As readers of these pages know, I like The Graham Norton Show on BBC America. I most enjoy the conversation and tend to scroll past the music and "Big Red Chair" segment, though on occasion I do watch them.
I'm glad I did this past Sunday.
The musical guest was Pink, who sings the title song from her new album, Trustfall. I know I'm not her target audience, though I'm well aware she's talented and I admire her as an adventurous performer. But I probably would have scrolled by, except that earlier in the show Norton made a cryptic quip about the show having to get a specific prop for her. So, I was intrigued and decided to watch.
It was a remarkable performance all around. I phrase it that way carefully, and I won't say why. There's much more I'd like to say about the performance, but after you watch you'll understand why I'm letting the performance stand for itself and not give anything away. I'll just say that I think it will be highly worth your while to check it out, whatever your musical taste.
There were two videos available to post -- one of just the performance, and one that continues her appearance when she goes to the couch with the other guests and her interview. I'm going with the latter, because they address things about the performance that I think most people who watch will want to see more after the song is over and be interested in the discussion.
If you're a Pink fan and think you might have an idea what I mean by the performance all around, because you've seen other of her performances, I feel it's likely that this will be something else. It's absolutely fascinating. And even moving.
I should add that you'll notice it's a serious impressive panel that night. Maybe the best they've had. From left to right -- Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Judi Dench, Hugh Jackman, Michael B. Jordan, and Eugene Levy. And then Pink.
Back in 2014, I posted several videos from the British political satire puppet show, Spitting Image. The show was on the air in the U.K. from 1984-1996 and won 10 BAFTA Awards. (In fact, it even won two Emmy Awards in 1985 and 1986 in the Popular Arts Category. They had tried bringing the series to the U.S., though its harsh brand of political and social satire didn't catch on here.)
Created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law -- who went by "Luck and Flaw" in the credits -- with Martin Lambie-Nairn, the show used impressively accurate, yet wildly-overdone caricatured puppets to took a scathing look at politics and society, with a special place in its heart for the Royal Family, and didn't spare Americans any either.
(An episode I once saw when in England had Ronald Reagan at a dinner party. As he was talking blather, a guest came by, lifted up the top part of his head on a hinge, dug a fork in and spun it around like trying to get spaghetti. He then popped the top of the head back in place and wandered off.)
The other day, a friend had watched a musical from a while back, and it reminded me of one of the most remarkable pieces of political satire I've ever seen, and one of the most brutal. All the more remarkable because it came from puppets. And one that 36 years later has resonance today. (I don't want to give away what song or which musical, but for those who don't get the connection, you can check here after watching it.)
The satirical piece I recalled came from a remarkable Election Night special that Spitting Image did in 1987 -- some live, as it covered the results, some recorded -- and as scathing as the broadcast was, it was topped by a savage final scene. I saw it years back at a Museum of Broadcasting event that was a tribute to Spitting Image. The whole evening was wonderful, but when they showed this one particular clip, the room was absolutely stunned. It was impossible to forget.
I wanted to find it on YouTube to show to my friend. I’d posted it here nine years ago, so I hoped it was still there. Unfortunately, it’s been taken down, and all I could find was the audio that plays over a graphic image. But on the hope that I could find it somewhere on the Internet not on YouTube, I did a wider search -- and found it!! I can't embed it, but I was able to download the video and will post it below.
Savage is the word. As much as Americans might think they're tolerant of political satire, I don't think I've seen much that compares to Spitting Image. And this particular clip is easily the most savage of all. I can't even begin to imagine it making it on the air in the U.S., nor what the reaction would have been if it had.
No one in the U.S. (or anywhere, other than England ) is going to recognize who almost any of the British politicians are that the puppets portray, especially 36 years later. However, there will be a few that some might recognize, like Neil Kinnock and, I believe, John Major, Edward Heath, and several others that might seem familiar, even if you can’t pinpoint who they are. The important thing, though, is just knowing that these are all then-current British politicians -- and that the audience in England would know exactly who they are. And even not knowing who anyone is, the point of the sketch is as 100% clear as could be. There is no subtlety here. Subtlety is thrown far out the window.
The special aired on June 11, 1987. It was broadcast right after the polls closed, with the presumption that the Margaret Thatcher government would win in a landslide, which it did.
This video in question is how they closed the show. It begins right after the news coverage signs off, with a Tory analyst explaining the good news and bad news for his party that's far in the lead. "The bad news is 60% of the country voted for someone else. The good news is we have their names and addresses." Margaret Thatcher then visits the Queen to say she wants to form her new government immediately and not wait, since the results are a "foregone conclusion." When she goes to leave, the Queen stops her, "What about the customary curtsy?" Perturbed at having to delay, Thatcher sighs and says, "All, right -- if you must," and the Queen curtsies to her.
What comes next to close out the night is one of the most no-holds barred, brutal wrenching pieces of political satire I’ve ever seen. Or expect to. And I don’t think that oversells it or is hyperbole. I can’t imagine this being done on U.S. television. I’m stunned it was done on British television. It’s a chilling piece of work. The fact that it’s done with puppets doesn’t make it any less any less powerful. Indeed, that might have been what let them get away with it, that it’s just puppets. But honestly, that still doesn’t explain how it got aired. Clearly, it’s a different culture. Whether they could do something this savage today is another question. (That said, Spitting Image returned to the air a few years and is still being done, available on Britbox. They even did an election special about the 2020 U.S. election, which can be found in two parts here.)
For those interested, I also found the full 1987 election special that this video is a part of. You can find it here.
And so, with all of that background out of the way, this then is how they ended the election special broadcast. It is very powerful. I would be shocked if there is anyone watching who doesn’t offer a couple “Oh, my God’s” during it. Oddly, I find it particularly moving when the credits start to roll over the scene as it continues. And be sure to watch it until the very end.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on Artificial Intelligence. (And no, there were no jokes made about the extreme right and their lack of belief in such things as, for instance, science.) The story was very interesting -- and, as you might imagine, is a fertile ground for humor.
Cartoonist Scott Adams is critical of the Cleveland Plain Dealer which joined 77 other newspapers which had previously dropped carrying his comic strip “Dilbert.” The Plain Dealer’s action came after Adams (who has a long history of positions so extreme that many papers found problematic) went on a racist rant on his YouTube show.
(One of those 77 other newspapers that had already cancelled Dilbert was the San Francisco Chronicle. “His strip went from being hilarious to being hurtful and mean,” Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the editor in chief of the Chronicle, said. “Very few readers noticed when we killed it, and we only had a handful of complaints.”)
Adams got into his racist tirade after quoting a Rasmussen poll that said 27% of Black people did not agree with the statement “It’s okay to be white,” (to which is should be noted that 8% of White people didn’t agree with the statement either. Furthermore 66% of Black people polled did agree with the statement.) As a result, Adams dismissed all Black people (including that two-thirds who agreed that it was okay to be White), calling all Blacks a “hate group” and said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with them. And I would say, based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to White people is to get the hell away from Black people … because there is no fixing this.”
I should add that before making his statement, he completely misquoted the poll results (as have newspaper articles taking his words as fact) by noting “nearly half of all Blacks are not okay with White people.” Never mind that “Do you hate White people” wasn’t at all what the poll asked, even more to the point is that 26% is not even close to “nearly half.” And 53% in support is over half. Pretty weird for what Adams calls a "hate group." (NOTE: The 21% who were not sure can't be added to the "disagree" side any more than they can be added to those who "agree.")
Elon Musk just joined the fray in defense of Adams, and posted a Tweet asking “ “What exactly are they complaining about?” He later deleted this after someone seemingly told him, “Er, Elon, that’s a really bad look and is going to drive even more advertisers away.”) He also later Tweeted that “Adams’ comments weren’t good” (how deeply thoughtful of him…except for the part where he doesn’t say the comments were actually bad or racist), but added a qualifier that there is “an element of truth” to what Adams said. Unfortunately, Musk left out what he considers that “element of truth.” For instance, it’s true that Scott Adams doesn’t want to have anything to do with Black people. But that element doesn’t make the statements okay, it’s what makes them racist.
Musk said as well (for reasons and logic known only to him) that the media was “racist against whites.” But given that Musk has let virulent racists back on Twitter after having been kicked off by the previous owners, it’s unclear if Musk meant this as a criticism, regardless of whether it’s true or not.
Let’s be very clear.
Scott Adams has free speech. He can make all the racist comments he wants. Elon Musk can, too, if he wants. Scott Adams wasn't arrested, he wasn’t put in jail. He can keep making even more racist comments. Elon Musk can restore Twitter privileges to every racist he wants. In fact, as far as free speech goes, Scott Adams still has his YouTube show, and he can fill that will all the racist comments his little heart desires. And he still has his comic strip running in many newspapers. But – no newspaper is required to pay him money to run his comic strip if the publishers think it reflects badly on their paper and could lose them subscribers for being associated with it. That’s free enterprise. That’s the law. That is free speech. Others have it, just like you do.
No doubt there will be those who cry out in trying to convince others that this all is a part of “cancel culture.” Though as noted, Scott Adams is still being published, still has his YouTube show and still is allowed to be racist all day long. The larger reality is while people are allowed to do what they want, they are fools if they think others don’t have that same right. And that there aren’t consequences to our actions.
Indeed, that’s what the editors of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said when explaining their actions. “No, this is a decision based on the principles of this news organization and the community we serve. We are not a home for those who espouse racism. We certainly do not want to provide them with financial support.”
In the end, the words of Scott Adams himself speak loudly for himself. Now that he’s seen these poll results (and totally misquoted them), it told him all he needed to know to justify his racism. “I don’t want to have anything to do with them,” he said.
What he left out noting was what he had done previously with Black people.
Today we have another podcast with Jon Stewart that's a companion to his series The Problem with Jon Stewart on Apple TV+, though usually they are standalone episodes on different topics. As their website describes the podcast – Thanks to the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News filing, we now know what we’ve always believed is true: Fox News will do or say anything to retain their power, even if it means lying – over and over and over again – to their viewers. The question is, will they ever be held accountable? We’re joined this week by RonNell Anderson Jones, Professor of Law at the University of Utah, for a lively discussion about defamation law and the possibility that Fox News might actually have to face the music.
Happily, though a podcast, the show now seems to be posting an audio Zoom version of the episode, so that's what we'll go with. And you can watch it here.
We've been posting the "Not My Job" segments from the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me! for several years. Well, the show's broadcast this week celebrated its 25th anniversary and presented a "25th Anniversary Spectacular." So, here is a collection of some of their favorite interviews from the past two-and-a-half decades.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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