, in 2009 the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said that 21% of people between 18 and 29 said that The Daily Show was their primary source for news. Stewart and producers of the show have discounted that and suggested those who used the show as their only news source would wind up horribly misinformed.

My concern was, what would the show look and sound like without Stewart, no matter who was in the anchorman’s chair? I’m happy to say it still has the same voice, the same values, the same moral outrage underlying it.

That bodes well for the show’s future. I’m glad Stewart is coming back but, let’s face it, at some point he will leave and not come back. He may want to direct some more (depending on how this first film goes), he may get offered a gig on a broadcast network late night show, he may just get tired and want to do something else. This summer has proven The Daily Show can go on without him.

It will also give him a viable substitute on the nights when he’s too ill to perform or needs to be elsewhere. That’s a good thing; it will help keep Stewart from burning out. Will the sub/heir apparent be John Oliver? It depends; Oliver’s gotten a lot more visibility and credibility as a result of this summer’s experiment. I‘d be surprised if he doesn’t get more offers as well.

So let’s call the experiment a success – John Oliver showed he can do the job and welcome back Jon Stewart. Just don’t go away again too soon, okay, fellah?

MONDAY MORNING: Mindy Newell

TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten

 

Dennis O’Neil: Puzzles

O'Neil Art 130110Show of hands: who here works the New York Times crossword puzzle? Okay, put ‘em down. Those of you who raised your hands, and you know who you are (though I don’t) might have a definition for the word “olio,” which has been known to appear in the puzzle now and again, and nowhere else that I’ve ever seen. The rest of you? Well, maybe I just shrugged. (How can you ever be sure?)

Anyway, today’s blatherthon will be a bit of an olio.

Which we’ll begin with an item about, yes, a crossword puzzle. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart enlisted the puzzle’s editor, Will Shortz, in helping him propose to the lady who’s now Mrs. Stewart. Together, they concocted a puzzle that contained the proposal and gave it to the object of Jon’s affections. You can guess the rest. And is this not one of the coolest proposals ever?

Had lunch Saturday with my old pal/colleague Carl Potts, who informed me that another one-time colleague, Bobbie Chase, has joined her old boss, Bob Harris, in the enchanted precincts of DC Comics editorial suite. I knew both Bob and Bobbie when I worked for Marvel Comics long ago. The comics biz thus continues to be a revolving door kind of enterprise with many creative and editorial serfs going from one company to the other and maybe back again. Yet both companies have managed to retain their identities. Curious, huh? Any business majors looking for a thesis topic? Or do you disagree? Could I be wrong? Did I just shudder? (How can you ever be sure?)

Notice the italicized word in the previous paragraph? If not, maybe it isn’t there and Crankus, the evil god of technology, has struck again! Italics were absent from a sentence in last week’s blatherthon, spirited away somewhere between this computer and your screen. Gone! Pfut! And does this mean that some did not get the joke the italic was supposed to serve, and did legions weep?

Notice the exclamation point in the previous paragraph? You did. Ah, Crankus is napping. But did you know that when I crept into the comics business 47 years ago, give or take, we writers were instructed to end (here comes another italic) every sentence with an exclaimer? Enough to make a (punctuation-loving) grammarian gag, isn’t it? Newly minted young snot English major that I was back then, I bristled, but so slightly that no one noticed and besides, the guys in suits (italics alert!) did have a reason for the rule. We were told that the printing was so crude that ordinary periods might not transfer onto the page.

About those guys in suits: that was pretty much everyone who had a desk job. First day, I got my orders: suit and tie, though maybe nice jacket and tie might have eked past muster. Bit of a problem for me because, though I was used to wearing ties, I didn’t have a suit. Roy Thomas took me to Macy’s and I dropped a fast thirty bucks or so on new haberdashery. At last, the big time…

RECOMMENDED LEARNING EXPERIENCE: The Spiritual Brain: Science and the Religious Experience. Lecture series presented by Dr. Andrew Newberg, from The Teaching Company/Great Courses.

Friday: Martha Thomases Gets Soapy

 

John Ostrander’s Favorite Things – 2012

This is the time of year when all manner of people and media post their best/worst selections of the year. The main purpose is to elicit outrage or agreement or bewilderment regarding the selections. Anyone can play. So I guess I will with these caveats. I’m not saying that what follows is the best of any the categories. It’s simply what I most enjoyed. Some books, TV shows, music, movies I simply didn’t experience (e.g. Argo and The Hobbit) or didn’t enjoy as much as those listed (i.e. the latest Dresden book, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man). I’m only touching on what was new in 2012 – not those things I’ve enjoyed from other years and enjoyed again in 2012.

Caveats away. Let’s get down to it.

Doctor Who: The mid-season finale didn’t please me as much as I hoped. The departure of long time companions Amy and Rory had me scratching my head. However, the Christmas Special – The Snowmen – made up for it, introducing an intriguing new companion for the time and space faring Doctor and a tantalizing mystery. Steven Moffat – show runner and head writer – remains in fine form.

Justified: Big tough ass series based on an Elmore Leonard character. This season was even better than the one last season, which is saying a lot. Star performances made the season starting with Timothy Olyphant as Marshall Raylan Givens, along with Walter Goggins, Nick Searcy, Neal McDonough as a truly scary bad guy from Detroit, and Mykelti Williamson as an equally scary local bad guy. It’s violent, sexual, badass, and Raylan Givens is so damn cool he should be illegal.

Fringe: It’s now on its final episodes and taking a whole different tack from the previous seasons. I’m hoping it all ties up and makes sense by the end but this was created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci who also did Lost and the ending of that got a little bit away from them. Still, John Noble’s Walter Bishop is a delight to watch and is reason enough to tune in.

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report: This got me through the freakin’ election. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are both geniuses. Stewart does the faux news show and Colbert does a faux conservative commentator ala Bill O’Reilly. Colbert’s may be the more brilliant show but I have to admit that Jon Stewart makes me laugh more. However, Colbert did perhaps the last interview that famed children’s book writer Maurice Sendak ever gave and its hysterical and touching. Both shows are must-see TV for me.

Suits: I would not have bet you that a series set in a high powered law firm with people I don’t especially like would keep me riveted, but this one sure does. Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams and Rick Hoffman are superb but for me the best characters are two women – Gina Torres (who you might recognize from Firefly) as the really tough head of the firm and especially Sarah Rafferty as Macht’s tart tongued, all knowing secretary who steals the show. Morally complex, suspenseful, and witty.

Kate Bush: 50 Words For Snow: I’ve been a big Kate Bush fan for a long time and it becomes an event when she brings out a new CD. Kate Bush is one of the most influential female singer/songwriters in the music business. This is one of her best CDs in recent years and the duet she sings with Elton John, Snowed In At Wheeler Street, is haunting. I play it over and over again. It’s influencing a concept that I’m working on. I love this CD.

The Avengers: The most perfect cinema realization of the Marvel comics ethos. Joss Whedon (director and writer) rules. This made umpty gazillion dollars and you’ve probably seen it. One of the best moments: Hulk vs. Loki. ‘Nuff said.

Lincoln: I’ve talked about this in one of my other columns. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the great movie performances of all time but he’s not the only one. Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones. Hal Holbrick, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has had a very good year), James Spader and so many others make the film an acting delight.

Skyfall: James Bond’s 50th Anniversary in films and this one is a knockout. Bond is not simply an icon in this film; he’s a character with a deeper story. We see a seedy Bond, we see a Bond off his game, we see an aging Bond who may be outdated in the modern espionage world and knows it. This is right up there with my other two all-time favorite Bond movies, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger and it may be my favorite of the three. A key to the film’s success was hiring noted director Sam Mendes who delivered not only the action set pieces we expect from a Bond film but visual style, pacing, and performances. Daniel Craig gives his best outing yet as Bond, Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of the scariest all time Bond villains and Judy Dench – ah, Judy Dench. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about and, if you haven’t, I won’t ruin it for you. It’s not just a good Bond film; Skyfall is a really good film – period.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection: One of the pleasures of series books is coming back and seeing characters that you’ve come to regard as friends in a setting, a world, that has become real to you. Alexander McCall Smith has done that for me with his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, a detective series set in Botswana, Africa, and starring his woman detective, Precious Ramotswe. This series is a long ways from a hardboiled noir detective. The stories are gentle and filled with characters I love. The challenge with series books is to give the reader everything they remember and want in the series while also covering new ground. It’s a tough trick to pull off; the books could become stale. This series progresses slightly with each book and stays fresh. I look forward to my next trip back to Botswana.

Favorite Person In the Whole Wide World: My Mary. Who else? Love you, cutie pie.

I’ll be back next year. Happy New Year to you all.

NEW YEAR’S EVE: Mindy Newell

 

DENNIS O’NEIL: Doonesbury Envy?

Doggone that Martha Thomases, anyway! I was all set to use this week’s column to dissertate on Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip, but Martha stole my idea before I even had it and wrote a piece on the same subject. Probably did a more thorough job, too, but now we’ll never know, will we?

Happy, Martha?

For those of you who have spent the whole of the last week in your local theater watching and rewatching John Carter and so have missed the news cycles, what that scamp Trudeau did this time was to use the platform his strip affords him as a venue for bleak humor about the indignities forced by Texas poobahs – those are male poobahs – on women seeking abortion. Trudeau wasn’t attacking the right-to-lifers per se, but only an unnecessary and humiliating “medical” procedure done down where the stars at night are big and bright.

Trudeau isn’t new at this kind of activity. He’s been doing it for the past 42 years, ever since his work began gracing the nation’s funnysides. He was once called an “investigative cartoonist” and he is that, often calling attention to stories local newsfolk might have neglected. (There’s additional detail in Martha’s piece so go on, read it! I certainly don’t care!)

Trudeau is more than a cartoonist, though – he’s something very valuable; he’s one of our national jesters. I’d nominate him, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert for jesterhood and I bow to them all and aver that this quartet is worth a long ton of conventional pundits. They use humor to help us swallow some pretty bitter pills. We laugh, but we also swallow.

One example: From Stewart’s Daily Show, I learned that GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum claimed, publicly, that in the Netherlands, the elderly were being euthanized against their will – a lie so egregious that it should have immediately disqualified Santorum from elected office. I didn’t see it anywhere else (though surely Stewart wasn’t the only source of the item. But it wasn’t splashed big in my local paper – the one that’s banished Doonesbury to a website – and it should have been).

These entertainers have a long and honorable provenance. Remember King Lear’s jester, all you English majors? He was a teller of truth in clown’s clothing. And Shakespeare didn’t pull the character from thin air: In Renaissance times, jesters were given license to both jest and criticize their masters. It’s said that Queen Elizabeth the First once chastised a jester for not being critical enough.

You think Rollickin’ Rick got on the horn with Stewart and said something like, “Hey, Jonny, what’s the haps? You should’ve reamed my ass”)?

No, I don’t either.

RECOMMENDED READING: As I’ve mentioned in an earlier column, I try not to recommend books I haven’t read. I don’t know if there’s a Doonesbury collection somewhere in this house, but since I’ve been reading the strip on and off for about 40 years, and a lot more on than off for the past decade, I feel confident in urging you to hurry to your local bookstore and get anything with Garry Trudeau’s name on it. If you really scamper, you might get there before Martha Thomases…

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases (go figure!)

 

JOHN OSTRANDER: Our Final Frontier

SPACE: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

We’re a frontier nation. Always have been. If you weren’t happy were you where, if you looked for new possibilities, new challenges, there was always somewhere to go. That concept, that feeling, brought people from other lands to this one, from the pilgrims to the later great European migrations. As late as the Dustbowl and the Great Depression, people uprooted from where they were and went somewhere else, often California. African-Americans, seeking a better life, made an exodus from the Deep South into the Midwest, to Chicago and Detroit and other cities. Someplace else has always held promise to us as a people and, I think, helped define us.

Star Trek also evoked the concept of frontier with its opening narration. It’s the first thing we heard when we first saw Star Trek. Later shows and movies would alter it slightly, changing “five year mission” to “ongoing mission” and “to where no man has gone before” to “to where no one has gone before”; both, to my mind, improvements. By now we know it so well that we hardly ever really listen to that invocation anymore but it’s worth looking at.

Think of hearing those opening words for the first time – ever. There is a promise of adventure, of hope – they define frontier. They reflected an aspect of America at the time – a belief in ourselves and our ability to achieve great things.

I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, on The Daily Show this last week. I love watching Tyson – he is a terrific cheerleader for the manned exploration of space, not only enthusiastic but able to communicate that enthusiasm. He was selling his new book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, but he was also decrying how we, as a people and a nation, have given up on space. After the moon landings, he noted, we settled back into the space station and the shuttle, boldly going over and over again where lots of people have gone.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the space station is a remarkable achievement and the shuttles were important and the loss of two of them and the lives within were tragic. Neither program, however, really ignited our imagination the way that the race to the moon did or the opening to Star Trek did. There is no reach outward. There is no frontier.

I think we need a frontier. I think that we, as a nation, have fallen inwards and are devouring ourselves. A frontier makes us look outward and upward; it demands the best from us if we are to survive. What we currently slog through in our lives is far from our best – and offers damn little hope of reaching something better than what we have.

Reaching outwards, to other planets, to other stars, presents risks and problems but we find ways of solving those problems and overcoming those risks and, in the process, makes us better.

I know there are those who say it is too expensive to explore space with people. Manned probes can get us there cheaper and without the risk to human life. However, I think that risk is what’s important. It’s humanity against the elements and, without that risk of death, is there really an achievement? However sophisticated the Mars’ probes are, they are not humans. They are machines. There is skill but there is no courage.

Some people have said we shouldn’t go back into space until we solves our problems here on Earth. That’s not going to happen; there will always be problems here on Earth. Solve one and another pops up. Many of these problems are hardwired into us as human beings. However, so are the virtues and strengths of us as a people and they are never better on display than we reach outwards – to another planet, to the stars, to one another.

We, as a people, need frontiers and, as Star Trek pointed out, space is the final, the ultimate, frontier. Let’s seek out new lives and create a new civilization. Let’s unwrap our imaginations and explore possibilities.

Warp factor baziilion, Mr. Sulu.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

 

MINDY NEWELL: What Would Wonder Woman Do?

On Thursday, February 16, 2011, in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Foster Friess, one of the billionaire funders of the Super PAC (Political Action Committee) backing Rick Santorum, said, “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. LOL! ROFL! Hee-hee-hee! BWA-HA-HA-SNORT!

Not.

Funny.

Definitely not.

Defiantly not.

Watch this video from The Daily Show in which Jon Stewart masterfully attacks the crap coming out of the Republican’s mouths these days.

And this one.

The Republican Party has really stepped in it this time. They are so desperate. It would be funny if it weren’t so scary. Now they’re trying to switch the argument into one in which Obama is attacking Catholics. According to the Republicans, Obama has been a Muslim plant, a communist, and a socialist, a Kenyan (as in not born on American soil), anti-Christian, anti-Israel…

What next?

How nuts is the Republican’s newest election campaign? Watch Megan Kelly of Fox News, newly returned from maternity leave, as she defends the “entitlement program” maternity leave against right-wing radio pundit Mike Gallagher, who calls maternity leave “a racket.”

Several columns ago I talked about why I believed that Wonder Woman, a.k.a. Princess Diana of Themiscrya, would come down on the side of pro-life in the abortion debate.

I never considered about how she would feel towards the use of contraceptives.

Hmm…

What I think is that, at first, she wouldn’t understand it. As I said, coming from a place where natural procreation has been unknown for 3000 years and more, Diana would have a true reverence for pregnancy and birth – not to mention children.

However, as she became acclimated to the modern world – I don’t use the word “assimilated” because it is my writer’s conceit to think of Diana as a continual “stranger in a strange land.” I believe she would come to accept the importance of a “woman’s right to choose” contraceptives, based on her own experiences growing up on a island in which there are no men to place a “glass ceiling” on women’s abilities and/or aspirations. After all, her own mother, Hippolyta, is Queen in every sense of the word, a queen with the power of a king, such as this world has not seen since Elizabeth I of England. In Diana’s world, there is no question that a woman has the capability to be a front-line warrior or a priest – it’s a fact. It just is.

And I also think she would come to realize that using contraceptives – obviously – drastically eliminate the need for abortions. Yes, I still believe she would stand firm in her pro-life stance.

A final point. Diana comes from a theocratic society. However, it is an enlightened theocratic society that does not impose its religion on others. I believe she would find it inappropriate that those campaigning for the Presidency of this country are actively working to impose their faith’s beliefs on others.

Inappropriate?

No.

Dangerous.

Extremely dangerous.

TUESDAY: What Would Michael Davis Do?