When Tina Brown took over The New Yorker, it got hip, edgy and, to me, boring. We continue to subscribe, though, in large part because Mr. Bookworm has always subscribed. And I still read it because it's there, which is how I got to read two movie reviews that give away entirely the new political strategy of focusing on Al Gore. But let's start with a little Bush Derangement Syndrome, which really is the intro to the Gore swoon. (David Denby, by the way, wrote both reviews.)
The first review covers the new Robert Altman movie, A Prairie Home Companion. The movie is about a hometown style radio show doing its final broadcast, because the station has been bought out. Throughout the review, we keep hearing that the show is being bought out by "religious" or "Christian" Texans. It's unclear from the review why their religious or geographic status matter — that is, the review doesn't indicate that these identifiers affect the plot in any way. Indeed, one is left feeling that these are just sort of standard Hollywood bad guy things — good radio show being destroyed by bad Texas Christians. But I'm just guessing. The end of the review, though, makes clear why Denby was so intent on emphasizing their unique characteristics. It gave him the chance to close a limp, lukewarm review with these sentences:
Emotionally, the movie is a queasy and unsatisfying experience. Texas Christians may have done a lot of damage recently, but the only person who will close down "A Prairie Home Companian" is Garrison Keillor. [Emphasis mine.]
To me, that last sentence is pure Bush Derangement Syndrome, appearing as it does out of nowhere, and having nothing to do with the movie or the review. It's just something that the writer couldn't keep inside.
The Prairie Home Companion review, though is just a warm-up. Denby's review of An Inconvenient Truth is even more political. Look at the very first paragraph:
Anyone in possession of a major truth that he can't get others to accept begins to feel that he's losing his mind. [That may explain so much about Al Gore's recent behavior. --ed.] The skepticism he meets turns him into a soreheaded obsessive. After a while, he becomes "pedantic," and then, inevitably, "condescending" and "humorless." [Thus, it's not that Gore is, in fact, pedantic, condescending and humorless. We, the skeptical public created this Frankenstein's monster. In the words of the old song, he's more to be pitied than censured." -- ed.] Al Gore has been in possession of a major truth about global warming for than than thirty years [Gore's prescience was impressive because the era more than 30 years ago was the global cooling fear phase, a phase that occurred when we didn't have the current measurements we do regarding global warming. -ed], and he has suffered the insults of political opponents, the boredom of ironists, and, perhaps, most grievously, the routine taunts of a media society which dictates that if you believe in anything too passionately there must be something wrong with you [The point being that there's obviously nothing wrong with Gore, it's just that the media doesn't understand him -- which really is strange, because I live with the idea that this same media has accepted entirely his view of global warming. --ed.]
Denby then goes on to describe a movie that, if it were about anything other than global warming, would get laughed off the screen. Even Denby acknowledges its faults:
[Gore] appears as the noble-browed warrior of englightenment, brooding over the ravaged earth and the weakness of man, once or twice too often. He mentions family tragedies, which were moving to me, but which strike some viewers as maudlin notes from a campaign biography.
Fear not, though, since "the faults of the movie, semi-excusable as self-vindicating ploys, are nothing compared with its strengths." The strengths, though, make it sound like one of those appalling 8 mm films we slept through in high school in the 1970s:
For long stretches, Gore is photographed talking before an audience with the aid of slides and charts. There are side trips to fissured ice caps, disappearing glaciers — the snows of yesteryear — and expanses of newly parched and broken terrain. The science is detailed, deep-layered, vivid and terrifying. Every school, college, and church group, and everyone else beyond the sway of General Motors, ExxonMobil, and the White House should see this movie. [Get it? Evil corporations, evil oil, and the foul Texas Christian in the White House are incapable of understanding Gore's greatness or simple science. --ed.] [Bolded emphasis mine.]
Denby isn't shy about calling the movie what it is: "It's great propaganda."
But in Denby's mind, what's really great about the movie is how it shows the human side of Al Gore (and you thought he didn't have one). Thus, Gore "speaks in an intimate voice that we've never heard before." When Gore talks about lying by a river, and keeps coming back to that image after global warming holocaust pictures, "it has a greater resonance." Denby claims that Gore has learned to speak in a less annoying way. Listen to this and tell me whether you believe that. The rhythmic up and down of Gore's speech — a rhythm that has nothing to do with emphasizing or deemphasizing actual content — is both soporific and bizarre.
But here's the real kicker. Denby assures us that the movie demonstrates that Gore has been purified in the crucible of past experiences:
[O]ne has the impression of a complex personality that has gone through loss, humiliation, a cruel breaking down of the ego, and then has reintegrated itself at a higher level. In the movie he is merely excellent. But in person . . . he presents a combination of intellectual force, emotional vibrance, and moral urgency that has hardly been seen in American public life in recent years.
Watch out, Hillary. It's Saint Al for President.
By the way, I don't actually have an opinion yet as to global warming. I do know that temperatures are changing, and that we (that is, humans) are definitely causing some changes. I also know, though, that the earth's climate has changed many times. Indeed, I've always found fascinating the fact that the mini-Ice Age was probably what resulted in the lavish costumes worn during the Elizabethan era — those layered clothes kept people warm.
Lastly, I know that, with China and India coming up the industrial pikeway, which means they're making increasing demands on oil while they don't have the resources to burn oil cleanly, there's little that changes in America will do to stop larger climate changes. If Gore's right, we Americans are helpless anyway, because China and India are not buying into his scenario. They just think he's selfishly trying to deny them the same industrialization America got to enjoy. So, if Gore's right, no matter what we do here, we can still kiss this planet good-bye.