- - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Everybody does it

“There’s a reason for this. It’s an easy thing to get earnest about: no matter how much of a jerk you are (and I’m at the top), you can’t say, ‘bullying is awesome.’ You can say it builds character, but don’t tell that to a parent of a terrified kid. And it’s a slam dunk for celebrities. It makes for legitimate and easy outrage that even the shallowest dope can get behind. More important — as every celebrity constantly reminds us — they were once bullied too. The cause becomes about them, just like everything else.

“And this leads me to what I’m gunna say now, without making people feel bad: there’s a bully gap going on. Everyone claims to be bullied. No one claims to be the bully. Ever. — Everyone here was bullied. I’m betting you were bullied too. Which leads me to my only question: if we were all bullied, where are the bullies?

“The answer: we’re both. We can be bullied and bullies. I remember being bullied, yep. But if I try harder — I can also remember Spanish class at Serra High. The teacher’s name was Manual Fojo, a Cuban refugee. He went through hell to make it here, and I made it hell-ier. Sorry Manny.”

Greg Gutfeld, writing on “The Rise of the Anti-Bullying Bullies,” on Nov. 8 at Big Hollywood

Product produced

“This story [‘Megamind’] of a blue-domed supervillain — has all the by-now-almost-too identifiable hallmarks of a Dreamworks animated product. That is, the most famous voice talent that money, and the cachet of Dreamworks animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg, can buy, e.g., Will Ferrell as the title not-quite villain, Brad Pitt as his fatuous comic-bookish hero opposite number Metro Man, Tina Fey as a kind of post-modern, ‘His Girl Friday’-inflected Lois Lane type …

“Then there’s the [‘Megamind] script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, filled with the sort of zingers and pop culture references that lead certain folk to admiringly proclaim that Dreamworks animated movies contain the kind of humor that ‘adults can enjoy too.’ Although, really, and not to be too much of a churl about it, but that really finally depends on how you define ‘adult.’

“And there’s that classic rock and top 40 soundtrack, which suggests that nobody at Dreamworks has updated their personal music devices since ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was released, but of course that’s not at all true; what’s actually the case is that songs such as ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ have been market-tested and focus-grouped to within mere centimeters of their lives, and are proven laugh/recognition cues for the mass audience without which these films couldn’t exist.”

Glenn Kenny, writing on “‘Megamind’: Minor Fun for Kids , Adults,” on Nov. 4 at MSN Movies

Incentive structures

“In the end, [a Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front leader] claimed, the R.U.F. had escalated the horror of the war (and provoked the government, too, to escalate it) by deploying special ‘cut-hands gangs’ to lop off civilian limbs. ‘It was only when you saw ever more amputees that you started paying attention to our fate,’ he said — The U.N.’s mission in Sierra Leone was per capita the most expensive humanitarian relief operation in the world at the time. The old rebel believed that, instead of being vilified for the mutilations, he and his comrades should be thanked for rescuing their country.

“Is this true? Do doped-up maniacs really go a-maiming in order to increase their country’s appeal in the eyes of international aid donors? Does the modern humanitarian-aid industry help create the kind of misery it is supposed to redress? That is the central contention of [Linda] Polman’s new book, ‘The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?’ …

“Three years after Polman’s visit to Makeni, the international Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone published testimony that described a meeting in the late nineteen-nineties at which rebels and government soldiers discussed their shared need for international attention. Amputations, they agreed, drew more press coverage than any other feature of the war.”

Philip Gourevitch, writing on “Alms Dealers” on Oct. 11 at the New Yorker