Newark on film (sort of): The Rockford Files (1974/1979)

Well, not exactly cinema, and barely Newark…

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I don’t understand the appeal of The Rockford Files. 30% of its screen time consists of driving scenes across the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area. That, I like; unfortunately, the other 70% is lightweight mystery fodder without any of the resonance of its cinematic contemporaries like Hickey & Boggs or The Long Goodbye or even Robert Aldrich’s muddled Hustle. Plus, James Garner is blandness personified. I just can’t stay focused on the guy. When he walks past a tree, my eyes wander to the branches.

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While The Rockford Files is the ultimate lazy-70s-L.A. show, it ventured twice to Newark, both times really randomly (perhaps for contrast—Newark being the anti-L.A. in many ways). The first came during season 1 in 1974, an unfortunately lengthy double episode called “This Case is Closed.” The plot—or rather, the half-assed gesture at a plot—involves washed-up guest star Joseph Cotten hiring Jim Rockford to investigate his daughter’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend, who affects an Ivy League demeanor—but get him down a few points in handball and “a New Jersey accent pops up—real gutter Jersey.” Continue reading

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On being reviewed in the Wall Street Journal: My mini media blitz

This week was about as close to a media blitz as I’m likely to get. First, a guest post on the My Book, the Movie blog, where people dream-cast their books. Since I’m fairly confident that hungry producers are not on the brink of a bidding war for the rights to my legal history, I went full-blown 70s-Godard on it. Truly, I would pay to see this version of the Roth v. U.S. story, atrocious as it probably would be. Though Michael Bay, if you’re reading this, we could totally cast Shia LaBeouf and fly a bunch of American flags and play loud hard rock music while blowing a bunch of shit up, too, for the right price. Just sayin’.

remember, Godard also directed this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19LiVgTS-aU

It was also my pleasure to do an episode of Sex with Timaree, the (award-winning!) Philly podcast hosted by awesome sex educator Timaree Schmit. As always, I’m pretty certain that I sound like a doofus, but at least it was fun. My natural tendency is to ramble incoherently at a million words a minute, so I fear that any time I speak live and on the record I overcorrect that so self-consciously that I instead sound clipped and verbally constipated, but we did manage to traverse a fair amount of ground, and Timaree is a great host. Someday I will google “how to be interviewed,” and a whole new world of articulation may open before me. 

But what really blew my mind was waking up Monday morning and learning that Obscenity Rules had been reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Not sure if this link allows access; I went out and bought a copy, surely the one and only time in my life that I will purchase this particular paper.

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Robert Nagel, who reviewed my book, is an accomplished legal scholar, though it’s fair to say we have some serious ideological differences. He wrote a legal brief against marriage equality earlier this year, which rests on some very questionable arguments (“At this time, no established or emerging national consensus in favor of same-sex marriage can be discerned”: um, oops!). In fact, he’s written a great deal on the topic of same-sex marriage, including this rather surrealist analysis of gay rights activists in Colorado in the 1990s, from his book Judicial Power and American Character, where the John Birch Society comparison is not to the bizarre, feverish fantasies of the antigay movement, which at the time was busy distributing videos like The Gay Agenda, which lingered rather obsessively on the myth that gay men were a bunch of child-molesting leather-daddy coprophiles, but rather to the progressive activists objecting to such tactics:

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So, it’s no surprise that Nagel takes me to task a bit, for privileging the “sophisticated liberal mind” over the “closed and moralistic” conservative one, which he considers a “simplistic left-right framework.”

Now, I’d object to that a bit—I think both of my books have been very critical of liberalism (Roth v. U.S. itself is in many ways an embodiment of failed liberal sexual politics), and I am not sure that the phrase “New Dealer Felix Frankfurter,” used by Nagel, makes Justice Frankfurter a liberal (he began his career as a bit of a radical, but by his Court days the old labor activist was little to be seen). In fact, I agree with Nagel that Senator Estes Kefauver was “demagogic” in his 1950s comics and porn media panics—and Kefauver was a textbook example of Cold War liberalism! The fact that I do think conservatism is repressive and moralistic does not equate, in my mind, to holding a very high opinion of liberalism (or, for that matter, the sexist and homophobic Left of most of the 20th century).

But chafe as I might against some of that (I can just hear my neurotic superego nagging at me during future writing efforts: “simplistic! simplistic!”), I should be clear: I am incredibly grateful for a thoughtful, substantive review in a major newspaper, by someone who took the book seriously enough to critique it. It’s the largest exposure I’ve ever had for my work, and it was really exciting to walk to South Street, buy a WSJ, bring it home and flip through it, and shout “OMG THERE’S MY BOOK COVER IN THE OPINION SECTION!!1!!1!!!!”

(Plus, it’s a hell of a lot more balanced than the idiotic Red-baiting op-ed next to it about Chile, which chronicles such communistic horrors as maternity leave and “a new preschool entitlement for all” {even those lesser humans born to the working class? egads! what next, an entitlement to a personal sense of dignity? universal literacy?!}, while somehow managing to work in a hilarious reference to Michael Bloomberg’s “excessive tolerance” toward Occupy Wall Street. Oh, WSJ…)