Thursday, September 03, 2015

Best of Enemies (movie review)

I was but ten years old at the time.  Now, at fifty seven, don't picture me as having the puzzle all put together, everything figured out.  On the contrary, they keep dumping more puzzle pieces into my vista, this documentary a case in point.

ABC is behind in the ratings, the low budget wannabe, so with less to lose, risks a new scorpions in a jar format, arch conservative, William F. Buckley, versus a likely nemesis, Gore Vidal.  They hate each other and that makes for interesting television.  The format paid off, boosting ABC's ratings and the other networks followed suit.  Punditry pitting opposing viewpoints, along with the hosted talk shows, the host sometimes highly opinionated, would carry us forward as standard fare.

I'm not quite on board with the thesis that having just the three networks was a Golden Age.  More bandwidth, not less, keeps diverse memeplexes alive, some we may not appreciate, but need as surely as elemental protein.  That we're all more on our own and alone in our stitching it together (piecing it together) from a variety of sources, is more like detective work, less off the cuff, more reflective, less mob-like.  I'm not nostalgic for the older economy, however I do appreciate the vitality of the debate format and appreciate what ABC attempted, as an experiment.

Lets be fair, the ABC anchor was the first to say "Nazi" in comparing flying an emblem associated with Ho Chi Minh's army, against which soon-to-be Nixon's forces were arrayed.  Wasn't that deliberately provocative, like flying a Nazi swastika, the newsman asked?  He'd let that meme out of the bag, and Vidal made it land in Buckley's lap with the spin of "crypto".

What never happened was any rational discussion of how like or unlike the WW2 example, was the flying of said banner in a Chicago park, amidst acts of police brutality.  Nixon-Kissinger would be carpet bombing Laos soon.  Even Twain had mocked the Republic for becoming an Empire.  Been there done that.  We'd all studied Roman History, so the US was to be another cliche then?  Vidal mocked the Manifest Destiny crowd.  Seeing the former US ally against Japan, a Jeffersonian democrat, as a Hitler, did indeed seem far-fetched.  Carpet bombers with B-52s seem more Fourth Reich to me (shades of Spain), with the benefit of hindsight.  What a bizarre analogy, I'd suggest to ABC.

However instead of delving into history, educating his audience per usual, Buckley lost his cool.  Gore got his goat, in front of millions.  This documentary rubs it in.  That Buckley was so bothered by this episode helps define his character as usually taking some high road, at least in his own mind.  He'd gone below his own moral standards, in a blow to his own ego.  The threatened physical violence maybe seemed idiomatic, but calling Vidal a queer just reeked of feeling out-gunned.

I think his taking it hard that he lost his temper helps establish the guy's having a moral compass, which Vidal would have us doubt.  In any case, conservatism would become fashionable in the wake of Buckley's pioneering example, so whereas Vidal may have scored, the culture at large was ready to surge to the right.

Vidal predicted this during the 1968 convention, saying he smelled jingoism in the air.  Having become an atomic superpower, the need to show the world who its new boss was, was becoming an overwhelming need for some, especially in light of a perceived best time to act being short lived, and already over by the end of the Kennedy administration.  By 1968, the Cuban missile crisis has proved there's no winner-take-all strategy, and the Cold War is well under way.

Speaking of ABC and TV ratings, I coincidentally have a meetup at Rentrak tonight.  That's a company that performs a lot of the same services Nielson used to, but with newer technology.  Just a Python organizers meeting, followed by Thirsters.

After the movie I stopped by Yard House, getting soup, salad and ESB from the gracious Shannon behind the counter.   Then I walked across the Hawthorne Bridge, stopping here and there as I made may way back up the hill to my neighborhood, a good test of the healing ankle.

Uber-Cowards Attack!
:: national geographic ::