August 30, 2017

Facts are curious things

So it appears that Josh Whedon was never a feminist after all. I'm not quite sure why this was such a shock to people; after all, it's not as if he was Alan Alda. I think I would have been only slightly more surprised to find out that Mickey Rooney was emceeing an event held by the National Organization for Women, and that the entertainment was being provided by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. ("Look at all those chicks out there, Pally. Suppose I can find one for me?")

It's never nice to find out that your heroes have feet of clay, but by this time it shouldn't be a surprise, either, whether it's discovering that Raymond Burr and Bob Crane led secret lives, or that Bob Hope and George Burns enjoyed the company of women other than those to whom they were married. Now, I realize that these revelations often came as profound shocks to their fans, as well as to people who thought they knew these men (although in some cases less of a shock than others), but should it really diminish the esteem in which we hold the work of these men? As is the case in most of life, I'd guess the answer to be, "it depends." If we find out that the entertainer in question happened to be a hypocrite, a murderer or abuser, that's one thing. On the other hand, if Bob Hope was a philanderer, I don't see that it makes his body of work over the years any less commendable, just as his years of service to the troops makes it any more hilarious. As they say nowadays, Your Mileage May Vary - but in each of these cases, the off-screen behavior of these gentlemen hasn't changed the way I feel about their performances or their shows one bit.

In an unrelated article dealing with this weekend's reprehensible Mayweather-McGregor spectacle, Bryan Curtis makes a point that I think is more in tune with what we have to beware of.

The main reason we embrace a spectacle like Mayweather-McGregor is simpler: This is how online sportswriting works now. As we try to ward off the “pivot to video,” we throw ourselves on top of every bit of news that comes across the digital wires. It hardly matters if it’s Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, Ric Flair’s trip to the ICU, or a hot new episode of Game of Thrones. To ignore an event—any event, however slight or manufactured —is to risk leaving clicks on the field. 

Indeed. It's not a problem I specifically face - most of my classic TV subjects are dead - but we could easily make something of it anyway. There's a website out there; I'm not going to name it, partly because I don't really want to push traffic their way, but mostly because I don't want to unjustly badmouth them since I'm not convinced they're doing this intentionally. They seem to specialize in promoting various scandals involving Hollywood's famous from years past. They aren't particularly bringing up anything that most people weren't already aware of, but they do occasionally get read by people with sensitive ears, apparently, people who didn't know that Bob Hope was the way he was, for example, and now those people are either disillusioned with Hope or angry with the people who shattered their illusions, or both. In response, the blogmasters get defensive. Bruised feelings all around.

As I say, I'm not sure they're trying to cause scandal. Detraction, perhaps, which includes the telling of damaging things that are true, but I don't want to get into motivation here. Besides, any time one digs into history in search of the hidden truth, one risks coming across things that they may wish were better left buried.; in fact, we could be accused of treading along the same lines here, in pieces about Inger Stevens and Judy Tyler, Howdy Doody's Princess Summerfall Winterspring. Considering the number of people who already knew about this, it's difficult to say that detraction occurred, but still. I have said in the past, and will continue to say, that one of the things that separates classic television from television of the last, say, thirty years or so, is a sense of dignity; not just self-dignity, but dignity toward the audience and toward the subject matter (James Aubrey notwithstanding). I'd like to think it's a mark of our classic TV blogosphere as well.

The entertainment business is about illusion, about creating stories, creating characters, creating special effects. When it's done well, we hardly notice it, and we're in thrall to the ability of the creators to take us into their sphere of influence and transport us, for a brief time, into a place that's outside our own time and space. Those who create that entertainment are illusionists themselves, and sometimes their illusion spills out from their work to their personal lives, when it becomes difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. (K. Austin Collins' fascinating article about Jerry Lewis, which I linked to last week, is an excellent example of how complex that can be.)

It should be no surprise, I suppose, that the same will happen to us out here: as fans, we allow ourselves to be taken in from time to time, mistaking the one on screen for the one behind the curtain, so to speak, and becoming conflicted when we find out the facts are not always aligned, and decide which of the images we have to purge. Facts are not only curious things, they are most inconvenient, and at the most inconvenient times, and they do ruin a good story, don't they? Just ask, well, you know who I mean.


  1. I guess the question that your excellent (as always) piece raises is how should we remember these people? Must their shortcomings always be acknowledged along with their talent? I don't support that view, but at a time when there are those who now think of Thomas Jefferson only as a slave-owner and not a Founding Father an author of the Declaration of Independence, it's obvious which way this issue is trending.

    1. Why not judge historical figures on their talent AND their shortcomings? It seems to me that is the proper way to view the past.

    2. Yeah, I mean we saw this whole thing happen with Bill Cosby a few years ago. Now, there's no question that in Cosby's case there's not only an "ick" factor, there's the whole question as to whether or not he broke the law, and yet we still have to ask ourselves whether or not this discredits his entire body of work to that point.

      I suppose acknowledging one's shortcomings depends on what they are, the environment in which they happened, and how pertinent they are to how we view them. Ingrid Bergman's scandal would be viewed much differently today than it was back then, and considering the mores of the time, it probably should have been. Not saying that's right or wrong, or that you can't analyze whether or not people were correct in reacting that way, just that for the time and the culture, you'd probably consider it a proper response.

      As far as history goes, I think one has to be reasonable. We're all sinners, after all, so we're all going to have a few blots on the page (some of us, more than a few.) Been a while since I've read up on it, but I believe the "Great Man" school of history would suggest that you have to look at what's important, and what the person has accomplished, and judge them accordingly.

      Discussions like this are what I love about this site!

  2. Joss Whedon, fwiw, is how he signs himself.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!