Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Shout-out to the Bard

Welcome to WNTR’s “Middle of the Night Radio Shrink,” where pop psychology helps you make it through the night.  Tonight’s program which is in honor of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday features a penetrating analysis of Shakespearean characters and how they relate to YOU.  Night Radio Shrink thinks that when you admire certain Shakespearean characters’ qualities, you are really expressing your own personality quirks.  If you’d like to participate live, send your tweets to #WNutterBillsBday.
For you happy folks, we’ll start with the comedies. You’re on the air, Doc.

Rosalind, whom we all know is the heroine in “As You Like It” is an impulsive lady. She’s spirited and a meddler whose favorite color is forest green.  Her hobby is climbing trees and she likes to dress in men’s clothes.  Rosie’s ideal hook-up is any man she’s not supposed to marry.  The Buzz whispers that there was a lot more going on in the Forest of Ardor than we need to know.  Let’s Dish the Dirt:  Orlando and Ganymede—I tell you…

Portia is the poor little rich girl in “Merchant of Venice.”  She’s a quick witted, sympathetic, beautiful, and dutiful daughter.  Portia’s favorite color is lead because she knows that “all that glitters isn’t gold.”  She moonlights as an attorney while dressed as a man. (It’s a good thing her daddy is dead!)  This lady’s favorite hook-up is any John Doe in trouble with the law, or at least JD’s best friend.  The Buzz says that Bassanio is just another guy who slips off his wedding ring when he enters the bar.  Poor Portia!  Let’s Dish:  The whole casket thing was rigged.

Kate, is the title character in “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Choleric Kate is a headstrong lady who’s ripe for the plucking. Her high school graduating class voted her most likely to become a widow in ten years.  Kate’s favorite color is fire engine red.  Few people know that she moonlights as a marriage counselor.  This elder daughter of Baptista looks for a misogynist as her ideal mate.  The Buzz is that Kate wanted to become a nun.  Let’s Dish:  Her hubby said “ ’tis the mind that makes the body rich”—RIGHT!

OK, Fellows, wake up!  I haven’t forgotten you.  The History plays are just the things that dreams are made of for our gentlemen listeners… 
Richard III was not well liked.  This Prince of York carried one heck of an inferiority complex on his shoulder (the lower one, I think).  He balanced his complex with a strong streak of homicidal mania and insatiable ambition.  His color reflected the gold of the blazing sun of York, tarnished by the winter of his discontent.  Richard was relentless in the pursuit of his hobby, eliminating the competition.  Marriageable women with claim upon the crown really turned on this darling prince.  The Buzz quotes Richard’s mother.  She says, “my son was not a hunchback.  The boy just couldn’t be without his favorite dish, haggis, so he slung a sack of it over his shoulder (the higher one, I think) whenever he rode out to kill and cause mayhem.”  Let’s Dish: there are hints that, like Don Corleone, family meant everything to Richard. 

Henry V came after Henry IV (both parts) and before Henry VI (all three parts).  Like most middle children he liked to get in people’s faces and have a good time.  Number V was energetic and fun to be with.  He didn’t always choose his friends wisely, hence Sir John Falstaff.  In his family, purple—the color of kings—was the only color.  As a young man his favorite hobbies were drinking and wenching but this prince of the blood turned our pretty well.  He had a soft spot for French girls who happened to be included in treaties.  The Buzz tells us that “men are merriest when they are from home.” Poor Kate!  Let’s Dish, “we band of brothers,” come on!  Stephen Ambrose said that first.

And now, as the midnight hours pass into predawn, we’ll examine the tragedies.  Lord knows the ole Doc is depressed tonight.

Macbeth, Thane of Chowder and Oyster Crackers (just checking to see if you’re still awake), began as a loyal subject and fearless warrior. That is, until he met the three sisters, aka the weird sisters, aka the witches.  His ambition, as well as his lovely wife, Lady Macbeth, urges him on to regicide. This man is a very poor host. He is also superstitious.  Macbeth’s favorite color is said to be plaid.  As a natural scientist, Macbeth collects specimens like eye of newt, toe of frog, scale of dragon and tooth of wolf. His favorite hook-up is a murderous, insomniac with a hand washing compulsion. (To each his own.)  The Buzz is that his family told him not to marry that girl!  Let’s Dish:  “They” say that Macbeth has been seen wearing a skirt and daintily pointing his toes when dancing the Highland fling.

Hamlet, of course we have to talk about Hamlet, that broody, indecisive, arrested adolescent; talks to himself too.  Our prince’s favorite color is ghostly grey and he has been known to hang around graveyards, the morbid little twit. The lovely Ophelia just wasn’t his type, he’s Oedipal you know. The Buzz tells us that the family gets a large purchase discount on poisons.  Let’s Dish:  Uncle Claudius took  the fun out of dysfunctional.  Grow up, boy!

Our final selection for the night is a little known Roman general,

Titus Andronicus.  Titus is a classic psychotic whose sole motivation is revenge.  When Ti is around there is sure to be buckets and buckets of blood and gore.  It should come as no surprise that this totally out of control madman’s favorite color is blood red.  His monomania is apparent in his chosen specialist field, tit for tat and hand for hand.  If the general had a preference I’d say that a nice girl like Medea would strike his fancy.  There is a rumor that Titus was nominated for Father of the Year, but his children all died before they could testify on his behalf.  The Buzz advises:  Stay Away From This Man.  Let’s Dish:  This play is GOTH-ick!

But seriously, if any of you listeners are the Titus Andronicus type, TEXT ME right now.  Let’s meet up because I’m sure we can get an afternoon talk show on TV.  This all night gig is wearing me out!

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare.  For earlier Bardolatry tributes click on the Shakespeare links on the left.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nebraska, Mostly Mean-spirited

Nebraska (the movie) is touted as one of the best movies of 2013.  Its star, Bruce Dern, was nominated for an Academy Award.  I concur with the second opinion and most definitely disagree with the former estimate.  This movie paints a dark and caustic portrait of the heartland of America. Its pallet, black and white—a metaphor for the attitudes the filmmakers insinuate. The color choice whispers old, faded, depressed, unimaginative, zero sum game loser. Nebraska is ungenerous and mean-spirited.

The story begins with an old, disheveled looking man walking along the highway.  He is Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern.  The character’s name evokes Grant Wood, known for his painting “American Gothic.”  Woody is determined to walk from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his magazine sweepstakes million dollar prize.  I’m sure everyone in America recognizes the reference.  Woody will not be dissuaded from his conviction that he is a million dollar winner.  His younger son David, ably played by Will Forte, agrees to drive his dad to Lincoln, Nebraska which is the headquarters of the sweepstakes company.  They set off, with Will trying to convince his father that the trip is a waste of time. The two agree to stop for a family reunion in Hawthorne, Nebraska. In Hawthorne, Woody’s home town, we meet various Grants whose chief occupation seems to be sitting blankly in front of the television.  When the town learns of Woody’s good fortune some try to tap into Woody’s million, citing imagined assistance extended to him when he lived in Hawthorne.  After Woody’s former business partner humiliates him in front of most of the town, Will decides to continue their journey to Lincoln.  This final plot twist during in the last thirty minutes of the movie keeps the film from being unredeemable. Remember, however, that the son was born in Montana.

Nebraska (the movie) reveals Hollywood’s contempt for “red states,” represented by Nebraska (the state). The film’s depictions undermine respect for the dignity of its elderly protagonist, denigrate small town rural America and mock its values.  Hawthorne—heartland, Christian, Republican archetype—devolves into a venal, small minded, sterile, hypocritical and mean spirited American Gothic still life when filmed through Hollywood’s distorted lens. All this from the folks who, in their movies and TV dramas, promote drugs, sex, and all things encouraged.  Hicks 0, Cool Flicks 1.

The lifestyle and characters portrayed in the movie are dull and irrelevant—Zombie-like families riveted to the television whose only recreation consists of heavy bouts of drinking in one of the town’s taverns and overblown reminiscences of youthful sexuality. The lasting image is of an old man propped on an upright chair placed at the side of the only road running through town, going nowhere, waiting for nothing. The movie’s cardboard characters are losers, used up, out of place in the ultra-liberal, tech savvy, connected world of Hollywood. Small town fossils with petrified minds only merit contempt clearly outlined in black and white. 

As for the plot, there is nothing funny about the elderly being duped by sweepstake or other types of scams.  As a librarian I have had frustrating conversations with older patrons trying to convince them that the unsolicited sweepstakes notification did not necessarily mean that they had won a major prize.  Guilt for wanting something for nothing (“I’d best order a couple of magazine subscriptions.”) was carefully balanced with the desire for self-esteem through good luck (“I’m the lucky winner!”) in their minds.  All the sweepstakes company wanted was their money.  Nebraska carefully sidesteps the morality of this one with a shrug and an “oh well.”  …there’s one born every minute.

Why do seniors in particular seem to fall prey to this gimmick? Like Woody, they are trusting; they are lonely.  They want to believe in this final chance at good fortune because of their penury and fear, because they hope that, in leaving a legacy to their children, they will be loved.  A significant prize awards them one final chance to feel alive, involved, and important. Does the movie temper its ridicule with the pathos of grey or an understanding ochre?  Not a chance. Woody’s not a likeable character and he’s a drunk. His quest is less Quixotic than querulous.

Nebraska hits ‘em when they’re down.  Even the semi-warmhearted ending conceals a final slam. I won’t be a spoiler and reveal the ending, but it doesn’t take much to fool some folks! This movie seems to ask when will somebody tell these “booze-addled” old fogies to pull the sod over their conservative, out of touch and used up lives, already long buried by irrelevancy.  Nebraska—no pity; just spite.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rattlesnake Season Starts Early

Oh?  That tidbit was announced on the local Orange County TV news at the end of January.  Who knew?  My young granddaughters did, “Oh the rattlesnakes cross the Santa Monica Mountains hiking trails all the time, grandma.”  Remind me to stay off the mountain trails.  Apparently the normal rattlesnake season runs from April through October…  Add to that bears in the backyards in Pasadena and mountain lions routinely crossing the 101 and you have an altogether different picture of paradise.

But paradise it has been this winter. We enjoyed the warm southern California weather for two months while our neighbors have been enduring one of the worst winters on record.  I felt really guilty about that, at least until the rattlesnake warning.

All good things come to an end and we have been back in the frozen tundra for a week.  I can take a joke with the best of them but when are they going to roll up the snow and cart is away? Yesterday it reached the 50s for the first time since early December.  Much of the snow cover melted but not to fear, 4 to 8 inches are predicted for tonight!  I cannot complain because it was an unbelievably awful winter in the Midwest and we missed much of it.

On to more pleasant memories, our California vacation was wonderful.  We were able to spend a great deal of time with the granddaughters who are a miracle.  Weekly dinners, occasional sleepovers and special trips remind me just how lucky we are.  The girls rope me into reading to them, although I expect that they read far better than I.  The latest series I found was the Dear Know-It-All  books about a junior high journalist and her friends.  The situations and solutions presented are real, relevant, and rational.  I would recommend the series for young girls nine to twelve.  I may need to load some of the earlier books onto my Nexus 7 because they are not all in print now.

What of our California adventure this year?  We spent most of our time in Santa Monica again but were able to get down to Orange County for a couple of days.  Some of my favorite SoCal restaurants are the Sherman Gardens and Library Restaurant (Corona del Mar), Auld Dubliner (Tustin), Thyme Café and the Urth Cafe (Santa Monica), and C & O Cucina (Venice). We also visited the Observatory in Griffith Park which is a great place to take yourself or your kids because the displays are very fine and the docents knowledgeable.  Their sky show is OK, I’ve seen better. The Observatory is free except for the sky show. We also went to see Cirque de Soleil’s Totem—very enjoyable.  Most of our time was spent at the beach, usually reading on a park bench and watching the sail boats.

 I fulfilled my long held desire to visit the Central Coast and was not disappointed.  After a nice lunch at the wonderful Mexican restaurant, Cielito, in Santa Barbara we drove north on scenic highways 1 and 101 to San Luis Obispo, a small city about three and a half hours from Santa Monica.  The area we visited, from Santa Maria to San Simeon, has much to recommend. In San Luis Obispo we visited the historical part of town near the small downtown area, a variety of shops, the Mission, and their Carnegie Library Muesum.  The restaurants in SLO (as they like to be called) are very nice.  If you like beef a trip to Tahoe Joe’s is in order; for Italian try the Upper Crust Trattoria which is in a strip mall, but the food and décor are first rate.  Lunch at the Apple Farm Restaurant will delight you with good home cooking and a visit to nearby Morro Bay requires a stop at Rose’s Landing for seafood chowder as well as a view of the harbor seals as they swim by.

Morrow Bay was relatively quiet in February, but I expect it is much busier in the summer.  The Central Coast State Park Museum in Morro Bay is really worth the stop. The interactive displays are educational for adults and children and be sure to see the minke whale skeleton on the very breezy balcony.  The Park’s golf course looked challenging; the boat rental tempting.  There are other state parks nearby as well as a large salt marsh.  However the really nice part of the SLO area is the people who are just like your neighbors and friends back home.  They are eager to share a recipe, offer directions or suggestions, or just chat with you.  I hope we can return to this area and check out nearby towns because it is a great place (read, SANER than LA or Southern California). I wouldn’t mind living there either…

After a week home, the memories begin to fade.  The unpacking is finished; loads of laundry done; maps and brochures stored away for next year.  I voted in the primary today. (Early voting is very popular in our household.)  We attended one of the lectures at the Institute for Continued Learning at Roosevelt University and have another scheduled for this Friday.  The Spring semester begins soon.  Plans for Easter begin to emerge.  One thing for certain, there will be no rattlesnakes at the egg hunt!