We’re going to discuss some hot topics, but we are not going to be discussing the hot topics themselves but rather the reasons why certain tactics succeed and other tactics fail. Anyone attempting to steer the debate into discussion of yea-or-nay / pro-or-con ethics / morality will be ignored.
Go post your own blog.
It has been asked, “Why does the dentist who killed a lion receive more outrage than a video showing Planned Parenthood discussing what they do with aborted fetuses?”
The short answer is that in the case of the lion killer, we have not one but two names: Cecil, the grandfather patriarch of his pride, and Dr. X, the guy who thinks it’s big fun to use his human intellectual and technological advantage to track and kill animals for sport.
In short, we have a story with two characters in it, and it’s pretty easy for the average person to grasp the principles involved: Lion, minding own business, killed for fun by guy with money who has to cross an ocean to do it.
The story would gain no traction if
Cecil didn’t have a name and a backstory.
There have been dozens of photos posted on the Internet of people proudly smiling over their trophy kills (and we define a trophy kill as a kill where the prey will not be eaten by the hunter’s family, or a demonstrably dangerous animal stopped to keep it from harming others, but simply an animal death used as bragging rights). There have been attempts to gin up outrage against them, often identifying the hunters by name and in some cases causing no small amount of discomfort to them (there have been the occasional apologies and one or two examples of C-list celebrities losing a gig because of it).
But in those cases the animals were anonymous and therefore generic; there was no identity that people could glom onto.
Cecil, by mere fact of having a name,
immediately became a character.
That’s the short answer, but the longer answer builds off that: The case against Dr. X worked because it was possible to bring direct pressure to bear against a specific individual, and only because that individual depended on public good will to be able to afford his lethal hobby.
If Dr. X wasn’t a dentist but instead was a safari outfitter / hunting guide, no amount of public outrage would affect him directly for the simple reason that his business is based on customers who have already demonstrated a desire for his services.
to a professional hunting guide
does them no harm;
their client base will
keep coming back
regardless of your
Convincing the client base that there’s no honor
in big game trophy hunting, however…
There is where you have your leverage.
The case of Dr. X is going to impact big game trophy hunting to this degree: It’s going to dissuade more people who are on the fence regarding this issue than it will persuade.
Yeah, there will be some contrarians who had never given serious thought to big game trophy hunting before who will now support / participate in the sport, but they will be small in number to the group that thinks, “Y’know, it is kind of a punk thing to do…”
And again, let us draw a sharp distinction between those who hunt and fish to provide food for their family and those who do so just to brag they’ve done it.
Eventually, the anti-big game trophy hunting sentiment will succeed: As trophy hunting becomes less and less of a publicly admirable activity, fewer and fewer people will take up the sport. The fewer people who take it up, the less resources will be available to support it. The less resources available to support it, the fewer people will be able to enjoy it, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
Why then does the anti-big game trophy hunting sentiment gain traction while the anti-police brutality and anti-abortion sentiments apparently fail to do so?
In both cases the main factor is that it is extremely difficult to bring direct pressure to bear on those police who brutalize civilians and those people who provide abortions for the simple reason that they are providing a service to a client base that wants exactly those things.
Despite their motto, the police are not there to protect and serve citizens as a whole: They are there to protect and serve property owners.
When the property owners perceive
a particular group or individual to be
a threat to them and their property,
they have the police act against them.
Look at the history of unionization in this country, the brutal suppression of freedom of speech and assembly, the blatant murder of many and legal lynchings of others, the destruction of workers’ homes and families for the heinous crime of demanding fair working conditions.
Rarely are police held accountable for brutality today, and when they are it’s almost always the result of them being caught on video in a blatant misuse of authority, and even then the system that permits such things is protected while the individual officer is thrown to the wolves.
Look how the narratives are acted out: If it is at all possible for the brutalized citizen to be presented as in the wrong, they are. When it becomes impossible to hide the officer’s illegal brutality, their personnel records are leaked with emphasis drawn to all previous infractions.
Basically, it’s a race to see which story gains traction first: The “they were a thug so they deserved it” story or the “he was a rogue cop” story, and generally the thug story is given a lengthy head start.
If anything is to be done about police brutality, it has to be through indirect pressure: The property owners must become aware there are far greater risks to authorizing excessive force than in reducing use of excessive force.
Same thing with the failed coup
against Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is in the business of providing health services to women; abortion procedures accounts for only 3% of their case load. They don’t promote the procedure, but they do make it available to a client base that is actively seeking it.
Now, the great irony is that Planned Parenthood and other providers of comprehensive sex education have done far more to reduce the number of abortions that the anti-abortionists.
By providing comprehensive sex education and making safe and reliable forms of birth control easily available, they have greatly reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies and as a result have greatly reduced the number of abortions.
They’ve also greatly reduced STD rates, infant mortality rates, domestic and child abuse rates, and divorce in those states where comprehensive sex education and family planning are available, all of which also contribute to the overall drop in abortions by removing or lessening the factors that contribute to people seeing abortion as a viable alternative.
Trying to bring direct pressure to bear
on Planned Parenthood is futile.
First off, there is no narrative involving “characters” as we used the term above re Cecil the lion and Dr. X.
Without names, without specific backstories, it becomes extremely difficult for people to identify with either the fetuses or the mothers seeking to terminate their pregnancies.
It’s like outrage over photos of anonymous big game hunters posing over dead zebras and giraffes: Yeah, the majority of people aren’t impressed by that and may even find it petty and distasteful, but they’re not going to be moved to action because of it.
Attach a name and the narrative now becomes a story about a character, and the unfortunate truth for the anti-abortionists is that while their opponents can point to real living / breathing / thinking / feeling women with names who have made a desperate choice, the anti-abortion side cannot do the same regarding fetuses without their narrative looking ridiculous.
The only way to reduce the number of abortions
is to convince those people who are on the fence
about the issue not to do it.
But the big difference between women seeking to terminate their pregnancies and big game trophy hunters who spend a lot of time and money engaging in their lethal hobby as often as possible, is that it’s the rare case where a woman seeks multiple abortions.
And most multiple abortion cases are the result of medical complications that threaten the life of both mother and fetus unless the pregnancy is terminated to save the mother.
So Planned Parenthood’s client base for abortion is not a group of people who think it’s a really cool thing to do and are happy to brag about it, but desperate once-in-a-lifetime cases who would just as soon not have their decision broadcast to the world.
You see the difference in motivations? You see why the big game hunters, many of who need public approval in order to fund their hobby, are much more susceptible to shaming than women who are in a desperate personal situation?
Do you see why pressure against Planned Parenthood directly will always fail, and attempts to shame women seeking abortions will ultimately backfire?
As stated above, this post is not to debate the right or wrong of any particular situation but rather to examine what strategies and tactics work (i.e., produce the desired stated result) and which do not work (i.e., either fail to produce the desired result or create blowback).
Choose your path accordingly.
Calvin And Hobbes © Bill Watterson
almost every sci-fi / fantasy / superhero epic out there
he pushed the big blue button
the red things
the green things
they fought and fought and fought to prove
some obscure point
their hearts / minds?
filled with hate
their blood sang of fire and ice
and in the end
the heroes won
and virtue triumphed
it always does
it always will
get to tell their stories
art by Gray Morrow
text © Buzz Dixon
“In recent years and elections one would have thought that homosexuality and abortion were the new litmus tests of authentic Christianity. Where did this come from? They never were the criteria of proper membership for the first 2000 years, but reflect very recent culture wars instead. And largely from people who think of themselves as ‘traditionalists’! (The fundamentals were already resolved in the early Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. Note that none of the core beliefs are about morality at all. The Creeds are more mystical, cosmological, and about aligning our lives inside of a huge sacred story.) When you lose the great mystical level of religion, you always become moralistic about this or that as a cheap substitute. It gives you a false sense of being on higher spiritual ground than others.
“Jesus is clearly much more concerned about issues of pride, injustice, hypocrisy, blindness, and what I have often called ‘The Three Ps’ of power, prestige, and possessions, which are probably 95 percent of Jesus’ written teaching. We conveniently ignore this 95 percent to concentrate on a morality that usually has to do with human embodiment. That’s where people get righteous, judgmental, and upset, for some reason. The body seems to be where we carry our sense of shame and inferiority, and early-stage religion has never gotten much beyond these ‘pelvic’ issues. As Jesus put it, ‘You ignore the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and good faith . . . and instead you strain out gnats and swallow camels’. We worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with. There certainly is a need for a life-giving sexual morality, and true pro-life morality, but one could sincerely question whether Christian nations and people have found it yet.” — Fr. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations (Sunday, June 16, 2013): “New Fundamentals” Are a Contradiction in Terms
This is the greatest TV series you’ve never seen.
A one season wonder, a critical hit that never made an appreciable dent in the ratings, and as such was soon lost and forgotten.
“Out of the night comes a man who saves lives at the risk of his own. Once a circus performer – an aerialist who refused the net. Once a cat burglar – a master among jewel thieves. Now a professional bodyguard: Primitive – savage – in love with danger – T.H.E. Cat!”
At age 12 ½, T.H.E. Cat was exactly what the doctor ordered for young Buzz Dixon. While I’d absorbed a certain amount of knowledge on cool jazz and the beat generation through sheer osmosis, T.H.E. Cat was my first prolonged exposure to those intertwining currents of American pop culture.
My immediate response was
(a) how long has this been going on? and
(b) where can I find more?
Half-hour standalone dramas are extremely rare to come by on TV nowadays (home grown DIY YouTube webseries not withstanding) but back in the day they were common and popular.
Their advantage over hour long episodes was that they tended to be streamlined bits of efficiency, little wasted time and effort, characterization boiled down to sharp, vivid dialog, and scripts that crammed a lot into that thirty minute slot.
Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (Robert Loggia) was different from most of the other TV show heroes of the era. They were creatures of light, even when their occupations as policemen and private eyes took them into darker corners of human nature.
T.H.E. Cat was a creature of the night; indeed, with only one memorable exception, I can’t recall an episode that didn’t take place almost entirely at night and almost entirely in the narrow streets / tiny alleys / dizzying architecture of The City.
He was not a “good” man,
not in the moral sense,
but he was ethical and dependable,
always faithful to his own code.
That code did not automatically include always informing the authorities of what he knew or had witnessed, or to adhering to the strict letter of the law depending on the circumstances (my first introduction to the concept of situational ethics).
One episode had him waiting patiently across the street with a sniper’s rifle, waiting for the one moment when somebody would open a window and he’d get one clean shot at the hostage taking killer.
Combat! and a few other military oriented shows might do a story about a sniper, but I can’t recall one pre-S.W.A.T. show where the police ever laid in ambush, much less deliberately killed their target instead of at least offering the chance to surrender first.
TV censors of the day wouldn’t permit it and only T.H.E. Cat’s spotty personal background enable him to be the only non-military character who could do it.
And that may explain why the show, despite being a critical success and a long time cult favorite, never picked up much of an audience when it was on.
Running at 9:30 on Friday nights, the audience that would be most likely to be entertained by it (i.e., older teens and young adults) were more likely out of the house and socializing with friends than at home watching TV.
At 12 ½ I was at the perfect age to appreciate the show while still being too young to go out alone on evenings.
The ambiguous morality of T.H.E. Cat resonated with my own coming of age questioning and introspection, and the questionable (albeit always heroic) ethics of the hero (or rather, the anti-hero) fit in easily with a lot of wondering I was doing about the world around me.
It proved to be a rather sharp and decisive break from the glorious Technicolor yet still morally black and white cop and PI shows found elsewhere.
The jazz ambiance was infectious, and seeing the musicians in their after dark shades and sharp suits — playing music that evoked emotions and feelings impossible to articulate otherwise — pretty much nailed the coffin shut in ever enjoying Lawrence Welk or Dean Martin without irony again.
I didn’t know what it was that the jazz musicians were doing,
but I did know whatever it was I wanted to be part of it,
and whatever it was that Welk and Martin were doing,
that wasn’t it.
T.H.E. Cat was created by Harry Julian Fink (who went on to create another epically morally ambiguous character: Dirty Harry) and produced by the grossly under appreciated Boris Sagal; Fink also wrote and Sagal directed several episodes.
It helps to understand the relationship of the three shows,
comparing and contrasting their specific points.
All three were about lone wolf (or in Loggia’s case, lone cat) operatives who had an uneasy alliance with the authorities and a base of operations in an after hours jazz club (“Mother’s” in Peter Gunn’s case, “Waldo’s” in Johnny Staccato, and “Casa Del Gato” in T.H.E. Cat).
Past that, they were pretty different. Peter Gunn was essentially an old school private eye, just with snazzier threads and better music. His episodes, particularly in the second and third seasons which were filmed at MGM and had full access to their prop / set / wardrobe / stock footage departments, look lush and opulent compared to the other two.
Despite this, even as a kid I always found Peter Gunn bland and talky, with the action beats delivered pretty perfunctorily and not as a truly organic part of the story (Johnny Staccato and T.H.E. Cat, on the other hand, could have violence suddenly flare up yet still seem logical and motivated).
Johnny Staccato seemed poverty row in comparison, and that worked to its advantage. Though filmed in Hollywood, Johnny Staccato took place in NYC, and the production company sent Cassavetes there to film various connecting shots of him going into / out of various buildings / cabs / subway stations / etc. As a result this gave Cassavetes’ more of a lonely, isolated feel than either Peter Gunn or T.H.E. Cat.
And as the character name implies, Johnny Staccato has a jagged, driving edge to him. Though described as a jazz musician who supplemented his income by serving as a sleuth or a bodyguard or a bag man, seen in modern light Staccato is clearly a drug user if not a full fledged junkie. His nervous, anxious energy simply cannot be contained, and I’m sure more than a few viewers of the era wondered what was wrong with him.
In the end, it’s probably just as well that Cassavetes enjoyed only a single season on TV and didn’t become a TV star; it would have probably ruined his unique talent as an actor and film maker in later years.
Still, the lineage is quite clear, and while Peter Gunn only imperfectly broke away from the old PI mode and Johnny Staccato was just too twitchy for its own good, T.H.E. Cat found that perfect sweet spot and became the epitome of cool.
 The exception was an episode that involved a car vs helicopter chase across the desert.
 The lead ins were Tarzan and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at 7:30 and 8:30, followed by Laredo, a well made but by-the-numbers standard grade Western. There was a large audience segment that could enjoy those three shows but would find T.H.E. Cat to be a big bitter pill hidden in their bag of popcorn.
 Yes, Fink and Sagal had their hero operating out of a cat house. Apparently nobody at NBC Standards & Practices spoke Spanish.
 The image quality is only so-so, with blurry soundtrack and multi-generation VHS tape video, far too often in black and white instead of the original color, but ya know what? It actually works and enhances the raw, desperate feel of the original.
You beg for mercy and say you were only following orders.
Tell me, which would you find more horrifying:
Me just following orders?
Me doing this on my own?
Back in 1963 Stanley Kramer unleashed It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (hence IAMx4W ‘cuz I’m not typing that out every single time) on an unsuspecting movie going public and we haven’t been the same since.
A knockout success at the box office, IAMx4W inspired four direct imitations and a host of smaller “race for the prize” movies, not to mention cartoons such as Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races.
Europe turned out Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, its indirect semi-sequel Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies a.k.a Monte Carlo Or Bust, and Those Fantastic Flying Fools a.k.a. Jules Verne’s Rocket To The Moon a.k.a. Blast-Off!
The US offered The Great Race.
All five films are large scale vehicular mayhem comedies with lavishly depicted chases and crashes, employing large overlapping casts.
While all have their merits, I’m focusing on the top two of this epic road race movie sub-genre: IAMx4W and The Great Race.
Mi amigo Mark Evanier will disagree with me, but I prefer The Great Race over IAMx4W for a variety of reasons.
IAMx4W is hilarious but it is a one note comedy. Greed corrupts all who encounter it so thoroughly that there is no point in trying to differentiate the characters by any but the most stereotypical tropes. The chase is the thing, and all the carnage (pun intended) it creates.
But while the title race is its centerpiece, The Great Race is actually about something else entirely. The prize is one of honor in completing a ridiculously impossible feat, and the movie quickly eliminates all competition except for the impossibly virtuous Great Leslie (played with sly self parody by Tony Curtis) and the equally impossibly diabolic Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon chewing the scenery with manic handlebar-twirling intensity).
The grit in the gears of this story is Maggie Dubois (the impossibly effervescent Natalie Wood), whose goal is less about the race itself than in proving herself the equal of any man.
Oh, yes, it’s a feminist comedy, written and directed by Blake Edwards back before most of the key texts of the feminist movement were written. Edwards drew less inspiration from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and more from Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex And The Single Girl.
The Great Race is broad farce, arguably the broadest of the five race comedies, but farce does not mean simplistic nor stupid.
As has been noted else where IAMx4W is a perfect distillation of the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. “There is none righteous, no, not one” could be the log line for this movie. There are no redeeming characters whatsoever: Those who are not consumed with greed are otherwise weak of character and intellect and suitable only for victimization, and even Mike Mazurki’s mission of mercy miner is more than willing to threaten violence to get what he wants.
Even the police are all corrupt in their own little (or not so little) ways, and the police force as a whole supports the larger corruption of the city fathers above them.
It is a very cynical world view and its morality is strictly black and white. Any of the principle characters could bring the story to a screeching halt with a single phone call to the authorities, but that would take an act of selfless moral integrity that none of them are willing to make.
The Great Race does not project so bleak a world. Despite the cartoonish dichotomy between the Great Leslie and Professor Fate, they do not inhabit a world of moral absolutes.
Leslie is generous and forgiving, and while he is skeptical of Maggie Dubois at first, he is nonetheless capable of changing his mind and first accepting her as an equal and then falling in love with her.
And the world they encounter on the road from New York to Paris is morally much richer and more complex than the one in IAMx4W.
All of the subplots in The Great Race reflect some sort of moral choice or ambiguity. Vivian Vance organizes a sit-in strike at her husband’s own office, but at the same time she and her fellow protestors are blocking his door she’s also reminding him of a dinner obligation. Ross Martin and George MacReady may be scheming warmongers, but they sure have the number of drunken Prince Frederick Hoepnick’s (Jack Lemmon again in a double role) and realize he’s woefully incapable of running his kingdom. The Great Leslie is stalled in a Texas town by cowboys determined to show him a good time, and when conditions force cooperation, even Professor Fate and his minion Max (Peter Falk) are capable of at least temporarily burying the hatchet and helping their rivals, a far cry from the naked selfish greed of IAMx4W.
Another key difference is how they use their huge casts.  IAMx4W frequently wastes great talent in a trivial manner: I’m sure Edward Everett Horton and his agent didn’t object to prominent billing and a pay check for a role that could literally have been played just as easily by anybody picked at random from Central Casting. Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, and the Three Stooges all get fleeting but funny cameos that depend on audience knowledge of their onscreen personas, while Carl Reiner and Jesse White get barely anything to do and Stan Freberg’s role consists solely of just sitting in the background and listening to Andy Devine talk.
But in The Great Race, oh my! What wonderful scenes and bits of business and dialog do they get! The Great Race was cast to fill roles, not add star power to the marque, and as a result the supporting cast shines as unique and funny characters.
I know it sounds funny to describe a screwball comedy this way, but The Great Race is actually quite a subtle and complex film, passing judgment on no one and holding out hope for the decency of human beings.
This is not to say IAMx4W isn’t an excellent film; it most certainly is and it delivers the gags steadily and with great skill and gusto. Nothing like it on that scale had ever been seen before and it deserves major props for being first out of the gate and setting the bar so high.
But The Great Race is even better.
 Which the year before The Great Race was gutted and desexualized as a movie, ironically starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis as well as featuring Larry Storch (Texas Jack in The Great Race) in a supporting role.
 By me, if nobody else.
 Boy, that was fun to write!
 Delivery of much needed medicine for his sick wife. And he’s threatening Phil Silvers, so it’s kind of a disappointment he doesn’t clobber him. Silver’s character lacks even the flimsiest shreds of characterization afforded the other actors and is nothing but naked greed and selfishness personified. If he was any more perfect an embodiment of the id, he would be coming out of a Krell machine and trying to kill Leslie Nielsen.
 The argument could be made that he falls in love with her because she is his equal; none before her have been worthy.
 It’s especially telling when one compares the characters played by three performers who were in both films. Dorothy Provine is a wishy-washy milquetoast in IAMx4W but a vivacious fireball in The Great Race, Peter Falk is reduced to a stereotypical Brooklyn cabbie (in Southern California!) but serves as one of the key comedic lynchpins in Blake Edward’s film, and even Marvin Kaplan, playing his patented put upon poor soul, has much more to do as Arthur Kennedy’s copy editor than Jonathan Winter’s punching bag.
 Chaplin and Keaton made physically large scale comedies (The Gold Rush and The General being two examples among many) built around smaller, more personal stories. W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth took great delight in leading a battalion of kamikaze model-Ts on a mission of vengeance against road hogs in 1932’s If I Had A Million, but they were only one segment in a series of filmed vignettes which typically focused on much smaller stories. Around The World In 80 Days is often pointed to as the precursor of IAMx4W and other prize race comedies using large numbers of cameo stars, but it lacks the insane / intense direct competition of the later films and comes nowhere close to the same level on onscreen motor mayhem.
Scott A. Shuford, yrs trly, Cory Jones, B Dave Walters,
Travis Hanson, Alesha L. Escobar and Luis Escobar.
Thanx, B Dave Walters!