Saturday, July 14, 2012

Johnny Depp, Literateur

Department of the Ultra-Cool: Historian/biographer Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp are preparing Woody Guthrie's 1947 novel House of Earth, completed but never published, for its first printing: 

Bob Dylan is in on this, too; Brinkley and Depp shared the manuscript with him, and he was "blown away." I love it when writers, musicians, film people, artists cross their boundaries and promote each other's work. James Franco is a big literary type. Bruce Hornsby is an enthusiastic reader who recommends regional American novels in concert - I've heard him do it. Alec Baldwin is now the radio announcer for the New York Philharmonic and tweets often about his classical music listening. They should all be saluted. When we get tired of hearing about junk and trivia, it's nice to be lifted up by stories of people using whatever powers they have - and we all have powers - for the good.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Today is the 90th birthday of the fine actor William Schallert, most famous for playing the father on The Patty Duke Show. In an exchange at The Blackboard, I mentioned that I especially liked Schallert "as English teacher Leander Pomfritt on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (but then, I love everything about that show - one of the greatest sitcoms of all time in my book)." I went on in a subsequent post:

I discovered the show in re-runs on Nick at Nite in the late Eighties. It's smart, charming, well-written and performed. I love the way that Dobie breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly; that was a fresh gambit at the time. The show is not without some sociological depth, either. As many have noted, it was one of the first efforts to capture the "new American teen," and also to go for the beatnik Zeitgeist, no matter how caricatural Maynard G. Krebs may seem. Socio-economic class is a persistent theme, in a light but telling way. Because why doesn't Dobie get all the girls? - he's good looking, neatly put together, and has charm to burn. It's the (lack of) money - his dad is a humble grocer, and he's competing with rich snots. Dobie is always scheming with ways to come up with more cash. But, and here is where he is morally appealing, what he won't do is try to fake being a rich type. That would mean, for one thing, dropping Maynard as a friend, and Dobie is loyal and able to appreciate people for what they are. The rich people in the series are constantly seen to treat others instrumentally, and Dobie Gillis is too genuine for that. Like him, like his friends - Maynard is non-negotiable. That is truly cool.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Election Day in Mexico

Today is Election Day in Mexico. Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) is expected to win handily. The PRI had a stranglehold on Mexican politics for many decades, but is currently the challenger party to President Felipe Calderon's PAN (Partido Accion Nacional). Presidents in Mexico serve a six-year term but cannot run for re-election (similar to Korea, where they serve a five-year term with no possibility of re-election).

Pena Nieto, a 45-year-old former state governor, has been carefully groomed for this position. He is the very model of the modern telegenic candidate, handsome and glamorous. After his first wife (who bore him three children) died of an epileptic seizure in 2007, he began dating the superstar telenovela actress Angelica Rivera of the Televisa network. They had a fairy-tale "wedding of the century" in 2010, and Mexicans, like people everywhere, love a fairy-tale. Cynics (and there are many here, it is a national pastime just as much as star-gazing is) pointed out that the Televisa network is one of Pena Nieto's biggest supporters politically and that the whole arrangement is, shall we say, convenient. The leftist, anti-Pena Nieto newsmagazine Proceso has the journalistic equivalent of paroxysms on the subject.

Last December Pena Nieto, who had "written" a book promoting his candidacy, as politicians will, made an appearance at the Guadalajara book fair, and was asked during a press conference which books had influenced his life. Pena Nieto, who works best scripted (hence the frequent accusations against him of being an "empty suit"), visibly struggled with the question, and when he finally coughed up a title, misidentified the author. Well, this created a scandal. Everyone weighed in. A potential president who doesn't read? Shocking. Many accused Pena Nieto of being unworthy of office on this basis. Mexico's greatest living novelist, Carlos Fuentes (since deceased), said that Pena Nieto "does not have the right to become the President of Mexico due to his ignorance" (Fuentes's vehemence was perhaps not surprising, since he was the actual author of the book Pena Nieto misattributed to Enrique Krauze). Pena Nieto weathered the affair, but it was delicioso.

More recently came the revelation that, during his first marriage, Pena Nieto had fathered two sons out of wedlock with two different women. One had died in infancy; he supported the other financially, although he had little contact with the boy. Now, this was certainly newsworthy, but as far as scandal, no go; nothing compared to the book crisis. The general reaction seems to have been, so we have a male presidential candidate who is virile and keeps mistresses. What else is new? It's far less disqualifying than not being a reader; it's not disqualifying at all. Imagine the same situation in the United States, where the book business would barely create a ripple, but the paternity stories would destroy the candidacy.

If people want to ask me what I have learned after a year in Mexico, it has not related to drug cartels, but is instead this: Mexico (like, I presume, all the rest of the Latin American nations) is essentially a European country. The values, the emphases, are European; they have nothing to do with the United States.The intellectual class is tiny, a mere sliver of the population, but it is taken with the utmost seriousness (Fuentes's death was an occasion for national mourning). This may cast a cloud over Pena Nieto's presidency right from the start, because the intellectual class has a really hard time taking him seriously, and all his mis-steps are going to provoke a "We told you so - the guy is a nothing" reaction from many highly respected parties. It should be quite interesting.