Wednesday, April 27, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The good old days

Reading the sports pages brings me back to the good old days of Louella and Hedda (pictured above) and Rona Barrett.
by Liz Smith

Wednesday's Wasabi Wrap: The Ruin of Johnny Manziel ... Beyonce's Bitter "Lemonade" ... "Shame of Thrones?" And just who IS "Becky with the Good Hair?"

"HIS name is often evoked as a cautionary tale ... as TMZ clickbait ... He is the sports world's Lindsay Lohan — a child star admonished for squandering all that talent, all those chances, all before growing up."

That's John Branch, writing yesterday in the New York Times — the front page of the The New York Times! — about troubled young football player Johnny Manziel, a top-pick college draftee, now out of the N.F.L. possibly forever.
Frank Victores/Associated Press
This is a fascinating piece, and I might have missed it had it not been so prominently displayed in the The Gray Lady. (I don't generally rush to the sports pages.) Author Branch has to admit Manziel's well-publicized issues, but the article also serves as an indictment of how young players are used and drafted into professional sports, and then dismissed with an almost cheerful ferocity, if things don't work out.

This unhappy phenomenon — and the overall cultural lunacy that surrounds the N.F.L draft — is today exacerbated by social media: "willing to dehumanize the games they love, turning people into products, and lives into entertainment ... the underbelly of fandom, dismissive and cruel. Schadenfreude is the flip side of reverence, and perhaps a stronger attraction."
Manziel during the first round of the N.F.L. football draft in 2014, when he was selected 22nd over all. Credit Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Damning words, and damningly true. But then, I've always felt sports coverage was just as mean-spirited, spurious and demeaning as anything you find in gossip rags or scandal sites. And it's laid out with manly, testosterone-fueled veneer, rendering the snide criticisms or sweeping generalizations, even more unpalatable. Reading the sports pages or watching commentators on ESPN, sometimes drags me right back to the good old days of Louella and Hedda and Rona Barrett.
Paul and Michelle Manziel showing various trophies their son has won over the years. Michael Stravato for The New York Times
Mr. Manziel is 23, and one hopes he gets his act together, even if he never plays in the N.F.L again.

That said, when is The Times going to run a sympathetic front-page story on the rise and fall and currently questionable plateau of Lindsay Lohan, or the relentless mocking of Gwyneth Paltrow?

As an enraged Katharine Hepburn barked in "Adam's Rib" — "Let's ALL be manly!"
SPEAKING of the New York Times, that mildly well-known singer, Beyonce can certainly never claim the country's most distinguished newspaper doesn't give her respect. Her new project, "Lemonade" — an album complimented by an HBO video visualization of the various songs — merited two major articles on the front page on the Times' Arts section. Impressive! I haven't heard or seen this latest from Bey, as she is affectionately nicknamed by her legions of fans, but I've kept up enough to known that this open letter about herself and (presumably) her hubby, Jay-Z, includes a reference to "Becky with the good hair" who is — rumor has it — a friend or former friend of Beyonce's who strayed with Jay-Z. Everybody in the know (which means everybody who doesn't really know anything) say that "Becky" is actually designer Rachel Roy — who denies it.
Beyoncé with her posse in the television debut of her new album, "Lemonade." Credit Parkwood Entertainment
I have no big feeling one way or another about Beyonce, except that she is beautiful and talented, and knows how to work her publicity machine, so the minor plot point that I found amusing, is that when Rachael Roy's name cropped in the "Becky" guessing game, some people mis-read it as Rachel Ray, the adorable TV chef.

Miss Ray does have good hair. But she also has good sense; she is not dallying with Jay-Z. Honey, you just don't cross women like Beyonce or Taylor Swift or Madonna. They can write songs that sting. (If Guy Ritchie ever heard Madonna's furious "Gang Bang" he probably hired extra security — and this was before all the business with their son, Rocco.)
Jay Z and Beyoncé performing together in 2014 in Florida. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times
"GAME of Thrones" returned Sunday night with a pretty good season opener. It was basically a where-we-left-off-setting-up-the-rest-of-the-season episode. There was the requisite shocking bloodshed and gratuitous nudity. It's Game of Thrones" folks, and if you don't like it, there's plenty of wholesome family fare to be found on TV. Or at least adult fare that doesn't involve spears through heads and one or two or three sets of bare bosoms per episode.

Of course, not everybody feels that exercising free will and turning to another channel is enough. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation refers to "GOT" as a "cocktail of pornography and twisted plotlines that must be denounced as socially irresponsible, especially in an age when American society is struggling to combat the crises of sexual assault and rape culture."
It does no good to argue that "GOT takes place in some Medieval fantasy land where such violence and lack of regard for women — and human life in general! — was commonplace. Eh, I've found some of the alleged modern-age "comedies" that proliferate, especially the ones that seem determined to prove woman can be as gross and profane as men, much more objectionable.

Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of NCOSE declares "'Game of Thrones' should be more aptly titled 'Shame of Thrones.'" That's the kind of remark that hikes subscriptions to HBO, just as Beyonce musically suggesting her husband has been unfaithful is sure to fill stadiums, right before she embarks on her world tour. La Publicite is a doubled-edged sword, but sometimes both sharp edges cut into stacks of money.
P.S. My real issue with "GOT" is its brevity. The opening episode ran 46 minutes. Really? The producers can't fill an entire hour on a network that has no commercial interruptions?
Click to order "Last Train to the Missing Planet."
OUR good friend, L.A. based book publicist Kim Dower, has been a really good friend, providing us, over the years with terrific items on everyone from Larry Flynt to Burt Reynolds to Brad Meltzer, Erica Jong, etc. When I say to her, "Just keep us in mind," she does.

Kim is also a sensitive poet. Her third collection — "Last Train to the Missing Planet" which contains 83 poems! — is now out from Red Hen Press. One of them, about the late, wonderful actor James Garner, has already stirred up a big emotional response throughout the country. Even Garrison Keillor read "Goodbye to James Garner" on his NPR show "The Writer's Almanac."

Kim's poetry has been praised as "a dark chocolate fever dream of love, of mothers. Kim Dower dares you into the dark. You may find yourself lurking there."

On May 4th, as part of national reading tour, Kim will appear at Barnes & Noble in NYC (2289 Broadway and 82nd St, 7:00 p.m.) and at the Book Cellar in Chicago on May 10th. If you can, go and listen to her. She's a lovely person and an even lovelier writer.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.