We saw our fourth Best Picture nominee last weekend, the superb Good Night, and Good Luck. I knew little about the film when we entered the theater, and thus was pleasantly surprised to find it tautly written, well acted, and filmed lovingly in grainy black-and-white.

Good Night, and Good Luck. tells the story of reporter Edward R. Murrow‘s campaign against Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film wisely avoids providing detailed background to McCarthy’s crusade against communism; it assumes the viewer has a basic grasp of this piece of American history. Instead, the film focuses almost exclusively on the offices of CBS News and on the men (and few women) who risk their careers to confront McCarthy and his dogmatism. These men are not painted as heroes, but as ordinary fellows doing their jobs. The film uses actual archival footage of McCarthy, letting him damn himself.

This is an excellent film, my favorite non-documentary of the year. (Kris still prefers Crash and Brokeback Mountain.) Granted, there are a couple of opaque points — who is this Don Hollenbeck and why should we care about his story? — but on the whole, the film is tight and cohesive in a way that most modern Hollywood films, with their loose stories and superfluous subplots, are not.

Some other quick points:

  • I adored the sets.
  • A person could get lung cancer just from watching this film. There’s more smoking than I can recall ever having seen in any other movie. (Is this why there was a trailer for the upcoming Thank You For Smoking? If so, very funny.)
  • Alex Borstein plays a young woman named Natalie in this film. Kris and I both thought she looked like our little Aimee Rose.
  • Why is this film rated PG? I can’t remember anything that warranted this. Maybe it’s all the smoking.

More than anything, Good Night, and Good Luck. moved me. It was inspiring to watch the story of a small group of people standing up to a narrow-minded man abusing his power. There are some clear parallels between McCarthyism and the machinations of the current administration. This film made me realize that I need to do more than just complain in this weblog; I need to do something.

Kris was in a foul mood all weekend.

That’s not true: she started the weekend in a stellar mood. We had dinner with Marcela and Pierre (and their beautiful children), which left us craving more of their company. Kris, in particular, finds their conversation stimulating. While Louis and Ella showed me how to play their favorite games (Peanut Butter & Jelly being the #1 choice), the other three adults sat at the dinner table, discussing politics with wine and candlelight. Kris loves this sort of thing: adult conversation about adult topics.

Recently, Kris has been watching a The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “I love this show,” she tells me. “Everyone is so smart: the commentators and the guests. It’s great to see intelligent people discuss the issues.” (She’s also become a fan of of the Cursor linked news summaries, which you ought to visit if you haven’t already.) I don’t watch the show with her, but she often gives me condensed versions of each night’s stories.

Last weekend the news had overwhelmed her. “I have this seething anger that no one seems to be PAYING ATTENTION,” she told me.

“You know,” I said during one of her sour patches, “you really ought to give Dave a chance. He’s educated, intelligent, and keenly interested in world affairs. Of all our friends, he’s probably most able to carry on the sort of conversation that you crave. When we were at lunch Friday, we had a fine discussion about the decline of oratory in this country. He told me about the book he was reading, a biography of Lincoln. He’s well-informed.”

Kris sighed.

She wishes I were more keenly interested in world affairs. Like Pam, I bury my head in the sand. I purposely avoid exposure to the news because:

  • I can’t influence it;
  • it’s always the same thing over-and-over;
  • it only makes me depressed.

The truth is I do have strong opinions about most social and political issues. My views aren’t always popular, however, and I find it pointless — even destructive — to argue about politics, so mostly I am quiet. (This is especially true in-person. I am not a good debater. Unfortunately, many of the people who want to debate — Kris, Dave, Dana — are formally trained in the art so that it’s frustrating to argue with them. Even when they’re wrong, they win the argument.) It’s not worth it to me to speak my mind about, say, abortion, if the price of speaking my mind is a strained (or lost) friendship. I speak my voice in the polling booth, and in the money I contribute to various causes. (Although it is true that most of my causes are non-partisan entities like the Oregon Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.)

I guess what I’m trying to say, though poorly, is that I’ve been thinking recently about my relationship with the world, especially regarding politics and social activism. I’ve tried to suppress these sorts of thoughts, most of all in this weblog, aside from the usual angry tirade about our President. Maybe it’s time for me to change. Maybe it’s time for me to become more informed. Maybe it’s time for me to care.

Maybe it’s time for me to voice my opinion, the consequences be damned.

12 Replies to “Good Night, and Good Luck.”

  1. Dave says:

    Kris is right, people don’t seem to be paying attention. Perhaps more disturbing is that there are those who are aware of what’s going on, but don’t see a problem with it. The wiretapping thing is a good example. Several people interviewed on the news have said either a) I don’t care if the government listens in on my conversation with grandma, or b) if I’m talking to “x unpopular group” then the government has a right to know what I’m saying without the necessity of those pesky warrant things (what’er those for anyway?).

    People don’t seem to remember a time when governmental abuse of power caused harm to people and therefore are unlikely to think that it’s going to harm them. Or rather, they seem to forget that the difference between them and Joe Accused is that Joe Accused happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Brandon Mayfield case is a good example of that.

    The ultimate problem with this complacency is that the next step is to put trackers in our cars to let the government know when we’re travelling faster than the speed limit, where we’ve been and where we’re going, that we register all of our telephone calls with the state before we make them and that we put cameras in our homes so that the government can make sure we’re not engaging in any illegal activities such as terrorism, bomb making, owning a gun, having an abortion, having sex without a marriage license or thinking bad things about King George.

    Sadly, any reference to the Orwellian George, the modern George and this historical King in that last line is usually lost on those who most need the reference.

  2. aleppo says:

    Kris might like to listen to Late Night Live on Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Consistently interesting, always intelligent and wide-ranging: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/lnl/default.htm. Available as mp3, podcast and realaudio. No affiliation – never even been to Australia!

  3. Lee says:

    Wow, I know how you feel. This sounds like me and my brother. He’s passionate about politics and world affairs and is an aggressive arguer. I hate talking to him about certain things because I can’t stand debate. I’m interested in his opinions, and but for him it’s a competitive sport. He can bluster about all he wants. While he sits on the couch screaming at the news, I’m doing volunteer work.

    There are many ways of expressing an opinion; being a firebrand is only one way. And there are many things to care about, politics is only one.

    But the political firebrands like to convince others that their way is the only way; and like any bully, want us to feel bad because we don’t see things their way.

    Work for something you do care about, and don’t worry about the stuff you think you should care about. Chances are someone else is worrying about that stuff.

    To paraphrase the ending of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell:

    “You’re just a drop in the ocean.”
    “And what is the ocean except a collection of drops?”

    (This is a book I could read over and over again. And the audiobook version is also wonderful; beautifully performed.)

  4. J.D. says:

    I hate my commenting system and the way that a URL in the first few characters of the comment breaks the sidebar. There. That should be enough filler space.

    The Brandon Mayfield case that Dave mentioned, because I had no clue.

    re: Orwell

    Soon after 9/11, Pam selected 1984 for the book group. It was a great discussion, one I still think of often. One of the major themes was that a group of us believed that this country was descending into Orwellian madness. Others thought we were paranoid. I think that time has proved us to have been not extreme enough in our paranoia.

    Kris and I just finished watching the third season of The Wire, which may just be the best television show ever produced. (Well, Upstairs, Downstairs probably is, but The Wire is damn good.) In an earlier season, the Baltimore cops try to get Federal support for drug enforcement, but they can’t. All the money and manpower has been re-routed to fight terrorism. This theme recurs in the third season. If you don’t see how this connects, think a little harder.

    re: Cloud Atlas

    Yes, Lee, that is a beautiful book. I’m currently re-reading (actually, re-auditing) Jonathan Strange, but Cloud Atlas is next. I listened to it last spring, and it has stuck with me. In fact, I’ve decided to nominate *it* instead of Name of the Rose for book group. (Only I’m not going to give the group any hints what it’s about. Hell, I ‘m still not sure what it’s about.)

  5. Lee says:

    Heh. Jonathan Strange is great. I got it from audible.com (free trial subscription) and this book reawoke in me the pure joy of listening to a good story. I actually bought the book (still in hardcover at the time) so that I could read it during times when I couldn’t listen it to it.(Or because I really, really wanted to know more of the story, but felt stupid sitting on the couch listening to my iPod.)

  6. J.D. says:

    Jonathan Strange is not my favorite book of all time, but it contains some passages that just may be my favorite passages of all time. It regularly gives me the chills with how good it is. On the way home I listened to the passage in which Strange uses the King’s Roads. I love how Drawlight and the young woman in red see Strange approaching in the mirror. I also like that the second time through this book is even better than the first because you can see how Clarke sets things up way in advance.

    Not that any of this has anything to do with political activism. 🙂

  7. Amy Jo says:

    Paul and Kris can talk politics, etc. while you and I talk about writing, art, photography next time we gather.

    Amy Jo

  8. J.D. says:

    “I notice I didn’t mumble at all today,” Kris mumbles as we settle in for another episode of Beauty and the Geek.

  9. Drew says:

    It’s the wacky connect-the-dots game from Milton Bradly! Where do you end up?

  10. John says:

    Kris said:
    I notice I didn’t mumble at all today.

    Ah, but did you mutter? Muttering is good, too. 🙂

    I know I’ve been muttering a lot about the current administration lately…


  11. Lee says:

    I want to apologize for insinuating your politically passionate friends are bullies.

    I was thinking of my own past experiences with other people, and not of the friends you were writing about.

    Sincerely sorry.

  12. nate says:

    Kind of off-topic, but I’m reading Johnathan Strange right now too (for the first time though), and wanted to agree with your comments about it, J.D. Passages often take me by surprise with how good they are, given the quality of most fantasy writing. I think the image that sticks with me the most (so far) is Strange conjuring his earthen hands to pull the cannon underground at the end of the bombardment by the French (at Waterloo, I think). Subtle and moving.

    Plus, the beginning in York is great to me — I’ve been to virtually every place in that city the novel mentions. I’ve been to Yorkminster, I’ve been through High Petergate, I’ve even used an internet cafe only a few doors down from Ye Olde Starre Inn, which stands to this day.

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