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buzz-aldrin

Buzz Aldrin with Mickey Rooney

In 2002, Buzz Aldrin made the news again when he punched moon landing skeptic Bart Sibrel in front of Café Rodeo at the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills. Sibrel, making a nuisance of himself, had planted himself in Aldrin’s path and demanded that the astronaut swear on a Bible that he had landed on the moon in 1969. Aldrin’s reaction was that of a self-important and temperamental actor rather than that of a disciplined man of science. Aldrin discusses the episode in his 2009 autobiography, Magnificent Desolation.

Like most Americans, I’m quite skeptical about conspiracy theories. I’m someone who has dealt with the exact science of space rendezvous and orbital mechanics, so to have someone approach me and seriously suggest that Neil, Mike, and I never actually went to the moon – that the entire trip had been staged in a sound studio someplace – has to rank among the most ludicrous ideas I’ve ever heard. Yet somehow the media has given credence to some of the kooky people espousing such theories, and my fellow astronauts and I have had to put up with the consequences.1

Hollywood, indeed, alluded to the possibility of a faked lunar landing as early as the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, and the 1977 thriller Capricorn One concerns the cover-up of a faked Mars mission.

The media treated Aldrin like a hero again, however, after assaulting conspiracy theorist Sibrel – and it is interesting to note that the story received news coverage coinciding with the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Here is Aldrin’s account of the “Blow Heard ‘Round the World” in his book Magnificent Desolation:

Because of the publicity the hoax theorists have garnered, occasionally even in a serious interview a reporter will broach the subject. One September morning in 2002, I was in Beverly Hills at the Luxe Hotel, filming a television interview for a Far Eastern TV network, when the interview began going in a direction that I knew was out of bounds. At first I tried to be cordial, adroitly answering the question, assuming the interviewer would recognize my reluctance to talk about inanity, and bring the focus back to a bona fide space subject. Instead the interviewer began playing a television segment that had aired in the United States on the subject of hoaxes, including a section suggesting that the Apollo 11 moon landing never happened. I was aware of the piece and had been livid when it originally aired. I did not appreciate the interviewer’s attempts to lure me into commenting on it. Lisa [Cannon, Aldrin’s stepdaughter] had accompanied me to the interview following her early morning triathlon training in the Santa Monica Bay, and she immediately recognized that this was a flagrant violation of our willingness to conduct the interview in good faith, so she called a halt to the production. We weren’t belligerent, but we did not linger long over our good-byes, either.

lisa-cannon

Lisa Cannon

We left the hotel room and walked down the hall to catch the elevator, only a matter of seconds away. I pressed the button for the ground level, and Lisa and I looked at each other and smiled. It had been a strange morning already. When the elevator doors opened on the ground level, it got worse.

As we stepped out into the hotel foyer, a large man who looked to be in his mid-thirties approached me, attempting to engage me in conversation. “Hey, Buzz, how are you?” He had his own film crew along, with the camera already rolling to document the encounter.

I greeted him briefly, acknowledging his presence, and kept moving – standard procedure for life in Hollywood. As Lisa and I walked through the foyer toward the front door of the hotel, however, the man kept getting in my way, peppering me with questions, none of which I answered. Lisa took my arm and glared at the man. “That’s enough,” she said, as I could feel her pressure on my arm guiding me toward the door. “Please let us alone; we’re leaving now.”

We stepped outside under the hotel awning, and the film crew continued right along with us. Lisa’s car was parked across the street on Rodeo Drive, but there was no crosswalk nearby, and the traffic was brisk.

Meanwhile, the “interviewer” had taken out a very large Bible and was shaking it in my face, his voice becoming more animated. “Will you swear on this Bible that you really walked on the moon?”

I looked back at the man and gave him a look as if to say, Will you swear on that Bible that you are an idiot? The man was becoming more virulent, inflammatory, and personally accusatory in his outbursts. I tried not to pay any attention, but he was saying things like, “Your life is a complete lie! And here you are making money by giving interviews about things you never did!”

astronauts-gone-wild

Mardi Gras will never be the same after this.

Lisa approached the cameraman and insisted, “Please turn off that camera! We’re just trying to get across the street to our car.”

I’m a patient man, but this situation was silly. “You conspiracy people don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

Lisa spied a break in the traffic, so she grabbed me by the arm again, and said, “Buzz, let’s go.” We started walking across the street, but the large man kept getting right out in front of us, standing in the middle of Rodeo Drive, blocking our path as his cameraman kept rolling film. Lisa seemed nervous about trying to go around him, while searching for her keys to unlock the car with the man in such close proximity, so we turned around and walked back to the bellman’s station outside the hotel.

“Okay, this is ridiculous,” I said to Lisa and to the bellman. “Call the police. This guy is not letting us get to our car.”

I was under the awning, and Lisa turned away from me to approach the cameraman again. “Please turn that camera off,” she said. Meanwhile the large man was nearly screaming at me, “You’re a coward, Buzz Aldrin! You’re a liar; you’re a thief!”

Maybe it was the West Point cadet in me, or perhaps it was the Air Force fighter pilot, or maybe I’d just had enough of his belligerent character assassination, but whatever it was, as the man continued to excoriate me, I suddenly let loose with a right hook that would have made George Foreman proud. WHAAP! I belted the guy squarely in the jaw.

While I prided myself on staying in relatively good shape, it was doubtful that my septuagenarian punch did much damage to the follow, except perhaps to his ego. But he was not at all concerned about the punch, anyhow. It was obvious that he had been goading me in that direction, and he seemed ecstatically happy that I had finally grown exasperated and hit him.

“Hey, did you catch that on tape?” he called out to his cameraman. That was all he cared about.

Lisa turned around and walked back to me. She cocked her head slightly, looked up at me, and asked quietly, “Buzz, what happened?”

I looked back at my stepdaughter rather sheepishly, and said, “I punched the guy.”

“You what?” Lisa’s hand instinctively flew to her mouth in disbelief, as though already postulating in her mind any potential legal ramifications.

The film crew and “interviewer” hastily packed up and headed for their vehicle. They had gotten what they were hoping for – and more. Before the night was over, the film of me punching the guy was on the news and all over the Internet. The interviewer went to the police, threatening to file assault charges against me.

In the meantime, Lisa contacted our legal representative, Robert O’Brien, and told him everything that had happened. Robert suggested that we hire a criminal lawyer, just in case the encounter actually led to charges.

On the following Tonight Show, Jay Leno included the incident in his standup routine, cheering, “Way to go, Buzz!” They doctored up the video of my punch, and edited it to make it appear as though I had given the guy about twenty rapid-fire punches instead of the one.

David Letterman also came to my defense in his opening remarks for The Late Show, and threw in a double feature on the story the next night, since they had “dug up” some old archival footage of a reporter accosting Christopher Columbus, accusing him, “You didn’t really cross the ocean and land in the New World. You’re a liar!” And of course, Columbus decked the guy.

By then, television networks and evening entertainment news programs were calling, suddenly wanting me to appear on their shows. Ordinarily I would have been delighted, but our legal advisers said, “No interviews.” Eventually the matter died down. The city of Beverly Hills did not bring charges against me, and there were witnesses to the harassing behavior that provoked my response. It still cost me money to hire a lawyer to defend myself, and the hoax advocate received the publicity he sought, so I suppose, in the end, he won. But the punch provided me with some satisfaction, at least, and I was gratified by the calls and notes of support. CNN Crossfire commentator Paul Begala gave me a thumbs-up, and many others sent encouraging messages. Ironically, some of the most supportive words came from my fellow astronauts, to the effect of, “Hey, Buzz, I wish I’d punched the guy! Finally, somebody has responded to these hoax theory perpetrators.” More than my knowledge of rendezvous techniques, more than my actions under pressure during the initial lunar landing, more than anything in my career as an astronaut – it seemed as if nothing elevated me more in their estimation than “the punch.” From that day on, I was a hero to them.2

Some have alleged that the scene was staged and cite, for instance, the fact that Aldrin and Sibrel went on to collaborate on the 2004 documentary Astronauts Gone Wild. It is strange, too, to note that Sibrel, in publicizing a theory that ought to hinge on forensic examination and logic, instead decides to interject religion into the showdown, obnoxiously brandishing his Bible and thereby setting himself up for ridicule by progressives. The cameraman is also careful to get a clear shot of the restaurant’s sign and street address, which – if, indeed, this confrontation was a hoax – might have been a condition set by the Luxe Hotel for permission to use the Café Rodeo as a location. Begala’s response, not the typical one for commentary on an assault, was to give the “thumbs-up”, the gesture made synonymous with film criticism by Siskel and Ebert. Lisa Cannon, the woman seen with Aldrin in the video, has been credited with a “significant role” in “developing Buzz Aldrin’s brand”.

Regardless of whether the “Blow Heard ‘Round the World” was a planned event, it served as an object lesson for the public during the politically crucial period following 9/11. As Aldrin’s account makes clear, the media treated him like a hero for punching Sibrel. Aldrin also makes a very deliberate reference to his military service in describing his thought process leading to the moment of violence. The takeaway for the audience is that hitting “conspiracy people” is the laudable thing to do in these turbulent times following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Laugh at them if possible, but punch them if they become too insistent. This was before the advent of YouTube, when critical analysis of the 9/11 matrix was in its comparative infancy. Connecting “conspiracy people” with superstition, socially awkward behavior, and lack of patriotic reverence would pay off in preconditioned public responses as inconvenient scrutiny of these events would become much more common over the years.

apollo

Destination Moon

Notwithstanding his touchiness about the reality of the Apollo mission, Aldrin is eager to emphasize his connection with the entertainment industry, and one of the chapters in Magnificent Desolation is titled “Pop Goes Space Culture”. He boasts of his friendship with science-fiction illusionists like James Cameron, the director of The Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. “For several years, Lois and I had been spending a lot of time driving up to L.A. on business and to attend a variety of Hollywood events in the evenings,” he writes, adding that they eventually moved into “a luxury high-rise condo along the Wilshire Corridor of Los Angeles, just west of Beverly Hills, because so much of our business was now connected to the entertainment industry.”3

“A little-known Hollywood fact is that my name had already been firmly ensconced in Hollywood lore long before Lois and I moved there,” he continues. “On the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, at the corners of Hollywood and Vine, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and I have not one star but four, one on each corner of the intersection. Actually, our ‘stars’ are in the shape of moons.”4 Recognition on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is a rather unexpected tribute for a veteran of NASA’s Apollo 11 program – either that or a tellingly fitting one.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Endnotes

  1. Aldrin, Buzz; and Ken Abraham. Magnificent Desolation. New York, NY: Harmony Books, 2009, p. 281.
  2. Ibid., pp. 282-285.
  3. Ibid., p. 256.
  4. Ibid.

A good day to die hard poster

The Die Hard franchise, like the James Bond films that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, comprise a record of Hollywood’s search for the new enemy that would confront the free world or at least provide fear fodder for the moviegoing public.  A product of the years that witnessed the Cold War’s ragged, anticlimactic end, Die Hard points to terrorism and asymmetric conflict as the coming trend, with ostensibly idealistic but actually greedy German terrorists taking hostages in an L.A. high-rise.  Inspired by the Iran-Contra controversy, Die Hard 2 finds a threat in the Cold War residue of the mercenary anticommunist armies created to aid dictators in America’s proxy wars in the Third World, and Die Hard with a Vengeance also features directionless mercenaries as a terrorist danger.  With the rise of the internet, 9/11, the War on Terror, and the domestic police state having intervened in the decade separating the third film from the next installment in the series, the superlative Live Free or Die Hard milks suspenseful chaos from the double-edged sword of the omnipresent cyber-surveillance state, but (like the more recent Skyfall) targets hackers rather than statists as the biggest threat to America.

Now, with its latest entry, A Good Day to Die Hard, the venerable action franchise finally appears to be out of compelling ideas and steam.  Set in Russia, where John McClane (Bruce Willis) hopes to reconcile with his CIA assassin son (Jai Courtney, an uninteresting actor with an unappealing face, inexplicably being pushed in high-profile films), A Good Day to Die Hard is an undisciplined, moody, murky, disorienting, and sometimes boring whirl of mostly meaningless action sequences that sweep McClane into an international espionage imbroglio that neither he nor the audience completely understands.  Apart from the familial drama, this story lacks the immediate stakes of the previous Die Hard films, which find McClane reluctantly playing the hero to protect his fellow citizens; now the character appears content to machine-gun foreigners in their own country and wreak massive havoc on their freeways for a lark and without any insight into what he is doing apart from his hope that it will somehow impress his rogue son and restore their damaged rapport.  Astronomical destruction of property, a genocidal body count, and forced sentimentality ensue, much of it filmed with a shaky, erratic pseudodocumentary headache-inducement approach, with the result that A Good Day to Die Hard is easily the most obnoxious and least worthy of the films to bear the prestigious Die Hard banner – and, if anything, perhaps an unfortunate indicator that it is at last a good day for this series of films to just die.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Good Day to Die Hard is:

3. Xenophobic and specifically anti-Russian.  Slavs are secretive, dishonest, violent, eccentric, treacherous, and lust after their parents.

2. Family-ambivalent.  The film celebrates the father-son bond, with McClane regretful of not having played a greater role in his children’s lives.  His marriage to their mother, however, was apparently unsalvageable.

1. Statist and specifically neoconservative.  The Die Hard franchise becomes progressively more accepting of the federal government over the years.  In the first film, representative NYPD and LAPD officers are subject to human frailty and poor judgment, but are also admirable in their toughness and obvious concern for the public.  Their bureaucratic superiors are mostly worthless, however, and the FBI is depicted as incompetent and counterproductive, with one of their snipers a Vietnam veteran and death enthusiast who remembers Saigon fondly.  Bureaucrats and elements of the military are still antagonistic in Die Hard 2, and law enforcement at the local level is the most trustworthy.  This is also the case in Die Hard with a Vengeance, with federal agents depicted as conspiratorial and dopey.

Live Free or Die Hard accepts the posited benevolence of the FBI, but harbors reservations about the competence of newer federal rackets like the Department of Homeland Security.  The principal villain is a former government cyber-security expert run amuck, and the Pentagon is censured as clumsy for underestimating the vulnerability of America’s cyber-infrastructure, but the implication is that more and not less federal might is required.  At the end of that film, McClane is shown wearing an FBI jacket, signifying the oneness of his mission as a police officer with theirs at the national level.

Though the original Die Hard is distinctly Jewish in its perspective, the series has not until now embraced outright neoconservatism.  In A Good Day to Die Hard, McClane at first appears to be skeptical about the usefulness of the spy business, but is quickly persuaded to join the game when he sees what fun it offers with its license to ravage foreign lands with impunity.  The villains here are America’s old enemies, the Russians, still totalitarians at heart (as indicated by the Aeroflot airline’s hammer-and-sickle logo and the “CCCP” tattoo on one brutish thug’s back) and more dangerous than ever since criminal elements among them are peddling those dreaded and demonic “WMDs”, including the material for nuclear bombs.  (The prospective buyers, presumably, are Iran or the highest Islamic jihadist bidder.)  The home defense of previous films is no longer sufficient, and proactive overseas CIA adventurism is now the order of the day.  Early in A Good Day to Die Hard, a framed photograph of Barack Hussein Obama seems to smile on McClane from the wall behind him, bestowing on the loose cannon officer and the film itself a sort of enigmatic blessing (?).

Director Sam Mendes made his fortune with American Beauty, one of the most overrated films of the 1990s.  He did something to begin redeeming himself with Road to Perdition and now continues his foray into legitimately earned accolades with Skyfall, a solid entry in the Daniel Craig James Bond series.  The action set pieces are top-notch or close, with the opening sequence being a particular doozy; and the writing team has injected a valuable uncertainty into the story by presenting a battle-damaged Bond somewhat past his prime and perhaps in over his head in confronting a foe of similar background and prowess.

Javier Bardem has fun as Silva, a quirky, almost Batman-style supervillain and hacker extraordinaire with a private army.  Silva, a former MI6 agent, has a bone to pick with M (Judi Dench), holding his ex-boss responsible for torture he endured at enemy hands.  She is also the subject of his unhealthy mother fixation, so that 007’s current favor with her irks Silva as a kind of sibling rivalry.  M is closer to the action than usual in Skyfall and gets to play with the boys a little.

Packed with lovely ladies, unusual perils, and several exotic locations, Skyfall is a film that should satisfy spy action fans.  It also functions as an interesting character study, with Bond’s psychology and backstory receiving more attention than in most of the films.  Unfortunately, this is where Skyfall strikes its few false notes, with the masculine mystique of the character done something of a disservice in overly generous revelation.  Have any Bond fans been clamoring, for instance, to see 007’s childhood home or to meet his parents’ old groundskeeper?  Happily, Skyfall‘s many merits more than make up for the few missteps, and build solidly on the previous groundwork, ensuring future adventures.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Skyfall is:

8. Anti-family.  “Orphans always make the best recruits,” M confides (cf. no. 1).

7. Drug-ambivalent.  Bond has become an alcoholic and pill addict, but cigarette smoke retains its sexiness as blown by Severine.

6. Mildly xenophobic.  The Orient and the Middle East are, as always, the lands of mystery, danger, and intrigue.  (The Turkish government must be offering discounts on licenses for filmmakers to run roughshod over Istanbul rooftops, as Skyfall is, along with Taken 2, one of two recent movies to enjoy that privilege.  Not one, but two Third World produce stands are overturned during the opening chase.)

5. Pro-slut/pro-miscegenation – a James Bond tradition.  007’s new girlfriend, fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), is black.  In addition to some lucky Turkish babe (Tonia Sotiropoulou), Bond’s other conquest of note is sultry Eurasian maneater Severine (winner of Tastiest, Scariest Seductress of Year 2012, Berenice Marlohe), who, particularly as costumed and colored in the Floating Dragon sequence, is exquisite.

4. Pro-gay.  Computer genius Silva is a mean one, admittedly; but gays have come a long way when they can give James Bond a run for his money.  Skyfall thus has its cake and eats it as well with regard to glorification and vilification of homosexuality.

3. Macho minus.  Craig plays Bond as the alpha male who can outrun a fireball, but the screenplay occasionally seems to want to undermine this familiar characterization, implying that Bond may have dabbled in homosexuality and that he is motivated partly by unresolved childhood trauma.  Oy vey . . .

2. Multiculturalist.  Skyfall acknowledges the contributions to international security of minorities, women, the elderly, and the nearsighted.  Javier Bardem’s hair has been dyed blonde (blonde being the color of evil) to mitigate the insensitivity of portraying a Hispanic homosexual as a villain.  London appears as a representative orderly multiracial society.

1. Statist.  After MI6’s headquarters are attacked, their operations move into the underground command center from which Winston Churchill’s war effort was directed, thus establishing a parallel between the “good war” and superpower intelligence agencies’ struggle with fourth generation adversaries today.  Now terrorists and hackers, not the Soviet Union or SPECTRE, are the primary threats to civilization, so that Julian Assange replaces Blofeld or Goldfinger as governments’ primier bogeyman.

State enterprise and covert intelligence agencies bring mankind salvation.  MI6 achieves its apotheosis when one of its worthies is martyred in a Scottish church, effecting a spook-as-self-sacrificing-savior conceit.  Bond has earlier referred to his own “resurrection”.

Gun control gets an endorsement when Bond is shown at a disadvantage in having to change clips when pitted against a terrorist’s high-capacity magazine.  Also, MI6 has invented for Bond a handgun that is palm-programmed so that only he can fire it – unlike the common firearm or “random killing machine”.  (Are mandatory consumer models next?)  The government-media complex receives a nod when we see that Bond gets his news from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.  Picturesque Shanghai, meanwhile, puts in a good word for state capitalism, depicting in its futuristic architecture and technology the new type of society on the rise.

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