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Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: August 2013

Miley Hits Bottom

August 28th, 2013 - 3:24 pm

On their first date, my mother told my father, “I’m here to be entertained.” I guess it’s genetic, because this is pretty much the way I feel about life in general. So let me say I was grateful to Miley Cyrus for providing me with some big laughs this week. Listen, I didn’t even know the girl couldn’t sing, so I was very impressed to find out she can’t dance either. Always amazing to see a young person so multi-untalented.

And her incredibly bad Video Music Award performance gave us so very much more to enjoy as well.  There was Dennis Miller’s wonderfully succinct tweet: “Miley high, inch deep.” There was the brilliant remark from Brooke Shields who played the mother of Miley’s squeaky clean Disney character Hannah Montana:  ”Where did I go wrong?” That’s not only hilarious, it actually says something kind of profound about the nature of Miley’s reality, if reality is the word I want. And there was The Onion’s excellent mock column by the managing editor of CNN.com explaining why she decided to make Miley the website’s top story: “It was an attempt to get you to click on CNN.com so that we could drive up our web traffic, which in turn would allow us to increase our advertising revenue.”

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Kwik Krimes

August 28th, 2013 - 5:55 am

This is kool: Kwik Krimes, a new kollection of 81 very, very short krime stories by some kanny kraftsman, including Joe R. Lansdale, Ken Bruen and me.



Oh, and while you’re buying stuff, remember my next young adult novel, Nightmare City, is due out in November and still on pre-order sale as an e-book for $3.99. A good deal at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other e-book outlets.

Asking For It

August 25th, 2013 - 5:15 pm

Drunk girls! Boo-ya!

“Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame,” says the Pink song “Try,” written by Busbee and Ben West. “Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned.” Truer words were never spoken. People have been getting sex wrong since people have been getting sex, and I see exactly no signs on the horizon that this is about to change.

The most recent hapless moke to kick himself in his own groin was TV psychologist Dr. Phil, who came under attack after tweeting the question: “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?” His people say, plausibly enough, that this was for research purposes but, oh, the outrage! Feminists demanded the usual multiple apologies followed by show trials and public shaming. The general response, delivered in the Twitter equivalent of hysterical shrieking, was: “No! Having sex when a girl is drunk is never right! It is always rape!”

Is it? Really? If you are imagining the girl is unconscious, absolutely. But if she’s simply drunk and says yes? Please.

Feminists have spent the last several decades striving to convince us that sex should be as meaningless to women as it is to the most brutish of men. Any psychic differences between men and women are the product of societal prejudice, we’re told, and the physical differences can be rendered moot by birth control and abortion. Promiscuous women are “empowered,” and any attempt to point out that their behavior is self-destructive or immoral or even merely less than wise is “slut shaming,” not to be tolerated.

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Tapson on “Seconds”

August 23rd, 2013 - 5:56 am

I really like the site Acculturated, where whippersnappers too smart for their own dad-gummed good ruminate on various aspects of popular culture from a non-pinched right wing perspective. I was especially pleased this week to see my pal Mark Tapson celebrate the new Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-Ray release of a film that scared the holy bejabbers out of me when I was a kid, and whose final moments still occasionally haunt me:  Seconds.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Henry Thoreau once wrote, and there was a time when I led such a life. I vividly recall sitting in my office once many years ago, working at a job that had nothing to do with who I was or wanted to be, and suddenly being so overwhelmed by the panicky realization that I was wasting my life, that I had the distinct sensation I was bursting out of my skin.

I changed direction after that, but untold numbers of others before and since came to a similar epiphany too late, and passed their remaining days wrestling with regret for a soul-numbing, unfulfilled life. Who among them wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity to turn back the clock, be free of the trap they built for themselves, and get a fresh start, a second chance?

Last Tuesday the Criterion Collection released the DVD and Blu-ray of director John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, a 1966 cautionary tale which spins that yearning into aTwilight Zone-style, existential nightmare. It starred the hunky Rock Hudson, of all people – Hollywood’s beloved leading man at the time, more commonly associated with tame romantic comedies – in perhaps the most daring role of his career.

You can read the whole thing here — but be warned: it says “mild spoilers.”  I found them somewhat more than mild myself.


RIP Elmore Leonard

August 21st, 2013 - 7:27 am

Elmore Leonard, who died this week at 87, was the imagination behind one of my favorite movies — Hombre — and one of my current favorite TV shows, Justified. A man who never wrote in service to intellectuals or literature, he turned out novels and short stories for the market — westerns when westerns were in vogue, mysteries when the western market failed — and simply did it at a level that finally made the ivory towered dudes take notice.

His ten rules for writing are typically unpretentious and witty — and like all rules for writing should be taken with a grain of salt lest suddenly all hell should break loose (see Rule 6).

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The long, productive life of a truly influential American writer comes to an end. He died with his boots on, which is the way to do it. Rest in peace.


August 19th, 2013 - 5:54 pm

And I’m against guns too!!!

The redoubtable and physically intimidating John Nolte over at Breitbart’s Big Hollywood has a piece pulverizing left wing movie star Matt Damon after his new socialist sci-fi epic Elysium somehow failed to turn to capitalist gold at the box office. Thus the Noltenator:

For those wondering how Matt Damon (or anyone) could take away the title of “King of the Left-wing Flops” from George Clooney, just look at the numbers below. Matt Damon is 4-for-4 — four left wing flops in just four years. Not for lack of trying, Clooney has never achieved that. Clooney also mitigates the damage he does with mid-level budget films. Damon, on the other hand, likes his flaming balls of left-wing fail to be as spectacularly expensive as possible:

“Elysium” (2013): $56 million; $38 million worldwide – 3284 theatres - $115 production budget*

“Promised Land” (2012):  $7.6 million; $8.1 million worldwide - 1676 screens.

“Happy Feet Two” (2011): $65 million; $150 million worldwide – 3606 screens - $140 million production budget*

“Green Zone” (2010): $35 million; $95 million worldwide – 3004 theatres - $100 million production budget*

*add $50 to $80 million for promotion and advertising, then double the total for the amount a film has to clear just to break even.

“Flaming balls of left wing fail.” I mean, you gotta love the guy, right? Anyway, read the whole thing here.

Now, Nolte always makes me laugh and even occasionally picks up the tab for lunch, but you know what really gets me about this story? You won’t like it. It’s not red meat. It’s nuanced even! But here it is.

Damon’s a good movie star. So’s Clooney. Both are talented, obviously bright guys. Damon, I’ve heard from people who should know, is an all-around decent bloke. I’ve never heard anything bad personally about Clooney.

But the political stuff they do — it’s just so ridiculous. Why is that?  How is our culture failing or deceiving its creative class that such gentlemen as these should come to feel there is some virtue in creating art so in conflict with their lives and actions? Look, there’s always room for two political sides, I get that. I can understand disagreeing with the right about, say, abortion. It’s a tough issue. I can understand disagreeing with conservatives on gay rights. I disagree with them too. There are all kinds of discussions we could have, all kinds of compromises we might make.

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What Egyptian Violence Says About Democracy

August 15th, 2013 - 7:36 pm

From ScrapeTV

In light of the sickening violence now washing Egypt in blood, I am hearing a number of people — from the often brilliant Fouad Ajami to the not-so-much Peter Beinart – speak sternly of the military coup that overthrew democratically elected Islamist dictator Mohamed Morsi. In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami made the characteristically intelligent argument that the coup was not necessary because power was already divided among Morsi, the military, the police, and the judiciary. On Anderson Cooper’s 360 show on CNN, Beinart made the characteristically incoherent and simplistic accusation that those Americans who supported the coup were abandoning (I have to quote from memory here) America’s commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and minority rights.

No one can know whether Ajami is right or not. Would patience have served the Egyptians, as he says? Before he was overthrown, Morsi seemed to be moving to secure all power to himself. If the military had waited, it might have been too late to get rid of him.

Beinart, though, is inadvertently raising an issue that really should be addressed more often: the cry of “democracy” as an excuse for oppression.

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Bad Arguments for The Truth

August 14th, 2013 - 8:35 am

Two articles that complimented one another caught my eye last week. One was in the Wall Street Journal‘s Friday “Houses of Worship” column. Ari N. Schulman pointed out (what many, including C.S. Lewis, have known) that arguing in favor of faith because prayer makes you healthier or happier is a fool’s game.

The faithful may be winning at the game of life, but they’re playing by rules that social scientists have written in essentially post-religious terms. While churches define the highest aims of life as salvation or enlightenment, social science research replaces these with health and wealth, well-being and satisfaction.

Once you accept happiness as an argument for faith, you will ultimately lose the argument entirely, because the result can be arrived at without the supposed cause.

This was driven home by the second column, this one in the New York Times by T.M. Luhrmann the author of When God Talks BackLuhrmann tells the story of Sigfried Gold, a man who cured his tobacco and food addictions with prayer while never believing in God at all. He was essentially tricking his brain into a healthier life without buying into the supernatural.

Well, sure, why shouldn’t he? The joy of faith is not proof of God and God is not required to produce the “joy of faith.” Hell, drugs will do that for you — you don’t even have to bother to pretend pray. There is a God, but not because it makes you happy to think so. (If you ever want to read a mind-crunching but wonderfully reasoned article on why proof-talk about God is always nonsensical check out this brilliant Reason magazine piece by Mark Goldblatt.)

The larger point, of course, is that bad argument weakens the case for truth. Carrying this over to politics, it explains why leftist venues like the New York Times and NPR avoid highlighting conservative intellectuals like Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn and instead give the conservative cause over to anyone they can find with a thick backcountry accent and a tendency to bloviation. They know they don’t have to win the argument. They just let some under-smart right-winger get it wrong.

The religion-politics parallel is a good one. As it is with faith, so freedom, too, makes people happy. But happiness is not an argument for freedom. Freedom, like faith, is a good in and of itself because the fact is no other human good makes sense without it.

A Talented and Inspirational Singer

August 12th, 2013 - 7:20 pm
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I usually wait until at least mid-week before writing about the culture. I know we have to dedicate our best attention to the headlines that make us miserable rather than the arts that give us joy because…  actually, I forget the reason, but I’m sure there is one. However, I had a blast at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in L.A. Sunday night and it somehow seemed more worth blogging about than Anthony Weiner’s first political add (“I have something very special to show each and every one of you…”) or the Obama rodeo clown.

Anyway, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. just rocked the place: a gifted interpreter of the American Songbook with an inspirational personal story. Coming out of the terrible Eight Mile section of Detroit, Murphy rose out of homelessness and hard times when he felt guided by God to appear on the 2011 season of America’s Got Talent. Nearly destitute after a robbery, he showed up for the NBC-TV talent show in his last suit and took home the million dollar jackpot with renditions of such classics as “Fly Me To The Moon,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He’s now recorded an album and is on tour around the country — check his website for a venue near you.

The guy is not only really good, he also exudes faith, gratitude and a good nature between songs. At one point, he even challenged the audience by doing a very funny satire of hip-hop re-imagined as big band music with all the curses and degradation of women removed. The one time the audience stopped cheering him was when he referred to hip-hop stars as “evil geniuses.” But Murphy didn’t let that stop him. Good on him: he’s right.

Because my father was a disc jockey on a station that played American Songbook, I grew up with tastes a generation older than my peers. Listening to lyrics like “Flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do,” and “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble — they’re only made of clay. But our love is here to stay,” I was somehow not impressed with such intricate thoughts as, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” or even the more complex thoughts of troubadours who lacked the simplicity, humanity and grace of the Tin Pan Alley boys. I have always been convinced that the 1920′s through early 60′s marked a peak of American popular music that has never been neared let alone matched.

Murphy understands that music and delivers it with heart and soul. Take a listen, if you haven’t heard him already.

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You’re Killing Me, “Killing!”

August 9th, 2013 - 6:08 am

Okay, I know I’m not the only person who had this experience. Watched the first season of The Killing. Loved the characters, the actors, the ambience. Got caught up in the story. Reached the last episode. Got so pissed off by the cheat that I vowed never to watch it again and to take the Mireille Enos mask off my inflatable companion…  although maybe that’s too much information.

Enough people seemed to feel this way that AMC canceled the show after the second season — then they rethought that decision when Netflix and DirecTV threatened to put it on instead. So they put on a third season. And I thought, “Oh, okay, I’m a gentle, peace-loving, forgiving guy. I can’t hold a grudge forever.”

So I watched the third season. And I loved the characters, the actors, the ambience. Got caught up in the story. Reached the last episode…

You’re kidding me, right?

Let me say up front, there was a lot of good stuff all the way through. Strong writing. Great scenes. And I do think Enos is terrific as the troubled homicide detective. And beautiful, despite everything they do to try to make her look plain. And Joel Kinnaman, who plays her partner, turns in a performance of such depth and charm that he clearly deserves the same success here he had in his native Sweden. And kudos to Peter Sarsgaard for a powerful turn as a guy on death row.

That last episode though. Woof. Bad. Really bad. Contrived, unbelievable. It’s one thing when the killer is “the last person you’d suspect,” but another when it’s the last person you’d suspect because he/she just wouldn’t have done it! Also, it’s truly annoying when one of the very few believable female cops on television suddenly starts acting like a ditzy girl in a sitcom, all flustered and irrational and governed by emotion, not like a cop at all, just so the writers can maneuver her into a suspenseful position. Plus if you’re going to steal the end of a movie, try not to make it one of the most famous ends of a movie ever. The whole final episode felt like they’d written it in a hurry, not knowing the resolution until the last minute.

Look, it’s a season-long mystery. We’re watching to find out whodunnit. Great characters, great setting — all well and good — but you gotta deliver on that last show! I’m writing to AMC to ask that they return thirteen hours of my life. Not at the end either. I want them when I’m 27. It’s only fair. The Killing is killing me.