Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Reading

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?Spider-Man the musical gets mileage and buzz by being beset with delays and injuries to cast members.

“Spider-Man” has not even officially opened yet. The date has been delayed five times to fix myriad problems, with Sunday afternoon being preview performance No. 66 and the opening planned for Monday night being pushed back five more weeks to March 15. But this $65 million musical has become a national object of pop culture fascination — more so, perhaps, than any show in Broadway history.

Starting with Conan O’Brien’s spoof of Spider-Man warbling in rhyme on Nov. 30, two nights after the musical’s problem-plagued first preview, the show has been lampooned on every major late-night comedy show and by The Onion, which portrayed the producers as still being optimistic about the show despite a nuclear bomb’s detonating during a preview. Recently, Steve Martin slyly referred to it in a series of tweets about watching the “Spider-Man” movies at home.

“Settling in to watch Spiderman 3 on deluxe edition DVD, but I fell from hanging cables in screening room. 2 hour delay,” he wrote.

Media celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Beck and the hosts of “Morning Joe” have all raved about the musical, especially Mr. Beck, who said in an interview on Friday that he had seen it four times.

Mr. Beck has framed its appeal on his radio broadcast as a face-off between regular Americans and cultural snobs (i.e., liberals). In the interview, however, he was more fanboy than fire breather, rattling off plot points and design elements with the practiced eye of a Sardi’s regular.

“The story line is right on the money for today, which is to be your better self, that you can spiral into darkness or — ” here he quoted one of the show’s anthemic songs — “you can rise above,” said Mr. Beck, who estimated that he sees a dozen shows a year. “In fact, I just wrote an e-mail to Julie” — Ms. Taymor — “about how much I loved the new ending.”

Last month, “Spider-Man” became the first Broadway show since “The Producers” to land on the cover of The New Yorker; the cartoon, by Barry Blitt, who also did “The Producers” cover in 2001, showed several injured Spider-Men in a hospital ward.

Maybe Glenn Beck’s fawning over it will finally put it out of its misery.

More below the fold.

He’s Our S.O.B. — Scott Shane on why America keeps backing dictators.

Every country has both values and interests. Sometimes they coincide — for example, promoting human rights can help combat terrorism — and sometimes they conflict. What makes the United States stand out, perhaps, is how frequently American officials proclaim their values to the world, setting themselves up for charges of hypocrisy when a policy is expedient rather than idealistic.

Supporting Egypt’s military-led regime over four decades, first under Anwar el-Sadat and then Mr. Mubarak, offered strategic benefits to seven American presidents. They got a staunch ally against Soviet expansionism, a critical peace with Israel, a bulwark against Islamic radicalism, and a trade- and tourist-friendly Egypt. What they did not get was a functioning Egyptian democracy. The apocryphal comment about a foreign strongman often attributed to Franklin Delano Roosevelt sums it up nicely: he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.

History is rich with precedents. In 1959, there was Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, darling of American corporations and organized crime, fleeing with an ill-gotten fortune of $300 million as Fidel Castro’s troops reached Havana.

In 1979, it was Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, abandoning the throne in the face of a revolt two years after President Jimmy Carter toasted his country as “an island of stability.”

In 1986, the turn came for Ferdinand Marcos, ousted by the Philippines’ People Power movement five years after Vice President George H. W. Bush told him at a luncheon: “We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process.”

The list could be extended. Since World War II, the White House, under the management of both parties, has smiled on at least a couple of dozen despots. (“Friendly Dictators Trading Cards,” marketed by a California publisher in the 1990s, featured “36 of America’s most embarrassing allies.”)

“It used to be anti-Communism,” said David F. Schmitz, a historian at Whitman College and author of two books on the American attachment to dictators. “Now it’s most often moderates who stand against radicalism in the world of Islam.”

Who Was Martin Delany? — Mark Roth of The Blade takes note of the “Father of Black Nationalism” that history has forgotten.

In 1854, a group of prominent black men and women gathered in Cleveland for a convention.

Their purpose was to argue for the emigration of free blacks to Central or South America. And while the delegates were all leaders in the “western” regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, there was one dominant figure at the gathering.

His name was Martin Delany. He was a doctor and newspaper editor from Pittsburgh, and he delivered the convention’s main speech, reportedly over a period of seven hours.

In the eyes of many historians, Mr. Delany is one of the most important black abolitionists of the Civil War period. Yet to many Americans, his name is virtually unknown today, especially compared to his friend and rival, Frederick Douglass.

Every year, schoolchildren are assigned to read Mr. Douglass’ autobiography, and his face, framed by a shock of white hair, is a familiar visage.

But Mr. Delany is obscured by time, even though he has been called the “Father of Black Nationalism.”

Why isn’t he more visible?

Historians who study the anti-slavery movement say a lot of it has to do with the two men’s story lines.

Mr. Douglass is known as an assimilationist — a champion of blacks freed from slavery and then given full rights and opportunities in America.

Mr. Delany, for much of his life, championed emigration of blacks as a way of achieving equality, first to Central or South America, and later to Africa.

“Delany argued that blacks should leave because in order to achieve their rights, they had to form a majority in society,” said Richard Blackett, the Andrew Jackson professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

That’s not a message that resonates with most white Americans or even many black Americans, said Laurence Glasco, a professor of black history at the University of Pittsburgh.

“There is a dominant theme of Americans, whether black or white,” he said. “That theme is that America is a great land and the story of your life is how you fit into that great story.

“And anybody like Martin Delany, one of whose dominant themes is, ‘To hell with this place, I want out; it’s not heaven, it’s hell,’ doesn’t fit that paradigm and people don’t like to hear it. It makes the person sound like a crank — somebody who’s not that serious.”

Doonesbury — Stranger as fiction…