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What year did they invent politics again?

What year did they invent politics again? (photo)

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Yesterday I was mugged. After spending the day waiting at police stations and banks, I finally ended up back at home, dispirited and having been away from you, gentle reader, for far too long. I fired up all the blogs I would’ve normally gone through hours ago, and instantly, there was balm for my weary soul. Big Hollywood gifted me with one last inane faux-controversy to end the year, about one of my least favorite people.

“Will Ben Mankiewicz Be Allowed to Destroy Turner Classic Movies?” the headline screamed. This would be the same Mankiewicz who, til of late, co-hosted the failed post-Ebert “At the Movies” alongside the feckless Ben Lyons. Of the two Bens, it was the obviously overwhelmed Lyons who got most of the hatred; next to his co-host’s proudly know-nothing enthusiasm, Mankiewicz came off as just about okay.

But now that he’s out on his own, there’s no lesser figure to draw all the fire. And so it was that Mankiewicz — TCM’s weekend host when the venerable Robert Osborne is off duty — incurred the wrath of Andrew Breitbart’s corner of the right-wing blogosphere this weekend.

The occasion was Elia Kazan’s 1957 “A Face In The Crowd,” an ever-timely parable starring Andy Griffith as a folksy radio show host who becomes a powerful mass media figure. Mankiewicz, as a commenter paraphrased it, “openly wondered if the producers had been able to see 50 years into the future and witnessed how people in this country were being manipulated and duped by angry media personalities, some who could cry on cue. He clearly was referring to conservative talk radio.” (Editorial note: no shit.)

That’s an innocuous enough observation. It’s also true, incidentally, to how Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg thought of the movie themselves: as J. Hoberman writes in the Village Voice, “In the ’80s, Kazan began saying that he and Schulberg had made a movie about Ronald Reagan back in the days when Reagan was still shilling for GE.” Schulberg himself compared Mike Huckabee to the Lonesome Rhodes character.

But that’s not how Big Hollywood sees it. Editor John Nolte fulminated over the slight, seeing it as the beginning of TCM’s transformation from apolitical haven for classic film lovers (who apparently all skew right-wing) to MSNBC liberal talking head: “Those of us who just want to sit back and relax and enjoy something without having to be on guard concerning a cheap sucker shot aimed at who we are and what we believe in have seen it start just like this a thousand times,” he moans, his back against the world.

As usual the commenters drive it into the paranoiac stratosphere. “Jeff Perren” asks: “Is Mankiewicz the grungy fellow who yaks from a set that looks like a SOHO loft, complete with bicycle? […] To the Progressives, nothing good from the past can remain clean and untouched. It has to be ‘modernized’, made ‘hip’.” Guestorama waxes conspiratorial: “Look up Ben on Wikepedia and see what you get – former air america host, had a liberal talk show for years by himself, dad was a super hollywood lib that was on Nixon’s ‘enemies list’. This guy is from ground zero of the liberal world, his whole family is a who’s who of liberalism AND HE JUST HAPPENS TO GET THIS GIG and then HE JUST HAPPENS TO SPOUT HIS LIBERAL DRIVEL.”

The comments are even weirder over on the TCM comments page (which eventually got moderator locked). “mikeroykirk” shared the text of his letter to TCM: “There was no need for this comparison only for Mr Mankiewicz’s need to make a point maybe partially out of jealously and his dislike for Beck,Limbaugh and their fans.”

It’s even funner to watch the comparative praise for Alec Baldwin, who apparently keeps his liberal politics to himself while co-hosting “The Essentials” with Osborne. Seeing Baldwin praised by conservatives; seeing Mankiewicz jeered…man, yesterday almost didn’t completely suck.

[Photos: Ben Mankiewicz, TCM; “A Face In The Crowd,” Warner Bros., 1957]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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