The Clare Spark Blog

September 22, 2013

“The Newsroom” season two

Newsroom-cast-season-two[Update: Jeff Daniels won an Emmy award for best actor in a drama, 9-22-13] I have already written about the opening episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom (season one) here:

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/26/aaron-sorkins-scottish-blood/. I have now watched all nine episodes of season two, and have also read various reviews blasting the second season as “preachy” and overly mushy in the romantic love department. This blog is about cable news networks and Sorkin’s ending most of the episodes with an explanation about what we have just seen, sometimes referring to his own biography, in the season finale of season two stating outright that all the characters are based on his father, who has “one foot in the past.” (I surmise from this confession that he has probably undergone psychoanalysis and sees himself as a visionary Romantic.)

According to Wikipedia, Sorkin (born 1961) grew up in the posh Westchester suburb of Scarsdale. His father was a lawyer, his mother a school teacher. His paternal grandfather was a founder of the ILGWU, one of the most successful and militant of the early trade unions. Sorkin attended Syracuse University, known for its theater and cinema program. It should not surprise us that Sorkin is widely known as a left-liberal, and a progressive. Or that his own love life has been unstable, perhaps complicated by drug use. I watch his shows because he writes about the change in the workplace where powerful women are now present; they are sometimes smarter than the men who supervise them, and the males accept this revolutionary change apparently devoid of sexist angst. Moreover all his characters wield great power, as US heads of state with their staffs, or, as in this case, an outspoken cable news anchor whose memory bank and ability to think encyclopedically on his feet, in the anchor chair, and under the klieg lights, is simply astounding.

Sorkin’s main character in The Newsroom  is a moderate Republican, ostentatiously centrist, who is equally critical of the Occupy Wall Street ‘mob’ as he is of the ‘Taliban’-like far Right.  I don’t know if Sorkin’s father was a progressive Republican, or whether “Will McAvoy” is positioned simply to draw in the maximum numbers of eyeballs. But the carping criticism from the media regarding the “preachiness” of season two is bizarre. As I have tried to demonstrate, “the moderate men” are amoral, and must be so, in order to buttress the notion of the neutral state.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/, especially the bold-face type that quotes from Melville’s The Confidence-Man (1857).

The season two finale is also blasted because of the corny engagement of the Jeff Daniels character and the Emily Mortimer character (“Mac” is so smart that she was president of the famed Cambridge Union in the U.K.). Are the reviewers steeped in Brechtian theories of communist drama that avoid the clichés of “bourgeois” theater? (These Brechtian adjurations consist of the unresolved ending that throws the problem into the lap of the viewer who is to make the red revolution, and desisting from the climbing arc of suspense that is resolved through the happy ending—all accomplished through “the alienation effect” that banishes histrionics from the stage.)

But more interesting than that (and ignored by the reviews I have read), is that startling season finale  where Sorkin makes it clear that it is necessary to move on in the journalism business, and to overcome the traumas of the day. “Maggie” (played by Alison Pill) will not make in the biz, for she does not have the required short memory and thick skin of her colleagues. (An abandoned, hysterical Magdalene?) she clicks her mouse and the rest is darkness.

Crazy MaggieAlisonPill

None of the reviews I read noticed the improbability of the GENOA theme that threaded its way through the nine episodes. It is highly unlikely that a cable news network would broadcast a taped interview conducted by a visiting young producer, obviously an America-hater, without examining the unedited interview with the retired general who blows the whistle on US use of chemical weapons on a Pakistani  village. This troupe of geniuses, fretting over the credibility of the war crime accusation for eleven months, would be incapable of such carelessness. (For the real life 1998 CNN incident that suggested the GENOA theme of season two see http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/08/the-news-vs-i-the-newsroom-i-was-there-a-real-genoa-report-yes-in-1998/278795/.]

In one of his more interesting post-episode summaries, Aaron Sorkin tells the viewer that he has been thinking about his own relation to the audience.  (Will’s father has just died as he learns through a phone call to his ailing father, but his sister conveys the unexpected news via cell phone. Live on the air Will is tongue-tied, then says “It’s just us now.” A nice Oedipal moment, as Will will later win the heart of his “executive producer”, i.e., the reconnection with the didactic, perhaps debating Mother, now that Father has left the scene.

As with most other television offerings, that is the correct question: what designs do fiction writers have on the audience? And how do they envision their audiences? Do the better writers even know how to think about such a question? How much poking around all the relevant families of origin would able reviewers have to accomplish before writing their analyses of successful writers like Aaron Sorkin?

But more, is red-haired Maggie his Doppelgänger? If Sorkin is a Romantic (as he insinuates), then he has the problem of every Romantic artist: how to equal the last tour de force. Has he emptied himself out to such an extent that he will never produce another ‘masterpiece’? There is one reason for ‘post-partum’ depression of the creative artist, for whom praise and reputation are almost toxic. Whereas the neoclassicist is following a recipe that is time tested and will never go out of fashion. (See the classically pornographic painting by a Duke: https://clarespark.com/2013/09/21/ad-for-cambridge-conference-on-the-occult-and-spirituality/.)

AaronSorkinOr is Sorkin caught in that no-man’s land where he is cannot be sure where his artistic independence ends and pleasing the corporations that support him begins? If the latter, then Sorkin might be identified with the desolate and deserted Mark Zuckerberg in the final scene of the ironically titled, The Social Network.

May 26, 2013

Eva Moskowitz and the Charter School Movement

Eva Moskowitz

Eva Moskowitz

Last week I attended the first benefit gala for the Success Academy Charter schools initiated by Eva Moskowitz. My son Daniel S. Loeb was being honored, and Chris Christie, Governor of the State of New Jersey was the keynote speaker. Wall Street heavies and some major Republicans were present by the hundreds, as were many of the young principals of the various Charter Schools.

The Governor said flat out that if we did not rescue America’s public schools, the republic was finished, and I could not agree with him more. Christie, like many other activists on behalf of quality free education for all, sees the teachers unions as the chief obstacle to achieving this goal. Sadly, teachers unions have defended teachers, no matter how inept and unqualified, at the expense of learners in our country. Indeed, the teachers unions are major supporters of the Democratic Party, and numerous authors have identified the powerful wealthy Democrats (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates) who have poured wasted money into ed reform, for none of these billionaires will go up against the teachers unions or their defender Diane Ravitch. (For my blogs on Ravitch and Democratic Party reformers see https://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-on-education-reform/ Steve Brill’s book is mostly about Eva M. and worries that she will burn out. Brill, a Democrat, thinks that Randi Weingarten can be reformed!)

I find it very mysterious why the high priority given to free public education by Governor Christie and Dan Loeb (like Charles Sumner and other enlightened Americans who came before us), is not widely shared. One can understand why unqualified, underperforming teachers defend tenure and pensions, but how to account for the indifference of parents and grandparents, or of all citizens, many of whom complain about the great dumbing down of our culture and sense an irreversible decline of American leadership in the world?

A brief recollection: when I moved to Los Angeles in 1959, I taught chemistry and biology at Los Angeles High School. Noting that there were no after-school clubs like the one I enjoyed at Forest High School in Queens, New York, I proposed a Philosophy Club, with much student support (and LA High at the time was black, brown, Asian, and Jewish mostly). I was called “that commie Jew from the East” in one anonymous letter deposited in my mailbox, which appalled me as I was mostly apolitical at that time. I recall that my best student was a black boy in chemistry. I never thought that there was anything wrong with the brains of my “colored” students, either in Los Angeles or at Jamaica High School in Long Island where I had taught in the Spring semester of 1958. Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in NYC have borne out my views that lazy teachers and inadequate expectations for performance of minority children, not racial differences in intelligence, are responsible for low graduation rates and poor student performance in inner city schools in America.

Here is how Wikipedia describes the pioneering efforts of Eva Moskowitz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Moskowitz

And here are the objectives of Moskowitz’s “lesson plan” in a booklet handed out to all attendees of this inspirational gala on May 22, 2013:

[Item:] Make schools magical places—warm, colorful, joyous—where the curriculum is rigorous, the pace is fast, the bar is high, and boredom is banished.

[Item:] Inspire kids to read, to write, to imagine, to build, to invent, to work, to think. [Eva told me once that early on, students read poems and extract the message of the poem: could anything be better than reading comprehension, including understanding the subtext and messages of great literature?]

[Item:] Invest in excellent teaching, with support and coaching and an unprecedented commitment to professional development.

[Item:] Introduce children to the creative disciplines and elations of art.

[Item:] Enlist parents as partners in schooling and as advocates for education reform.

[Item:] Teach chess and daily discovery-based science, so that scholars grow up to find better ways forward.

[Item:] Give every child access to great public schools and provide every family with great educational choices.

[Item:] Empower a generation of children to achieve their dreams.

[Item:] Transform a nation at risk to a nation of hope and opportunity.

[Item:] Change public education—for good.

In New York State testing, this is how Success Academy Charter Schools have performed: 96% passed 2012 NYS Math Exam; 88% passed 2012 English Exam; 100% passed 2011 Science Exam. In Math, English, and Science, Eva’s schools were beaten only by Anderson, “the most selective Gifted and Talented public school in NYC.”

For more sources on this subject, see the following references:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/nyregion/seeking-teachers-support-mayoral-candidates-pledge-education-reform.html?ref=evasmoskowitz&_r=0

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/christie_town_hall_raritan_val.html

http://socialistworker.org/2009/11/13/charter-school-charade ( A Trotskyist organization attacks Eva Moskowitz and her project.)

Success Academy

April 16, 2011

The Social Network hatchet job

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

opening scene from The Social Network

At first I was interested in seeing how far the screenplay diverged from the facts of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, but as I thought about it, the more sinister significance of the David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin movie was its adherence to a pattern that I have analyzed elsewhere on this blog: https://clarespark.com/2010/05/20/criminal-minds-and-the-pathology-of-rural-america/. As Aaron Sorkin reportedly said, he was not interested in the truth of Facebook’s origins, but in creating a “metaphor.” That metaphor is not only the subject of this blog, but of many other items on this website, particularly those that criticize the nailing of technology and of technical workers who are held to be responsible for mass death—unless they are spiritualized through religion or some other influence that turns them away from their “obsession” and towards a cohesive “community.”

If you have never availed yourself of Facebook as a tool to counter the dominant mass media and academic lines that simply mimic the talking points of the Democratic Party, then you may well be persuaded by the movie that Facebook is mainly of interest to horny young men searching for “hot” girls. Perhaps the script tells us more about its creators than it does about the varied uses to which Facebook is directed. And the irony is that Mark Zuckerberg himself (according to his biography on Wikipedia) is probably a liberal himself. [Added 4-21-11: And a big Obama supporter, who agrees with Obama’s tax policies and has vowed, along with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, to give away half of his wealth.] But I am arguing here that MZ is not the target, but rather the busting up of the left-liberal monopoly of public speech in America. (And as an added treat, it is never dangerous to scorn a nouveau riche, horny Jewish swindler.)

Hence the strategy of the film, conscious or not, is to nail MZ as a self-absorbed narcissist, easily swayed by luxury (as offered by Sean Parker) and casual sex, while faithless to his true supporter, Eduardo Saverin. (Note that he remains obsessed by the girl friend who dumps him in the very first scene, and, with all his billions, he is isolated from the world, connecting only to his computer.) The last spoken words describe him as an “asshole” twice, by a sympathetic young female lawyer.

I did a Wikipedia search on all the major figures in the making of this film, and no one knows how many shares MZ’s faithful but betrayed friend Eduardo Saverin holds in Facebook, for the settlement agreement is sealed. Which brings me to another point. This film has been recognized by the Hollywood “community” as a great movie; indeed it is a well-made, even brilliant effort until you think about it. One could argue that it is a technical tour de force.

When will a modicum of ethics settle upon the world of filmmaking? How dare liberals present real people and events while  disclaiming any connection to “the truth?”

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