Washington appreciates the arts, after a reasonable cooling-off period

I wasn't invited to the Kennedy Center Honors last weekend, which is probably a good thing, since I'm sure I would have wound up throwing objects on the stage during Billy Joel's rendition of "Bennie and the Jets."

Actually, it might have been fun to go just to watch those in attendance squirm in their seats, during Robert Downey Jr.'s speech:

[Downey] said he -- like losing presidential candidate John Kerry -- was suffering "from acute symptoms of another dual-diagnosis disease of mine: the ADD, of course, the altruistic Democrat disorder."

That drew nervous laughter from the audience, which included Sen. Kerry as well as President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, Secretary of State Colin Powell and the woman nominated to replace him, Condoleezza Rice.
He also introduced Elton John as "the other first lady." Which by itself is only mildly funny, but in the context of doing it at the Kennedy Center Honors is comedy gold.

That's the paradox of this bizarre yearly ceremony: Washington does its best to suppress anybody who tries to be edgy or daring or push the societal envelope. But then, 30 years later, it lavishes praise on those same people with a big-ass lifetime acheivement ceremony.

Elton showed up on stage with his long-time life partner, and has been highly outspoken against Bush; and yet, there's President Homophobe himself, clapping along in time (at least, as best a Republican can) with Kid Rock's (!) rendition of "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting." Ossie Davis, also honored, was good friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X back in the day... I'm sure he was real popular around here for that. Hell, just for that they probably had an FBI file on him. Thirty years later, now Washington's ready to accept him as an artistic hero.

But my favorite example of the thirty-years-later-now-we-like-you honoree from this past ceremony was Warren Beatty. Here's a guy who pushed the envelope a great deal with his films; as he said so himself at the ceremony, "So much of what I have experienced in life has to do with the contrast and confluence of arts and politics."

His resume is like a primer in generating controversy. Bonnie and Clyde sort of makes you feel for its titular (best word ever!) anti-heroes, until they're mercilessly and brutally gunned down in an orgy of gunfire. Violence so graphic and visceral hadn't really been shown that way before.

Later, Beatty won an Oscar for Reds, a love story about Socialists. I'm sure that went over real well here.

Umm, let's forget about Ishtar for now.

I think his most underrated movie was Bulworth. From the opening scene it's unflinching in its jabs at American politicians:

What it comes down to is a politician who can no longer bring himself to recite the words, "America is standing on the doorstep of a new millennium." Over and over and over again he has repeated the same mindless platitudes, the same meaningless baloney, the same hot air. Now he sits in his office, playing one of his stupid TV commercials on an endless loop. He has not eaten or slept in three days. He is sick to the soul of the American political process.
Yeah, it's kind of ham-handed in places, but it's absolutely priceless when Beatty (as Bulworth), thinking he has three days to live, becomes a rapping truth teller:

Angry black woman: Are you sayin' the Democratic Party don't care about the African-American community?
Bullworth: Isn't that OBVIOUS? You got half your kids are out of work and the other half are in jail. Do you see ANY Democrat doing anything about it? Certainly not me! So what're you gonna do, vote Republican? Come on! Come on, you're not gonna vote Republican! Let's call a spade a spade!
[Loud, angry booing]
Bullworth: I mean - come on! You can have a Billion Man March! If you don't put down that malt liquor and chicken wings, and get behind someone other than a running back who stabs his wife, you're NEVER gonna get rid of somebody like me!


Bullworth: Yo, everybody gonna get sick someday / But nobody knows how they gonna pay / Health care, managed care, HMOs / Ain't gonna work, no sir, not those / 'Cause the thing that's the same in every one of these / Is these motherfuckers there, the insurance companies!
Cheryl and Tanya: Insurance! Insurance!
Bullworth: Yeah, yeah / You can call it single-payer or Canadian way / Only socialized medicine will ever save the day! Come on now, lemme hear that dirty word - SOCIALISM!
Somehow, I don't think they played these scenes on the big screen at the Kennedy Center Opera House. In front of the President. Instead, attendants did get an embarrassing Colin Powell rap as a "tribute." I. Wish. I. Was kidding.

Powell toasted honoree Warren Beatty by parodying the actor's role as a rapping politician in the movie Bulworth: "I'm Colin Luther Powell/Public service is my thing/Don't do it for the fame/Don't do it for the bling."
Glarrrghhh. Um, Mr. Powell, did you see the movie? Hell, did anybody in attendance actually watch any of Beatty's films? Or all they all just playing lip service to how great he is because that's what everyone else is doing?

Here's another clip written by Beatty that they could have shown (you want uncomfortable Washingtonians squirming in their chairs? I'll give you uncomfortable squirming):

L.D.: I'm giving them entry-level positions into the only growth-sector occupation that's truly open to them right now. That's the substance supply industry. They gonna run this shit someday. They gonna have the whole empire. Man, y'all don't give a fuck about it. You greedy-ass politicians. That's what you tell me every time that y'all vote to cut them school programs; every time y'all vote to cut them funds to the job programs. What the fuck; how a... how a young man gonna take care of his financial responsibilities workin' at motherfuckin' Burger King? He ain't. He ain't, and please don't even start with the school shit. They ain't no education goin' on up in that motherfucker. 'Cause y'all motherfuckin' politicians done fucked the shit up. So what they gonna do? What's a young man supposed to do then, right? What's he gonna do? He gonna come to me, that's what he's gonna do. Why? 'Cause I'm a businessman, and as a businessman, you gotta limit your liabilities. And that's what these shorties offer me: limited liabilities; because of their limited vulnerability to legal sanctions, man. It's the same fuckin' thing in politics, Dog. You find an edge, you gotta exploit that shit. That's why y'all sent all them motherfuckin' teenagers to Iraq. Die over some motherfuckin' oil money. Send the motherfuckin' CIA up in the 'hood with all the fuckin yayos. Slangin' in the hood man. It's the same shit in politics.
Beatty didn't even produce or direct The Parallax View, just starred in it, but I'd love to sit the President down and make him watch the scary brainwashing montage scene, and watch him have an accident in his presidental trousers.

It's exactly this kind of truthfulness and edginess that Washington tries to suppress. Take a look at Alexandria's own Parents Television Council. They write down everything... everything... they find offensive on TV, for the purpose of, I don't know, getting Michael Powell to fine them. Either that or to catalog specifically what gets them off. Didn't we unseat this regime already, and wasn't it called the Taliban?

" 'Nip/Tuck' is so much sex," she says, "and it's really graphic. Like people having sex and snorting cocaine off someone's bare butt at the same time; people having sex with sex dolls; threesomes." Then there's the mother-son incest and suicide: In the season finale, the son stabs himself as they hug.

"I mean, incest is evil; why dramatize it? It's like a sick, twisted thing that people do that really hurts people," she says -- and no, it doesn't help that the mother turns out to be transsexual.
Yes, what indeed is the point of showing evil, hurtful things that people do to each other? That's just going to make people feel bad. And we can't have that. Heaven fucking forbid.

So anyway, I think it's funny. Washington appreciates actors and artists who push the envelope, and their contribution to American culture, as long as they do it at the safe distance of 30 years in the past.

I half expect Howard Stern to be up on that Kennedy Center stage 30 years from now, throwing half-peeled bananas at some half-naked stripper. I'll bet it brings the house down.

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