Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's in a Name?

         When American sports teams choose a name, they look for an icon of strength, an image widely known and recognized as impressive and awesome.  No major sports franchise calls itself the Custers (or the French).  If you want an impressive name, if you want to conjure up and awesome image, pick the Braves, the Chiefs, the Indians, the Vikings, the Bears, the Diamondbacks, or the Redskins.
Similarly, if folks want to name a city or a state, they usually pick a name of something that is known to be honorable, pleasant, or respectable, like Indiana, Indianapolis, Illinois, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Maryland, St. Augustine, or Sioux City.  Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I don’t recall any American city named after John Wayne Gacy, Al Capone, Adolph Hitler, John Dillinger, Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson, or Mark David Chapman.  I don’t know any streets named after James Earl Ray, but I know plenty named after Martin Luther King.  Almost every major city has one, and rightly so.
The really offensive part of the name “Washington Redskins” is not "Redskins."  Who or what has ever done more unrelenting harm to Native Americans than Washington?  And if you wanted a name that doubled the infamy, just take the name of the old baseball franchise:  “Washington Senators.”
The name “Redskins” now in use comes from an era when the team had a Native American head coach (which is one way of knowing what the team thought of Native Americans).  Out of respect and affection for their head coach, they named their team after him and his background.  He appreciated the affection and good will behind the gesture.   He knew it was not a slur at all.  Nor did the team change it into one in the intervening years.  The team still holds the ethnicity of that coach in high esteem, as well as it does those who share it with him.
The case is the same with the Cleveland Indians.  Cleveland used to call its baseball team the Naps, after Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie, clearly not an insult to him.  Then it changed its name to honor L.F. Sockalexis, a full-blooded Penobscot Indian and the grandson of a Tribal chieftain, a team name clearly not an insult either to Sockalexis or to his grandfather, modern hyper-sensitivities notwithstanding.  When you name your entire team after the ethnicity of your head coach or after a great player, you have not denigrated either one.  You have honored them by identifying your entire enterprise with them.  Similarly, Irish folks are not denigrated by Notre Dame, industrial workers by Purdue, or a different tribe of Native Americans by Illinois.
I don’t know who is advising the government on such matters, but, clearly, to strip the Washington Redskins of their brand name is simply to allow anyone who wishes to make money from it to do so, which guarantees to spread its usage quite widely.  Evacuating that trademark is not suppressing its usage.  That’s widening it, which is typical DC lunacy.  Now anyone who wishes can profit from that brand name and its icon, hardly an outcome likely to limit its usage or to assuage the alleged insult using it allegedly entails to folks with reddish skin.  And yes, I know that redskin folks aren’t really red, blacks aren’t really black, and whites aren’t white.  I also know that the politically correct try relentlessly to foist their overweening hypersensitivities off onto the rest of us whenever they can.   
But I wont accept it.  I'll just push back even harder.  I've got an NFL (Redskins) credit card.  Now that the government has taken away their trademark patent, I'm not going to use any other card, not if my money goes to the Redskins team.  I'm also going to the Redskins’ website to buy lots of their gear.  Soon I might have to go to the University of Illinois website and buy lots of their Fighting Illini gear, a designation soon to draw critical attention to itself.  Then maybe I’ll invest in Notre Dame's Fighting Irish gear.  All of which raises this question:  Do you suppose the government will make Indiana change its name?  Or Indianapolis?  Or the Braves and Chiefs?   What about people of size and the offensive San Francisco Giants?  And are Catholic clergy really going to be happy about the Padres or the Saints?
         For the record, I am 1/8 Apache, which makes me more Indian than Elizabeth Warren.  The Redskin name has no negative impact upon me whatever.  I’m also half Swiss.  But that doesn’t mean I am insulted because the Vatican hires Swiss soldiers to be the Pope’s guards or that those guards feature prominently in Vatican photography.   They do so because for many centuries the Swiss were considered Europe’s best and most reliable warriors.  I’m proud to have that prowess recognized.  Some of those warriors were my ancestors.  Some of that warrior blood still flows through my veins.  I might be a Protestant, but I’d gladly protect the Pope.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Jersey Boys:" A Review

        In most cases, if it has to do with Clint Eastwood, I’m for it.  From Rowdy Yates to the Republican Convention, I’m behind him.  I even bought a Thomas Kinkade painting because it shows Eastwood walking down the street of the little California town of which he once was mayor.  And “Gran Torino,” wow.
         I walked into “Jersey Boys” with high expectations:  I like Eastwood’s work on so many counts.  I like the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  And I lived for nearly 10 years in the towns and neighborhoods where much of the action takes place.  But “Jersey Boys” didn’t make my day.
         I try to be realistic.  I don’t expect many movies to teach lessons I endorse or to share my worldview.  As long as they tell an interesting story in an interesting way, I’m happy.    
I was partly pleased by “Jersey Boys.”  In an era when shock and offense too often replace intelligence, it’s one of the few R-rated movies where the sex and violence take place primarily off screen.  That’s fine.  I’m not complaining about that.  I’m complaining about what happens on screen, which is, in a word, stereotypical.  These aren’t fleshed out characters with interesting or individual things to say.  They’re stereotypes.  They could stand in for each other.  I’m not certain they didn’t.
From Clint Eastwood, who is famously the master of subtle, I expected, and I wanted, more.  The idiosyncratic nuance of Walt Kowalski -- hard headed, soft hearted, bigoted, and oddly principled -- is missing from “Jersey Boys.”  No character in it has subtlety.   Nothing in the entire movie has Walt’s layered, nuanced, multi-dimensional, texture or anything approaching it.  “Trouble with the Curve” did. 
         I suspect that Eastwood the director could have been Mad Max before Mad Max, as Eastwood movies before “The Unforgiven” attest.  After forays into spaghetti westerns, orangutan movies, and cop flicks, and after genre classics like “Dirty Harry” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Eastwood unleashed his real genius.   We learned that he has more finesse, more subtlety, and more nuance than almost any movie man of the era, whether before or behind the camera.  I’m glad Eastwood finally resisted those temptations and embraced art.  After “The Unforgiven,” the violence recedes; the nuance grows.  From him, we don’t get the spurting blood fountains of “The Passion of the Christ,” which could have been titled “Mad Max Goes to Golgotha,” or “Lethal Weapon in Jerusalem.”  Eastwood chose his own different path, and he was right.
         But in “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood’s gift failed him.  Subtle gone bad turns flat and boring.  Yes, and in a movie about The Four Seasons and their ostensibly inimitable front man, Frankie Valli, you can’t ask someone to imitate him and expect to succeed.  Were the replacement actually to succeed, the movie’s own premise would collapse.  Were he not to succeed, the movie itself would collapse.  In “Jersey Boys,” Eastwood got himself into a tight spot, maybe an impossible one.  While the whole move is based on the premise that there is no other Frankie Valli, for 2 ¼ hours we watch someone try to do what the movie says, and unintentionally proves, cannot be done:  replace the irreplaceable.
         And to turn the final scene of a pseudo-biopic into an outtake from a Broadway musical is, if not unforgiven, certainly unforgiveable.  That this scene stands out so starkly and incongruously from what precedes it shows that trying to give this movie the feel of a stage play all along just didn’t work.  Before the final scene was over, I swear I expected to see Gene Kelly dancing in the rain, which is not how a Four Seasons flick ought to end.
         I don’t want to see this movie again.
         I haven’t said that about a Clint Eastwood movie for many years.