Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hey, McCain, get the hell off my junior high school’s lawn!

I’ll admit that I missed it, mesmerized as I was by the soaring rhetoric that Republican Senator John McCain used to inspire the thousands of mostly male white people assembled in the Xcell Energy Center last Thursday night; apparently, there was some talk about the background.

Oh, who am I kidding? With McSame’s speech as empty as it was plodding, the eerie green (and then blue) glow that threatened to consume the candidate was practically all that I could think about! In fact, while fixated on the chroma key close-ups of McCain that made up the lion’s share of the TV coverage, I failed to take a good look at the building that served as the backdrop for the first eight minutes of the speech. It looked like a big old mansion with a great lawn—one of McCain’s twelve houses, I mused.

Later I heard some TV commentator say that it was the US Navel Academy. God knows where that idea came from. I mean, yes, that would have made some sense, McCain having followed his father and grandfather through Annapolis, but the image shown in St. Paul bore little resemblance to any of the iconic buildings of Canoe U.

It was only about 24 hours later that I heard the image was of what is now called Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA—AKA my junior high!

Looking at that picture now, it’s possible to see the name, right at the top of the building, that the school had back when I went there, Walter Reed Junior High School, but perhaps it was the recent restoration and the fresh paint that kept me from spotting the place where I spent three years of my life. And maybe it was the extra planters and fancy landscaping that kept me from recognizing the very patch of grass where I ruled the roost as DJ for the “ninth grade lawn” (still one of my crowning achievements). However, had I recognized my alma mater, it’s hard to imagine how I could have been much more perplexed than I already was. . . but more on that in a minute.

First, let me talk about Walter Reed’s reaction.

Principal Donna Tobin declined to comment because she was too busy with the first week of instruction, aides said. Later, however, she issued a statement declaring that "permission to use the front of our school for the Republican National Convention was not given by our school nor is the use of our school's picture an endorsement of any party or view."

By late afternoon, McCain's campaign was characterizing the use of the picture as a way of illustrating the candidate's call "for public education reforms that empower parents and students before bureaucrats and labor unions," as spokesman Tucker Bounds put it.

But Tamar Galatzan, who represents the North Hollywood area on the Los Angeles Board of Education, was having none of that. She said she was "flattered that Sen. McCain chose to use a school from my district as backdrop to his remarks" but that more federal resources for education seems "not a priority for the McCain/Palin ticket."

Using the school to illustrate McCain’s education reforms? Puh-lease! The emptiness of those so-called proposals was pathetic enough, can you not insult us further by asking us to believe that this building, familiar as a school to only the giant-screened, TiVo-maniacal few, was intentionally chosen as a symbol.

I expect, as many do, that some resident genius at the RNC went a-googling for an image of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and, having paid as little attention to this facility as McCain and his Bush Administration allies have over the past seven years, just assumed that this nice old school building was the federal facility.

(As a side note, this “old” middle school building was built in 1939—making it three years younger than John McCain!)

“Internet blogger” (you know, as opposed to the other kinds of bloggers) Lee Stranhan, a figure in the LA Times story about the screw up, has an alternate theory:

Stranhan, of Burbank, speculated that McCain's image of the school was borrowed from the TV series "West Wing." Actor Jimmy Smits' character announced his candidacy on the show with the middle school as a backdrop.

Of course, that theory sort of assumes that the folks that put together the Republicans’ dog and pony show knew something about television production—a hypothesis that pretty much falls apart when you watch the production debacle already nicknamed Green Screen of Death II.

As already mentioned, I was left slack-jawed by the singularly crappy quality of the production at last week’s RNC. The set looked cheap and unimaginative. The high polish of the stage floor made participants appear to be walking on water (OK, maybe that wasn’t an accident), or on shiny, shiny, black, patent leather (taste the whip!). And the interstitial film segments felt like they were the result of a random shuffle of images rather than edited to a well-crafted narrative script. (Here’s an image, and something about a Republican, and here’s something else, and now something from 15 years earlier, and here’s a staged battle scene, and a stock photo of some people. . . “country first.”)

And, of course, there were those video backdrops. Maybe (maybe) they were interesting inside the hall, but on TV, especially when rendered in close-up, they were black, green, or blue holes, threatening to devour everything within their gravitational pull. Inexcusable in any setting, but especially unfathomable in a made-for-TV event occurring in a campaign that had already seen other McCain backdrop fiascos and Stephen Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge. Criminy, isn’t stagecraft what these guys do best?!? I mean, they can’t run a government (or a war) to save their lives, but they are supposed to be the superior showmen. . . right?

It was as if somebody gave the Republican National Convention Committee a big tax refund, and, not knowing what the hell else to do with the money, they just went out and bought the biggest freaking foreign-made TV they could find (in this case, a 716 incher!) and called it an investment in our future.

Which is perhaps as close as the RNC ever got to understanding the plight of most working Americans.

I have yet to hear any McCain campaign official respond to the complaints about the unauthorized use of the picture of my junior high school—I certainly haven’t received an apology—nor have I seen any media reports that go to the heart of the authorized use issue.

While asking the school principle for her reaction was a good addition to the story, the LA Times didn’t go the logical next step. Walter Reed Middle School is a public institution; the authority for using its image rests not with the school, but with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). As best I can tell from the LAUSD’s website, use and/or photography of a school property without express written permission is prohibited. Maybe the broadcast of a stock shot of Walter Reed isn’t covered by that policy, but it would sure be great if someone asked the LAUSD.

And maybe, if the McCain team continues to insist that the use of the picture of the school was intentional, then someone might want to ask them if they inquired about permission themselves.

Until then, Johnny, get off of my ninth grade lawn!

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suh-weet! The Alma Mater on national TV. I'm going to look up the LA Times piece right now!

9:58 AM  

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