Archive for May 9th, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

How has this not been confiscated by the powers that be? It is brutally honest, clear eyed and even handed, in ways we no longer get. Watching this is like a trip into a past you no longer recognize, for the world around you has so changed in the passing years. This documentary series, from the estimable Kenneth Galbraith, a renowned economist and diplomat, seeks to tell no less than the social-economic history of the modern world, and how competing systems of finance and acquisition or trade operate and compete. That he does this all with an accessible, entertaining, sometimes flip and extremely light touch, is only a small part of why this towering work remains relevant. What Galbraith managed here was a striking overview of the world over the last six centuries.

The production of the series had Galbraith write a series of essays, which were then turned into scripts for episodes and which formed the basis of the book of the same title. The series begins with an overview of modern social history, and introduction to the major economic thinkers of the past five centuries. It ends at a country estate in Vermont, with a subset of open air round tables between Galbraith and other leading public figures of the day, including Henry Kissinger, Georgy Arbatov and Edward Heath. This section was specifically for the tv series and is not present in the book. In between, we see everything from animation to re-enactments, which illustrate the issues at hand, all guided by the steady presence of host and narrator, Galbraith.

By the end of the series, you may or may not agree with its host, but you will understand his thesis, which is that while there have been successes in market systems, there is also instability, inefficiency and social inequality. Galbraith repeats his beliefs that government policies and intervention are necessary, but in a way that is more human that his contemporary, John Maynard Keynes. Indeed, Galbraith uses this exploration to argue for a “new socialism”  including greater funding for the arts, conversion of some sectors to public corporations and progressive taxes to aid social network programs. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

Sometimes incisive, sometimes irreverent, and oftentimes utterly, ridiculously stupid, the television series Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-present) still manages at times to be a great source of modern social commentary (that, as the years go by, those times are fewer and more far between, is undeniable, but no different from any other long-running series). For all the flack the show receives for its reliance on cutaway gags or for being a purported knock-off of The Simpsons (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite television shows of all time), creator Seth MacFarlane’s flagship show has its share of brilliant-lite moments sprinkled amongst the pervasive fat jokes and offensive potty humor … especially if you’re a film fan.

Indeed, for me, one of the joys of watching the show is the constant stream of movie references in various cutaways and gags, and that’s what this essay will particularly focus on, as it’s honestly the series’ biggest draw for me. In any given episode, you may find yourself watching an homage (or twelve) to a wide range of movies, from Back to the Future to Indiana Jones, The Ten Commandments to Annie Hall, and everything in between. In particular, the series’ recreations of the original Star Wars trilogy have shown the best of what Family Guy has to offer, combining sincere tribute and gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) skewering.

But I, for one, have always been impressed by Family Guy’s frequent, generally loving attention to classic cinema. It’s obvious that MacFarlane and company have a great deal of respect for the films of ye olde Hollywood. From musicals to screwball comedies, drama to silent films, practically every episode of the show contains obvious (and not-so-obvious) references to some of the best films in cinematic history.

MacFarlane has a great voice, and it sometimes seems that the writers stretch themselves to find excuses to utilize it. I’m not complaining, though–I could listen to MacFarlane sing all day. The show’s creator voices several of the main characters, including Peter, Quagmire, Brian, and Stewie, and the latter two characters especially have frequent musical moments throughout the series. Many of these moments are drawn from classic musicals:

  • “Make ‘Em Laugh” from 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain is performed in two separate episodes: once by Quagmire, who changes the lyrics to befit the momentary setting (a sex toy shop), and once by Peter, Quagmire, Stewie, and Joe (voice by Patrick Warburton), with the lyrics unchanged.

  • In the segment “Stewie B. Goode” from the straight-to-DVD release Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, Stewie channels Maria Von Trapp (from 1965’s The Sound of Music) as he strides down the sidewalk singing “I Have Confidence.”

  • The  episode “Wasted Talent” amusingly alters the lyrics of “Pure Imagination” from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, creating a beer-soaked tribute to “Pure Inebriation.”

Some of the most enduringly popular segments of the show are found in the “Road” episodes, which take their cue, by and large, from the series of Road to… films featuring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The first such episode, “Road to Rhode Island,” even features a tune that borrows heavily from the title tune of 1942’s Road to Morocco. Ultimately, it’s fitting that the show pays such frequent tribute to the “Road” films, seeing as how those movies’ self-referential Hollywood in-jokes are a precursor to the same self-parodying elements that make Family Guy a sometimes guilty pleasure. In fact, “Road to Rupert,” the third episode of that milieu, contains my hands-down favorite moment from the entire series. As Brian and Stewie attempt to track down Stewie’s stuffed bear, Rupert, whom Brian accidentally sold in a yard sale, they find themselves in Colorado and attempt to rent a helicopter in order to cross the mountains into Aspen. The rental agreement says that they can forego a deposit in exchange for a “jaunty tune,” which leads Stewie into a dance with none other than the master himself, Gene Kelly. The animators superimpose Stewie over Jerry Mouse in the iconic “Worry Song” dancing clip from 1945’s Anchors Aweigh, and it’s a silly, fun moment that never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Another inspired moment, in the controversial episode “Extra-Large Medium” (which drew ire from political pundit Sarah Palin for its depiction of a girl with Down Syndrome), is a brief recreation of the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First.” Peter channels Lou Costello as he tries to “psychically” locate a man who has been buried with a bomb strapped to his chest:

Peter: All right, what’s the name of the guy we’re looking for?
Joe: Well, he’s an Asian fella–Melvin Hu.
Peter: That’s what I want to find out.
Joe: What?
Peter: The name of the guy.
Joe: Melvin Hu.
Peter: Are you a cop?
Joe: Yeah.
Peter: You handling this case?
Joe: Yeah.
Peter: Then what’s the name of the guy?
Joe: Hu.
Peter: The guy we’re looking for.
Joe: Hu.
Peter: The guy who’s buried.
Joe: Hu.
Peter: The guy with the bomb.
Joe: Hu.
Peter: What street does he live on?
Joe: First.
[The bomb explodes in the distance.]

Some of the more satirical bon mots are saved for the Disney canon. From Peter’s brief turn as Mary Poppins (in which he lands on–and subsequently crushes–his charges) to Peter’s fervent wish upon a star for a Jewish accountant to help with his taxes (“I Need a Jew”), Disney films–and Walt Disney himself–are skewered sometimes mercilessly.



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