Why are we still paying to be insulted? — Boardwalk Empire & why I don’t like it *UPDATED*

HBO has recently premiered Boardwalk Empire, a lavish new series that seeks to recreate Atlantic City chicanery during the Prohibition era.  HBO really went to town on this one.  Not only did it get Martin Scorcese to direct (leading me to ask my husband, disingenuously, “didn’t he used to direct real movies?”), it’s obvious that HBO was ready to spend generously on the production itself.  The sets and costumes are gorgeous.  For a pedantic purist — and I am one — it’s an A+ job.

I’d almost enjoy watching the show if it wasn’t for that pesky little problem that crops up in so many Hollywood products:  the need to sling gratuitous insults at Republicans.

I blogged at length about this phenomenon after plunking down ten of my hard-earned after-tax dollars to see Julie & Julia.  That movie was sold as a charming romantic comedy/biopic, one that compared Julia Child’s love life to that of a modern young woman who undertook to bake a Julia Child recipe every day for a year.

It was another movie with lavish production values and a loving tone.  Meryl Streep played Child with shrieking verve, while Amy Adams was the neurotic Julie of the present day.  I’m not sure I would have liked the movie that much under any circumstances, given that Streep was exhausting and Adams irritating, but the movie lost me completely with its gratuitous swipes at Republicans.  As I wrote a little over a year ago:

I started getting uncomfortable when Julia Child and her husband used the fact that Julia’s Pasadena-based father was visiting to do a little McCarthy and Republican bashing.  Still, it’s pretty much de rigueur in movies that involve the 1950s for filmmakers to show their liberal bona fides by bashing McCarthy.  We’ve known since the 60s that Hollywood will never accept that old Joe was right, and the government did have a ridiculous number of communists and communist sympathizers anxious to do harm to the United States.  In Hollywood-land, only the excesses of McCarthyism (and there were indeed such excesses) live on in collective memory.  I therefore stayed with the movie despite this pro forma McCarthy indictment.

Where the movie lost me was during a scene in the modern era.  Its genesis is the fact that Julie, whose blog is taking off, is expecting a famous food publisher for dinner.  The night before the planned dinner she had made Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon — and then burned it. The next day, she calls in sick to work so that she could remake the time consuming dish.  She carefully (and falsely) blogs that she is sick and then blogs later that, miraculously, she is well again, so as to lend an air of verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.

On her return to work the next day, she discovers that her boss has read this false blog entry, and is offended that she’d referred to work and that she’d obviously lied about her health.  Then (and I’m quoting from memory here), this bit of dialogue emerges from the bosses mouth:  “You’re lucky I’m a nice guy.  If I were a Republican, you’d be fired.  But I’m not (or I’m trying not to be) a schmuck.”  (Half the Marin audience laughed.)

Boardwalk Empire does exactly the same thing:  it throws in a swipe at Republicans that does absolutely nothing to advance the plot, but simply allows the Hollywood types to indulge in their usual mean-spirited nudging and winking at their fellow liberals.  To understand just how offensive the dialogue I’ll quote is, you need a little background.

The series begins at the very end of 1919, right before Prohibition went into effect.  We’re introduced to Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, Treasurer for Atlantic City’s council. Within minutes we learn that, while he affects a pious exterior, and sells himself to the public as a devout prohibitionist, he is in fact planning to ally himself with independent rum runners, as well as the Chicago and New York mafia, in order to enrich himself and his cronies. He is, in a word, despicable.

Within the first few minutes of the movie, Nucky attends a New Year’s Eve dinner with his fellow council members and the mayor. All are eagerly awaiting Prohibition’s spoils. It is within this context that the following dialogue ensues:

Nucky: Mr. Mayor, Friends, fellow members of the City Council.  As you know, in less than 2 hours, liquor will be declared illegal by decree of the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress.

Assembled councilmen: Boo! Hiss!

Nucky: To those beautiful, ignorant bastards.

Assembled councilmen: Hear, hear!

Nucky: Rest assured that, dry though the country may be, I am in the midst of concluding arrangements and will keep Atlantic City wet as a mermaid’s t**t.

Mayor: Gee.  You’re f***ing mermaids now?

Nucky: Every vote counts, Mr. Mayor.

Unknown council member: A Republican through and through!

Did that last line add anything to the scene? I don’t think so. It simply showed that Martin Scorcese and friends are so lost in a world of Republican-hating that it leaks out of them constantly, like gas from a swamp.

The thing is that, as long as the public pays, these Hollywood types get away with this kind of crude disrespect.  We go to the movies and say, “Well, what can you do?  Other than that, it was a good movie.”  And we keep on paying for HBO because it feeds us sports and tolerable movies and other amusing stuff.

But really, shouldn’t we be making some sacrifices here?  I can live without a few movies if it means sending a message to Hollywood that it is not all right to take gratuitous swipes at half the movie-going population.  Can you?

UPDATE:  Elwin, in the comment, advises me that Nucky was, in fact, a Republican, a bit of information for which I am most appreciative.  I don’t think that changes the point I was making, which is that the throwaway line about Republicans was gratuitous in context.  This is not a serious documentary that looks at the political scene locally, in Atlantic City, and nationally.  In that case, one would a scholarly approach to the town’s political make-up that discusses the political parties and the nature of those parties at that time.  Instead, the characters are introduced simply as crooks and the line exists only to insult.

UPDATE II:  Apropos the Julia & Julie post to which I linked, a very reputable, erudite, learned scholar has advised me that McCarthy was every bit as vile as history has painted him.  There were communists in the government and the military, says my friend, but McCarthy came along after this threat had been removed, and simply used the backwash to destroy people for his own satisfaction.

The problem, as I see it, is that Leftist historians use McCarthy’s foul acts to hide the fact that the Communists had, in fact, infiltrated government.  He becomes the historic straw man for the very real threat to America’s constitutional integrity and national security.

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  • http://elwin-ransomed.blogspot.com/ Elwin

    Nucky Johnson (the real person Boardwalk is based on) was in fact a Republican. One of the most powerful Republicans in New Jersey.
    Now, having said that, I still agree that with Mark Wahlberg as executive producer, consider it a given that they will take cheap shots at traditional American values wherever possible.

  • Zhombre

    Saw Boardwalk, or rather most of it, over the weekend. Missed that part.  Rather enjoyed what I did see. Must say the violence during the finale was as gratuitous as that crack at Republicans.


    Bookworm, I remember well your post about Julia & Julia – I lost my appetite to see the film.
    I am not a fan of gratuitous violence having watched several seasons of the Sopranos (instant cure for me). Oh, yes indeed, I can move on (forgive any unintentional reference to that other move on. Atlantic City, like its mid-western counter part, Chicago and its southern partner New Orleans are all rife with corruption. A.C. flips politicians quicker than a fast food burger and I can flip a channel even quicker.
    The long ago promise of cable and quality viewing is pretty much like the promises of politicians.
    City Councilman Dennis Mason told The Press of Atlantic City he’ll introduce a measure to rename a one-block section of Belmont Avenue – near a hotel where Johnson used to live – as “Nucky’s Way.” Mason is not put off by Johnson’s eventual conviction and imprisonment on tax charges. “It was just tax evasion,” Mason told the newspaper. “He didn’t actually murder anyone.”

  • Oldflyer

    Well, I don’t (pay).  If I am watching a show that takes a gratuitous shot, I reach for the remote.  If I were paying, I would cancel.   If I am reading a library book and the same thing happens, I just close & return the book.
    Politics have become too intense; I do not want politics mixed in with my entertainment.
    Life is too short.
    Maybe I miss a few worthwhile presentations, but I can live with that.

  • richard10934

    point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong and yet was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him.
    Nicholas von Hoffman

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~nooriginalthought/ Charles

    Book, I agree that “Republican bashing” is the new form of scapegoating in films, books, etc.

    I, also, remember your post about Julia & Julie and while I did watch the film (it is on the cable movies channel that I have already paid for) I think that I would have been bothered by the snippy comment without having been pre-warned by your post.  The comment was that obvious an unnecessary part of the story.

    What I think is interesting is that it shows (at least in my mind) that most liberals are so into their own view of the world that they cannot even imagine that others have vaild viewpoints and are deserving of respect (unless, of course, the others are Islamic fanatics; then the left seems to thrown themselves all over their unholy ideas – you know, Islam is a “religion of peace”).

    Oldflyer; I, too, have stopped reading many books and simply returned them to the library.  While I think the rest of the book might be of interest such snippy comments cause me to question the rest of what the author has to say. That is to say, I think anyone that is that ignorant to include something so “dumb” in a non-political book really has nothing else that cannot be called into question.

    Interestingly, Neo-Neocon has a post about political mixed marriages. Here’s a key quote:

    Note also how polite and tactful the conservative men in the Times article are toward their liberal spouses, and the unwarranted condescension of most of the liberal wives towards their own conservative husbands.”

    Lastly, while it is very easy to return a book, change the channel, stop buying the newspaper, etc; it is even harder to work for someone who engages in this kind of political “commentary.”  A couple of years ago I was doing temp work where my immediate boss was a “rabid Bush hater.”  Several times a day he would be going off on one of his rants about Bush.  Only once did I try to say something, and that was because he had called for a meeting after hours, two of my co-workers were there, along with a representative from my temp agency.  After the first five minutes had already been wasted with his latest Bush rant (clearly, everyone’s eyes were rolling), I calmly said that I voted for Bush twice; but, I realize that not everyone has the same political viewpoint. “Could we please get to the matter at hand so that I could get home in a timely fashion?”  Wow, that was big mistake, his rant got worse and nobody, I mean nobody, in the room backed me up – what a bunch of bloody sheep!

  • shirleyelizabeth

    “But really, shouldn’t we be making some sacrifices here?”

    My husband and I do. And it’s not really a sacrifice. And it really wasn’t through the teenage years. If it doesn’t align with my morals, then there’s just no point in exposing myself to it, and especially not in bringing it into my home. We also caught that line in Julie and Julia and found it ridiculous. We find a lot of that in entertainment today, and just decide it’s not worth our time.

  • Ellen

    If you thought the movie Julie and Julia was bad, the book was much worse.  I quit after about three chapters.  Stephen King and Stuart Woods have lost me as readers after their books, The Duma Key and Two Dollar Bill.  I don’t pay good money to be insulted.

  • Spartacus

    Sacrifices? Since when are peace and quiet sacrifices?

    Limiting one’s movie choices to Netflix* really does bring a wonderful focus and intentionality to one’s movie life. And what about the rest of cable (or satellite)? Well, what about it? Most of it is dominated by the Legacy Media, and you have to stop everything from spinning so hard to the left before mentally digesting it. Quite a bother. Better just to get it in printed pixels, where dissection is a much more methodical process.

    * Yes, yes, I know that the Netflix CEO made a foolish and bad joke about Americans not noticing the world around them in an interview the other day; I’m letting it slide. First, he’s partly right (although probably for the wrong reasons) in that very few Americans would notice and become outraged about lower prices charged to Canadians. Second, as someone who could more easily juggle five live hamsters** than avoid a newsworthy fumble in a live interview, I am highly sympathetic.

    ** Possible exaggeration. And I wouldn’t really condone that treatment of hamsters, anyway.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Sometime around 1975, movie-makers…along with journalists…decided that they were intellectuals, despite their typical lack of serious education and knowledge. To reinforce this choice of identity, they took on the opinions most common among identifiable intellectuals, and have in many cases out-Heroded Herod.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This is why I like japanese shows. They don’t even know a Republican or Democrat is, you see. Convenient that way.
    “but McCarthy came along after this threat had been removed”
    At the time, the teacher’s unions and their controllers in the CPUSA were telling their American members not to testify before Congress and to lie about their testimony if they had to. It was all scripted out. They did this because the “communists were removed”? As if. If they got nothing to hide, they wouldn’t have to have a conspiracy to hide it.
    They can’t even distinguish between the House Committee on unAmerican activities and Senator McCarthy. It’s because their propaganda network, back then as well as today, conflated the two as a single threat. They used McCarthy’s name to stoke up the masses but they were organizing to refute House Testimony in terms of actual policy. All of this is connected. Like Communist infiltration and the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church are connected. The evidence is there, regardless of how many refuse to believe me.
    One of the problems with Leftist Alinsky tactics is that they conflate issues with their demonizing of specific individuals. It makes their activities rather easy to differentiate and analyze. Because they are never talking about the policies and actions of the person they are demonizing. It is always a smoke screen for some other issue they are worried about, but don’t want to let the public know, instead letting the public think it is about this One Person (Sarah Palin) when in fact it is about something completely different.
    For movies, save money, don’t buy cable tv. Instead, spend it on internet viewing. Same deal, more convenience, and less money wasted.
    As for books, Brandon Sanderson has great political epic fantasy of the Beowulf or Odyssey traditions, with no modern day political slant. His novel, Elantris, is the least complex and shortest. Warbreaker and the Mistborn trilogy are slightly complex and moderately more complex respectively. His latest novel series, The Way of Kings, is superb in entertainment value for those looking for both complex human and world relationships as well as political theory in action and military tactics in observance.
    The Japanese tend to treat politics and religion much more seriously, without some of the hang ups from the drug addicted and neurotic Hollywood set. It’s much better. Their average quality is still superior to Hollywood’s best and brightest directors/actors. Firefly wasn’t even made by the Hollywood elites and it’s still better than 99% of their total productions of the last 10 years.
    Cross Game demonstrates the Japanese love of baseball and is a very interesting series for those that aren’t familiar with baseball as well as players and fans. I was reminded by Polliwood at pajamas tv that America 50s shows focused on the family, the middle class values, as part of an American dream that was achievable. Japan has a similar push, but theirs didn’t die off. They still have it in their shows, manifested through various avenues on tv. They have edge and adult tv, like America, but their prime time tv programming is amazingly diverse and family orientated generally speaking. Rather than one Leave it to Beaver, you have like dozens on it, and then dozens more focusing on specific genres. They don’t tend to run forever, which tends to allow diversity rather than stagnancy.
    The usual Japanese tv show, for animation style, runs 12 epsodes. 24 minutes and 30 seconds of show, with I suppose 5 minutes of commercial segmented in between the middle. A longer series would run 26 episodes. Still more would have a second reason. Only a few shows break the hundred episode mark.
    And this isn’t even getting into Japanese game shows, which you have to see to believe.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I would say Sanderson is a one in a billion talent. Most writers have a hard time stepping beyond their personal experiences. It takes research to get them to write at least semi-competently on a subject they are unfamiliar with. This kind of focus does bring in dividends, as the classical literature shows.
    In terms of world building, Sanderson is superior to David Weber. Their detail and consistency are about equal on the subject of logic. Sanderson, however, has a greatly more diverse and creative set of worlds he built, which are not in any way similar to the one before. Whereas David Weber has a template concerning technology that is easily recognizable across a diverse number of his novels, with the exception of his fantasy series.
    Sanderson also has the flare for the dramatic. Weber tends to draw out the political drama over a definite time period, rather than clumping them all together. His tactical dramatic moments came best at the fights, whether ground side or naval side. Sanderson’s usually come right at the end, the biggest grand finale.
    Strangely enough, Sanderson also combines some of the new age, free economic philosophy of Eric Flint. In the belief that free books draws in a greater audience and allows an author to make his name known and receive greater sales than before. Brandon Sanderson is the man fans of the Wheel of Time series are probably most familiar with. As it was he who was chosen by the Estate of Robert Jordan to finish the WoT series.

  • kali

    Ymar, I did my best to prove Sanderson right about economics–I read Warbreaker online, then bought it in hardback.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    What did you think about the books you read, Kali, from him?

  • Libby

    I no longer subscribe to HBO and have no plans to ever subscribe in the future. It became clear to me  years ago that HBO had a very clear agenda: mainstream deviant behavior and liberal advocacy. All of the HBO-produced content, both fiction and documentaries, has a liberal viewpoint. Whether it’s their movies/shows advocating euthanasia/casual sex/polygamy/sex changes or documentary-style shows about “common” sexual practices/ strippers/streetwalkers, or historical dramas about the 2000 election/ suffragettes/the development of life-saving heart surgeries. No matter what the topic, the conservative white guys and Christians are always evil – the enemy. About the only topic they sometimes stray from this is the military, with productions like Band of Brothers and Guarding Chance (? the movie w/Kevin Bacon). It’s a shame, because, as you mentioned, these are high quality productions. But I haven’t missed it at all.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    NCIS seems to be one of the only cable shows that actually produces a balanced look at human relationships.

  • kali

    Ymar, I’ve loved everything Sanderson has written, except WoT, because I never liked Jordan’s work, and Way of Kings, because it reminded me of Jordan’s work :) (although the world-building in WoK was wonderful)

  • suek

    Not exactly on topic, but not off either:

    Ymar…you think the views of relationships portrayed on NCIS are _balanced_?  Wow.  As much as I enjoy the show, I consider _all_ of the characters to have serious flaws in their personalities.  Of course they’re just paper cutouts for the purpose of the show…but normal???  I don’t think so.
    Maybe you weren’t saying what I thought you were saying??

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “Ymar…you think the views of relationships portrayed on NCIS are _balanced_? “
    Of course. They all balance each other out with their neuroses and extreme behaviors ; )
    Kali, I had to stop reading and buying Jordan’s books because there was no personal responsibility there, honor, virtue, or the other good stuff.
    Way of Kings is a much darker and more depressing story. You tend to go through a lot of the “crunches” before the Light at the end. I never thought of WoT, though. Because Sanderson was not Jordan, and I trusted in Sanderson’s skill and determination to stay on the true path.
    Maybe you weren’t saying what I thought you were saying??
    It goes without saying that they aren’t normal. But that’s what makes them funny. Hollywood usually produces stuff that Is Normal. For them but not for me. So if I can’t have normal, at least I can have funny.
    guess how many times I was telling Zeva not to go for the gun on the floor? hehe guess

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Zeva David, the Israeli Mossad agent cum assassin, was undercover as the newest girlfriend of a serial killer.
    She was about 3 feet away from the gun, as it was pointed, arms extended, at her head.
    3 feet is doable for a rush against a firearms wielding individual, with that stance. She instead turned around and walked to a dead end, thus forcing herself to spin around and then move towards the threat.
    In the process they got in a scuffle and the gun was dropped and slid around. I wonder if this is what tv does because it is accepted wisdom or because they know it is a joke, but she went and crawled around to grab the gun.
    Kali, the Way of Kings as set in the story mirrored a lot of the young king in Mistborn. Especially the thing at the end, where they said that he was going to force the princes to behave, rather than convince them with righteous behavior. That was the same decision reached in Mistborn. I like that kind of stuff. Shows some connection and brings out Sanderson’s writing character/style.

  • suek

    >>I wonder if this is what tv does because it is accepted wisdom or because they know it is a joke,>>
    Time factor.  If they did it the way you want it done, it would be over in 5 seconds.  But they have 5 minutes (or whatever) of show time to fill…so they have to do it the time consuming way…

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    It also probably makes for dramatic moments. As the audience tries to root for success.

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  • pst314

    “new age, free economic philosophy of Eric Flint.”
    Huh? Eric Flint is a communist (Socialist Workers Party variety.) I’ve never read any of his books, but I know that he quite freely and proudly states his political allegiance.

  • neila452

    I, too, am disappointed in Boardwalk Empire and its continual depiction of Republicans as crooked politicians and profligates. Democrats, on the hand hand, are portrayed neutrally or in a somewhat positive light. Democrats are never portrayed as crooks in the series. If you want to see a Democrats exposed as crooks you would need to follow the likes of Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton; but, then neither of them are as elegantly dressed and mannered as Nucky and his friends.

    My grandmother and grandfather were Republicans throughout the 1910’s until they died in 1959 and 1961 respectively. They weren’t crooks, nor did they associate with crooks. There were plenty of Democrats, on the other hand, throughout the Mahoning River Valley in eastern Ohio and Beaver Valley in western Pennsylvania that were. Youngstown, Ohio was every bit the crime ridden city that Atlantic City was, perhaps, more so. Most of the crime in those regions was led and controlled by Democrats, not Republicans. Check your facts, Martin Scorsese, before you impugn Republicans in an otherwise interesting and well-produced drama series like Boardwalk Empire.