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Truthdig Radio: The Great Recession, Jobs and the Royal Spectacle

Posted on Apr 28, 2011
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(Page 3)

Robert Scheer: Well, also, you have obligations in war to prevent war crimes. And I think you’re making a really significant point. The media has tried, in a way, to distance itself from Manning and from the WikiLeaks people; you know, we’re just printing this stuff. But the fact is they have an obligation to protect the whistle-blowers, the truth-seekers. And that particular incident, for people who aren’t—where this whole thing started, with the leaks, involved a war crime. It involved killing innocent people. And if not for Manning, that would not have been brought to light. And I want to ask you a final question, because we are going to run out of time. You know, as I said, some of the commenters on Truthdig, when we gave you this Truthdigger award, they said, hey, these guys are still with Obama and they don’t see the light, and so forth. And full disclosure, by the way: I contributed to Obama’s campaign hours before the polls closed [laughs], and was happy that he won, and so forth. But I do want to ask a basic question about style and speaking out. Surely you heard from people [saying] hey, don’t disrupt the meeting, hey, you know, there are other ways to do it. And what—the boldness of this action; you know, maybe people don’t realize it because they don’t go to these dinners. But you know, you weren’t—you didn’t get wild applause at the end. You got probably as many groans as you got congratulations. And you were willing to break with the style that accepts, OK, he’s our leader, he’s our Democrat, he’s our this, he’s our that. And you said no; there’s something more important at stake, and we do have to speak truth to power …

Josh Scheer: OK, very quickly …

Robert Scheer: … I want to get your response to that. What happened? Did they usher you out? You had bought tickets; did you get any response from the people around you?

Prabhat Gautam: That was the interesting thing, where the main person who spoke up, Naomi Pitcairn, ah, they came over to her—and I was seated right behind her—and they came over and asked her to leave. And then the rest of the group finished singing the song. There were other people that didn’t participate in the song, but still, you know, either videoed or just watched everything. Because we wanted to have people that would be there the entire time, because we wanted to see what the reaction would be. And so Naomi was asked to leave, and then another person followed her out just to, you know, see what would happen, whether she’d be arrested or not. She wasn’t arrested. The other 18 of us all stayed in. I actually spoke to President Obama at the end and said—you know, I did a fundraiser for him three years ago in Los Angeles, and I said you know, I understand being in this high-level office is really difficult, and you know, we all believe in you, and we all hope better from you. And you know, it’s so rushed, and I think the thing that people should understand is these are … that event had Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom—these are the, all the top people in the [California] Democratic Party. Regular people are not supposed to go to those events, and that’s why it’s $5,000 a ticket. It’s intended to be cost-prohibitive to regular activists. So I think that’s a lot of what I’ve gotten from everyone; they’ve said regular activists don’t get into those events. And I think that’s why we wanted to have that group of 20 that are there—those are almost all regular activists, you know? Even the people that put up the bulk of the money, those are activists. But there’s only a few people that have that kind of money to afford to get in. They wanted regular people to see how politics works firsthand, and they wanted us to participate in the Democratic action, and I think … there are people that came up to us afterwards that were really happy that we did it, and I think that was—well, we thought most people would boo us, we thought that we’d be asked to leave; in the end, it was much nicer than that, it didn’t happen that way. And you know, I think most people that are Democrats are probably going to think, what has this accomplished? … they’ll think later and say well, at least somebody stood up to our president and said we’re not in favor of repressing public discourse; we’re not in favor of a continuation of Bush policy.


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Josh Scheer: Well, thank you, Prabhat. For Truthdig, for Prabhat, for Bob, this is Truthdig Radio, and thank you for listening.

* * *


Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer with Joshua Scheer. We are speaking with Sheerly Avni. Sheerly is a culture critic whose work has appeared in Mother Jones,, and Truthdig. Welcome.

Sheerly Avni: Thank you. Hi.

Josh Scheer: Hi, Sheerly. We got you on because you were going to talk about Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” which you’re a big fan of?

Sheerly Avni: Yes, of course—very much so.

Josh Scheer: What’s the thing that excites you the most?

Sheerly Avni: Well, first of all, like pretty much every woman in her 30s or 40s who was born on the East Coast and wears glasses, I think I am Tina Fey. [Laughter] So it was pretty much just an exercise in narcissistic wish-fulfillment. But also, she is a certain kind of model for both feminism and professionalism, and just explaining what it means to be working in a vibrant profession … that it’s kind of hard to resist. And the book is hysterical.

Peter Scheer: But … so how … she’s a model for feminists, but how intensely so? Is she—I mean, is it sort of like light, diet, digestible, palatable to mainstream America, or is she tough?

Sheerly Avni: I don’t know—I guess you’d have to turn to the ratings for “30 Rock” to ask how digestible she is for mainstream America. On the other hand, the book itself is a best-seller. So as far as tough, there’s definitely, for example, a lot of tough moments in “Bossypants,” as she describes her rise to power; as she describes how she handled a co-worker calling her the slimy C-word. And certainly, there’s sections in which she talks—pretty hysterically—about what it’s like being on a photo shoot; how hard it is for women to look good; all the stuff you would expect. But what’s different about her is that she’s not writing about the struggle of making it; she’s writing about making it, and then telling you how to do that. So I would say that it’s strong feminism, in the sense that it’s—it’s not about the struggle anymore; it’s about the success.

Josh Scheer: [Do you] think this is like a—a blueprint for other young girls to make it, and especially in that industry?

Sheerly Avni: I think it’s a blueprint for other young people to make it in general. She gives some stellar career advice, in terms of what to do when you’re working with an asshole; the answer is work around him if you can, and then don’t hire him when you’re the boss. She also models—and I think this is something that gets overlooked—but there’s … very often you’ll hear women in the media industry, any industry, say that women are really evil to women. And when you think about it, when I was coming up, most of the women I might seek out as mentors had blood streaming down their face from cracking the glass ceiling. They didn’t have time to hold my hand. And they were still trying to make it by sort of men’s rules. But now, one of the nicest things that you can see—both on the show “30 Rock” and in this book—is how much she emphasizes generosity. She talks about Amy Poehler and her generosity as a performer; she talks about generosity being a big part of what makes a good comedian; she talks about—with very, very strong, strong viewpoints—about how important it is for women not to … how much can I curse on this?

Josh Scheer: Not at all. [Laughter]

Sheerly Avni: Not at all! OK …

Josh Scheer: Well, just because it’s …

Sheerly Avni: And you want me to talk about Tina Fey? [Laughter]

Josh Scheer: Well, I mean, you can—yeah, just make up the fake words.

Sheerly Avni: Right. She basically speaks several times about the importance of not buying into the B.S. that women should be set up against each other. And some of the funniest episodes of “30 Rock” are about what happens to Liz Lemon when she tries to mentor younger women.

Josh Scheer: [Laughs] I remember the … one episode where the girl has the baby talk, right, and the comedian who’s like, I guess, Sarah Silverman. But …

Sheerly Avni: Yes. There is the woman who’s speaking like a baby girl, and it turns out that it’s mistaken identity. There’s also the scene in the first season when Liz Lemon tries to teach Cerie not to dress so provocatively, and instead of changing how Cerie dresses, she walks into the show trying to look cute.

Peter Scheer: How autobiographical is the show, now that you’ve read her autobiography?

Sheerly Avni: I would say autobiographical in the best sense of the word. When an artist uses the funniest—in her case, she would say funny—funniest parts of their personal experience in order to make a point—in her case, a comedic one. You know, her character doesn’t have a kid; her character doesn’t have a husband, but she obviously is writing from what she knows.

Josh Scheer: Well, it’s also—maybe it’s also before she kind of made it, maybe, right?

Sheerly Avni: Yes, except that—you know, I remember a long time ago reading in Stephen King’s “On Writing” that if you want to be successful, it’s really important to find a good wife. Something to that effect—I may be paraphrasing. And at the time I was offended, but there’s something to be said for having—being able to put all your energy into a successful career by being a part of a supportive partnership. And she’s been married for 17 years. It’s just that you can’t make as many jokes about a happy marriage as you can about a single woman living in New York.

Josh Scheer: Yeah. And also, Stephen King, it’s funny because I remember watching something about them—different, obviously, autobiography—but his wife and him working pretty dead-end jobs. And when Stephen King sold his first book, going in and saying, basically, we both don’t have to work, we both can be writers. Because she writes, too; she’s not as successful.

Sheerly Avni: Right.

Josh Scheer: So, no, this seems like a really cool book. I remember you talking to me about “30 Rock,” since we can … devolve a little bit on—from Tina Fey to “30 Rock.” Is this…

Sheerly Avni: Oh, sure.

Josh Scheer: I know you were saying something about the death nail, or …

Sheerly Avni: Well, you know … think of me, if I’m a cultural critic, that means I’m also … you know, cultural critics are basically Jewish mothers, right? We only hate on you because we love you. [Laughter] So all of my criticism of “30 Rock” is based on how much I love the show. I do think that it was at its best in Seasons 1 and 2, and that—when you look, for example—one of the best publications to read on “30 Rock” is New York Magazine’s Culture Vulture section, I think it’s called. And they just put together a list of a hundred great lines from “30 Rock.” At least 70 of them were from the first two seasons. And even in—speaking of generosity in Fey’s book, she has a section in which she just tells you about some of her top writers and what some of their top jokes were. The top jokes were all from the first two seasons. And television is an interesting industry, in which the commercial life of a series can outlive its creative life. And you see it not just in this show, but in many. A lot of people will disagree with me; true fans will say that this has been a great season.



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