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Rockin' Rebuttals: 3 Non-Presidential Debates

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The Convention Confrontation: Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley, Jr. (1968)

The participants: By the late sixties, Gore Vidal was already a well-known and respected author and liberal political commentator; from the right, he was perfectly matched by conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of the National Review.


The venue: The year was 1968, and the times, according to numerous credible sources, were a-changin'. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as protesters and police clashed in the streets, ABC News organized a series of battles for the small screen that came to reflect the deep divisions emerging in America at the time. Amidst nationwide political tumult, the ideological foes had a captive audience of millions as they played out a vitriolic back-and-forth of ad hominem attacks unlike anything else that had been seen or heard on TV before.

The issues: With eight debates on ABC in total, four each at the Republican and Democratic Conventions, any political issue was fair game. However, the big issue on everyone's mind was, of course, the war in Vietnam. With over 500,000 troops fighting the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, the U.S. had a lot of chips on the table and nothing resembling a public consensus on how the cards should be played. It was in regards to the war that we get the debates' most memorable moments:

Buckley alleged some of the antiwar protesters outside were "pro-Nazi," and had "egg[ed] on other people to shoot American soldiers and American marines." Scratching his head, Vidal snapped back, "As far as I'm concerned the only sort of pro-Crypto Nazi I can think of is yourself." As you might expect, Buckley didn't take this well, calling Vidal a "queer" and threatening, "I'll sock you in the goddamned face and you'll stay plastered." As far as I know, even Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann have never (publicly) threatened each other with physical violence.

The outcome: Gore's and Buckley's attitudes towards one another never really improved, but no one in their right mind expected them to. As the two men waged their war of words, nastiness (and lawsuits) became predictably familiar. After Buckley's passing in February of 2008, Vidal excoriated the press' coverage of the death and told his deceased enemy to "RIP"¦in hell."

The Evolution Agitation: Thomas Henry Huxley vs. Samuel Wilberforce (1860)

huxley-gorillaThe participants: Thomas Huxley (left), grandfather of Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, was a self-educated agnostic and a close associate of Charles Darwin; Samuel Wilberforce was a bishop in the Church of England and a renowned public speaker who had openly condemned Charles Darwin's recently-published On the Origin of Species.


The venue: The Oxford University Museum of Natural History was the host of a meeting convened by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.


The issues: Hard as it may be to believe, evolution was hotly opposed before there was even a Kansas, much less a Kansas School Board. Indeed, Huxley himself was an opponent of the idea until Darwin made an effort, shortly before his most famous work was published, to convince his friend that natural selection was right. During the reading of a paper that cited Darwin's book, the well-known biologist Richard Owen incited a debate over the validity of the evolutionists' claims. Huxley stood up to respond, and before long an informal debate was scheduled. After a reportedly boring lecture by NYU professor John Draper, Huxley and Wilberforce were among those called upon to elaborate on their differing views.

wilberforceUnlike the aforementioned Kansas School Board and other proponents of "intelligent design," Wilberforce allegedly backed up his skepticism with scientific arguments. (I say "allegedly" because there's no known verbatim record of the exchange "“ just accounts in post-debate letters from those present.) However, science or no science, Wilberforce is remembered for just one rhetorical point he made. According to American Scientist magazine, the bishop asked Huxley whether "it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey."


Huxley's alleged reply? "If then the question is put to me whether I would rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape." Eat your heart out, Inherit the Wind.


The outcome: After Wilberforce and Huxley had finished this now-famous exchange, the captain of the H.M.S. Beagle, Admiral Robert FitzRoy, stood to denounce his former companion's book on religious grounds. He was followed by the botanist Joseph Hooker, who continued the arguments Huxley had begun on behalf of Darwin. After this, reports say that everyone peacefully and cheerfully went off to dinner together. Even though the debate ended without any clear resolution of who "won," history has declared Huxley and Hooker the winners.

The NAFTA Knockdown: Al Gore vs. Ross Perot (1993)

larry king logoThe participants: Al Gore, not yet in possession of an Academy Award or Nobel Peace Prize, was stuck in the dead-end job of Vice-President of the United States; Ross Perot had received 18.9 percent of the popular vote in the most recent presidential election, making him the most successful third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.


The venue: The debate took up an episode of Larry King Live, the same show where Perot had declared his intention to run for the presidency a year and a half earlier. Someone has uploaded the debate in eight parts to YouTube (embedding is disabled), and it's more than a little eerie seeing how different all three men looked 16 years ago.

king gore perotThe issues: There was just one issue to debate "“ the North American Free Trade Agreement, a.k.a. NAFTA. Gore was in favor, while Perot was against. King preceded the debate by pointing out that, technically, it wasn't a debate, with no set time limits or other formal restrictions. Things got a bit volatile at times, especially after Gore insinuated that embracing Perot's ideas would be like asking for another Great Depression. With a new president in town and a record-size audience for a cable program, this was the perfect time for an even-handed debate about a serious policy issue. Shockingly, however, issues unrelated to the ever-so-thrilling nuts-and-bolts of trade policy are thought to have decided the end result.

The outcome: Perot lost. Political analysts at the time concluded that Gore was a more effective and controlled debater, and that Perot's temperament hindered his case. Despite what was considered a massive audience for cable, many of the newspapers covering the debate pointed out that it was for the benefit of only a few people: the 30 or so Congressmen unsure about the free trade legislation. NAFTA passed in the House of Representatives, 234-200, and in January 1, 1994 the agreement went into effect. However, Perot could claim one small victory from the evening: he had the most memorable line of the night. The debate is thought to have taken the phrase "giant sucking sound," which Perot coined during his '92 run for the presidency to refer to what people would hear coming from Mexico post-NAFTA, and cemented it into the lexicon.

The Thrilla in Manila: Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009)



Just kidding.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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