A State of the Union Conversation : An Evening With Frank Rich and Fran Lebowitz
Two plush chairs sat empty on an area rug in the middle of the stage last night at the Town Hall, near Times Square in New York City. The setting was meant to be cozy, but early on the anticipation and tension was already palatable.
Some people who bought tickets were so late taking their seats that, twice, the early birds amongst the audience made noise to bring out the stars of the evening, who eventually took to the stage about 8:15 p.m. or so.
Frank Rich, the former op-ed columnist and drama critic for The New York Times, and Fran Lebowitz, the author and social critic, took to their chairs and shared a conversation about the 2012 presidential election with the audience.
"The whole United States is a protest zone," said Ms. Lebowitz.
Recording devices were banned, so I live-Tweeted some of the more memorable remarks of their conversation.
The Town Hall offered an intimate setting for the conversation. At many times, Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz received loud cheers in recognition of their especially brilliant observations from the audience. A few people even shouted affirmations or retorts, whenever the conversation touched a nerve. At one point, when the same gentleman in the audience made two loud comments in reply to Ms. Lebowitz's witticisms, she said, "Let us know where you are appearing tomorrow, so we can attend." Lots of people wanted to dive into the luxury of taking part in this conversation, because just sitting in their wise presence just wasn't enough.
Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz spoke about the tour that their "conversation" was taking them : they had recently appeared in Las Vegas and in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Rich began their conversation on a sick and twisted (my words, not his) puff piece published by The Times in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticised President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Ms. Lebowitz offered a simple explanation for Mayor Bloomberg's interloping : he is envious that he could not become president.
Ms. Lebowitz said that when she saw Mayor Bloomberg get all involved up in Albany over last year's push for marriage equality in New York State, she said she hoped that Mayor Bloomberg would inspect Park Avenue for potholes as he was driven up to Albany, because potholes in New York City was his elected responsibility as a municipal administrator. This hilarious comment elicited many laughs from the audience.
At some point, Mr. Rich observed how none of the debates have touched on issues of LGBT equality. And Ms. Lebowitz observed that she was left confused by the LGBT equality movement's focus on getting married and joining the military, because, she said, when she was young, the two advantages of being gay was that you didn't have to get married, and you didn't have to go fight in any wars. There was also the obligatory joke about baby strollers. Her dry wit makes Ms. Lebowitz so attractive to people, who are sick and tired of the political spin of the talking heads on television news.
Mr. Rich circled back to the Bloomberg article in The Times, and Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz made observations about the shortcomings of the mainstream media.
#FranLebowitz said reporters don't focus on getting real answers from politicians— Louis Flores (@maslowsneeds) October 21, 2012
Ms. Lebowitz couldn't resist making a joke about Jim Leher getting rolled over in the first presidential debate between President Obama and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney.
The conversation by Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz was very current, you could not tell if any parts of their talk had already been shared at prior speaking events, but Ms. Lebowitz and Mr. Rich did touch on some very basic concerns among progressive voters.
Eventually, the moment of glory : the conversation was opened up to questions from the audience.
Ms. Lebowitz's wisdom and humor was praised by many people in the audience, she is such an insightful thinker and speaker.
Her use of humor must have been an embarrassment to many politicians, and Ms. Lebowitz was bipartisan in her criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg, who she called the #Moncarchofminutiae, and of the New York City Council, who did not do anything to keep the NYPD in check as it set out to deliberately crush the #OccupyWallStreet movement. Ms. Lebowitz made the observation that when Mayor Bloomberg shut down efforts by protesters to demonstrate against the invasion of Iraq and against the Republican National Convention in 2004, he did so by trying to designate restricted areas, where activists could hold their protests. Ms. Lebowitz was infuriated. She said that the mayor did not know how the U.S. Constitution worked. Mayor Bloomberg could not restrict areas where protesters could hold their demonstrations. "The whole United States is a protest zone," said Ms. Lebowitz.
Ms. Lebowitz said at one point in the conversation that she didn't believe that voters were interested enough to hear the truth and facts in the news. She said that she thought that people were more interested in hearing lies. She made this observation in connection to some of the salacious political television ads now being aired in the Las Vegas television market. (Her observation was no doubt informed by other experiences.) She said that our whole culture is geared toward fantasy. No child asks their parent, "Daddy, tell me some more statistics before I go to sleep," or some outlandish request along those lines, is what she said. And she is correct. Ms. Lebowitz has rightly tuned into the fact that people are interested in hearing fabrication and lies -- a story of pure make believe. Early on, Ms. Lebowitz also expressed criticisms about the style of reporting in newspapers that placed an emphasis on elaborate literary descriptions of quaint village settings over just reporting facts, which, she said, normally showed up in the third paragraph.
Many people in the audience deliberately took seats that put them closer to the stage, which was a hassle to the staff at the Town Hall, who had to check tickets and move people back to their rightful seats.
For my part, I would like to register a complaint : even though I bought and paid for my ticket online from Ticketmaster to sit in the second row, for which I paid a fee of $12.55 for that "convenience," and another $1.00 fee for the "facility," the Town Hall still saw fit to charge me $5.00 to pick up my tickets at the Box Office. When I demanded a receipt, the box office assistant refused to give me a receipt.
Our lives are at the mercy of all these fucking fees ! In the "Twilight Zone" that is our political reality in the United States, they can nickel and dime people trying to access a little bit of REAL TALK about the State of the Union. Note how the controversial issues discussed during last night's conversation never seems to take place right on the front pages of The New York Times, not even the issue of race, which, both Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz claimed is the motivation behind the GOP hatred of President Obama. I had to pay an unfair extra $5 for the privilege of hearing Mr. Rich and Ms. Lebowitz, but I wonder what is the real price society-at-large pays for being shut out of this critical conversation ?