The Clare Spark Blog

October 6, 2013

The wild ones: Brando, Pacino, romantic rebels

Brando_-_The_Wild_OneIn prior blogs, I have tried to understand the appeal of such film masterpieces as The Godfather series. This blog will go beyond what I have written previously.

[Written in late August 2013:] 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/.

[This was a sentence from Hunting Captain Ahab (my book on the 1920s Melville revival), quoting a progressive American Rabbi:] Lee Levinger’s “exceptional individual,” the “genius or social discoverer” was linked to the “criminal or social rebel.” Mad and tragic misfits–like stubborn, hypersensitive, primitivistic Jews regressively merged with their “alters” or “other”– refused the “tolerant” “social self.”

In a Facebook comment yesterday, I expressed my discomfort with the Godfather series, arguing that it was typical counter-cultural in its intention and result. A few howls went up, as many view the first two in the series as masterpieces of movie-making. They are surely skillfully made, but I will continue to analyze them as morally suspect, even dangerously so.

First, are they artifacts of the counter-culture (including the Left)? In the days when I was on the radio or in graduate school at UCLA, I met countless leftists, some of considerable fame and reputation. Many of them urged me to prove my bona fides by engaging in some criminal act. One street theater fellow even urged me to steal something from a wealthy art-collector’s home. Another (in academe) attempted to borrow money from me (illegal), or to engage in an action that would help a red buddy to evade taxation. Being a first child, I am very disposed to following the rules, and such approaches were anathema. I always viewed my younger sister as the rebel in the family (which she was), which is typical first child behavior on my part. I was the Apollonian, she was the Dionysian.)

I left the Left because when the chips were down, these supposed freedom fighters did not support me when I was purged as program director by a Stalinist manager (who actually forged a document to “prove” that I had been warned as Pacifica procedures directed), and then the mostly Trotskyists or anti-Stalinist leftists for whom I went out on a limb, neither anticipated my imminent firing (which I did), nor did they go beyond letter-writing to the President of the Pacifica Foundation, a prominent Berkeley radical New Leftist, who ended up upholding “at will” firings–so much for solidarity with the labor movement and its allies. In retrospect, the leftist commitments of my “friends” did not amount to much. They were perhaps primitive rebels, of the type described by communist historian Eric Hobsbawm in one of his shorter books (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_bandit).

Then, after having received the doctorate in history, I was shopping my book ms. around. Verso books solicited the book ms., one of their editors told visiting academics that my book was to be published, but when I refused to drop the chapter on Tory resistance to the rising (crypto-Jewish) Whig bourgeoisie, I was warned to look elsewhere. Again, some prominent Left friends who had been published by Verso, sympathized with my “shabby treatment” but did nothing to defend my interests in getting the book published. Bucknell UP did the same song and dance; I must tone down the politics, or else. It was the Melville descendant, Paul Metcalf, whose close friend was on the board of Kent State UP, who took interest in my work and brought the ms. to the attention of Kent State UP, who not only published it with enthusiasm, but gave me no page limit, allowed extra photos, then entered it into every conceivable book award. These were mostly women younger than I, and exceedingly supportive.

Excuse this digression: the point is that these “leftists” or “counter-culture” types mentioned while I was still on the radio or in grad school, were all talk and no action. I was being the good lefty, encouraging the labor movement, while they were protecting their air time and such power as they imagined they had.

the-godfather-part-ii-poster

Back to the appeal of The Godfather series, or for that matter, of Al Pacino in the remake of Scarface. I have written before about ritual rebellion and the primitivist gesture.  (See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “ Rappers, Primitivism, and Ritual Rebellion”). No one would argue that The Godfather series (especially the first and second installments) are not virtuoso movie-making. Some aesthetes would argue that art and propaganda are not to be intermingled. I cannot agree with that judgment. Every art work is a cultural artifact and is positioned within the larger conflicts of the time.

Who does not want respect? Who does not want the family to be cohesive and protective of each member? How many of us get such respect or loyalty, in the family or out of it? How many of us crave the safety of the imagined family? The museums are chock full of jewelry or weaponry of bygone days, and they attract that infantile part of us that loves glitter, simplicity, and “honor”—no matter how bogus, no matter how far we fall back into a re-imagined early childhood.

Movies will do that to us, whether they serve as catharsis of violent impulses, or identification with heroes or antiheroes. Primitivism is a poor substitute for concerted political action grounded in the universalist ethics embodied in the laws that civilized people make. Enjoy the barbaric yawps if you like, but don’t pretend that they are a substitute for advanced morality. Above all, take note that these gangster sons in the Coppola movies never have to suffer through individuation. They neither “kill” the father, nor forge a separate identity from the Stern Patriarch. That’s where the wild things are.

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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.

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