My Two Cents

Penney for your thoughts…Ruminations on marketing, media, popular culture, and life as I know it. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Linda Penney.


We are an ignorant nation right now. We’re not really capable of making decisions that have to be made at election time. I do not think we’re bright enough to do the job that would preserve our democracy, our republic. I think we’re in serious danger. — Walter Cronkite, 1976

They called him Old Iron Pants because he occupied the anchor chair at CBS for a generation. My generation. In 1968, following Walter Cronkite’s unprecedented three-minute commentary that changed America’s perception of the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson was said to have remarked, “Well, if I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 2.24.42 PM

Walter was one of my heroes. He, along with the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, inspired me to earn a degree in journalism, an honorable, useful, and important occupation as exemplified by Cronkite’s integrity, skill, and longevity.

He was America’s  guide through the good, the bad, and the ugly from 1962 to 1981. Wars, assassinations, civil rights, elections, moon landings, kidnappings, hijackings, Watergate. His confident, avuncular presence and reassuring baritone took us from Camelot to Morning in America. In 1972, he was named in a national poll as the “most trusted man in America.” At Walter’s funeral service in 2009, President Obama called him “a voice of certainty in an uncertain world.”

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What IS certain in this world is that the 2016 presidential campaign is a disgrace. The whole world is laughing at us. There is no “most trusted” man or woman in America to unequivocally call out the lunatics and have it mean something. The wackos are interested in preserving  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but only for some of us. “There is no such thing as a little freedom,” Walter said during a commencement address. “Either you are all free, or you are not free.”

There is no Walter Cronkite to say, “Stop the insanity, America. Just fucking stop it.” And there is little journalism happening today on television. News programs and their pundits have agendas that are fractured into niches, each with multiple lenses to skew their coverage either right or left.

Now instead of conveying facts and investigating candidate claims and assertions to help voters make intelligent decisions — instead of asking candidates the hard questions — the media stoke the flames of ignorance for entertainment and ratings, effectively abdicating their responsibility as guardians of the public trust. We interrupt this free airtime for Donald Trump and his family of brands to bring you this paid political message from Donald Trump.Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 2.24.19 PM

The news directors are missing in action, out having cocktails with ad agency media buyers until November, and probably long afterward. Fox News has cancelled its coverage of the next GOP debate because the clown prince  won’t appear — and neither will the ad mega-revenue his participation would have guaranteed.

This is broadcast journalism in the age of insanity when candidates argue on live TV about who has the biggest dick. Good idea for a game show. The Biggest Dick. We already have the contestants. The biggest loser is America.

Walter sat on his balls at the anchor desk night after night for 20 years and never mentioned them. But he had them. That today’s  broadcast “journalists” do not is a certainty.

And that’s the way it is.



Hearts of Palm in Prime Time, Honestly

We’re not in the witness protection program, but it sure felt that way when we woke up Monday morning in a trailer park in southwest Florida, disoriented, displaced, and a little overwhelmed. It’s Thursday now and our outer extremities are just about recovered from the straight 20-hour drive from Bryn Mawr to Bradenton with our dog and two cats. Our insides not so much. Fiber gummies are on the list for our next trip to Winn-Dixie.

OK, so it’s not a trailer park in the traditional sense. It’s a beautiful, tropically landscaped RV resort with a great swimming pool and friendly neighbors with only a few dental issues I can make out in passing with the naked eye.  IMG_2165We’re renting a modern, well-appointed cottage here until we close in three weeks on the condo nearby that will become our full-time home.

Our sensibilities have always been more Seinfeld than Sea Hunt and to those who know us well, including our son, our choice of Florida as our new home was strange and unexpected. And that’s the point. This new phase of our life together required – no, demanded — nothing less than the complete opposite of what we’d known for so many years living and working in the Philadelphia area.

IMG_2172This is prime time. Our hearts are no longer grounded in habitat. Our only child moved to Berlin last December to be with his German love and to prepare for the birth of our grandson, who arrived eight weeks ago.  Andrew is now able to work remotely, so our livelihood is no longer yoked to our location. With no relatives left in Philly to serve as touchstones for big holidays and bad news, we decided to go all Tears for Fears and make the most of freedom and of pleasure.

We’re ready to test out our wings after six years in recovery. The hardest part of all of this has been leaving behind our support network. In the meeting rooms, in our homes, and over dinners, we’ve shared our odyssey with other couples like us struggling with addiction and codependency issues in their marriages. Their stories are our stories, from the stunning disclosures that sucker punch your soul to the blessed little-big epiphanies that give you the gratitude and courage to stay committed and keep doing what it takes to stay together.

The nature of addiction is insidious — cunning, baffling, and powerful. Recovery is a lifelong commitment not just to sobriety, but also transparency, authenticity, and rigorous honesty. It is a battle fought on emotional terrain that is neither black nor white. It is in the gray areas we can either find forgiveness or fall into a trap of our own making in a weak moment. Andrew and I are doing the work to be happy because we are happiest when we are together. IMG_2159

So here we are, the newest members of the gulf club. Clarity begins at home and we are transferring ours to a new one, where palm trees sway and dogs are allowed in restaurants.

Oh, the places you’ll go

Roots are knotty, gnarly, and rarely grow straight. We don’t expect them to. It’s where and when they intertwine that may surprise us. Such is the irony of the universe that life will begin for my grandson in 2015 where it ended by decree for distant kin in death camps, or en route to them, some 70 years ago.

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This is what is running through my mind now as I settle in for the long flight from Philly to Berlin to visit son George and his German partner Eva, who is carrying their child. I’m excited. It is my first time in Germany, first time meeting Eva in person, and my first time seeing George, our only child, since he moved there last December to be with her. I’ve missed him terribly.

Their baby is due in June and while the news initially came as a shock to Andrew and me last fall, we are thrilled about becoming grandparents. Whether his name is Johann or Jonathan, our grandson will be beautiful and we will love him. We already do. His impending arrival, though, has made me hyper-conscious about time passing so quickly. There are stories I want to tell and I know they won’t write themselves, the way they did in that Stephen King novel whose title I can’t remember.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 7.51.54 AM This dispatch from my Berlin adventure — my first blog post in more than a year — feels like the right place to clear some literary cobwebs. It’s not just what it says that’s meaningful to me, but also what the exercise of writing it does to help me re-establish discipline in the aftermath of the “reverse curse.” To the wordly woman, menopause is no friend, monthly or otherwise. images

If you’ve read this far, then you’ve witnessed a reunification of Grandma’s brain cells with her fingers. Here in that synthesis is where my relationship begins with my only child’s child. On the page, en route to Berlin, my grandson’s hometown.

Clash and Carrie Underwood…Enough

Live theater exists only as it is being created before our eyes, which makes it thrilling. At its heart are the hearts of performers and audience beating together in real time. The thrill is in the moment. The thrill IS the moment. During NBC’s broadcast of The Sound of Music Live! last Thursday night – its first live telecast of a theatrical event in 50 years – a different type of live theater was playing out in cyberspace. Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.03.51 PMIt was a digital theater of the absurd in which legions of tweeters voted with their thumbs (tilted downward) on a former American Idol winner’s performance in a beloved, iconic role many believe is the exclusive domain of Julie Andrews.

The Twitterverse was alive with instant critics. As fast as nasty comments were tweeted by the likes of @toejamranger, @bonkmeisterben, and @brazilianwaxworks, the retweets were multiplying and in nanoseconds living on news sites and blogs eager for red meat. The snark attack commenced with country singer Carrie Underwood’s first note and now days later it’s still going on. I’m not dissing social media. I use Facebook myself. I am, however, disappointed in human nature as it continues to become indivisible and indistinguishable from technology. The play’s not always “the thing” anymore; the theater of real-time reaction is and it’s blood sport. Vote early and often because you are the judge, jury, and executioner in 140 characters or less.

As a lifelong scholar of film and theater and a former arts critic for a newspaper, I have read, studied, and written about TSOM, its place in the musical theater realm, its impact as a film, and even about Julie Andrews being typecast. I’ve enjoyed live stage versions that starred Marie Osmond, Debby Boone, and much farther back, former MGM star Gloria DeHaven at the old Valley Forge Music Fair. I love the story, the music and libretto and believe that “Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” is one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written. And although I don’t really know that much about Carrie Underwood’s music, anyone who writes a lyric like, “I took a Louisville Slugger to both headlights,” is OK.

So it’s disheartening to me that the unique experience of NBC’s TSOM Live! has been diminished by the focus on Underwood’s detractors — armchair anonymice who mistake rudeness for power they can hold in the palm of their hands even when they’re on the john. Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.04.12 PMIn TSOM parlance and for the record, I think Underwood did something good. Admittedly well outside her comfort zone, she did more than walk and chew gum. She spoke, sang the score beautifully, and maneuvered energetically through fast-paced choreography – at times simultaneously – for three solid hours without a net. That’s the essence and the thrill of live musical theater and her audience was much bigger than a Broadway house — 18.5 million viewers. It’s time to ring down the curtain on the theater of snark and give Carrie Underwood what she deserves – a thumbs up.

Revisiting Barbra

Barbra Streisand was on CNN the other night with Piers Morgan to promote her new comedy, The Guilt Trip, with Seth Rogen. I like Barbra, always have, from the time my mother took me at age 9 to the Fox North End movie theater in Pottstown to see Funny Girl.Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 1.54.07 PM

Barbra is 70 now and mellower with Piers than she was with Mike Wallace 20 years ago. I watched that “60 Minutes” interview again today on YouTube. Mike kept insisting she was self-absorbed and she was getting pissed off at him. She asked him how he could indict her for talking about herself when that was the reason she was there in the first place – for a candid discussion of her life, her career, and her new movie (at the time The Prince of Tides).

Once I was logged on to YouTube, I didn’t stop there. I watched more clips of Barbra’s films, concert performances, TV specials (they were events), and interviews from different points in her career, and something became clear to me: Barbra’s mastery of the power of transformation has made her the Mount Rushmore of success stories about American women. But unlike the iconic rock faces frozen in time, she has continued to explore, evolve, and discover new facets of herself as an artist. The audiences who will buy tickets to The Guilt Trip will probably never know this, or have the interest to find out.

But I do know, have known for a long time, and am still blown away by it as I revisit her magnificent resume of roles, films, albums, concerts, Tony Award, Oscar for acting, Oscar for songwriting, Grammys, Emmys, and even an overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 1.55.52 PMFrom a girl with unconventional looks growing up in Brooklyn in the 40s and 50s, to Broadway star, movie star, writer, composer, filmmaker and the biggest-selling female recording artist of all time, Barbra has transformed our expectations of her with every new investment of her talents.

I watched her entire remarkable 50-year transformation in 40 minutes on my desktop. In music, her change of direction in 1971 from show tunes to Stoney End (“…now I don’t believe I want to see the moooooor-ning…”) launched her to pop superstardom that would last across the next four decades. In films, the stories she’s told as actor, director, or both have shown us the power of transformation as history (The Way We Were), as faith (Yentl), as forgiveness (The Prince of Tides), and as empowerment (The Mirror Has Two Faces).

I suspect Barbra took The Guilt Trip for fun, just as she did with those Ben focking Stiller comedies. But I want to think there’s still one big triumph left for her as a filmmaker. For years, she’s been wrangling for the rights to remake Gypsy with herself in the scene stealing role of Mama Rose. If anyone can make it happen, I’m confident Barbra can and it will be stunning. There’s a saying in the film industry that you’re only as good as your last picture. For Barbra, I hope it’s Gypsy. She’s so much better than a Seth Rogen movie.

A word, or two, about Sandy Hook

There is a hole in the English language as big as the one left in the hearts of the Sandy Hook victims’ families and every man, woman, and child in Newtown, CT. Because there is no word for what happened there. Tragedy doesn’t come close enough to capturing the magnitude, even if you put unspeakable, unthinkable, or unimaginable in front of it. We can only call it what it is: Newtown, a place beyond tragedy we’d never visited before December 14, 2012.

No less painful is 9/11/01. But when innocent little children are coldly and mercilessly gunned down with combat weaponry, the heart’s own heart must bear an excruciating truth – that monsters don’t just live in children’s nightmares, or scary movies, or at Halloween. They live in Newtown, in our town, in every town. One of them may even live under your roof.Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.19.01 PM

It hurts to watch the heartbreaking stories on the news about each little boy and girl, with school photos and videos of birthdays, dance recitals, baseball games, swimming with the family dog. And now funerals. I’ve looked away, turned off the TV, left the room feeling helpless and sad that there’s nothing I can do to comfort these broken parents. But today I realize there is something I can do to pay my respects — I can watch those stories. The parents and people of Newtown want us – need us — to know who their children were and why they mattered for the brief time they were here.

I look at my grown son sitting next to me on the sofa, behind us a photo of him at age 9 on a family vacation to Canada and his high school graduation portrait across the room. It’s almost Christmas and our little tree is hung with ornaments he picked out for each new year since he was about 5. I turn on CNN and settle in. I owe it to the parents of Newtown to know who their kids were. There is a word in the English language for this. Grateful.

Anyway, you slice it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 2.17.52 PMPeople who’ve known me for a long time know of my discomfort with the term “lunch meat.” If we ate lunch meat only for lunch, then places like Wawa, Subway, and gas station mini-markets wouldn’t exist, so it’s a term that’s past its expiration date anyway. But the reality is that I just don’t like saying “lunch meat” the same way I don’t like asking for Whoppers at the movie theater.

So now I’ve discovered, much to my disappointment, that a local market has elevated lunch meat far above its station and given it its own villa. Yes, a villa. As in “My villa in the south of France overlooks Lake Olive Loaf.” Maybe it would make sense if the place was in Villanova, but the J & G Lunch Meat Villa is located at 373 County Line Road in Ardmore, PA. Unless the proprietor is a descendent of the Earl of Sandwich, I can’t imagine how they arrived at such a grand name. Why not Cold Cuts Castle or Citadeli for that matter?

Well, maybe I can answer my own question. I live on Philadelphia’s Main Line, where kids are named Thurston, Preston and Raleigh — and those are just the girls.


Watch, listen, connect the dots

Find the IS in the network of NOTS

Create the reason that fuels the need

Stir the appetite it lives to feed

© Linda Penney  

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