From my email:
I am really becoming a fan of Kevin Williamson, over at National Review. Today, he goes beyond Progressives’ superficial characteristics (wealth reallocation, gun fear, etc.), and digs deep into their values and their psyches. It’s fascinating reading on its own terms. It’s also extremely useful because, as Williamson himself says, you have to understand your enemy to defeat him. Knowledge, of course, is power.
Conservatives are not positioned to engage in a full frontal attack against Progressive politics. The two avenues open are stealth attacks, where we sneak up when they’re not looking (ideologically speaking) and judo-style attacks, where we use their own momentum to take them down.
The one thing we can’t allow ourselves to be is demoralized. Dr. Helen notes that conservatives in 2012 are infinitely more depressed than liberals were in 2004. My thinking has been that, while liberals didn’t like the Bush policies as they were playing out, conservatives are deeply worried about Obama’s “fundamental transformation” plans. Once you start treating the Constitution like toilet paper, it’s hard to resurrect it as a binding agreement between government and people. In other words, we have more to worry about than the liberals did.
Dr. Helen, though, has a simpler explanation, which is that the liberals are creating the Zeitgeist, and the Zeitgeist is that conservatives are deeply flawed, evil, and murderous:
The media and Obama blare the non-stop message that Republicans are no good, racist dogs and support fat cats. None of this is true, of course, but the media and Obama spin the message and Republicans get the blame for the majority of all that is wrong with America.
Oh, by the way, speaking of murderous, here is a great, gory mash-up (definite violence alert) showing Hollywood liberals in all their hypocritical glory:
Thanks to a handy-dandy Amazon gift certificate, I just bought myself a Kindle copy of Greg Gutfeld’s The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage. It sounds like a book that is simultaneously important and enjoyable. I’ll be reading it with a close eye, because his ideas about challenging Hollywood’s pop culture feed into the ideas that Lulu and I are playing with.
“Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, every American knew those words. In myriad movies,
Andy Mickey Rooney, with a glowing Judy Garland at his side, enthusiastically announced that, if all the kids would just combine their musical talents, they’d be Broadway bound. Sure enough, with a little effort, and with some mentoring from wise elders, these kids would end up on a massive stage, wearing million-dollar costumes, singing and dancing their wholesome little hearts out.
Today, after a long hiatus, Hollywood is once again testing the musical waters with a “let’s put on a show” movie, Pitch Perfect. This movie, though, doesn’t have its heart set on Broadway. Instead, its momentum is directed at the gutter, with a healthy serving of vomit, spiced up with some sleazy sexual innuendos and racism on the side. This is a shame, because the Hollywood musical, with its endless homages to the wonders of live performance, really was one of Hollywood’s greatest artistic accomplishments.
Although a Hollywood musical’s sole purpose is permanence, Hollywood has always been fascinated with the dynamics of live performance. Indeed, back in 1927, the very first “talkie” was a musical, with Al Jolson, already famous on Broadway, warbling the first song ever put into a movie — “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” in The Jazz Singer:
Inspired by The Jazz Singer’s instant success, Hollywood churned out multiple musicals between 1927 and 1930. Almost without exception, these early musicals were dreadful. Between static cameras and primitive recording equipment, movie audiences had an experience equivalent to sitting in the back row of a large, crowded theater, all the while being forced to watch tuneless, tinny-voiced singers and plump chroines marching through wooden choreography. Audiences stayed away in droves and musicals quickly vanished.
Everything changed in 1933, when Busby Berkeley came to Hollywood and Warner Brothers gave him free rein. Berkeley was a visionary who understood that the camera could roam freely and, in essence, become part of the choreography. He moved the audience out of the seats and onto the stage.
Under Berkeley’s endlessly imaginative direction, Broadway stages (and all his early musicals were framed as Broadway shows) became bustling 42nd Street, trains to Buffalo, verdant waterfalls, gritty bread lines feeding hungry WWI veterans, and Shanghai dives. (That last, incidentally, bursts out of the dive and onto the streets of Shanghai, with dozens of sailors and bar girls doing precision drills that end with a patriotic salute to FDR and the WPA.)
Powered by Harry Warren‘s music, Berkeley’s camera swooped here and there, with Hollywood’s most beautiful extras, clad in scanty costumes, moving around in kaleidoscopic fashion. Consistent with Warner Brothers Studio’s grittier edges (as opposed to MGM’s sheen), Berkeley’s musicals were sexy and a little risqué, although never vulgar. You could take both your young daughter and your mother to see them, secure in the knowledge that, while they wouldn’t understand the mild double entendres, they’d still enjoy the wonderful musical numbers.
With Berkeley having opened the floodgates, the golden age of Hollywood musicals began. Fred wooed Ginger, Eleanor Powell charmed leading men ranging from Jimmy Stewart to Robert Taylor, Mickey and Judy fronted teams of talented teens, Betty Grable strutted her million dollar legs, Gene Kelly sang in the rain, and Donald O’Connor made ‘em laugh. While most of these musical confections were more sophisticated than Mickey and Judy’s Broadway-bound romps, the vast majority had one thing in common: they charted the trajectory of a talented singer or dancer from nobody to star.
With Hollywood movies becoming ever more lavish (and the budgets getting comparably bigger), America’s most famous composers and lyricists abandoned Tin Pan Alley and Broadway for Hollywood. Harry Warren (a man whose talent has never been properly appreciated) was shunted aside by Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Jimmy McHugh, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, and countless other talented men and women (mostly men), who made America sing.
Nothing good lasts forever. By the 1960s, Hollywood musicals reach both their apex and their nadir. Two of the most popular musicals ever made — Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music — came along in 1964 and 1965, respectively. Hello, Dolly! made a respectable showing in 1969 and that was it — the musical was close to death. Perhaps significantly, none of these late musicals involved a talented performing underdog who made it to the big times. Hollywood made a few half-hearted efforts to revive the musical, some successful (Grease and Fame), and some almost unbearably painful (Can’t Stop the Music), but overall, it looked as if musical lovers needed to prepare the eulogy and move on.
And then, just as Busby Berkeley had once come along to save the musical in the 1930s, the American musical found a savior in the 21st Century: Simon Cowell. Love him or hate him, Simon Cowell is a visionary. With American Idol, he got Americans deeply interested in singing again. Cowell then created or inspired an endless stream of musical performance reality shows. The success of shows such as American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice, Sing Off, and America’s Got Talent proved to Hollywood that Americans today are as fascinated with musical rags to riches stories as they were more than fifty years ago.
With the success of these narrative-free reality shows, it was inevitable that someone would try to fictionalize these musical Cinderella stories. Enter Glee. Glee’s creation was an act of genius. Kids watch it because they love the musical acts, and Hollywood loves it because it sells an agenda that many American parents wouldn’t normally let their kids absorb. So, reality shows, TV shows . . . and then movies, right?
The newest entry in the movie category is Pitch Perfect, a movie about dueling a cappella choral groups, one male and one female, at fictional Barden University, a school that seemingly has neither classes nor teachers. The plot centers on Beca (played by 27-year old Broadway veteran Anna Kendrick), an emotionally remote college freshman whose real dream is to go to Hollywood and create mash-ups. Between a loving father (John Benjamin Hickey) who bargains with her to make the most of that freshman year, and a chance shower encounter with Chloe (Brittany Snow) one of the singers in Barden’s women’s a cappella group, Beca finds herself on the Bellas, an all-female a cappella group.
The movie’s heat-free romantic interest comes from Jesse (played amiably by Skylar Astin), a preternaturally secure freshman who lands a spot on the men’s group, the Treble Makers. Both groups are vying for the chance to win the national college a cappella championship, held annually at Lincoln Center.
Pitch Perfect could have been good in an average fashion. It has all the standard plot lines for a Hollywood movie centered on youthful talent aiming for the top: both the Treble Makers and the Bellas are led by unpleasant people (Adam DeVine and Anna Camp, respectively), whose leadership Beca and Jesse have to challenge. All of the students, from Beca and Jesse on down, have to learn to be nicer and more tolerant. And all of them have to develop their singing styles: The Bellas have to abandon their boring, staid, 50s-style approach to a cappella singing, while the Treble Makers have to find some heart to add to their soul. Although none of the cast members, most of whom are unknowns or barely-knowns, have exceptional voices, the singing is solid, and the arrangements — ranging from pop to soul to rap — are well-done and enjoyable.
The movie’s main flaw, from a parental viewpoint, is its vulgarity. Pitch Perfect is rated PG-13, which means there is no explicit sex or nudity, there are no F-bombs, and no one is graphically killed (or even wounded). With those no-noes out of the picture, Pitch Perfect settles in for a non-stop barrage nastiness, with scene after scene containing actual vomiting, vomit jokes, sex jokes, lesbian jokes, and fat people jokes. Of course, it’s worth noting that the whole vomit/performance theme isn’t so far-fetched. Not too long okay, both Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa managed to toss their cookies in the middle of live performances.
Pitch Perfect also takes the time to insult Jews (slightly) and Koreans (with surprising venom). In other words, this movie panders to the lowest common denominator of teen humor, ostensibly telling kids that they have it within themselves to shoot for the moon (or at least the show biz big-time), all the while spewing images and lines that leave both actors and viewers sullied.
What the movie lacks in class, it makes up in shallowness: Every character is hackneyed: Beca is an icy, distant rebel, with Kendrick bringing lukewarm energy to the part. Jesse is a personality-free nice guy with Astin’s major acting contribution being his undoubtedly sweet smile. The Treble Makers’ lead singer and manager is a predictably malignant, sexist jerk, while the Bella’s lead singer and manager is an equally predictable uptight, controlling virago. Some of the secondary characters, while receiving significant screen time, add nothing to the plot. For example, the manager of the college radio station at which Beca and Jesse work (Freddie Stroma) has no personality whatsoever and only the most slender relationship to the plot. His sole purpose in the movie appears to be to flash his great abs as a sop to teenage girls disappointed by Jesse’s sweet lack of hotness.
There are only two bright spots in this parade of predictables. The first is Rebel Wilson, who plays Fat Amy, a Tasmanian girl blessed with good vocals, unimpeded honesty, and no discernible social skills. There’s nothing original about her character, but Wilson has a surprisingly deft comedic touch, and a wonderful face, that’s simultaneously pretty, blank, and foolish. The second comedic bright spot is the vapid, offensive banter from the male and female hosts who appear at each competition (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks). As a caveat to this praise, though, be warned that, while these talking heads are amusing, they also let loose with some of the most sexually explicit lines in the movie, calling into serious question its PG-13 rating.
It’s truly a shame that Pitch Perfect chose to go for a demeaning, rather than an inspiring, tone. America has incredible musical vitality, and it’s refreshing to see the entertainment world taking it seriously once again. Likewise, there’s something endlessly appealing about seeing attractive young people sing and dance their way to the top. All of us can sing and all of us can dance, but so few of us can do those things well. We seem to get an almost atavistic thrill from watching people who have mastered these core human skills, and all of us celebrate their success. We can only hope that Pitch Perfect is a wobbly first step, akin to Hollywood’s early dreary musicals, on the way to an exciting Busby Berkeley-esque movie musical renaissance.
I’ve always been a Scott Baio fan. He was the only one I liked in Happy Days. I liked Charles in Charge, in part because it had an old-fashioned morality. And I like his courage in being an open Republican in Hollywood:
I was living abroad when Fast Times at Ridgemont High was released, so I didn’t see it until a few years later, when I was in my mid- or late-20s. I say this because, had I seen the movie when it first came out, when I myself was fairly close to the character’s ages, I might have had a different reaction, although I doubt it.
As it was, when I saw the movie, while I found parts of it amusing (Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is a very funny portrayal of a stoner), I basically found it a very depressing portrayal of American teen life. This is a world in which classes are boring, positive adult role models are non-existent, drug use is rife, and teenagers view meaningless, impersonal, porn-inspired sex as an ordinary activity. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s 15-year old character willingly participates in her own statutory rape, and then, without any parental input, has an abortion.
The movie is nihilistic. These are young people without meaning, purpose or values. I therefore found peculiar director Amy Heckerling’s description of her artistic vision for the movie (emphasis mine):
First-time director Amy Heckerling said she was seeking to make a comedy that was less structured than conventional ones, and more like American Graffiti so that “if you woke up and found yourself living in the movie, you’d be happy. I wanted that kind of feel.“
Happy? Wow! I didn’t feel happy after seeing Fast Times. Even though I laughed at some of the humor (much of which is based upon cruelty and embarrassment), I was grateful that my high school years took place in a more innocent time — or, at least, that I was a more innocent high school student.
I’ve mentioned before what a de-aspirational society Hollywood sells our children. Pre-1960s movies might have been foolish and predicated upon a shiny reality unrelated to the lives of many American young people, but those movies still encouraged America’s teens to aim for the stars, both in terms of material success and personal morality. Subsequent teen movies offered instead a bleak vision of a dreary, dead-ended amoral teenage universe.
James Taranto writes from Tampa about the Leftist protest and its sponsor (emphasis mine):
“Really hard to notice the RNC protesters if you’re not running around trying to find them,” Slate’s Dave Weigeltweeted early yesterday afternoon. “V far from convention, other events.”
The convention’s start was delayed a day, and so was the late-afternoon party in honor of Grover Norquist that we’d planned to attend. This seemed like an excellent time to check out the protesters, such as they were. So we sent Weigel a direct message asking where he found them. He didn’t reply. We guess he wanted an exclusive.
Enlisting Twitter as a reporting tool, we asked our 16,000 followers (in case you’re not among them, we’re @jamestaranto) and quickly came up with 2101 W. Main St., site of “Occupy Tampa.” After lunch we rode out there and found a pitiful little encampment on a lot so small that Zuccotti is Yellowstone by comparison. OT propaganda calls the site “Voice of Freedom Park,” but the map doesn’t show a park there.
It turns out the site is privately owned, by “adult nightclub owner Joe Redner,” as the Tampa Tribune euphemistically put it in June.
Wow! That rings a bell. Sleazy adult nightclub owner in Tampa? A-ha! I know what’s familiar. It reminds me of the movie Magic Mike about a stripper who works at a club in Tampa:
The club is owned by Dallas, (Matthew McConaughey) who is a self serving, all-indulging proprietor of the club, and has designs on creating an empire which in his words, will “globally dominate” the world of male strippers. He forgoes friendships and loyalty to achieve his dream, including jeopardizing a close friendship with Mike who has been with him from the start for 6 years and is one of Dallas’ star performers.
So, ladies and gentlemen, is this what the proud sponsor of the RNC protests looks like?
The much-talked about Magic Mike (talked about because it involves male strippers, so people can feel a frisson of naughtiness just attending the movie) is surprisingly good. The movie manages to be simultaneously very funny, quite risqué, deeply depressing, and unexpectedly heart-warming. It works because Channing Tatum (or do I mean Tatum Channing? I can never keep the guy’s name straight) is a genuine acting talent, with a gorgeous body, and real dancing skill. It also works because Matthew McConaughey, who was always a bit too sleazy to make it as a romantic lead, burns up the screen as a sleazy strip club owner, who keeps his stable of dancers both inspired and in line.
The plot is fairly simple: Tatum plays Magic Mike who is not so much a hustler as he is a striver. He’s constantly on the move, trying this and trying that as a way to fund his real goal of become a custom furniture maker. He doesn’t take advantage of other people, but he cheats himself by sticking to the lucrative, but degrading, stripping business, for which he has a genuine talent.
Mike’s self-delusions about a “future” in the strip club business are encouraged by his employer, the narcissistic, slick, but weirdly charismatic Dallas, a fully realized, but very unpleasant character that McConaughey makes his own. Mike thinks he’s working his way to being an equity partner with Dallas, but it becomes apparent within minutes of his first screen appearance that Dallas doesn’t share. He’s a petty demagogue who nurses “the talent” solely for his own self-aggrandizement.
Mike is drifting along, womanizing, drinking, and drugging, even as he tries to keep track of all his little money-making schemes in pursuit of his furniture design goal. His life reaches a crossroad when he meets Adam (aka “The Kid”), played by Alex Pettyfer with aimless, juvenile charm. Adam blew off a football scholarship, and is now crashed on his sister’s couch.
Mike takes pity on this lost soul, and introduces him to the world of stripping, which instantly appeals to Adam. Mike then meets Adam’s down-to-earth sister, Brooke (played by a pleasantly non-surgically augmented Cody Horn). When she expresses her dismay at Adam’s new career path, Mike promises Brooke that he’ll watch out for Adam.
And that’s the movie’s premise: Mike, by keeping his eye on Adam, gains an unpleasant perspective on his narrow, tarnished little world, even as Adam, awash in sex and money, loses his perspective. I won’t say anything more other than to say that the movie decently, and intelligently, plays the characters along to a reasonably satisfying, and somewhat surprising, resolution.
For those of you planning to see the movie, a few warnings about the movie’s sex content: It’s high, so high that I’m surprised it only has an R rating and not an NC-17. Both male and female (especially male) characters just manage to avoid total nudity. Even if that doesn’t bother you, understand that this is nudity and sex without love or any other uplifting emotional content (such as liking someone, or even knowing who they are). The dancers, buffed, shaved, tanned, and polished, writhe around on the floor or wiggle their crotches in the faces of the screaming women in the audience at the strip club, and otherwise display such exaggerated sexuality that most of the people in the audience were screaming with laughter.
I laughed with everyone else, but inside I shuddered. You see, despite all the nudity and sex on display, Magic Mike is a surprisingly unsexy movie. Whether or not Tatum and Director Steven Soderbergh intended to do so, they made what amounts to a cautionary tale about sex devoid of any human connection. For the most part, it’s all rather gross. Watching from what must be an old-fashioned female perspective, I found the male dancing more homoerotic than hetero-erotic. I love watching good dancers, but watching men simulate sex on stage was unappealing, to say the least. This best way I can describe it is to say that the sex and faux-sex was the scary dehumanization of what the Judeo-Christian culture envisions as a core human connection. It therefore didn’t surprise me that Soderbergh had a miniature pig wander through many of the scenes involving both this peculiarly lonely sex and its often ugly aftermath.
Don’t let Magic Mike’s stripper theme deter you from seeing it. This is a good story about a lost, but decent, young man who is trying to “get it right.” It’s also, despite all the sordid displays of flesh and sundry other vulgarities, quite the morality tale.
I am reading a delightful book about Fred and Adele Astaire, one that offers a little insight into a long-vanished world. Along the way, the book mentions Eddie Cantor. That reference reminded me of a song I always liked: We Can Build A Little Home, from 1933′s Roman Scandals. As was the case for all Eddie Cantor movies, it was a nice little bit of fluff, with silly songs, and pretty girls (including Lucille Ball, in her first film). The premise is that Cantor is a sweet, naive young man who lives in a corrupt town, run by rich plutocrats. The latter seek to evict the solid, working-class citizens, so as to profit from their properties. Homeless, a whole neighborhood ends up camped out on the streets.
In other words, it’s a complete “Occupy” scenario. But while Occupy quickly degenerated into a sleazy, disease-ridden, parasite-ridden, drunk-ridden, alcohol-ridden, violent street orgy, 1933 Hollywood envisioned a much sweeter way of protesting:
Despite any actual evidence, Elizabeth Warren sticks resolutely to her claim that she is 1/32 Native American.
This is how crazy people think. Do you know how I know that? Because I just watched Bowfinger with the kids.
Bowfinger, which was made in 1999, when one could still be at least a little bit un-PC, is a very silly movie. The premise is that a down-and-out producer (Steve Martin) puts together an “aliens are attacking” action-adventure film by having his little team of amateurs act around the unwitting Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy), a famous action movie star, who also happens to be ravingly paranoid.
Kit’s manic delusions are established in his very first scene, when he complains that all the great lines (e.g., “Hasta la vista, baby”) go to non black actors, proving a conspiracy. From that start, he counts all the “Ks” in a script, points out that the resulting number is perfectly divisible by three, raves about the “KKK” conspiracy he’s just proven, and transmutes “Shakespeare” into the racist “Spear Chucker.” No surprise, then, that the next step is to Elizabeth Warren-land:
Here’s the key language (starting at 2:00):
Kit: And I suppose Teddy Kennedy ain’t 1/16th black, eh?
Agent: Teddy Kennedy?
Kit: He’s not like the other Kennedys. Look at him. He’s different!
(I toyed with the idea of calling this post “When real life imitates Hollywood,” because Warren’s staunch defense of her minority status came to light in 2012, while Bowfinger dates back to 1999. I decided in favor of “Hollywood imitates real life,” though, because Warren started claiming Native American status long before 1999.)
My husband and I are current watching The Ides of March. That I am staying awake during a movie that stars the bovine George Clooney, the insipid Ryan Gosling, the obscenity-spouting Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the “I don’t get why he’s famous” Paul Giamatti and that, forty minutes into the movie, still has no discernible plot, testifies to my ovarian fortitude in the face of great mental suffering. (I toyed with the idea of saying “testicular fortitude,” but decided it just didn’t work.)
Actually, there is a reason I’m struggling through this so-far pointless, plotless movie about a Democratic primary in Ohio. I’m quote-gathering. The very first lines in the movie piqued my interest. Ryan Gosling speaks them, presumably while standing in for his employer and candidate, George Clooney, who later repeats those same words during a debate in which the opposing primary candidate challenges his religious beliefs:
I’m not a Christian. I’m not an Atheist. I’m not Jewish. I’m not Muslim. My religion, what I believe in is called the Constitution of United States of America.
If the above quotation sounds familiar to you, it should. Although it’s not identical to a speech in the movie The Contender, it’s certainly similar in content. In that movie, a Democrat Vice Presidential candidate who has been grossly slimed and maligned by evil Republicans, defends herself thusly:
And, Mr. Chairman, I stand for the separation of Church and State, and the reason that I stand for that is the same reason that I believe our forefathers did. It is not there to protect religion from the grasp of government but to protect our government from the grasp of religious fanaticism. Now, I may be an atheist, but that does not mean I do not go to church. I do go to church. The church I go to is the one that emancipated the slaves, that gave women the right to vote, that gave us every freedom that we hold dear. My church is this very Chapel of Democracy that we sit in together, and I do not need God to tell me what are my moral absolutes. I need my heart, my brain, and this church.
It sounds as if both those movies are saying “My religion is a Constitutional democracy,” but that’s not true. If that were true, the Progressives writing, producing, and acting in these movies would be strict constructionists and, quite possibly, libertarians.
Instead, those quotations boil down to “My religion is government.” Progressives’ faith in this religion is unswerving, and their doctrinal attitude as rigid as any that Torquemada supported. The Church of Progressive Government requires unswerving fealty to abortion, welfare, open borders, redistribution of wealth (except for that wealth held by those Progressives who have already obtained great wealth and power), racial categorizations every bit as rigid as those practiced in the Old South, and continuous American obeisance to the other nations of the world. Deviate from this doctrine and, even if you’re not stretched on a rack a la the Spanish Inquisition, as Corey Booker just learned, you are dead.
Religion is a harsh taskmaster, especially for those foolish enough to cross the true believers.
We have been watching a new HBO show called Veep, a comedy that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a fictional Vice President. The show isn’t about politics (we never see or hear from the President, although a goofy jerk is his liaison to the Vice President’s office). Instead, it’s about office dynamics. Louis-Dreyfus’ character is the ultimate narcissist, and those who serve her are manipulative, narcissistic, cruel, and pathetic. Humor derived from such an unsympathetic group of malcontents kind of eludes me.
Aside from finding the show un-amusing, I also find it somewhat offensive insofar as the “F-bomb” constitutes about 25% of the script. The staff in the Veep’s office is almost as obscene as a gangsta rap song.
What’s interesting about a show that presents a Veep’s office as chaotic, narcissistic, mean-spirited, and obscene is the fact that Louis-Dreyfus spoke with Al Gore to help prepare for her role:
“Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus got some help from famous friends before taking on her new role on HBO’s “Veep” (premiering Sunday, April 22 at 10 p.m. ET).
In a new The New York Times Magazine interview, Louis-Dreyfus, who plays “Veep’s” Vice President Selina Meyer, revealed she spoke to Al Gore, various chiefs of staff, speechwriters for vice presidents and fellow “Saturday Night Live” veteran Senator Al Franken about everything — including whether the Secret Service goes to the bathroom with them.
I’m sure a lot of the information Louis-Dreyfus got was indeed of a practical nature, such as info about the Secret Service and potty breaks. I wonder, though, how much of the show’s mean-spiritedness and potty mouth is also attributable to information gleaned from the Gore Veep House.
Incidentally, Louis-Dreyfus is very good in the role. I just happen not to like shows in which the characters are too unsympathetic. Even if there’s real humor there, I’m so uncomfortable spending time in the presence of such people, fictional or not, that I’m not laughing. This is why I don’t like Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. I get the jokes. I’m just not laughing because I’m so revolted by the icky, mean premise.
I love fairy tales. I’ve always loved fairy tales. Growing up, I devoured fairy tale books, with special emphasis on the Disney movies, with their beautiful princesses. My personal favorite was Disney’s Cinderella. I saw it once when I was a child and then, in a pre-video era, all I could do was replay endlessly in my memory the wonderful scene when Cinderella’s rags are transformed into a princess’s ball gown. When I saw the movie again as an adult, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I needn’t have feared. The movie was as charming as I’d remembered, and the transformation scene was a perfect piece of animation (and, rumor has it, Walt Disney’s own favorite animation moment):
The message in Cinderella couldn’t be more clear. First, be beautiful. But if you can’t achieve beauty, at least be a patient Griselda, one who tirelessly toils for cruel tyrants, with the promise of future reward.
That’s the theme in the majority of fairy tales that originated in the old world: be good, be passive, and some deus ex machina figure, usually magical, will come and rescue you. Passivity is the name of the game. In one fairy tale after another, the lead character, usually the youngest child of at least three siblings, prevails by virtue of being nice.
The other way to prevail in fairy tales that started life in the old world was to use guile. My favorite in this genre is The Valiant Little Tailor:
A tailor is preparing to eat some jam, but when flies settle on it, he kills seven of them with one blow. He makes a belt describing the deed, “Seven at one blow”. Inspired, he sets out into the world to seek his fortune. The tailor meets a giant, who assumes that “Seven at one blow” refers to seven men. The giant challenges the tailor. When the giant squeezes water from a boulder, the tailor squeezes water (or whey) from cheese. The giant throws a rock far into the air, and it eventually lands. The tailor counters the feat by releasing a bird that flies away; the giant believes the small bird is a “rock” which is thrown so far that it never lands. The giant asks the tailor to help carry a tree. The tailor directs the giant to carry the trunk, while the tailor will carry the branches. Instead, the tailor climbs on, so the giant carries him as well.
The giant brings the tailor to the giant’s home, where other giants live as well. During the night, the giant attempts to kill the man. However, the tailor, having found the bed too large, sleeps in the corner. On seeing him still alive, the other giants flee, never to be seen again.
The tailor enters the royal service, but the other soldiers are afraid that he will lose his temper someday, and then seven of them might die with every blow. They tell the king that either the tailor leaves military service, or they will. Afraid of being killed for sending him away, the king instead sends the tailor to defeat two giants, offering him half his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. By throwing rocks at the two giants while they sleep, the tailor provokes the pair into fighting each other. The king then sends him after a unicorn, but the tailor traps it by standing before a tree, so that when the unicorn charges, he steps aside and it drives its horn into the trunk. The king subsequently sends him after a wild boar, but the tailor traps it in a chapel.
With that, the king marries him to his daughter. His wife hears him talking in his sleep and realizes that he is merely a tailor. Her father the king promises to have him carried off. A squire warns the tailor, who pretends to be asleep and calls out that he has done all these deeds and is not afraid of the men behind the door. Terrified, they leave, and the king does not try again.
Old world fairy tales do not feature epic battles of good against evil, or even minor battles of good against evil. They abandon the heroic tradition of Greek dramas or even the mighty warriors of the Bible. Instead, they present a world of little people who prevail because of good deeds or guile.
Different scholars have theorized that fairy tales originated to keep children in line (hence the emphasis on passivity and good house-cleaning skills as the way to achieve worldly success) or as fireside stories, often quite ribald, that peasants told each other during long, dark nights (explaining the tales that featured otherwise insignificant people prevailing through stealth and guile). Regardless of origin, the net result is a genre that instructs children that assertiveness and self-reliance are much less important than submitting to tyranny with good grace and being sneaky when possible.
American-born fairy tales are vastly different. Of course, I use the phrase “American-born” advisedly. Because America is a nation of immigrants, we imported our fairy tales too, which explains why every American child is conversant with Cinderella, Snow White, and Aladdin. Nevertheless, Americans did create their own canon.
To begin with, American children dined on political hagiographies of our first leaders, with Parson Weems’ delightful, and untrue, stories about Washington leading the pack. These tales focused on distinctly American virtues: being honest, straightforward, and physically brave, virtues that are the antithesis of the trickery or downtrodden apathy in European tales.
American tales also dreamed big. We had the imaginary Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill, whose size or energy literally changed the landscape in which they lived. Real figures, such as Johnny Appleseed or Davy Crockett had their actual exploits mixed with a large dollop of artistic license, and these tales opened up the West for Americans. Popular literature imagined dynamic, self-confident young people who made their own way in the world. They had help, but it wasn’t magical. Instead, it came from people who were attracted to the hero or heroines can-do spirit and gave them a helping hand. (Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger were masters of this genre.)
That notion of the pushing, striving, dynamic American hero got a spectacular boost when Hollywood came into being. Old Hollywood quickly discovered that American audiences craved big stories, with big heroes. Western movies impressed upon Americans that America’s fictional heroes didn’t succeed because they sat around waiting for magic to appear; they succeeded because they blazed trails, fought battles, civilized the wilderness, and generally took control of their own destinies.
World War II movies also emphasized Americans’ fighting spirit. We didn’t have endless movies about our victimization at Pearl Harbor. Instead, movie after movie celebrated America’s fighting spirit, both at home and on the battlefield. We had an enemy, said Hollywood, and we valiantly met in on the field of battle.
In the 1970s, Hollywood started feeling terribly guilty about the cultural imperialism in these tales and came up with the anti-hero. That played well to a guilty middle class, but was never a dramatic trope that had legs. The anti-hero works only if he acts . . . heroically. Americans want the little guy to win because he’s got guts. The artsy crowd may enjoy a Dog Day Afternoon, but ordinary Americans want to see little ole Luke Skywalker take on the empire, intrepid Indiana Jones fight bad guys the world over, or (with a big thank you to the British woman who dreamed him up) Harry Potter and Co. face off squarely against evil, and win through a combination of virtue and martial skills (all nicely packaged in some sparkly magic gimmicks).
The recent staggering success of The Avengers is just one more indication that Americans want their fairy tales to be proactive. The characters in The Avengers are pretty (it is Hollywood after all), but their attractiveness — an attractiveness that has generated a staggering $1 billion in ticket sales — comes about because they are strong and aggressive. They defeat the evil alien force by rock ‘em, sock ‘em, beat ‘em up action. There is no room for negotiation, house cleaning, or even guile here. The only “goodness” that counts is one that is folded tightly into loyalty, patriotism, and physical bravery.
The Left is busily trying to chip away at these classic American virtues. Leftist movies have failed at the box office, but the Leftist challenge to the American virtues of physical bravery can be seen in the Left’s wholeheartedly embrace of the anti-bullying campaign. Many have asked why bullying has seemed to be on the rise in recent years. I think I figured out the answer when, in a casual conversation with my kids, I mentioned “school-yard fights.”
I got a surprising response to that throw-away line: “What’s a school-yard fight, Mom?”
“In the old days,” I said (just like a fairy tale), “when kids, especially boys, would get into fights, they started hitting each other.”
“Did they get suspended?”
“Maybe. But what usually happened was that they’d start swinging at each other. Everyone in the school yard would instantly circle them and start hollering ‘Fight! Fight!’ Then, a teacher would wade through the crowd, saying ‘Come on, everyone, break it up. Break it up now.’ The teacher would then wade into the fight, separate the two kids, shake ‘em out and, more often than not, tell them to stop fighting. And that would be the end of it.”
“That would never happen today.”
(Incidentally, I am not talking about gang fights, which are a form of urban warfare. I’m talking about the old-fashioned elementary school playground battle, where two little kids settled the matter with some kicks and punches.)
No, it certainly wouldn’t. The focus today is on the bully. The bully gets suspended and the bully gets counseling. Kids are told that, if they get bullied, they should immediately get teachers involved. Good kids know that any type of self-defense is dangerous, as it could lead to suspension.
I hate bullying. I was bullied when I was a child and, I’m sad to say, when I had the opportunity, I immediately turned around and bullied others (verbally). I had a sharp tongue and wasn’t afraid to use it. But that sharp tongue was my self-defense. A well-timed insult, especially one that raised a laugh from the audience, deflected the bully and kept me safe. I never ran to the teacher. I got a reputation for being somewhat mean (which was partially deserved), but people left me alone. Had I been a boy, I might have punched someone and been left alone.
My point is that the best way to deal with bullying is two-pronged: First, create an environment in which bullying is frowned upon and mutual respect is the order of the day. This starts at the top, with teachers and administrators. In too many schools, however, teachers and administrations treat students with condescension, disdain, arrogance, or fear. Second, teach the victims how not to be victims. If you take away the targets, you take away a lot of the bullying. If students see themselves as warriors, not victims, bullying will become a much less enticing activity for those who are naturally inclined to dominate cruelly those around them.
I can already hear people saying that, if you emphasize the warrior spirit, our schools will start looking like a gladiator camp. Au contraire. If you emphasize brutality, that’s true. But if you emphasize the honorable side of the warrior, one that sees him respecting widows and orphans (so to speak), our schools will actually be much more civil than they are now. I’ve never known nicer kids than those who are martial arts black belts. They have a quiet self-confidence about them, that makes it unnecessary for them to lash out. Moreover, their peers respect them, and feel no need to test them.
It times to take the European Leftism out of our fairy tales, and reinstate an American ideal that involves honor, strength, and the willingness to fight for what’s right.
I had the opportunity the other night to see a first run movie and I ran out the door so fast, I forgot my jacket. The movie was the smash hit The Avengers. Of the predicate movies that introduce the various characters, I’ve seen only the first Iron Man, so it took me about 3 minutes to figure out who and what the characters were. After that little cognitive exercise, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The Avengers is a supremely silly movie. I like that in a movie. It’s not pretentious but, instead, feels true to its comic book roots. The characters are pretty to look at, the explosions impressive, and the plot hung together, if only by a string. There were the predictable laughs from unexpected confrontations that have been present in every adventure movie since the first Indiana Jones. (Old Hollywood took its action movies much more seriously than new Hollywood does.)
My complaints? A few. The movie was way too loud, although that may have been because I saw it in a movie theater that had a special sound system installed at George Lucas’ behest for the first movie in the new Star Wars trilogy. (Ah, life in Marin!) I also didn’t like the fact that the action scenes were rendered so fast (and I use “rendered” in the sense of computer digitization) that one often had no idea what was going on. I prefer a more lovingly filmed fight. Finally, there were scenes at the end that were too reminiscent of 9/11 and they made me uncomfortable.
What I did like? I liked that Captain America (Chris Evans) was a good guy: he wore the stars and stripes, and he was the embodiment of honor and old-fashioned common sense. That’s so rare in a movie it was downright refreshing. As always, Robert Downey, Jr. was delightfully snarky. As you know, I’m a snark aficionado, periodically practicing the art myself. The actor playing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was pretty, delighting the teenage girls. Mark Ruffalo — well, I’ve never understood why the guy is famous, so let’s leave it at that. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t work as a red head. That’s not just my feeling. A car full of teenage girls was loud and clear in its disdain for her color makeover.
If you feel like spending $14.00 for two hours of silly fun (plus 15-20 minutes of periodically amusing previews), this may be your movie.
Here’s an old, bad (really bad) joke:
During the 1973 war, the Israeli Army determined that at least one third of all Arab forces arrayed against them were named Mohammed. They quickly developed a new tactic. The IDF troops would take cover and holler out, “Mohammed!” In response to the call, one third of the Arab troops would jump out of their cover, and the Israeli forces would pick them off.
You couldn’t fool the Arabs for long. They figured out that at least one third of all IDF troops arrayed against them were named David. They too quickly developed a new tactic. From cover, they would holler out “David!”
They tried it in the field of battle. “David!” they’d holler. The Israeli troops would answer back, “Mohammed, is that you?” At which point one third of all Arab fighters would jump out of their cover, and the Israeli forces would pick them off.
I did say it was a bad joke, didn’t I?
There’s nothing new about using whatever means possible to flush someone or something out from cover in order to shoot it down. This is a duck call:
And here’s the product description for this little doo-dad:
This is the ultimate one call that will do it all. From loud ringing hail calls, raw, hang-it-all-out duck, to super sexy, soft, up close, “put your landing gear down” calling. This call was designed to be easy for the average caller to operate.
Put more simply, blow on that little sucker, and the ducks will come flocking towards you, putting themselves in easy gun range.
Here’s my question for you. Is this guy also a duck call?
Why do I ask? Because of this:
My first thought was “I hope Lovitz inspires Hollywood’s conservatives to come out of the closet.” And then, paranoid being that I am, my second was, “I wonder if he’s not a stalking horse (or duck call), who is trying to entice Hollywood’s currently invisible conservatives out into the open, the better to black ball them professionally.
As both the George Clooney dinner last night and the rapturous responses to Obama’s cynical gay marriage announcement proved, Hollywood may be playing a bit coy now, but it’s still in Obama’s pocket. To switch metaphors yet again, that coyness allows the Hollywood liberals to pretend an injury in order to deceive its prey (i.e., Hollywood conservatives), thereby flushing that prey out from its cover.
Am I paranoid? I don’t know. I do know that, after I did my write-up about Andrew Breitbart’s appearance in Mill Valley, Andrew called and asked me to edit it slightly to provide more cover for Hollywood’s conservatives. It’s dangerous out there for them. If I’m paranoid, I’m not the only one.
We finally got around to watching The Iron Lady, which won Meryl Streep another Best Actress award. It was a movie that failed at so many levels, most strikingly in its obvious goal of denigrating Margaret Thatcher and leaving a sordid historical record behind. To appreciate how the movie failed in this manifest goal, you have to understand its structure.
What irked most conservatives about the film was the way in which at least half of it followed an aged, semi-delusional Thatcher around as she engaged in hallucinatory interactions with her long dead husband, Dennis (played with bizarre perkiness by the usually likeable Jim Broadbent). Conservatives saw this as an attempt to demean Thatcher. They’re only partially right. Yes, it was intended to demean Thatcher, but it was also an effort to give Streep as much screen time as possible. Had the movie followed the entire arc of Thatcher’s life, Alexandra Roach, who did a very credible job as the young Margaret Thatcher, would have had way too much screen time. The only way in which the film could simultaneously denigrate Thatcher and let Streep show her acting chops was to have a hyper-aged Thatcher wandering around like Lady MacBeth.
The problem with this plot device was twofold: it was boring and it was confusing. Rather than having the viewer engaging in a unique and exciting life, the viewer got to wander around a house cleaning out closets. (Yes, this imaginary aged Thatcher spent a lot of time clearing out closets.)
I also have to argue with the Best Actress award Streep won. Streep is a mimic more than she is an actress. At a certain point, mere mimicry becomes dull unless there’s something interesting to bolster it. Watching Streep spend half the movie mimicking a confused old lady with a British accent was more akin to an acting school graduation performance than a major movie. I also felt very strongly that Streep couldn’t shake role as Julia Child in Julie and Julia. When she wasn’t a delusional old woman, she sounded like a manic version of her take on Julia Child, only with a British accent. As I struggled not to doze off during the movie’s boring parts, I had weird visions of Margaret Thatcher in the kitchen whacking away at chicken breasts.
The movie makers also played around with the historical record by focusing hard on the riots (and I remember them, as I lived in Britain at the time), and glossing over the successes. Yes, the Welsh miners did riot. Yes, there were protests in London. Yes, the IRA prisoners did go on a hunger strike. Yes, the attempt at the poll tax was a failure. These upheavals, and they were the inevitable upheavals attendant upon using the cold turkey method to break people’s dependence on socialism, happened, and they got ugly. But they were pretty much over by 1983 or 1984. Thatcher then settled in for years of economic success, which the movie rushed through with a couple of faux newspaper headlines about a booming economy. The fact that Thatcher held power for eleven years despite the upheavals speaks volumes for the way in which she enabled the British to begin functioning again for the first time since the end of WWII.
The Falklands War also manages to depict the pain without the pleasure. I lived in England during that short-lived war and the British people were generally supportive of it and, as I remember, deliriously happy with the outcome. Even the hardened Leftists at the university I attended couldn’t completely hide their chauvinistic delight in a British victory over the perfidious Argentinians.
Mostly, though, the movie fails because, when it’s honest about Thatcher’s life and career, she comes off so impressively. Her belief in the individual’s greatness and ability is what won a demoralized British people to her side in 1979 and that kept them there for the next eleven years. She was tough, she was focused, and she was deeply committed to the old-fashioned virtue of self reliance, one that served her country so well. The recreations of her speeches are inspiring — which was yet another reason to focus, not on her actual life, but on an imaginary version of what the movie’s makers assume must be a pathetic old age, riddled with the guilt only conservatives can feel.
Stockholm Syndrome: In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm Syndrome
Victimization Symptoms: Victimization symptoms were proposed by Frank Ochberg as a distinct subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not formally recognized in diagnostic systems such as DSM or ICD, and includes the following:
- Shame: Deep embarrassment, often characterized as humiliation or mortification.
- Self-blame: Exaggerated feelings of responsibility for the traumatic event, with guilt and remorse, despite obvious evidence of innocence.
- Subjugation: Feeling belittled, dehumanized, lowered in dominance, and powerless as a direct result of the trauma.
- Morbid hatred: Obsessions of vengeance and preoccupation with hurting or humiliating the perpetrator, with or without outbursts of anger or rage.
- Paradoxical gratitude: Positive feelings toward the victimizer ranging from compassion to romantic love, including attachment but not necessarily identification. The feelings are usually experienced as ironic but profound gratitude for the gift of life from one who has demonstrated the will to kill. (Also known as pathological transference and/or Stockholm syndrome).
- Defilement: Feeling dirty, disgusted, disgusting, tainted, “like spoiled goods,” and in extreme cases, rotten and evil.
- Sexual inhibition: Loss of libido, reduced capacity for intimacy, more frequently associated with sexual assault.
- Resignation: A state of broken will or despair, often associated with repetitive victimization or prolonged exploitation, with markedly diminished interest in past or future.
- Second injury or second wound: Revictimization through participation in the criminal justice, health, mental health, and other systems.
- Socioeconomic status downward drift: Reduction of opportunity or life-style, and increased risk of repeat criminal victimization due to psychological, social, and vocational impairment.
There’s an exciting publishing sensation out there. It’s E.L James’s S&M trilogy, the first of which is Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy. I haven’t read the books myself but, as best as I can tell, they are this generation’s Story of O. As a hip young college student, I tried to read the Story of O, but I quickly got terribly bored. All the faux sophistication in the world wasn’t going to make me like a creepy story of domination and submission. My distaste for this genre seems to leave me in something of a minority. The trilogy occupies the top three spots on Amazon’s bestseller list. Women, apparently, are completely thrilled by this story of a naive young woman who enters into a submissive relationship with a tortured man who has a compulsive need to dominate women sexually:
Mr Grey, a 27-year-old billionaire, seduces young graduate, Anastasia Steele. He has a penchant for bondage and soon envelops her in a world of kinky sex, S&M and XXX-rated bedroom ‘contract’ games that make for solid post-watershed reading only. Love, inevitably, is not omitted from the romance.
Maureen Dowd, who is rather famous for holding men in disdain (or, as she asked and answered, Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide) doesn’t think much of the book’s concept and, as I do, thinks it’s an O retread. She is willing to consider the theory, however, that this whole S&M thing isn’t really about men dominating women but is, instead, about women making men do the work in the bedroom:
The Harvard-educated [Jennifer] Hunter [a dominatrix] asserts that most women are sexually submissive — “the sexually dominant woman is that rara avis” — and scoffs at the idea that anything in the book is offensive except its overwrought prose.
“Every good dominant knows that the submissive is really the partner in control,” she says. “All a submissive woman has to do is relax and enjoy the ride while delicious sexual acts are visited upon her. She’s the star of the proceedings. Someone is ministering to her needs for a change. Master is choreographing all the action. The book seems to have resonated with so many women because, after a long day of managing employees, making all the decisions and looking after children, a woman might be exhausted about being in charge and long to surrender control.”
Think about that theory: because women are in charge of everything all day long, and are responsible for everything, their sexual fantasy involves a man who takes charge, even if the manifestation of that willingness to take charge is to engage in bizarre, but ultimately tame, sexual games that would have left the Marquis de Sade nodding in bored approval, much like a doting parent at the kindergarten play. Or to put it more bluntly, since men are disappointingly absent during the daytime, let’s pretend they can be “manly men” at night time. I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly sad. It answers Dowd’s question by saying men aren’t necessary at all, except to fulfill some freakish fantasies.
50 Shades of Grey isn’t the only pop culture phenomenon out there celebrating bizarre sexual practices that see women pretending to be the weaker sex. Frank Bruni, with great sadness, examines a new TV show called Girls, which he sees as emblematic of the failure of women’s lib, which has resulted in a dehumanizing, dead-end, hook-up culture. As with 50 Shades of Grey, the young woman in Girls is a prop for the man’s fantasies, with the woman’s pleasure (if any) coming from that passive prop status:
THE first time you see Lena Dunham’s character having sex in the new HBO series “Girls,” her back is to her boyfriend, who seems to regard her as an inconveniently loquacious halfway point between partner and prop, and her concern is whether she’s correctly following instructions.
“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”
He needs her to intrude less. “Let’s play the quiet game,” he answers.
The second time, she’s an 11-year-old junkie with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, or so he tells her, commencing a role play in which he alone assigns the roles. He has highly specific fantasies, and she’s largely a fleshy canvas for them.
Who needs love when you can turn every relationship into a porn tableau? Bruni is correct that this is deeply saddening. I’m not sure, though, that I see it as a failure of women’s liberation, so much as one of its goals — but more about that in a few minutes.
Cultural critic Bill Bennett has looked at Dowd’s and Bruni’s columns and weighed in himself. He sees this trend in pop culture as a terrible reflection on men — and he’s right, but for the wrong reason. To Bennett, the book and show reveal a trend that has men degrading women:
Bruni goes on to grapple with Dunham’s loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today’s onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women, to recall the words of an earlier day, only as objects. Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion–all at the expense of the thoroughly humiliated and debased woman.
In the act of degrading women, men are also degrading themselves.
James Taranto explains, however, that Bennett errs at a very fundamental level in making the above comment. You see, both 50 Shades and Girls emanate from female creative minds. Yup, the fantasy of bored, overwhelmed women who desperately need someone else to take control in the bedroom is a female fantasy:
How does an essay about “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Girls” turn into an anti-male screed? Both are written by women for women. Dowd notes, but Bennett omits, that the real first name of author E.L. James is Erika. As for “Girls,” Bruni points out that Lena Dunham “is not only its star but also its principal writer and director.” And if it’s anything like “Sex and the City,” no heterosexual man will ever watch it except as a favor to someone of the opposite sex.
We don’t dispute Bennett’s contention that pornography is degrading to women, but it takes no courage or insight to say so. “Fifty Shades of Gray” and “Girls” sound degrading too, but Bennett seems to shy away from confronting the fact that this degradation amounts to female pornography–produced by women for the entertainment of other women. In postfeminist America, it’s so much easier and safer to scapegoat men.
Taranto is absolutely right, but he hasn’t gone far enough, while Bennett hasn’t quite figured out what’s really going on. Post-feminist America is indeed remarkably hostile to men and these books are evidence of the fact that feminism has reduced men to mere sexual utility. Looking back on the rhetoric of the 60s and 70s, this was one of feminism’s goals all along. After all, who can forget Gloria Steinem’s stirring battle cry: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Feminists seem to have discovered that this is true in every area of life (work, child rearing, socializing, etc.), except in the bedroom, where an archaic amalgam of heterosexual urges and sheer exhaustion make a faux manly man an object of desire.
Both Bennett and Taranto, however, have pulled back from noting one important thing: today’s media men — the film producers, TV producers, publishers, etc. — are entirely complicit in this trend of degradation, a trend that not only turns women into sex objects, but turns men into ciphers, useful only in a utilitarian way once the bedroom door closes. Women may be roaring all over, but you cannot get these films and TV shows made, or these books published, without male participation, participation that is often very enthusiastic.
Take a film such as The Help, which was a Hollywood big deal. Although it’s based upon a book that a woman, Kathryn Stockett, wrote, the movie is a male production. A man — Tate Taylor — both wrote the script and directed the move. And it is not a nice movie when it comes to men. For one thing, the men are mostly missing in action. When they do appear, with two minor exceptions, the men in The Help are cowards, wife beaters, and racists. The two exceptions are a paper cut-out black preacher man whose sole role is to give a brief sermon about Moses, and a white man who is on the screen for about two minutes and who is not racist. And that’s it. That’s Hollywood’s most recent approach to men in the Jim Crow South.
The Help is not anomalous. Men do not fare well in media land. They’re buffoonish, violent, and often invisible. Women and girls routinely teach them lessons in order to make them more sensitive. And invariably, the men are complicit in this. Male actors, male producers, male directors, and male whatever other else they are in Hollywood willing produce widely broadcast materials that make America men look just awful. It’s the rare production that celebrates manly virtues.
Hollywood’s men are not interested in providing affirmative role models for America’s boys and young men. Instead like sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome or Victimization Syndrome, they gleefully join in with their intellectual captors in denigrating and demeaning men. This is a tragedy when it comes to the men who have already given themselves over to their feminist captors and a national disaster when you imagine the second generation of young men raised to hate themselves.
Subject to a very few exceptions, I don’t see movies during their first runs in movie theaters. Instead, I see them when they’re released on DVD. That’s why I’m only watching The Help now. (The Help is a movie about black maids in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi.)
Before I go any further with this post, I have to tell you that I was predisposed to dislike it. To begin with, I think most of what comes out of Hollywood nowadays is poorly done, insofar as movies are charmless and heavy-handed. I also looked at the few big names in the cast (Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, and Mary Steenburgen) and assumed that the movie’s viewpoint would be hostile to some aspect of America. Lastly, I knew that a movie about black and white relations in the 1950s would be in its approach . . . well . . . black and white.
So far, I’ve struggled through the first half of The Help and am bored out of my mind. It’s like being buried knee deep in cliches. In a way, the movie is hampered by a historical truth, which is that the Jim Crow South, especially deep in Mississippi, was a miserable hellhole for blacks. Southern whites had a single-minded focus, which was to maintain a status quo that saw blacks at the bottom of the pecking order. Blacks were dehumanized, physically abused, legally insulted, and whatever else the Dixie-crats could think of to ensure that they didn’t have to look black people in the eye and see their common humanity.
These historic truisms handicap the movie, because the only way it can deal with them is to make the whites horrifically bad and the blacks angelically good. In other words, the characters are one-dimensional and quite boring. The lead “good” white girl is blandly good; while the lead “bad” white girl is a caricature of evil, with a touch of Hannah Arendt-style banality thrown in. The black women are plaster saints, whether heroically working to send their kids to college, heroically suffering after a child dies, or heroically using an indoor bathroom. The single “outsider” is a New York Jewish female editor, who sees the Civil Rights movement as something akin to a fashion trend. (In that, the movie does a disservice to the many Northern Jews who were fanatic in their devotion to the Civil Rights cause. Just as the blacks did, they believed defeating Jim Crow was akin to the Jews’ struggle to escape Pharaoh’s clutches, and that belief added a spiritual element to their approach that overrode mere faddism.)
There’s no room for nuance in this movie. It’s a polemic, pure and simple and, as such, artistically dull. That could change in the movie’s second half, which I’ll watch tonight, but I’m not optimistic.
There is one thing about the movie that does stand out — there are no men. So far, one black man has appeared off screen (we hear only his voice) to beat his wife; while another black man has given a short sermon about Moses’ courage. The white men are equally invisible and ineffectual. They are either hen-pecked or absent altogether. I’ve just reached the point in the movie where the lead white girl (whose name I can’t remember because she’s such a nonentity) charms a blind date by being rude to him. Or at least, I think that’s what she did. One other problem I have with the movie is that the actors got a little carried away with their down-home Southern accents. As often as not, they’re unintelligible. It may add an air of authenticity to the movie, but it makes it hard to follow.
I’ll get back to you tomorrow about part 2 of the movie. So far, I’m not impressed.
UPDATE: Last night turned into homework central, so my TV watching was limited to catching up with Jay Leno doing “Headlines.” Part II of The Help will have to wait another day.
Incidentally, for those who’ve heard that this season’s opener was the best ever, that’s no hype. With the exception of Martina Navratilova and Melissa Gilbert, both of whom were stiff and colorless dancers, everyone else ranged from good to really, really good.
I happen to like DWTS, not just because I enjoy watching ballroom dancing, but because I like the trajectory. Over the season, people get better. I find that inspiring. It’s a reminder that we are not stagnant and that, no matter where we are in life, we can still learn and grow. I therefore hold out hope that both Martina and Melissa will prove to be pleasant surprises, even if they only last for the first couple of weeks.
In 1990, the movie Pretty Woman took the country by storm and turned Julia Roberts into a major star. It was a “new age” Cinderella story, one that saw a prostitute, through her soulful innocence, redeem a corporate raider. I was not charmed. To me, corporate raiders are useful people, while prostitutes are very sad people. Corporate raiders create wealth; prostitutes sell their bodies for money and, too often, dull the tremendous pain that goes with that sale by using drugs and alcohol. If they’re really unlucky, they end up with an abusive pimp, a loathsome or deadly disease, or a john who beats or kills them. It’s not a glamor job — and the problem with Pretty Woman was that it made a good case for the wholesomeness and potential profit of prostitution. I hated the movie.
It turns out the Richard Gere also hated the movie . . . but not because it glamorizes a deadly and demoralizing profession. He hated it because it glamorizes — wait for it — bankers:
The 62-year-old actor added to Australian magazine Woman’s Day magazine that he believes his character in the film even helped trigger the worldwide economic meltdown.
Speaking to Woman’s Day magazine, he said: ‘People ask me about that movie but I’ve forgotten it.
‘That was a silly romantic comedy.’
He also says the character he played in the movie, Edward Lewis, glorified brash Wall St financiers.
Gere added: ‘It made those guys seem dashing, which was wrong. Thankfully, today, we are all more sceptical [sic] of those guys.’
Please remind me why we buy movie tickets that fund these people. Is our momentary entertainment really worth the cost of keeping these guys in the spotlight?
Today’s news — if you can call it news — is that Rosie O’Donnell, is not only to the left of Left politically, she’s no lady when it comes to her day-to-day interactions with people, especially people in subordinate positions:
Through all the changes [in the form of the just-cancelled The Rosie Show], some 30 employees from producers to writers had left because of budget cuts and possibly because of a boss who couldn’t decide what she wanted and frequently humiliated them in public. “It was such a fucking hellhole,” says one former staffer.
You can see the details here.
My first thought upon reading that was “Duh! I already knew that.” At which point I had to ask myself why I already knew that. It isn’t just because Rosie’s a Leftist, although it is remarkable how often famous Leftists are prima donnas when it comes to the lumpen proletariat on their payrolls. Nor is it because Rosie has an abrasive screen presence. Performance is not always a reflection of personality, and it’s useful to remember that.
Nope. I knew that Rosie was unpleasant because of some interesting gossip I heard sometime back in the 1990s. An old friend of mine had a boyfriend. This boyfriend had a sister. And this sister was Rosie’s personal assistant. Although I never heard details, I ferreted away in the back of my mind the fact that my friend, in talking about her boyfriend’s sister, mentioned that Rosie was a hellish employer. So, when I heard twenty-five or so years later that working for Rosie lands one in a “f***ing hellhole,” my brain said “no surprise. I already knew that.”
Character is destiny, right?
This is a mini “review” of Game Change for two reasons. First, I’ve only managed to slog my way through the first half of the movie. Second, I don’t have much to say.
I tried to watch the whole thing, honest I did, but couldn’t. Not only were the untruths offensive, it was really badly done. The actors are all Leftists doing wooden mimicry of living people. Even worse than the artificiality of it all (there is no acting here, just play-acting), you can tell that each member of the 100% liberal cast is just thrilled with himself or herself for being part of this Palin takedown. Every time the actors have a line that is a pro-conservative talking point, you can practically see them turn to the camera and wink. Wooden and smug doesn’t make for fun viewing. The best I can say about Julianne Moore, who plays Palin, is that it’s like watching a good-ish imitation of Tina Fey imitating Palin.
Game Change a show that offends those who seek truth, delights true believers and, sadly, misinforms everyone else. Bad stuff.
I’ve mentioned before that I pretty much sat out the first decade of the 21st century when it came to pop culture, which is how I entirely missed Ricky Martin. Having young children simply left me uninterested in things other than diapers, soccer carpools, etc. Now those same children are bringing me back into pop culture. Not only am I doing a better job of tracking current trends, I’m also learning about past pop culture trends I might have missed.
One of these trends, which is both current and past, is the show Bones. My daughter discovered it on streaming video last summer while she was trapped in a Greek hospital following an appendix operation. The show follows the exploits of shiny, pretty forensic anthropologists and FBI people as they solve gruesome crimes. With rare exceptions, each show begins with the discovery of a gruesome, maggot-infested corpse, and then shows the scientists/anthropologists use incredibly high-tech equipment, plus their encyclopedic minds, to discern the truth about the corpse’s life and death. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable show, made more so, for me, by the fact that it’s very nice to look at David Boreanz, the lead male actor. (In my dotage, I seem to have turned into the “cougar” equivalent of a chicken hawk. “Chicken hawk” as you may recall, is the derogatory term given to armchair warriors who advocate a hawk-like military stance, secure that they’ll never actually have to be in the line of fire. But I digress, quite wildly . . . .)
Aside from being fairly entertaining on its own terms, I find the show fascinating because of the messages: The lead FBI agent is a former special forces sniper, and the show doesn’t think less of him for that fact. He’s also religious, and the show doesn’t think less of him for that fact either. In “The Man In The Wall,” a dead man’s father convinces the FBI agent (correctly, as it turns out) that the dead man was not involved in drugs and crime because “I taught him to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It’s peculiar to see a show that, instead of sneering at this viewpoint, apparently approves of it.
The lead forensic anthropologist, the eponymous “Bones,” is a genius who is totally invested in scientific truth, but is often at a loss to understand ordinary human interactions. Because of her almost child-like intellectual honest, she speaks the truth in a way many of us would find admirable (and irritating). Bones doesn’t believe in God, because there is, in her mind, no proof that God exists, but she believes in morality. In “A Man On Death Row,” she firmly advocates the death penalty, provided one is sure that the killer did indeed kill. Under those circumstances, Bones says, there are definitely people who deserve to die because (although she doesn’t articulate this as clearly) through their callous disdain for human life, they have forfeited the right to that life themselves. This episode, incidentally, is worth watching in its entirety, because I’m pretty sure that the episode’s writers and producers also believe in the death penalty.
And speaking of the death penalty, Dennis Prager believes in it too. I find his proposal a bit silly (sorry, Dennis), but I do think that both he and Bones are on to the core point about why the death penalty, provided that it is hedged about with due process, and rigorous moral and intellectual honesty, is the right thing for a functioning society that, counter-intuitively as far as death penalty opponents are concerned, values human life.
UPDATE: This post, about the silliness of applying the Occupy movement to prisons, seems apropos.
I was surprised at how many of my “real me” Facebook friends watched the Grammys. (One of them was even in the audience.) Even in my younger days, when pop music mattered more to me, I wouldn’t have watched the Grammys. In past years, though, as I’ve become increasingly aware of the moral decay lurking behind the entertainment world’s self-congratulatory festivities, I just don’t have the stomach for those narcissistic love fests.
And speaking of the moral decay, Sasha Pasulka writes an impassioned post asking why Chris Brown, famed Rihanna-assaulter, was welcomed with loving arms at the Grammys. Indeed, according to Pasulka, who followed the story more closely than I, even at the height of the beating story, Hollywood never released Brown from the tight grip of its hugs and kisses.
Pasulka sees the whole story (the reaction to Brown’s original assault as well as the enthusiastic support for his Grammy appearance, despite the fact that he pled guilty to felony assault and is now on probation) as evidence that, in Hollywood, women have no worth. I would amend that a little.
In Hollywood, women have great worth if they’re bringing in the profits. They are commodities. Hollywood sells one thing and one thing only: women’s sexuality. The notion of women as morally worthy people started vanishing with the sexual revolution in the 1960s and now doesn’t exist anymore.
Before the sexual revolution, Hollywood’s women were certainly sex symbols (think of every screen goddess from Hollywood’s Golden Age), but Hollywood understood that a still-young, moral America wanted its sex symbols to have a moral dimension. They were either good women worthy of love, or morally depraved creatures who got their comeuppance at film’s end. Their beauty kept the eye engaged, but it was important that they be women of worth.
Ironically, in the past 40 years, as women’s voices have gotten louder and louder (“I am woman, hear me roar”), those female voices in Hollywood have been increasingly dedicated to one thing: sex. Hollywood women view “empowerment” as the right to take off their clothes without getting criticized for doing so. No wonder that Hollywood as a collective entity doesn’t take them very seriously. They don’t take themselves very seriously. This doesn’t excuse the Hollywood collective’s gross, immoral, unprincipled behavior, both on-screen and off, but it does suggest that the women in Hollywood aren’t doing anything to counter the moral implosion that daily plays out there.
One more point about Hollywood’s willingness to forgive a manifestly unrepentant singer, and them I’m done. Rihanna did a song called S&M that was, as the name suggests, about sexual sadomasochism. I have often wondered if Rhianna’s decision to sing that song represented merely an artistic choice or if it was a stealth way to promote a (her?) lifestyle choice. If the latter, the Hollywood types who immediately forgave Chris Brown may have known a bit more about the back story there, making Rihanna as complicit in her injuries as Brown himself. Certainly the song taints her reliability on the issue of physical violence. It doesn’t excuse what Brown did, but it does make one wonder what part Rihanna played in the whole thing.
[S]omething important is going on here. What is it about this ostensibly farcical film about a wisecracking weatherman that speaks to so many on such a deep spiritual level?
It is a great movie, simultaneously funny, sweet and deeply profound. It falls into a genre I call “getting it right” movies, and it is the best of the bunch. Whether you look at it through religious, philosophical, secular, or just “looking for entertainment” eyes, it feeds the soul.