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Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Oscar and The Death of Movies

January 30th, 2012 - 7:00 am

I read the list of this year’s Oscar nominations and thought at once, “The movies are over.”

This is not to say that the movies are bad. Not to say that the people making them are untalented. Not to say that some films don’t make money. It’s simply to point out that the form is sinking into social irrelevance.

Every art form has peaks and valleys of relevance. Shakespeare could say of stage actors that they were “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time,” whose portrayals could destroy a reputation. Percy Bysshe Shelley could declare with a straight face that poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” James Joyce could have a budding intellectual novelist proclaim — with youthful grandiosity but not without legitimacy—that he was setting out on his career, “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” Which stage actor — which poet — which intellectual novelist — could say such things today and be taken seriously by anyone but his doting mother?

So too, there was a generation of movie makers—several generations—who brought the dreams of the world to life. Neal Gabler in Empire of Their Own talked about how movies once “colonized the American imagination,” and in the same vein Geoffrey O’Brien called film The Phantom Empire because it captured — in more senses than one — the way people thought and felt about their country and the world. But the list of nine Oscar nominees shows how far the art form has receded from its imperial moment. As John Nolte at Big Hollywood pointed out, only one of the nine nominees — The Help — was a major hit, and the films of the year that were major hits — Rise of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: First Class — weren’t Oscar-worthy. In other words, Hollywood is less and less capable of making important pictures of high quality that the general public wants to see.

In a wonderful post earlier this year, Nolte offered his advice for how to bring the movies back to full vigor: give us real movie stars, stop insulting America and Americans, emulate the NFL’s respect for its audience, etc. But I wonder if Doctor John might be writing a prescription for a patient who has already died.

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Trying to Beat Someone With No One

January 27th, 2012 - 11:11 am

I usually like to include as many cultural reviews as possible on this blog. I think people who think about politics tend to think about politics too much. It’s not good for you. It makes you crazy. You get inflated with a sense of your own rightness and righteousness, start accusing your opponents of being evil…  I know: it’s fun. And it feels good. But it really is unhealthy. You’re not that great. They’re not quite as bad as all that. Trust me on this. As one of our priests said in church last week, “God loves you — and all the people you can’t stand.” Amen.

Unfortunately, that said, I don’t have much to report on the cultural front this week for various reasons. I’ll try to write my Monday column about the Oscar nominations. Which leaves only politics for now …  and politics this week has been just plain depressing.

By now it seems reasonable to assume that every single sentient being in America if not the universe has listened to this week’s Ricochet podcast or at least has fast-forwarded through to my parts. Thus you’ll have heard me challenge GOP political consultant Mike Murphy on his support for Mitt Romney, who is either running for president or selling cigars out in front of the drugstore, I’m never sure which. Murphy, a witty and intelligent guy with a lot of wonky information at his fingertips, seemed to me the very incarnation of the much-talked-about Republican establishment. As such, he says a lot of sensible things — and also seems completely unaware that a libertarian revolution is brewing in this country, that it gave the Republicans the only relevance they have left by returning them to power in the House in 2010, and that if GOP centrist types like him succeed in putting up a Bushian only-sort-of-conservative like Romney and then lose to Obama, the consequences for them may include treatment last seen during the Inquisition.

Like Murphy, like just about everyone who thinks, I’m not convinced that Gingrich is a viable alternative to Romney either.  I’m not even convinced he’s the more conservative of the two. (I don’t think Santorum is that conservative either, by the way. Aside from the social values stuff, which won’t matter a damn if the country goes bankrupt, he seems to have backed a lot of W’s big spending.) When I turn to the best pundits, I find Ann Coulter making a brilliant case against Gingrich and for Romney, and Thomas Sowell making a brilliant case against Romney and for Gingrich. From this, I deduce that Coulter and Sowell are brilliant people capable of making brilliant cases. In fact, if I’m ever arrested for stalking some beautiful intelligent blonde conservative pundit, I may hire Coulter to defend me…  although on consideration, I can think of several reasons why that might not work.

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Ricochet and The State of the Union

January 25th, 2012 - 10:41 am
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I knew I’d be doing a Ricochet podcast this (Wednesday) morning on the State of the Union, so I watched the entire speech straight through.  By the end of it, I was offering to betray our military’s field positions, change my religion and sign a statement demanding the U.S. get out of Viet Nam if they would just make it stop. What a cynical and disingenuous blowhard this president is! The speech seemed to me a complete fantasy, existing as it did in a world in which our country was NOT currently borrowing more money than it produces and in which “paying your fair share,” meant having your money taken away from you to fund things you don’t want and the government has no right to buy. GOP Governor Mitch Daniels’ response was like having water splashed in my face, waking me from a dream. Listen, I know he’s short and boring, but Daniels not only would have made a better candidate than Mitt or Newt, he’s a better executive than either Mitt or Barack could ever be. And here’s another thing: the social conservatives who beat up on Daniels because he said we needed to call a truce on their issues in order to bring people together to deal with the debt? They were wrong and he was right. Let me be more exact: they were a hundred per cent wrong and he was a hundred per cent right. They should make a pilgrimage to his state house on their knees, like the old women who climb the Sacred Steps in Rome, in order to apologize and beg him to reconsider getting into the race. You don’t like abortion? Who do you think your best president would be? Obama, Mitt or Daniels? Right, me too. Go stand in the corner.

You can hear me wax incredibly eloquent on these and other topics together with people who actually know what they’re talking about like Peter Robinson, Rob Long, James Lileks and Mike Murphy on the Ricochet podcast for 1/25.

Pissing Away the War on Terror

January 23rd, 2012 - 7:00 am

"The tide of war is receding," he lied.

The Taliban is pissed off at getting pissed on. After four U.S. Marines apparently urinated on the faces of their dead enemies in Afghanistan—and after the event was captured on video and spread on YouTube—the Taliban condemned the action as “inhuman.” And listen, if anyone knows inhuman it’s the Taliban.

The Obama administration made a great show of condemning the Marines’ actions. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the pissing “utterly deplorable,” and promised an investigation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “total dismay.”

In angry response, commentators and politicians on the right puffed up and got their macho on. “Shut your mouth. War is hell,” said the wonderful congressman and war hero Allen West wonderfully. The adorable pundit Dana Loesch added adorably, “I’d drop trou and do it too.”

But let’s face it, it is an infraction: the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids such shenanigans. The Corps must maintain decorum with its corpses. (For Obama supporters: that’s a joke, because corps and corpse are pronounced differently.)

Most organizations have a time-honored way of dealing with this sort of thing. In this case, some high-ranking superior officer ought to call the piss-men onto his hopefully plastic-covered carpet and say something to the effect of: “I rebuke thee! Go thou forth and urinate upon thine enemy no more.” After which, there would be a brief period of embarrassed feet-shuffling, a brisk and coordinated “Yes, sir!”and then off the chastised men would go to kill and piss on more Taliban, only without the video guy this time.

But the Obama administration can’t afford to behave with that sort of decency and common sense. They have to over-react—they have no choice.  They are desperate to appease these Islamist murderers in order to hold together an attempt to negotiate a phony settlement with them. Only then can they pull our troops out of the country with some display of make-believe honor before the wild slaughter there starts again.

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On To The Championships

January 20th, 2012 - 6:55 am

While some of you have been wasting your time watching Newt McLovin’ debate the Capitalist Crash Dummy, I’ve been attending to the important business of preparing for the football championships this weekend. First I gather the hops to make the beer. Then I peel and fry the potato chips.  Then I place the finished chips snugly in cardboard cylinders.  And finally, I prepare my flying Clydesdales to deliver the goodies to little boys and bigger boys across the country. Or maybe I’ll just turn on my TV.

I’m not big on making predictions about anything because I can’t help noticing that people who make predictions are wrong about fifty percent of the time. Obviously, if there’s any justice in the world, Tom Brady and the Pats will destroy the Ravens but there’s not any justice in the world, so who knows? The Ravens are a fine defensive team but seem to have perfected what you’d have to call the Godot Offense in that you wait and wait for it to show up but it never does. The Patriots’ defense is something less than spectacular—or good—but they don’t have to do much besides give Brady some time on the field. Still, on any given Sunday…

The Giants vs San Francisco game is more interesting on paper—but they probably won’t play it on paper because that would be, you know, sort of silly. Forty-niner QB Alex Smith has certainly proved his mettle, and then crammed his mettle down the throats of the home crowds who booed him as a second rater right up until he beat just about every grade A quarterback who made the mistake of coming near him. Eli Manning has to learn that “elite quarterback” is something other people are supposed to say about you, not something you say about yourself. Still, he may have been right, and his team has overcome the injuries that left them short against the niners in November and come together with the sort of timing that makes the angels sing, if the angels happen to be Giants fans.

Since I blogged repeatedly about the inspiring faith and play of Tim Tebow, I should also make a comment about Brady’s evisceration of the Broncos last weekend. I take it as a sign that the Gospels are false and there’s no God. No, I’m kidding. Religion aside, Tebow is one of the most interesting and off-beat players I’ve ever seen. For all the attacks on his style and quarterbacking talent, this is a guy who won two college championships and the Heisman trophy.  Yet, it’s undeniable that when he loses,  as he lost last week, he barely looks like a professional at all. Even when he wins, he makes me feel like I’m watching some lousy comedy film about an ordinary guy who wins a contest to be an NFL quarterback for a day and then, through a series of hilarious mishaps, leads his team to victory. Well, anyway, the comedy is over for this year, and we’ll see if Tebow can make it happen for real when he returns next season. As I say, I’m not much on making predictions, but I’m betting that, given the chance, Tebow will get better and better and ultimately take a Super Bowl.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get in my sleigh and go to work.

PPV: Moneyball

January 18th, 2012 - 3:26 pm

One of the signs of America’s cultural shift out of the revolutionary sixties and seventies was Hollywood’s changeover from offbeat, often ethnic, actors like Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson to almost identical bland, blonde pretty boys like Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve sometimes wondered if director Martin Scorsese was making an ironic commentary on the trend in The Departed in which the virtually identical Damon and DiCaprio play mirror image cops (with Mark Wahlberg, another ringer, thrown in) who are manipulated by the aging Nicholson.

Not that these cookie cutter blond boys don’t do good work sometimes but, for my money, the only one who has developed into a really top-flight actor is Pitt. Despite the pretty looks and a rather dull, muddy instrument of a voice, he’s not only chosen interesting and challenging roles throughout his career, but he’s managed to inhabit them to the point where you actually forget whether he left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie or the other way around.

Moneyball is a good example of his work—and a really good film too, based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis.  Pitt plays never-was baseball player Billy Beane, who has now become the GM of the underfunded Oakland A’s. The film follows Beane through the 2002 season as he teams up with Yale economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to try to invent a new way of constructing a winning team on the cheap.  The script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Zorkin is quick, tight and smart. Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as manager Art Howe give great support. And 14-year-old Kerris Dorsey, who plays Beane’s daughter, is a genuine revelation. She steals every scene she’s in.

But it’s Pitt who holds the whole thing together. He plays Beane as a man who is smart but not that smart, sad but not that sad, desperate but not that desperate—it’s not an easy mark to hit and he hits it exactly. It’s not just a wonderfully quiet, self-contained performance, it’s also a modest one without unnecessary flash. As he’s gotten older—and less pretty—Pitt has actually developed more charisma. Like Nicole Kidman in her prime, he can dominate a scene in silence and on the sidelines. You can see what he’s thinking. Whole plot points play out in his eyes. It’s impressive to see.

Not that it matters, but I notice this picture got skunked at the Golden Globes. I didn’t see most of the films that won, but it’s hard for me to imagine they were better than this.  Midnight in Paris, which won best screenplay and which I did see, was another in what seems like an endless series of Woody Allen bagatelles, pleasant enough but so tiny in theme and scope it was barely visible. Moneyball‘s script is far, far superior, not really even in the same category of quality. And as for George Clooney taking best actor…  well, listen, I enjoy watching Clooney.  He’s a fun movie star.  But actor-wise, Pitt is the genuine article and Moneyball is one of his most all-around successful ventures.

It’s now out on DVD and definitely worth your time, even if you’re not a baseball fan.

Talk show host Tavis... oh, wait...

Very few wrongdoers do wrong because they are determined to be villains. Rather, they either have a distorted sense of reality to begin with, or they resolutely distort reality in order to justify the satisfaction of some rage or desire. The man who beats his wife convinces himself she deserves it, the child molester talks about his “relationship” with his victim, the bigot imagines some magical superiority pulsing through his DNA. I believe they know the truth in their deeper conscience, but these sorts of rationalizations can mute that voice almost to silence.

A while back, I blogged about the fascist message of the movie V for Vendetta. I pointed out that by positing Christianity and the British Parliament as symbols of oppression, and by holding up Islam and terrorism as instruments of beauty and freedom, the film created a world that was morally opposite to our own and thus justified what, in real life, would be murder in the cause of dictatorship. Several commenters complained, in effect, that I was denying the film the right to its fictional universe; in the context of the movie, they said, blowing up Parliament was an act of liberation and not fascist in the least.

All well and good, but art does not exist outside the world we know but in relation to it. Tell a story in which Hitler is a lovable good guy and you’re either doing satire or you’re nuts. V for Vendetta — like many films, TV shows, college liberal arts courses, the network news and articles in the New York Times — is an expression of the statist left’s distorted sense of reality and an attempt to impose that distortion, and the authoritarianism it fosters, on the rest of us.

Which brings me to left wing PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley. I don’t single Smiley out because I think he’s a bad guy or a stupid guy. In fact, from a distance, he seems a decent fellow with above average intelligence. But that’s exactly why his weirdly distorted worldview strikes me as both particularly dangerous and also typical of many on the left.

Here are two examples.

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My friends at the Media Research Center made a good deal of fun of this 2010 exchange between Smiley and Ayaan Hirsi Ali — and with good reason. Ali — an heroic atheist crusader against such widespread and barbaric Muslim practices as honor killing, genital mutilation and religious war — remarks that Muslim terrorists are acting on the conviction that they will be rewarded for murdering innocents in the hereafter.  Smiley immediately responds:  “But Christians do that [murder people] every single day.  In this country….  People walk into post offices.  They walk into schools.  That’s what Columbine was.  I mean, I could do this all day long.”

This video is posted on YouTube as “a classic TV truth moment,” in which Smiley takes down the “Muslim hater” Ali with a barrage of facts. But what facts? There are, as I write this, Muslims currently committing acts of violence in the name of their faith in every corner of the globe and against people of virtually every belief system mankind has ever devised including their own.  Whether this violence is inherent to Islamic philosophy or a cancerous aberration, it is a unique phenomenon in the modern world and there is no equivalent in any other group of religious believers.  Sane American Christians, conversely, do not walk into post offices or schools to kill people on a daily basis — or ever — for religious reasons.  The two young murderers of Columbine were not even pretending to act on behalf of Christ but were engaged in a psychopathic folie a deux which included a fascination with Satan, whom Christians tend to regard unfavorably.  Indeed, the only thing close to an act of specifically Christian violence in America — outside the realm of psychopathology — is the killing of abortion workers in putative defense of the unborn.  This has happened exactly once in the last decade and eight people have been killed overall since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.  The murders were, of course, condemned almost universally by American Christian groups — which is as opposed to Muslim violence which has a disturbingly broad base of Islamic support.

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Tebowing for Tebow

January 13th, 2012 - 8:00 am

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Well, as we head into the weekend, I’m really looking forward to the Broncos-Pats game. When New England ended Denver’s amazing six game winning streak back in December, the always graceful Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shook the hand of Broncos miracle man Tim Tebow and said words to the effect of, “Maybe we’ll meet up again.” It was a kind and gentlemanly thing to say and only Brady knows if he meant it, but here we are and here they are and here we go.

How exciting was last week’s Pittsburgh-Denver matchup?  So exciting that my eyes were glued to the TV and I didn’t pay enough attention to folding up the home gym machine I got for Christmas.  It snapped closed on my fingers. I almost yelled as loudly then as I did twenty minutes later when Tebow threw to Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown to win the game in the shortest overtime in NFL history. Broncos on the sidelines who didn’t understand the new overtime rules had to be convinced they’d won. It was a priceless moment.

Win or lose Saturday, Tebow has given us fans one of the most thrilling and off-beat football stories ever this season. Better than any movie that came out last year. Better even than the terrific run at perfection by Green Bay.

One of the most entertaining parts of the whole business for me was the way number 15′s simple and sincere faith in Jesus Christ reduced observing journalists to blithering idiocy. Retired QB great Fran Tarkenton’s rambling op-ed in this week’s Wall Street Journal was not the only venue where someone asked, “Does God Care Who Wins Football Games?” It seemed every time I turned on ESPN or opened the sports pages, someone was asking that question. But why? Tebow never said God cared about that—he expressly said God didn’t. Frankly I think journalists asked that question because they couldn’t bear to ask themselves the more obvious and more dangerous question: Does God care about Tebow’s decency, humility, charity and striving toward excellence? I don’t speak for God but I think deep down we all know the answer to that.

For myself, my peripatetic earlier life caused me to reach maturity without a home team to root for. So while I love the Pats, I’ll be Tebowing for Tebow on Saturday. What a sports hero the guy is. What an inspiration. And really, no matter what happens next, Tebow—and the Broncos—and the NFL—and all of us—have already won big time. And yes, I do believe God cares.


Watch Blue Bloods, Damn It!

January 11th, 2012 - 11:00 am

I. Love. This. Show.

If you are a conservative and you don’t watch Blue Bloods, you are a caitiff and a knave.  And okay, I don’t know what that means either, but the point is:  you gotta watch this show.  I know I’ve talked about it before, but it really does deserve repeating.  We complain and complain about how the left has taken over the culture, then CBS puts something like this on offer and we’re too good for it or haven’t got time to pay attention.

Blue Bloods is a show about a family of NYPD cops. The dad — the wonderful Tom Selleck — is the commissioner, following in the footsteps of his own father, the equally remarkable and much under-appreciated Len Cariou.  One of Selleck’s sons has died in the line of duty, one is a detective (perfectly played by Donnie Wahlberg), and one dropped out of Harvard law to become a patrolman (Will Estes, also very good). There’s also the sister, played by Bridget Moynihan, who’s a prosecutor, and Wahlberg’s beautiful and devoted wife, Amy Carlson.

Now I’m not going to say this is the most innovative show ever. The plots are standard cop fare, and while the family stuff is ninety percent heartwarming, I’d estimate about ten percent of the time it steps over the line into sentimentality.

But the values, the relationships, and the outlook of the program are so shockingly, bracingly, thrillingly right on — so much smarter and more realistic than the rest of the pap the networks dish out — that my wife and I turn to each other repeatedly throughout the hour and say, “I. Love. This. Show.” You’ll do the same.

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How The Media Makes Us Stupid

January 8th, 2012 - 11:00 pm


There are times these days watching the news when I feel I know less when I am finished than when I began. The people who ask the questions seem consistently to ask the wrong questions or to ask them in such a twisted and tendentious way that no possible answer could lead a viewer or reader any closer to the facts of the matter.

Two examples from the week just past. Rick Santorum appeared Monday on Fox News’ Studio B with Shepard Smith. Smith challenged Santorum on his stand against gay marriage. Here’s how Smith phrased the question:

How much longer is being anti-gay rights going to be something that’s a conservative principle…? How long before you catch up with the rest of the country and realize everybody’s okay?

Really? Is that what America needs to know about this issue? Santorum handled the question gracefully, pointing out that he wasn’t attacking homosexual relationships but defending the institution of marriage. Still, it was a stupid question stupidly asked and aimed at creating stupidity in its audience. It presumed that marriage was a right; it presumed to know the opinion of the majority of the country; it presumed that that opinion was an advance on Santorum’s, that he needed to “catch up” with it rather than the other way around; and worst of all, it presumed that Santorum could have no other basis for his stance than a sort of prejudice or ignorance that caused him to be blind to everybody’s glowing okayness.

To be clear: the actual issue, gay marriage, has virtually nothing to do with it. Whether you think homosexuality is a sin per se or, like me, you believe that both homosexuals and heterosexuals can act either morally or immorally within the context of their desires — that doesn’t matter here. Santorum is a candidate for high office who has shown a willingness to act on principle even when it might cost him politically. A media that conveyed information rather than distorted it would tell us what his principles are, what conclusions he draws from them, and how those conclusions would relate to his actions as president.

How hard is it to ask those questions? I mean, “everybody’s okay”? Please!

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