I actually didn’t say that…! The acerbic musical genius Oscar Levant did. Back in 1949 at Warner Brothers where Doris was just emerging as America’s girl-next-door-sweetheart. Lucky for her, the comment didn’t get a lot of play once the studio PR department contained the damage.
The point isn’t how Ms Day — now contentedly retired in Carmel California — survived Mr Levant’s tongue-in-cheek shot. The point is how so much of American culture has always bristled with such shots. Fired as everything from wry humor to downright defamation. Americans love to think of ourselves as a free-spirited people who know how to play hard in both our walk and our words.
But if you step outside the frame for a moment, you begin to see what a perplexing picture that stands out daily in (1) our politics (2) our sports (3) our entertainment. Look, compliments are usually reserved for the wakes; until then, confrontations are often the name of the game:
* American politics has been a brutal blood sport right from the start. If anyone finds today’s rough-and- tumble Washington shocking, they only have to scan the withering insults that plagued even our history books’ top-five heroes Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR. As in what…? As in make-believe- king! slave-humping-lier! whoring-frontier-animal! gorilla-brained-bumpkin! Jew-loving-cripple!
* American may love their sports heroes, but can’t resist their flaws. Read the sports pages where what sells is who-yelled-at-who in the locker room! which star dissed which upcoming team! which player was caught in which domestic fight! You see, pedestals in sports are built to be broken; this way the mob’s frenzy gets fed twice.
* American show business — well, the story here is all squeezed into one sleazy word: Paparazzi! There is this strange symbiotic relationship between the stars and their hoary detractors. The stars feed on the paparazzi’s attentions (insult me, but for God’s sake don’t ignore me!). Meanwhile, the paparazzi feed on the carcasses their shots leave behind (scream at me, just don’t break my camera!).
Americans talk a lot about down-time, weekends, vacations, getting-away-from-it-all. But look closer. If there’s anything we love to talk about is: what’s there about the rich-and-powerful I can talk about? Hey, the more I can cut them down, the taller I look. I mean, that’s what democracy is, right….?
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