Lunchtable TV Talk: Mindhunter and Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered – The Lost Children

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Not unlike many fans of Netflix’s gripping Mindhunter series, I am ashamed to say I had never heard of the Atlanta child murders, a focus of Mindhunter‘s season two. When the actual murders took place, I was little more than a toddler myself, but this is never an excuse for ignorance. After all, I find myself frustrated when I talk to youngsters who claims to “love Ted Danson” but know him only in the context of The Good Place, claiming never to have heard of Cheers because it was broadcast originally long before they were alive. So what? Sergeant Pepper was released long before I was born, but I know it, can sing along with it. The Donna Reed Show predates my entire existence, but I’m fully aware of it. We have had reruns in perpetuity. Perhaps we live in an age devoid of all memory, despite being able to conjure up the past with an instant internet search – nothing is ever gone. We are surrounded by and immersed in noise and content from the past and present. Maybe it’s too difficult to swim through all of it to find the linear path of, for example, Ted Danson’s long television history, given the onslaught of everything we are steeped in and the expectation to keep moving forward.

This digression is altogether too frivolous for the subject matter, though. Watching Mindhunter, I found myself having to Google whether the spate of murders it depicted was based on reality. I wasn’t alone. As the story unfolded, it grew more terrifying and shocking – all the more because, until recently, it is a story that seems never to have made lasting headlines. No one I asked (even people much older than me who regularly followed the news at the height of these crimes) had ever heard of this story. The horror of the crimes is viscerally disturbing enough, but what has disturbed and occupied me since seeing Mindhunter is the widespread ignorance to the fact that these serial murders ever happened.

These disappearances and deaths of children in Atlanta occurred at the tail-end of the 1970s and early 1980s – not too long after the high-profile reign of terror wrought by serial killer Ted Bundy. The difference? The Atlanta murders were all black children. Bundy killed young white women. As ever, who gets the public spotlight? This is not new, so I should not be surprised. Not knowing about the Atlanta children until nearly 40 years later makes me feel hopeless and helpless … not just because I didn’t know about it but also that this information has not been in the public eye at all during my entire lifetime (while Bundy remains, unfathomably, the object of constant discussion and fascination). Only now has a comprehensive HBO documentary series about the child murders been released… and even this does not seem like enough. It is not easy viewing – nor should it be.

My rambling has little point. What does a frivolity like Ted Danson have to do with something so completely soul-crushing? It’s a keen reminder that the past, whatever it is, is easily forgotten. Some of history’s most heinous events can be entirely lost, particularly if too little note was paid to them in the first place. And it’s an even keener reminder that, as a society, we see only what we want to see and what we are shown. It’s no wonder that we live in most fraught, divided and painful times, when not every life – wrongly – is seen as having the same inherent value.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

Wave goodbye

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“So now you start to recognize
That every single path you see
Leads to a tear in your eye
So wave goodbye, wave goodbye”
Chris Cornell, “Wave Goodbye

The other day virtually everyone I ever knew in Seattle (okay, not everyone, but an awful lot of people) went to see U2 play their now 30-year-old album The Joshua Tree in its entirety. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined them on stage. I joked with my mom that Eddie Vedder is now the Tom Skerritt of music. See, Tom Skerritt constantly shows up everywhere – in film, in TV shows, in the fucking Pacific Northwest Ballet. He turns up in the big budget stuff, in tiny, no-budget indies, in large, memorable roles and in the tiniest roles ever. I mean, the guy appears in MASH (the film), Top Gun, Steel Magnolias, Picket Fences, Cheers, Huff and a whole compendium of other things. There were moments when I thought I was safe from Skerritt, and then, as if just to taunt me, he’d appear – for example, the little-known film, Smoke Signals, an adaptation of Sherman Alexie’s short story “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Or for example when he turns up in the film Singles for just a few minutes of screen time as the mayor of Seattle.

I could carry on almost endlessly listing off Tom Skerritt sightings, but my point: Eddie Vedder turns up on other musicians’ stages (frequently in Seattle but often in cities all over the world) so often that he rivals Skerritt’s ubiquity – only in the music realm.

It’s strange, then, today to think that Eddie Vedder is kind of … the last man standing of grunge-era frontmen. News broke today that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had died at age 52 after playing a triumphant show in Detroit. Never quite “of” the grunge ‘movement’ (if you could really call it that), never quite getting his due as a songwriter (this has immediately changed upon posthumous evaluation). I’m guilty of underestimating the guy – I never cared a whole lot for the Soundgarden sound but have only, in Cornell’s death, taken a look at the songs and lyrics. I did not recognize the beauty or power of his talent (either the writing or the voice) fully until seen in another context (i.e., both in death and in hearing him in stripped-down versions of songs from other genres and sounds).

Of his own work, I honestly had no idea that Cornell’s writing was often so dark (even if that is not all it was). But I was certainly not alone in this errant and incomplete appraisal; masked by various labels and categorizations (“He was a cock-rocker in an era when everyone was supposed to be too depressed or doped up to fuck”, ‘grunge’ being but one of them, it’s almost as though many people just didn’t listen to what was beneath the sound. (One of the many articles on Cornell today cites, as an example, Johnny Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” as an unlikely avenue through which people started to see Cornell’s writing genius.)

“It’s sort of a morbid exchange when somebody who is a writer like that dies, and then everyone starts picking through all their lyrics.”

What can you say about something like this? It’s a sad ending for someone who entertained, who evaded easy categorization, who defied labels and continued to reinvent and moreover brought solace and beauty to the lives of so many people. This is the best that can be said for most of us.

Photo (c) 2007 Guillermo Ruiz used under Creative Commons license.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Brink

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Eager to find out how The Brink, a satirical comedy focused on a geopolitical crisis that ignites in Pakistan, ends, I keep watching. It’s a relatively funny journey – not too taxing or challenging given the political story (which can bog down shows attempting to be “light”, as this one aims to be). What sets this show apart is its stellar ensemble cast. Just when I get pulled into the scenes with the incorrigible, frenetic Jack Black and his driver, played by the multitalented Aasif Mandvi, the shift focuses to the sex-obsessed, liberal but never-taking-his-eye-off-the-ball US Secretary of State, played to perfection by Tim Robbins. But the show also has somewhat smaller but still standout roles for Pablo Schreiber, Carla Gugino (who also turned in a good performance recently in Wayward Pines) and John Larroquette.

On an entirely unrelated note, Larroquette’s presence sent me off on a nostalgic mental parade of past television, including Larroquette on the 80s sitcom classic, Night Court, of which he was the best part. But Night Court also included Harry Anderson, a most non-descript guy who nevertheless carved out a niche for himself as a magic aficionado and as a night-court judge, as a frequent guest star in Cheers and in the 80s/90s sitcom Dave’s World, based on the life of comedy writer, Dave Barry. And my twisted obituary-laced brain immediately recalls that Dave’s World’s Meshach Taylor (also famous for his turn as Anthony the ex-con in Designing Women) is dead – too young. Going back to Night Court, once again, whatever happened to Markie Post, the female lead in the show? Back in the 1990s she was in a little-watched but nevertheless entertaining Hearts Afire with the late John Ritter. (Of course my brain would lead me here – always the grim reaper.) Hearts Afire ended up being about a married couple working on a hometown newspaper in the south, but it started off being thematically not too different from Alpha House and The Brink – without the farce, of course. Incidentally, Hearts Afire also starred Billy Bob Thornton. But people were not quite ready for Billy Bob yet.

In some ways, ensemble shows like The Brink, as topical and sharp as they are, end up making me more interested in making connections – playing some kind of six-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon connect-the-dots. Obviously. Nothing about the unfolding crisis and underhanded political rivalries playing out in high-stakes, behind-the-scenes conflicts should lead someone to forgotten two-season sitcoms like Hearts Afire. But for a TV-crazed lunatic like me, they do.