Friday, August 3, 2012

"Kindred Spirits"

I could write this ten different ways – and I probably will –

You got there before me.

I could hear it coming, Italics Man.  The thing is, it’s an important issue.  And there are a lot of ways to come at it.  

What brings this subject to mind is that recently, in the same section of the paper – the front section, so it has to be important – I found two stories in two entirely different arenas

About cheating. 

One concerns a number of Olympic badminton teams who were found to have “thrown” early-tournament matches in order to be paired against weaker teams during subsequent rounds.

My first reaction was,

“Cheating in badminton?  Is nothing sacred anymore?”

I played badminton at camp.  It’s the only sport I was half decent at.  (The “birdie” didn’t move that fast, which gave me a reasonable shot at hitting it.)  I liked badminton; I appreciated it for giving me a chance.  It upsets me that Olympic competitors had shamefully tarnished a beloved sport.

I am informed, by someone “in the know”, that all (or at least the majority of) Olympian participants cheat.  (She herself doesn’t mind, because these enhancements cannot make them extraordinarily skillful. And since they’re all doing it, it cancels things out.

Okay, so the Olympics is awash in, what purists, at least, would regard as cheating.  Unfortunate but understandable.  If, as Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”, then, in the words of sports pundit Jim Rome, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

Fine.  All sports are now wrestling.  Moving on.

I turn to the “op-ed” page of the front section of the newspaper, and I find a commentary written by Meghan Daum concerning a writer who had been discovered, among other offenses, making up quotes and then attributing them to the likes of Bob Dylan in his book about “creativity.”  Apparently, the writer got confused.  He was supposed to be talking about creativity, not engaging in it himself. 

The man cheated. 

Like the badminton people.

Or close to it.  As a journalist, Daum, while condemning the book writer, finds certain “adjustments” to interviewees’ statements understandable and forgivable.  Cleaning up their bad grammar?  So what?  Smoothing out a quote so it’ll read better?   No harm, no foul. 

I agree.  And in an interview I once did with Woody Allen, I was actually guilty of that myself.  (Woody had “sabotaged” my taped interview by pounding his baseball mitt so hard during it that, when I listened to it later, I could not hear anything he was saying.)

Daum tells us, “Even some of the most acclaimed traditional documentary films can push the limits.  Lauren Greenfield, director of the new release ‘The Queen of Versailles’ admitted in a recent interview to playing around with the order of a few scenes for the sake of narrative arc.”

Daum, if not outright forgives, apparently understands this.

I don’t.  

To me, that’s cheating. 

And it makes me grumpy.

I remember reading a Rolling Stone article showcasing Lorne Michaels where the chronological sequence of events was rejiggered, also for the sake,  I imagine, of “narrative arc.”  (Why else?  I mean, ”chronological sequence”?  How hard is that to get right?)

The story, chronicling Michaels’ meteoric rise tells us that after the Canadian Television series of specials called “The Hart And Lorne Terrific Hour” – Hart, being my brother – ended, Michaels relocated to Hollywood, and the rest is show business history. 

In fact, Hart and Lorne had already worked in Hollywood, as staff writers on two variety shows – The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show, which was cancelled, and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, for which their 13-week contract was not picked up.  They did “Hart And Lorne” after returning to Canada.

The Rolling Stone writer had it the other way around. 

The writer apparently preferred the “direct to the top” story arc.  When the actual trajectory was bumpier and more problematic.  (Which, to me, makes it a better story.) 

Daum places the discredited book writer’s transgression in the context of “our era”, explaining, “…his downfall is not alone.  What has also collapsed is our collective tolerance for complexity, our appetite for concepts that can’t be captured in catchy book titles or appropriated for corporate mantras and self-help seminars.  In the wake of all that, should we really be surprised when a writer opts for a made-up Dylan quote over the real thing?”

“Not be surprised”?  No.  But be more demanding?


Unless, like those bad badminton people, you have abandoned the principle of doing things right.

No comments: