Ben Shapiro just shot to the top of my reading list

One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in I don’t know how long is Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.  The book’s beauty rests on two solid pillars.  The first is that Ben, who is so sweet-faced he looks as if he couldn’t hurt a fly, got liberal TV producers, writers, and directors to speak openly about the fact that they intended their TV shows — all of which were sold to the public as entertainment and all of which were, indeed, entertaining — to be propaganda vehicles for Leftist ideology.

By getting these detailed quotations, Shapiro ensures that his book cannot be dismissed as the ranting of a conspiracy theorist who sees Communism’s evil hand in Hollywood’s every move.  There’s no conspiracy here.  Instead, there’s a smiling confession from Hollywood power brokers who detail their goals and the way in which they used our television sets to achieve those goals.

Benjamin Shapiro, from his Facebook page

The second pillar on which the book rests is Shapiro’s own writing style:  he’s easy to read.  His writing style is utterly straight-forward, although never boring.  Reading the book, I had the sense that I was a participant in a delightful conversation with an informed, witty friend who was fleshing out for me something I’d only noted vaguely before.

My only problem with Shapiro’s writing — and this reflects badly on me, not on him — is that I’m incredibly jealous that someone so young has such a mature, informed world view, and that he is able to convey it so well to others.  Despite having a few decades on him, I’m still a work-in-progress, but he’s a precociously sophisticated, intelligent voice.

I just purchased Shapiro’s latest book, Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans.  The title, of course, is self-explanatory.  I suspect that it will be a perfect companion piece to Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.  Intellectual bullying and cheating are, after all, the yin and yang of Leftist discourse.

I have some other books I’ve been meaning to read, so I’d originally put Bullies in the middle of my reading list.  I’ve shuffled my list around, though, thanks to Shapiro’s masterful engagement with CNN’s resident bully, Piers Morgan.  Currently, the video is one of those autoplay videos, so I won’t include it here.  However, now that you’re warned about that autoplay, you can go here to see Shapiro reduce a bully to a quivering mass of incoherence.

Shapiro facing down Morgan

Shapiro’s ability to reduce Morgan so completely matters, not just because it’s gratifying to see a bully beaten at his own game, but also because it helps shift the discourse.  At Shapiro’s own Breitbart, Joel Pollak articulates Shapiro’s significant victory:

Ben Shapiro’s confident, fact-packed demolition of CNN’s Piers Morgan last night marks the turning point in the gun control debate. Ben showed that when they cannot exploit the deaths of children, gun control advocates are forced to defend their views, which are based on faulty premises. That timely reminder has given new energy and enthusiasm to defenders of the Second Amendment, who are preparing for the mother of all battles.

[snip]

Ben put into practice something that Andrew Breitbart preached throughout his career of battling the mainstream media: Question the premise, whether it’s an assertion that you don’t care about the victims of Sandy Hook, or a faulty definition of Critical Race Theory, or that Barack Obama is a nice guy who only wants America to succeed. Ben destroyed the faulty premise of the gun control debate last night. And the debate is now changed.

Question the premise.  What a great idea.  I took that tack in an earlier post I did today challenging the phrase “gun control,” which presupposes that guns should be controlled, and leaves the scope of that control as the only question.  The correct premise after Sandy Hook is to examine what steps we can take to make our country safer — and the data shows that depriving law-abiding citizens of their constitutional access to arms not only doesn’t make our country safer, it makes it more dangerous.  If you operate from the correct premise, you are able to use the correct information, and reach an accurate conclusion.

Right now, the only problem is that the Left fully understands that Shapiro is a lethal weapon aimed at the heart of shoddy Leftist thinking.  They’ve responded in predictable fashion, by burying Shapiro’s appearance on Morgan’s show.  They might have celebrated Alex Jones (“Can you believe how unstable this gun advocate is?”), but Shapiro has achieved Voldemortian status, by becoming he who shall not be named.  As Rush Limbaugh said just today during the few minutes I was able to catch his show, the media’s overriding ethos is that it’s only news if it harms Republicans.  No other news is fit to print.

The fact that Shapiro is not only willing to take on a bully, but also perfectly equipped to do so means that, rather than merely looking forward to reading his book, I’m positively lusting after it (in a purely intellectual way, of course).  I suspect that, if it’s as easily accessible as Primetime Propaganda, I’ll be able to read it quickly and review it soon.

Know your political opponent

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:

Greg Gutfeld’s book about the “Tyranny of Cool.”

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.

Practical suggestions for bypassing the media and getting the conservative message out

My forte is spotting problems, not finding solutions.  Thankfully, when I put out a call for suggestions, many of you responded.  This post sets out practical list ways to get conservative messaging past the media gatekeepers that so effectively insulted Romney, praised Obama, and squelched or promoted news stories depending upon whether they help or hurt Obama.  The media is a giant roadblock that we have to (a) plow through; (b) climb over; and (c) go around.  I’ll begin with multiple suggestions from my good friend Lulu, who is both fired-up and creative.  Then I’ll move on to all of your practical suggestions.

From Lulu:

Perhaps we can do a little community organizing ourselves.  There is no question that people like conservative ideas. I see them constantly in my (parenting) workshops with nodding heads all around when I make conservative points, regardless of ethnicity and, presumably, political affiliation. People agree because what I say is common sense and people don’t realize the ideas are conservative.

The following are my ideas but, as you read them, remember that the key thing with these, or any other ideas, is to act quickly.  We have very little time to educate Americans at the grass-roots level.  The Left patiently worked for 60 years to reeducate Americans.  We have to work faster.  This means that, if you know of a person or organization with money and an interest in conservative causes, we must move immediately to go beyond intellectual think tanks and blogs that preach mostly to the choir.

Step 1:  Rebrand ourselves.  Abandon the name Conservative and change it to something that correctly identifies our principles while defying Leftist insults.  Some suggestions are Realists, Common Sense Party, Constitution Party.  Let’s have a contest, with the winning name going to Reince Priebus.  More than that, starting immediately, we should identify ourselves with this new name and leave “Conservative” behind. By the way, my favorite is “Realist,” because it implies the other side is Utopian and fantasy based, which it is.

Step 2:  Take good ideas to people with deep pockets.  People like the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson are deeply committed to core conservative ideas.  Too often, though, they have a traditional approach to spending their money.  The Kochs, for example, keep supporting NPR shows.  Other rich conservatives endow universities that loath conservative ideas.  We need to contact wealthy conservatives and pitch them on ways to spend their money that will shift the paradigm.  No conservative should ever buy another wing for Harvard or Yale, or for any other organization that is antithetical to core constitutional, realistic, free-market values.

Step 3:  Create an all new cable channel, something that is best done with help from a wealthy conservative donor.  One of the things that would be a great gift to America from wealth conservatives would be a new cable channel that isn’t specifically identified as “conservative” or “Christian.”  Instead, it would just be a new entertainment channel with fun, funny, exciting programming that, merely coincidentally, entices people with core values and ideas.  Remember, the existing entertainment industry has done this on TV since the late 1950s when it started slipping Progressive ideas into shows that were ostensibly “mere” entertainment.

We need a new cable channel devoted all day to Realist principles.  Importantly, it cannot claim to be or call itself Christian or Conservative, since that will instantly drive away those we’re trying to educate. Instead, it’s got to be all about entertainment, with values slipped in like a bitter pill buried in a sweet.

A wonderful thing to do would be talk shows (a la Oprah or The View) with women, conservative gays, minorities, etc., as the hosts.  These shows would be all heart and deal with people’s day-to-day realities, just as Oprah did.  The difference would be that the lovingly-given solutions and messages would focus on individualism, personal responsibility and other tried-and-true core values, rather than on Big Government, finger-pointing, and identity politics.

The cable channel could also have reality shows.  One idea would be a show called “The American Immigrant,” which could have inspiring stories about people from all over the world who came to America and made it through their own efforts.  This type of show would emphasize a core American identity that rises above race, country of origin, religion, and sexual orientation, thereby fighting the diversity cascade that has left America so fragmented.

Another show, which would be a great daytime show, would be a parenting program with solutions that fall back on old-fashioned principles, such as personal responsibility, honor, hard work, etc.  No one involved in the show would breathe the word “conservative,” but traditional values would inform its parenting ideas and solutions.

Another reality show might focus on American philanthropy, at home and abroad.  Watching an hour about the good work of Operation Smile or Smile Train, both of which provide doctors around the world to help children born with cleft palates, would help remind us that we are a good, generous, and very fortunate nation.

And why in the world are we burying our humor at 3 a.m. (Greg Gutfield’s Red Eye) or leaving brilliant humorists like Steve Crowder to fight to be visible on the internet?  Why is Dennis Miller’s main platform the radio?  I love it that he’s there, but can’t his informed, lightly edgy, sardonic humor grace a TV show too?  Too often, we’re all talk and no entertainment.  People want to be entertained. Humor is a great medium for introducing new values.

The cable channel could also have history shows for children.  Again, they wouldn’t proselytize directly, but they’d offer a view of America that combats the Howard Zinn view that currently permeates their education from kindergarten through graduate school.  One of the main things to do would be to educate people beyond their simplistic, ill-informed belief that the Constitution is simply a slave document.  We should have a fun show (good graphics, interesting facts, humor) that puts the Constitution in context and, most importantly, explains how the Bill of Rights came about and why it matters.

We could also have documentaries with pro-Israel histories, honest stories about Communism (let’s talk Soviet gulags and Chinese re-education camps), and Fast and Furious exposes.  Another fruitful idea would be to team with F.I.R.E., a non-partisan organization, to create a show making people aware of free speech restrictions on campus.

Fox itself should be encouraged to offer daytime talk shows, or perhaps to create a new affiliate — something along the lines of “Fox Social.”  Again, this wouldn’t be “conservative TV.”  Instead, it would be fun, human, empathetic, and based upon conservative and realist values.  Indeed, it might be useful for the station to have a lot of entirely content-neutral shows, such as cooking or home decorating shows, just to drive up the audience.

Step 4:  Conservative movies.  This is a no-brainer.  I keep waiting for Declaration Entertainment to make something more than wonderful videos and, instead, to head for the big screen.  When it does, conservative bloggers should support it with everything they’ve got.  And speaking of support, conservatives who love movies need to go Cold Turkey and stop supporting Hollywood.  We give the Left a free pass when we whine about their movies but still pay money to see them.

Step 5:  Stop complaining about how Progressives use the courts to achieve their ends, and starting doing the same ourselves:  We have advocacy groups fighting for churches, for pro-Life causes, etc.  It’s time to get a legal advocacy group that fights for equal access to publicly funded institutions.  That group needs to (1) sue PBS and NPR to get 50% ideological diversity in every minute of their programming; (2) sue every publicly funded school in America (from kindergarten on up) to force ideological diversity in its faculty; (3) start having a say in local school boards.

This last is an important one.  To date, the only school board fights in America have been about evolution versus creationism (a fight that goes back to the 1920s), and about books that supposed advocate witchcraft.  We need to start making the school board and education department curriculum fights about conservative values and about equal presentation of those values.  The fight should focus on economics (free-market versus Big Government), American identity (get rid of Zinn or at least counterbalance him), and national security (we’re not evil when we protect ourselves).

From Lee:

If you’re a convert from liberalism, figure out what made you convert.  Maybe we should all just focus on converting one person a month, each of us. And for every ten of us, in one year, there will be 100 (figuring that some conversions won’t “take”) and in two years, 200 . . . and so on.  (I, Bookworm, will add that using the Leftist approach of personal attack and name-calling will not convert them.  They will just avoid you.  Entice them with ideas, common sense, empathy, and the Dennis Prager trick of creating clarity, which often leads to agreement.  Incidentally, my experience with the Dennis Prager approach is that people invariably end up agreeing with my realist ideas, rather than my agreeing with their Leftist ones.  I still haven’t gotten them to change their knee-jerk Democrat party affiliation, but I’m working on it.)

From jj:

Fight for it as if you want it.  jj’s right.  He’s not talking about mean fighting for a political office, because you want to win.  He’s talking about fighting for an ideological world view.  Romney’s goal was the presidency; our goal can’t be that limited.  We have to use enthusiasm, energy, and creativity to change the zeitgeist.  It’s not about winning elections; it’s about changing the paradigm.

From Bookworm:

Figure out a way to convince young people that there’s nothing cool, hip, and rebellious about embracing establishment politics, pushed by old guys and gals in Washington, on Madison Avenue, and in Hollywood.  What kids should view as cool, hip, and edgy, is to think for themselves and to reject the media sales pitch that inundates them.

All of us should put our money where our mouths are.  One easy thing to do is to supp0rt the band Madison Rising, rather than the dopes who use their music to preach racism, welfare, and violence.  If Madison Rising can making a living providing hard-driving conservative rock, other groups will get inspired.  Lee echoes my belief that we should use the marketplace to change the zeitgeist.

A lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking has been talking about, “Oooooh! We must find ways to broaden our appeal to women and to Hispanics.” I think WE don’t need to “broaden our appeal” (i.e., change to become Progressive? What else can that mean?) But what we need to do is to EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE WHAT IT IS WE ARE ABOUT. And such as it is, the route of effective communication is controlled by the “lame stream media.”

So, how do we get Rachel Maddow and Soledad O’Brien, and Chris Matthews OUT? And the voices of reason in? I say, put our money where our mouths are. STOP WATCHING ANY PBS AT ALL!!!! No more Big Bird! (Okay, so CNN’s rating are in the tank. And Jon Stewart doesn’t have a huge audience either, comparatively speaking.) Make demands of advertisers and sponsors: Stop supporting the lies propagated by the “Main Stream” Media, or we will stop buying Mr. Clean.

Someone else (here or at another blog) suggested an Oprah for the Conservatives. (I forget who they specifically mentioned.) I love that idea. Not an “Oprah FOR THE CONSERVATIVES” so much, and an Oprah who happens to be conservative. Because really, a lot of the Oprah fans are deep down inside conservative about a lot of things. Money matters to most people. And with a popular day time talk show personality making the info Keynes and Hayek and Bastiat accessible to the masses via mass media, well, we could educate oodles of concerned couch potatoes.

I learned a loooooooong time ago that it is virtually impossible to argue with liars. And I have never solved that problem, except LIE ONE’S SELF. If you don’t have the facst at hand, make some up. And if they challenge you, challenge them to prove it. That’s what they do. And that is what happened in this election and one four years ago… And the MEDIA HELPED WITH THE LYING!!!

From Don Quixote:

First, we must get over this notion that anyone who disagrees with us is ignorant and immoral.  Certainly, many on the left (especially in the leadership) are both of those things.  But there are millions upon millions of highly moral people who simply disagree with us.  Many of these people are open to being made less ignorant and persuaded to our cause.

Second, we must pay attention to the message and how we present it.  Obama’s ads were dishonest, but sharp and persuasive.  Romney’s ads were unfocused and ineffective.

For example, here in central Florida, with its many retirees, Obama ran weeks of ads saying that Romney would turn Medicare into a voucher program, basically telling seniors that their own Medicare was in peril.  Bookworm posted a reasonably effective (though too short) commercial featuring our own Senator Rubio.  So far as I saw, it never ran here.  Instead, Obama’s ad went unanswered for weeks.  Finally, in the last few days of the campaign, Romney ran ads clarifying that his plan would not change Medicare for anyone over 55 and would give a choice to anyone under 55, and even that ad didn’t say what the choice was.   That ad was far too little and far too late.

[snip]

Third, we must find ways to stand firm in our principles while being flexible in our positions.  For example, it would not violate our principles to support a path to citizenship for all immigrants who seek it.  America is a land of immigrants and it is, if anything, against conservative principles to close the borders to those who seek a better life here.  I believe that we could be more successful among Hispanic voters, and completely consistent with our principles, if we put forward a plan that (a) allowed a short path to citizenship for all who sought it, but (b) cut off benefits to all those who did not seek citizenship.  Immigrants who are now here illegally would be given the opportunity to choose which course they desired.  I believe a plan can be put together that would, at a minimum, not turn off Hispanic voters but still be true to conservative values.  If that much is accomplished, Hispanics will become Republicans in large numbers because they largely share conservative values, especially regarding family and religion.

Incidentally, regarding our ad communication failures, Don Quixote doesn’t just point out a problem with Romney ads, he offers solutions that could be used for all Realist (or Individualist or Free Market) ads.

Ultimately, we are helpless only if we are inert.  If we sit and spin ideas around in our heads and just talk to each other, reinforcing our own beliefs, we will lose.  We must sell our ideas outside of the usual circles.  Further we can win only if we find common ground with the identity groups Obama targeted (women, minorities, gays, etc.).  While we may have marginal disagreements with those groups, my suspicion is that there’s still time (but only just) to bring them together with us on core free-market, individualist, constitutional values.

Conservatives need a new ground game

Maybe I’m in denial, but I’m feeling less depressed than I felt last night and this morning.  Part of my more sanguine attitude is based upon a Taranto principle, which is that Obama now owns the events of the next four years:

Obama has spent the past four years explaining away his failings by essentially arguing he is the best of all possible presidents–that he has done as well as any man could given the “mess” he “inherited” from his predecessor. It is certainly true that he took office under adverse circumstances. But so will whoever takes office Jan. 20. In fact, things are about to get a lot worse because of decisions taken but deferred during the Obama years.

The mess today’s winner will inherit includes not only high unemployment and slow growth but impending policy changes that threaten to make those problems worse. On Jan. 1, unless Congress acts, the Bush tax cuts expire–or, to put it another way, “massive, job-killing tax increases” are about to take effect (that quote is from President Obama). If Obama gets his way–which he likely would if re-elected–Congress will forestall the hike only for taxpayers making under $200,000 or $250,000 a year. That would be good for those fortunate enough to have jobs, but it would not change the tax increase’s job-killing nature, as it would hit investors and small businesses hard.

Then there’s ObamaCare. Although enacted nearly three years ago, it was written so that most of its provisions would not take effect until the next presidential term. “The bottled-up rules to set up President Barack Obama’s health care reform law are going to start flowing quickly right after Election Day,” Politico reports. “As soon as Wednesday, the gears and levers of government bureaucracy are likely to start moving at full speed again.”

The scale of the messes Taranto describes makes it unlikely that Romney could have been a successful president.  At best, he might have stemmed an economic or national security collapse, but I doubt he could actually have improved things.  The systems for self-destruction — massive debt, vast entitlement expectations, ObamaCare beginning to weave into the warp and woof of our social and economic fabric, a dangerous world outside of America’s borders — are already deeply entrenched.  Four years won’t fix them.  (Which may be why voters ignored Obama’s empty 2008 promises and decided that he really need 8 years to fulfill the hope and change manifesto.)

But, but . . . what about Reagan?  He also inherited a dangerous world and an unhealthy economy.  That’s true — but he inherited a different ground game.  Political correctness didn’t exist then.  Skin color diversity (offset by ideological homogeneity) was at the beginning of its trajectory, not the peak.  People still viewed government aid as something one first earned or, if one didn’t earn it, as something one accepted with some degree of embarrassment.  Now, even with no pay-in, they view it as a right, with no shame attached.  In Reagan’s day, our troops hadn’t been fighting a blood-and-guts war for eight years (as opposed to a massive Cold War chess game) against an enemy that neither the Republican nor the Democrat President willingly named.  In Reagan’s day, the intelligentsia may have tried to downplay the Soviet Union, but ordinary people still knew that it was indeed the Evil Empire.  Israel was still loved, not hated, so Americans supported a president who supported Israel.

The ground game has changed.  As Roger Simon says,

So we have a problem with democracy. It’s not working or, more specifically, has been turned on its end, with the masses manipulated against their own self-interest, creating power elites similar to those described in Milovan Djilas’ The New Class.

How did that happen? I think many of us know there are three pillars of our own destruction: the educational system, the media and entertainment (the popular arts).

Those three areas are so corrupted those who legitimately are on the center-right (or anywhere close to it) will increasingly find themselves swimming upstream against a current so great who knows where it will take them. (Think Hayek, Orwell, etc.) We must address ourselves to these three immediately before it is too late. In many ways, it already is. Culture is the mother of politics and mother is turning into Medea.

Okay, fine.  We fight the wars we’re given, not the wars we want.  So here’s my thinking.

As I said, I’m less depressed than I was because I think our culture is such that, no matter who occupies the White House, bad things are going to happen.  Really bad things, both with our economy and our national security.  Seeing as I think the coming hurt is inevitable, I’d rather it happens on a Democrat’s than on a Republican’s watch.  If I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow and begin to consider whether my political leanings of the past eight years have been a temporary aberration, and I’ll even contemplate returning to my liberal roots.  (Unlikely, but if the next four years are an American boom time, we’ll all need to rethink our belief systems.)

Accepting the inevitable, how do we fight back?  As polite conservatives, we’ve always tried to work through the ballot box.  We’ve decried the bias in media (including PBS, which we pay for), academia, and education, but we really haven’t done anything about it.  We tried to vote for people who would stop funding PBS and we whined on websites about the indoctrination at our children’s schools.  We’ve still paid to watch movies and we tune in to TV.

We resent the system, but we work within in.  For all that we talk about the ageless wonders of our Constitution and free-market principles generally, we are short-term thinkers, who keep believing (all evidence to the contrary) that we can kill the Progressive tree, not by attacking the roots, but by taking an axe to the tip-top of the tree through honestly brokered elections.  The fact is that the cultural battle is so one-sided (against our side) that we’d probably lose even honestly brokered elections, ones that did not involve massive fraud and media malfeasance.

We keep doing trying the same failed tactic, even though we recognize that the strong Democrat victories resulted, not because the Left voted, but because they spent 60 years going after America’s social and intellectual infrastructure.  The numbers of actual Lefties are probably pretty small; the number of people who have been taught to vote Democrat without thinking what it really means, is huge.

William F. Buckley figured out the problem in the 1950s and started a cultural counter attack, which ended with the Reagan ascendency.  Whew!  That was it.  We won.  Yay.  We won forever.  NOT.  The Left never stopped its ground game.  Indeed, during and after the Reagan years (including during the Clinton years), the hard Left consolidated its hold over cultural institutions.  We just watched and whined.

We cannot do that anymore.  For the next four years, conservatives need to stop worrying about this candidate or that candidate (which is all we ever do) and we need to start wooing the masses.

My friend Lulu, who comments here and who has been an occasional guest poster, called me today with a wonderful idea:  Star Parker.  Okay, you’re right.  Star Parker is a wonderful person, not a wonderful idea, but she’s the symbol for my friend’s idea.  We don’t need to run Star Parker for office, we need to run her for talk show host, a la Oprah.  She’s engaging, approachable, intelligent, conservative and black.  I hate to add the last, because I don’t like to judge people by the color of their skin, but I’m in minority.  I live in my head, so I relate to people intellectually.  Most don’t.  They need other people to look like them in order to start feeling comfortable with their ideas.

The talk show idea, though is the right one.  We know that most people aren’t high-level thinkers when it comes to politics but are, instead, low-level, emotional reactors.  I do not mean that they are stupid.  I just mean that, when it comes to politics, they engage in a non-abstract, non-theoretical, non-intellectual level.  The old saying is that, if the mountain won’t come to Mohamed, than Mohamed must go to the mountain.  We need to reach out to non-engaged voters by meeting them at their level, rather than insisting that they meet us at ours.

Admittedly, our conservative social infrastructure is limited.  Liberals own the media and the entertainment world.  But how did they get there?  They pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed.  We need to start pushing too.  We need talk shows, even if they start on cable or internet.  We also need to take a page out of the Leftist handbook and start using the courts.  For example, Lulu suggested that, as taxpayers, we have standing to sue PBS to demand that, as long as public broadcasting gets public monies, it must devote 50% of its programming time to conservative programs.  After all, for decades, simply because they rented public airwaves, TV and radio were required to be  neutral.  Why isn’t PBS?

When it comes to Hollywood, we need to come together an create alternatives.  Stop spending your money on movies by people who hate us.  Why are we doing that?  And we should take the money we didn’t spend on the haters and invest it in movie makers (such as Declaration Entertainment) that will make entertaining movies that don’t hit us over the head with their message, but that feed it to us subliminally.  (When we do make movies we always go for the iron hand, rather than the velvet glove).  The Left figured this one out, as Ben Shapiro explains in Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.  We too can change the paradigm without being obvious.

And why are we, who pay most of the taxes, allowing publicly funded schools to discriminate against conservative teachers? We sit back and cheer when an individual conservative teacher sues after being denied tenure, but we’ve never had a taxpayer suit saying that, just as student body’s have to be diverse, so should faculty — and that this diversity includes not discriminating against belief systems.  In other words, we have to redefine diversity so that it encompasses ideology as well as (or instead of) skin color.

We also have to advertise ourselves better.  As Romney’s campaign (and McCain’s and Bush’s too) showed, Republican political “leaders” find our ideology embarrassing and seek to wrap it up in gauzy, often impenetrable, platitudes.  One of my readers, Fern, suggests that our campaigns have a musty, fuzzy look.  The Left identifies us as backwards, reactionary, etc., and we yield.  We’ve certainly given the Left linguistic control.  They’re “Progressive” and “Forward.”  We’re fuddy-duddy “conservatives.”

Obama, a child of the Left, understands that words matter, more than the fact that these so-called Progressives keep trying to recycle ideas that failed in all nations that have tried them.  They’ve got the glamor and the gloss, and those gimmicks sell in a superficial world.

One of the first and easiest things we can do is to start with re-branding.  Keep in mind that calling conservatives “right wing” harks back to the 18th century French parliament, when the non-revolutionaries sat on the right side of the hall.  Is that how we want to identify ourselves — as relics of the ancien regime?  “Conservative” too makes us sound like a bunch of reactionary codgers who can be painted as desirous of slavery (never mind that the Republicans freed the slaves), Jim Crow-lovers (never mind that Republicans opposed Jim Crow), and misogynists (never mind that Republicans are in the vanguard of fighting Muslims and Chinese Communists who treat women and girl babies like disposable property).

It turns out that, in a media rich world, Shakespeare was wrong.  That which we call rose, by any other name does not smell as sweet.  With that in mind, how about starting to call ourselves “Individualists” or “the Freedom Party” or something like that?  Liberals successfully (and mostly under the radar) rebranded themselves as Progressives, leaving behind the musty Victorian taint of “liberalism.”  If they can do it, why can’t we?

Truly, the wake-up call we received yesterday is not about 2012 or even about 2016.  It is about our finally understanding that the opposition has long had a better strategy and endless institutional patience.  We won only when there were still enough voters who hadn’t been indoctrinated.  In 2008, there weren’t enough of us remaining to tilt the scales.  The Left attacked America at the root, and we need to take it back at precisely the same level.

The battle is over.  The war has begun.  Consider this post Ground Zero.  If you have ideas — practical, non-whining ideas that ordinary people can put into effect — post them in the comments section, and we’ll see how far we can disseminate them.  For starters, I am no longer a conservative.  I am an “individualist” who supports a “Freedom Party,” as opposed to a “statist” who supports “Big Government.”

UPDATE:  Others thinking about a new ground game too —

The Colossus of Rhodey

Don Quixote (at our own Bookworm Room)

Ron Radosh

Michelle Horstman

What Occupy could have looked like — if Hollywood organized it in 1933

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:

European Fairy Tales versus American Fairy Tales — and how they affect the American psyche and the school yard bully

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.

Is Jon Lovitz for real or is he drawing out Hollywood’s closet conservatives?

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.

“The Help” — could there be more cliches in one movie? *UPDATED*

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.

Why was Chris Brown invited to the Grammys? I think I know.

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.

When stars were stars

I watched a dreadful movie last night, really dreadful.  But here’s the interesting thing:  even though it was a terrible movie, with a creepy plot, I didn’t turn it off and walk away.  Instead, I watched it from beginning to end.  Why?  Star power.

The movie was a Rock Hudson/Doris Day classic from 1961 called Lover Come Back.  Rock and Doris play feuding Madison Avenue ad executives.  Although billed as a romantic comedy (it is Rock and Doris, after all), Rock’s character can best be described as sociopathic.  In order to win clients, he’s willing to pour alcohol into people, pimp women, lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate.  As one of his lies, he pretends to Doris to be a naive scientist, and she falls in love with him.  When the truth is revealed — when she learns that Rock has lied to her and has confirmed the fact that, in his real identity, he’s a terrible human being — she still loves him.

If this was a modern movie, I would have walked out in the first half hour, with my husband calling after me, “You hate everything.”  I’m not sure I hate everything, but I definitely hate watching creepy, whiny, modern Hollywood actors play distasteful roles.  I have better things to do with my time.

Why, then, did I stick around for this movie?  Star power.  Rock Hudson is wonderful.  Even though I know he was gay and that the macho man thing was an act, what an act.  Every time he was on the screen, all I could think of was how gorgeous he was.  He epitomized tall, dark and handsome, with his towering height, perfect face, deep voice, and, despite all that manliness, a warm, puppy-dog charm.  He took a despicable character, and through the force of his own personality, made him lovable.

Doris Day was no slouch either.  She looks exactly like a beautiful petit four, with her platinum hair, blue eyes, pink cheeks and, most importantly of all, that radiant, sunny smile.  She spends a large part of the movie huffing and mincing, but it doesn’t matter.  Get her together with Rock, and after about five minutes, that husky voice relaxes, the radiant smile bursts out, and Rock smiles at her in return.  Sigh….

I can’t think of any modern actor who is so delightful to spend time with that I’d stick around for what is otherwise a boring movie.  There are some actors I like more than others, but if the movie is bad, they don’t have enough charm to hold me to my chair.  Take Anne Hathaway, for example.  She’s a very talented young woman, who can appear delightful, sing and even do splits.  When she’s in a good movie, I enjoy watching her.  But when she’s in a bad movie, one that sees her emoting and posing and baring her breasts . . . I am gone.  Despite her many talents, she is only as good as her roles.

The same is true for Meryl Streep.  For years, I’ve really thought that there must be something wrong with me, because I do not like Meryl Streep.  I readily concede that she’s hugely talented in a technical way as an actress, but I find her boring.  Once I’ve finished admiring how beautiful she imitates someone, such as Julia Child or Margaret Thatcher, there’s not usually that much left to enjoy.  She’s like a high-end, carefully scripted Rich Little or a not-very-funny Frank Caliendo.  It was such a relief, the other day, to read Steve Dowty’s post positing that Streep is, in fact, a very talented mimic who brings little warmth or charisma to a role.  She’s workmanlike, but no star:

Streep is perhaps the exemplar of the modern Hollywood theory of acting, which holds that the perfection of the craft lies in the total immersion of the actor in the character. This is “The Method,” which began to take over Hollywood in the late 40s, and really hit its stride when Marlon Brando burst onto the scene, alternately mumbling and screaming, in 1951. Since then actors have competed to become as invisible as possible, hiding behind accents, tics, quirks, foibles, or disabilities, or simply mimicking the voice and mannerisms of a real person.

[snip]

When Streep acts, no matter the role, every single word and gesture looks perfectly studied, considered, and prepared, as though she’s trying to give the story a manicure. She hasn’t the knack of convincing the audience that what they’re watching is actually happening. We can’t believe that what we’re seeing is real, and often it’s precisely because the excellence of the mimicry calls attention to the essential falsity of the situation.

By way of contrast, Jimmy Stewart never completely left himself out of his characters (which was okay, because we liked him).  He was always, in his voice and mannerisms, Jimmy Stewart, even when he was called George Bailey or Rance Stoddard or Elwood P. Dowd.  But Stewart had the ability to make any film seem like a hidden-camera documentary, capturing events as they happened. Even if the characters never rise much beyond the level of Archetype or Everyman (and here’s another interesting question: what’s wrong with that?), it’s the ability to achieve the impression of spontaneous action that made great actors of Stewart and others like Lionel Barrymore.

Without a good script, Streep offers nothing worth sticking around for.  There is no there there.

John Nolte has latched onto the same problem with his suggestion that Hollywood can cure its woes and become a money-making machine again.  Aside from such obvious points as making movies people want to see, and telling stars to stop insulting their audiences, Nolte tells Hollywood to bring back the star:

You can trace most of Hollywood’s problems back to the death of the movie star. At first, the industry was thrilled with this development. No movie star meant no big payday, no ego, and none of the baggage too many stahs carry with them. The industry also found that, at least for a while, they could get away with this. Audiences were still packing theatres to see pre-packaged brands developed from high concepts, comic books, novels, and television shows. Sequels, remakes, and prequels were still sure-fire. Who needs to pay Tom Cruise $30 million to run around with CGI’d dinosaurs when just as many people will pay to see Jeff Goldblum do the same?

This was all well and good until the “brands” ran out. Now Hollywood is down to “The Green Lantern” and board games like “Battleship.”

Movie stars, on the other hand, are the most reliable brands out there. People come to see them and if you have enough of them and if you keep developing them, the inventory is limitless. From the 1920s straight through to right around 1990, if you built it with movie stars, audiences would come. Hollywood didn’t need to rely on “brands” because they built pictures around their stars.

Having been charmed by Rock, I’ve now told TiVo to look for his films.  No matter how bad they are, I’ll probably stick through to the end, just to see him.  After all, I do the same thing with films starring Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Fred & Ginger, and myriad other class acts from the old days.  Watching all of them was sheer pleasure, no matter the usually foolish scripts.