An Old Man’s Relief This Grim Winter Season
Commentary by Steven A. Smith
We live in grim times.
The war in Ukraine may become uncontainable. The economy sputters. Football season is over.
And the Chinese sent a spy balloon over Montana. Really.
Meanwhile, we are in the gray season here in Spokane and on the Palouse. Cabin fever has set in and tempers are short.
These may not be the end times, but they sure are crummy times in so many ways.
So, it is more important than ever that we find diversion, find amusement, find relief. And I do not recall a time in recent memory when it has been harder to do that.
So herewith is my list of diversionary suggestions. No, the list does not include outdoor activities because hiking and skiing and other winter sports are more challenging than fun for old men, and, besides, other than Wordle what challenges are truly diversionary.
My diversions can be accessed from my BarcaLounger, which is as it should be for a lame retiree.
The Super Bowl was a diversion and was actually a pretty good game. The fuss over Rihanna’s halftime show was way overblown. But Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes put on a show.
The Super Bowl commercials were not very good this year. None seemed the least bit memorable, not even the much-anticipated M&M commercial that brought back the talking candies.
But it is hard to complain about the last real football game of the season. The spring USFL does not count unless you are truly desperate. That season starts April 15.
Meanwhile, we are in the middle of the award season for popular entertainments. We have seen the Golden Globe awards and People’s Choice awards. Yawn. The Grammys were a double yawn for someone who has no connection with popular culture since retirement separated me from young people.
But the big-deal awards, as always, are the Oscars. This year’s Oscar broadcast is March 12.
In our house, this is time for high drama as my dear Carla roots for Austin Butler, nominated for best actor for his remarkable performance in “Elvis.” Personally, I have no special rooting interest in the best picture race this year. But I will wait for the memorial segment, which always elicits screams of derision when one of my favorite classic stars is omitted.
It is possible to fight a bit of the grimness in our lives by watching some – but not all – of the nominated movies. Be careful, there are several really despairing films this year.
“Elvis” is feel-good until the last 10 minutes. Spoiler alert: He dies. “Top Gun: Maverick” is a macho hoot. Spoiler alert: Tom Cruise survives. And there is always “Black Panther: Kawanda Forever,” a really good comic book movie.
I have not seen “The Fabelmans” from director Steven Spielberg. But friends say it is another feel-good movie and critics give it the best odds for winning best picture.
But if you want to feel good, skip “Tár,” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” the latter featuring severed human limbs and a bit of animal abuse. We already have too many tragedies in our lives.
My TV tastes also gravitate away from tragedy and despair. On the other hand, I studiously avoid anything with “The Housewives of…” in the title or any “Survivor” or “The Bachelor” clones.
As I have written before, like most of my age, I enjoy the old shows. MeTV is my cable channel of choice. The classic comedies, Perry Mason reruns, and daily cartoon shows can dispel the winter blues. How can anyone despair while watching classic Bugs Bunny?
MeTV has started weekly re-runs of “All in the Family” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” “Whoa doggies,” how can anyone worry about Chinese spy balloons when the Clampetts are gathered around the “ceeement” pond?
But to be honest, Carla and I spend more time streaming content than watching traditional on-air or cable programming. Like most of America, we are hooked on “Yellowstone” and also the two prequels, “1893” and “1923.”
All three shows are seriously violent and profane. But they do portray Native Americans with uncommon respect.
And how can an old fart like me not appreciate shows that feature, respectively, Kevin Costner, Sam Elliott and Harrison Ford? Recent news stories have highlighted the so-called “Yellowstone” effect, that has brought back aging movie stars. Old-man chic.
In our house, music provides some diversion. Carla plays Elvis for an hour or two every morning. And she pulls out an old family album of popular Italian favorites when she is nostalgic for her childhood.
I go to Amazon music for diversion when I work. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young have been playing recently. “Truckin” by the Grateful Dead, too. But if I really need a pick me up, I go to “Thunder Road” by Robert Mitchum. “The law they swore they’d get him, but the devil got him first.” Spoiler alert: He dies. But the song puts a smile on my face every time.
We have had our false spring already, a week with temperatures in the high ‘40s. By the time this column is posted, deep winter will be back. Blame it on the groundhog who saw his shadow this year.
But real spring is coming. The birds are singing their springtime songs and daffodils are on the dining room table. Soon we can enjoy outdoor diversions. Until then, “whoa doggies.”
Note: FāVS has made it easier than ever to comment on content. I welcome comments posted to this or any of my columns. Tell me about your winter diversions. Let’s talk.
Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full time teaching at the end of May 2020. His columns reflect his progressive political views. Smith was raised in a Jewish home and is culturally Jewish. However, he considers himself an atheist, which is reflected in his writing. Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms until his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a B.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon. Smith currently serves on the SpokaneFāVS Board of Trustees.
You forgot THE ZAGS. How could you?
Barbara, sorry I am not a fan so do not watch. But my wife is a fanatic so I understand. Is certainly a diversion for her until they lose once or twice.