Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Propaganda Game

The Propaganda Game

(1966 – )
Created by
Robert W. Allen and Lorne Greene

Educational games are certainly heavy on the education, but often light on the the game. The Propaganda Game is an example of that, but in this case the education end is something people should pay attention to.

The concept seems to have been developed by Lorne Greene. While not shooting Bonanza,* he considered what went into making a person a clear thinker. He joined up with Robert W. Allen, who had had success with the logic game WFF ‘N Proof, and they created a game to teach the various logical and rhetorical tricks that tricked people in arguments. The final result consisted of six categories (Self-deception, Language, Irrelevance, Exploitation, Form, and Maneuvers) that consisted of 8-10 different types of propaganda techniques. Game play consisted of looking at cards and trying to see which of the techniques was being used.

The actual game was packaged in a small red plastic box**, Inside was the instruction book, some game cards, tokens, and other gear.

I had the game when it came out. It wasn’t much fun to play, but I reread the instruction book over and over to identify techniques. Even now, I use some of the titles instead of the more common ones.***

A list of the techniques can be found on the game’s website.

The game was not exactly a popular smash, but it sold enough, usually to schools. It looks like it’s still available today for teachers as an online teaching tool. I doubt anyone ever put it on their list of favorite games, but the ideas involved should be essential for everyone.

*Battlestar Galactica came several years later.

**Which, for some reason, fascinated me as a child.

***”Victory by Definition” nowadays is usually called “One True Scotsman,: though there are subtle differences between the two.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Red White and Maddox (play)

Red White and Maddox

Written and directed by
Don Tucker (book, music, lyrics) Don Tucker (book)
Starring Jay Garner,
IBDB Entry

George S. Kaufman once said, “Satire is what closes Saturday night”; in other words it didn’t last beyond the first weekend. And satire, even at its best, only has a short shelf life. It might be fine in the moment, but six months later it is forgotten.* Still, in the right moment, it can be powerful. An example of this was the Broadway show Red, White, and Maddox.

Let me explain about Lester Maddox. He was a pure segregationist who refused to let Blacks eat at his restaurant, even driving them off with axe handles. Once the Civil Rights Act was passed, he shut down his restaurant and ran for governor, winning the office in 1966. He was not quite as bad as his reputation – he integrated the Georgia State Patrol, hired more Blacks to government positions than any previous governor, and did more to foster integration in the state – but his rhetoric and his public comments did not reflect any of that, and he continued to talk segregation for his four-year term.

The play was written to reflect that. Maddox (Jay Garner) is a vicious attack on him for his segregationist and pro-Vietnam rhetoric. Maddox is eventually elected president in 1972, all  while being ridiculed viciously by the play, in dialog and in song. It was a success in Atlanta before moving to Broadway, probably after the success of Macbird!, a satire about Lyndon Johnson and mashup with Macbeth.

It’s Garner’s show. He’s on stage from start to finish, portraying Maddox as a dangerous buffoon who only cared for himself.

But Kaufman was right. The show only ran 41 performances. I happened be at one of them.** I thought at the time that it was nicely vicious.

Of course, it was never revived. No one knows about Maddox these days and the satire has been lost. Jay Garner*** stayed on Broadway, usually playing politicians and statesmen. His best-know TV role was Admiral Asimov in Buck Rogers.

One actor, however, did break out to become a household word. Christopher Lloyd made his Broadway debut in a small role. Another member of the cast was Fran Brill, who later became a puppeteer for the Muppets (Prairie Dawn and many others, including Vazh from The Land of Gorch.).

*I remember an Art Buchwald column during the Watergate era called “What we know so far” that I thought was the funniest thing he ever did. I clipped a copy and six months later, I reread it.  I had forgotten the references so that it wasn’t funny at all.

**I loved satire from when I  was very small. Blame Rocky and Bullwinkle.

***Born James Garner, but that name was already taken in Actors Equity

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Two Seconds

Two Seconds

Directed by
Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Elliot Lester (play) Harvey F. Flaw (adaptation)
Starring Edward G. Robinson, Vivienne Osborne, Preston Foster, J. Carrol Naish, Guy Kibbee.
IMDB Entry

Edward G. Robinson made his reputation playing a gangster and often was typecast in the role.* But he was a multifaceted actor** who could play more than just that. In Two Seconds, he’s a man who loses control of his life and suffers the consequences.

The movie starts with an intriguing premise: a man who is going to witness the electrocution of John Allen (Edward G. Robinson) asks how long it takes for a condemned man to die. “Two seconds,” someone replies, then someone adds, “That’ll be the longest two seconds of his life.”

We flash back to John working on a skyscraper with his friend Bud (Preston Foster). After work, Bud takes John on a blind date, but he bails as soon as he sees her and goes to a dance hall, where he meets – and become smitten by – Shirley Day (Vivienne Osborne). They agree to date, despite Bud’s warnings, and Shirley gets John drunk and marries him. A few weeks later, John and Bud get into an argument about her – John still thinks she’s bad news – and John loses his temper and attacks Bud, who  falls to his death

The death brings on a deep depression, so John is unable to work. Shirley goes back to her dime-a-dance life and John slides further into alcoholism and tries to make a big score gambling.

Given the opening scene,  it’s clear where it all ends up.

Robinson accurately portrays a descent into mental deterioration, while Osborne – who had been a success on Broadway – is excellent as Shirley, cold and hard as glass. She is in many ways the precursor to the film noir femme fatale of the 40s. Preston Foster is also good as Bud, as he played the role on Broadway.

Notable in the cast is Guy Kibbee as John’s bookie. Kibbee is best known as a befuddled comic character in Busby Berkeley movies. Oddly, his nice persona works well in this context: the bookie is charming and understanding to his customers.

The movie is a fascinating early version of a film noir – possibly the first -- and is unrelenting as we watch John’s life spin away from him.

*When asked what the “G.” stood for, he would say “gangster.”

**For his time. Everyone under the studio system was typecast in one was or another.