This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.
Reader: “Nice” photo on page 17 of your Feb. 23 paper, just nine days after the killing of 17 people at a high school in Florida. This from our “sensitive” Hollywood crowd, who are so adamantly anti-Second Amendment. Hey, kids! Wanna go to the movies?
— Bill Curtis
Price: You're referring to the Paramount Pictures photo that accompanied our wire-service review of the film "Annihilation," which opened last weekend ("'Annihilation' is singularly adventurous," Feb. 23).
Yes, there's an extended scene in the movie where five female characters, armed with fully automatic rifles, enter into "a surreal, brain-scrambling alternative reality — known as the Shimmer — filled with horrifying mutant beasts" and other unearthly sights, according to Rolling Stone's review. Based on that, I'd want to be packing, too.
But I get your point, Bill. The film industry can't have it both ways. I'll wager 90 percent of Hollywood's major stars and studio executives are outraged by this country's proliferation of guns — until it gets in the way of their ability to exploit our fascination with them.
Natalie Portman, who stars as an assault rifle-armed scientist in "Annihilation," has made a few films that contain gun violence, even though she says she worries about the harmful effects of such big-screen depictions.
She justified the gun play in her 2015 film, "Jane Got a Gun," by pointing out the differences in law enforcement protection between the film’s Old West setting and modern day. She might say the same thing about the sci-fi settings of "Annihilation" and her two "Star Wars" films: They're not set in our time or our world so the violence is less real.
I'm not sure how far that argument takes her.
The tragedy in Parkland, Fla., has inspired the most serious national conversation about gun restriction, mental health screening, threat monitoring and school safety that I can remember. Little has been said about the effects of violent imagery in pop culture, except by moralists who are routinely dismissed.
Well, maybe it's time to bring that conversation to the fore.
Hey, but Price, you're one of those First Amendment soap box preachers. Are you serious? Restrict Hollywood? Curtail freedom of expression?
No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm merely suggesting that Hollywood's most influential people take a sober look at their mixed messages and consider what and how they might change. Dick's Sporting Goods made changes, to widespread criticism: The nation's largest sporting goods chain declared it would stop selling assault-style rifles such as AR-15s and raise the minimum age for any gun purchase to 21. Walmart and Kroger followed suit. (Walmart won't even sell lookalike toys or air guns.) No law compelled them to do it. They weighed market considerations against their corporate consciences and took voluntary action.
Would Hollywood dare address such a deeply entrenched aspect of its culture? Ask Harvey Weinstein, who is to casting-couch sexual assault what Parkland has been, thus far, to gun violence: a tipping point.
Time magazine says Hollywood reached "an unprecedented reckoning" that "changed the way we talk about sex and power in the world at large." And no court order or government decree made it happen. Disgust did. Is Hollywood ready for another "unprecedented reckoning"?
I'm not holding my breath either.
I'm not even sure what that would look like, anyway.
Is the news media complicit in this whole thing? We publish the names and motivations of mass murderers, after all. And we print movie reviews that praise (and pan) films that have ridiculous body counts. So, fair question.
I say our primary duty is to reflect society, not direct it, and to inform news consumers, not lead boycotts. If you're trying to choose an entertaining movie but want to avoid violence (or sex, or any number of other potentially objectionable thematic components), how do you make an informed decision other than with media's help? And by media I include everything from Facebook to Rotten Tomatoes to The Californian.
Ah, the challenges of a free society. Thoughts, Mr. Spielberg?
Reader: Not sure who at TBC is responsible for the Alexa flash briefings, but wanted to pass along a big kudos. Just got my Amazon Echo last week, and I’m enjoying having the headlines read to me.
— Justin Salters
Price: Elizabeth Sanchez, who usually writes the "spoken edition" scripts that we deliver to Alexa every several hours, is happy that you're happy. We think this is an area rich with potential as consumers embrace different ways of getting their news and information.
Reader: You mentioned that the Kern County Supervisors should redraw the district boundaries to better represent Hispanic communities quickly ("Cut your losses, supervisors, and start drawing lines," Robert Price, Feb. 28). You also mention that Hispanic voters generally don't turn out to vote. If they don't participate in the voting process, isn't this all just political posturing? Appears to be lots of talking with little substance.
— Fred T. Perez
Price: Citizens 18 to 29 are much less likely to vote than people over 60. Should we raise the voting age to 30?
In this democracy, you get what you vote for. Give Hispanic voters the same opportunity as every other American of voting age, and if they choose to not vote, that's their right. But you don't assume they'll all stay home. That's what voter registration drives (and vote suppression efforts) are all about.
Reader: Right on, Mr. Price. Another solution: increase the number on the county board to seven or nine supervisors, which might preserve two supervisors in the desert and make the board more responsive. (Fewer people represented = better representation.)
— Donald Garton
Price: This would be a good idea, Donald, if not for the expense of additional salaries, staff and office space. And the fact that five supervisors is pretty standard in California. Kern County is geographically vast, which certainly presents a representation challenge, but even San Bernardino County, the only California county bigger than Kern, has just five supervisors.
Reader: I was just wondering how you smell camellias ("Camellia Show returns for 70th year this weekend," March 1). As far as I know they have no odor at all.
— Gary Landis
Price: The things I learn in this job. I'm not sure I could tell a camellia from a daisy, and now here I am lecturing someone apparently familiar enough with their olfactory properties and call us about it.
The fact is, some camellias do have a scent, as our Kelly Ardis clearly pointed out in her story: Years ago, "the camellias on display would have had no scent, but some recent blooms are fragrant, so you now actually can stop and smell the camellias." Did you not believe her?
The American Camellia Society confirms it. Go to www.americancamellias.com and you'll find a page called "Fragrant Camellias," a title that, in and of itself, should tell you all you need to know. "The 2006 Camellia Nomenclature lists eight (types) with 'fragrant' or 'fragrance' in their name, and four beginning with the word 'Scent,'" according to that article.
So, wake up and smell the camellias, Gary.
Reader: Dear Robert: Regarding the item in your Feb. 27 Things You Need To Know on Sprockets Park: "At the foot of China Grade Loop, Sprockets Park: was a notable flat track, an ovular, dirt motorcycle racing track …"
Maybe a simple "oval" would be better. Some of the male patrons of the track might be offended by "ovular."
— Larry Dunn
Price: No, no, Larry, we meant ovular, as in relating to a seed or egg. This was where Kern County motorcycle racing was born. Pay attention!
As for the track's shape, yes, it was oval. Did we fail to mention that?
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Robert Price's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @stubblebuzz. The opinions expressed are his own.