The Stupid 365 Project, Day 68: Red Skies

December 7th, 2010

When I was really, really little, I watched reruns of a black-and-white TV show called “I Led Three Lives.”

My father was an instinctive right-winger — somebody who had risen from poverty to success and had no intention of sharing it with anybody.  “I Led Three Lives,” produced no doubt in craven submission to the House Unamerican Activities Committee’s probe of Hollywood, was right up my Dad’s alley.

Richard Carlson, grim and square-jawed, played a real-life FBI agent with the unheroic name, Herbert A. Philbrick. According to the series, Herbert A. Philbrick was America’s last line of defense, our final slender hope, against the demonic Reds.  And the Reds were everywhere.

In every show, Herbert A. Philbrick would infiltrate a Communist cell, almost be revealed, and then succeed in breaking up the scheme to bomb a Studebaker plant or introduce a lethal strain of rhododendron to cut American garden club women down in their prime.  One of the keys to the show’s appeal was supposed to be that we, the viewers, didn’t know for sure who was a commie and who wasn’t.

But anyone whose vision was good enough to see a tree in a field could have told Herbert A. Philbrick who was a commie and who wasn’t.  You see, commies never smiled. They barked orders, they talked on telephones, they endured third-rate noir lighting and spoke fifth-rate dialogue.  Once in a while they shot somebody.  But they never, ever smiled.

I’m afraid the worst has happened.  The commies have taken over the government of the United States.  The last funny line spoken by an American president was Bush One’s “I’m the President of the United States, and I don’t have to eat broccoli.”  And even that mild stray into the placid fields of whimsy was immediately retracted to placate the all-powerful broccoli lobby.

Since then, American government has grown grimmer and grimmer.  Much of the material in the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables was funny as hell.  Ghadaffi and his nurse will probably show up on “Saturday Night Live.”  But no one has cracked a smile.  Everyone in the government, from President Disappointment down, has looked like they spent ten years at the Dick Cheney School of Social Graces. A prunier bunch would be hard to imagine.

(In fact, WikiLeaks has done at least one piece of real damage: they’ve probably eliminated one of the last forums — the diplomatic cable — where political correctness was not so strangling that it’s impossible for anyone to say what they mean.  Weensy little Sarkozy with his elevator shoes; various Pakistani officials flying in and out of their “country” with fifty million bucks in their luggage, Berlusconi with his nieces.  All presented as plain, intelligent, slightly malicious gossip.  But not any more.  Now them furrin leaders will be “engaged in behavior that is potentially inappropriate.”)

Not that anyone in this administration ever got a laugh out of the cables anyway.  Not even a smile.  My father would have recognized them immediately.  “Bunch of commies,” he would have said.  And where the hell is Herbert A. Philbrick when we need him?

12 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 68: Red Skies”

  1. Gary Says:

    Slightly off topic for this posting (sorry) but apropos of recent discussions. I thought this was interesting:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/12/08/3088461.htm

    Pretty much what I said earlier.

  2. Robb Royer Says:

    While agreeing with you that humor is sadly absent in American politics (like it never was in British politics even in the worst of times) what I am afraid the reader of this post (who didn’t know your father) might glean is that he too was humorless. Tim, I know what a great relationship you had with your dad so I know this impression is inadvertent but for the group at large let me point out; Ken Hallinan was a bright, warm, funny guy who told hilarious stories in which he was usually the foil (remember the fishing hat story?)
    And don’t forget your mother, queen of the DAR, who was also a riot. Let me tell you, folks, Tim comes by his sense of humor honestly.
    I’ll close with a story of my own. During the 1960 presidential campaign I was a Kennedy worker. The folks at democratic headquarters, quickly recognizing my talent to antagonize, sent me to Republican headquarters, a block down the street to argue, convert if possible, and generally harass the Republicans. I hadn’t met the Hallinans at this point but it turns out Tim’s mom was working inside.
    Cut to about a year later, Tim and I by then had met and he invited me to his house for dinner. We walked into the kitchen where his mom was making an avocado salad, she took one look at me and screamed THERE HE IS!
    I felt like an escaped prisoner who just had an intense beam of light shined on him, but she immediately erupted into that whisky laugh of hers and we went on to have a charming (and very funny) meal together

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Actually, I thought Hillary Clinton was at least trying to be funny when she described her efforts at damage-control and said her counterparts responded with “Ah, don’t worry, you should see what we said about you. There was also (non-Wikileaks-related) the time Obama introduced John Boehner (he of the permanent tan) as a “person of color” recently. “’Although not a color that appears in the natural world,’ Obama added, barely able to keep his composure as he delivered the dig.” Still, I agree, it’s slim pickin’s.

  4. fairyhedgehog Says:

    A humourless bunch indeed. And when humour goes so does a sense of proportion, sadly.

  5. Suzanna Says:

    Ghadaffi and his nurse (ho) made a brief appearance on SNLs cold open about Wikileaks last Saturday. The guy who always plays Obama on the show played Ghadaffi.

    Obama used to wear a smile, and make other people laugh pretty easily too. That was when he was enjoying the fresh promise of his Presidency.

    He’d be mental if he was happy about recent events.

  6. Suzanna Says:

    Great story, Robb! More, more!

  7. Laren Bright Says:

    There’s sure little to laugh about in today’s politics — well, except maybe John Boehner’s skin color. Ah, for the good old days when we thought I Led 3 Lives was entertaining.

  8. Suzanna Says:

    More food for thought about Assange by a commentator from The Independent.
    He is an obvious supporter and states his case convincingly. He also
    talks about some of the terrible things revealed in the diplomatic cables
    that I hadn’t read or heard about from other sources:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-this-case-must-not-obscure-what-wikileaks-has-told-us-2154109.html

    You know, when I first read your idea about the ixnaycrats I thought it
    was sort of funny/half-serious. It’s looking better all the time.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Gary, GREAT LINK, GREAT PIECE. So why has Assange been told he’ll be arrested if he sets foot in Australia, do you know? And everyone should follow that link to see the TIME magazine cover — astonishing from a publication that used to be well, well to the right. “Why [the leaks] haven’t hurt America?” In TIME? Maybe there’s hope after all. The NY Times and the Washington Post will wear yellow-stained trousers forever, as far as I’m concerned.

    ROBB – Wow, you totally got me. Teared me up like Miss America. Thank you for saying those amazing things about my Dad, who really was a great guy, and one of the funniest men I ever knew. (But I don’t remember the fishing hat story. What was it?) Boy, you caught me completely off guard, as you can probably tell from this reply, which has everything except a stammer. (It was my Dad who pointed out to me that the commies never smiled.) And the story about my mother is hilarious. You even remember what she was making. (For all of those of you who wonder how Robb knows me so well, he and I were friend and creative collaborators and tag-team adventurers for years and years, and he went on to be a founding member of Bread, win an Oscar for Best Song, write a thousand country hits, and a bunch of great screenplays. He now lives, a member of the baronial elite, in Nashville.)

    Bonnie, I know I leaned a bit heavily on the humorless thing. I’m just too pissed off (maybe “horrified” is a better word) to give them any credit. Obama’s comment is extremely funny, and in the great tradition of very funny political lines with color in them – for example, the usually grim Jerry Brown on Reagan — “He doesn’t dye his hair, he’s just prematurely orange.” This is a guy who hasn’t laughed since the day the hogs ate grandma, but he got off one great one. Probably written for him. Mrs. Clinton, I have to say, strikes me as lacking the humor gene altogether. If it were the height gene, she’d have to sit on a phone book at the dinner table.

    On the nose, FHH — people with no sense of humor do not see the world as it is. Allow me to repeat that: People with no sense of humor do not see the world as it is. WE DO NOT want them leading us.

    Awww, Suzanna, SNL beat me to it. I haven’t watched it since it was funny, which is to say about 30 years ago, but they got to it, huh? Wish I’d seen it, actually. Ghadaffi is such a clown. Obama not only wore a smile back in the old days, he went off teleprompter, too. That was before the Seed Pod was placed beneath his bed.

    Laren, thanks for hanging in every day. Boehner (let’s pronounce that very carefully because otherwise someone might laugh) actually denied that he tans himself to get that color. Maybe he uses a catcher’s mitt for a pillow.

    Suzanna, another great and brave piece, again from the U.K. If we get through this period okay, I think this will mark the death of the NYT and the WaPO. They’ve both been absolutely disgraceful.

    And DON’T the Ixnaycrats look GOOD right now? Maybe I’ll put the website up after all. That’s what I need. Something else to do.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Since you wished for it here’s the SNL wikileaks skit link.

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/wikileaks-cold-open/1263417/

    It features a cameo by Robert DeNiro as President Karzai. Some funny bits but not over the top funny.

    And by the way, the next time I see you, I would love to show you a few of our favorite SNL skits that are online that may make you change your mind about the show. There have been a few really good reoccurring characters along the way.

  11. Peg Brantley Says:

    Well, um . . . I grew up in a house where the phrase “damn democrats” was not uncommon. But, I are one now. As long as I can smile, does that count?

    And, I LOVED Bread.

  12. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I grew up in a house where a picture of Roosevelt hung on the wall. Somehow, after Kennedy my father became less of a Democrat, and I became more enlightened, I called it. Strange. I loved Robb’s story, and Tim, I think your parents sound almost as funny as you. One problem, I’ve been singing Bread songs in my head all day. Actually it was neat ’cause it took me back.

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