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Fatwah / October 27, 2008
By Eileen Jones

No way.

Actually, I refuse to review High School Musical 3. We all know it’s rotten.

Which brings me to my point: where the hell are the movies? I mean the ones for mass audiences, designed to make sentient beings want to go see them? Especially the comedies…people used to go to them and laugh…they had a good time…any of this ring a bell? Did they stop making those and nobody announced it, or what? It’s kind of important.

Because it’s pretty well agreed that not since the Depression of the 1930s has America been so clearly headed down the crapper. And we need to figure out how we might cope with this New Depression of ours. If it’s anything like the Old Depression, we’re talking 25% unemployment, bread-lines, soup kitchens, suicide rates through the roof, the rise of both Fascism and Communism, the grapes of wrath, and roaming hordes of sad-faced Okies. Not so good.

But there was one real benefit of the Old Depression that is pertinent to our discussion: film comedy became just fucking great, that’s all. Hilarious, bracing tutorials in smart irreverence. Think about it: the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mae West, Warner Brothers cartoons, screwball comedy, all of them functioning like a slap upside the head. Suddenly a fierce anti-authoritarian intelligence was celebrated in cinema, and the average American IQ seemed to go up about 30 points.

W.C. Fields: no dope.

From 1930 right up through about 1943, it was good to be comically smart in the movies. Because if you weren’t smart, it was just too damn bad for you. Consider the slang that erupted out of Depression-era films, most notably the 150 words for “fool,” all delivered in tones of maximum scorn: sap, mug, dope, chump, jerk, boob, goof, goon, twerp, sucker, palooka. And we’re in just the right mood to resurrect those terms, too. What are we now if not a nation of embittered chumps who got taken for a ride?

In other words, sloppy Seth Rogen comedies are just not going to do the job anymore, presuming they were ever doing any sort of job at all, which is doubtful. We need furious satire, violent pratfalls, black comic spleen, irreverence to the tenth power, calls for anarchy, riots, raucousness, genius, the works! And we need ‘em now, in heaping portions. The Coen brothers have been dishing it out for years, most recently with Burn After Reading, but as great as they are, they can’t do it all alone. We’re barely getting by with our sparse TV provisions: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, occasional Letterman outbursts, and SNL skits, which we’re consuming like starving jackals. Can’t those morons in Hollywood see we’re hungry?

Well, lessee, what’s on the menu down at the ol’ Cineplex? Besides High School Musical 3 there’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua. It’s as if the film industry has decided to put us on a bland comedy diet at precisely the moment when we’re howling for red meat. Who diets in a Depression anyway? And don’t even get me started on the dramas. W., Changeling, Pride and Glory, Synecdoche, New York. Grim, glum, moldy-looking, all repellent as if by design. Is Hollywood suicidal? Are these films simply cries for help?

Maybe Hollywood really is done entertaining us. Maybe we’re going to wind up re-running the old ‘30s comedies again, like they did in the 1960s, and everyone will troop off to revival houses to watch Duck Soup and The Awful Truth and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. It’s a terrible waste of a Depression, if so.