My problem with Clone Wars, in less than 700 words

Part of the real problem I have with the Clone Wars series concept is making the good guys out of the clone troopers —”today we fight for all our brothers back home,” and all that shit. It’s like doing an origin story on the actual stormtroopers and making an animated kids series that says, hey, the Gestapo wasn’t so bad. They had pals and feelings too. No, sometimes evil is evil. Or rather, an interesting series could be made to show there is more to it than that (well, not the Gestapo angle) and the duality of man and that “Jungian thing,” to quote Private Joker, and all that. And if there is, it could make for a rather interesting series; but it takes a hell of a lot better storyteller than the 21st century George Lucas to pull that off.

No, it’s easier to market a bunch of Clone Troopers™ talking helmets and lunchboxes and toy guns and color-accented white armor. Sure, every once in a while Yoda will say something sage or Yogi Berra-like, such as “fight for us now they do, but always in motion is the future,” and “go to that restaurant, no one does; too crowded it is.” Still, that hasn’t slowed down the sales of Clone Trooper toys and gear and Halloween costumes and shit. Everytime I see a kid with this stuff in Target I want to tell them, um, son, these are the guys that will later burn Luke’s aunt and uncle to death.

I get that Lucas wanted to show that Luke Skywalker’s daddy was a fallen knight who was a great fighter but had poor control of his temper and even poorer judgement in aging supreme chancellors. I understand Lucas’ overarching theme that “the film is about human frailties; it’s not about monsters,” as he noted regarding Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi in the 1985 documentary “From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga.” But I fear the Clone Wars revision goes too far in making Anakin out to be a good (and marketable) guy with just a few minor problems that can be fixed with some psychological and pharmacological help and, oh, what’s that? He cut off Mace Windu’s arm, killed a bunch of children, and then choked his wife? Well, I guess he’s a rotten guy after all. I think it’s a bit of a bridge too far, and it’s too tough a nut for Lucas to crack, especially for what he has insisted is a kids’ saga. If you’re talking Sméagol and Gollum, well, now you’re onto something, and something perhaps intended for more mature fantasy-saga audiences. But no one is out buying build-your-own Gollum’s lightsabres for their 7-year-old at Toys Я Us (well, that might be something I might buy). Anakin’s much more marketable as a lovable, James Dean-ish good guy with a dark streak rather than as, say, Hitler Jr.

It’s all so much revisionist (fictional, of course) history. It amazes me how much of the original trilogy isn’t in the new trilogy. Hell, it amazes me how much of the Phantom Menace isn’t in the other two flicks in that half-saga, though, I’m not complaining about the sudden diminished Gungan/Jar Jar Binks factor (though I wince every time I am reminded of the Clone Wars series’ Ahsoka character — is there really a major character in that series nicknamed “Snips”?). It’s like, every once in a while I need to hiccuup and go, oh, yeah, Liam Neeson was in that, and five years after an amazing performance as Oskar Schindler, no less.

I imagine, in 30 years or so, a cryogenically prolonged George Lucas will come out with a prequel to the prequels to show that Emperor Palpatine really wasn’t such a bad guy when he began, that he was just a humble politician that wanted to serve one term and save the Galaxy from some fascist socialist politician spending his children’s future away on Valorumcare, but got too caught up in his own Second Amendment Remedies, and then once he met Darth Plagueis, watch out.

(This started out as a screed in less than 400 words, but I digress.)


Bombast and baseball

Darryl Strawberry created a stir the other day by claiming his 1986 Mets team was better than his 1998 Yankees team. Without going into the merits of his argument, the negative zeal of Yankee fans in defending their team reminded me much of what has gone wrong with this country and why I am happy to be rooting for a team other than the New York Yankees. Naturally, as was pointed out by some commenters, Strawberry’s contributions to the 1986 Mets were more critical and prominent than those he added to the 1998 Yankees, so in this, the 25th anniversary of that ’86 team, he might have a bias. Still, it’s one thing to disagree with a man, but quite another to spew venom and viciousness scant few levels shy of Hank Williams Jr.

Few reasonable responses should be expected by commenters on an ESPN site (though I fully agree with this quite reasonable hypothesis). But the arrogance, the bile showering forth from many fans of the most honored franchise in baseball history is disgusting. Once I felt as though the Yankees were occupied by the conquering force of the late George M. Steinbrenner and his offspring — clearly, the fans are the ones who are the ones occupying this franchise. I am glad I am not a part of it. Hell, even the dugout is more reflective and self-aware than their fan base.

Society suffers these days from an undercurrent lacking in humility and grace and an overabundance of greed, arrogance, and bombast. The most vocal (and, hence, the de facto representative) Yankee fans have it in spades, and that’s why I needed to leave that fold. I am not naive enough to think that if another sports teams had their success rate and resources, they would not be as obnoxious or as utterly lacking in self-reflection and empathy, but there you have it; these are the times in which we live.

When, as vocal Yankees fans and the team’s president, Randy Levine, openly admit that anything less than winning the World Series a failure and a bitter disappointment — not mere disappointment but a failure and bitterness and all that implies — I think you get to the core of being a Yankee fan these days. In many ways, it reflects the current rot as it exists in many sectors of America’s economic society. It’s of a piece to what those involved with Occupy Wall Street movement are protesting against. And this is not to argue in favor of accepting failure, or of a socialist view of the world, or against capitalism, or against intrinsic success in favor of lovable losers. But success takes many forms. It does not mean that only one team in baseball is a Success and the 29 others Failures. There is one team that is a champion. Though by the measure of athletics, it essentially equates to 29 losers, it does not equate to 29 failures. The inability to see that, and the attendant lust for greed that accompanies this worldview, does not bode well for American society and its need to take care of all and to show forms of grace and humility.

Yankee fans of a previous era, perhaps, say, before the 21st century began (to select a convenient starting point), could win and enjoy their successes without this insatiable need for greed, for apocalyptic dominance, for suffering for winning only one of the past three World Series, while simultaneously dismissing and belittling the accomplishments of anyone else. It is hard to image the fans of the Fifties Yankess, the Twenties Yankees, even the Seventies Yankees, behaving so poorly.

Likewise, corporate leaders and captains of industry, while having a long history of opulence themselves, did not quite show the greedy disconnect that they show now, except perhaps in the trust-busting days of Theodore Roosevelt.  When Jeff Imeltt doesn’t bat an eye for building his success on using overseas workers (and, by easy extension, putting Americans out of work) while acting as the country’s jobs czar, it’s all part and parcel of the same arrogance and greed that is ruining America’s economy for all but the most comfortable.


Mets GM: Opportunities lost and found

Now the worst-kept non-secret in town official, Sandy Alderson was is expected to be announced as the new Mets general manager on Friday.

I admit to having perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the news he was the front-runner for the job a few weeks ago, particularly since the rumor mill had Tony LaRussa joining him. Blissfully, the pompous LaRussa is staying in St. Louis. So I am now more than a bit optimistic that the near-63-year-old Alderson can turn things around for the Amazin’s (though I still stand by my agreement with columnist Bill Madden that a general managership is a younger man’s game).

Alderson was a chief executive in the Oakland A’s organization from 1983 to 1998. He was Oakland’s GM in the late ’80s when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were known as the Bash Brothers. That duo later became notable for their admitted steroid use, as did a later Oakland slugger, Jason Giambi (though Giambi didn’t become a full-time player until 1997, he came up in an organization with two steroid-using sluggers as star attractions, at least raising the question if the steroid culture, as prevalent as it was in the Major Leagues in the ’90s, was even more prevalent in Oakland).

Alderson should have to answer for this at some point. But just not at his introductory press conference, as ESPN columnist Ian O’Connor suggests (h/t MetsBlog).

(Digression No. 1: Ian O’Connor is a writer I greatly admired, and still do. We used to run his column in the lousy paper where I toiled more than a decade ago. My dream as a kid was to grow up to become a New York sportswriter, and when I was an exurban-New York high school sportswriter in my mid-to-late-20s, I narrowed my dream to become a columnist like him and his fellow Daily News alum Mark Kriegel. That dream for me died a slow and then final death for a variety of reasons beginning more than 10 years ago (some largely self-inflicted), and I stopped reading O’Connor regularly when I entered my own post-sportswriting exile, but he seems to have obviously done some great work since.)

(Digression No. 2: As I tried to point out on MetsBlog (my comment seems to be in perpetual moderation), in response to a comment about sportswriters not doing due diligence during the steroid era, Steve Wilstein stands alone. He was the AP scribe who spotted and then asked McGwire about the bottle of Andro in his locker during the ’98 homer chase. Wilstein’s sportswriting brethren largely left him twisting unsupported in the wind that summer while sales of Andro boomed after Wilstein’s story broke. In the face of a popular groundswell for McGwire and follow homer run chaser/suspected cheat Sammy Sosa, I am ashamed to admit that I can’t say I’d do anything different in asking such unpopular questions in the face of such overwhelming popularity. Though at least I can be certain and proud of the fact that I wouldn’t have asked for a hug from my buddy McGwire, as Joe Buck embarrassingly did.)

(Digression No. 3: Wilstein and his andro reportage was covered in Ken Burns’ recent addendum to his PBS “Baseball” documentary, “The Tenth Inning.” To me, the now-retired Steve Wilstein is a sportswriting version of an American hero. They should erect a statue of him in a press box of his chosing.)

I disagree with many of my fellow Mets fans on MetsBlog who largely say that Alderson is not coming here to talk about the past, which sounds dangerously close to his former star’s dispiriting and damning 2005 testimony to Congress. Alderson should talk about the past. But I’m going to punt and say that’s both a talk he can give later, and a penance he’s already begun to pay for.

I think the steroid culture of the Bash Brothers is a spot on Alderson’s record. Some day he should answer for it. But why now? This is not President Bush squandering an opportunity to talk straight with the American public nine years ago — instead of asking for the shared sacrifice our country gave circa 1941 to 1945, he told us to go shopping.

This is not that moment for Sandy Alderson (the steroids-in-baseball version of it, anyway). I’m not sure when that moment will come, or if it already came and went, another opportunity missed. Perhaps it came and went in 2005 on the “60 Minutes” program O’Connor refers to. Perhaps it came and went when Alderson was hired by the Padres earlier this decade or when Bud Selig hired him earlier this year to help clean up problems (steroids chief among them) in baseball in the prospects-rich Dominican Republic.

And not to give Alderson a pass, but perhaps his effort over the last eight months to try to police steroids in the Dominican at least pays some of that penance, an unspoken, unacknowledged atonement of sorts, a reckoning, however brief and targeted it may have been.

Being a fan — particularly an ex-Yankee fan/now-diehard-Mets fan — and an ex-sportswriter involves living with a large helping of hypocrisy (hell, being me involves a large degree of hypocrisy, but that’s a whole other series of blog posts. I feel like Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday: “It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”). Apologies, if they are still to come, can come later. I’m looking forward to the Alderson era in Metsdom and all the opportunities it presents, today and in the future.


What Don Draper wants vs. what we expect of him

So,  perhaps it wasn’t the ending many fans wanted and hoped for. If that’s want what you want, “Friends” is probably still on re-runs on one of the Turner stations.

Don Draper blew up a consistent source of income for an advertising firm — Big Tobacco — last week in a gamble designed to save his firm. He ultimately couldn’t take another gamble by blowing up his Don Draper identity, as Faye Miller suggested at the start of Sunday’s season finale.

Don has spent his entire adulthood chasing the idea of who he wants to be, rather than who he really is, a central theme to this season, this show, and, not coincidentally, what advertising sells to us, the people. Or, as Draper told Faye in Episode 2 of this season: people are torn between “what I want versus what’s expected of me.” With all we know and have seen of Don Draper, how he sells products as much as he sells his identity on a daily basis, why would he want to be “stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us,” even if a potential visit from the G-men sends him into panic attacks and nervous breakdowns? And aren’t we all a little bit incapable of change? Or as Don once told Faye (wrongly, as it turns out): “You can’t tell how people will behave based on how they have behaved.”

Who doesn’t, sometimes, commiserate with Don Draper? I know I do, torn between who I want to be and who I am, what I want versus what’s expected of me. Is it true that “every time something good happens, something bad happens,” as Peggy puts it? Or can you simply retreat, even for a day, into what you want to be and not do what’s expected of you without consequences? Or do you have to be Don Draper, and ignore those consequences as much as possible?

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On the other hand, you could simply read Greg’s excellent “interview” with Don Draper on how he’d fix the Mets and improve the Amazin’s fan base at Faith and Fear in Flushing.


Yankee Stadium flotsam and jetstream

Re: Homers by Bengie Molina and Josh Hamilton in Game 4 (addendum, 11:59 p.m.: and, another by Hamilton and one by Nelson Cruz);
To: Monstrous New Yankee Stadium boosters: When you build a bandbox with the dimensions of a Little League field, don’t groan when your opponents also sock multiple home runs to put a dagger in your hearts. You can’t move the fences out at the top of every inning.

Update, 11:07 p.m.: Was that Nite Owl (who also had the affair with the heavenly Kate Winslet in Little Children) singing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch?


Reason No. 613 to hate the Yankees

Cliff Lee did great in his final audition in front of the Bronx faithful, though not sure how faithful they all are when a sizable portion of them abandoned the game before its conclusion. Hey, Yankee fans: Your team scored 5 runs in the eighth inning a few days ago, on the road — is it too much to ask for you to stay until the end of a game, particularly considering you needed to take a second mortgage out for your seats? You’re a disgrace to “Freddy Sez” Schuman, who died on Monday at age 85.

Anyway, Jay Mohr was (somehow) right — one of the primary reasons I can no longer root for the Yanks is reflected in Mohr’s quote to the Daily News in Sunday’s paper:

“I was a Yankees fan when I was growing up but when the organization had the audacity to tear down the old Yankee Stadium  to somehow make it better and bigger and brighter, it just became this embarrassment of wealth where every year I’m supposed to root for a guy that I booed eight months ago, like Randy Johnson or Kevin Brown. ‘Oh yeah, now I like him because he is wearing pinstripes.’ It’s just too much.”

Not to worry Bronx Boosters: Cliff Lee will be yours in a matter of weeks. If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll get to see him at call-backs beating your team once more.


No, but I played one in St. Elmo’s Fire

I had to do a triple-take when I read this:

Actor-writer McCarthy named Travel Journalist of the Year

(Romenesko, Poynter Online, via Society of American Travel Writers)

Yes, Andrew McCarthy, Gen X sensitive-character actor who played a budding journalist secretly in love with pearl-necklace-wearing Ally Sheedy in St. Elmo’s Fire, has won the “2010 Travel Journalist of the Year in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition.”

I know nothing of McCarthy’s writings, but as the overly super-sensitive guy in my formative years, of course I always connected with his characters (my favorite movie of his was 1985’s Heaven Help Us; nearly unashamedly, Weekend At Bernie’s takes place money on my Andrew McCarthy flick list).


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