July 9th, 2010
So I dropped two tabs of acid last night, hopped in my car, cruised around Hollywood and somehow found myself in bar packed full of drunken hipster junkies screaming at two experts squaring off on the subject of global warming with the role of moderator played by Andy Samberg of SNL. Or was it Sandy Amberg of SOL? It’s all a surreal blur now.
Yes, indeed — if you want a good lesson in climate science, then I’m sure you know that a “debate” in a bar in Hollywood hosted by a comedian is the place to get it, right? On the left, climate skeptic and jovial lunkhead, Phelim McAleer. On the right, inappropriately smart and sincere Simran Sethi. In the middle, the guy whose dick was once in a box.
Lexus was the driving force behind the event (why? dunno. I used to have a friend who worked for Camel cigarettes, hosting parties at bars in Hollywood with free booze and smokes just to promote the brand among the cool crowd). Lots of free booze. And the sort of crowd that free booze attracts in Hollywood (I lived there for 12 years, these people used to show up at my parties uninvited — they’re basically party lemmings, aimlessly wandering the clubs). Somehow I ended up jammed into the front row, wedged between the twenty something dude in the sport jacket with the loosened necktie and fedora, and the fat, balding Les Grossman look-alike with the siliconized super model towering over him.
“Welcome to the loudest debate in history,” were Andy’s opening words. The whole thing was utterly bizarre, though not really for Hollywood. Several hundred people, drunk, shouting, all still talking and hooting as he laid out the ground rules and the two experts were introduced. And even though many people think Hollywood is the land of Al Gore, that’s only a perception, not a reality. Half the crowd were loud global warming skeptics, coughing “Bullshit!” at poor Simran Sethi, a very dignified journalism professor from the University of Kansas, while they gave the “whoop, whoops” to Phelim McAleer, the filmmaker behind “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” who is in fact mostly wrong and in the end probably kinda evil as well (he certainly showed himself to be a complete putz at the Society for Environmental Journalists meeting last fall — I’m not a big Al Gore fan, but Mcleer’s potshots in the Q&A missed the mark and he’s lucky he didn’t get tazed, bro).
SKEPTICS STILL MAKE THE BETTER BEER DRINKERS
I have to be honest and say that sadly, the “debate” opened up with the same basic dynamics we’ve explored in my books and movies. The old “who would you rather have a beer with?” question from presidential elections, that we brought up in “Flock of Dodos” was clearly on display as Simran instantly projected the demeanor of a preachy school marm while Phelim was borderline Bluto from “Animal House.”
I’m sorry, but heartfelt sincerity counts for absolutely nothing with a crowd full of drunken Hollywood party kids. Simran clearly has a good heart, but it’s wasted in the land of the wasted.
She began with a lifeless and kind of ambling metaphor about the planet having a fever, while he started with a STORY (eh hem, need we say more?) of being a school boy growing up in Ireland and being warned about “global cooling,” then later “global warming,” and now, according to a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, he said it’s being called, “global weirding.” The last one was delivered as a punch line and drew a roar from the drunk and belligerent crowd — at least the ones near the front as it was unclear anyone in the back was hearing anything whatsoever.
The comedian/moderator (who really is a great guy and somebody at Lexus must have given a lifetime of sexual favors to turn him out for such an illogical event — I mean seriously, a global warming debate in Hollywood? you might as well give a quantum physics lecture at a kindergarden) had a stopwatch for each exchange. I think they got about a minute per round. There were five questions which were actually pretty well written, though I can’t remember any.
The skeptic definitely prevailed through the first third of the debate, but then Simran actually overcame her pleading, lecturing tone and scored a couple of nice zingers that for at least a nanosecond penetrated through the superficiality of it all. After he finished taunting her about the hypocrisy of environmentalists jet setting around the world, she came back with, “We all have to fly, including you, in order to be here tonight.” For which he had nothing. And then, as he tried to call environmentalism elitist and only for rich people, she replied, “Look, I’m from India, I GET the poor thing.” Which was very nice.
WHO IS MORE ANTI-PEOPLE?
After a while he settled into the same diatribe you can hear Michael Crichton spewing in the 2007 Intelligence Squared debate — that worrying about the climate is for rich people and comes at the expense of more urgent issues for poor people (as if these skeptic folks really care about the poor). It’s also the same note Marc Morano hit in my movie “Sizzle” as he said, “Modern environmentalism is the most anti-human agenda of the twenty first century.” And so this guy pounded the same note.
And while he did solidly win the battle for first impressions, he actually crossed the line a bit into a surprising moment of unlikeability as he kept calling her a hypocrite until it suddenly sounded fairly personal and insulting — enough that Andy commented on it and a few people booed.
The skeptic actually began losing points with the crowd as he lost his cool and made his accusations of “hypocrite” have too much of an ugly personal tone.
On the people thing, I just wish she would have turned it on him and said, “YOU are the anti-people person by advocating continued excess consumption at the expense of the developing nations who will pay the price for global warming.” But she didn’t.
The whole thing mostly just made you ask, “Why?,” and unfortunately, Samrin was the wrong choice for this venue. Had it been the Harvard Club in New York City she would have cleaned the floor with this lout. But it wasn’t. It was frickin’ Hollywood. I’ve been to 20 years of these celebrity/alcohol driven, hipster, issue-oriented events in Hollywood (btw, just to underscore the TOTAL hipness of it all, Ashton Kucher was there). If anyone decides to take part in one, please speak to me first. The people are rude. It’s a bar, they come to drink. There’s only one sort of speaker who can be effective in such a venue, and that’s a veteran stand-up comic who knows how to deal with hecklers and proceed with mostly one-liners. Which just reverts back to my advice a couple months ago about the idea of “debating” climate skeptics in public — leave it to the professional comedians like Bill Maher. Highly educated people are at a distinct handicap.
Overall, it was an utterly ridiculous event that at times seemed comparable to the Circus Circus scene in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” And also felt one step closer to Mike Judges’ visionary masterpiece, “Idiocracy.”
SUCH A NICE COUPLE: In the high point of the night, my friend and plastics-in-the-oceans activist Anna Cummins goes eye-to-belly button with 7 foot 1 inch former LA Lakers basketball player Vlade Divac.