America has a unique affection for charlatans. One could even be foregiven for accusing us of staggering gullibility. Sure, we take major risks, remain impressively innovative and we’re awfully fun. Still we are gullible and have this unique affection for charlatans.
Robert Redford addressed our gullibility when directing his consummate period piece “Quiz Show“. This movie remains perfect, it’s ingredients a recipe to devour; actors with gravitas, a fantastic musical score and Redford’s direction a light touch – he aims at our heart and then hits the cinematic bullseye.
When you listen to “Mack the Knife” in Redford’s movie, you hear Bobbie Darin singing his swing, but what you feel is Bertolt Brecht’s version in Threepenny Opera. Especially with Weill’s lyrics.
I saw Sam Mendes direct Tom Hollander in London’s Threepenny Opera in ’94 – the hit of the season, when Mendes was enjoying his theatrical minute – I still remember the emotional impact of that musical score- Mack the Knife- just knocked us all out. We internalized Weill’s lyrics while Brecht delivered with his didactic take on the dark side of capitalisim:
Though the shark’s teeth may be lethal
Still you see them white and red
But you won’t see Mackie’s flick knife
Cause he slashed you and you’re dead.
Redford’s movie dramatized the Twenty-One quiz show scandals of the 1950s, about a U.S. Congressional lawyer who investigates the accusations of game-fixing by show producers. The film chronicles the rise and fall of popular contestant Charles Van Doren after the fixed loss of Herb Stempel and Goodwin’s subsequent probe.
Quiz Show lends well to issues swirling around Rogan, in Redford’s take his story highlights the wasp vs. the jew. But this is soft stuff compared to Rogan’s issues; he’s had to apologize for using the N word that many times and he likes to have a good giggle about rape. There’s a reason Rogan and his crowd call themselves douchebros; self knowledge is a good thing except when you resent not being able to say the quiet stuff out loud.
Timely, for this post, I just watched Guillermo del Toro remake of the deliciously creepy movie “Nightmare Alley” based on William Lindsay Gresham‘ s novel published in 1946. However, if you wish, Tyrone Power is gorgeous and well suited in the noir from the 40’s – each movies offers a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants—the dark, shadowy world of a second rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femmes fatales. And the dreaded ‘geek’.
Looks like our modern day charlatanas are alive and well stirring up this air of anxiety in America. Rogan made a 100 million on his Spotify deal. Unfortunately, for the past week Rogan has had to apologize, over and over again as Spotify slides over a 100 podcasts down the memory hole.
Is Rogan putting on an act? Like Trump, Alex Jones and all the rest it just doesn’t matter. What we do know is Rogan’s a former wrestler and reality tv personality. No surprise he’s managed to put Trump’s criminality on the sidelines as he takes center stage.
Rogan is often called a D-list comedian, by his own, so loved by wrestling fanatics and tv reality enthusiasts. Like Trump he has a cult, and they are fanatical. Like Alex Jones, one of his favorite guests (he just loves conspiracy theories) these guys can talk for hours. They are not going to be silenced.
America’s sub-cultures are now fighting for their space in the media world. Rogan has the most popular podcast on the planet. It’s hours and hours of endless chat, lotsa anti-vax, constant conspiracy theories…he gave the Proud Boys a voice and launched their violence onto another level. Because of the # of listeners, everyone wants to sit across from the uber douchebro Rogan
If Americans thought their lives resembled It’s a Wonderful Life, I wonder if they’re watching Nightmare Alley with an extra dash of fear and a soupçon of suspicion.
That center simply cannot hold….