Thursday, August 28, 2008

Politics and Poker 1: Convention hoopla

Like the song in Fiorello says, "Shuffle up the cards, and find the joker."

Yes, we should all be paying major attention to the presidential race. It will take someone extraordinary to repair the damage that George Bush has done over the last eight years, pimping our nation's reputation and sending thousands to needless deaths for the sake of corporate profit. Sadly, both parties are working overtime to obfuscate the real issues in this race, and (adding insult to injury) they are spending the last days of summer boring the living hell out of us with their pasturized conventions.

American presidential conventions used to be great fun for a news junkie to watch. As a child growing up in the 1960s, I relished the spectacle of politicos hacking away at one another, with sessions often dragging on into the night as careers rose and fell in full view of the television cameras. Since all this happened in the school-free months of summer, my parents were willing to let me stay up and watch the carnage. The conventions of 1968 and 1972 were particularly colorful and chaotic -- so much so that party bosses resolved to turn these confabs into more orderly tools of candidate promotion.

Now all the bloodshed takes palce before the opening gavel, making conventions little more than a slick, carefully scheduled week-long series informercials with the most important speakers reserved for the primetime hours between 9 and 11 PM, Eastern time. The results are guaranteed boredom for any except those viewers already gung-ho for a particular party or candidate. The media does its best to maximize the occasional planned moment of pseudo-drama, such as trotting out a candidate's spouse, a former prez, or someone in terminal condition enjoying a last hurrah. After the sheer spectacle and stunning physiques of the Beijing Olympics, this nightly tedium is all the more resistible. Thank heaven for classic films on TCM, or the television nights of this late summer would be strictly reserved for reviewing my DVD collections!

It wasn't so long ago that musical stage stars made regular appearances to entertain at these conventions. Ethel Merman was a die-hard Republican and invariably showed up to sing the national anthem for the party faithful. As recently as 2000, the Broadway revival cast of The Music Man made a rousing appearance for the Democrats. Now only the blandest of pop singers appear. But I fear this is all too understandable. Which of the current roster of hits would be even vaguely appropriate for such a venue? Having the kids from Spring Awakening howl about "The Bitch of Living" would merely add to the boredom. The humpy sailors from South Pacific might make the grade in wartime, but regardless of who got the Democratic nomination this time, "There is Nothing Like a Dame" would hardly be a tactful choice!

Mind you, this is the reaction of a longtime registered Democrat to his own party's convention -- I will probably groan when I accidentally brush past the nonsense the Republicans will spew forth next week. Come November, I am definitely voting for Obama -- the thought of four more years of Republican mayhem and mismanagement terrifies me.

But MUST these politicians always bore us along the way?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When Broadway Looks Like a Bargain

Theatre lovers do a lot of bitching about ticket prices, and with good reason. I paid $14 for a full price orchestra seat to my first Broadway show, Irene at the Minskoff Theatre. If I were to purchase that same seat for the Minskoff’s current tenant The Lion King (as if!), it would cost me $120. But who am I to carp? Older fans wax rhapsodic about paying $6 to see Martin and Pinza in the original South Pacific, so it is easy to understand their frustration with coughing up twenty times as much to see the current revival. Sure, everything is more expensive, but Broadway ticket prices have increased at far more than the general rate of inflation, thanks to the greed of theatre owners, producers and unions.

Now New York’s baseball team owners have managed to make Broadway look like a bargain. Both teams are building new stadiums, and both have recently announced the whopping new prices they will be charging for tickets. The Mets are hiking their prices a whopping 79 percent over this year, with prime seats going for $495. This is a steal compared with the Yankees, who will be charging up to $2500 – and yes, that is for a single ticket to a single game.

The cost of living in New York City is redefining insanity, but even by that ever-climbing standard, these new prices for baseball tix are beyond obscene. The most upsetting aspect of this story is that both the Mets and Yankees claim that advance sales for these overpriced ducats are strong. If the public is stupid enough to go along with this thievery, who has any right to cry foul? And mind you, we are talking about people shelling out $495 to $2500 bucks to attend ballgames that will be available on television.

So Broadway’s $120 top price suddenly looks like a bargain price for an evening’s entertainment. One might even think that Mel Brooks’ vampiric $450 premium seats for Young Frankenstein now seem reasonable. (They aren't -- especially for a second rate rehash like YF.)

What a pity that the ticket buying public is unable or just plain unwilling to stand up for itself and refuse to pay these outrageous prices. Don’t kid yourself – empty seats would swiftly lead to lower ticket prices, both at the stadiums and in theatres. But Americans are no good at denying themselves immediate gratification, and so long as the market will bear this insane ticket pricing, it will continue.

Any guesses on when Little League teams will start charging $50 to see junior strike out?
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