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Keely Rapp (center, in red) poses with the Hickman Rural Fire and Rescue department after receiving her honorary badge.

Old favorites, outdated attitudes: Entertainment can expire

NEW YORK — The 1940 movie "The Philadelphia Story" opens with a case of domestic assault played for laughs — Cary Grant shoving Katharine Hepburn to the ground by her face while a jaunty musical score plays.

Eight decades later, the movie is clearly two things: uneasy fare for a post-#metoo culture — and an enduring American classic. And it's far from the only example of such things.

They exist throughout society's pop-culture canon, from movies to TV to music and beyond: pieces of work that have withstood time's passage but that contain actions, words and depictions about race, gender and sexual orientation that we now find questionable at best.

Whether it's blackface minstrel routines from Bing Crosby's "Holiday Inn," Apu's accent in "The Simpsons," bullying scenes in "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the arguably rapey coercion of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Sixteen Candles" or the simplistically clunky gender interactions of "Mr. Mom," Americans have amassed a catalog of entertainment across the decades that now raises a series of contentious but never-more-relevant questions:

What, exactly, do we do with this stuff today? Do we simply discard it? Give it a free pass as the product of a less-enlightened age? Or is there some way to both acknowledge its value yet still view it with a more critical eye?

"How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose?" Molly Ringwald, who played the young protagonist in "Sixteen Candles," wrote this past April in The New Yorker, 34 years later. As the decades passed, she grew more uncomfortable with some of the material that made her one of the 1980s' biggest young stars.

Entertainment is a byproduct of its era. And the delicate question of representation pervades some of our culture's most beloved work, from Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" on down. It is the wonderful and the problematic, often presented side-by-side.

So if we're watching "I Love Lucy," do we consider how belittling Ricky (and most everyone else) is to her? Or do we take away the fact that no matter what, she is never contained? If we're listening to the Beatles, what do we make today of John Lennon's 1965 song that began with the lyrics, "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man"?

If we put "Gone with the Wind" in front of our kids, what do we say when Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) acts like a happy slave who adores her masters? And for the Gen-Xers among us: What of Hughes, who captured teenage life's authenticity but also sent some fundamentally confusing and problematic sexual messages to adolescents?

"If you could erase all the scenes that are offensive to us today, even if you could, would that be a good idea? I don't really think so," says M. Alison Kibler, who teaches American studies at Franklin & Marshall College and researches how groups struggle for fair representation in entertainment.

"I would step back from any kind of one-dimensional read of movies and performances from the past," she says.

The "Charlie Chan" movies of the 1930s and '40s seem today to brim with racial problems: non-Asians portraying Asians, fortune-cookie sayings spouted in precious accents and some broadly played African-American representations too.

Yet according to Yunte Huang, who traced the character's history, many Asians welcomed the films at the time because they represented something coveted: a respected Asian protagonist who outwitted every white person on the screen.

"There's a history to everything. And we need to know history — including those ugly representations and everything," Huang says.

Until the last couple decades, older fare resurfaced only sporadically. But the dawn of the digital era and the rapid rise of streaming culture means that now, anything can be accessed by pretty much anyone on any screen. That in turn means that a dizzying library of our cultural past, warts and all, is available at the press of a button.

Consider Apu, the South Asian convenience store owner long voiced by Hank Azaria in "The Simpsons" — an unusual case, because the show has spanned more than two generations of evolving attitudes.

Last year, comedian Hari Kondabolu released a film, "The Problem With Apu," documenting stereotypes he saw with the character and its effect on entertainers of South Asian descent. The response included hints that Apu might fade from the cast of thousands that populate the Simpsons' hometown of Springfield.

That doesn't sit right with Shilpa Davé, author of "Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film." Apu, after all, is also a beloved character. Isn't there another solution?

"The easy thing is to point a finger and say, 'Oh, that's terrible.' But I think we have to say, what are the alternatives? How do we want to progress now that we have more information and a higher consciousness?" Davé says.

Let Ringwald have the last word: "Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art — change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go."

juliekoch / ANN HEISENFELT, Associated Press file photo 

Former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich has found success in his 14 seasons as Ohio's head coach.

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Ricketts focuses on property tax relief for 2019, says Senate bid is not in immediate future

In a wide-ranging interview in advance of the launch of the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Pete Ricketts staked out his position on a number of critical policy issues while remaining laser-focused on a frugal state government and statewide economic growth.

Among the highlights emerging from a half-hour session in the Governor's Office: 

* Ricketts said he'll propose that all of the revenue raised by collection of state sales taxes on online purchases be allocated to local property tax relief with none of it funneled into the state's general fund for support of state programs and services.

Early estimates have suggested online sales taxes — which previously had been owed, but largely not collected — could initially total $30 million to $40 million a year.

* The governor said it is unlikely that voter-mandated expansion of Medicaid coverage to 90,000 Nebraskans generally identified as the working poor can be implemented until "2020 at the earliest" because of the complexity of preparing for, implementing and funding the plan. 

* Ricketts said he is "absolutely open" to a proposal that would revamp the legislative formula allocating state aid to local schools to assure that all school districts would receive at least some state assistance.

But, the governor said, his support for any school aid reform would come with an accompanying caveat that "it's got to fit within the budget."

During the interview conducted on Thursday, Ricketts also erased speculation that he might be a potential candidate for the Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Ben Sasse two years from now.

Asked what he would do if President Donald Trump called him and said he wanted Ricketts to be a candidate for the Senate in 2020, the governor said: "The answer would be no. Even if that Senate seat would be open, I will not be running for it."

Sasse has not yet decided whether to seek re-election to a second six-year term.

Ricketts' initial venture as a political candidate was in pursuit of a Senate seat in 2006 when he was defeated by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, and the governor said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of a future Senate bid after he completes his second gubernatorial term. 

The governor outlined his second-term goals as "connecting Nebraskans with great-paying jobs," cutting regulatory red tape, controlling state spending and promoting the state nationally and internationally with a continuing commitment to trade missions.

Tax relief remains a fundamental priority, he said, "and the only way to have sustainable tax relief is by controlling spending."

Ricketts noted the state already has earned recognition for being the most fiscally stable state while sharply curtailing the growth rate of state government spending during his administration. 

The governor will take the oath of office to begin his second term on Thursday during ceremonies in the legislative chamber. He will return to the chamber on Jan. 15 to deliver his State of the State message along with his proposed 2019-2021 budget recommendations.

Ricketts said he plans to sit down with the new chairman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee to try to work together on proposals for tax relief. A new chairman will be chosen to succeed former Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion when the Legislature fills its leadership positions on Wednesday.

Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and Brett Lindstrom of Omaha are viewed as the top contenders for that committee chairmanship. 

Ricketts and Smith agreed on an ever-changing tax reform package last year, but the final product could not command enough support on the floor of the Legislature to clear the threat of a filibuster by its opponents. 

The Medicaid expansion proposal approved by Nebraska voters in November represents "a big project," Ricketts said, one that requires detailed planning, coordination with the federal government, technology and website updates and substantial state appropriations.

Ricketts said he is not prepared to say what requirements he might attempt to attach to continuing eligibility although he has hinted at the possibility of some work-related provisions.

The governor said he wrapped up his budget recommendations last month and declined to offer a preview before they are presented to the Legislature.

His legislative focus this session will be property tax relief, Ricketts said.

But, he said, "it's not tax relief if you're just shifting taxes."

Ricketts said he believes his first four years as governor have helped "create opportunities for Nebraska families" and that will remain a fundamental focus.

And, he said, he approaches the new legislative session with a determination to "work together" with senators on addressing a wide agenda of issues.

Among the new senators will be two gubernatorial appointees who will be among the youngest members of the 2019 Legislature: Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, 22, and Sen. Andrew LaGrone of Gretna, 28.

"I appointed them because they gave the best interviews; they were knowledgeable on the issues," Ricketts said.

"I was very pleased that they are very young, but that's not why I appointed them."