Gen X GOP: The Next Generation

What’s a superhero without super-villains? Barack Obama and the Democrats were first to the finish line with the first member of Generation X elected president.

But as a previously (and possibly once-again) conservative-leaning generation, the politicians who came of age during the Reagan Revolution are starting to emerge as foils to the new President.

We’re talking about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, born in 1971, who has been tapped to deliver the opposition party response to the President’s address to Congress on Tuesday. We’re talking about the “hyper-ambitious” Representative from Virginia, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, born in 1963 and said to revere both hyper-partisan Newt Gingrich and über-leader Winston Churchill.

And of course, there’s the 1964-born Governor Sarah Palin, whose cringe-worthy appearances we’ve been (blessedly) able to ignore since the end of the campaign.

(Disclosure: The Obama vs. Bizarro Obama superhero idea wasn’t mine. Slate’s Christopher Beam had it in an article about new GOP National Chairman Michael Steele. That works for me, but Lex Luthor needed his fellow masterminds in the Legion of Doom, even if Luthor was the villains’ acknowledged superior. Of course, this torpedoes my generational argument somewhat — Steele is a late-Boomer born in 1958 — shoo! Generation Jones™ commentariat — but does this work for you? No? Move along. Move along.)

With Obama carrying the mantle for Democrats born after 1960, he’ll need to both work with and occasionally battle these three Gen X rising stars from the GOP, who, like the President, have ascended to their leadership posts with diverse backgrounds — an Indian-American governor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, and the GOP’s first you-betcha’ing female VP nominee.

It’s somewhat worrisome, though, that the Democrats, at least in Congress, have no apparent Gen X sidekicks for the President. And according to my math, there’s only three Democratic Gen X governors, none of whom are household names: Chet Culver (born 1966) of Iowa, Brad Henry (born 1963) of Oklahoma, and Tommy Carcetti, er, Martin O’Malley (born 1963) of Maryland.

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Frozen out

Ashamed to admit I haven’t seen any of these films, especially in a year of such a relatively weak line-up of Oscar films (ironically, Revolutionary Road and Gran Torino are the two of this season’s Oscar-contender flicks I wanted to see, and both were largely shut out of the major nominations).

The Wire shares something with these films: They all serve as urgent dispatches on the way we live now. Wendy’s predicament—like Ale’s in Chop Shop, Marlee’s in Ballast, and Ray’s in Frozen River—resembles, if not in its details then certainly in its outlines, what millions of Americans are going through. Immersive and rigorous, these movies depict an experience that is at once common and unseen: the struggle of scratching out a living, or getting by without one.

As someone who knows upstate and its characters pretty well, I’d hazard a guess that I’d recognize a plenty of reflections in the characters of Frozen River.

What struck me about The Wire (and which apparently struck the Slate article’s author) was its portrayal of a reality not often shown on TV or in the movies, but which much of America lives. Outside of the New York City metro area, many of New York’s upstate cities look quite like mini-Baltimores of The Wire — from the urban plight of their undeveloped neighborhoods, to their machine politics, to their frequently politically/statistics-driven police forces, each with their own heroes and villains.

So how the hell is a tax cut going to help people like these, particularly a corporate tax cut? Haven’t we given tone-deaf Big Business enough help? Does bipartisanship essentially devolve into trying to humanize and make friends with the class bullies only to find out they really are unrepentant bullies (with utterly incompatible economic views) whose only hope is to make suffering worse and actively wishing for this country to fail (um, the very definition of anti-American) so that your side can pick up a few more votes in 2010?

Generation Kill: Not Your Father’s Warriors

There’s a throwaway shot in the opening episode of Generation Kill, which premiered on Sunday night on HBO, that establishes that These Are Not Your Father’s Marines. With the sun setting on their encampment, two silhouetted Marines wearing boxing gloves throw some wild, leaping kicks at each other without ever throwing a punch.

The wide shot lasts for a mere few seconds as we transition from one scene to the next, but it’s a telling few seconds — previous generation’s warriors might climb into the base ring and go at it for a few rounds as a physical way of blowing off steam. Today’s soldiers and Marines (and by extension, today’s civilian 20-somethings) are bred on MMA and video games (and as we see in this episode too, irony and satire) and are more likely to engage in driveway boxing or backyard wrestling as they are a game of baseball on the base. As Mark Kriegel once wrote of this generation (he was talking about civilians), “These are the guys who made 300 a huge hit.”

I don’t know if it is too early to call it a profane version of Band of Brothers or merely the Marines version of The Wire, but after watching that premier episode for the third time, I am ready to be hooked again on another David Simon show, if only for the seven-episode arc of this miniseries adaption of Evan Wright’s book.

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The TV’s decade

Other than the anomaly of the golden year of 2005, what else has this decade given us in film? You got the Lord of the Rings triology and Million Dollar Baby. And then …? The Departed was OK, but it ranks well below Scorsese’s other stuff. What else you got? Studios sending out flicks like 21, last week’s big money-maker, the film based on that allegedly fictional non-fiction book? (link to Boston Globe thanks to Gawker)

No, this is TV’s decade. As I said before, this is decade that’s given us great shows, almost all dramas, many of whom I haven’t even had the chance to catch up and see yet: “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “Deadwood,” “The Sopranos” (yes, I know it began in 1999), “Band of Brothers,” “The Shield,” “Rome,” “John Adams,” and even more populist stuff like “Rescue Me,” “Sex and the City,” “Entourage,” “Playmakers” and “Battlestar Galactica.” What else am I forgetting? (“Friday Night Lights,” perhaps, another one I haven’t seen.) The jury may still be out on some of the network comedy items — I’m thinking the American “The Office” and “30 Rock” — but it’s enough to offset the Reality Crap and make you want to invest in a good DVR.

Why is all this? Well, I’m developing a theory that we’re seeing the rise of writers and producers (and especially writer/producers) and the decline of directors, or at least in the power structure. A writer can stretch his or her legs out better over the course of a 7- to 20-episode season than can be done in a 2- to 2½-hour flick.

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Great montage endings

Think I’ve seen “The Wire” series finale four times now (thanks to HBO’s repeated showings). I’ve already discussed my thoughts, and I’ve got at least one or two others percolating that I may or may not get to.

One digression: After the third time I watched the montage at the end of this episode, for the life of me, it got me to thinking about the montage that came at the end of Boogie Nights, which used “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys as its music. Maybe because it was late when I was watching “The Wire” re-run, but after Rawls got his promotion to State Police super, I could’ve sworn the next shot would’ve been of The Colonel getting the beat down by his prison-cell roommate (“shut up, Colonel!”). Or maybe it was wishful thinking that Rawls would someday still get his just desserts.

But on a serious note, “The Wire’s” last montage was one of the many things I loved about that final episode, and bringing back the Blind Boys of Alabama’s version of “Way Down in the Hole” was note-perfect. That was one of the first songs I picked up when I began my iTunes account (that, and the Ryan Adams tune from the opening credits of Old School and the Black Flag version of “Louie, Louie” from the same flick — an odd trifecta, I know). I’m glad this montage used the full (or nearly full) version of “Way Down in the Hole” (when it’s used as a credit-sequence opener, the song is necessarily truncated); it’s such a perfect song, and it was the perfect way to punctuate the end of the series, segueing from McNulty on the expressway to the drug dealers to the politicians to Dukie to the newsroom to the prison yard in slow motion to the empty Season 1 sofa in the Pit to the Ports to that great rapid-fire sequence of real-life Baltimore residents to suddenly close back on McNulty.

Any other great movie- or season-ending montages? (not sure if the end of Animal House counts.)

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Cynicism vs. Hope

I think “The Wire” is affirming of people’s basic humanity, and an argument that even though it may be futile to rebel, it’s the only alternative if you want to salvage anything that remotely resembles human dignity.

—David Simon,
on New Jersey Star-Ledger TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s blog

Click to see Sepinwall’s interview with David Simon.

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It’s Over. It Continues.

Random thoughts on the series finale of The Wire

(Warning: spoilers ahead).

Best line of the night:
You think it needed doing, I guess it did.

—McNulty to Kima. Good advice to those of us are righteous, and suffer from righteousness

Second best line of the night:
This sentimental motherfucker just cost us money.

—Older drug dealer, dismayed at Method Man’s sudden departure

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