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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shield Finale

After seven seasons, The Shield came to an end on FX last night, and the best and worst the show had to offer came shining through. I’m not sure I have ever liked a series finale of a show I truly followed – in fact, this was the only show left that I made a point to watch – and this one didn’t break the mold as much as I’d hope it would.

I was actually excited to watch this series finale. Finally, everything had to come to a head. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) either got out from under from all of his misdeeds or he would finally be brought down. It’s a testament to the show that there really wasn’t an obvious answer going into the final episode of what would happen to him. The fact that it ended with a debatable answer may be seen as another testament to the show by some. I’m not quite convinced.

The fact that the show is still on my mind the next day, as it often would be when it aired, proves I thought it was damn good. The Shield was the most unique cop show on. Vic, there was never any doubt since the opening episode when he shot and killed another cop, was a criminal with a badge. In fact, he was a scumbag if you really looked at it.

But fans never really did look at that side of him too closely. Early on the precedent was set that he was rotten but at least his actions were intended to bring down some of the worst criminals in East Los Angeles. The guy even had two Autistic children that, in his own way, he was devoted to. (Oddly enough, now that I think about it, this was the only prime-time show on that at least touched on dealing with a disability at all.) In that same first episode, his own bosses watched him beat a suspected child molester in order to get information on a child’s whereabouts – in fact, his chief adversary, David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), pulled him into the case to deal with the guy.

Gradually, Mackey was forced to be more concerned with covering his own tracks than law enforcement. It could be argued, though, that the show – or, maybe, those out to nail Mackey – lost sight of what the Strike Team, which he originally headed, was asked to do. They were policing the gangs of East L.A. by basically getting involved with them on their level. If typical police work had been enough, the Strike Team is never created.

That said, the Strike Team turned a corner once and for all when they ripped off the “Money Train” – a money laundering operation. That set in motion the events that eventually led to the demise of the Strike Team and all of it’s members.

Except Vic Mackey.

Now, it can be argued Mackey was taken down. No doubt series creator Shawn Ryan would say that the final deal Mackey struck to get immunity ended up sticking him behind a desk. That, coupled with his ex-wife taking the kids into witness protection, was supposed to be the worst punishment he could get.

Well . . . eh.

I mean, ok, I get it. He got away but he didn’t. I even got the symbolism or irony of Mackey walking around in a suit with the HR person at his new job. But, c’mon. His big “sentence” is hating his job? Who doesn’t? And, isn’t working for the agency that put your kids in witness protection the best way to find them? Plus, his oldest daughter was at least 15 or 16; she was just a few years from being old enough to find him if she wanted.

I thought that the final bust, which he needed to cement his deal, was going to get screwed up because he would tell his last Strike Team partner, Ronnie (David Rees Snell), that he needed to run. Ronnie was key to the last bust, but didn’t know Vic had confessed to everything as part of his immunity and bagged him in the process. Instead, Vic left him to be the one guy to pay for their crimes.

Vic’s redeeming quality was his loyalty. While there was an element to Vic’s deal protecting his ex-wife (which she didn’t actually need but he didn’t know that), I thought they underplayed that vital quality in the end. I also wanted more shock value, since that was what the show was built on. The murder-suicide of Shane (Walton Goggins), his ex-partner who killed his wife and child and then himself after their attempt to escape the law went, awry was the only stunning moment of the episode. But with him being the guy that killed Lem (Kenny Johnson), the first true crack in the Team’s loyalty to each other, he wasn’t really a guy to root for any way.

So, I guess my biggest criticism is that I wanted more of The Shield, which isn’t much criticism at all. The final episode could have been more satisfying, but the series was as good as it gets.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hancock — Movie Review

I caught Hancock in theaters this summer, and with the DVD release approaching, I figured it was time to finally write my first review in a while. I was actually a bit disappointed in the film when I saw it, but, as seems to happen more and more, I think the advertising hurt the movie more than anything.

Will Smith plays Hancock, a lazy superhero the public has actually grown to dislike. Sure, he does plenty of good deeds. The problem is that he isn’t exactly careful about how he goes about his superhero feats, usually destroying property among other things along the way. He eventually takes advice from a PR agent, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), and tries to turn his image around.

I went to the movie, as I suspect most people did, expecting a light-hearted action-comedy along the lines of Men in Black based on the commercials for the movie. While there are some funny moments, including one that made me laugh harder than anything I’ve seen in a movie in years involving one man’s head and another man’s backside, it really wasn’t a comedy. This film had plenty of drama to it, and was fairly sad on some levels. In fact, the climactic scenes suggested some impending disaster for the characters involved that weren’t even close to light-hearted.

It turns out Hancock has lived for centuries, but he only remembers his life since waking up in a hospital in the 1800s. The twist comes from Emery’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), who can answer all of Hancock’s questions about himself but wants nothing to do with him. Again, one of the reasons she wants him out of their lives is, I think, more than the typical “sadness” offered in such films. Hancock is also part of what was once a group of superheroes sent to protect humans, and there are the requisite “bad guys” that would like to see his kind completely gone.

In the final analysis, this is actually a pretty good film and worth a look. Just don’t let the advertisements fool you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Week Later, Considering Obama’s Victory

President-elect Barack Obama’s speech after winning the election is the first political speech I’ve ever voluntarily listened to more than once. While I can certainly never fully appreciate how African Americans feel about the outcome of the election last Tuesday, I think I get just a minute taste of it as a 36-year-old white guy with cerebral palsy.

Certainly people with disabilities never incurred the level of brutality or open hostility faced by blacks throughout our country’s history, though our history is not devoid of cruelty. But I know what it’s like to be treated as less than someone else based on prejudice. I know what it's like to go into a job interview and know the moment I meet the potential employer that I may as well go home because their face tells me they're scared to death. I know what it’s like to go into a store and be unable to get service.

Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, if an African American male is working in that store, I’m 90% more likely to get service. Throughout my life when dealing with strangers as I go about my day, I’ve been treated much better on average by African American males than any other population. I’m treated like a person; I’ve never once had an African American man talk to me through the person I may be with. You know, at a restaurant having waitresses ask my mother what he wants to order. It’s something I don’t truly understand, but I wonder if that thread of shared experience plays a role.

Watching Obama’s victory was one of the first times I truly felt proud to be an American. It’s not that I ever was not happy to be American, I just can’t say I truly felt proud of it. It was just a reality.

Last week, I was happy for the elderly African American woman I saw earlier in the day weeping and saying that this day was why God had let her live so long. I was happy for all the people that had seen what she had seen in her life, and even those who only see a small portion of it.

I was happy our country had finally elected someone other than a white man. Yes, I think that in itself says a lot. I was happy that, in my opinion, we elected the right person, regardless of race.

I was also excited to hear what Obama said early in his speech:

“If there is anyone out there who still . . . wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer. It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches . . . because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference. . . . It’s the answer spoken by young and old . . . disabled and not disabled . . .”

For me, the man has already put people with disabilities in a category of full-fledged human being more so than any president I've been aware of. He showed an awareness that we exist as full members of society with that one line more than Sarah Palin or John McCain ever did. They simply wanted to refer to people with disabilities as “special” or as if we lived an endless childhood, and then suggest that Palin was an advocate for us because, after all, she gave birth to a son with a disability.

Of course, America didn’t become nirvana over night last week. I’m genuinely curious why the Black Panther incident at a Philadelphia polling place seemed to get very little play. Certainly, I’m not one of the idiots saying “this is what you get with a black president . . .” No, this has nothing to do with Obama as an individual. However, it would seem to be a story equivalent to the robo-calls meant to invoke fear of Obama as president. If nothing else, the video responses and text comments on YouTube related to the incident prove that racism is still alive and well on all sides.

But what did happen last week was that a lot of people, including those of us with disabilities, were given hope that among other things we may be judged on our abilities as opposed to the minority status we were born into.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Wins Presidency

Watching the celebration of the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America, I kept thinking of words we all learned in school:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We have never been closer to making these words a reality.

Congratulations to President-elect Obama!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Last Election Rant

Believe it or not, the 2008 presidential election is finally going to end this week. Having focused more on this election than any other in my life, I’ve learned a lot about politics in our country – at least I think I have – and not all of it is very pretty. But, before it ends, I have a few things I have to get off my chest. Not that anyone should give a damn, but here’s my final pre-election two cents.

I’m almost embarrassed to have offered John McCain a modicum of credit for assuring supporters that there was no reason to fear a Barack Obama presidency. As much as I disagreed with McCain’s thoughts on the future of America, I wanted to believe he had some honor in this campaign. I was na├»ve enough to think he would finally put the brakes on the rhetoric suggesting Obama had ties to terrorists. Instead, the Republicans seemed to merely ramp up efforts to suggest such ties existed, while Sarah Palin continued to openly question Obama’s patriotism.

Last week, when reports about the campaign started to suggest that Obama was going to win, there seemed to be a sudden focus on the Bradley Effect. The suggestion is that white voters might tell pollsters they’d vote for a black candidate, but when they stepped into the voting booth they simply wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to do it. I’m guessing these weren’t talking points being pushed by the Obama campaign.

When John McCain was admonishing supporters for fearing Obama, where the hell did he think they got the idea? Certainly McCain can’t be blamed for the racial tensions in this country, but playing on them seemed to be a cornerstone of his campaign. As I sat down to start this post, the “shocking” news of the night was that Obama’s aunt is an illegal alien. I can’t imagine where that story originated, can you? By Monday they’ll be suggesting Obama’s an actual alien.

Or, maybe McCain will just keep editing audio and video tapes, like he did to make it sound like Obama was degrading U.S. troops (he wasn’t) and Joe Biden was inviting trouble from our enemies (again, not true). If he does, I hope McCain splices together a coherent explanation of how being a fighter pilot makes him a “proven” commodity in handling an international crisis as president. Last time I checked the military liked fighter pilots that followed orders without questioning them. Call me crazy if you must, but I don’t see a correlation between following orders as a pilot and being the guy in the Oval Office giving orders that could affect the entire world.

Then there’s Fox News, which I never really paid much attention to prior to the election. I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video called Barack Obama & Joe Biden Attack People With Disab[i]lities. I posted a comment stating that Fox is not a news outlet, it’s merely a Republican propaganda machine. I predictably got the following reply, “Why are they not a news outlet? Because they disagree with your views? It's the only conservative news outlet. Let it go, you've got plenty of liberal programming available to you. It seems that the democrats won't be happy until they're in complete and total control of everything. I don't know about you, but that's sounds pretty damn SOCIALIST to me.”

The person later apologized, which was a nice surprised, but the point that the comment brought out was key. As I replied, the mere fact, which those who like their coverage acknowledge, that the stations disagrees with any viewpoint proves that it is simply not a news outlet. They offer one, specific slant.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any of the news coverage has been stellar. Why the candidates are still arguing over what the other guy’s tax plan does in raising or lowering taxes is beyond me. Shouldn’t we know by now? I’m not suggesting that I do. I’m asking why the media can’t set the record straight on what appears to be a fairly concrete issue.

For the record, I’m not a Democrat. It amazes me how people jump to that. The logic of supporting candidates based on party affiliation seems to me to be the ultimate in the dumbing down of democracy.

I found the video I mentioned searching for comments from the candidates on disability issues, which once again are the forgotten issues in the campaign. Of course, Palin is trying to convince us that she’ll be an advocate for people with disabilities. This is apparently based on the fact that she has an infant child with Down’s Syndrome. It’s equivalent to suggesting she’s ready to be president because she’s been governor of Alaska.

Never mind that McCain reportedly met her only once before offering her the second spot on the Republican presidential ticket, that she thinks she keeps an eye on Russia for the country, that McCain was (apparently rightfully) scared to death to even let her talk to the press, and literally went with her back to CBS to attempt to clean up her disaster with Katie Couric. He looked like a parent defending his daughter, but she’s ready to be president because McCain says so.

By the way, being a disability advocate takes more than using the word “special” a lot. Palin may figure that out some day, but she has clearly failed to do so at this point. While her son may have some health issues (I don’t know), he certainly hasn’t dealt with the “social” issues of dealing with life with a disability. Hearing Palin talk, she clearly thinks disability issues begin and end with children. They most assuredly do not.

Someone wake me when any of the candidates figure out that people with disabilities aren’t all children. That we can grow into adulthood, become educated and successful, and that we need a government that removes the physical barriers as well as the barriers of prejudice among educators and employers to allow us those opportunities.

There, I feel better. Of course, even those who will disagree with me will likely agree on my last point. The best news is that the campaign that made Joe the Plumber a household name is almost over.