This year's Oscar buzz is beginning, and there's a lot of complimentary commentary about Adam Sandler's harsh and depressing performance in Uncut Gems. He portrays a crooked businessman, gambling junkie, adulterer, and overall total asshole who careens from one crisis to another, mainly of his own making. For this he suffers a few humiliations, threats and beatings, tossed in randomly to keep things tense, but not really interesting, since no one really cares about this creep anyway.
The critics will tell you that it's a must-see and I'd tell you to save your money and not waste a couple of hours you'll never get back on a story about a worthless guy surrounded by equally vile characters who not only deserves the grief he gets, but who is also a complete waste of oxygen. Apparently, he's only alive because it's against the law to kill even venal and useless people like him.
The bigger question is why these actors and other "creatives" in Hollywood keep making these morally bankrupt and pointless films and why they think there's a big audience for this kind of crap. When did it become a badge of honor (Fight Club?) for actors to sink as low as possible and degrade themselves (and the rest of us) with sick and depraved performances in a race to the bottom to see just how disgusting they could be. Honestly, if you don't respect yourself and your so-called craft, why would you expect any of us to respect you?
You have to wonder why Sandler thinks there's the slightest value or virtue in making a tired, low-budget beater like this about how sad and scummy life is in the jewelry district in New York City. The same (marginally anti-Semitic) tale's been told too many times to count -- about all that's left is a Claymation version, voiced by Adam and his SNL friends. What does he tell his own kids when he makes junk like this? And what should we tell ours?
At least the people producing Billions and Succession understand that, if you're intent on making a buck producing financial porn, you better make it pretty. And The Irishman is a moving story about fundamentally bad people, beautifully told and performed by artists who respect themselves and the characters they are representing. And it clearly shows. Uncut Gems is a sad and second-rate attempt, which respects no one and offers nothing to look at unless it's looking down on the few people trying to make an honest living even though we're never introduced to any of them. It's all about the crooks, cheats and criminals, with a few rappers and jocks thrown into the mix for diversity. They're rendered just as stereotypically as the jewelers, with an extra special emphasis on bling, broads and coke.
Everything about this movie is about business as usual - making a buck regardless of who gets hurt in the process. And that's the most frightening aspect of the whole thing. These films and the people who make them seek to blunt the outrage, normalize the bad behavior, and anesthetize the emotions and repulsion that you'd ordinarily expect from normal people exposed to the constant and wretched excess which is at the center (it has no heart) of this film. To make it even worse, the idiot critics and the Hollywood press can't wait to celebrate the "success" of these kind of salacious efforts.
Wretchedness is not limited to the big screen. Another sick saga is the two-season Amazon Prime series Fleabag (as if Amazon hasn't done enough to trash our lives), which opens with a rousing session of anal sex and proceeds steadfastly downhill from there. This story of a sick and twisted, nameless woman who flatly states that she's willing to have sex with anyone who will have her is an English-import and a "comedy," which swept the 2019 Comedy Emmys, winning no less than four awards for writing, acting and directing.
The heroine, apart from her desire for unending and completely gratuitous sex, is a thief, a pathetic liar who trashes everyone around her, arbitrarily cruel to all and, once again, surrounded by a cast where virtually everyone around her (family, friends, and fellow sickies) is equally worthless. What could possibly be the point of making junk like this? Is she free, empowered and inspirational in some warped sense? If so, it can only be in the Bobbie McGee sense: "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." But just because these mopes may be winning awards and making money doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of losers around, including the rest of us who are painfully watching our culture crumble and our values corrode.
No one wants to talk about the damage being done to our lives and our society by the calculated indifference and obliviousness of these people. They're happy to talk about and celebrate the "work" they've done, but not about the damage they've caused. And, believe me, these kinds of issues and concerns aren't limited to the entertainment business or the movers and shakers in the new digital economy. We see the same problems just about everywhere we look, and, while we clearly see the growing harm, we don't feel the need to say much of anything about it.
It's the exact same story we hear every week from the tech giants who claim that all technology is neutral, that their platforms are public commons, and that the problems with social media and election fraud aren't their fault or responsibility. Or the old NRA trope that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Or how about the JUUL e-cigarette scam? While their grand mission is allegedly "to improve the lives of the world's one billion adult smokers," they're doing a great job of making it quick and easy for millions of underage kids to get hooked on nicotine with their fruit flavored vapes.
And increasingly, across every city and community, the unforeseen and unexpected consequences of vaping, CBD and legal marijuana are becoming clearer. In the name of technology and entrepreneurship, we continue to basically avoid responsibility and accountability for our actions and then, not surprisingly, bemoan the results. As we start the new year, we're about to see another watershed moment. Too many of us are turning a blind eye to the likely outcomes while the media cheers the expunging of a bunch of ancient pot convictions.
All these vaping, pot and CBD "entrepreneurs" who are rushing with the help of patronizing and apologetic politicians to open stores and "clinics' in poor neighborhoods, selling stuff that the FDA doesn't even understand, much less know how to describe and regulate, are anxious to be cut in on and join the gold rush. And they're utterly indifferent to the obvious and expected impacts of their actions as they bring more poison to the poorest people into their communities.
Keep in mind that because these drugs are still illegal under federal law, every sale is for cash - no credit cards allowed, because banks won't process the transactions. How's that for assuring accountability and creating an added attraction for the crooks? A few folks will make some money and many will be deprived of medical supplies, robbed coming in and out of these joints (no pun intended), run over by stoned drivers, and displaced by dispensaries and accessory and bong stores right out of the 60's.
Are these really the new wave of businesses that we want to encourage minority entrepreneurs to build in their neighborhoods? When the dust settles and the smoke clears, we're gonna look back and rue the day that we did these folks the "favor" of bringing more drugs and dope into their communities in the name of entrepreneurship.
Make your first mission for 2020 a simple one. When you see something, say something.