MUGGSY, obscure Children’s TV show from the 70’s


MUGGSY, from left: Paul Michael, Ben Masters, Sarah MacDonnell, 1976-77

This is serious TV trivia.  I remember a television series that was geared to young people that aired on NBC in the 70’s.  What made this show interesting was that it dealt with crime, drugs, gangs and life in the inner city.

For the longest time, I just could not remember the title.  All I could remember was that the best friend of the protagonist was named Clytemnestra.  She looked after this red haired girl who was living with her brother in a trailer, or truck or something like that in the city.

For some reason, I found the series!  And my memory served me well.

The TV show was called Muggsy.  Sarah MacDonnell was Margaret Muggsy Malloy, the girl with bright red hair.  Her brother Nick Malloy, played by Ben Masters, was a cab driver who took care of her. I recalled her father had a serious drinking problem and the mother was absent, but I cannot recall the reason.

Unlike a lot of shows, it was very “real” and dealt with some hard core material.  It was way above average and I remembered it being very good.

I cannot believe my memory brought this obscure show back to life.

12 episodes were aired, but 13 were created.

According to what I found out, here are some interesting facts about Muggsy.

Notable guest stars included Christopher WalkenDavid NaughtonPamela Reed, and Scott Baio.

The theme song was sung by David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

If you recall this long forgotten series, let me.  I just recalled how good it was and how it dealt with such hard material. I do not think television has really done anything like this as far as gearing something like this to young people.


Westworld: H.B.O’s Spectacular Art Film Series



                                                                                                            WESTWORLD When entertainment engages the mind.

There is a conceit that small independent films are the exclusive sanctuary for cinema as an art form. H.B.O.’s ambitious new series, Westworld, almost defiantly asserts that art and big budget productions are not mutually exclusive. The motto “It’s not television, it’s H.B.O.” has a new resonance.

The old fashioned edict in television has been to play to the lowest common denominator. Free of the constraints of network T.V., premium channels have the luxury to explore adventuresome material without the meddling of censors. However, as the need for new material rises, so do the demands. At this point, H.B.O. has a great deal at stake.

Producing intriguing programing like The Sopranos, Sex and the City and the epic Game of Thrones, which is coming to a close, H.B.O is now in need of a hit. As is the case with anything, when you take risks there is the chance for failure. Case in point, Vinyl, the peak inside the ugly side of the music industry in the 60’s was bold, but brittle. It was a mixture of manic moments that was ultimately alienating and not very interesting, despite good direction and excellent performances.

At what price such fantasies cost in one’s humanity?

H.B.O. has thrown the dice high regarding Westworld. Too often reboots are rehashes that add little next to nothing to the original concept. Way too often they are only redundant. This time out, H.B.O. has taken a film with an interesting concept and reworked it in such a way that it bears little resemblance to its predecessor. This retelling of Westworld feels new, innovative and possess something often missing from entertainment, profundity.

In the original film, the story line was about an amusement park that featured replicas of three historic periods, the American West, Classical Rome, and Medieval Europe. Androids, machines that are identical to humans to the last detail, were employed to offer a wide spectrum of experiences from gun fights, jousts and the decadence of Pompeii. It was the ultimate virtual reality.

Westworld was interesting as a concept, but the execution was weak. It felt like a good premise had been turned into just an average science fiction movie. It was simply put good guys versus bad guys.

This time around, Westworld is far more interesting, and it is not only because of improved visual effects. Clearly, there has been some serious money spent. It shows. Interestingly enough they are just effective backdrops for the real star of the series: high minded ideas, pitch perfect direction, seamless editing and brilliant acting.


                                                                                    Delores, a first generation “Host” that blurs the line between being Human and being a machine

While naturalistic androids identical to humans is interesting, this series is really about the bigger questions humanity has always asked. It even addresses the weaknesses within mankind that prevent us from not repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

The first Westworld took its theme as a given. An amusement park for adults where anything is possible, including the forbidden. It never asked one pressing question. At what price such fantasies in and of themselves cost in one’s humanity?

It is one thing to play a game when it is obviously a fantasy. When the fantasies are identical to the physical world and entertainment takes the form of destruction, rape, theft and cold blooded murder, what does this say about us? Throw in androids so close to being human that they nearly are, to what end can this come?

It also begs another question. In a world where technology is this advanced, the best we could do with it is make a virtual realty Sodom and Gomorrah?

This sparkling fresh Westworld takes nothing for granted. It leaps into the kind of depth that is usually reserved for in indie productions. Questions of death, morality and even the purpose of being are gently woven into to the story line.

The series becomes more than just an adventure, but a real examination of values and meaning. Although it is set in a distant unspecified future, the real story addresses us when our entertainments become more and more violent and the depth of our thoughts become shallower and shallower. It also brings in the just how ethical it is to create beings that may be so self-ware that they gain true consciousness.

Even this early on in the series, it is the Androids that area becoming more human as the guests and scientist who conjured this world become less and less so. The twist is a noticeable one, and it hints at something darker to come.


                                                                                 Are we playing games, or playing God?  Prometheus rises, and Frankenstein is still relevant.


The trend in Science Fiction, and Fantasy films has been to jettison the whimsical and aim for the juggler. A kind of gravitas has entered into the stories. Characters cope with loss, grief and ambiguity in a way that is far from removed from the idea of a dialectical world of good and bad. Now, everything is in shades of grey. Nuance is dominating. Even the most slightly drawn characters have back stories.

H.B.O.’s revisionist Westworld takes aim at the darker side of the human experience and does so in a visceral, but interestingly enough, poetic manner. Few television series offer blood, gore, sex, nudity and adventure while referencing Shakespeare and Gertrude Stein.

Free of the censorship that hamstrings network television, H.B.O has always taken full advantage of its liberty. Nudity, adult situations and language are selling points. However, Westworld uses its nudity and violence in a way that is far from gratuitous. They are used metaphorically, and this has escaped some who see the undraped androids and simulated sex as gratuitous.

Episode one treats the viewer to metaphors and symbolism that may take a viewer repeated viewings to get. The points are not “banged” into your head. You have to observer and consider what you see and hear to get the full effect. This is not passive T.V. Easter eggs are present.

The huge, and I do mean huge, ambitious nature of Westworld is such that it may be off putting for viewers not accustomed to programming that ventures into such deep terrain. The loftiness of Westworld could prevent it from being fully appreciated by some.

As deep as this series is, it is not without flaws. But, the small and insignificant criticisms pale in comparison to the grand sweep that this series is shaping for itself. It is admirable H.B.O. is taking the high road, not the cheap one.

From pitch perfect casting, to incredibly rich production values, Westworld has made a grand debut. Closing its first season, with plans for a second to come, this is Science Fiction of the most refined kind.

Selling Enlightenment

Oprah’s “The Life You Want Weekend Tour” by Oprah Winfrey


Oprah Winfrey, Success and Self Help


Déjà vu struck quickly when I read about Oprah Winfrey’s recent U.S. and Canadian Tour. The wildly successful talk show host, actor, producer, author and media mogul mounted a tour to bring enlightenment, hope and her signature “feel good” vibe to her audience in person.
The common thread that connects this event with the past can be found in one significant self-help movement of the 1970’s. And it all began on the West Coast, specifically Northern California.
San Francisco has been a long time destination point for those hoping to either find themselves, or simply be themselves. Some arrived desperately escaping lives they would prefer not to remember. Such was the case for one John Paul Rosenberg.
Rosenberg would be much better known to the world as Werner Erhard. Armed with a new name and a desire to start over, San Francisco would be home to his new beginning. His new found identity however did not include either his wife or children. They were left to fend for themselves in his absence.
When people move to the west coast, there is the expectation that the move alone will solve all, it not most, problems. If you are in San Francisco, it only follow happiness will naturally follow. The promise of California, the place where stars live, dreams come true and the sun always shines, turns out to be more myth that reality when you live there.
Culling ideas from pop psychology, Buddhism, Dale Carnegie, Scientology, western philosophical thinking, self-help books of the era, and almost anything else connected to self-improvement, Erhard cobbled together “EST.” This would be something of an answer to those seeking what was absent in their lives.
EST was going to provide the turn key answer to human fulfillment. In short, it was constructed around the idea that we are all responsible for the direction of lives. If your life was not working, clearly there was something “wrong” with you that needed to “fix.” Once enrolled in the program, at some point you would have a “Eureka” moment and move past the impediments.
For 60 hours, covering two weekends, those electing to enter this program were subjected to long periods of instruction, exercises and the like cut off from the world with bathroom breaks spaced hours apart. About 250 at a time were gathered in hotel ball rooms to take this rigorous course of instruction.
Some coming out of this said it improved their lives. Others felt that they had been trapped and abused for 60 hours. Not everyone go “IT.”

Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard, The 70’s Guru of Self Help

Times, change and what the public wants does as well. The audience for intensive self-improvement workshops like EST were not what they had been. 1984 marked the last one.
Flash forward a few decades and self-improvement and motivational speakers are back, but in different forms. Riding this wave, or rather helping to reshape it for this century, Winfrey has taken some of what has been before, but wrapped in a far more user friendly package.
She has also added another dimension that was not so prominent in EST. The consumption of goods and services were not added to the mix.
Comments on line from those attending Winfrey’s traveling workshops made specific note of the consumerism involved. Tents and wares were sold outside at the venues where she was appearing. Bags, mobile phone cases and assorted items were sold boldly bearing Winfrey’s logo. The intimacy of a 250 person hotel ball room had been replaced with 18,000 seat arenas. Higher consciousness did not mean you could not shop for a new car.
The base starting price for entering was $ 99.00, and if you wanted the opportunity to actually get close to the media magnate, you will need $ 1,000.00 to do so.
Interestingly enough, EST still lives on in The Landmark Forum. Their 40 hour workshop will set you back $ 500.00 (circa 2009).
What Winfrey and Erhard share is telling. Both have been fiscally successful, Winfrey obviously much more so than Erhard ever was, both have charismatic personalities, both can influence large groups of people and the most important both are firm advocates of the “You and only you are responsible for your own happiness” ethos.
It is easy to see why they embrace this philosophy. Winfrey and Erhard are self-made. They emerged from struggles, Winfrey far more so than Erhard. But there is something deeper that they are claiming their programs will do without coming out and directly stating it.
What they are selling beneath the lofty heights of spiritual fulfillment and pseudo-intellectual psychological insights is something far more “earthy.”
“If I can make a lot of money, so can you.”
Certainly more nuanced than any late night television “get rich quick scheme,” the bottom line is very much the same. If you want proof of success, look no further than the person selling the product. If he or she has found the “American Dream,” surely what they profess publicly will be the direct path to glorious riches.
What none of this takes into consideration are such impediments such as mental illness, intellectual capacity, physical illness or any number of socio-economic issues that can halt personal development. Obstacles to human success can be numerous.
Access to higher education is prohibitive, public schools are failing, and jobs that permitted a middle class life style are shrinking. What jobs that are out there are becoming increasingly “part-time.”
Certainly, personal responsibility matters. Choices can be made that permit better outcomes. The reality of America for most Americans is complex, difficult and filled with veritable land mines. Any solution that offers real answers is going to be multifaceted.


Complex ideas cannot be reduced to tag lines and hash tags. Direct messages are much easier to sell than more nuanced ones.
The clever crafting of the message is the mark of good salesmanship. Every politician knows this. On the surface, this all may seem harmless. But, there is something very disturbing about people not trained in psychology or psychiatry attempting something as monumental as helping people reach higher levels of potential. In fact, it can be dangerous.
When your only credentials are business success, this is a good endorsement for expertise on everything, particularly something that is associated with psychology.
“Claim Your Power, See Yourself From A Different Perspective, Stop Holding Onto the Past, Look Ahead In A New Direction, Take Your Glory and Run,” are words Winfrey uses.
To have a direct message that is general and broad sweeping can work. The tour was a financial success. But for those who spent thousands they could hardly afford to hear this message, one has to wonder if they really “got” anything out of it. Sure, they saw a celebrity, but did their lives improve because of it? Did their personal problems find resolution?
Entertainment promises a good time. It can provide insight, revelations and introspection. It does not usually promise to improve your life on such a deep level, or provide a path to economic security.
When powerful personalities, star power, charisma and commercialization merge, it is safe to assume that a product will be produced and hopefully a profit made, a hefty one.


By Kurt von Behrmann, Writer and Artist currently working on Funding his Go Fund Project, an art exhibition about Bipolar Disorder.

Between Two Poles: A Bipolar Themed Art Exhibition


Also titled Pferd and Caballo, a horse between the two poles of bipolar


“Between Two Poles: A Bipolar Themed Art Exhibition”
Help me make it happen

A few days ago I had composed a document outlining my ideas for this exhibition.


The version I first placed on line was a truncated version.

I added much to this today, February 9th at 4: 15 p.m.


My GoFund Me Link For Support for this exhibition.


This is my Bipolar Story.


When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2013, it was as if someone had just died in the room, me. It was both a surprise and a relief when I realized I had a serious mental illness. The many problems I had experienced over the years made quickly made sense. However, knowledge did not stop the power of this crippling illness.
I tried to commit suicide.
Having support, going to support groups, therapy and medications, none of that was able to prevent me from committing suicide. For me, there was no real use in living. All thoughts were dead ends. The things that mattered so much simple ceased to do so.
Suicide attempts, in my case, lead to my first hospitalization for mental illness. Carried in an ambulance, tired and what empty, I spent an entire day in a waiting room hoping for a hospital bed. There was high demand, but low supply.
The first day was numbing. The second filled with groups. One followed the other. At the tie I did not have insurance. That ensured my stay would be brief. After three days I was released. Although the Psychiatrist was emphatic that I had a serious mental illness and that I needed intensive therapy.
That did not happen. I was released from the hospital, but there was no exit plan. I went from a behavioral health facility right back into “the real world.”
There were many difficult ups and downs having and not being able to afford treatment. I would heal, and then relapse. Drugs that were intended to help had my briefly lose my equilibrium.
Acquiring insurance provided care. But the drugs I were taking simply were not effective. The wonder drug “Lamictal,” was totally infective. Depressions and hypo mania were bound in a restless cycle that had me up and down. My emotions transformed into a violent roller coaster.
When the day started, I might feel optimistic, happy, even filled with bliss. Rapid thoughts accompanied fast thinking. Ideas were flowing so fast I stumbled on my words. At the high point, I was a jester spilling jokes all around me. Nothing could stop me. I was invincible.
The downside was that this euphoria did not last. Within a day or two, it would slide into depression. What goes up, must come down. The trajectory I was on always lead to a fall.
Pain turned into days and weeks of me laying on a sofa unable to do anything. I was falling into immobility. Every day I was suicidal. There were times I wanted to kill myself, but I was literally too exhausted to do it.

The pain of hopeless, depression, anxiety and lethargy are hard to describe. They are powerful but elude any kind of crisp description. When I was at the lowest, everything shut down. I felt pain, but not a physical kind. Nothing hurt, but there was a powerful pain. It was both intense and cold. The very idea of the world had no appeal. Nothing mattered except the depression. I could not pull myself out of it because my entire mind had become this void.
There were tools given to me by therapy. It my worst state they were of no use. The drugs that were supposed to at least alleviate the pain enough to get some kind of grasp of things were not powerful enough. I had contemplated, seriously, ending drugs, therapy and any other support. When I need support the most, there was nothing to grab. There was no substance to anything.
The only thing I had in depression was depression. The grasp of this illness was reaching a point where I started to feel nothing at all. There was only me wanting to end all of this insane jumping from high to low.
As all of this was happening, my identity was drifting away. All of the things that made up me, the artist, the writer, the educator, the politically aware person, everything that made up me was taken away. It was not slow. Depression moves quickly. It leaves nothing untouched.
My life was becoming surreal. There were moments where it felt like a film. I was either starring in it, or removed from the action. Simple events were monumental moments.
Then there were times when I just felt myself pulling so far inward. I was rejecting the world, other people and to some degree myself. It was like drowning and no one was hearing your screams.
Now that I look back, I had often felt like I was screaming, but no one was listening. I was in my own personal hell but no one knew I was in it. I either kept it hidden, or it resulted in some odd behavior on my part.
My life reached a new kind of low when I started cutting myself. I wanted to see if I could endure the pain of slitting my wrists. I am not a person who likes pain, but I was just feeling so much of it lately that I wanted to see how much physical pain I could endure.
I can’t say that I thought of cutting as a deliberate act. The idea to get up and cut myself was not a formed idea. The impulse to do was that. Without a lot of emotion at the time, I was jumped up from my sofa, walked into the kitchen and started.
The first marks were tentative. I really wanted to slit my wrists, but I was not sure if I had the willpower to do that. This was like a test run for the real thing is how I saw my cuts.
I started, slowly and I kept going up my arm cutting a little bit deeper every time. I was totally transfixed by what I was doing. I was drawn to this. There was an addictive side to this. I hated the pain, but I could not stop.
The scars created by the knife fascinated me. I kept cutting. Briefly, they gave me a release. The scars were expressing the intense pain I had no other way to express. The escape those marks offered was short lived.
I would stop, realizing this was not a good idea. Rational thinking intervened. Consciously, I knew I should stop. Emotionally, I felt like I shouldn’t. I broke away to call a support person from my support group. That borrowed time.
I called the warm line, a phone line that offers support for 15 minutes to people in crises who need to talk. I think I actually reached a former cutter. That only borrowed more time.
Self-preservation stepped in. I called a friend of mine and we talked about things other than cutting or bipolar. I had stopped.
That was only for a while. I resumed again. No one knew it until well after the fact.
Much was taking place, but I had reached a point where I wanted to change health care. I was seeing a Nurse Practioner whose healthcare plan was clearly not working. I felt weak, really weak, but I was up when I made my last visit.
My feelings made no sense. I was cutting, then left to see this “buffoon.” I was happy, really really up knowing feel well this was my last visit. My feelings were totally out of sync with everything. I was cutting, and then very happy.
Eventually I did find a “Psychiatrist.” I am really not an advocate of Nurse Practioners at all. I really do not believe they have the medical knowledge to deal with mental illness, at all unless under the strict eye of a Psychiatrist. Even then, I have grave reservations.
Under new care, a new therapist, things started to move forward.
Bipolar can offer you a few days of mania that can jump start your motivation. I was slow moving and tired, but I was making progress in November of last year.
Now it is February of 2015, and I am starting to put the pieces back together. The current combination of medications and therapy seem to be working. I still have bad moments. But, the addictive cutting has ceased.
I can paint. I finished a work in January, and about to complete one this month and I know I am create more innovative pieces.
The only problem is that I do need funds. Between not being able to work or even find work in my state, I have fallen behind with bills.
This is why I am asking for support for my solo exhibition of new art “Between Two Poles, A Bipolar Themed Exhibition.”
Before I became seriously ill in late 2014, I had created a proposal for an exhibition that talks about bipolar disorder from the perspective of an artist with the illness.
The works would be centered around the idea of expressing the euphoric ups and the damaging downs of Bipolar.
The idea for the exhibition came about when I realized how many of my pieces dealt with canvases being divided in half. Works literally had a dark side and a light side. This has been a salient feature of my work for some time.
After looking over my recent creations I began reading Dr. Key Redfield Jamison’s book “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” I started to see strong connections between Bipolar and creativity. There is a good case made for it in this book. The unusually high number of artists with this affliction makes a compelling case that bipolar is connected to high levels of artistic achievement.
The list of artists who have suffered from mental illness, depression and bipolar, is extensive. The artistic temperament is a live wire that ignites everything it its path.
There was a study in Sweden, and I cannot recall the details. In this study they examined high achieving student’s psychiatric records. They discovered that a number of them were bipolar.
What I have experienced is that Bipolar can literally send you a million and one ideas at once. It can create wild associations between ideas and visuals. It provides the “fire” that sparks the imagination. When in a hypo manic moment, you get added inspiration and drive. Your sense of purpose is extremely drawn. The only down side is when the depressions hit so hard you cannot move, let alone create a piece of art.
For me, my artistic temperament was fueled by yet another diagnoses, Borderline Personality Disorder. That brought another element into the “mix.” From what I have read thus far, a number of bipolar people also have this personality disorder as well. There is the belief among some in the psychiatric community that Borderline Personality Disorder maybe related, or even on the same spectrum, as Bipolar. This is speculative on my part, but I do feel that there is a connection between the two of some type. I am not a psychiatrist so I can only offer what I have seen, but mood and personality tend to be connected.
Amid all of the anguish and chaos, my proposal for a Bipolar Exhibition was approved by the prestigious Shemer Art Center in Phoenix, Arizona. If all goes well, I will have a show there opening June 25th to August 6th of this year.
The show is really the one thing that has kept me going. Knowing that my identity as an artist is intact and that my work and ideas are taken seriously by a well-respected art institution in Phoenix Arizona is confirmation at a very good time.
I believe my recovery, which is permitting me time to create this document, is in large part the result of this upcoming exhibition. Advance response to the new pieces has been overwhelmingly positive. The content and imagery in the new work is different from anything I have done
A positive sign of my own “renaissance” is that I will have work at a new art center opening this March. The Director invited me to participate. I am very thrilled about this. It will be my first showing of 2015.
This month I also completed a small commission. It was small. But at least it was something. I am grateful for small things. Bad times make you appreciative.
Sadly, I had tried to apply for a grant. Due to my inability to fully function at the time, I had made a mistake and the grant was rejected. This is what Bipolar and Borderline personality can do to you.
I know that if I can get through the next few months, I know I can get back to where I was creatively. I do want to teach again and make art and write
What I need, desperately need, are funds to purchase paints, frames, canvas and the like to continue. Funds are literally spent. I mean zero. So anything you can throw my way will help make this possible.
Whatever you can do, a few dollars, or just spreading the word helps. I would love to see my web site go viral. Links to my web page, looking me up on twitter and facebook, my web site has the links, all of this counts. I would like to go viral.
Aside from me for a moment, Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. It can literally kill you. Awareness is increasing. This is good. Alleviating stigma is still a problem. It prevents people from seeking treatment or even knowing what to look for with regards to mental health.
We tend to ignore mental health. If things in life are not working out as planned, or your are depressed, the assumption has always been that you have a character flaw. If discipline is engaged, your difficulties will vanish. “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” and “ Just plow ahead, “ are the standard assumed answers.
Life has never been that simple. There are instances where simply plowing ahead will get you ahead. Not everyone suffers from a mental illness.
But, when you think of suicide, when your behavior becomes erratic, when you moods change for no reason, when your so depressed that suicide seems like an excellent option, it is time to seek professional help.
No one, myself included, wanted to believe I had a problem. I was somewhat functional in the world. I had overcome obstacles as most people do. I had set backs. I buckled down and moved forward. I just assumed everyone becomes suicidal. I assumed everyone becomes depressed for weeks on end. I assumed everyone becomes restless, reckless and takes risks. I assumed a lot.
As long as the bills were paid and nothing terrible happened, I was alright.
I was terribly wrong. If I have ever made a huge mistake in my life it was not seeing the signs. They were painfully obvious for a long time. The moodiness of High School. The suicidal thoughts at a teenager. The frequent bouts of suicidal thoughts off and on over the years. Manic behavior that would keep me up all night and active during the day for weeks on end.
When I went to my first Behavioral Health Facility my first thought was, “these poor people, and thank God that is not me.”
The joke was totally on me. I was just like those people and had been.
No one chooses to be Bipolar. But, if you seek treatment, persist and become your own advocate, you can hope for a positive outcome. Bipolar can do a lot of damage, a lot. But there is hope.
I can tell you that there maybe ups and downs. Everyone is different. For some, recovery comes with medications. In time the pills go from several a day to just one. For some people, that is realistic.
For others, Bipolar means taking care of oneself. For me that means a healthy life style. It means no smoking, no drinking, eliminating certain foods and certainly no drugs other than those prescribed.
I have not been in recovery long enough to know what it means for many people. What I have seen informs me that it does require vigilance.
I do know for certain that not taking psychiatric meds, not altering your lifestyle, or ignoring Bipolar is life threatening. No one gets better without psychiatric meds, therapy and support groups. People may say they do, but I have only seen cases becoming worse, a lot worst.
If you think, even suspect, that you are Bipolar and/or Borderline Personality Disorder, please seek professional help from trained professionals. Talking to friends is great, but that is not enough.
Thank you for reading this document. If any of this helps just one person, I feel very successful in my goals.
I am actively seeking support for what I know will be a unique exhibition. Help me make it happen. I have much to say and this is a subject that demands a public dialogue.
There is are
many myths and misconceptions about mental illness. There are just as many about what constitutes “good mental health.” There needs to be a conversation about Bipolar.

American Sniper: A commentary on American Culture

Thursday, January 29, 2015
REEL VERSUS REAL: When cinema becomes reality

American Snipe

American Sniper, an unexpected hit

American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s memoir about his Iraq War service has been an unexpected financial success. It has also become a magnetic for decidedly sharp criticism.
Some have faulted Eastwood for his lack of depth in dealing with the complexity of the subject matter. Others have seen the film as simply a chronicle of one man’s experiences. There are those who have viewed it as thinly veiled pro war propaganda.
When heroism is in short supply, one can at least find solace in the dark comfort of a multiplex.
Eastwood, who has actually held elected office, has made no mystery of his political leanings. Whenever a director becomes closely connected to politics like he has, it should come as no surprise that his work is going to be filtered through a decidedly political lens.
Are Eastwood’s efforts art of art’s sake, or is there an agenda to be found between the reels? The question automatically arises when any artist takes stances on divisive political issues. Given the subject matter here, there is really no way to avoid the question of how much is art and how much is message.
The Iraq War has still left deep wounds in the American Psyche. This is still a nation shaken by domestic and global terrorism. The fears of what is to come next cast a dark shadow.
The intricacies of Middle Eastern politics are a confounding web of ambitions, megalomania, religious fanaticism, economic inequality, opportunism, botched colonialism and extreme shortsightedness. The only reliable truth here is that when Elephants fight, ants are the first causalities.
I have yet to see Eastwood’s latest. Therefore, I am reserving judgment until I actually see his creation. I do not believe in condoning or condemning anything until I have experienced it firsthand.
Images, as well as words, are powerful tools. They are the first things tyrants squash. Censorship has always been the chief arsenal of the intolerant. In our culture of constant visual images and an always on internet, video, images and text do sway public opinion.
What has increasingly happened over time is that the world created in entertainment has become a replacement for reality. The world of carefully constructed images have become American Reality.
The proliferation of media has created a world where we judge beauty by Hollywood images and seek value in how well we stack up to those images. The brave soldier, the femme fatale, the macho man, the seductress, the pimp and the “ ho,” are all archetypes that describe a type, but omit the subtlety of detail. We have constructed an entire reality based on stereotypes that we have accepted as truth. The truth of any of these individuals is far more compelling than a simply drawn construct.
The problem with basing reality on popular entertainment is that the entertainment is not education and education is not entertainment. The two have become merged to the detriment of both.
When Television merged entertainment with news, it is as if this was a prophetic prediction of what would happen next, the blurring of reality.
Now, we all expect to be entertained no matter what we are doing. Taking time to do research, to be introspective, all of those things have been replaced.
Instead of looking at current events, world affairs and the like directly via “actual news” and looking at history form “actually history books,” we have substituted entertainment for reliable information. Entertainment, by definition, is designed to amuse. It is not always suited to be the best vehicle for accurate information, insight or the sometimes ambiguous world for reality where there may only be shades of gray.
This is the kind of problem that Americans have a lot of difficult with, and it is easy to see why.
Films, television shows, even the most insubstantial fluff, offer at the end conclusions. The hero wins. Good triumphs over evil. Hard work pays off in the end. There are always good guys and bad guys. At the end of the reel, the hard working win. Virtue is rewarded. Vice is always punished.
In a cultural zone built on so many absolutes, there is no room for truth. There is space for only confirmation. We are fed a television show reality and we expect our lives to correspond.
In the neat T.V. world, the ideal is a home, two cars, beautiful clothes, endless supplies of adventure and never a dull moment. We are given an American Dream that is simply not attainable. No one has it all. No one ever has.
Even education has been infected with the “Eduotainment’ bug. Classes are expected to make learning “fun.” Learning maybe enjoyable, fulfilling and worthwhile, but it is seldom fun in an entertainment way. Entertainment is passive. You sit back and let the “magic” happen. Learning is proactive. One has to be engaged.
In the blurring of the lines, we are looking at major Hollywood Films about the war to become accurate depictions of it. Sure, fiction can touch upon reality, but fiction is not a substitute for reality.
If you want to comprehend what the Iraq War was all about, you need more than one source of information. Seek out the historians, the politicians, even those who were actually there. Gather your facts from reliable sources, both right and left. When you look at both sides, the truth has a funny way of appearing.
One can criticize film from any number of perspectives. There is always validity in that. But, the big point to keep in mind is that ultimately American Sniper is a big budget Hollywood film designed to entertain. The objective here is to tell a story and have you the viewer walking away happy at the end. There is no stated intention of saying that this is the real war. This is not a documentary.
In the end, big budget films are created to entertain, not necessarily inform.