Archive | April, 2008

My Name is Nomar

29 Apr

It was a sad moment last Saturday when The Hangover was forced to put Nomar Garciaparra on the Disabled List of his fantasy baseball team, The Killer Rabbits.  (It was probably even sadder for Nomar’s real team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Yes, The Hangover is a minor fantasy geek, but what would you expect from someone who has a blog?)  It was probably silly to draft him in the first place, considering his performance the last few years.  But looking over the list of players, his name brought to mind the Nomar of ’97 to ’03, when he was one of the best players in baseball.  In hindsight, it was pathetically optimistic to believe that Nomar could reclaim those Red Sox glory years, when he was Rookie of the Year in 1997, a five time all-star, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000, hitting 35 home runs in 1998,  and playing unbelievable defense.  I saw that player just about every night for seven years.  But Nomar is now an oft-injured shell of his former self.   When The Hangover thinks of Nomar, he’s reminded of Earl Hickey.

No, Earl Hickey is not a long forgotten shortstop for the 1939 St. Louis Browns.  He is the character created and played by actor Jason Lee on the NBC show, “My Name is Earl.”  Earl Hickey was a dirt bag, petty thief who never caught a break.  An unlikely chain of events put him in a hospital bed where he watched Carson Daly talk about karma on television.  Earl had an epiphany.  He would make a list of all the things he had done wrong in his life and correct them, one by one, and perhaps his life would improve.  As luck (or karma) would have it, once he starting crossing these nefarious acts off his list, things changed for the better.  Professionally speaking, Nomar Garciaparra is Earl Hickey–only in reverse.  

2004 was a contract year for Nomar, by then one of the Red Sox all-time greats.  In 2003, the Red Sox offered him a four year deal starting in 2005 at a rate of 15 million a year.  At the time, Nomar was considered one of the three best in the game at his position.  Ahead of him was Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in the game ( 25 million per season), and also the most productive.  Derek Jeter, who had won four World Series rings by then, was also being paid more (19 million per season).   It was a fair offer.  Nomar turned it down.  Then he became bitter about it.  And that’s when karma starting kicking Nomar in the ass. 

As Seth Mnookin details in this excerpt from his book, “Feeding the Monster,” Nomar became alienated from the Sox.   A market shift before the start of the 2004 resulted in a new offer from the team, only at 12 million a year.  Garciaparra was asking for 17 million.  (The fourth best shortstop, Miguel Tejada, signed a contract that off-season for 12 million.)  The Red Sox also explored trading for A-Rod, which further distanced and upset Nomar.  Then Garciaparra injured his ankle in Spring Training.  He couldn’t seem to get on the field, missing approximately 60% of the regular season games.  Sox management worried that Nomar was more concerned with being healthy as a free agent in November than playing throughout the season.  He began to despise the town, the team, and the fans that adored him.  Eventually, Nomar was dealt at the deadline for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.  The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.

This is what happened to Nomar once he rejected that 15 million dollar a year contract and, in the words of Earl Hickey, turned karma against him:

2003:  Sox fall to Yankees in Game Seven of ALCS.  (Nomar hit .241, struck out eight times, and had 1 rbi in the series.)

2004: Hurts ankle in spring training.  Misses games.  Traded to Cubs, Sox win Series.

2005:  Signs with Cubs for 8.25 million.  Plays only 62 games, hits .283 with 30 rbi.

2006:  Signs with Dodgers for 6.0 million.  Makes All Star team.   Plays only 122 games, but hits .303 with 20 HR.  In only non-Sox playoff appearance hits .222 as Dodgers are swept by Mets. 

2007:  Signs with Dodgers for 8.25 million.  Plays only 120 games, hits .283 with 7 HR.

2008:  Signed for 9.5 million.  Still in April, batting .226, already on the DL twice. 

It’s obvious that Nomar isn’t what he used to be.  But The Hangover remembers when he was The Man in Boston, honored by all from Saturday Night Live to Newberry Street.  We chanted “Nomar’s better” when Jeter hit in Fenway.  The Hangover Jr. took his first swings in the backyard in his Nomar shirt, mimicking the famous toe-tapping, glove adjusting batting routine.  Nomar was once a sure hall-of-famer.   Now, he can’t even get through the first month of the season.   The Killer Rabbits may suffer, but The Hangover believes there must be some way for Nomar to change his karma.  He could start by releasing any bitterness harbored against the Red Sox and the fandom that once revered him.  If the fictional Earl Hickey can become a better man, then Nomar can be again what he once was.   

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Casinos, yes. Television ads, no.

22 Apr

Although the societal merits of gambling casinos have been much debated, there can be no denying that Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have perpetrated a great evil againt New England.  Our sports channels have been inundated with several unsettling television commercials promoting the respective establishments.  Being a blackjack aficionado, The Hangover has nothing against the casinos themselves.  However, steps must be taken to end their advertisements.  

Foxwoods has been using television for years, most commercials starring a Sinatra wanna-be who wouldn’t have cut it as an extra in Swingers.  But things changed last year when the casino unveiled an unimaginative music video in which a comfortable suburban couple pulls up at the casino, steps out of their Old Navy outfits, and then springs to life in stylish evening wear.  They wine, dine, gamble, and then–dance.  That’s when the trouble starts.  One’s eyes are punished by the worst exhibition of dancing this side of a Junior High Spring Formal at an all-boys Catholic school.  The brunette, red dress-wearing soccer mom (the female lead) lacks rhythm, coordination, and grace.  The Hangover can’t even come up with a term to describe her un-sexiness.  It’s a miracle that the shot following the dancing scene doesn’t have the male lead at the bar with a double scotch, asking himself, “How did I get here?”

The ad must have proved fruitful, however, because Mohegan Sun (Foxwood’s rival) has countered.  Mohegan ups the ante with an all-out musical production number.  Remarkably, the soccer mom lead in Mohegan’s spot looks remarkably like the inept dancer employed by Foxwoods.  I can picture the Mohegan marketing genius telling the producer: “Find us a brunette who can’t dance and lacks charisma.  And goddamn it, make sure she’s got a feathered ’80’s haircut, too.”  The dancing is equally as bad as the Foxwoods video, relative to its genre.  The piece is reminiscent of a Drew Carey Show opening number–provided that the actors and dancers had spent the previous year drinking Buzz beer, killing all rhythm-influencing brain cells. 

The Hangover doesn’t think it is too much to ask to watch a Celtics or Red Sox game without being subjected to marketing infinitely more disturbing than the gambling it’s designed to promote.   Sure, it’s easy to think of clicking away, but one can’t underestimate the “car wreck” quality here.  And if you doubt that the ads are that grisly, consider this:  They can’t even be found on Youtube or the casinos’ websites.  Yes, they are that bad.  Please make them stop.      

Bitter, Yes. And Why Not?

17 Apr

There’s no doubt that last night’s Democratic debate left small town, suburban, and even city-dwelling Americans bitter. The Obama-Clinton entanglement was a “he said this, she said that–what does it all mean” painfest.   Watching candidates backpedal and rationalize only served to neglect the real issues facing the country.  Most of this nonsense stemmed from Obama’s comments made at a fundraiser last week in which he stated:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

The real problem here is that Obama is absolutely correct.  Middle class and working people are bitter and they have plenty of reasons to be: NAFTA, Iraq (including the WMD bullshit that hoodwinked us into going there), Enron, gas prices, record oil company profits, the mortgage and financial crises, federal response to Katrina, rising college costs, stagnant incomes, the shift from a manufacturing to service economy, the response to 9/11–meaning a free Osama Bin Laden, etc…   While one can blame George W. for a host of these issues, a Democratic congress resulting from the 2006 midterms did nothing to slow down the war.  In fact, the President was able to launch a “surge” and increase American presence.  

There isn’t a gun in Hangover headquarters, coincidentally located in small town America.  The Hangover doesn’t take “the opiate of the masses.”  We don’t have anything against immigrants (our grandparents being “off the boat” themselves).  However, free trade has scuttled the American manufacturing economy as Ross Perot predicted.  That is frustrating.  If you can’t tell, the Hangover is also fairly cynical, if not disgusted.  But as explained above, we have our reasons.

However, the bitter and apathetic have no one to blame but themselves.  Hello, Ohio!  John Kerry lost the presidency in 2004 because the people of Ohio were more concerned with the prospect of having homosexuals get married than the economic conditions crippling their state.  The Hangover, being  one for common sense, would consider a good job more important than the possibility of gay neighbors “enjoying” marital bliss.  While married gay neighbors might invite you over for dinner every now and then, they won’t provide you with a weekly paycheck so that you can eat on those other nights and make payments on your Honda.

As a result of his remarks, the McCain and Clinton camps are now trying to attach the “elitist” label to Obama.  He should be grateful, whether it is true or not.  (This with the Clinton’s out-earning the Obama’s by 16 million dollars in 2007).  The tag marks Obama as a thinker and an intellectual.  It’s clear that America could use an infusion of brains at its highest level.  Our folksy, horse-riding, jean-wearing, down-to-earth President has been more terrifying than terrific.  At the least, the label distances Obama from Clinton (coat tail-riding policy wonk) and McCain (war-hawking maverick).   Obama speaks well and sometimes advances ideas beyond the standard political rhetoric.  When one candidate is making up stories of a commando entrance into Bosnia and the other is confusing Iraq and Iran, eloquence should be considered a positive.    

Perhaps it is time again for America to have an elitist President.  Our last, FDR, wasn’t so bad, was he?   All Obama has to do is convince America that education, intelligence, and thoughtfulness are actually good qualities.  Even the guy who mows your lawn, pours your drink, or defends your tax fraud case should be able to see that. 

Best Songs of the New Wave Era

15 Apr

New Wave emerged in the late 1970’s as a response to the overproduced, indulgent music that dominated the airwaves through the middle of the decade.   It took rock back to its roots, eliminating layers of synthesizers, instrumentation, and vocals.  Instead of the bloated sounds of Yes and Journey, there were spare, sharp offerings by Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and Joe Jackson.   The pseudo-majesty of Styx, Foreigner, and Kansas was replaced by the grit of The Pretenders and The Plimsouls.  The great New Wave bands took music back to the best of the early years of rock and roll when emotion, songwriting, and energy trumped pseudo-orchestral pomposity.  There’s a reason Declan MacManus took Elvis Presley’s name and Buddy Holly’s glasses.

The Hangover’s Five (or six) Best Songs of the New Wave Era:

Tie:  “Less than Zero” / “Pump it Up”  Elvis Costello  (My Aim Is True, 1977 / 1978 This Year’s Model)

Elvis Costello could be called the poster boy of the New Wave movement.  His early albums were musically sparse and clearly intelligent, also biting and catchy.  When his songs began appearing on American radio, their minimalist nature made them a stark contrast to what was in heavy rotation at the time. 

Less than Zero was a scathing attack on British fascist Oswald Mosely.  The lyrics also revealed Costello’s dissatisfaction with the societal status quo.  Bret Easton Ellis picked up on this and nicked the title for his first novel, considered by critics to be an indictment of the meaninglessness found in that generation’s lives.  Less than Zero is a classic example of Costello’s approach to his early music, where the song itself was everything.

Pump it Up is a throbbing paean to sex with sharp lyrics and urgent music.   Costello spits out his vocals with something close to disgust as he chronicles unrelenting, uncontrolled desire.  The pulsing guitar and organ mirror the sexual nature of the lyrics.  It’s a lost cause when Costello sings, “No use wishing now for any other sin.”    

“Is She Really Going Out With Him?”  Joe Jackson  (Look Sharp, 1979)

This song was all over the radio as Joe Jackson broke into the American market.  It begins a quiet,  pretty piano ballad, but suddenly bursts with venom.  Jackson vents his disgust with the beauty-beast coupling that pervades his scene.  The “Is she really going out with him?” chorus is simple and effective; the verse combines a pleasant singing voice with underlying satire:  “Pretty women out walkin’ with gorillas down my street/From my window I’m starin’ while my coffee goes cold.”  In just two lines a listener is firmly placed in the singer’s shoes.  Simple, effective, and fun.

 “What I Like About You” The Romantics  (The Romantics, 1980)

Three chord genius, here.  Just two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals.  Decent lyrics, huge hooks.  The song was not a hit when it came out in 1980.  However, it has since been overplayed and overused to the point that The Hangover now cringes any time we hear it.   But one can’t blame the Romantics for that.  Before “What I like” got appropriated for car commercials, sports stadiums, kids’ movies, horrible sitcoms, tired DJ’s, and every other cliche machine, it was a very cool song that brought to mind the best of the early British Invasion.   Power pop at its finest.

“Mystery Achievement” The Pretenders   (Pretenders, 1980)

This song starts with thumping drums, then is joined by its standout base line.  Crisp guitar chords appear next, followed by Chrissie’s Hynde’s plaintive wail.  The song was written by guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and its subject remains somewhat mysterious.  The Hangover believes that it is most likely about heroin and its constant beckoning.  (This would also make it ironic as Honeyman-Scott later died of an overdose.)  The lyrics are poetic, but clear in the hold “mystery achievement” has on the songwriter:

“Mystery Achievement don’t breathe down my neck, no” and later “But every day, every nighttime I find/
Mystery achievement, you’re on my mind/And every day, every nighttime I feel/Mystery achievement, you’re so unreal”

“A Million Miles Away” The Plimsouls  (Everywhere At Once, 1983)

It’s possible that lost love has been the most written about subject of rock and roll.  Backed by guitar licks and urgent vocals, the Plimsouls do it here as well as anyone.  The song plays fast and hard, raving like Jerry Lee Lewis minus the piano.  The band and song were featured in the cult classic “Valley Girl,” where Nicolas Cage’s character takes the Vals to see a band playing with real emotion and integrity.  As far as the Plimsouls go, it was perfect casting.   

Others that were considered:

“I Got You” by the Split Enz.  This one starts off quietly but its chorus with “I don’t know why sometimes I get frightened/you can see my eyes and tell that I’m not lying” is perhaps the most catchy of the entire era.

“Local Girls” or “Endless Night”  by Graham Parker.  These are two of Parker’s best from his “new wave” days.  The writing is wry and sharp, the spare music is classic pub rock.  

“Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n the Tears.  It was hard to leave this one off the list.  It is a moody piece with a neat guitar riff, sharp drums, and deep-voiced vocals.   Sniff had a distinct sound.

“I’ve Got Your Number (Written on the Back of My Hand)” by The Jags.  This is a song that kicks with built-in humor and a touch of spite.   These guys could have been Elvis Costello’s second cousins.  At the time, The Hangover was certain that this band would be more than just almost-one-hit wonders.   

No Draft, No Vietnam, No Outrage: Iraq War 2008

11 Apr

66% of Americans currently oppose the war in Iraq, yet there is little of the public outrage that spilled into the streets during the Vietnam era.  As discussed in a previous post, one explanation lies in questionable media coverage of the conflict.  Another factor is the lack of a Selective Service draft.  The draft was activated for the Vietnam conflict in December of 1969 with a birth-date lottery for men 19-25 years of age.  A protest movement that had been forceful and wide-ranging grew even more powerful as anti-draft demonstrations began in 1967. 

Today’s American Military is an all volunteer force.  Soldiers, sailors, and marines come from all areas of the country and, for the most part, all strata of society (although the very rich and very poor are under-represented).  Most Americans know someone who has served in the conflict.   However, a draft increases the scope of war beyond that of volunteers to the families of all American men between the ages of 18 and 25.   

If one is eligible for conscription or has a son, nephew, or cousin who is draft-able, perceptions of and responses to war are likely to change.  The conflict then becomes an active, harsh reality.  The engagement is suddenly tactile and palpable.  Simply, a draft brings the war into more American households.  At that point, “Whatever”  or “That’s a shame” can easily turn into, “Hell, no.”  Self interest is a powerful motivator.

In Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore questioned members of the 2003 Congress and found:  “Out of the 535 members of Congress, only one had an enlisted son in Iraq.”   (Give Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson and his son credit here, as well as John McCain, whose son is also serving in Iraq.  At least he practices what he preaches.)  Common sense suggests “leaders” would be more wary of commiting troops if their sons and daughters were eligible to face fire.  Average citizens who oppose the war might be more inclined to take to the streets in protest if someone in their family was ticketed for Iraq via a draft.   And one can question if those in favor of the war would continue to be so if their children might be sent to fight.  The all-volunteer force allows a luxury of distance for those those not directly connected to a volunteer serviceman or servicewoman.   

That distance did not exist in the Vietnam era.  One-third of those serving there were drafted.  But another important consideration is the size and nature of the respective conflicts.  Vietnam’s reverberations through American society were much greater than we are experiencing with the Iraq war.  In 1969, troop levels In Vietnam peaked at 543, 000, over three times the highest levels in Iraq (170,000).   Over 50, 000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, with over 300, 000 were wounded.  In Iraq, the numbers are considerably less, with just over 4000 dead and 29, 000 wounded to date.  The war in Vietnam touched more American families in negative ways.  Publicly displayed opposition to that conflict corresponds proportionately in size and scope to that of Iraq.

Protests against Vietnam were widespread and often large.  April 15, 1967, 500,00 gathered in New York’s Central Park and marched to the UN to rail against Vietnam.   In April of 1969, 250, 000 marched to protest the Vietnam war in New York.   In November of 1969, 250, 000 demonstrators gathered in Washington, DC.  An April 24, 1970, another 200,000 protested in Washington, while 156, 000 marched in San Francisco.   2005 and 2007 protests against Iraq drew more than 150, 000 in Washington.  But the ferocity, volume, and effectiveness of protest in the Vietanm era was much greater than found today.  Just a glance at the archive of the UCal Berkely Libraary Media Resource Center  (the source of the above statistics) will confirm that.   

One fact remains clear:  The impact of the war in Iraq on the home front today is considerably less than Vietnam’s was in the ’60’s and early ’70’s.  This is reflected by a lack of publicly expressed outrage and civil disobedience.  Troop levels, the number of killed and wounded, the Selective Service draft, and media coverage all contribute to the difference.  There is less protest today, and the protest which has occurred has been ineffective.  The 2006 midterm elections, which were considered a referendum on the war and resulted in a stronger Deomcratic voice in Congress (gaining six senate and 29 house seats), has done nothing to slow down American involvement in Iraq.  In fact, the current “surge” strategy escalated our presence there.  

The American people have a voice.   But Iraq protests and demonstrations have been few and ineffective.  The citizenry spoke in the 2006 midterms and it proved to be a whisper.  The upcoming Presidential election will give Americans another chance to express their opposition through action, with clear choices cut along Democratic and Republican lines.  It may be the public’s last chance to effect Iraq war policy.   At the conflict’s current level with an all volunteer force, the Iraq war just does not generate the amount of outrage needed to fuel political change. 

Greetings From Fenway Park: Red Sox Opening Day 2008

9 Apr

The Boston Red Sox celebrated the beginning of the ’08 season and the Series victory of ’07 yesterday in fine fashion.  The Hangover was in attendance.  Our random thoughts are presented below.

  • It was great having Bill Buckner throw out the first pitch.  As reported in the Boston Globe, it meant a lot to him.  Anyone with a clue knows that the ’86 Series defeat was not his fault.  He played his ass off that fall on one healthy ankle.  There’s plenty of blame to go around for ’86, most of which the Hangover heaps on the inept managing of John MacNamara.  If he had brought Oil Can Boyd in to relieve Hurst in game Seven, victory would have been ours.  There’s no way the Can isn’t at his absolute best at that moment.
  • The ring ceremony was well paced and compelling.  The athletes representing the various teams were well chosen; it was great that they weren’t all superstars.  Anytime you can put Bill Russell, Johnny “Pie” McKenzie, Larry Izzo, Curtis Lescanic, and Bobby Orr together, it will be a moment to remember. Of course, you could put Bobby Orr out there with the Timberlane High Chess Team and it would be a moment to remember. 
  • Is there a reason the Sox can’t retire Johnny Pesky’s number 6?  He’s worked for them for 50 years, he was a great player (if not a Hall of Famer), and he’s managed and coached and a large number of Sox players from Boggs to Schilling have thanked Pesky for his contributions.  He deserves more than a minor league field in Fort Myers.  What more does the guy have to do?
  • In honor of a certain history professor at Wichita State in Kansas, The Hangover took part in a Tastycakes promotion where a small donation resulted in a free pack of Krimpets. Mmmmmmmmmmm.
  • The A. Rodriguez-attacking hawk made an appearance early in the game.  It was applauded. 
  • The Red Sox this year are serving beer in the stands to season ticket holders in Field Box seats.  This is a great idea.  For what people are shelling out for those tickets they should be able to get a beer there–just like in EVERY OTHER MAJOR LEAGUE BALLPARK.  But what about the rest of us?  Although The Hangover wasn’t drinking at the game, seeing the beer vendor pass below without even a glance upward drew our ire.  Those in the not-as-expensive-(but surely not cheap)-seats shouldn’t have to waste an inning in the bowels of Fenway standing in line to pay $7.75 for a 16 ounce brew.  Do the Sox fear that those without Platinum cards and pedigrees will act out and become slurring Neanderthals if they are brought beer?  Will there be anarchy in the Grandstands, sponsored by Budweiser?  Will turmoil rumble through the upper boxes like a MIller Lite fueled tidal wave?   Come on, Sox, bring the beer to those who need it most–the poor, the downtrodden, the ones paying good money to sit everywhere else but the field boxes.  (Do you really want to see those grandstand customers in open revolt when it’s 90 degrees and the masses get a look at ice cold Heineken being served to the field seats? They’ll storm those poor beer vendors like the French rabble took the Bastille.)
  • Although The Hangover did not drink at Fenway, TH and associates did do some damage before the game.  Kudos to the bar staff at Eastern Standard who were professional, quick, friendly, and kept us sedated with American beer and Irish whiskey.   Well done.
  • The eighth inning Neil Diamond “Sweet Caroline” video was a hoot.  It could have used more Wally and less Tom Werner, however.
  • The eighth inning Neil Diamond “Sweet Caroline” video was an annoying promotional tool for his upcoming August concert in Fenway.  It could have used more Wally and less Tom Werner. 
  • Daisuke was in command, the team played some great defense, and there was timely hitting.  The resulting 5-0 shutout of the Tigers was a complement to the sun which made its first appearance in two weeks.   Life as it should be for Sox fans. 

To spare The Hangover a future rant:

  • Will someone please notify Red Sox management that the next time Bill Lee is at Fenway, they should be playing Warren Zevon’s song “Bill Lee” as his music, and not that mediocre Steve Miller goof:  “Space Cowboy.”   Lee has a song written for and about him by one of America’s greatest songwriters.  Use it. 

Where’s the Outrage? Iraq and Public Opinion 2008

3 Apr

American public opinion of the wars in Viet Nam and Iraq have shown similar trends according to various Gallup polls, with American dissatisfaction growing as the wars progressed.    Of those thinking it was a mistake to send troops to the respective countries at quarterly intervals during the wars, Americans today are more likely to claim the action a mistake when compared to the same calender points of conflict during Viet Nam.  In fact, 66% of those polled this month by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation state that they are against the war in Iraq.  But while the citizenry is even more opposed to the Iraq war than at the same point relative to Viet Nam, there is little of the public outrage that marked the earlier conflict.  One rarely hears of demonstrations, protest marches, and college campuses in anarchy.  The Hangover asks why.   

While there are many similarities between US actions in Viet Nam and Iraq, the difference in publicly displayed opposition to the wars is clear.  The lack of protest spilling into the streets can be explained several factors, the foremost being a significant difference in media coverage.  (The importance of the lack of a selective service draft will be discussed in a subsequent post.)  

The Hangover grew up in the ’60’s and ’70’s.  The nightly news often consisted of photos and film of American soldiers, something that we do see today.  However, during the Viet Nam conflict, shots of struggling, wounded, and dead Americans were not uncommon.  They became a standard aspect of television and print news reports, as did pictures of flag-covered coffins returning to the country.  These images provoked a visceral reaction with the public.  Vice President Hubert Humphrey noted:  

“… This is the first war in this
nation’s history that has been fought
on television were the actors are real.
Where, in the quiet of your living room
of your home, or your dormitory, or
wherever you may be, these cruel, ugly
dirty facts of life and death in war
and pain and suffering come right to you;
and it isn’t Hollywood acting.  I’ve had
letters from mothers that have seen their
boys shotdown in battle …”

It’s one thing to read of soldiers killed by a roadside bomb.  It’s quite another to actually see the results in color on your 50-inch high definition Sony.  But that’s not happening.  Despite the instantaneous capabilities of current media technologies, the grisly, all-too-real aspects of the war in Iraq are not being presented to the American public.  The images of battle we were given in the ’60’s and ’70’s were less sanitized, more graphic, and as a result, more disturbing.   It is clear that they spawned action.  The Viet Nam war was something tangible and awful, seen on a daily basis.  Current reporting often makes Iraq seem like a far-away concept or a policy for debate.  That allows the conflict to continue.

It is interesting to note that the source of the Humphrey quote is a 1984 paper presented by Marine Major Cass D. Howell titled, “Television Coverage of the Viet Nam War and it’s Implications for Future Conflicts.”   Howell contends that television coverage inhibited the military’s operational effectiveness in Viet Nam by stirring public opinion against the war.   Although Howell’s main concerns point to a liberal media bias, he does recognize the importance of the content of shown footage:

“Not only is the amount of coverage selected for
broadcast a critical factor in molding the news, but the
type of news selected is of equal importance.  Television is
essentially an action medium and strongly favors combat
scenes over a dry recitation of facts and figures.  In
Vietnam this came to be called “shooting bloody,” a
preference for footage of dramatic engagements, even though
they were often irrelevent or uncharacteristic of the total
event.”

At the beginning of the Iraq conflict, we were shown “shock and awe” tapes of missiles and fighters lighting up the skies over Baghdad.  In film terms, those were “long” shots; they did not reveal human damage–more Space Invaders than the Normandy of “Saving Private Ryan.”  There is a twisted framework involved when violent, gore-filled war footage can win an Academy Award, but is deemed unfit for our television, print, or even Internet news.  It causes The Hangover to question just how free our free press is.

Major Howell concludes his report by advocating that post-Viet Nam wars need “Freedom from the Press.”  The television camera is a deterrent to victory and that unlimited media (television) access will cause America to “suffer.”  While The Hangover doesn’t necessarily agree with the restrictions Howell would place on reporting, he does make a thoughtful, valid argument.  Using the coverage of Iraq as evidence (certainly more facts and figures than anything else), it is not just lonesome bloggers who have read his work.  Those in power have heeded the Major’s analysis. 

Although reporters are now embedded with troops in Iraq, less hard news results.   War correspondents have complained of restricted access, lack of individual mobility, and an empathy and connection with their troops, which George Wilson of the National Journal said made him feel like “a willing propagandist.” Although a few firefights have made it onto American television, the overall coverage is nothing like what was produced in Viet Nam.  And that is the main reason our soldiers are still facing fire in a desert country in the midst of a civil war.

Physical civil unrest in opposition to the Viet Nam war became a part of everyday life in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It was what brought our presence there to an end.  President Richard Nixon stated:

 “The War in Vietnam was not lost on the
 battlefields of Vietnam.  It was lost
 in the halls of Congress … in the
 editorial rooms of great newspapers …
 and in the classrooms of great
 universities.”

The will to fight the war in Viet Nam was eroded by public opinion that had turned into collective action.  Resistance was more than a letter to the editor, a post on a blog, or a sigh when reading the morning paper.  It was a hands-on, in-the-street I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!  Human nature might just dictate that Americans need to see twisted bodies, bleeding soldiers, and spilled guts before opposition to Iraq evolves into something that can affect policy.  It’s unforunate that our news media won’t provide those images for us–whether allowed to or not.