» 2011 » September

Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: September 2011

DVD: The Hour

September 30th, 2011 - 7:00 am

Photograph: BBC/Kudos Film & TV

I wanted to love The Hour but somehow it never rose to the level of my expectations.  Part of the reason was the slogging, mindless left wing ideology but really that’s just a symptom of an overall lack of depth.

Still, there’s a lot of good stuff.  Wonderful acting, for one thing.  Dominic West, the lead of the classic HBO cop series The Wire, delivers a pitch perfect rendering of a complex anchorman, at once unprincipled and attractive. Ben Whishaw, who played the poet John Keats in the soporific Bright Star, proves himself an actual bright star here. And Romola Garai, who was wildly sexy in Amazing Grace, is wildly sexy here in some tight-fitting 1950′s clothes I’m not convinced anyone in the 1950′s ever actually wore. But be that as it may.

The story concerns an innovative BBC news show caught up in the Suez crisis. Unfortunately, its history is lopsided to the point of dishonesty and the underlying  muddle-headed left wingery is so conformist and poorly thought out that it doesn’t even rise to the level of annoying. It’s just stupid and is a genuine drag on the story. Good Lord, if nothing else, the notion that there’s a Soviet spy in the BBC is ridiculous:  how would anyone be able to tell him apart from everyone else at the BBC? And indeed, the story’s moral conclusion could be rendered something like: Why be something as dreadful as a Soviet spy, dear chap, when you can unleash socialist destruction on your country by working for Auntie instead.

The show is best when it focuses on relationships, especially the friendship between Garai’s proto-feminist and Whishaw’s insecure crusader—an honest affection which never quite blossoms into passion. But there’s no depth to the depiction of the various classes and much of the moral posturing is the sort of highfalutin nonsense you expect to hear from a college sophomore. Brit artists, even more than ours, are as incapable of freeing themselves from the lockstep conformity of left wing fundamentalism as a primitive priest would be of freeing himself from his savage religion. Must be why they call it progressivism.

All in all, The Hour is shallow but amusing and attractive with some very nice hats. I caught it on BBC America, but I notice it’s now out on DVD’s and available at Netflix. I hear it’s coming back for a second season, which is odd because the story wraps up very neatly and completely—and enough is enough.

Sort of X-Men Versus Whatever-It-Is

September 29th, 2011 - 7:28 am

I have a review of Mark Bowden’s new book Worm in the Wall Street Journal Today:

Even before the Internet became a household word, let alone a household tool, there were those who conceived of it as an actual place—an alternative reality of mystery, possibility and danger. Science-fiction novelist William Gibson dubbed computer networks “cyberspace” in a story written as far back in the dark ages as 1982. By 1984 he had penned the novel “Neuromancer,” in which characters used a brain-computer interface to travel through a virtual reality called “The Matrix.” And of course by 1999 the film “The Matrix” built on that metaphor to explore the notion of a complete computer alternative to reality where good guys and bad guys nonetheless battle to save the world.

The metaphor of “cyberspace” has a certain validity. There are ways in which the Internet, like the printing press before it, has expanded the bounds of our communal imagination, and there are ways in which the imagination can be usefully conceived of as a piece of mental real estate— a place of consequence, in fact, where adventures may occur that affect our actual lives. But in the end, the metaphor is only that—a metaphor. Dreams are only dreams, and the Internet is just a bunch of machines linked together.

You can read the whole thing here.

Yes, it’s back.  That annoying, provocative—did I already mention annoying?—blog series in which I advise you to violate all your most deeply held principles in order to enjoy the arts that most offend you. I gave you apoplexy by saying a kind word about Tina Fey, made your gorge rise by singing the praises of Dexter—and I now move you to the sternest possible expressions of righteous condemnation as I celebrate a transvestite homosexual atheist who, bother the luck, also happens to be the funniest comedian alive.

To which of your favorite transvestite homosexual atheist comedians am I referring? Glad you asked. It’s Eddie Izzard. And the reason conservatives should like him is…  well, first off, he’s just so funny!  I think his most famous routine is the “Death Star Canteen” where Darth Vader goes to order lunch.  But my personal favorite is this one on the difficulties of Latin.  (Sorry about the subtitles but I post this version because I think it’s better than the others available.  I saw him do an even better version live in LA and laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my seat.)


YouTube Preview Image

Okay, here are some more reasons conservatives should like Izzard.  He’s clearly classically educated, which we approve of, and his humor comes from a deep understanding of and poignant love for western culture. He clearly is a sincere seeker after truth, which we applaud even when we don’t feel that the truth has yet been found. And for us believers, I would add that his rejection of God strikes me as, well, let’s say a stepping-stone. In any case, I would rather drink with an honest atheist than a pious fraud any day.

And lastly, we should never let the left’s idiot abuse of the notion of tolerance lead us to intolerance. Just because leftists think it’s somehow open-minded to makes excuses for black crime or gay exhibitionism or female rudeness doesn’t mean we should not accept blacks, gays and women per se as equal participants in the great human journey and potential friends and co-workers in the project of liberty. So many worthwhile people like Eddie Izzard, I feel certain, would embrace conservatism if conservatives would just stop turning them away with pharisaical self-righteousness.  Just saying.

Anyway, the point is, the guy’s hilarious.

NOTE:  A commenter below—in the ever-so-polite way of so many commenters (what is with that?)—has pointed out that Izzard, according to Wikipedia, “dismisses claims that he is a male homosexual, saying he is “a straight transvestite or a male lesbian”. He has also described himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”, transgender, and “a complete boy plus half a girl”. Whatever.  I seem to remember him finally coming out as gay a while back, but since I’m not sleeping with him in any case, it makes no difference to me.

‘Willpower’ and the Suckiest Generation

September 26th, 2011 - 7:02 am


I often joke with my wife that I wish my generation — the Baby Boomers — could die without taking me with them. I’d sure as hell like to be around to see them go. They ruined the culture of this country, threw away the untold riches bequeathed to them, betrayed and undermined centuries of wisdom, spread the use of drugs, legitimized divorce and abortion, and even managed to screw up the civil rights movement that might otherwise have been their signal achievement. On the other hand, they did give us pre-faded jeans, so I guess that’s something.

All this misery they (we, I fear I should say) heaped on America and the west while retaining a sense of arrogant self-satisfaction and self-justification that, were it not for our knowledge of sinful human nature, would defy understanding. The television show Mad Men is excellent drama, I admit, but it fairly drips with the Baby Boomers’ overriding notion that America used to be nothing more than a desert of falsehood, bigotry, and oppression before the Sixties cavalry arrived to rescue us from ourselves. Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is crap.

A book called Willpower has been making a splash lately and will, I’m told, appear on the New York Times bestseller list next week. I have not read the book yet, but while in New York last week at the behest of the Manhattan Institute, I attended an MI-sponsored presentation by the book’s authors, psychology researcher Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney.

Willpower surpasses even intelligence as a predictor of success in life. And Baumeister has performed a number of experiments that convinced him that willpower is something like a muscle:  it can be strengthened, conserved, and fatigued. Like a muscle, it also needs to be fueled. Baumeister’s assertion that glucose in the blood is essential to willpower has featured in the headlines about the book.

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet

The Palestine Lie

September 23rd, 2011 - 7:00 am

For me, the left’s support of the slavering terrorists of Palestine over the free, parliamentary democracy of Israel is proof positive of a world view that turns the moral world upside down.  Why is it the end result of relativism is always wickedness and violence and social decay, never the tolerance and peace and mutual understanding relativist philosophers promise?  Go figure.

On top of this, when it comes to Israel, the left consistently gets its facts wrong.  As a corrective, here’s a wonderful video made by my friends at Declaration Entertainment in conjunction with my friends at Encounter Books – it’s based on the recent Encounter Broadside by Sol Stern and narrated by Declaration’s inimitable Bill Whittle.  I’m afraid I don’t know who the magic hand is.  But it’s great stuff, really.  Take the time to watch:

YouTube Preview Image

Also, get Stern’s Broadside:  A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.  I’ve plugged these pamphlets before and, really, they’re worth buying, owning and passing around.

The Edinburgh Dead

September 21st, 2011 - 7:00 am

So last week, I put up a small review of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, saying I’d be interested in hearing about other fantasy novels that have some sort of realistic resonance to them.  This one—The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley—I believe popped up on one of the Amazon if-you-like-this-then-buy-this lists and then got what I thought was a pretty noncommittal review in the Wall Street Journal.

And I’m afraid I have to give it a noncommittal review myself.  At first, I loved it.  Great main character, great setting, strong writing and great idea.  I won’t give anything away but it’s basically the Burke and Hare killings embedded in a supernatural detective/horror story.

I’m a big fan of Burke and Hare—if fan is the word I want. They’re the 19th century Irish guys who hit on the brilliant idea of supplying fresh bodies to medical students in Edinburgh simply by killing people and selling their corpses! Is that innovative, or what? Much easier than grave robbing. Not only that, their murder method was so creative—they would pinch their victims’ mouth and nose closed and suffocate them—that it came to be called burking. Okay, shake your head, but do you have a murder method named after you? I didn’t think so.

Anyway, the novel plants these guys and the whole 19th century Edinburgh grave robbing scene at the center of a larger horror plot. It’s a great premise and a terrific set-up with some genuinely exciting moments (nice cover too, as you can see above).  At some point unfortunately—through the last third, say—it all devolves into a series of action/horror sequences without much emotional content to them. Too bad, as there were plenty of good characters to explore and still some good scenes to be had when Ruckley did explore them.

So a good try by a talented writer and an enjoyable read overall, but it peters out toward the end. I’ll definitely check out his next book though.


Obama Is Wrong, Not Evil

September 19th, 2011 - 7:07 am

Over the weekend many people sent me this video, claiming that it shows Michelle Obama dissing the American flag during the 9/11 memorial ceremonies. Reacting to the ceremonial folding of Old Glory, Mrs. Obama purportedly turns to her husband and says, “All this just for a flag.” She then allegedly shakes her head and rolls her eyes while the president nods in agreement.

You don’t have to be a left-winger to call malarkey on this. It looks, sounds, and feels like internet nonsense and almost certainly is. I, for one, can’t read Mrs. Obama’s lips at all. I’m not even sure I can read her expression — which might be one of appreciation, as if she were saying, “Wow, isn’t it wonderful, all this for our flag.” Anyway, while the Obamas have always struck me as a pair of supercilious prats, they’re not heartless monsters. They’re at a ceremony memorializing 3,000 dead. They may not think what we all think but I’m sure they feel pretty much what we all feel — and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t talk about it while on camera. They’re not idiots either.

But what’s really annoying about silliness of this sort is how distracting it is. The failure of the Obama presidency is a genuinely important event both in history in general and in the history of ideas. It should be explained, discussed, and analyzed seriously — not obscured beneath perfervid speculation or absurd charges. Obama is not a Muslim.  He wasn’t born in Timbuktu.  He doesn’t rub his hands together when he’s alone and mutter, “The economy is almost destroyed. One more stimulus package should do the trick! Bwahahahaha.”

What Obama is is the representative and unyielding ideological supporter of a series of ideas that do not work and would be wrong even if they did. He is “a faithful scion of the political culture of the ’60s left,” as Norman Podhoretz put it in a calm, precise, and brilliant op-ed in the Wall Street Journal not long ago. Podhoretz wrote:

Whereas the communists had in their delusional vision of the Soviet Union a model of the kind of society that would replace the one they were bent on destroying, the new leftists only knew what they were against: America, or Amerika as they spelled it to suggest its kinship to Nazi Germany. Thanks, however, to the unmasking of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian nightmare, they did not know what they were for. Yet once they had pulled off the incredible feat of taking over the Democratic Party behind the presidential candidacy of George McGovern in 1972, they dropped the vain hope of a revolution, and in the social-democratic system most fully developed in Sweden they found an alternative to American capitalism that had a realistic possibility of being achieved through gradual political reform.

Most of Obama’s supporters, I would imagine, do not share the radical anti-Americanism inherent in this vision. But they often do share in its other errors: most crucially now, the idea that the government can or should be the architect of economic “fairness.” This idea is wrong in so many ways.

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet

Novel: Neverwhere

September 16th, 2011 - 7:00 am

I’m not a big fan of fantasy novels.  I want to like them—I like the covers—but somehow the minute I get to the first character named something like Argon of Goodweald or Brax the Trog, I lose interest.  I can sit through a movie like that happily enough, but a book takes a lot more time and effort and I want it to somehow resonate with life, real life, my life.

But there are, of course, exceptions.  For one reason and another, I recently found myself reading two children’s books by the popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman:  Coraline and The Graveyard Book.  I thought they were both terrific and actually think Coraline might be a classic (by which I mean a book that will be read after everyone alive when it was written has died.  As opposed to, say, an essentially crappy rock song still occasionally played in elevators).   So I thought I’d try one of his adult books.  Couldn’t get very far into American Gods.  Then picked up Neverwhere.

Neverwhere had its start as a BBC television series that aired in Britain in 1996.  I lived there at the time but never got into it.  The book is an adventure story set in the magical London Below, which is in the underworld of the London tube.  The plot is powered by a series of imaginative puns on the names of underground stops.  So, for instance, there’s an angel at Angel, a dark bridge at Knightsbridge (Night’s Bridge) and so on.  The hero, Richard Mayhew, is a rather classically hapless Englishman who gets swept out of his dreary life into a world of enchantment and danger after he helps a refugee from this magic world.  Gaiman later adapted the series into a novel.

And it’s delightful.  A very pleasurable, sometimes funny, sometimes moving read with some very fine moments.  The first half is especially good and so’s the ending, but it’s fun throughout.  Plus, unlike so many British novelists, Gaiman manages to get through the entire story without one surly remark about Margaret Thatcher.  The book wasn’t as superb as Coraline, but it certainly made me want to see if I could find some other novels like it: novels that go outside the realm of reality while still somehow remaining emotionally relevant to our lives.  Feel free to leave suggestions.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t tried Neverwhere, I recommend it.

Happy Birthday, New Criterion

September 14th, 2011 - 7:00 am

I’m often frustrated by the way in which leftism manages to position itself as the default mode of high culture.  People still quote the New Yorker to me as if it were something other than a left-wing attack rag.   And even I listen to NPR sometimes or watch PBS, choking back my disdain for their government-funded statism in order to enjoy their coverage of the arts.

But right-wing high culture – or let’s just call it non-relativistic high culture or culture based on the idea of truth – is out there, you just have to look a little harder to find it.  Charlie Rose may be able to sell his droning bias on TV’s everywhere, but Peter Robinson is still delivering sprightly and fascinating Uncommon Knowledge online.  The New York Review of Books may still be rabbiting on about things of deep importance to everyone from 57th Street all the way to 49th but The Claremont Review of Books is much, much better, if you can manage to get your hands on a copy.

Then, of course, there’s the Mac Daddy of them all:   The New Criterion which John O’Sullivan called “Quite simply, the best cultural review in the world.”  It’s run by PJ Media’s own Roger Kimball, a man so brilliant no one will dare tell him that bow ties have gone out of fashion.  The special 30th Anniversary issue is out, and it’s unbelievably good, with an article on Chesterton by Roger himself, as well as a wonderful piece on the role of the positive in fiction by bestselling mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith.

I hate to do commercials, but this one is from the heart.  Go to the website.  Celebrate NC’s 30th with a subscription or contribution.  Help keep this vital source of high culture alive.  We are winning the culture war, in case you hadn’t noticed.  This is no time to leave the leaders of the fight behind.

The ‘War on Terror’ Is All About God

September 12th, 2011 - 7:00 am

Several years ago, I was speaking with a left-wing journalist who was rather hysterical about the subject of religion — although perhaps I repeat myself.  In any case, she had heard that then-President George W. Bush prayed for guidance before ordering the invasion of Iraq.  She was appalled.

“Bin Laden is fighting for his God and Bush is fighting for his God!” she said.  “It’s a holy war!”

As happens sometimes in this tragicomical life we live, her line of reasoning was absurd but her conclusion happened to be correct.  What has been fatuously called “The War on Terror,” this ongoing struggle between Islamism and the rest of the world (including some of the Islamic world) is, in fact, a holy war:  a violent argument over the nature of our Creator.

Americans right and left hate this fact.  Many can barely face it.  Almost no one in authority or the media ever dares mention it at all (Glenn Beck is the exception).  In principle, through tradition, by law and nature, most of us are repelled by the idea of killing over religion. Freedom in these matters is our watchword. I say Jesus; you say Allah; let’s call the whole thing God.

This is not to indulge in any mealy-mouthed moral equivalence or dribble out some balderdash about how all religions are one and faith is a mountain that can be climbed from any side. Not likely. If there is a God — whether or not there is, in fact — there will be things you can say about Him that are true and things that are not true and some religions will surely contain more of the truth than others.

Still, over hard history, we have learned that there are some struggles in which the evil of the fight itself supersedes the good of any potential victory. Faith is not knowledge; we should approach the super-natural with humility in our beliefs and forbearance towards the beliefs of others. And anyway, many cherished doctrines, no matter how deep or meaningful, don’t have much immediate effect on our lives. I believe that God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit — but if it turns out He’s five guys named Moe, I’m not going to change my weekend plans.

So we hate the idea of fighting a holy war.  But we have no choice. No matter what moral knots some self-loathing westerners tie the facts into, the truth remains, the other bastards started it and now it’s on. Doesn’t matter how tolerant you think you are. Doesn’t matter how many “Coexist” bumper stickers you own. If a man with a gun kicks your door down and starts telling you how to pray, there are only two possible outcomes: victory or surrender.

In order to secure victory in a holy war, however, you have to know what you’re fighting for. It’s not enough to kill the jihadis who want to kill us, or to dismantle the no-go Sharia enclaves being purposely created in cities throughout the west. A holy war is a violent argument about the nature of our Creator so in order to win, we have to know what Creator we’re trying to defend. This isn’t easy in a nation committed to religious liberty — a commitment that could not survive a kill-or-be-killed smackdown between your prophet and mine.

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet