Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Reading

Make a Gleeful Noise — The Tony Awards will be given out tonight. David Kamp takes note of the event by looking at the comeback of the American musical.

There’s a scene in the 1985 college comedy “The Sure Thing” in which John Cusack, then as now an avatar of insouciant hipster cool, climbs into a car that’s supposed to take him cross-country to Los Angeles. He doesn’t know the student couple he’s riding with; he merely answered the ad they posted on the campus ride board. They turn out to be his worst nightmare.

“Know any show tunes?” the girl asks. “That’s a great idea!” chirps the boy (who is played, incidentally, by Tim Robbins), whereupon they launch into a hokey cabaret-duo version of the song “Aquarius” from “Hair,” followed by an even more excruciating rendition of the old cutesie-poo standard “Button Up Your Overcoat.” The look of despair on John Cusack’s face says it all: musical-theater types are losers.

This scene springs to mind because it’s so startlingly distant from the prevailing youth mind-set today. Something weird and profound has happened in the four years since the original “High School Musical” movie was first shown on the Disney Channel and surprised everyone, including Disney, with its smash success: the musical-theater idiom has regained its currency, and is enjoying what may be its greatest popularity among young people since the pre-rock era. We’re raising a generation of Broadway babies.

The foremost example of this is “Glee,” Fox’s instant-hit TV show, which just wound up its first full season. The show’s specious premise is that the members of William McKinley High’s glee club are social outcasts, but clearly, they’re anything but. Most teenagers in America would forfeit a year’s worth of Facebook privileges to inhabit the world of Rachel Berry and Finn Hudson, the powerfully piped high-schoolers played by Lea Michele and Cory Monteith.

And Broadway has acquired a vital youth audience. Walk past the stage door of the St. James Theater after a performance of “American Idiot,” the new musical based on the Green Day album of the same name, and you’ll see teenagers crowding the barricades like bobby-soxers in the early heyday of Frank Sinatra. It’s the same deal with the current revival of “Hair” at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, which will close in two weeks after a surprisingly robust run of more than 500 performances.

Continued below the fold.

Frank Rich — We need more than just “Glee” to make marriage equality the law of the land.

June is America’s month for weddings, and were we so inclined, we could bemoan Limbaugh, an idol to the family-values crowd, for marrying a woman barely half his age. Alternatively, we could lament Al and Tipper Gore’s divorce, which has produced so many cries of shock you’d think they were the toy bride and groom atop a wedding cake rather than actual flesh-and-blood people capable of free will. But let’s refrain from such moralistic hand-wringing. The old truth remains: We never know what goes on in anyone else’s marriage, and it’s none of our business. Here’s a toast to happiness for the Gores and Limbaughs alike, wherever life takes them.

But there is a shadow over marriage in America just the same. The Gores and Limbaughs are free to marry, for better or for worse, and free to enjoy all the rights (and make all the mistakes) that marriage entails. Gay and lesbian couples are still fighting for those rights. That’s why the most significant marital event of June 2010 is the one taking place in San Francisco this Wednesday, when a Federal District Court judge is scheduled to hear the closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the landmark case challenging Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. A verdict will soon follow, setting off an appeals process that is likely to land in the Supreme Court, possibly by the 2011-12 term.

When the former Bush v. Gore legal adversaries, Ted Olson and David Boies, teamed up to mount the assault on Prop 8, it was front-page news. But you may not know much about the trial that followed unless you made a point of finding out as it unfolded in January. Their efforts in this case, unlike the 2000 election battle, were denied the essential publicity oxygen of television. The judge had planned to post video of the proceedings daily on YouTube, but the Prop 8 forces won a 5-to-4 Supreme Court ruling to keep cameras out.

Their stated reason for opposing a television record was fear that their witnesses might be harassed. But in the end the Prop 8 defenders mustered only two witnesses, just one of them a controversial culture warrior. That “expert” was David Blankenhorn, president of the so-called Institute for American Values. Blankenhorn holds no degree in such seemingly relevant fields as psychology, psychiatry or sociology. But his pretrial research did include reading a specious treatise by George Rekers, the antigay evangelist now notorious for his recent 10-day European trip with a young male companion procured from And Blankenhorn’s testimony relies on the same sweeping generalization as Rekers — that children raised by two biological parents are so advantaged that all alternatives should be shunned.


What fuels Boies’s hope for a just resolution is his faith in America itself. “This country is a culture of equality,” he says. “We’ve got that baked into our collective American soul.” He observes that attitudes continue to change fast on gay rights and that the approval rate for legalizing same-sex marriage — up to 47 percent in a Washington Post poll in February — is far higher than the approval was for interracial marriage (20 percent) even a year after the Supreme Court ruled it legal in 1967.

It’s not news that same-sex marriage is a settled issue for most young people. But the growing adult acceptance of unconventional family models can be found in the phenomenon of “Glee,” the prime-time hit on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, no less, that unexpectedly became this year’s most watched new scripted series on television for the 18-to-49 demographic. “Glee” recounts the lives of students in a hypercompetitive show choir at an Ohio high school, and it’s addictive for many reasons that have nothing to do with sexual politics. But what’s exceptional is the way it mashes up different kinds of American families from week to week much as it mashes up musical genres ranging from vintage rock to hip-hop to Lady Gaga to show tunes in its performance sequences.

The leading teenage characters in “Glee” have single parents (both widowed), absentee parents and, in one case, two gay dads. The teenagers suffer, struggle and occasionally triumph like any others, but along the way we see how families reconfigured by death, divorce and sexual orientation can be as loving, nurturing and, yes, as dysfunctional as any other. The landscape is recognizable as the country we actually live in. Even if family-values zealots do retain the ability to prevent America from watching the Prop 8 trial, we’re lucky that the era when they could banish a show like “Glee” from network television seems to have passed.

Suckers — Carl Hiaasen says we trusted BP to do the right thing.

Every time a BP executive appears on television, I think of the garage scene from the movie Animal House.

An expensive car belonging to Flounder’s brother has just been trashed on a drunken road trip, and the smooth-talking Otter comforts the distraught Delta pledge with these cheery words:

”You f—– up! You trusted us! Hey, make the best of it.”

If only the BP guys were half as honest.

Incredibly, almost eight weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the company that caused the disaster remains the primary source of information about it.

Predictably, much of that information has been stupendously, tragically wrong, starting with the low-ball estimates of how much crude was leaking into the sea.

BP didn’t know the answer when the rig went down, and it doesn’t know the answer now. Nobody does.

Every day we see streaming underwater video of that mile-deep gout of oil, billowing and unstaunched. The image is only slightly less sickening than the pictures of dead sea turtles and gagging pelicans.

Some people I know can’t bear to watch anymore, so painful are the feelings of helplessness and frustration. What’s happening before our eyes is the slow murder of one of the world’s most bountiful bodies of water, a crime precipitated by reckless corporate decisions and abetted by our own government.

Doonesbury: The state of the blogosphere.