Those of a certain age will remember that strawberries, cherry tomatoes and other small fruits and vegetables appeared on the grocer’s shelves packed in little green plastic baskets. A piece of cellophane, secured by a thin rubber band, covered the produce. Those baskets are gone, replaced by see-through plastic “clam shells.”
I once had the privilege of meeting the guy whose company made those baskets. He wasn’t satisfied with owning the market for plastic produce baskets and, in so doing, becoming a very wealthy man. His primary function at his company appeared to be going to lunch at Ma Maison, where Wolfgang Puck would oversee his saumon fumé and gigot d’agneau Provençal.
At the time we met, I was working as a writer/consultant for a marketing company. I frequently sat in on pitch meetings, in which we’d try to convince potential clients that our services could prove invaluable. In retrospect, it was kind of a crock. Although the line has blurred over time, it was generally accepted then that advertising showed the price of something needed and marketing created a need for something pricey.
But back to Mr. Basket (not his real name). He came to us with one request and that was to make him famous. That is, of course, a tall order. Even if you’re in show business or are a serial killer, there’s no guarantee that fame will ensue, let alone endure.
We brainstormed some ideas about how to help Mr. Basket attain the famous part of rich and famous. We suggested starting a philanthropy to help children, maybe build a new wing at a hospital, support a cure for some disease, or buy naming rights to an elementary school in a poor neighborhood. It turned out that Mr. Basket didn’t care for children and that he wasn’t much interested in giving away his money. When we suggested positioning him as the go-to guy for expertise in his industry, he said that because his company was the only company that made the little green baskets there wouldn’t be much opportunity.
And then we suggested making him the recipient of an award that would draw press coverage which, in turn, would make him famous—if only for a moment.
He liked that idea a lot.
It has been noted that in Hollywood there are more Persons of the Year than there are days in the year. This is true. I helped create a few such awards while working with this same marketing firm for a basic-cable television client we represented.
The format of the channel—really old, black-and-white films and infomercials—had failure written all over it. The owners had convinced themselves that advertisers would be eager to tap into the geriatric market segment. They also believed that an audience of really, really old people would find joy in revisiting movies that were released shortly after the First World War.
To support the launch, we published lots of press releases about the great public interest in the beginnings of the movie industry. We supplied synopses of every movie Pola Negri had ever been in. We went to cable conventions all over the country trying to secure “carry” deals and creating packaging with other channels.
And we hosted cocktail parties at the best hotels in Atlanta, Dallas, Anaheim, San Francisco and Hollywood.
Each party featured some B-movie actor or actress well beyond their prime. For each celebrity event, we would create an award and pay $500 for them to come get it. We’d give them a trophy, a plaque or a medal, they’d say a few words of insincere thanks, and head to the open bar where they’d be peppered with questions about Charlie Chaplin or Technicolor.
It was a harmless sham in the name of commerce because each of the parties involved, including the press we courted, knew it was a sham. In that way, it was much like Halloween: Everybody pretends they’re somebody else for a night and are then rewarded with some candy. At least that was the rationale.
There are, of course, very real awards given to men and women in recognition of their very real contributions to society. The idea is that these people have toiled in the arts and letters, science and economics, philosophy and public service to unite and elevate humanity, to celebrate the very notion of a shared recognition of our “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Since 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has sought to recognize those people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
With those parameters in mind, it’s difficult to imagine how Rush Limbaugh is qualified for such an honor. In a talk-radio format of hideous polemics, he has done nothing but stoke the fires of hatred, bigotry, and discord.
For decades he has collected millions of dollars viciously spewing his ignorant vitriol at anybody and anything that he found not to fit his moronic political and social views.
And yet there he was at the State of the Union having the Medal of Freedom fastened around his neck by First Lady Melania.
A poster boy for the Tea Party movement, he played to the lowest common denominator—the under-educated white male who would come to make up Donald Trump’s political base. With typical bluster and bluff, he took sole credit for creating talk radio, callously disregarding the hundreds who pioneered the format before him. Even his political posturing was a poor imitation of Morton Downey, Jr., and Wally George, both of whom were at least entertaining.
But to think of Limbaugh as the antithesis of a beacon of freedom’s light, we only need review a few samples of his callous bombast.
On Slavery: “…slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back; I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”
On Martin Luther King, Jr.: “You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”
On African-Americans: “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”
On the NFL: “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”
On Women: “When women got the right to vote is when it all went downhill. Because that’s when votes started being cast with emotion and uh, maternal instincts that government ought to reflect.”
On Feminism: “Feminism was established as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society”
On Native Americans: “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos—what’s to complain about?”
And yet such commentary is greeted with laurels from Trump—which comes as no surprise considering his own racism (“Very good people on both sides”) and his complete disregard for the truth—and others of his white supremacist ilk.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said Rush Limbaugh “inspired millions of people, still does to this day.”
It is important to consider not only the kind of inspiration Rush Limbaugh might provide, but to whom.
To place Limbaugh in the company of such honorees as Carl Sandburg, Harper Lee, Ansel Adams or Rosa Parks, is not to diminish the meaning of the Medal of Freedom, but to reflect the mean-spirited character of our 45th president. Racism and hate have no place in any discussion of freedom, let alone the place of honor Trump has extended to an enemy of justice.
My guess is that Roseanne will soon be honored. My regret is that Mr. Basket (not his real name) didn’t make the cut.
“Freedom Eyes” montage by Courtney A. Liska
Gigot d’agneau Provençal
One 6-pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
1 bottle Pinot Noir
10-12 thyme sprigs
Zest of 1/2 an orange
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried lavender
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Place the lamb into a large, resealable plastic bag. Add the wine, rosemary, thyme, zest, shallots, peppercorns and lavender. Seal the bag. Turn to coat the lamb. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours, turning the bag occasionally.
Drain the lamb and removed any solids from the marinade. Return to room temperature.
Light a grill and oil the grates. Brush the lamb with oil and season with salt. Grill over moderate heat, turning occasionally, 35-40 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 125° for medium-rare meat.