sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Monday, January 31, 2005

Here's a brief review of Medved's Right Turns, as a warm-up for a lengthier print review:

The book, a memoir of Medved's journey from liberal war protester to conservative movie reviewer and pop culture commentator, is a quick read. If you listened to Medved's radio show, you know he has a sense of humor, and it shows in his writing style.

He begins with his paternal grandmother's exhaustive journey to America from her native Russia. She first embarked on the journey on the eve of World War I, and made it as far as the Austrian border when war broke out. It would be another 11 years before she was finally reunited with her husband, after which they were blessed with the birth of Medved's father, David.

Though a brilliant student, Michael Medved had no defined goal in life and was ambivalent about higher education. He ended up at Yale, at the height of anti-war sentiment on college campuses. While at Yale, he encountered a number of now-famous political figures, including John F. Kerry:

"I vividly remember every detail of our meeting: with JFK seated behind a desk in his dorm room like a putative president wearing a powder blue shirt with immaculate white collar and cuffs, a royal blue tie with white polka dots, and his hands crossed authoritatively on the desk in front of him. He droned on in portentious tones and at appalling length about how the Liberal Party and PU (Yale Political Union) would enrich our lives..."

...and Hillary Clinton, with whom he developed a friendship until he ran into her with her new boyfriend:

"I hated to see that because I couldn't shake my stubborn conviction that that my pal Hillary — with her unpretentious kindness, innate class and decency — deserved better than the slippery manipulations of the Arkansas Traveler."

After leading a protest against ROTC offerings at Yale, attending its law school briefly and working on the campaign of a liberal Senatorial candidate, Medved returned to California (where he grew up, after spending his early childhood in his native Philadelphia), where he was essentially rudderless for a brief time. He worked in a record store and tried to break into the advertising industry, where the only job he could find was working for a slick African-American "executive" who wrangled the Oakland police department account to promote its minority hiring efforts.

It was on ride-alongs with Oakland police officers- many of them black — when the former war protester gained respect for cops on the street:

"Like everyone else I knew, I had instinctively dismissed 'law and order' politicians as racist demagogues who exploited the public appetite for simplistic solutions and denied the one obvious, unquestionable truth: that we could only reduce crime if society addressed its 'root' causes. Watching Bay Area cops risking life and health to stop criminal activity every night blew this nitwit nostrum to smithereens."

Medved's next move was to become a professor of creative writing, but his only interview was at the University of Wisconsin - Stout, Midwestern redneck town. There was a catch in the interview process: If they didn't offer him the job, the university had to pay his way back to California. If they offered him the job and he rejected it, then he had to pay his own way back. His account of the interview process- and his extreme effort to flunk the interview- were hilarious.

Moving along, Medved dabbled in screenwriting before duel book projects put him onto the national scene: "Whatever Happened to the Class of '65?" and "The Fifty Worst Movies of All Time," which cemented his credentials as a movie critic and led to his long-time gig on "Sneak Previews."

Medved's exposure to the shallow liberalism of Hollywood celebrities and executives was another major factor in his conservative conversion. Through his Jewish faith, he developed a friendship with Barbra Streisand, who invited him to give a talk to a group of her Hollywood friends about his book " The Shadow Presidents," a history of presidential top aides.

Through his research, Medved gained considerable respect for men like Bob Haldeman and Dick Cheney, who served as top aides to Presidents Nixon and Ford, respectively. Medved tried to focus on the deeper, less partisian history of his subject.

But his audience persisted in asking questions about Nixon, Ford and Reagan and

"It became clear what they wanted to hear: stories that could confirm their most cherished liberal prejudices, to lend support to their bedrock conviction that all conservatives amounted to dimwitted, bigoted boobs."

As his stature grew, Medved took the film industry head-on, saying Hollywood has lost touch with America. Of course, he points to the large number of R-rated movies filled with sex and violence as indication of that cultural divide.

But he frames his argument not so much in the context of the damage to the national psyche these movies do; his argument is the movie industry simply isn't giving the public what they want.

He cites box office stats: G-rated movies consistently perform better at the box office. By the way, his theory was supported by two economic scholars who did a study that concluded that "R-rated movies are dominated by G, PG and PG-13 movies in all three dimensions of revenues, costs, return on production cost and profits." So the film industry's insistence on turning out R-rated motion pictures is not just bad from a taste standpoint, but from a business standpoint as well.

Anyway, that's just a sampling of the 400-odd-page book. Right Turns is a good read. I recommend it.


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