Why Generation X loves the Muppet Movie

GOOD NEWS on the culture front: Yes, the latest “Twilight’’ film topped the box office last weekend, but a lot of Generation Xers dragged their kids to “The Muppet Movie’’ instead.

This is partly a matter of deftly marketed nostalgia: Now that a generation raised on consumer culture is immersed in parenting, everyone is trying to cash in. This holiday season, Toys “R’’ Us is re-airing vintage 1980s ads. Nickelodeon is thinking of airing “Brady Bunch’’ reruns at night, with pop-up thought bubbles that tell us what Carol was really thinking. At the movies, I’ve sat through computer-updated versions of “The Smurfs’’ and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,’’ all of which seemed calculated, unnecessary, and largely unfunny.

“The Muppet Movie’’ feels different: not a reboot for modern sensibilities and wallets, but an effort to recapture something lost. At the multiplex last weekend, it was the parents who were laughing the loudest, bouncing up and down blissfully at the sight of that old “Muppet Show’’ set. The world of the Muppets is as crudely low-tech as ever; Kermit the Frog’s head presumably still has a hand inside it. But even to jaded GenXers, his personality feels real.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Thanks, Newt? Changing the immigration conversation

FROM TIME to time, TV debates manage to suss out the truth from the talking points. When Rick Perry can’t remember the federal agency he wants to cut, it shows how little he’s committed to the idea. When Herman Cain refers to Wolf Blitzer as “Blitz,’’ it shows how blithe he is about everything. (So does the fact that Cain can’t offer a specific answer to any question that doesn’t include taxes. Game over, dude. You had a good run.)

So what will become of Newt Gingrich’s supposedly shocking moment in the CNN debate last week? Asked about illegal immigration, Gingrich suggested a path to amnesty for law-abiding families: legalization, on a case-by-case basis, for people with community roots, as evidenced by their extended family ties or their membership in a local church. And while church membership, per se, is an impractical and problematic test, Gingrich’s overarching point was clear: Illegal immigrants are people, not statistics.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Casey Anthony, Penn State, and why crime always pays

WELL, THAT didn’t take long.

Just four months after a Florida jury acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her daughter, one of the prosecutors has released a ghostwritten book called “Imperfect Justice.’’ Jeff Ashton has retired from the state attorney’s office, so he doesn’t have to worry about prejudicing judges or insulting the police. Now, he writes, he can speak out – for the sake of deceased toddler Caylee Anthony. And for Caylee’s sake, I’m sure, his book has already been optioned for a movie on . . . can you guess the TV network? Lifetime, you say? Correct! Hollywood is nothing if not predictable.

This is the way the justice system works in the most spectacular cases: There is the legal phase, and there is the cash-in phase, and sometimes the two are concurrent.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Perry, “oops,” and late-night TV

RICK PERRY’S presidential campaign may or may not be toast, but his prospects for hosting “Saturday Night Live’’ have risen considerably – and in politics, that’s not such a terrible thing. The night after his brain freeze on the CNBC debate, Perry was doing the Top 10 list on “The Late Show With David Letterman.’’ (Number 6: “You try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude.’’)

In a sense, that “oops’’ moment was the best thing to happen to Perry’s campaign in a while. A string of lame debate performances had him typecast as slow. Those snappy comebacks showed him in new light. Letterman will surely invite him back. And before last weekend, was there anyone complimenting Perry on his delivery?

Chalk up another reason why campaigns are wedded to late-night comedy shows. The benefits for candidates are well-known: a larger and broader audience than they get from political shows, a chance to show the public their human side. But the not-so-dirty secret of late-night TV is that it’s often good for voters, too.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

Penn State, sports, and hero worship

I DID NOT make all of my best personal choices at age 20, so I’m loath to place too much blame on the Penn State students who decided, Wednesday night, that their love for Joe Paterno was greater than their horror at the atrocities he overlooked in the football-building showers. Suffice it to say that this will probably not be one of the stories they tell their grandkids: “Yeah, I remember that night I pushed over a van because my college fired a football coach who coddled a child molester.’’

But mob mentality can overtake you when you’re college-age and possibly drunk, and when you’ve been conditioned to see your school’s football team as an extension of your personal identity – and its coach as some sort of demigod whose reflected light makes everything around you a little brighter.

The Penn State story is about hero worship, but it’s really about the last bastion of pure hero worship in this country: the kind reserved for sports.

Read the rest of the column from the Boston Globe here.

Knowledge is power

IT’S HARD, in this age of oversharing, to imagine a time when “Our Bodies, Ourselves’’ was a revelation. Today, women share details about their bodily secretions on “trying to conceive’’ message boards, “vagina’’ is a common word on network TV, and everyone knows how IVF can produce eight babies at a time. But in 1969, at a women’s liberation conference at Emmanuel College, a group of Boston-area women shared personal stories and reached a then-radical conclusion: Their doctors weren’t telling them enough.

Plenty of women still need frank, dependable guidance on women’s health – here, and around the globe. The world population got plenty of attention last week when the 7-billionth person was allegedly born, possibly in the  Philippines, though Vladimir Putin is claiming it was Russia. And amid the jostling for recognition, and the fearful talk of food and resources, one fact became clear: a huge factor in population growth is lack of information for women.

Read the full column from the Boston Globe here.

The Madoffs: Cashing in

IF RUTH Madoff is really playing for national sympathy, her turn on “60 Minutes’’ Sunday night didn’t help. She was monotone, barely emotional, and half-amnesiatic as she reflected on the last three years of her life, since her husband confessed to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. And any plea for privacy was offset by the reason she was talking: to promote an authorized family biography.

If the point of the Madoffs’ publicity blitz is to swear they knew nothing about the $50 billion swindle, then what do they have to say, beyond a catalogue of riches gained and lost?

Read the rest of the column from BostonGlobe.com here. (Links are free!)