The Clare Spark Blog

August 22, 2013

The Godfather, Jamie Wyeth Gorgon, culture wars and rustic chivalry

Jamie Wyeth unsettles Dr. Taussig

Jamie Wyeth unsettles Dr. Taussig

I was gone for a week, and ONLY 52 viewers (outside of regulars who come to the home page) came to my last blog (https://clarespark.com/2013/08/13/victor-hugos-93-and-condorcet/), which quoted from Victor Hugo’s 93. I haven’t had numbers that low since I started the website. What was unattractive about this contrast of Terror and Mercy? Was a preference for absolute standards in morality the problem? Be warned, as a historian, I understand that morality is culture-specific, though the Enlightenment popularized the notion of universalist ethics as first advanced by the early French Revolution, and before the Reign of Terror. The Enlightenment philosophes were looking to a future where all people would live in republics and abide by the rule of law.

While gone I had three or four interesting encounters with popular and high culture.

First, the New York Times article about the controversy regarding Jamie Wyeth’s long-hidden painting of a famous female doctor. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/arts/design/a-showing-for-jamie-wyeths-portrait-of-a-cardiac-pioneer.html?pagewanted=all. Helen Brooke Taussig was the subject, but when her portrait was unveiled in May 1964, male doctors/colleagues freaked out. Look at the portrait yourselves and leave comments if you care to. (Jamie Wyeth preceded by famous painters and illustrators N. C. Wyeth, grandfather, and Andrew Wyeth, father and realist painter.)

Second, I have been reading both academic and coffee table studies (written by professors here and in Germany) of the history of the movies. Before that I read a recent biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, and to leave him out of the story where dopy Jewish moguls (all by themselves) are said to have caused mass degeneracy and a misreading of history in our most popular art form, and without mentioning either Joe Kennedy, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, and the Catholic Legion of Decency, is yet another depressing episode in the cultural history we teach to our eager beaver tech-savvy children who adore images and are virtually on their own in finding out how stories and images can shape their emotions and politics. What the “history of the movies” reveals, for these liberal writers, is the inevitability of radical subjectivism, mystery, and the unknowability of even the most famous, documented lives. A running theme in many of these film histories:  McCarthyism caused brain drain in Hollywood, so the 1950s were beneath contempt, except for Vertigo (Hitchcock learned from the German refugees) and On the Waterfront (“cold war liberalism,” thumbs down on snitch Elia Kazan).

The recent film histories, obviously directed to an upper-class readership, are glitzy, often lavishly illustrated, sensitive in a superficial English major way, and hardly do justice to individual artifacts. If these English professors or culture studies specialists ever turned in such hasty plot summaries to a graduate seminar, they would possible be thrown out of school. As for film noir, blame it on the German refugees and their immersion in German Expressionism and post Great War angst, which, though partly true, does not fully explain disillusion and cultural pessimism (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled Film Noir, decoded.)

Speaking of angst, on the flight home I watched all of The Godfather  (175 minutes). Like zillions of others, I thought it was a powerful and well-made movie; I have done zero research on it yet, but here are some guesses ahead of my future study. First, it was obviously Coppola’s FU to the Hollywood system. The first villain, though not identified as Jewish, was vulgar (rather like Citizen Kane/Cain). His name was Woltz (sounds German, could be German-Jewish). The corruption of Hollywood stands for a society that is utterly bought and sold by criminal elements: politicians, law enforcement, newspapers, everybody that shapes public opinion or protects us from the bad guys: (more Citizen Kane). The transformation of war hero, Ivy-educated Michael from “civilian” to his father’s successor as head of the family “business” could signify that brutalization of the young that is said by many historians to have followed the Great War. Note that conflicts between gang bosses are always referred to as wars, not disputes between criminals. In the world we see depicted everybody is guilty, except for the women, who are merely hysterical when they are not putting up with spousal abuse or neglect. They are both protected from the world of men, or are contented to be Sicilian breeders and feeders. Finally, I noted the importance of neighborhood, religion, family and ethnicity to Southern Italian immigrants. The Godfather series came out during the height of the social policy transition from an emphasis on class, to an emphasis on the durability of ethnic ties over class ties. The Corleone family has not assimilated, and doesn’t care. They hew to the colorful ways of 19th and 20th century urban ethnics with their scofflaw patronage systems, or in the case of the Corleones, Sicilian peasants and the patriarchal system. In comes localism, radical historicism, and multiculturalism. In other mass media offerings, the demonic is celebrated, in dangerous neo-Romantic fashion, see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/30/philip-roth-the-following-and-identification-with-the-aggressor/.

Third, I found a copy of a documentary study and chronology of the Culture Wars, that covers the censorship of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, and focuses primarily on events during the Reagan administration and the first years of Bush 41. The introduction that I raced through made the claim that the artist freedom jeopardized by right-wing kvetching about tax dollars going to the National Endowment for the Arts, was tied to working class benefits. It does have a useful chronology of government funding of the arts since the Kennedy administration, and it is something to look into. How “high art” that many Americans see as handmaidens to the wealthy became a matter of interest to the labor movement and other ‘slobs’ defies comprehension. Artist Richard Bolton explains away this seeming  contradiction, “It is more than passing interest that ‘populist’ conservatives, while rejecting ‘high culture’ in the name of the masses, also detest the popular culture–television, music, and film—commonly shared by these same masses. And in matters of policy, conservative activists and officials  have consistently opposed government programs that would benefit the typical worker….” (Culture Wars, ed. Richard Bolton, p.5) Bolton goes on to describe statist interventions against the market that ostensibly benefit the working class. In other words, Bolton’s ‘populist’ conservatives are hypocrites. Mapplethorpe and Serrano et al are the true populists.

But there was solidarity of a sort evident in the movie The Big Chill that I watched on my way back East. This cloying cluster of U. of Michigan graduates, ex-radicals who have gone bourgeois in their forties and feel guilty about it, is hardly worth mentioning, though it was interesting to see how major movie stars looked when much younger. The one Jewish character was something of a geek (played by Jeff Goldblum) whose attempts to fit in were ludicrous.

Give me Cavalleria Rusticana transferred to post WW2 America any day over 60s-70s nostalgia felt by successful hippies.  Or perhaps The Big Chill was a less obvious form of rustic chivalry as the Glenn Close character makes a gift of her husband (Kevin Kline) for a night to fertilize the egg of her chum (played by Mary Kay Place). After all, the story was set in the South.

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February 25, 2013

POTUS, Michelle, and the end of the democratic republic

MichelleOscarI didn’t expect to blog about the Oscars 2013, but the denouement, in which [naughty] Jack Nicholson handed over his duties in announcing the Oscar for Best Picture to the First Lady, dressed for the Red Carpet and surrounded by what appeared to be a private army (yes they were military, it was acknowledged today), has suggested to me that not only are Hollywood liberalism and the newly minted Democratic Party-in–name-only seriously in cahoots, but that the spirit roused by the excerpt from Les Miserables, ending with tricolors floating to the stage, along with Barbra Streisand reminding us of a 1973 movie in which she played a sweet young Stalinist—all this signals that our Leader and his followers in Hollywood and in the mass media intend to establish the Permanent Revolution in America, with the Obamas playing Lenin/Stalin/Trotsky. Someday, far, very far in the future, the state will melt away, and the “Parisian” poor will get their just deserts.

The signs were all there during the first campaign: Michelle’s Princeton thesis was outspoken in its support for black nationalism, as was her consort’s twenty-year stint in Reverend Wright’s whacked out antisemitic congregation. Non-white supremacy is in the air, while recent popular television shows, written by liberals, feature strong black characters who appear to be lamentably compromised in their sex lives, but who will likely expose and discipline corrupt white characters of great power and wealth. (Think SCANDAL or DECEPTION.)

During my days on the Left, it was obvious that Stalinists and anarchistic local artists admired angry black men, such as Malcolm X. In those radio days, I never heard of Ralph Bunche or his accomplished mentor Abram L. Harris until I started my Bunche researches at UCLA in the 1990s, and after I had gotten my doctorate. More along these lines: At the Oscars, the ever-cocky Quentin Tarantino was recognized for DJANGO UNCHAINED. That was yet another symptom of the blood lust that runs through the movie industry, a “business” supposedly controlled by older members (many of whom behave like the old Reds). Indeed, were not key movie stars sitting on their hands while movie buffs picketed outside, when the brilliant but “treacherous” director Elia Kazan was belatedly recognized a few years ago?

StreisandOscar

And what of the campaign to deny ZERO DARK THIRTY its award because it allegedly glorified “torture” in the hunt for Bin Laden?

It matters not what we call the coming political dispensation. Obama’s constant campaigning (as if for a third term), his denunciation of the looming budget cuts while threatening national mayhem (even where localities, not the feds, control the hiring of first responders or teachers), growing evidence of electoral fraud and the cynicism of some black and brown supporters, suggest that social justice means one party dictatorship and the end of the Constitution, let alone of the meritocracy.

THE_WAY_WE_WERE

It is not too late to halt the slide toward the F-word. But the opposition (that may come to include disillusioned Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and conservatives) had better read the tea leaves and wake up.

September 11, 2012

Strikes

Terry Malloy, bloodied but unbowed

While looking up prior descriptions of 9/11, a day remembered on Fox News as best treated as remembrance of the dead, owing to the “tragedy” of the event, I found myself getting more and more appalled at the rhetoric. As Mark Steyn pointed out years ago, 9/11 was not a “tragedy” [i.e., aimed at catharsis and healing as a theatrical event] but a military  “attack,” and I would add, a strike at finance capital/the city of the Jews by radical Islamists who were able to achieve their lethal goals because of outright negligence during the 1990s during the Clinton administration and/or longstanding Arabism in the State Department, not to speak of the mostly deaf response to the findings of Steve Emerson from the 1980s on,  namely that we had been infiltrated, and that no one with the power to stop them was paying attention. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Emerson.)  And the DNC had the nerve to summon President Clinton to support President Obama, who, we are told by Vice-President Biden “killed” bin Laden–as if that event marked the completion of whatever liberals call “the war on terror.”

At the same time, Chicago teachers are out on strike, reportedly owing to their disdain of government testing and other evaluations that would separate the wheat from the chaff. Clearly, these teachers are proud of their tactics, and imaginatively line up with exploited labor in the bad old days before unions and collective bargaining became legal during the New Deal. Reminder: strikes have always been a violent tactic, but strikes have been endlessly celebrated by the anti-capitalists as heroic acts that do not hurt “the community” but rather that strikers are forced to use the only weapon at hand. You will not find a labor historian or social historian who disagrees with this assessment, and who does not revel at every sign and symptom of defiance by the “exploited” class. (I will gladly retract this statement if I am proven wrong.)

Chicago teachers on strike

(Reminder: one of the great movies of my youth: On The Waterfront (1954), was not about a strike, but about standing up to crooked union bosses and their thugs. Critics on the Left hated it, and attacked  Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg for ratting on their ex-comrades while pretending to purify the labor movement.)

We no longer use words such as “tragedy” with precision or with regard to their multiple and changing meanings in the past. But we do pretend that traumas of every kind can be healed. For many, September 11 is a day for meditation, remembrance, and healing. I understand that impulse for unity and solidarity with the families of the victims of 9/11. But we fool ourselves if we fail to trace the precursors, selfish interests, and corrupt, incompetent  practices that brought down the Twin Towers, and that threaten to bring down the Republic if not forthrightly and fearlessly addressed by us all, each and every one. We need to emulate Terry Malloy.

July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith’s greatest performance

I was very critical of A FACE IN THE CROWD, but on its own terms as an example of left-liberal interpretation of native American fascism, and in light of its excellent performances, I must single out Andy Griffith, who outdid himself as Lonesome Rhodes. R.I.P. Andy Griffith. (These paragraphs are taken from a prior blog, https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/.)

“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names” are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven Schulberg and Kazan into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left.

In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians. Patricia Neal, Lee Remick, and Walter Matthau were outstanding too, as was the direction by Kazan, and the brilliant screenplay by Schulberg.

Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People): “You made me, Marcia. You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.” Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:] “It was the sound man. I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].” [Marcia:] “It was me.” The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”) [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in. But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.” Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart: “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.”

Shot in black and white, the film nods at film noir, with the femme fatale played by Patricia Neal. That “Marcia” destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase). This movie was the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. See https://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/.”

July 7, 2011

“Network” and its offspring

Ned Beatty as "Arthur Jensen"

On July 4, 2011, comedian Conan O’Brian picked the movie Network (1976) as the feature film for Turner Classic Movies.  It has been lauded as a prefiguration of “reality television” (and, I gather, a major cause  of the dumbing down of American and world culture). This was probably the third time I had seen the movie, but the first time that it bothered me as a counter-culture and antimodern script, following a strong tendency in post-WW2 America to blame the rise of Nazism on mass culture and its susceptibility to technological advances—advances that only enhanced the power of demagogues such as Hitler and Mussolini—themselves the stooges of hidebound big industry/ finance capital.

Paddy Chayefsky was the script-writer of Network. In one interview, he said that his friend Budd Schulberg’s previous movie, A Face in the Crowd, made it possible to write Network. (Chayefsky also wrote the teleplay for Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run.) We may now add the names of Chayefsky, Schulberg, the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, and Friedrich Meinecke to the network of those intellectuals attributing the rise of Hitler to mass media (particularly to radio); i.e., to “the revolt of the masses.” I have written about such claims here (https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/;* and here: https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/).   (I have not written about such counter-culture authors as Gerry Mander or Jacques Ellul or Ivan Illich, or Theodore Roszak, whose stars have dimmed.)

I was particularly interested in the naming of the movie’s arch-villain “Arthur Jensen” for that is the name of a geneticist who, it is said, is a downright white supremacist, along with a cohort that includes Richard Herrnstein, J. Philippe Rushton, Charles Murray, and others who aroused the ire of the Left and New Left. Since Jensen’s work was already known and controverted in the 1960s and 1970s by such left or liberal luminaries as Harvard professors Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lowentin , I gather that the name selected for the head of the mega-corporation that controlled the fictional network in the movie, was no accident. Moreover, “Arthur Jensen” invites “Howard Beale” into a conference room that Jensen describes as “Valhalla.” The connection between Nazism and globalization could not have been made more clear.

Although Network was released decades ago, its analysis of the decline of our political culture, particularly the destruction of the individual as a human being, may remain timely. One aspiring academic (a Ph.D. Candidate  in American Studies and  Film Studies has called for papers at an upcoming conference titled “On Television.” Here is the call for papers as issued by  Claudia Calhoun at Yale U. It was posted on the Humanities Net for American Studies.

From: Claudia Calhoun <claudia.calhoun@yale.edu>

Date: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 6:03 PM

On Television

Yale University

February 3-4, 2012

We all watch television. But in this moment of dispersed and fragmented viewership, we all engage with television differently: as an entertainment medium, a home appliance, a range of program content, a
description of viewing behavior, a set of technologies, a media industry, and a means for collective social experiences. Both technological platform and cultural form, television sits at the intersection of a number of humanities and social science disciplines. As observers of — and participants in — this contemporary moment, we are compelled to ask: What makes television television?

This conference will address contemporary trends in the field of television studies and reconsider the historical currents that inform our understandings of the present and prospective future of the medium.
Proposed topics include:

– the changing contexts of production and issues of labor

– the politics of television

– aesthetic and formal responses to the changing
landscape of programming

– television as a national and transnational space

– theorizing contemporary television

– the place of “television studies” in a new
media context. [end, excerpt from CFP]

It would not be surprising if the same generational angst that produced Network, will be visible in some of the papers accepted for the Yale conference. If so, we can expect the same dim view that Schulberg and Chayefsky took of the new dehumanizing techniques that (racist) global corporations had inflicted upon an unwary public mind, defeating true artists such as themselves–always looking out for the little guy.

* What follows is the material on Schulberg that possibly inspired Chayefsky, included in a prior blog:

“As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, both anathematized for “naming names”  are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.

Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e.,quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and the muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).” [end, excerpt from my blog “Perceptions of the Enemy….”]

For a New York Public Library short biography of Chayefsky, see http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/archivalcollections/pdf/thechaye.pdf.

November 24, 2009

Perceptions of the enemy

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (1990)

 

I have reformatted this blog and added material: see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. Ignore this version.

 

Some mistaken identities. I don’t think that some “Right-wing” partisans understand Leftists, often conflating revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and [anticommunist] social democrats. And yet media pundits constantly refer to “the Left” as if it still existed in its historic 19th and 20th century red-hot formulations and in the same numbers. What is lost is the memory of moderate conservatives or conservative reformers like FDR (descendants of New Dealers, now called “the Left”) and their practices of lopping off those who were to their left, that is, the structural reformers, unless there was a “Popular Front” against looming internal and external fascism, as did exist from 1935 until the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939.  At what point did these “moderate conservatives” as they called themselves  metamorphose into “the Left” as sole defenders of the little guy? I am guessing around 1919. More on that another time, or see chapter two of my book on the Melville revival. 

From long experience with leftists and the entire socialist-communist-social democratic traditions, however, despite their sharp differences in goals and tactics, I can generalize about them as follows:  All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers. By contrast, as progressives they see themselves as sacrificing their own personalities, economic interests, and happiness for “the public good” or “suffering humanity”; to be one of them, you must “stand with the oppressed,” even if that means helping Hamas. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And unless they follow Kant and Rosa Luxemberg, they may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary.” (e.g. see Trey Ellis in HuffPo, 12-16: “The Obama administration needs to course-correct immediately. He needs to make a series of bold, muscular, ruthlessly political moves immediately (reconciliation anyone?) to put the fear of god into all those puny adversaries out there that have been pushing him around with impunity.”)  So they are the true humanitarians in their own eyes and the antitheses of the “fascists” they valiantly oppose.

 Also, do not minimize both continuities and ruptures between the factions of what is loosely called “the Left.” Anyone who has studied or had contact with revolutionary socialists knows about their history of sectarianism. It makes Protestantism look demure and pure. They have killed or sacrificed  each other without hesitation: just look at what the Stalinists did to Trotskyists and Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, or the notorious Stalin purges of his former comrades, not to speak of other communists with Jewish backgrounds, a process that ceased only with his death in 1953. But mixing them in with social democrats is absurd, for the motley Marxist-Leninists inhabit mostly such outposts as Pacifica Radio, a few journals, and increasingly-criticized departments of comparative literature and other humanities.
    
 But most crucially, “right-wing social democrats” (as some Leftists call them, distinguishing them from the Second International left-wing social democrats favoring incremental reforms) have an entirely different lineage from the Marxist-Leninists.  As I have shown in other blogs, European aristocrats, following Bismarck and before that, reformers in Great Britain, “christianized” the new [“jewified”] industrial society with social insurance that we now call the welfare state. (See my blog The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism https://clarespark.com/2009/10/29/the-enigmatic-face-of-philosemitism/.) 
    
As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.
    Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg, where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).
  
Stand-ins for the controlling parent? Conservatives must read their antagonists without caricatures and without mistaking their objectives.  Revolutionary socialists and social democrats are not simply “elitists” who think they know what is best for others (though many think that “the Right” is not only monolithic, but selfish, square, dumb, and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism to rectify social inequities and achieve what all call “social justice.” In the end, we could make the public discourse on politics more rational by specifying competing theories of the good society:
Libertarians find wealth creation through free markets a good thing and, in the case of the better educated, believe that the state should protect this process through sound monetary policy. The social democratic Left (a.k.a. the moderate men) sees the state as planning rationally to compensate for what they believe to be a weak and unstable system: capitalism. Nothing is so scary as great gaps between rich and poor, for that portends another bloody French Revolution. If that means that everyone is relatively poor in the quasi-socialist utopia, such asceticism is better than the suffering of the victims du jour while the ever libertine rich feast and thoughtlessly indulge their animal appetites for glitter and other luxuries, hence “bourgeoisifying,” i.e., corrupting, the tastes and desires of the working-class. And some conservatives, angry combatants in the culture wars, even as they invoke the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, seek to impose their own morality on those who don’t share the same “values,” (e.g. pro-life, anti-gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research using frozen embryos, creationism or intelligent design, the superiority of a rural way of life), thus nullifying the separation of Church and State that has served us so well. But I caution my readers who remain somewhere on “the Left” that conservatives are not evil or demented when they find such developments as the hyper-sexualization of women and children to be dangerous and destructive, or wonder, as I do, how it happened that sadomasochism became acceptable, even fashionable. And remember that Lord Maynard Keynes thought that his measures to relieve a depression were not to be permanently institutionalized. 
POPULISM. According to Rasmussen Reports, 55% of the American public is populist, i.e., they believe that government and big business are in cahoots, which makes sense if you understand that small business and big business are in conflict. Interestingly given our generally anticommunist polity, this is the analysis of the Marxist-Leninist Left: the state is an executive committee of the big bourgeoisie (as opposed to the state being an independent institution with its own interests, see sociologist Michael Mann’s books). Populism is a subject I have written about extensively on this website. It claims to speak for “the people” against “the special interests” or “Wall Street” or “the military-industrial complex” or some other dread agglomeration such as “the Jews” or “white males.”As such, it speaks to class resentments and is irrational. Whether of the Left or of the Right, populism is not good for analyzing concrete institutions and their policies. Moreover, as indicated above, it does not distinguish between fractions of those who make decisions for the rest of us, each of which has different and possibly clashing interests with others in the so-called “ruling class.” Populists are incapable of writing accurate histories, but seem content to follow their leaders. And their leaders, insofar as they resort to demagoguery, don’t really care about the folks.
*Contending defintions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ means a society practicing “laissez-faire” economics, militarism, hypernationalism (“national chauvinism”), the manipulation of public opinion through heavy-handed propaganda, and imperialism/racism. This absolves social democracy of continuities or comparisons with statist fascism and Nazism, not to speak of their zealousness in attacking “rugged individualism,” the American unpardonable sin that is imagined to persist beyond the pioneer period. By contrast, revolutionary socialists generally refer to the rule of finance capital or monopoly capital or “late capitalism” when they write of fascism and Nazism. Social democrats, true to their Platonic Guardian-philosopher-king heritage, tend to see fascism as the revolt of the masses, as noted above. Much psychiatry/psychoanalysis seeks to manage these “id-forces” and may be more powerful than we think in influencing the medical culture of postwar America. For more on the practice of psychoanalysis at a distance, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/. The importance of the father as leader and as commander of a tight militarized family unit with high morale cannot be overemphasized, a point forcefully made in the last section of the blog just cited, where I analyze the politics of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

October 2, 2009

Roman Polanski and his critics

Image (73)

Ad, LA Weekly, Nov.10-16, 1989

[Added, Bastille Day 2010: Switzerland has refused to grant the state of California extradition, hence Polanski is no longer under house arrest (though I understand that California is appealing the decision). This decision has reignited the controversy. One Facebook friend has made this argument to those who feel that the legal aspects of the case were clear cut and that a criminal had wrongly evaded a properly functioning legal system:

[Joe Gelman:] …Chino has Maximum, Medium and Minimum security facilities, It also has a facility for ‘Mental Health’ inmates. That is where Polanski was sent by Judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, despite having received a detailed and official probation report and psychiatric evaluation, both indicating that Polanski should not serve jail time. The politically ambitious Judge let it be known IN ADVANCE that he intended not to follow the probation report in this high profile case. At that point Polanski fled for his life. You and I probably would have done the same thing. Context matters.  

 [Gelman, cont.] In my view, this was a clear case of a judge looking to make a special example of a celebrity in a high profile case where he can reap the political rewards from a public that has little sympathy for “Hollywood types”. In an unusual move, the Judge decided to completely ignore the official probation report, and made public expressions to that effect in advance of his sentencing hearing, leaving no alternative for Polanski other than to flee for his life after he had already served 42 days at the ‘Mental Health’ facility in Chino, California. It is entirely possible to commit a crime, which Polanski clearly did (and admitted to), and be the victim of a completely dysfunctional justice system at the same time. The fact that this “justice system” continues to use tax resources to pursue this long-forgotten celebrity matter from multiple decades later, despite much higher and pressing priorities, only illustrates how incredibly dysfunctional this justice system is.  [end, Gelman entries from my FB page, 7-14-2010] 

[Added, 11-25-09: Polanski may be getting bail and house arrest in Switzerland. I have added at the bottom of this blog, a comment from a friend who wrote me a  thoughtful reply upon reading my statement in its second draft.]  

(I am assuming that the readers of this blog are familiar with the basic facts of the controversy. For the latest, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/movies/11polanski.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&hp). [ I am going to add thoughts I have had since posting this blog, which has seen more traffic than most: the fixation of media figures on this man and his conduct is so extreme and vehement that, though I was a child in American during the second world war,  I am again distressed by the indifference of the world to the Shoah, both while it was in process and afterwards. Polanski is a Holocaust survivor: how he survived after his father threw him out of the doomed Warsaw Ghetto (to save him from certain death), I do not know, but his mother was murdered at Auschwitz. He is also of Jewish descent (although he was not religious, his father was Jewish, his mother was half-Jewish, according to Nazi racial ordering). His pregnant wife Sharon Tate was horribly knifed in her belly by the Manson family in their rampage. RP is now an old man. His movies are about the indifference of the world in the face of the worst corruption and evil (think especially of The Pianist and Chinatown). How he has functioned at all in the world is something of a testament to the resilience of our species. Ask the children of Holocaust survivors how they and their parents have fared: they are not always mentally healthy human beings, as numerous reports by clinicians can attest.

    Perhaps none of this personal and professional history gets through to his most sanctimonious pursuers, but it does to me. We were not there to witness the activities of long ago that impelled one media personality to wish him dead: did the latter “libertarian” imagine Samantha Geimer as a young blonde, contaminated by a carnal Jew despoiling her forever? Was he protecting his fantasy that all children are innocent, until corrupted by sexuality sometime in adolescence? I am asking questions that any artist would understand: the world is not black and white but grey. I am thinking now of Elia Kazan’s publication of  Tennessee Williams’ letter to him, warning that neither Stanley Kowalski nor Blanche Dubois was a stick figure, to be painted either black or white, and most especially that Kowalski was not “a black-dyed villain.” (I am referring to A Streetcar Named Desire, before it was either a stage play or a movie. Kazan directed both, and the letter is in Kazan’s confessional autobiography.)

   While all the ink is spilled and hot air blown about, we are in one crisis after another in the world in this country regarding our safety and that of our children. What is the matter with those who are so quick to take a position before they have either empathy or the facts? The victim herself, married and a mother of four, has asked that RP not be prosecuted further and yet the howling mob must take its revenge. [Compare to this nugget from Kazan’s autobiography: The (Catholic) Legion of Decency made this demand for him to change the movie version of  Streetcar: “We must make the audience believe that Stella and Stanley will never again be happy together.” (p.434). Recall that at the climax of the movie, Stanley rapes Blanche, while his wife is giving birth in the hospital. As Kazan recounts, the Church did prevail, and his film was “mauled,” in his opinion giving heart to the right-wing assaults that would follow. At that time, Catholics were 20% of this country. They are now 40%. Think now of Dick Wolf and his Law and Order, SVU.] I for one am sick of this reflexively politically/religiously motivated behavior on the part of the talking heads and those who nod in agreement like ventriloquist dummies.  Having said that, with anger on my part, I must reassure the reader that I have not condoned Polanski’s behavior, but then neither has he, to my knowledge. Added: 10-13-09, 10-15-09]

    The world may be falling apart, the nation is certainly politically polarized, Washington politicians seem to have lost their collective minds, Israel and other Western targets may be nuked by Iran, and the President seems increasingly ineffectual, while for several days now, numerous intellectuals on the Right, and even some who are “moderates”  are waxing indignant over such matters as a petition signed by dozens of the threatening  corps of “Hollywood liberals” who stand accused of defending not only Polanski, but  pedophilia.

   I just watched a Pajamas TV video in which Roger Simon and Lionel Chetwynd express their horror that famous European intellectuals (including Bernard-Henri Levy, Bernardo Bertolucci, Bertrand Tavernier, and Claude Lanzmann, the director of  Shoah!) and American directors such as Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, David Lynch, and their most vulnerable colleague Woody Allen, have signed a petition. (The petition is not described for its content, which does no more than criticize the mechanics of the arrest in Switzerland, Sept. 26. The movie industry was asserting its rights to have chosen its honoree, Polanski, for lifetime achievement, without intervention by the Swiss authorities, who had not moved against Polanski before this, though he has a home in that country.) But on the video, these ostensible nihilists are depicted as excusing Polanski for his crimes, though there is not a word in the petition concerning his conduct with young Samantha Geimer.  No, in a breathtaking gesture of populist solidarity, the petition signers are damned by Simon and Chetwynd as “elitists” who “create their own moral universe,” one which is opposed to that of the presumably virtuous “People,”  who have shamed the morally rotten intellectuals in their comments as posted to the press reports of the arrest and its noisy aftermath.

   What is wrong with this picture?   

1.    The fact that Woody Allen has made movies such as Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point does not prove that Allen is rooting for the bad guys. He is, as usual, posing the problem of Job: how can God, should One exist, allow evil to go unpunished? What kind of an amoral world are we living in?

2.   Polanski has been quoted as saying that everyone wants to “f—- little girls.” You would think that some feminist or male sympathizer to feminism would stop a moment and reflect on either the veracity or the mendacity of such a broad claim. The rest of this blog considers the condition of women and the sexual expectations which are laid upon them by men.

VICTORIAN WOMANHOOD. Surely we have all seen pictures of those respectable ladies with their hair pinned up, no visible makeup, wearing black bombazine and looking rather grim. And yet they seem to have had relatively successful marriages, had many children, and, oh yes, created the first feminist movement in this country, while also leading such movements as abolitionism, uplifting urban prostitutes, and fighting alcoholism in men. We loathe them as Victorian battle-axes, right?

HOLLYWOOD AS BABYLON.  Budd Schulberg was eloquent on the sexual free-for-all that was Hollywood from the very outset. Although he blames this decadence on the Roaring Twenties, the world of the theater was probably always libertine, as Goethe demonstrates in his quasi-autobiographical  Wilhelm Meister novel, much of which is about his life in the burgeoning theater of eighteenth-century Germany. Nor does he complain about la vie boheme.  Goethe was quite the wild man (though not a revolutionary of any kind), and possibly bisexual. Yet no one is trashing him for his moral blindness today: rather as rooted cosmopolitan and internationalist he is the greatest European intellectual who ever lived, according to his millions of admirers.

   Any mother who has allowed her pubescent daughter to go near the mini-sultans of the movie industry (or its related business of modeling) should know what a risk she is taking. But those few commentators who point this out are shouted down as excusing Polanski.

THE HYPER-SEXUALIZATION OF WOMEN BY THE FASHION, COSMETICS, AND PLASTIC SURGERY INDUSTRIES.  Schulberg’s memoir is also quite explicit about the ties between the fashion industry and Hollywood. We all know about it, and millions of women world-wide are spending way too much time perfecting themselves as little dolls, while plastic surgeons batten on the “narcissism” that women develop to please men and their infantile fantasies of female beauty. Studies show that the ideal glamour-girl looks like a child: lithe little bodies, big eyes, long lashes, undeveloped nose, bee-stung lips, silken skin, Rapunzel hair, pearly white baby teeth…you know the drill. And their mothers are complicit in this fashioning of the perfect nymphet. Women know (my mother certainly did) that it is suicidal for a woman seeking marriage with a promising male to flaunt her intellectual or artistic accomplishments. My own mother advised me to become a good listener and not to show off my brains.

   Need I add that women are frequently viewed as perennially sexually available to their husbands, and that the multiple demands made upon them by motherhood or other activities are no excuse for saying no?   Indeed, women’s magazines, even WebMD, are full of advice regarding spicing up marriage, and the perversion of sadomasochism is now a joke on sitcoms, with no tut-tuts or curiosity about its history in the psyche of its practitioners. (See my prior blogs on this subject, almost too numerous to mention.)

    I am saying here simply that there is enormous social pressure to under-develop women and to exhaust them before their time. The pro-Life Right would wear them out with too many children, while the bohemian Left spurns fidelity altogether as a bourgeois imposition, activated by unleashed female curiosity that would pry into all their secret feelings and harness them to a deadening domesticity. Monogamy is notoriously square.

    The second wave of feminism started out with the reformist fervor of the nineteenth-century first wave, but then became co-opted by the “progressive” anti-imperialist Left (think of the Anne Hathaway character in The Devil Wears Prada who reverts to p.c. dowdiness at a magazine something like The Nation) and in their upward mobility into journalism, academe or business, these lucky few too often forgot about the great majority of women who were left behind. About this lamentable state of affairs, the punditry remains silent.

[Anonymous comment from a friend:] I read it with interest and agree in great part with you — I also feel this whole Polanski fracas is more complex than it appears, while at the same time being old news and dull news (compared to say, the real scandal of what happened in Guinea, or even, more locally, the gang rape of a young woman up in Richmond while onlookers took pictures and laughed).  I, too, think back to Polanski’s horrifying childhood and the Manson murders.  I think about what the man has endured.  

    I was also struck, after reading Samantha Geimer’s deposition, how Lolita-esque this whole episode was.  She had had intercourse before, several times.  Polanski, the pedophile, offered to perform (and did perform) oral sex on her, which she referred to as “cuddling”.  He did many things which he should never, ever have done.  But he kept asking her (again, according to her testimony) if she wanted champagne, if she wanted a quaalude, if she would like to take a dip in the hot tub, and she kept saying yes.  Now, of course, she is 13.  She is a child.  She doesn’t know what to do, even if she is somewhat sexually experienced.  And, alas, girls are implictly taught to be polite and acquiesce.  And is it so terrible to imagine that she could be both scared and curious simultaneously?  Then, she says she wants to call her mother and Polanski gives her the phone.  She calls her mother.  Her mother asks if she should come get her?  The girl says no.  So mother does not come.

 What the hell was Samantha Geimer’s mother thinking?  Or not thinking?  I hate to make this into an indictment of the mother — it was Polanski, after all, who is responsible — but still.  WTF?

L.A. in the 70’s was a very dark place.  It reads like something out of Didion, if Didion had written about it.  

 And still again… I don’t think Woody Allen’s support is doing Roman Polanski any good at all.  

 As the mother of two girls, at the end of the day, I think Polanski got away with something ugly and wrong, and even though Geimer moved on and doesn’t want more attention for this, it isn’t right. “Chinatown” may be about “the indifference of the world in the face of the worst corruption and evil” (well put), but it is also about a man who has raped his daughter and fathered a child by her.  A child he wishes to rape as well.  If Polanski could have just left his demons in his movies…

 The stupid right-wingers hate, because they fear, complexity.  But then again, they’re right about one thing:  being an artist doesn’t make it okay to have sex with a 13 year old. [end, comment from a friend]

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