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#393 November 10, 2020

Matt writes: The third and final panel of the 2020 Ebert Symposium Series premiered last Thursday on the YouTube and Facebook pages of Ebertfest. Entitled "Representation in Media," the panel explored inclusion and equity in film and media, and was moderated by media scholar Angharad Valdivia, a professor of Media and Cinema studies in the University of Illinois' Institute of Communications Research. Among the panelists were Christine Simmons, the chief operating officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with other esteemed members of the industry: Keri Carpenter, Samantha Chatman and Troy Pryor.


"It's not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Cher said.

By Roger Ebert / May 7, 1967

To begin with, there was a little girl out in the hallway with long black hair and white bell-bottom trousers. She was sitting on a bench by the elevator, looking across the hallway into a mirror which showed her sitting on a bench by the elevator. So when you came up in the elevator and the doors opened, here was this image of a little girl with long black hair and bell-bottom trousers, looking into the elevator door at you.

At first your mind didn't understand, and you thought maybe this was Cher herself, waiting by the elevator for you, and so you stepped off the elevator, smiling stupidly because you were caught off guard, and suddenly the little girl was behind you, and there you were smiling at her in the mirror, and she was scowling because she thought maybe you were trying to pick her up or something.

It was one of those totally unsettling, absolutely miserable situations. If you were James Cagney you would turn on her and snarl, "Dammit, you're only 12," and mash a grapefruit in her face.

But instead you knocked on the door of Room 640, and Sonny himself opened it, dressed in white bell-bottom trousers and a silk brocade shirt the color of rainbows. Then you heard this wail being sent up from behind you: "Sonnnneeeeeyyy!"

The scream propelled you into the room as Sonny hastily slammed the door. In the room there were two girls with long black hair and white bell-bottom trousers. They looked up at you and you wanted to explain that you weren't the one who had been screaming just now, but it didn't seem that they had heard anything.

"Hi, I'm Sonny," said Sonny. Studying the two girls in the room he singled out one and said, "This is Cher."

"Gratified," Cher said. You saw that she wore a ring that said "Sonny." You edged around to see Sonny's hand, and, sure enough, he wore a ring that said "Cher." All's well.

The girl who wasn't Cher said she would call Room Service.

"Well," you said.

"Now that we've covered that," Cher said.

"How about a drink?" said Sonny.

"I'll just have a Coke," said Cher. "No, Diet Pepsi."

"It must be hazardous to be the idols of teeny-boppers everywhere," you said. "Do you ever wish you could just, uh, walk down the street?"

"Oh, everybody knows us in Los Angeles," Sonny said. "They're used to seeing us. We don't believe in being aloof and above everybody and all that. We try to be natural."

Cher smiled. "The clothes may not look too natural, but out on the coast they don't stand out too much. Here, I guess they look a little eight and a halfish."

"Eight and a halfish," we said.

"She means Juliet of the Spiritish," Sonny said.

A silence fell.

"The only time you really have to worry about your fans is in a concert situation," Sonny said. "Mass hysteria gets started, and adoration turns to hostility. The best thing to do in a situation like that is, don't panic, but assert authority."

"There was only one case where we got physically torn apart," Cher said.

A waiter from Room Service came into the room and passed out menus. Sonny ordered a hamburger and a tossed salad.

"Dressing?" said the waiter.

"I'll have the Roquefort," Sonny said. "A wise decision," the waiter said. "Soup or appetizer?"

"No thanks," Sonny said.

"I'll have English muffins," Cher said. "No, make that just one English muffin."

"One English muffin," the waiter said "Soup or appetizer?"

"Whoddya think this is?" said Cher.

After luncheon was served, Sonny talked about the events of three and a half years, which have catapulted the couple to stardom.

"I had tried to be a singer on my own, but without success," he said. "When I met Cher, I was a promotion man for a record company. I was fascinated. I thought she was beautiful. I knew at once she'd be great."

"I was going to school at the time," Cher said. "I was attending Montclair, an acting school. I didn't really want to be an actress, but I had no interest in regular school and my parents thought this would occupy my time."

Sonny said he hesitated before asking her to marry him.

"I knew she'd be a star. I didn't want to be the husband in the background while she was famous," he said. "I wrote her a poem, saying goodbye. But then we got married. I knew I had to be as powerful as she was if our marriage was to work. Without Cher, I was nothing as a singer. Together we were everything."

Sonny said they now face their greatest hurdle.

"We have to change from singers to entertainers," he said. "We have to develop an appeal for adults as well as the kids. People don't buy a sound, they buy a personality. Look at Sinatra, Bogart, John Wayne."

He said their current image, based on long hair and mod clothes, is simply an outward appearance.

"I don't see why anybody can object to contemporary clothes if they're neat and clean," he said.

"It's not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Cher said.

"You can dress this way, yet be ambitious, clean, and have good moral values," Sonny said.

"That's what we were trying to say in our movie," Cher said. "If there's a message in 'Good Times,' it's don't sell out."

"We don't make that unhealthy scene on the coast," Sonny said. "A lot of kids are being mislead by Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey. The whole LSD crowd is nothing but a lot of bald-headed teeny-boppers. They're really weirdos."

"That sort of thing wouldn't happen if parents knew where their children were at all times," Cher said.

"That's right," said Sonny. "It's up to the parents. The family has to unite again. There are altogether too many divorces." He said his marriage with Cher symbolizes the possibility that people can be married.

"Not like a lot of these groups," Cher said, "where there's no telling what goes on."

"Let's face it," Sonny said. "We're pros. I'd wear a suit if I had to because I want the business."

From the hallway carne a plaintive cry: "Soonnneeee!"

"I would go bald," Sonny was saying. "I would cut off all my hair to play a role."

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Look, it's somebody lying on the TV.

Yeah, I know. Stop the presses. A more startling headline might be: "Dog eats food!" It's not news that self-proclaimed morality guardian Bill O'Reilly is a source of misinformation next to whom the Weekly World News looks like a Pulitzer contender. Bat Boy has more credibility than O'Reilly.

Now he's professing to be shocked, shocked about a panel last April at Boulder High School that was part of the Conference on World Affairs. (YouTube clip here.) I was on a CWA panel at Boulder High (about "Borat") that same week, and I can only imagine what O'McCarthy could have edited from it to make me or any of my co-panelists sound like we were saying something other than what we actually said. Say we quoted something from Borat in the movie. Out of context, O'Reilly could make it appear as if we were saying it ourselves. This one-man sitcom (oh, wait, that's his term for John Edwards) stoops that low, and lower, all the time, and oops he's doing it again. Of course, O'Reilly deals only in clips and sound bites. He has no patience for complete thoughts. Perhaps he simply doesn't have the time or the inclination to read or listen to what actually occurred during the 90-minute panel discussion, but for the record I'm going to re-print his claims alongside the actual transcript of the panel. We compare, you decide. And then perhaps you'll see why Boulder High students are demanding an apology from Fox and its loudest, most irresponsible (and that's saying a lot!) Spinmeister. O'Reilly's yellow-journalism depends on distortion and misrepresentation. The easiest way to counter it is to let the facts speak for themselves.

O'Reilly introduced the subject by mentioning that the president of the University of Colorado has "finally" recommended that professor Ward Churchill be fired: "But there is another educational outrage in Boulder that makes Churchill look insignificant. At Boulder High School students were ordered to attend an assembly where a bunch of so-called educators encouraged the kids to take drugs and to have indiscriminate sex." First, students say "ordered" is not true -- or, to use more appropriate high school language, attendance was not mandatory. But on top of this, now we are also supposed to believe that O'Reilly's prolonged campaign of outrage against Churchill (which he mounted on 25 "O'Reilly Factor" shows between January and May 2005 alone) was, in retrospect, "insignificant," because... why? You decide.

O'Reilly, a secular-aggressive, does not mention that the topics for the Conference on World Affairs panels at Boulder High are selected by the students themselves, and that the panels are produced by the students, and that questions from the audience are encouraged. This event was also introduced by a student, who said: "…Boulder High is the only High School that helps plan and host panels for this Conference. As students here at Boulder High, we try to create panels that will discuss topics and issues very present in the lives of students here today. [indecipherable] and myself are the creators and producers for today’s panel, STDs, which stands for Sex, Teens, and Drugs." The panelists were provided with the results of a student body survey in which a third of Boulder High students said they'd had sex, and half of those had done so under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some might believe that was a matter of concern, worth addressing in an open student forum.

(Aside to O'Reilly: "STD" is also an acronym for "Sexually Transmitted Diseases." See how the title turns "sex, teens and drugs" into "STDs"? That was the subject of the panel, that drugs and sex can be dangerous and have dire consequences for people in their teens.) As he makes clear again and again, facts and context don't matter much to O'Reilly, for whom an hour-and-a-half panel is too long to say what he wants it to say so he can criticize it for saying what it doesn't say.

On a show posted on YouTube May 18, 2007, in the middle of a one-sided "discussion" of the Boulder High panel with a shock jock from a Denver/Littleton Clear Channel AM station (KHOW), O'Reilly said: "It is hard to believe that in America today you can have a town as out of control as Boulder. You know about the Midyette baby -- took 14 months to get an indictment on a murder case there. You know about JonBenet Ramsey. And now we have Boulder High School. But it doesn't seem that the residents of Boulder care if their high school tells their kids to go out and have sex of all kinds, at all age, and to use narcotics. They simply don't care in Boulder."

That's right -- there's a baby death, a child murder, and now a panel discussion. All in Boulder, the Gommorah of the Rockies! O'Reilly sounds like an insane person, but is there some kind of conscious or unconscious association he's trying to make here? Turns out the only parent to have complained about the panel was Priscilla White. You may remember that she and her husband Fleet had their friends the Ramseys over for Christmas dinner the night JonBenet was murdered, and were called to the Ramsey house early the next morning. Fleet White was with John Ramsey when the latter found JonBenet's body in the house. At first the Whites defended their friends; later, they turned against them. Is that what why O'Reilly related the murder of JonBenet to the panel at Boulder High? Are the Whites Friends Of Fox, feeding them material? What is the connection O'Reilly was trying to make between the murder of a child and the panel discussion?