About Rex
Name: Rex Stetson
Occupation: Masked Avenger Type
Base of Operations: Washington, DC
E-Mail: rexstetson@yahoo.com
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 Other Blogs of Interest
The Young Curmudgeon
Notes from the Lounge
Reason Hit and Run
The Anal Philosopher
Justice Junction
Perverted Justice
Mr. X
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Friday, September 12, 2003

Jack Tripper Is Dead.

Ok, I could handle Death Wish dying, he was old, and we all saw it coming. I had sort of prepared myself for the death of Johnny Cash- who was too sick to attend the MTV Video Music Awards this year, and who died yesterday. I had prepared myself for these small sadnesses the way people could prepare themselves for the 9/11 anniversary, or the way Catholics are prepping themselves for the imminent death of Pope John Paul II- because it was so blatantly obvious and expected, if rude to publicly predict. The media stockpiles these little obit stories for beloved entertainers that are sick or ancient, so they are ready to go before the body is cold. But the death of John Ritter really truly bums me out. I grew up on Three's Company, I still watch it, it still makes me laugh. And the show's material wasn't exactly well-written or highbrow. It succeeded purely because of John Ritter's performance- his likeabilty, his expert timing, and of course his skilled physical comedy. Landlords and roommates were interchangeable, but Jack Tripper was the star.

He had a few other successful tv shows after that: Hooperman, Hearts Afire, 8 Simple Rules, the latter being a big hit. But nothing will ever match Three's Company. He tried his hand at the movie business- proving he could do drama as well, and recieved critical acclaim, particularly for his performance in Sling Blade (1996). My favorite John Ritter movies are more obscure, and I really recommend them to any fans of his work who might not have seen them- they are interesting spins on his likeable "everyman" persona:


1) Hero At Large (1980) John plays a struggling nice-guy actor who wears a superhero costume to promote a movie, but he gets so into the role that after foiling a robbery attempt, he inadvertantly becomes a real-life superhero, inspiring the city, and getting exploited by the media and crooked politicians. It's a forgotten film, in the tradition of Meet John Doe (1941). It's also a sharp critique of the media, and a surprisingly serious exploration of the dangers (psychological as well as physical) a real-life superhero would face. A must-see for fans of the superhero genre.

2) Real Men (1987) John plays a nice but wishy-washy father who is recrutied by a the CIA to save the world, because he happens to be a look-alike for a dead agent. During the course of the mission, he finds that acting the part helps him find his inner strength, and not only does he save the world, but he discovers his own potential as a man, as a father, as a fighter, as a hero. A great performance- a convincing transformation from loser to action hero. It's an action-comedy, but it explores some real issues involving what makes a "real" man: monogamy vs. promiscuity, fatherhood and family vs. single life, and protector vs. agressor roles. Fun movie all around.

The death of John Ritter has really, truly saddened me, in a way that I can't quite describe. It reminds me most of when Jim Henson died (another favorite of children of the '80s) and the Muppets have never been the same, I don't care if the last crappy muppet film was slightly better than the ten crappy ones that came before it since he died. Maybe his best work was behind him, but maybe he had a few more "Sling Blade"s in him. And readers who are familiar with the Citizen Kane of Graphic Novels, WATCHMEN, can appreciate what I mean when I say he would have been the perfect Night Owl, in the film version that seems to be finally gearing up.

Maybe the sadness I feel today (a day after the 9/11 anniversary) comes from yet another reminder that death can come suddenly and end it all without warning- whether you go to work in a scyscraper one morning and get crashed into by a hijacked plane, or like John Ritter, some random heart defect you never knew you had kills you one day. It could happen to any of us, or any of our loved ones.

Posted by Rex @ 10:40 AM

Thursday, September 11, 2003

9/11: Rex Remembers And So Should You

I usually don't advocate wallowing in grief- I like the old tradition of mourning for a year (wearing a black armband or dress)after a death in the family. By that reckoning, we should just "get over" 9/11- it's been long enough, although it is still understandable and forgivable for those who wish not to get back to "normal", and I don't begrudge them their way of dealing with it.

However- we are still at war, and *that* is something that we *can't* forget, the way we couldn't forget Pearl Harbor a year or two later and just "move on".

I was in New York City the evening before the attacks, having spent a long weekend there visiting friends both of whom worked a few blocks from the WTC. We talked about meeting for lunch at Windows on The World the next day, but I had already stayed too long and was missing school. I remember being disappointed because in all my trips to NYC I had never been up to the top of the WTC and it was one of the things on my list that time. We had almost gone there for dinner the night before, but we decided we weren't dressed appropriately. So lunch some day before I left, then. Didn't get around to it on monday. No rush- I come to NY all the time, and it's not like the WTC is going anywhere.

Between the two of them, my friends in Lower Manhattan saw just about everything: the two planes hit, all the death and destruction, the collapse, the evacuation of Manhattan, the fighter jets roaring overhead. They were among the people covered head to toe in that thick grey debris. Their stories are far more moving than mine. Others experienced far worse. The most moving stories of that day, of course, will never be told.

I was relieved my friends were alive, and as soon as the nationwide ground stop was lifted, I hopped a plane back to NY. I saw the smouldering ruins of the WTC a week or so after 9/11 and I can still remember: The surprising size of it all- the scope of which was not captured by the small tv screen, and I will never forget that unique smell- like burned drywall, and how it stuck in my nose. And how it stuck on every surface in lower manhattan, the tiny dust particles everywhere- from the thin film on the bottom of my shoes to a buildup of several inches on storfront windowsills. All the enormous darkened buildings that you didn't see on tv, some of them with pieces of other buildings several stories high blasted through them. And the above-ground parking garage with cars crumpled like old soda cans, some of them still dimly blinking in the darkness due to some trauma-induced electrical quirk, like the twitching foot of a corpse).
The awed silence of the staring crowds. The army deployed in Battery Park. It looked like a war zone. It was.

For those of you who didn't see the devastation firsthand, I can only emphasize that no matter how much you saw on your tv, no tv screen could capture the awesome enormous scale of the scene. It was unbelievably huge in real life- and the damage was not confined to "Ground Zero", but spread over blocks and blocks of damaged buildings. The army had a perimeter of a block or two surrounding Ground Zero, but we knew the area well enough that we could sneak around for a closer look.

That's how I'll remember 9-11, by *remembering* it, even if I am not in mourning, and remembering the context in which it occurred: as an act of war declared upon America, a war yet unfinished.

Last year, it was trendy to make remembering a big media event- the 1 year anniversary. This year we're allowed to remember, but it's not in vogue, not as preferable as "moving on": The media wants us to take off our black armband and get on with life-enough already, snap out of it. It's been two years and no follow-up attack- not on Americans anyway, except for Americans in Israel or Iraq, and I guess it just "serves them right" for going to that part of the world, and for opposing Islamofascism on its own territory. The media thinks this is a "discretionary war" now. Well, it's dicretionary as to how and where we fight it, and reasonable people can disagree on the best strategy. But it's a war we didn't start, and we can't ignore it or forget about it- our enemies won't lose their determination and resolve. They won't forget their greatest acheivement, so don't you- that's what they're counting on.

Posted by Rex @ 9:35 AM

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Goofy-Ass Looking Rainbow Sissy Money To Debut October 9th

New Rainbow-colored $20's are set to debut on October 9th. The goofy-looking bills incorporate a peach-colored background, blue eagles, the traditional black and green ink, and little yellow "20"s all over the place. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving offers an interactive demonstration of the bill's features.

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is just the first stage in a plan to transition us to using the Euro... easing us into it by getting us comfortable using candy-colored sissy money...

Posted by Rex @ 1:08 PM

Bowling For Genocide

Leni Riefenstahl, documentarian and Nazi propagandist, best known for her 1934 film Triumph of The Will , has died at age 101. The Internet Movie Database called Triumph "a chilling prequel to genocide".

Even in her later years, Riefenstahl continued to express an admiration for Adolf Hitler, and remained unrepentant about her role in promoting Nazi ideology and anti-semitism:

"I don't know what I should apologize for," she said. "I cannot apologize, for example, for having made the film 'Triumph of the Will' — it won the top prize. All my films won prizes."

Riefenstahl also denied that her films were propaganda, insisting that they were straight documentaries, and denying any responsibility for the consequences of the political ideology they advocated. In that sense she was the Michael Moore of her day. Fame, critical acclaim and all the "top prizes" have been showered upon his popular and political documentaries. Moore's masterful filmmaking skills and populist humor make him a formidable propagandist, allowing him to audiences with his left-wing ideology through clever editing tricks, quotes taken out of context, omission of relevant information, and outright lying.

But mere critical acclaim does not absolve a filmmaker from moral responsibility for the value judgements they make in their work, and especially not when they claim to be "documentarians". Though never prosecuted as a war criminal, Riefenstahl's career suffered for her Nazi apologism, as Fascism gave way to Socialism as the populist philosophy fashionable among film critics.

Perhaps Mr. Moore, whose latest film, the Bush-bashing Farenheit 9/11, will be similarly reassessed in the future. Comments like this one may help:

Michael Moore on 9/11:
"Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!”

Apparently the red states would have been fair game. Spoken like someone without an extreme political bias...

For the record, I happen to enjoy Mr. Moore's work- I find his choices of controversial subject matter refreshingly brave, his fillms entertaining, thought-provoking, and funny- and his technical skills are truly praiseworthy. I fully support his right to make any extreme political statement he wants, and I'll probably even shell out a few bucks to hear what he has to say.

But he is not a documentarian, and neither was Riefenstahl. Good riddance.

Posted by Rex @ 12:31 PM

Attention Paid

Happily some political commentators in the media have followed my lead in recognizing the late Charles Bronson as an influential cultural figure over the past few decades, primarily due to the film Death Wish, which, like the film Dirty Harry, struck a chord with many Americans frustrated with high crime and ineffective policing, who wished to reclaim their cities from the great urban crime wave. As Paul Greenberg writes:

In those pre-Giuliani times, we were supposed to take the Decline of America as an unavoidable fate, or at least habit, and not fight it, just manage it. And here was this movie hero doing what all of us secretly yearned to do - wipe out the bad guys, In his own, B-movie way, Charles Bronson had been a social and political forerunner. He wasn't just an actor but a genre.

Similarly, one of my fave online haunts, Reason Online, has a fine piece by editor Jesse Walker, in which he examines the role of Bronson's Vigilante and Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry in shaping American culture, and offers a brief survey of and comment on the vigilante genre's evolution:

Today the superhuman vigilante and the liberal vigilante have converged, with a series of wildly successful films about sensitive crime-fighters in costume. If you're curious about how Hollywood has changed in the last 30 years, meditate on the differences between Bronson's middle-aged killer and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man

It's good to finally see more solid analysis out there regarding the role of America's modern folklore and mythology in shaping its political theater and social policy: like the superhero, the supercop, the superpresident and so forth. Be it life imitating art or the other way round, there is a fairly straight through-line from the old-west/Lone Ranger/Cowboy mentality to the Unilateralist foreign policy of today, and from Independence Day to the George W. Bush Action figure. For a scholarly examination of these subjects, readers are encouraged to check out the works of Drs. John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett.

Posted by Rex @ 10:07 AM

Monday, September 08, 2003

Scientists: Ecstasy OK After All- Sorry About The RAVE Act!

I don' t usually blog about drug issues, but here's one that caught my eye, as an example of how bad science leads to bad policy leads to unintended bad consequences:
Apparently the anti-ecstasy crowd just lost some
legitimacy to their argument about how horrible raves are, as it was revealed that
the long-standing claims of Ecstacy's neurotoxicity
were the result of a labelling error
on the drug
samples used in the research. What the monkey's actually ate was Methamphetamine, or "speed", not Methlyine Dioxymethanphetamine (MDMA) the chemical name for Ecstasy.

Whoops! Just goes to show those scientists: You gotta know your dealer- you never know what you're getting....
Seriously though: The article talks about
how this research was used to fuel Ecstasy fears and gain support for the dreaded
RAVE Act...which even the Bill's sponsor now concedes , undercuts all sorts of civil liberties protections including free speech and freedom of assembly.

Supposedly the scientists involved had no bias against the drug. But it's pretty sad that no one bothered to debunk this sooner, and let their drug hysteria lead them into supporting a quick, draconian attempt at a solution to an phony "epidemic", and liberty be damned. "We are scared, we want Security, take out freedom- please!" The masses cried. These are great mainstream, the centrists- the bell curvers- the panciky sail upon which the great wind of mediocrity blows and drags us all, the rudder of the boat steered by those deft enough to manipulate the masses. Well, these are the people who put Hitler in power. In America they were a little less desperate, but just as pliable: allowing their elected leaders to support Social Security, The War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, the PATRIOT Act, etc.? At last count, I don't think we're that much more secure for all these programs...

I'm sure that once that retraction in the journal Science hits, they will amend the RAVE Act and restore some civil liberities....after the huge public outcry of course... ha ha.

Posted by Rex @ 3:47 PM

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