Monday, July 25, 2016

Finding the Gooey Center

Maybe this election wasn't meant for liberals. The announcement Friday night of Sen. Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton's running mate was notably not a surprise and admittedly a slight letdown. In a contested primary season where self-admitted "Democratic Socialist" Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe with the embattled former Secretary of State, what mattered more was appealing to centrists and jaded moderates. Kaine's supporters will attest that he has more liberal credentials than what appears at face value, but anyone expecting Sanders or Liz Warren or anything further left will have to bite the bullet. Kaine is very compatible with Clinton politically, only slightly left-leaning but pragmatic and malleable, almost as if Hillary had chosen a second husband. (Yes, go ahead and put your Clinton sex joke here.) The only thing for certain here is that a Pence-Kaine Vice Presidential debate will be a partisan snooze-fest.

Arguably the most grotesque presidential race in recent memory is circling third and heading home. Some polls would indicate that Donald Trump holds an advantage over Clinton in the polls, but the Kaine pick likely throws it back to 50/50. Secretary Clinton, for all of her flaws, is the only viable alternative to Trump's insult-throwing circus act. (I can only hope Gary Johnson will eat away at the conservative core.) Trump's acceptance speech this past Thursday may have looked and felt more presidential that what we've seen in the previous 13 months of his campaign, but I saw through the veneer.

Speaking of which, from a satirical perspective, the Republican National Convention was almost like manna. It was a mass menagerie of easy targets, some you saw coming (Chris Christie) and others you didn't quite expect (Melania Trump). The fringe loonies have taken over the GOP, the sane Republicans stayed home, and inexplicably Ted Cruz was the sole voice of reason.

If there is any condolence to what may happen in November, keep in mind that in 2012 we reelected a third consecutive president; that has only happened once before in American history (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). The possibility of a fourth straight president getting a second term, regardless of how speculative that would be at this point, is unlikely. Both of these candidates look and feel like one-term presidents at this point, potential placeholders for something better.


Monday, July 18, 2016

The Next Voice You Hear

As some of you know, I worked for the Chicago branch of Salem Communications from May 2008 to April 2010. As a recent college graduate pursuing a career in the radio industry, I perceived my part-time traffic assistant (i.e. accounts receivable) position as a foot in the door to bigger things. That was ultimately not the case, as I was replaced less than two years on the job. My departure was the first of several moves made after a major management change, and with flagship AM 560 WIND still struggling to get into the top 25 among Chicago radio stations, there is little to indicate things are moving in the right direction.

One of the many changes that occurred these last six years was the addition of former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) as an on-air personality. Walsh set up an arrangement where he would host a drive-time show from 5 to 7pm on WIND and do the same thing all over again via satellite on a New York, Salem-owned station from 8 to 10pm EST. Walsh was commenting on a whirlwind week in early July: where an unarmed African-American man was killed in Minnesota, followed by a similar incident in Dallas, then a "retaliation" by a lone gunman that killed five Dallas police officers.

I imagine Walsh was a little more tactful on the air, but what he tweeted in the wake of the Dallas shootings was reprehensible: "3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you." The tweet was deleted within an hour, but once again Walsh was fanning the flames of controversy. It's one thing to criticize the president but another to threaten him. What made it even more appalling was that it was almost certainly staged.

A couple of years, Walsh was (allegedly) removed from the air following a discussion of racial epithets, during which he said the N-word at least once. It was a publicity stunt, and a rather clueless one at that. Whether Walsh was encouraged by my old managers or action on his own is irrelevant; it was very much in bad taste. What transpired nearly weeks ago was cut from the same cloth.

I feel even more embarrassed to have been part of that organization. Given how long it took me to compose my thoughts on this hot mess, the media has moved on the next round of tragedies. The cycle of gun violence in America is spinning faster than ever, and I can't imagine that I'm the only American that is growing numb to the pain. Mercifully, a loose cannon like Walsh was not meant to be a long-timer in Congress, but his mouth and his chutzpah lingers, and his enforcers at WIND-AM couldn't be more pleased.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bunny Hop II: The 'Boy in the Bubble

About 4 1/2 years ago, after inheriting it from my dead uncle, I schlepped four decades' worth of Playboy magazines into my parents' basement. I blogged about it, blurring the magazine and its semi-sophisticated aesthetic with my uncle's underachieving, too-brief life. The delicate dance of obsolescence and objectifying women came rushing back to context when The House That Hef Built turned a new leaf.

Earlier this year, "The 'Boy" underwent an overdue makeover. A lot of the magazine's decades-old fixtures were excised: the mostly unfunny, panel and page-size cartoons; the Party Jokes page behind the centerfold, featuring excerpts from the unpublished Unabashed Dictionary; the annoying "jump copy" that was standard in most monthly periodicals in the 1950s and '60s. (The back section that featured paparazzi photos and new gadgets was dropped about ten years ago.) Most crucially, however was the disappearance of full-frontal nudity; in a time and age where naked women can be easily accessed on the internet (and in most cases, for free) why spend five dollars to see three or four monthly pictorials?

That's not to say, however, that barely-dressed women have disappeared from Playboy altogether. The centerfold is still there, but the naughty bits are covered up in clever ways. There is a newfound, harder emphasis on fiction and journalism, and there's even a column from a feminist perspective. The Playboy lifestyle is still elite and debonair but far more enlightened. The goal is to compete with Esquire, not Maxim.

So where's ol' Hef in all of this? Still schlepping around, taking on possible roommates, and largely letting others take the rein of his creation. According to reports, Hugh Hefner was more than willing to drop the cartoons, but had to be persuaded to tweak his creation's most noted content. Even in old age, America's best-known pajama-clad party animal had fought tooth and nail to cantilever a mindset that withered away decades ago.

Change is inevitable, and with Playboy reinventing itself after six-plus decades of great prose, swingin' cocktails, and bogus boobies they might prove there is still life in the brand. Had my uncle lived to see this, I'm sure he would've been annoyed by the lack of full-frontal nudity but would have kept reading out of habit. For now, Playboy has taken a behindhand step forward, a curious but righteous leap into the 21st century.