PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
May 3, 1999
I've Been Bought!
I have a day job, so I need to make it clear to anyone who comes here that the opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer, my family, or your great-aunt Mathilda. Offer not valid in Wisconsin. You must enter to win.
Table of Contents:
Our Trip To New York
I confused some of you with my timeline last week. I filed a column on Sunday about a trip that started the previous Saturday. We were in New York April 24-26.
Here is a contemporaneous account of the trip, written on the night of the 25th.
It is Sunday Night. Marlow is up at Columbia. She ate dinner earlier tonight at an upper west side restaurant with a bunch of other students. She'll watch a student performance, then she'll sleep in her sleeping bag on the floor of a suite lounge. Tomorrow, she'll go to classes until 4 (except for a free breakfast and lunch). I'll go to a bunch of parent stuff. We'll meet in the lobby at Hartley-Wallach Hall, then catch a cab to the airport for our trip home.
We left for SF airport at 6am by cab (my car and Marlow's are in the shop). We got there at 6:30 for our 7:45 flight on American. The seats, of course, are small and close together, but fortunately the flight is only one-third full. Marlow and I both get a few hours of sleep.
We arrive at the Empire Raddison on W. 63rd St., across from Lincoln Center, at about 4:30. We have to go right back out to buy Marlow a sleeping bag and a towel, both of which we forgot to bring with us. We go to the Manhattan Mall in the former Gimbel's building across the street from Macy's, at Herald Square. There we buy Marlow sunglasses at Sunglass Hut, a sleeping bag at Uncle Sam's Army-Navy Surplus (heavier sleeping bags are cheaper; we get a 4-pounder, which is the cheapest), and a $4 towel at Stern's (also the cheapest).
We go to see Matthew Broderick in Night Fell, a murder mystery written in 1935. It is very funny and old fashioned. Matthew Broderick is great. I want to see him in Inspector Gadget (and Election) now even more than I did before.
Marlow and I had dinner Saturday night at the steakhouse in our hotel. Sunday we met Kim and Tom LaSusa (my producer and his wife) for brunch at our hotel. Then we walked from 63rd up to the Natural History museum at 79th. There we saw the Imax movie "Amazon," and saw newly discovered dinosaur eggs from Patagonia (a region of Argentina). Marlow reminded me she stopped wanting to be a paleontologist in 8th grade or so.
We went back to our room, changed, and took a cab to 116th and West Amsterdam, the "back" entrance to Columbia. We walked over to Hartley-Wallach hall, where, for a college project, the "Meet the Prospectives" process was actually pretty well organized. Marlow was matched up with a freshman woman. We went to her suite, where I dropped off Marlow's sleeping bag and left. I had dinner with an old CMP friend, Dan Rosenbaum, at a grill a block from the hotel (everything is close together in New York).
Women In Journalism Movies
Here is a query I received, and my answer. I thought you might be interested (in the same way the New Yorker thinks you might be interested in how toothpicks are made).
I'm a graduate student at Boston University and I'm currently doing research for a paper on women journalists and their portrayal in film. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on the subject: Are their depictions true to life (in the era of the film ie: His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, The Paper etc)?
By way of introduction, some of my knowledge of women in journalism comes from 25 years as a professional journalist, including two years at UPI and AP and two years at the Oregon Journal, a daily in Portland, Oregon. Some of it comes from watching every movie in my journalism movie database. Some of it comes from reading every book in my journalism book database.
The most widespread depiction of female reporters in the culture, of course, comes from the movies.
Strictly as an oddity, I suggest you watch Blessed Event, which, I believe, features two brief scenes with a butch female reporter whom some analysts suggest is a lesbian. Pretty risque for 1932. She is large, dressed like a man, and wears a beret. If this isn't the film, it would be one of the other pre-1935 films on my list.
In Citizen Kane, there is not a single memorable female newspaper reporter depicted; the only women we see (however briefly) are Kane's wife and mistress and the woman Joseph Cotten saw in the summer dress on the ferry--and we don't even see her, just hear about her.
Hildy Johnson, in His Gal Friday, on the other hand, is merely the Hildy Johnson character from the Front Page after a gender-switch. While there were, indeed, women like her in journalism in the 1940s--in fact, only women like her, clones of the men, could survive--they were few and far between.
Two historical facts about women in journalism from this era that I am sure you are aware of: many newspapers hired women during World War II, then fired them when the men came home. Also, Agness Underwood was the first female big-city newspaper editor; her memoirs are called Newspaperwoman. She edited the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner for Hearst. Today, of course, my hometown paper (the one which absorbed the Oregon Journal), the Oregonian, is, I believe, the largest U.S. daily edited by a woman.
The second-best journalism movie ever made, Deadline USA, featured one strong woman--the widow of the founding publisher (a role which recurs in many journalism movies and television shows, most recently and prominently as the Nancy Marchand character in the long-running Lou Grant television series. At least one episode makes it clear she was the founding publisher's widow). This was, in fact, a role in which some women (including, of course, the Washington Post's Katherine Graham) rose to positions of publishing, if not editorial, authority in newspapers.
We see an echo of the Hildy Johnson character in Jack Webb's -30-, made in 1959. The women's section editor, Bernice Valentine, whose son is killed in a round-the-world plane race that comprises one of the subplots. She is a tough, hard-bitten woman who, while dressing (as did Rosalind Russell when she played Hildy) like one of the girls, acts like one of the boys. This reflects two realities of the times: women were limited to the women's pages, and they couldn't even get a job there unless they acted just like the men they worked with.
Kathleen Turner in Switching channels is beneath comment.
But when we get to the 1980s and 90s, we finally begin to see a few female journalists who represent the actual, working version of a modern, equal-rights newsroom. The first of these is Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, modeled after an actual CBS television producer. Still under the glass ceiling, but clearly both a hard-charging professional and a woman who chooses not to become a man in drag.
Julia Roberts dresses ridiculously for a field reporter, but is shown as a professional who works hard to get news onto the front page, without much effort to be "one of the boys."
The absolute best, most realistic performance, which also reflects the fact that a few women are now breaking through the glass ceiling in journalism, was rendered by the most oustanding actress to play a woman journalist ever. I speak, of course, of Glenn Close in The Paper, the best journalism movie ever made. Even Marissa Tomei, who plays Michael Keaton's pregnant reporter-on-leave wife, shows us the conflict generated for women by a serious journalism career in the 90s.
For years, female journalists were either a) not shown at all or b) shown as, essentially, men in drag or c) shown as being restricted to the women's pages. Alas, these depictions were somewhat reflective of the reality in journalism. More recent depictions reflect a more favorable reality, even including the lack of women in leadership roles. Women broke out of the women's page ghetto in the 70s. They are starting to break into the executive suite.
By the way, women have been used much more as love interests, comic relief and stereotypes in movies than in novels. I think this is partly because more women write journalism novels than write journalism movies, and partly because novels, since they reach a more elite audience, can afford to do without the crutches on which movies depend to increase their accessibility.
From your perspective, what do you think about the notion of a glass ceiling...that women still don't hold the upper management/ senior positions because of their gender?
I don't claim to be an equal-employment philosopher. I have always believed that management was a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, and that all people--not just white, European males--tend to prefer to hire people who are the most like themselves. Thus, you find companies full of Mormons, companies full of Cal grads, companies full of Ivy Leaguers, or to bring the discussion closer to your subject, newspapers dominated by the Missouri Mafia (graduates of the University of Missouri Journalism School).
This theory then leads to the theory that the way to change management is to get one person into it with a different perspective: a woman, a state college graduate, an Asian person. That person hires a second. And a new perspective begins to prevail.
Sometimes an organization or a profession "flips." For example, public relations was dominated by white, male, retired newspaper reporters for decades. In the 70s or 80s, it started to flip, and now it is dominated by college-educated women who have never worked in a news organization.
Most newspapers are edited by men, in my opinion, because they've always been edited by men and are owned by men. Another constituent of the glass ceiling is the fact that, while journalism prides itself on being a meritocracy, the standards for judgment are extremely subjective and idiosyncractic. I have seen the exact same reporter, with the same work habits writing the same stories, praised as a genius in one news organization and scorned as an idiot in another.
Also, the skills that make good managers are not the same as the skills that make good reporters. In fact, the skill sets are often inimical, which is why the management of some "promote from within" journalism companies is sometimes to ineffectual and occasionally even incompetent. That is to say, being a good reporter doesn't mean you'll be a good manager.
Finally, my personal experience has been that women are prospering in fields where they have a modicum of control over their working environment and hours, where they work days, without much forced overtime, and where a year or two off in mid-career is not considered catastrophic. Many daily newspaper reporters in the U.S. work 4 p.m.-12 midnight because they work for morning newspapers. There is a lot of overnight work as well. Broadcast news shifts are even worse, typically starting at 4 a.m for morning-drive radio shifts. Plus, the unpredictability of the news business produces frequent occasions when overtime or travel is mandatory, which is not conducive to good parenting for men or women.
You can see pictures of my cats here.
I've Been Sold
CMP has been sold. You can find the details here.
Financially, I am overjoyed; I am a shareholder, and the Leeds family, which owns most of the company, has promised to share the proceeds of the sale.
Intellectually, I am excited. Byte.com has been quite a challenge, and adapting to new ownership will be another.
Physically, I am exhausted (lots of extra work lately).
Emotionally, I am saddened at the death of the place that has been my professional home, on and off, for the last 20 years and by the departure of so many valued colleagues in recent months. For example, yesterday, sale day, was also the last day at work of Jeremy Barna, a particularly esteemed colleague in the San Francisco office.
Microsoft Gets Sued Again
A friend of mine brought this story to my attention this week (I wasn't sure if it was OK to use his name…). You can find the whole thing here.
By way of introduction, for those of you too young to remember, before Windows there was the DOS operating system. Microsoft had actual competition from Digital Research (the winner in the 8-bit operating system world with CP/M, of which DOS was a rip-off clone), in the form of DR-DOS. Did Microsoft win that competition by fair dealing and offering a superior product? It almost certainly did not. Caldera now owns the rights to the remains of DR-DOS (which passed through the hands of Novell on the way to the grave).
I'll wager dollars to donuts that most of you didn't see this story played prominently on your local business news page.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A computer company in Utah suing Microsoft has unsealed e-mails to support claims suggesting the software giant intentionally looked for ways to make its smaller rival's product fail when used with early versions of Windows. Caldera Inc. contends Microsoft took steps during the late 1980s to ensure that some of the earliest versions of Windows wouldn't run using Caldera's DR-DOS operating system. The e-mails, along with sworn statements from Microsoft employees and others, were in a 188-page legal filing this week in federal court in Utah supporting Caldera's $1.6 billion antitrust suit against Microsoft.
A nice woman working on her Masters Degree at Boston University wrote me this week and asked my opinion on the representation of female journalists in movies. (I'm so proud of the essay, I reprinted it above). Anyway, answering her questions got me to wandering around my own site, something that I suspect most of you haven't done lately (or ever).
Besides this column, there are three main components: journalism movies, journalism books, and the journal of my AIDS ride two years ago. You can get to all of these from my home page, or by clicking directly on the links in the text. You could learn a lot about me just by looking.
When you're having a really bad day and it seems like people are just trying to make your day worse, remember: It takes 42 muscles to frown, but only 4 to extend your finger and flip them off.
Parody of "Wear Sunscreen"
My high-school buddy Bruce Murdock got this from someone as anonymous e-mail. It's a parody of the well-known advice to graduates that Kurt Vonnegut didn't give to MIT students, but that a Chicago Sun-Times columnist did give to her readers, and is now a hit novelty record.
If you know the source of this version, let me know.
And FYI, Bruce is a morning disc jockey at KLSY, Seattle. His partner, Tim Hunter has written a parody too...which is on their web-site.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '99:
Don't drink white zinfandel.
Even if you like it. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, this would be it. The fact that drinking white zin causes individuals to earn irreversible reputations for bad taste has been proven by sociologists the world over.
The rest of my advice, on the other hand, has no basis more reliable than chain e-mail sent to me when I really should have been working. I will dispense this advice to you now.
Do one thing every day that scares the shit out of you. Like walking into South Central L.A. with a hood on your head.
Don't be reckless with other people's cars, especially if they're more expensive than your own. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours, unless they have lots of insurance.
Remember compliments you receive. Return insults a thousandfold. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. I love a good laugh.
Keep your old love letters. The love letters will remind you of how your wife wasn't always a nagging bitch.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Get plenty of calcium. Maybe you'll be featured in a "Got Milk" ad and make lots of money, like Steve Young, and Jennifer Love-Hewitt.
Be kind to your knees. Be kind to your breasts. You'll miss them when your breasts are at your knees.
Remember that you can't congratulate yourself too much, or berate other people enough. Life is half chance, so if you come out ahead, God must love you more than other people.
Dance, even if you're white.
Do not read beauty magazines. Porn is much more fun.
Get to know your parents. They're always good for a couple of bucks when you're in between jobs.
Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past, and might make more money than you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but Star Trek on UPN is forever. So are a few good friends. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who remember you when you had hair.
Live in New York City once, but leave before someone ties you up in your apartment and chops your head off.
Live in Northern California once, but leave before you start wearing leather and hanging out with people named "Bruce."
Accept certain inalienable truths: You will always work too hard for too little money. Your wife's boobs will sag. So will yours. Prices will soar, and no matter how much money you make, you won't be able to afford to buy the house you really, really want.
You, too, will get old, and when you do, you will fantasize that when you were young, your wife's boobs didn't sag, prices were reasonable, and you didn't care how much money you had, because living in a filthy apartment with four other guys off-campus with a cabinet full of Top Ramen and Lucky Lager was all you needed.
Don't expect anyone else to support you. Unless they're really, really rich. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one will be dipped into by someone else.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be liberal with supplying it. People love that. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it so that somebody else, younger than you, can get screwed over just like you did, and you can point and laugh.
But trust me on the white zinfandel.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
A few weeks ago, Marlow came home from an afternoon in Berkeley raving about a weird little British comedy she had seen. She seldom gets that passionate about a film, so when I was walking back to my hotel in Manhattan last week, I stopped at an art house in the Lincoln Center neighborhood and saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It runs a perfect 105 minutes.
Guy Ritchie has written and directed a film that is almost Shakespearean in its manipulation of treachery and mistaken identity--if Shakespeare had written about treachery, pornography and drugs. You've never heard of the four guys who are the center of this film, although you have heard of Sting, who has a "don't blink you'll miss it" cameo role as the pub-owning dad of one of the miscreants.
This isn't an acting-driven movie anyway, it's a script-driven movie. Although there is narration (usually a sign of a badly plotted film), in this case it is used mainly for ironic comment and to speed things along. Anything to get out in under two hours, especially if the film is intended to be funny.
Much of the humor in this film is "uh-oh" humor, a style I associate with that guy on the laugh track who says "uh-oh" just before Lucy does something extremely embarrassing. The mix of alcohol, marijuana and antique guns with cruelty and human folly makes for a funny film, despite the occasional brutal violence.
The violence in this film is a bit odd; too realistic to be cartoonish, scary and yet not frightening. It got its R rating for violence, language and sex, and deserves it (mostly for the violence and language).
If you like British humor and wouldn't be put off, say, by a pitched gun battle with dozens dead, or a man having his toes shot off with a shotgun, you might enjoy this film. I did.
Usually, when a film attempts to both describe a working milieu or tell a story, it ends up either telling a dumb story or not imparting any real sense of the milieu. Pushing Tin is one of those rare stories that gets both parts right. This is probably a credit to director Mike Newell, in part, but mostly to the writers, Darcy Frey (who wrote a magazine article about air traffic controllers) and television writer/producer Glen Charles.
In the end, I felt like I had seen a realistic glimpse of the life of the people who move air traffic, and at the same time a moving and intelligent love story.
But whereas Two Smoking Barrels is a script-driven movie, this film is actor-driven. It has and takes advantage of some tremendous acting talent: John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton are the two air traffic controllers at the center, with an almost-unrecognizable Cate Blanchett as Cusack's wife, Connie.
Now I think Billy Bob Thornton must be an acquired taste, one which I am on my way to acquiring. I hated Sling Blade, his breakthrough film, which he wrote and starred in. I disliked it so much, I walked out 3/4 of the way through. I was simply totally and completely disengaged with the film. He had a few other small interesting parts, then did a bang-up job in A Simple Plan. In Pushing Tin, he finally demonstrates that he can turn in a full-length performance that doesn't set your teeth on edge.
Basically, this film revolves around a contest between Cusack and Thornton to prove who is the best air traffic controller. The tension does not seem the least bit contrived, the special effects are clever, the performances are nuanced.
No violence, one sex scene (two bare female nipples, adultery), and a lot of bad language. Some critics say it's slow; I'd call it appropriately leisurely. Running time is a slightly-longer-than-it-needs-to-be 2 hours and four minutes.
Ross Snyder wrote a brief note about our trip to New York and Marlow's decision to attend Columbia.
I applaud her decision, believing that institution and that city will challenge and reward the poise and self-confidence she has in abundance. They're not for everyone.
I just returned from there. Caught "Amy's View," the new David Hare play starring Judi Dench. Tirade on blood-baths that purport to be entertainment. Also splendid impersonation of Dietrich, "Marlene," by Sian Phillips. Usual array of end-of-season operas at Met and NYC.
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