(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2013)
“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain
I realize it is not, in Buddhist terms, skillful speech to call anyone an idiot, but there are times when no other term works quite so well for me. For instance, have you ever listened to John Boehner speak? I have only managed to listen to him for a few seconds at a time before I become nauseated and have to stop listening or lose my lunch, but what I have heard in those few seconds can only be called idiotic. Or Dianne Feinstein? Have you ever heard such blatant dishonesty, hypocrisy, and amorality spewed from the mouth of anyone? True, I am conflating dishonesty and hypocrisy and amorality with idiocy, but in my worldview these words are synonyms for each other.
And, assuming most of the elections in our great land are not completely rigged (a daring assumption), we the people elect these idiots, which would make us…
“You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.” Norman Douglas
“The problem is men,” said a visiting divorcee, her ex-husband problematic, indeed, and definitely male. “They’re all idiots.”
“Could we rephrase that?” I asked hopefully. “To make an exception of present company? Could we say the problem is most men? Just so I don’t run out of the room screaming? Yet.”
“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” said the divorcee. “I’m talking about the 75 per cent of male voters, Republicans and Democrats, who voted for George Bush instead of Al Gore.”
“You don’t think Al Gore is an idiot?” I asked. “Mr. Sabotage the Kyoto Protocol and promote nuclear power and then masquerade as an environmentalist?”
“Well, he seemed like less of an idiot,” she said, shrugging. “But you’re right. They’re both idiots. And that’s the problem. Most men are.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked, having thought long and hard about why most men are idiots.
“Males evolved to be prolific sperm donors, hunters, and violent protectors of their mates and offspring from wild animals and other violent males.” She nodded confidently. “And that’s about it.”
“But why would such evolution lead to idiocy rather than brilliance? It seems to me that for most of our evolution, the forces of nature must have selected for intelligence, ingenuity, and…”
She shook her head. “Brute strength, violence, cruelty. Ever read the book Demonic Males? Check it out. Men are hardwired to be cruel, insensitive louts.”
“What about Mozart?” I suggested. “Mendelssohn? Ansel Adams? Danny Kaye? Fred Astaire? The Dalai Lama?”
“Mutations,” she said without missing a beat. “Do you see much evidence of those sorts of genes in the general male population? And the reason for that is obvious. The Mozarts and Mendelssohns and Fred Astaires, until very recently in the course of human evolution, only rarely survived long enough to procreate because the brutes killed them off in childhood.”
“Well, I disagree,” I said, fearing she might be right. “I think idiocy is learned. And I think that’s true for women as well as men.”
“The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he really is very good, in spite of all the people who say he is very good.” Robert Graves
When I was in my late twenties and thirties, I spent a good deal of time in Hollywood trying to get my screenplays turned into movies, an excruciating epoch that involved countless meetings with movie producers, studio executives, agents, actors, and directors, those who would deign to give me some of their time. And in the beginning of my Hollywood education, I thought a few of the movie people I encountered were brilliant, many were not so brilliant, and many more were idiots.
However, by the end of my Hollywood education, I concluded that all the movie people I’d met and spoken to were idiots, and by that I mean they had no imagination, no genuine sense of humor, and absolutely no interest in making good and original movies. They only wanted to make movies they thought would make money, which I consider a terrible kind of idiocy. I also concluded there must be a few non-idiots in the movie business, but for reasons beyond my understanding I was never fortunate enough to meet any of those elusive beings.
“It was déjà vu all over again.” Yogi Berra
One of my screenplays, They Hate Me In Chicago, won me a dozen meetings with various Hollywood folks affiliated with other Hollywood folks who might have been able to get a medium-budget comedy drama produced. I should clarify that what won me those meetings was a clever one-paragraph summary of my screenplay, since none of the idiots I met with would ever have bothered to read an entire script unless they thought the idea was commercial or the script was written by someone they were having sex with or trying to have sex with or getting drugs from, or unless the script was written by someone they thought was having sex with or doing drugs with someone high up the Hollywood totem pole.
They Hate Me In Chicago is about a baseball umpire who makes the final call of the final game of the World Series, an incredibly close call at home plate that gives the series to the Yankees over the Chicago Cubs. The movie begins with our likable down-to-earth sweetly sexy hero making that fateful call, and follows our hero for the next year of his life culminating in his making the final and deciding call at home plate of the next World Series, the Cubs once again the National League team vying for the crown. Our flawed but lovable hero has a humorous and challenging life off the field as well as on, featuring several strong and appealing female characters to compliment the equally strong and appealing male characters—a compelling mix of professional and personal drama leading to the thrilling climax.
Right around this time, the movie Bull Durham was proving to be a great and surprising success, and was always referenced at my meetings regarding They Hate Me In Chicago. The producers, directors, agents, and studio executives I met with were universally baffled by the success of Bull Durham because, to paraphrase several of them, “Baseball movies were box office poison until Bull Durham came along and nobody can figure out why that movie did so well when so many other recent baseball movies bombed so badly.”
“I can tell you why Bull Durham was a success,” I said to each of the many movie people who professed bewilderment about that movie’s success. I was unaware at the time that my daring to say I knew something about movies that these folks did not know was an unforgivable breach of Hollywood etiquette. By suggesting I thought I knew more about movies than those with more power than I in the steeply hierarchical world of Hollywood was tantamount to, well, calling them idiots, which they were, but that is not the way to make hay in the movie biz. Au contraire, that is the way to burn bridges and end up on numerous shit lists in the movie biz, which I unwittingly did.
“Oh, really?” they all said, making notes to themselves never to meet with me again. “Do tell.”
“Bull Durham is a success because it’s not really a baseball movie. It’s a comedy drama about sex and romance with a strong female lead and a sexy leading man, and that’s why so many women love it. And it has a baseball subplot for men so they can say they like it for the baseball, when they, too, love it for the sex and romance. In other words, it’s the perfect date movie. Which is what They Hate Me In…”
“What do you mean Bull Durham isn’t really a baseball movie?” said the producers, agents, directors, and studio execs. “Kevin Costner isn’t playing ice hockey. Are you saying your movie isn’t really a baseball movie? Because the only reason we’re talking to you is because baseball movies are hot right now because Bull Durham, a baseball movie, is hot right now.”
As I said…idiots.
“I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the words of Shakespeare, but if he did not, it seems to me he missed the opportunity of his life.” James Barrie
Today on my walk to town, I saw not one, not two, but four different people either talking or texting on their cell phones while driving. Not only are these practices illegal—the electronic equivalents of drunk driving—they are the height of idiocy and cause thousands of deaths and horrible injuries.
But far more idiotic than the use of cell phones while driving is the advent of computer screens in the dashboards of most new automobiles manufactured in America, screens for drivers to manipulate and look at while simultaneously doing one of the most dangerous things a human being can do: pilot a two-ton mass of hurtling metal at high speeds on roads filled with other multi-ton masses of hurtling metal being driven by other humans, some of whom are very old, very young, very stupid, very drunk, high on drugs, eating lunch, talking on phones, and staring into computer screens instead of watching the road ahead. That, as far as I’m concerned, transcends idiocy and climbs high into the realm of collective insanity.
Todd will be appearing at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino on August 30 at 6:30 PM to talk about and read from his recently reissued novel Inside Moves.