What’s so funny? (5×8- 2/15/12)

Are the arts revealing our insensitivities, aging Orin’s way, when the Legislature’s cuts hit Main Street, ‘Linsanity’ and the Asian American stereotype, and should photos of a man who killed himself be published?


1) ARE ARTS REVEALING OUR INSENSITIVITY?

It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find evidence that we’re a more insensitive society to the woes of others, but has it reached critical mass when it shows up in the arts?

That’s the gist of a letter to the editor in the Star Tribune today over her experience at the Guthrie’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Barb Payne of LeRoy, Minnesota suggested many in the audience were unable to feel the pain of a dysfunctional family.


During some of the most gut-wrenching, emotionally devastating scenes, I was appalled to hear widespread laughter. As the character Big Daddy launched a blistering verbal attack on his wife of 40 years, my heart broke for her and for the entire dysfunctional family.

Many other audience members, however, seemed to find the whole situation amusing. I can only assume that they have spent way too much time watching reality TV — things like “Jersey Shore,” where cruel, hurtful behavior is considered totally acceptable, even amusing.

True? We must call upon our theater-going readers to confirm the account. There are lines within the scene that prompt laughter. This Illinois production, for example, proves it.

But the assertion is how we react at dramatic points in theater is an indictment of what we’ve become. Discuss.

2) AGING ORIN’S WAY

My guess is NewsCut’s You Should Meet series is going to focus on Orin Scandrett one of these days. Mr. Scandrett has just received the 2012 Spirit of Aging award from Aging Services of Minnesota, from where Jesse Sorensen writes:

He is 81 years old, a marathoner, writer, preacher, volunteer, father, cancer survivor and loving husband to a wife of 62 years who is declining with dementia. Last week, he was awarded the 2012 Spirit of Aging Award from Aging Services of Minnesota – an award given to people who are defining what it means to age in amazing new ways. As recently as 2009, at age 78, Scandrett was appointed to the Hennepin County Adult Mental Health Advisory Council.

In 2009, he was given only a few months to live. He’s the primary caregiver of his wife, so he moved into an assisted living facility. By the following April, however, his tumors were gone.

From the other end of the age spectrum: Cam Tipping was diagnosed with a rare gene defect that causes his body to overproduce and under eliminate cholesterol. For two hours every two weeks, he undergoes “LDL Apheresis” to take LDL Cholesterol out of his blood.

“We decided early on that we were going to raise him as if he was going to grow up,” his mother said in this video, posted yesterday by the Heart Association.

One in a Million – Cam’s Story of Survival from Elizabeth Warmka on Vimeo.

The young man was honored last month before a Minnesota Timberwolves game.

Meanwhile, in Faribault last night, “Ted from Owatonna” was honored for stopping and putting out a fire in someone’s house.

3) LEGISLATURE’S CUTS HIT MAIN STREET

The medical needs of undocumented residents in the Worthington area are going unmet now that a new state law cuts off funding for them, the Worthington Daily Globe reports today.


While the new EMA rules took effect Jan. 1, changes to the Noncitizen Medical Assistance (NMED) program will be implemented March 1. Starting on that date, NMED will no longer be available for non-pregnant adult noncitizens who do not have an immigration status that qualifies for federally-funded MA.

Names said the NMED program was established in Minnesota in 1997 as a way to provide coverage for noncitizens who did not qualify for the federal Medical Assistance program. NMED, like the EMA program, was changed by the state legislature in 2011 as a cost-savings measure.

“There are many states in the U.S. that do not cover Medical Assistance costs for nondocumented citizens,” she said. “(Minnesota is) following the lead of some other states in the U.S.”

The changes made to the NMED program apply to certain noncitizens legally allowed to live in the United States, said Thies, explaining that those affected have resided in the U.S. for less than five years and came here on a diversionary visa through another country’s lottery system.

Related: Save the Children issued a report this morning saying 1 of every 4 children in the world is malnourished, and 300 die every hour.

4) “LINSANITY” AND THE ASIAN AMERICAN STEREOTYPE

Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks backup point guard who’s become a sudden superstar, hit a three-point shot at the buzzer last night to give his team a come-from-behind win.

In his NPR commentary today, Frank Deford denies he thinks Lin didn’t get an NBA job because he’s Asian American, then basically says that’s the case.


But none of the geniuses — not one scout, one coach, one general manager — could see what everyone sees now when it’s fashionable. None of the people paid to envision, could envision. Obviously, some of it was simply that Lin wasn’t the right heritage. No, I’m not saying basketball people are prejudiced against Asian-Americans. It’s just the usual common stupidity of stereotyping. It wasn’t just a matter of race. Scouts tend to be uncomfortable with anything different.

Now it’s wonderful for Jeremy Lin that he finally got his chance. It’s wonderful for fans that we got a lovely surprise. It’s wonderful for Asian-Americans that they’ve got a new athletic hero. It’s even wonderful for the Knicks, who don’t deserve it, because their owner is the biggest creep in professional sports.

But what is so disappointing is that Lin finally was given his opportunity only because about a half-dozen weird happenstances happened to occur — the owners’ lockout, salary-cap manipulations, trades that fell through, injuries and, at last, a coach’s sheer desperation. Talk about divine intervention.

Lin, you may have heard by now, went to Harvard, and the experts say he’s very smart. Isn’t that, Ray Suarez asks, reinforcing the Asian American stereotype?

Watch The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Related: A physics associate at the University of Minnesota has published a paper showing when basketball players should shoot…


He discovered through an analysis of final-possession situations that NBA players often wait too long to shoot and it could cost teams an average of 4.5 points per game. Rather than take the sure thing early in a possession, players wait it out, taking time off the clock and hoping to make a tougher shot pay off. Although that denies their opponent a chance to respond, it also deprives their own team of a chance at a basket before the shot clock or game clock expires.

NBA players, not surprisingly, scoff at the work.

5) SHOULD PHOTOS OF MAN WHO KILLED HIMSELF BE PUBLISHED?

The Pioneer Press yesterday took pictures of a man who jumped off the High Bridge in Saint Paul and killed himself. The close-ups of the lifeless body, posted on the paper’s website, could easily have allowed a relative to identify him, but the Press said it was withholding his name until he could be identified.

It’s not every day the comments on newspaper website stories make more sense than the stories themselves.

Example:


I have NEVER been more HORRIFIED at the PP’s TOLD LACK OF CONSIDERATION FOR THIS MAN AND HIS FAMILY. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SUPPORT & PROMOTE RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM but this disgusting display of photographic shock and awe PROVES you are no better than the likes of Perez Hilton.

Reply · Like · Follow Post · 13 minutes ago

Sara Fleetham · Saint Paul, Minnesota

Please stop exploiting victims. How about we print photos of dead relatives of PP employees. Seriously, stop it!

Reply · Like · Follow

But another commenter says…


your anger is misdirected. you should be mad at the guy who jumped. public suicide a real a-hole thing to do. the guy in the river is not the victim here. we’re the victims.

The public safety editor at the newspaper acknowledged that a headline to the story was inaccurate, because it depended on second- and third-hand information.

Discussion point: Who’s right?

Bonus I: Nothing comes easy in Los Angeles. The city painted bike lanes bright green, ruining the plans for movie shoots.

Bonus II: A forthcoming study says 75-percent of spouses married to people who play online role-playing games wish their playful spouses would spend more time working on their relationship and less time online. The Brigham Young study, however, says if both couples play the games, the relationship is stronger.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Gov. Mark Dayton will deliver his State of the State address tonight before a joint session of the Minnesota Legislature. Today’s Question: In your view, what’s the state of the state?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Why do we watch horror movies and gross-out comedies? What is the best way to persuade someone to quit smoking? Why are we more likely to buy an item if an attractive person has just touched it? Psychologist Rachel Herz joins us to answer these questions and more. (Rebroadcast)

Second hour: In his new book, writer Henry Alford sets about on a mission: to restore our appreciation, and practice of good manners. He joins Midmorning to provide some insight on how to behave properly. (Rebroadcast)

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – Both hours: Ray Suarez and Jim Lehrer on presidential debates, in a conversation from the JFK Library.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Weekly politics discussion with Ken Rudin of NPR.

Second hour: Adapting therapy to help patients from varied cultural backgrounds.

  • vjacobsen

    Re: The Pioneer Press

    I saw the photos yesterday. I thought they were published in such poor taste. Suicide victim or not, do they often publish the faces of recently deceased people? Probably not. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture, say, minutes after a fatal car crash, before the victims are completely removed from the car.

    Part of me wonders if they did this just to drum up the controversy. It’s hard to see any circumstances where someone didn’t question the move, but was ignored.

  • http://www.minnesotabrown.com Aaron J. Brown

    I don’t want to defend the coarsening of society, per se, but one thought on that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof issue. The play Lincoln was watching the night he got shot was a comedy, “Our American Cousin.” In fact, it was a huge hit at the time. Booth timed his shot to correspond with one of the biggest laugh lines. In retrospect, the play was racist and so topical that the jokes aren’t even vaguely funny today. Sure, audiences might be more cynical today. Probably are. But there is always room for an audience to take different interpretations of a play over time. Part of what makes comedy work is a sense of “we’re all in this together.” An isolated incident of extreme family dysfunction might be a drama. But when it’s commonplace, it becomes comedy. Isn’t that funny? Not ha-ha funny, really.

  • http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin/ Paul (@princejvstin)

    RE: Lin.

    I suspect that if he was playing for the TWolves or another smaller market, the hype and swirling interest would be nowhere as big or overblown.

    The conversation between Jeff and Ray nails it:

    He’s an all-American kid who is redefining the notion of what an all-American kid is. And that is a big part, I think, of what why Jeremy is such an exceptionally interesting story.

    I think there is a lot of truth to that.

  • John P.

    //Isn’t that, Ray Suarez asks, reinforcing the Asian American stereotype?

    Only if they assume he is smart because he is Asian.

    //Frank Deford denies he thinks Lin didn’t get an NBA job because he’s Asian American, then basically says that’s the case.

    The way I heard Deford, was that he thinks Lin was overlooked because scouts tend to look for people that remind them of those that have brought them success in the past, in the usual places. All of us tend to do that. We look for friends like our other friends. It’s not quite the same thing as discriminating against him because he is Asian, which implies some sort of animosity towards Asians.

    I think Deford’s point was that NBA scouts (and all of us I think) need to open up to looking in unfamiliar places for people that don’t fit the mold.

  • Bob Collins

    DeFord should talk to Jerry Sichting, who was an assistant coach at Golden State when it had Lin on the team. He says he was terrible and didn’t know what he was doing in practice. But he worked hard and improved himself. Not sure how a scout goes about finding people without talent but whose work will pay off.

    But as long as the ones who work for the local team stop looking in Syracuse, that’d be OK with me.

  • Derek

    My wife and I went to see The Glass Menagerie a few years ago at The Guthrie and the same thing happened. There isn’t really much funny about that play but the whole audience was cracking up throughout. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

  • essjayok

    Re: insensitivity in the theater.

    Interestingly enough, I made the same observation about my audience when I recently saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The first words out of my mouth to my friend, who was as silent and stricken as me during much of the play, were: “Can you believe what the audience laughed at? What they thought was FUNNY?” We discussed whether it spoke to a cultural numbness or an inability to confront pain/suffering because it’s just too hard. We didn’t come to good conclusions over the “why” of the widespread laughter during scenes that were blatantly displaying abuse of various types…but we did however find it as peculiar and disturbing as Barb did.

    I’ve never wanted a “talk back” after a play more! I would have said to everyone in that room, “What did you find so funny about this play?!”

  • Kassie

    I recently went to the Minnesota Opera. During the death scene lots of people were cracking up, including my whole row. Not because it was funny, but because the acting/plot/singing were TERRIBLE.

    But there is a real problem with the EMA/NMED stuff above. You say undocumented residents are going to have their needs unmet, then quote information about NMED. NMED does not cover undocumented people for the most part. EMA covers undocumented people who have medical emergencies and what an emergency is defined as has recently changed. But most undocumented people in Minnesota get no coverage and that isn’t going to change. Additionally, all the NMED people aren’t really losing coverage, they are getting their coverage shifted to MinnesotaCare. Just a different program with slightly different benefits. If they have an emergency situation, EMA will cover it.

  • John P II

    Too funny Bob. I hope Brian Lambert publicly lambasts you for objecting to media coverage of suicides.

    This reminds me of the posting about the meteorologist whose suicide was not promptly covered because of pending next-of-kin notification, but he was also a local “celebrity” and social media played a role. I suppose the Pioneer Press could have blurred the face on the stretcher photo, but it was a public place and (as it turns out) a public death. I think publishing the photo unaltered gave greater impact to the entire series of photos. I hope the Pioneer Press publishes an explanation of their thought process (is it too much to assume there was one?)

  • Bridget

    Just last night, my husband and I attended Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and our post-show debrief started with our bewilderment by what we considered widespread inappropriate laughter. We have found that pretty much any play that shows drunkenness will get a laugh from some regardless if it’s a comedy or a tragedy, but even Brick’s final “wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?” got a laugh from a couple folks last night. Nervous laughter perhaps, but it was still odd in my book. At least I wasn’t as uncomfortable as I was during a production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ when many in the audience chuckled through (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue. In that instance, I’d say collective cluelessness was the cause.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re photos of suicide –

    “The close-ups of the lifeless body…”

    Those aren’t close-ups, Bob. ( I guess that’s why you’re a writer, huh ? :-)

    And yes, close-ups of a dead body are inappropriate, whether the person died of suicide or any other cause excepting combat.