A Festival of Failures to Do One Thing or Another
Watch how a very thin premise can mushroom into a shallow commentary
By Ed Goldman
Film fans have favorite lines—everything from “Here’s looking at you, kid” (how Humphrey Bogart as Rick toasts Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in “Casablanca”) to “Go ahead, make my day” (how Clint Eastwood as “Dirty” Harry Callahan threatens a guy who’s just shot up a coffee shop in “Sudden Impact”).
Those are certainly great lines. But my all-time fave—perhaps because of my years teaching college classes in communication studies—is prison guard Strother Martin’s executive summary to Paul Newman’s “Cool Hand Luke” in the movie of the same name: “What we’ve got here,” he says, deliberately mischaracterizing the situation, “is failure to communicate.”
Never Pass the Bar
I think this line can be effectively manipulated to cover any number of failures other than, perhaps, chain-gang disputes. Here are 12 of them:
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO ENUNCIATE. The perfect response to someone wearing a facemask or a millennial even when not wearing one.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO EX-COMMUNICATE. A summary of the long-running archdiocese tolerance of predatory priests. (Branding mavens take note: “Predatory Priests” could also be the name of a Stephen King novel, an emo-punk band or a somewhat edgy sitcom starring Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein.)
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO ADEQUATELY COMPENSATE. A recap of why minimum-wage workers at Starbucks aren’t accepting job offers of $10 per hour plus all the Styrofoam they can ingest.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO LEGISLATE. In just a few words: Congress. Mass shootings. The ease with which one can buy a military combat weapon as opposed to a bottle of Sudafed.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO LITIGATE. Why so many politicians connected to the January 6 insurrection (and a garden variety of other offenses) aren’t doing time at a Club Fed near you.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO IRRIGATE. Why we’re known as “the golden state” instead of the green one. As you may know, “drought-stricken” Sacramento plans to make millions and millions of dollars by shipping groundwater to Southern California while its own citizens ration theirs to a thimble a month.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO PROCREATE. An explanation of the decreasing U.S. birth rate (almost 20 percent in the past 15 years). I blame Zuckerberg, of course.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO EXFOLIATE. Another possible explanation for #7.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO INOCULATE. This could help clarify the cause-and-effect of COVID’s multiple affronts on our bodies politic.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO TINTINNABULATE. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant and possibly insanity-inspired poem “The Bells” will appreciate the fact that if you’re going to ring a bunch of damn bells, maybe this world’s most loathsome sound (though the jury’s still out on Rosanne Barr’s voice), at least have the courage of your convictions and ring them maniacally, lengthily and at inappropriate venues—e.g., celebrations of life, seances and hot-yoga classes.
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO ELABORATE. This category is strictly for young people who, when asked why the family car you loaned them for the evening is now at a repo/junkyard a few miles outside of town—according to a text you received while doing the treadmill and watching Soledad O’Brien—simply reply, “Oh, yeah, some stuff happened. Do we have any chocolate Eggos left?”
- WHAT WE’VE GOT HERE IS FAILURE TO EXTRAPOLATE. If not for that, you’d have read only two or three of these and regained a few seconds of your life. It could even have made your day.