Sunday, November 02, 2014

#775. Rolling Stone 1217

Last month I read Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.), which among other things got me thinking about investigative journalism.  At work recently I saw a copy of Rolling Stone with Robin Williams on the cover, referencing of course his death last August, and so I had a look at the magazine, a complete issue, for the first time in ages.  Back in high school (would this have been the last time Rolling Stone was actually cool, or just the last time I myself was paying attention?) I read it all the time.  Rolling Stone, in case you've never read much less heard of it, is a rock 'n' roll magazine that's also known for Peter Travers' movie reviews, music reviews, and yes, investigative journalism.  Mostly, it's a magazine that took rock pretty seriously about taking an alternative approach to life, not so much what we consider alternative today (because the thing the '80s did to alternative music and alternative everything else was, apparently, irrevocably split it so that it's increasingly uncommon for any one person to experience all or most of what there is out there; sucks culturally to be so splintered and isolated, but at least there's a lot of diversity!).

The Williams story is itself pretty interesting, since his own history in Rolling Stone is probably indicative of the arc his life took.  There's reference to the three other cover stories he merited, and they came from 1979 (circa Mork & Mindy), 1988 (Good Morning, Vietnam), and 1991 (Awakenings).  Post-1991, you could say, Williams went a little too mainstream, which is that odd period of public life after you've become famous (Mork & Mindy) and you somehow stay there institutionally for a little too long (the '90s seemed to be unforgivable success for Williams, including the sonic id of Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and even Good Will Hunting; it seems strange, since given his track record with the magazine and how The Birdcage was ahead of the road-to-LGBT-community-culturally-accepted era, you might actually have expected that to have rated a cover, too; although even his early '00s stretch of dark roles, including One Hour Photo but for me, more significantly, Insomnia with Al Pacino and Christopher Nolan, didn't merit much more than an oh-that's-interesting reaction).

Williams was undoubtedly uniquely talented, but he definitely fell victim to our increasingly fragmented society, which is also why most of the movies that are wildly popular these days are event movies and movie stars are the people who manage to be cast in lots of them (which is actually good news for Tom Hardy but also a major reason Samuel L. Jackson is among the top-earning stars despite pretty much never starring in his own movies).  Used to be, movie stars were defined by their ability to make any of their releases the latest event movie.  Williams was one of the early victims, critics suddenly finding it very easy to completely overlook whatever he was doing.  I remember Man of the Year in particular, in which he basically plays Jon Stewart running for president, and the only thing anyone said about that was how Williams was far too mainstream to pull off Jon Stewart.  That would have been an absurd statement at the height of the Rolling Stone covers era (which was ironically right before Rolling Stone stopped caring).

The rest of the issue has compelling material, too, which is why I decided to write about it here, getting back to Larsson's ideas in his trilogy  Larsson himself was Swedish, so everything he had to say about investigative journalism should be understood to reflect Sweden directly, but crusading journalists were huge news in the United States at one time, thanks to Watergate.  I still don't quite understand the Watergate scandal.  I mean, I get that Nixon was officially exposed as, I don't know, incredibly paranoid.  I guess he was also exposed, I don't know, as a politician working on getting reelected?  (Oh no!  They stole campaign secrets!  It reminds me of the "scandal" I keep hearing on sports radio about the Patriots being "exposed" for stealing play calls during their incredible championship run in the early '00s.  I mean, who doesn't?  All this is really about is trying to bring down a team or a president you don't like.  Well, congratulations.)

The last time there was serious investigative journalism in the US was during the Clinton presidency.  I don't know if you remember, but that wasn't just a time where we joked about inhaling or what the dude was doing with personal assistants and getting impeached for it or even Primary Colors, but there was huge paranoid right wing talk about all the people the administration was eliminating behind the scenes.  That was the whole reason the Democrats officially declared war on the Republicans, why they hated Bush even before he officially became president (when is it ever acceptable to make fun of someone because they have a penchant for misspeaking? but that's all you heard for years about the guy, until people made it official to declare Iraq the new Vietnam, which is to say even before the war began), and how Obama (it's true) became president (because he declared most smoothly that, basically, he wasn't Bush, something he began uttering, and if you click the "politics" label you'll see I even remarked on that at the time, in 2004).

But you don't hear anything of that concerning Clinton's legacy these days.  The latest smear journalism we've gotten was the Chris Christie Crisis.  I don't mean to turn this whole blog into a political quagmire (which is why I don't generally talk politics), or declare one party to be better than the other (the truth is, they're pretty much equal, except on the issues they zealously defend without really thinking about them, and are as such convenient smokescreens for their constituents more than anything).  No, instead we're headed toward Hillary officially being president (it kind of seems inevitable at this point, although I guess we'll see in two years), right after the last time anyone heard from her was how she probably wouldn't run because, you know, health scare.

The irony of all that is that one of the stories I want to talk about is exactly about the ridiculousness of US politics, and how the platform you're reading from is bound to try and gear its perspective, come hell or high water (but enough about Chris Christie!) based on its political bent.  It's Tim Dickinson's feature entitled "Biggest Tax Scam Ever," which if you can believe it exposes big corporations of being incredibly greedy.  Shocking, I know!  I'm of the mind where we're basically at the point where we need a modern equivalent of the trust-busting, monopoly (but not the game Monopoly) era that saw the end of the big businessmen of a different age (Rockefeller, names like that).  You'd think the Great Recession and everything everyone knows that led to it would have already led to this, but I guess not.  The problem is, except for a few names, most of the big businessmen of this era are completely anonymous.  You know geeky Bill Gates, but there are so many others you just don't.  Anyway, Dickinson explains how corporations exploit tax loopholes that allow them to hide the vast sums of their fortunes on foreign land.  He even goes so far as to detail how these practices began (in the Clinton era), but goes on to blame Bush for the bulk of it (because, Republicans!), and tries to paint Obama in a sympathetic light ("we're working on that!") even though the problem has only gotten worse under him.

Nice work, Dickinson.  But I don't think Sweden will sweat your work.  I don't think anyone will.  Maybe things really do work differently in Sweden, but I think Woodward and Bernstein were the last time anyone worried about journalists in the US.  I find that to be a problem.  Where's the worth of public accountability if everyone who works so hard to screw everyone else (oh wait, I think I just identified the problem...) can so consistently get away with it?

There's also an article about LGBT teens who end up homeless because their parents threw them out.  This is a legitimately sad one and perhaps the only real piece of journalism in the magazine.  Curiously, as I noted early, we're in an era where society has acknowledged more than ever before (at least in modern times; curiously the whole reason Oliver Stone's brilliant Alexander landed to such popular opposition was because it featured the title Great one in a time when people were openly bisexual) that LGBTs exist, so I don't know why there isn't greater support for these outcasts.  I mean, why are they even outcasts at all?  You would think a country that successfully (although it seems less and less so sometimes, after public outcries over Trayvon Martin and Ferguson) learned from the Civil Rights era would be more culturally accepting, but then, we still have a huge problem with immigration even though we're a whole country of immigrants.  (Seriously, my hometown newspaper, the Sun Journal, for some reason had a whole article about immigrants who for one reason or another chose not to apply for citizenship; I understand that newspapers, like magazines, face greater opposition than physical books and therefore will try anything to try and reclaim readers, which Sun Journal has clearly been trying to do in recent months, but they need to make a little more sense than that article did, considering it chose for examples people other than anyone who was actually relevant to these particular immigration times, which for instance in Maine in particular is Somali-heavy.)

...I didn't really mean to deviate greatly from what this blog is usually about (although I think I've done enough of this kind of talk where it isn't completely unusual), but.  Larsson.  Blame Stieg Larsson.  Which is okay, although also hugely unfortunate, because he's dead.

To lighten the post up a little, the issue also has a ridiculous interview with Ariana Grande, who apparently has seen demons  Or something.  When I first heard "Problem," I thought it was kind of dumb.  But it's not so bad.  So, "Problem":

There's also a really positive review for the latest Maroon 5 album, plus recommendations for fall movie releases, plus my favorite article, detailing the imminent release of Bob Dylan and the Band's complete Basement Tapes sessions from 1967, an apparently fruitful, mythic, and nearly lost slice of Dylanalia.

I don't if any of this makes you want to read Rolling Stone (also, Almost Famous and the career of Cameron Crowe, which is oddly reflected in a tribute to Charles M. Young), but I figured it was worth writing about.


Pat Dilloway said...

Fox "News" should hire you to write stories for them. The problem with Watergate wasn't probably as much the breaking and entering to get campaign secrets as the Nixon administration's attempts to cover it up. As you learn when you're a kid (and yet people never seem to really learn) is that lying just makes it a lot worse.

The problem with "journalism" these days is that all the networks and newspapers are owned by huge corporations, thus limiting their independence. Really just go watch "Network" and you see how that's more true today than it was in the 70s.

Anyway, Robin Williams went through what Jim Carrey has been for the last few years and God willing Adam Sandler will someday undergo, that point where people just get tired of your comedic schtick and yet don't really want to view you as a dramatic actor. Bill Murray managed to avoid that fate by doing indie movies with Wes Anderson.

Tony Laplume said...

Murray's popular career was over by the start of the '90s, though. His indie career saved his career. Not at all comparable to Williams.

And anyway, yeah.

Pat Dilloway said...

Are you forgetting about Groundhog Day? But you're right they aren't comparable as Williams never had a Wes Anderson.

Tony Laplume said...

1993 counts as the start of the '90s.

Spacer Guy said...

Its interesting how attitudes over time reflect how far we've trekked from the petty prejudices of the past.

In Star Trek's classic series Spock was occasionally called a half-breed to remind everyone including Spock that he was half human and half vulcan.

You could argue 'halfbreed' was not real prejudice because the good doctor never meant to cause any real harm. However Spock's human half was affected emotionally but the vulcan just wouldn't admit it, which is why Bones said them in the first place.

Tony Laplume said...

I've got a mini-McCoy story cooking. I think I'll have to address that.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...