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Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: June 2012

As I Was Saying … More On The Arts

June 29th, 2012 - 8:29 am

"I swear this post is not about me!"

It seems almost belligerently contrarian to put up my usual late-in-the-week post about cultural matters after a day of such immediate political consequence. So let’s get started.

I was delighted with and interested by the brief but spirited response to my post about my post about The Grey. To recap, I noted that PJMedia readers did not comment as actively about cultural matters as they did about political ones, and a number of readers offered explanations or responses. See the comments at the link. Commenter Pinky began her or his comment with “I wonder how much of this is the old Breitbart thing, that conservatives don’t engage with the culture.” And yes, that’s exactly what I was wondering as well.

Here’s a story to the point. As an artistic solitary, I was more or less shocked and confounded when I first started receiving invitations to speak. One of my earliest efforts was before a largish group of conservative college students at an event for the Reagan Ranch’s Young America’s Foundation. Well, they were college kids, so I figured they’d be interested in liberal arts stuff and I delivered a learned disquisition on the development of the idea of the individual in western culture. About halfway through, I looked up and saw a sea of glazed eyes and blank faces and realized, much to my dismay, I was dying the death. Afterward, a small handful of admiring students followed me out of the room to praise my talk. I was gratified, but asked them why I had bombed so terribly with the rest of the audience. They responded, “These are conservative college students! Except for us, they’re all business majors!”

Depressed by the experience, I went home and called a friend — the then more-or-less obscure internet curmudgeon Andrew Breitbart.

“I just tried to talk culture to a group of conservatives!” I wailed.

Andrew laughed wryly and said, “Welcome to my world.”

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June 28th, 2012 - 8:06 am
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“Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A [the Obamacare mandate] under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.”

And this, from ABC News, by way of Drudge:

OBAMA: “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Buy Roger Kimball’s New Book Now!

June 27th, 2012 - 8:02 am

The great Jewish playwright William Shakespeare knew everything (and okay, not all scholars agree he was Jewish but, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that could explain it!).  When Martin Luther touched off the Reformation by hammering his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (next to the “Tear off Number for Guitar Lessons” and “Volkswagen for Sale” notices), he set loose the process that would fragment the authority of moral and spiritual truth. From then on, it was inevitable that men who once took Jesus at his word when he said, “I am the Truth,” would now raise the banner of Pontius Pilate with its proud declaration, “What is Truth?” You may say, hey, that’s not a declaration. Shut up.

Anyway, Reb Shakespeare dramatized the all-too-likely outcome with a little play he liked to call “Hamlet.” Because that was its name. Hamlet, returning from university in, you guessed it, Wittenberg, can’t tell the truth from a hole in the ground. As such, he is perfectly placed to prefigure virtually every stupid French theory that will ultimately grow out of the 16th century’s crisis of authority. Most importantly, he demonstrates the inevitable rise of relativism with his famous pronouncement, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

When Hamlet says this he is pretending to be mad — because Shakespeare understood that relativism is not just madness, it’s make-believe madness because no one who professes it really believes it. And yet many an academic in the centuries to come would say virtually the same words while pretending to be sane.

Enter Roger Kimball. Our brilliant PJMedia colleague and New Criterion poohbah has been exposing the stupidity of relativist thought and defending the verities of western culture at least since his excruciatingly wonderful Tenured Radicals, a book that made such mincemeat of our professoriate it actually made me feel bad for them.

Now, Roger has returned with The Fortunes of Permanence, Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, an exquisite collection of linked essays that pits the wisdom of the ages against the relativist idiocy of the age. The writing’s great, the thought is terrific, the subjects are fascinating and Roger is the best company in the world —even when he’s only there on paper when it’s a lot harder to get him to pick up the tab. Best of all, when you’re reading Kimball, you know you’re getting the thoughts of a man who knows just about everything.

Which is funny, because he doesn’t look Jewish. Buy the book. Seriously. Now.

The Contents of Obama’s Character

June 25th, 2012 - 6:38 pm

As everything President Obama touches turns to crap, we begin to hear more and more leftist attacks on Mitt Romney the man. Andrea Mitchell on leftist network NBC dishonestly edits a tape to make Romney seem “out of touch.” Joe Williams from the leftist website Politico crazily suggests Romney is only comfortable around white people. Lawrence O’Donnell on the leftist cable net MSNBC moronically attacks Mrs. Romney for riding horses. And just about every leftist everywhere from the New York Times all the way up to some ostensibly legitimate news sources decries the fact that the Republican candidate for president is, horror upon horrors, a Mormon.

Really? I mean, while believing in the Angel Moroni may be kind of odd, believing in Barack Obama is just plain magical thinking. The jobs “created or saved,” the new tone in Washington, the health care “reform,” the new approach to the Middle East, the Russian reset — sure, all religions have their hard-to-swallow miracle tales but most of them don’t do this kind of real-world damage.

But of all the weird, creepy and false left-wing religious tenets the Obama administration has forced down this nation’s throat, none is as impossible to swallow as the myth of the president’s superior character. Listen, I’ll make no claims for Mitt Romney on this score. From a distance, he seems a decent person enough but I don’t know him and I’m willing to stipulate he’s no better than any other politician. But on the very surface of it, based on his own words and actions and what we know, President Obama clearly does not live up even to that exceedingly low standard.

In many ways, the political “character issue” is a nonsense, a phrase invented by the media as an excuse to expose people’s sex lives. But the real sins that people commit in moments of physical intimacy — sins of personal unkindness, dishonesty and self-degradation — are none of the public’s business. Bill Clinton committed adultery in the Oval Office with a woman half his age and shame on him, but what’s it to me? That satisfying swell of righteous indignation we feel in the presence of others’ personal weaknesses is mostly a psychological ruse to keep us from focusing on our own — that’s a loose translation of Gospel wisdom, I know, but a fair one.

No, the parts of a politician’s character that matter to the voter are revealed in his relationship to the American people and the principles of American liberty and law. These are the areas in which Obama has shown himself to be a man unsuited to his office. Here are three examples.

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The Horror!

I can’t help but notice that, here at PJMedia, it’s easier to elicit political comments from readers than cultural ones. Readers are generally eager to chime in on a discussion about, say, Fast and Furious, but when I review a movie or book…  not so much. Which I’m sorry about, because I really like hearing from folks about these things. I have a professional interest in readers’ opinions on the arts, plus I just think it’s healthier for the minds of humans and other featherless bipeds to ponder works of the imagination at least as much as works of the legislature.

For instance, I was very much taken with the responses to my review of The Grey (just below). I admitted in the review that it was my kind of picture — men against the elements, macho bromides galore and so forth — and confessed that, with pictures like this, if it makes internal sense and isn’t PC, I’m pretty much gonna sign on. (My wife, on the other hand, walked out after ten minutes because of the gore. I was going to tease her about being a girly-girl but then I remembered, oh yeah, that’s why I married her!) But for that very reason, I was interested in those who took issue with my praise for the film.

One commenter — religious, I assume due to the monkish moniker Sherab Zangpo — objected to the film’s message, which he read as “fighting is useless.” Now I disagree that that’s the film’s message, which I thought was more along the lines of, “Yikes!  Wolves!” or maybe something more Hemingwayan like “A man must stand nobly against Death, even if Death always wins in the end.” But more importantly: Do we have to agree with a story’s outlook on life to enjoy it?

One of my favorite novelists working today is Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins. (These became a so-so and awful movie respectively, but both books are excellent.) I don’t know Smith but, as far as I can make out, he’s a nihilist who believes that man is corrupt trash and nature is a devouring beast and everything else is illusion. Now I disagree with that point of view — but I also understand you can tell honest stories from that perspective, stories that are recognizably human, pose important questions and harrow the soul. This is untrue of far prettier points of view like “life is a bed of roses,” or “man is inherently good,” or “Oskar Schindler was an important part of the holocaust,” which are pure nonsense and likely to produce sentimental crap no matter how talented the artist at work.

In any case, if a story is truly honest and good, the “message,” if there is one, may turn out to be not at all what the author intended. In the case of The Grey, I suspect the real message was probably, “Stay with the plane, you idiot!” which, like commenter J. Lambie, I only barely refrained from yelling at the screen… though I was thinking it. Wouldn’t have been much of a story if they’d listened to me though. I’m with commenter Tim Powell on this: In the end, it’s only a movie.



DVD Review: “The Grey”

June 20th, 2012 - 7:54 am

A group of tough guys led by Liam Neeson plane-crash in the frozen wastes of Alaska and have to try to make their way back to civilization while being harried by a pack of vicious wolves. Let me be honest, there’s virtually no way they could make this movie so I wouldn’t enjoy it. They would have had to do something utterly childish, despicable and self-destructive like, I don’t know, include a shot of George W. Bush’s severed head on a pike, to alienate me from a story that — as a lefty friend said to me, rolling his eyes — “sounds right up your alley!”

But hurrah, they didn’t ruin it. The film is everything it oughta be and more. It’s tough, exciting and full of the sort of macho wisdom about struggle, strength, leadership, life and death that Hollywood seems to have all but forgotten. There’re no women who unrealistically prove themselves to be as tough as the men. There are no speeches about how wolves are really nice and only harm you if you drill for oil. There are no sub-plots about tolerance. In fact, there’s no tolerance at all — these are men, after all! There’s just gritty, exciting, bloody action punctuated by more or less realistic reflections on what matters in life.

Neeson is his usual great self, but kudos especially to director Joe Carnahan who has been going after the testosterone-fueled set with fun but not-quite efforts like Pride and Glory and Smokin’ Aces. This time he hits the target. Makes me look forward to his upcoming adaptation of Mark Bowden’s excellent book Killing Pablo.

I Oppose Barack Obama Because He’s Black

June 18th, 2012 - 5:03 pm

Sam Donaldson, who regularly treated President Ronald Reagan with disrespect, feels he knows exactly why Neil Munro of the right-leaning Daily Caller treated Barack Obama with disrespect. During the president’s recent announcement that he had decided to make up laws by himself from now on, effectively granting immunity to some illegal aliens with a wave of his almighty hand, Munro shouted out a question rather than waiting for the president to leave the podium without taking any questions.

Donaldson’s reaction in part:  ”Many on the political right believe this president ought not to be there – they oppose him not for his polices and political view but for who he is, an African American!”

Well, the old hairpiece has a point. As far as I’m concerned there are only two plausible reasons to oppose President Obama: either because he’s clearly the worst president in American history, or because he’s black.

For me, it’s because he’s black.

Oh, I know, some of you are suspicious.  You think that secretly I dislike Obama because he’s increased the federal debt by nearly five trillion dollars and given us our highest deficits since 1946 and yet has made not one serious proposal to reform the entitlements that are clearly causing the problem.

But no, so help me, I just happen to be put off by the whole brown epidermis thing.  It gets to me.

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Bloomberg Wonders; Jefferson Knows

June 14th, 2012 - 12:27 pm

“If government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don’t know what its purpose is,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg after telling New Yorkers what they can and can’t have to drink.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men…” Thomas Jefferson, risking his life to make generations free from Napoleonic buffoons like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

This comes by way of Glenn Beck’s increasingly excellent online news site The Blaze. A local Buffalo man is interviewed after the home of an African immigrant is set on fire by an arsonist. The Buffalo man says the fire is understandable because African-Americans ruin any neighborhood they move into.

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Now before I react, let me reiterate what I’ve said here before. I believe racism as a philosophy is knuckleheaded pseudo-science and moral idiocy. It is the kind of half-smart thinking I expect from leftists, and goes entirely against the respect for the individual that is at the heart of conservatism.

That said, what struck me about the video above was not the opinion of the interviewee — who is an honest person on the ground reporting the facts as he sees them — but the reaction of the interviewer from local TV station WIVB-TV. He (sounds like a kid) is clearly shocked by the man’s direct response to his questions and keeps asking, “Don’t you see something wrong with what you’re saying?  Mightn’t this be offensive? Isn’t there a bias to your opinion?”

Really? Is that the problem?

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Prometheus and God

June 12th, 2012 - 8:15 am

Eek! It's after us!

I saw Prometheus the other day and agreed with most of the viewers’ comments I’ve seen: amazing to look at, too diffusely plotted to really smoke, but includes one scene of sci-fi horror bound for the sci-fi horror Hall of Fame beyond a doubt.

But what anyone paying any attention to the dialogue will notice is that the entire film is essentially a meditation on the presence of God and the efficacy and humanity of faith (specifically in Jesus Christ) as opposed to the destructive dead end of scientism, materialism and their underlying nihilism.

These are rich themes for science fiction or any fiction. They bring drama to art because, whether you believe in God or not, French guy Blaise Pascal was right about people having a God-shaped hole inside them (though, okay, he didn’t put it that way exactly). And Leo Tolstoy, in his extremely cool book What is Art?points out that when the elite lose their faith in God, the arts have nothing left to talk about but ennui and sex — which sounds pretty much like the crap we’ve been watching on screen for a lot of the last forty years.

So the yearning for Christ deepens the motivations and vivifies the scientific curiosity of Prometheus‘s heroine scientist Elizabeth Shaw, played wonderfully by Noomi Rapace. (She’s the Swedish lady from the original Dragon Tattoo movies and makes herself an American star here, I think.) And her ongoing religious clash with Michael Fassbender’s witty and sinister robot, cold at heart and envious of humanity, provides the soul beneath all the big metallic special effects and gives some purpose to the squishy monsters bursting in and out of various people’s various orifices.

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