» From Bauhaus To Our House

Ed Driscoll

From Bauhaus To Our House

Pushing Back Against the Age

September 5th, 2013 - 9:45 pm

We should always endeavor to “push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you,” Flannery O’Connor once said. At Touchstone magazine, Bradley W. Anderson looks back at the late Hilton Kramer, the founder of the New Criterion magazine, now published by fellow PJ Media columnist Roger Kimball, and Kramer’s push back against both the excesses of modernism, and what Anderson calls “The Perverted Amalgam of Postmodernism” as well:

Any age has its darkness, and the age of modernism was decidedly not an exception. Kramer pointed out that even Eliot had “illustrated the apparently unavoidable paradox that the advent of modernism brought with it the seeds of its own perpetual renovation.” This “perpetual renovation” had the potential for decadence as surely as it had the promise of fresh insights into the particularities of modern life, and no one knew this better than Kramer. Much of his life as a critic was spent exposing the humbuggery and snake oil that is often gathered under the label of “postmodernism” (or of “modernism” for that matter).

Like any heresy, postmodernism was not so much a new movement (although many a charlatan wanted to claim it to be so) as it was a perverted amalgam of old ones. There had always been streams of modernism that were assaults on the life of the mind and spirit (such as Dadaism), but the latter half of the twentieth century saw those trickles turn into veritable floods. Apart from the objectionable moral content of postmodernism (of which there was plenty, to be sure), Kramer wrote that:

The problem with postmodernism is not that it embraces architectural ornamentation or representational painting or self-referential plot lines. The problem is postmodernism’s sentimental rejection of the realities of modern life for the sake of an ideologically informed fantasy world. In this sense, modernism is not only still vital: it remains the only really vital tradition for the arts.

There one has it: the nexus between dangerous and vicious “ideologically informed fantasy worlds” (such as communism) and perverted strains of art created by those whose “loyalty is to something other than the truth.” Those strains serve not to remind man of the higher things to which he is called, but rather to enslave him to the passions, which plague him quite enough without any assistance.

Reconstructing Wastelands

Most of us have known only a steady disintegration of Western culture during our lifetimes. In America, our heritage can be understood properly only in relation to the historical reality of Christendom—both in the ways our country has embraced it from the beginning and in the ways it has rejected it from the beginning (and continues to reject even more parts of that heritage with every passing year). It is not irrational to wish to withdraw from a disintegrating culture, but that impulse has a way of containing the seeds of its own fulfillment.

T. S. Eliot saw the rot and hollowness, but kept working, creating monumental art and crafting essays about literature, ancient and modern, that spoke to the intellectual and spiritual needs of his time. Solzhenitsyn did the same thing, and furthermore once wrote that an artist has to engage life as he finds it, not as he wishes it to be. Both men brought their considerable intellectual resources to bear on the task of reconstructing wastelands.

Hilton Kramer is no longer with us, and many of the things he wrote about are now in the history books, for better or for worse. But The New Criterion, the journal he founded and nurtured to adulthood, is still here. Those who would themselves seek to engage and understand more deeply the milieu in which we find ourselves today—cultural, artistic, religious, and moral—could hardly do better than to add its pages to their reading, continuing the conversation.

Kramer left his lofty perch as the chief art critic with the New York Times to launch the New Criterion, but not before this classic incident occurred, as told by Roger Kimball:

Hilton praised as often as he deprecated. But he was famously reputed to be a “severe,” “acerbic,” or “judgmental” critic. The last adjective always puzzled me. What manner of thing would a “non-judgmental,” i.e., a non-critical, i.e., a non-discriminating, critic be? Hilton liked to quote Walter Bagehot in this context: “The business of the critic,” said Bagehot, “is to criticize.” One of Hilton’s favorite stories involved the movie director and actor Woody Allen. Back when Hilton worked at The New York Times, he happened to be seated next to Allen one night at a dinner. He asked whether Hilton ever felt embarrassed when he encountered socially artists he’d written disparagingly about. Without missing a beat, Hilton replied, No, why should I be embarrassed? They made the crappy art. I just described it.

Hilton’s response was both witty and innocent—witty, because it was a riposte unanswerable, innocent because it was only on his way home from the event that Hilton remembered he had written a negative review of The Front, a piece of left-wing agitprop about the Hollywood blacklist, in which Woody Allen acted.

Would any Timesman employed by today’s incarnation of the Gray Lady dare to speak Truth to Woody in a similar manner?

(Via Maggie’s Farm.)

You Heard It Here First

August 27th, 2013 - 7:04 pm

“Miley, Go Back to School,” Camille Paglia writes in Time:

The Cyrus fiasco, however, is symptomatic of the still heavy influence of Madonna, who sprang to world fame in the 1980s with sophisticated videos that were suffused with a daring European art-film eroticism and that were arguably among the best artworks of the decade. Madonna’s provocations were smolderingly sexy because she had a good Catholic girl’s keen sense of transgression. Subversion requires limits to violate.

Young performers will probably never equal or surpass the genuine shocks delivered by the young Madonna, as when she sensually rolled around in a lacy wedding dress and thumped her chest with the mic while singing “Like a Virgin” at the first MTV awards show in 1984. Her influence was massive and profound, on a global scale.

But more important, Madonna, a trained modern dancer, was originally inspired by work of tremendous quality — above all, Marlene Dietrich’s glamorous movie roles as a bisexual blond dominatrix and Bob Fosse’s stunningly forceful strip-club choreography for the 1972 film Cabaret, set in decadent Weimar-era Berlin. Today’s aspiring singers, teethed on frenetically edited small-screen videos, rarely have direct contact with those superb precursors and are simply aping feeble imitations of Madonna at 10th remove.

Pop is suffering from the same malady as the art world, which is stuck on the tired old rubric that shock automatically confers value. But those once powerful avant-garde gestures have lost their relevance in our diffuse and technology-saturated era, when there is no longer an ossified high-culture Establishment to rebel against. On the contrary, the fine arts are alarmingly distant or marginal to most young people today.

Great minds think alike, as the kids say on the Interwebs, and that last paragraph sounds awfully familiar. As I wrote last Wednesday, linking to Paglia’s recent interview in Salon:

Pop culture, whether in the form of the original modernists, or pop music, in the form of rock and roll in the 1950s and early Beatle-era 1960s, only really produces anything interesting and new when it has a more conservative and traditional overculture to push against. The original modernists had a millenia of tradition to rebel against — or reject outright — in the late 19th and early 20th century. At least until another group of leftists, led by their own wannabe artist, were even more eager to “Start From Zero” in Germany’s post-Weimar era. (Philip Johnson, who founded the Museum of Modern Art’s architectural department really hedged his bets, by maintaining a concentration camp in both groups.)

By the 1960s, there was nothing left other than modernism, which is why every office building built in America looked like Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building and 860 Lakeshore Drive, and every corporate and government logo incorporated Helvetica:

Similarly, MTV was the perfect platform for Madonna to mount (OK, pun slightly intended) to release her early videos, to blow off (sorry) 30 years of the network Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters. Once that was gone — and particularly, once Madonna released her Mapplethorpe-inspired “Sex” book in 1992, where else could the culture go?

As I asked last week, how does an artistic movement continue its “nostalgia for the mud,” once it’s wallowing in it?

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Camille Paglia “is as provocative and fascinating as ever,” Steve Green writes. Including these two observations, where Paglia accidentally makes the same point twice:

The avant-garde was a magnificent and revolutionary phase in the history of art, but it’s completely over. Artists and galleries must (in Ann Landers’ immortal words) wake up and smell the coffee! The avant-garde, whose roots were in late-18th-century Romanticism, was a reaction against a strong but suffocating classical tradition. The great modernist artists, from Picasso to James Joyce, were trained in that tradition, which gave audacity and power to their subversion of it.

But then modernism began to feed on itself, and it became weaker and weaker. As I argue in “Glittering Images,” there has been nothing genuinely avant-garde since Andy Warhol except for Robert Mapplethorpe’s luminous homoerotic images of the sadomasochistic underground. Everything that calls itself avant-garde today is just a tedious imitation of earlier and far superior modernist art. The art world has become an echo chamber of commercially inflated rhetoric, shallow ironies and monolithic political ideology.

* * * * * * *

The problem is that explicit sex has become so diffused through the general culture that it’s lost its charge, which once came from the sizzle of transgression. I’m nostalgic for that primal shock quality, which was still there in spades when a juicily plump Madonna was doing her pioneering videos in the ‘80s like “Burnin’ Up,” “Open Your Heart” and “Like a Virgin.” No one could writhe better than Madonna on the prow of a gondola!

But that’s the same phenomenon at work in both cases, spread out over 60 or 70 years or so. Pop culture, whether in the form of the original modernists, or pop music, in the form of rock and roll in the 1950s and early Beatle-era 1960s, only really produces anything interesting and new when it has a more conservative and traditional overculture to push against. The original modernists had a millenia of tradition to rebel against — or reject outright — in the late 19th and early 20th century. At least until another group of leftists, led by their own wannabe artist, were even more eager to “Start From Zero” in Germany’s post-Weimar era. (Philip Johnson, who founded the Museum of Modern Art’s architectural department really hedged his bets, by maintaining a concentration camp in both groups.)

By the 1960s, there was nothing left other than modernism, which is why every office building built in America looked like Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building and 860 Lakeshore Drive, and every corporate and government logo incorporated Helvetica:

Similarly, MTV was the perfect platform for Madonna to mount (OK, pun slightly intended) to release her early videos, to blow off (sorry) 30 years of the network Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters. Once that was gone — and particularly, once Madonna released her Mapplethorpe-inspired “Sex” book in 1992, where else could the culture go? How does an artistic movement continue its “nostalgia for the mud,” once it’s wallowing in it?

Of course, Paglia also talks politics, pointing out inconvenient truths which likely caused plenty of teeth to gnash at arch-leftist Salon:

As a registered Democrat, I am praying for a credible presidential candidate to emerge from the younger tier of politicians in their late 40s. A governor with executive experience would be ideal. It’s time to put my baby-boom generation out to pasture! We’ve had our day and managed to muck up a hell of a lot. It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton (born the same year as me) is our party’s best chance. She has more sooty baggage than a 90-car freight train. And what exactly has she ever accomplished — beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? She’s certainly busy, busy and ever on the move — with the tunnel-vision workaholism of someone trying to blot out uncomfortable private thoughts.

Fortunately, a competitor to the Hillary juggernaut is emerging — a man who has spent about the same amount of time in politics as Hillary, and with almost as little to show for it, as Jonah Goldberg writes at NRO:

Not counting rumors that Anthony Weiner’s marriage has hit a rocky patch, it may be the worst-kept secret in politics: Joe Biden wants to be president.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the vice president’s inner circle is swabbing the decks, battening down the hatches, and hoisting the mainsails for USS Bidenpalooza 2016. “Everyone involved in his world,” a Democratic official told the Journal, “is engaged in taking all the steps that make sense to prepare for a run, if he does run.” Biden’s people are apparently willing to go for it even if the allegedly inevitable nominee, Hillary Clinton, decides to run.

Why is this happening?

It’s a difficult question to boil down to a single variable, given the swirling maelstrom of egos, agendas, and issues at play. Still, one answer does seem to cover the waterfront: because ours is a just and generous God. From my admittedly selfish perspective, a Biden candidacy would be great for everybody — and by everybody I mean people who would like to see the Democratic party descend into a chaotic food fight.

Indeed, while most of the punditocracy is obsessed with turning the mostly trivial sniping between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) into proof of a bloody civil war on the right, the Democrats are poised to descend into a family squabble of historic proportions that will amount to a riveting political reality show.

I’d say “Faster, Please,” but I’d prefer that this leftwing internecine struggle continues deep into 2016.

“China Is Censoring Jokes About Its Propaganda Machine’s Penis-Shaped HQ.”

(Via Ann Althouse, whose commenters are having lots of fun — at least for the next four hours, or so — with this topic: “In fact, if the artist Christo ever decides to cover it with fabric or anything, engineers have already decided that the design must incorporate a reservoir tip. Just in case. “


April 22nd, 2013 - 7:29 pm

In The Prehistory of The Far Side, a 1989 anthology of Gary Larson’s classic cartoons, there’s a panel he drew in 1986 featuring a nighttime metropolitan setting with buildings alternately on fire or knocked over, and smashed and overturned cars everywhere. In the foreground of all the devastation, a police detective in a raincoat and fedora and a uniformed patrolman stare at a giant handkerchief with the monogram “K.K.” on it. The detective barks, “Take this handkerchief back to the lab, Stevens. I want some answers on which monster did this — Godzilla! Gargantua! Who?”

As Larson wrote while reminiscing about drawing the cartoon, “the only name I could think of for the handkerchief was King Kong. There aren’t too many famous monsters running around with first and last names.”*

The cluelessness of the police in Larson’s cartoon reminds me of the left’s self-imposed blinders on not wanting to come to grips with the Tsarnaev brothers. Could their motives be, as Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary spots Melissa Harris-Perry asking on MSNBC…classical music?

Michael Dyson: We fill in the blanks with what makes us feel most comfortable that this is an exceptional, extraordinary case that happened because they are this. 

So you take one part of the element, that he’s Muslim. But he also might have listened to classical music. He might have had some Lil Wayne. He might have also gone to and listened to a lecturer

Harris Perry: I keep wondering is it possible that there would ever be a discussion like, ‘This is because of Ben Affleck and the connection between Boston and movies about violence?’ And of course, the answer is no.

Of course no one will even think this is about those things. But at the same time there’s something, I appreciate the way that you framed that as the one drop. Like, because given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed-up notion of, like, Islam making them something that is non-normal. It is not us. The point is that it’s important to say, ‘That’s not us, you know, this is not American. This is not who we are.’ Because we couldn’t potentially do what they did. But if they’re more like us, the point you were making earlier, if they’re just like us, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, they listened to the same kind of music, they talk to the same kind of people.

It is easy to dismiss this sort of talk as just the public mutterings of the radical left, but it would be foolish to ignore it. The efforts of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to muscle the federal government into excising a discussion of militant Islamism from our approach to combating threats is part of a campaign to prevent Americans from connecting the dots between terrorists and the belief systems that motivate them. The effort to make us pretend that the Tsarnaevs’ approach to their faith is as irrelevant to the atrocities they committed as the songs on their iPods is not absurd; it’s dangerous.

Of course, if groups of organized classical music lovers had been carrying out terrorist attacks in the name of their beliefs Harris-Perry’s brand of moral relativism might make sense. But in the real world in which the rest of us live, the source of the terror threat of the last generation has been Islamist.

Or perhaps it was a very different genre of music that set the Brothers Tsarnaev off, as another MSNBC guest posited?

MADDOW: A lot of people are trying to figure out if these men, uh, were terrorists who were radicalized overseas, if they were terrorists who were radicalized here, if this was totally unrelated to terrorist and, to terrorist causes. Do you think there will be a definitive answer with regard to their Chechen heritage in terms of whether that’s relevant and explanatory here?

KING: Well, I think it’s relevant to a degree. That is to say that, these guys grew up in a particular kind of community with a particular kind of history. They had a certain kind of background, but at the end of the day if we’re looking for motivation for this particular act, I think it’s going to lie in the way that they were radicalized in the United States, on the Internet, visiting chat rooms, putting their own kind of lives into some kind of narrative about this nihilistic, millenarian, sort of anti-Western, anti-modern, uh, jihadist ideology that you find in lots of different kinds of communities around the world.

MADDOW (quickly jumping to accused jihadists’ defense): If they, if they did.

KING: If they did. We still don’t know.

MADDOW: We have some evidence of a YouTube page that we think may connect to the older brother that posted some radicalized YouTube clips. The younger brother, there’s very thin evidence of anything.

KING: Well, and keep in mind that on his, on the elder brother’s, Tamerlan’s YouTube channel, there are an equal number of rap videos.

MADDOW (her spirit briefly lifted): Yeah.

KING: So, you know, I don’t know why we tend to focus on this one particular aspect because these guys frankly have a lot of consonants in their names and we’re kind of worried about that somehow (what this “we’re” stuff, paleface?). But in lots of other contexts of mass killing, we go to other kinds of motivations and I think we really ought to look at those in this case as well.

Perhaps an overexposure to the Boston area’s ugly modernist architecture triggered their attack:

 U. Mass Dartmouth, which started life as the Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute, dates from the same period and is a strange mix of technocratic rationalism and architectural megalomania. A vast parade ground posing as a campus green runs between lines of identical buildings. Hoisted on hefty concrete piers, highway-scaled beams span vast distances, holding up horizontal trays of academic space that jut pugnaciously into the green.

* * * * * *

Amazingly, Rudolph’s design has been barely altered and rarely added to. The newest dormitory has been built in a budget-minded medium-security-prison style that makes the Rudolph buildings look humanist.

* * * * * *

As I sat stewing under the lock-down order, my thoughts returned to the U Mass campus, which swarmed with students who looked much like Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the bombing suspect. Although it’s too early to know whether he was motivated to violence by political or religious fervor, that’s looking unlikely as I write this. He was a student at the Dartmouth U Mass campus, it turns out. He seems to have had many friends, but I wondered about the effect of such a deeply impersonal place. It’s isolated at the suburban edge and unintentionally expressive of the assembly-line education that’s become the cost-driven norm. Does such a place aid the alienation — or, at least, impede the forming of deep personal bonds — of even a smart, sociable kid?

It sounds much too glib an explanation — as the numerous other theories we are now hearing are likely to be — but I can’t help thinking it.

Please do. Considering the socialist and “Progressive” origins of modern architecture, and its disastrous impact on public housing, run with that explanation for the Tsarnaevs’ radicalism, leftists. Run with it hard.

Perhaps it’s simply “radicalism” in general, as another MSNBC host claims:

Scarborough can’t shed the PC shackles enough to take the extra, logical step of pointing to the leading cause of terror attacks in the world today. He uses the watered down “radicalism” as a catch-all to encompass all radical ideas under one umbrella, as if “radicalism” is the biggest threat in our society. He just can’t bring himself to point out the significant fact that the terrorists were hugely influenced by radical Islamism.  ”Don’t blame society for that. Blame radicalism, blame evil, blame them (the Tsaraev brothers.)”

So if we go with “radicalism” as an explanation, then pretty much everyone who works in front of the cameras at NBC News is to blame, considering that:

If anybody can make sense of it all, it’s Victor Davis Hanson, as we’ll explore on the next page.

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While the two-hour sixth season debut of Mad Men earlier this month played oddly coy about which year the series was set in, we now know that we’re witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it’s worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it’s merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories.

Vietnam and the Cognitive Dissonance of the Liberal Elite

In the 1950s and 1960s, German émigrés such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the former leaders of the socialist Bauhaus school of design of the 1920s Weimar Republic ,were busy building skyscrapers to house America’s corporate elites. To this day, Mies’ Seagram Building and Gropius’ Pan Am Building are lasting tributes to Weimar aesthetics on Park Ave. So perhaps it’s no wonder that American liberal elites were themselves embracing a Weimar-esque sense of dissipation and fatalism. JFK’s optimistic New Frontier worldview was supplanted by a collective malaise by depressed American elites by the late 1960s.

The cognitive dissonance of liberals not being able to process that JFK was the world’s most prominent victim of the Cold War was one cause of this malaise. Another was the ambition of LBJ’s Great Society, which had attempted to build on Kennedy’s space program and his nascent efforts at fighting communism in Vietnam with a series of Texas-sized domestic programs. LBJ’s goal was to recreate FDR’s New Deal, and as Rand Simberg has written, Johnson embraced NASA’s moon missions as an extension of FDR’s TVA program. But LBJ’s Texas drawl could never replace JFK’s polished Brahmin accent and style in the eyes of American liberal elites, who would come to turn on Johnson, devouring him for his outsized sense of ambition, and his patriotism.

As Patrick Moynihan had said in the early 1970s, “Most liberals had ended the 1960s rather ashamed of the beliefs they had held at the beginning of the decade.” But it’s worth flashing back to the end of the 1950s just to see how dramatic the transformation was. As I mentioned when I interviewed David Gelernter last year, chapter one of his 2012 book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) opens with a remarkable quote from William DeVane, the dean of Yale, in 1957:

Our national leaders for the most part are men of integrity, idealism, and skill; our literary and artistic people command an international respect such as they never had before; our scientists and engineers, especially the latter, are the wonder and envy of other nations; our teachers in our colleges and universities are learned and devoted.

By 1968, liberal elites in academia and the media were simply incapable of allowing such a sentence to pass from their lips, and their worldview would become ever more punitive in the years since: Former JFK/LBJ official turned public TV staple Bill Moyers recently denounced the Pledge of Allegiance on PBS:

Veteran journalist Bill Moyers told his viewers on March 29 that the next time they say the Pledge of Allegiance, they should “remember: it’s a lie. A whopper of a lie.” Bill Moyers’s “Moyers & Company,” which included the snippet, airs on taxpayer funded PBS.

“We coax it from the mouths of babes for the same reason our politicians wear those flag pins in their lapels – it makes the hypocrisy go down easier, the way aspirin helps a headache go away.”

It’s a cliché to write that the well was poisoned by Vietnam; as Gelernter wrote in America-Lite, the sixties peace movement preceded the escalation of our involvement there.  Early in America-Lite, Gelernter contrasts that 1957 quote from Yale’s William DeVane with mid-1970s quotes from liberal essayist E.B. White. “No one knows which way to turn and which way to go,” White believed in 1975. The following year, he would add, “Patriotism is unfashionable, having picked up the taint of chauvinism, jingoism, and demagoguery. A man is not expected to love his country, lest he make an ass of himself.” Almost 40 years later, Bill Moyers would take that sentiment to its punitive conclusion. In America-Lite, Gelernter notes:

The conventional view is that the civil rights movement and Vietnam and feminism are what changed the country. But the antiwar movement and modern feminism were consequences of the revolution. The civil rights movement sustained and expanded the revolution. For the thing itself, we have to look elsewhere.

* * * * *

Today, when Americans praise their own nation, they do it defiantly; that unselfconscious patriotic pleasure is gone. What caused the American mood to crumble between William DeVane’s statement and E. B. White’s? The civil rights struggle couldn’t be the answer; for one thing, it united rather than divided the country, except for the segregationist Old South. Maybe the bitter split over the war in Vietnam explains it. But that can’t be right; can’t be the whole truth. Antiwar protests were powered by the New Left and “the Movement,” which originated in Tom Hayden’s “Port Huron Statement” of 1962, before the nation had ever heard of Vietnam. And the New Left picked up speed at Berkeley in the Free Speech Movement of 1964 and early ’65, before the explosion of Vietnam. Bitterness toward America was an evil spirit shopping for a body when Vietnam started to throb during 1965.

1965 is when the sea change occurred in the writing of David Halberstam of the New York Times on the subject of Vietnam, which would set the tone for much of the rest of the MSM. As Roger Kimball wrote in the New Criterion after Halberstam died in 2007, Halberstam spent the first half of the 1960s, particularly while JFK was still alive, championing the importance of Vietnam as, in the words of Halberstam, “a strategic country in a key area, it is perhaps one of only five or six nations in the world that is truly vital to U.S. interests.” By 1968, he and much of the rest of the American news media would turn against the war.

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Rampant Postwar Suburban Cross Burnings?

April 12th, 2013 - 5:22 pm

In his Bleat yesterday, James Lileks had an epic architectural screed (those are three words you rarely hear in the same sentence, eh?) Beginning with the obit of Paolo Solari, a utopian architect (sadly, those are two words you hear far too often in the same sentence), before passing through Koyaanisqatsi-esque photos of maximum density Hong Kong apartment blocks, and finally settling into a long deconstruction of assorted historians’ and sociologists’ takes on the horrors of the American suburbs (also words you hear far too often in the same sentence), which concluded with a quote from a historian who wrote:

The collective verdict of these works reviewed here, in the end, leaves a gaping void in our understanding of postwar suburbia. One is left to ponder some basic questions. If the suburbs offered only social anguish and failure, why did Americans keep moving to them in ever-rising numbers? And more pointedly, why was the civil rights movement passionately fighting for access to suburban life? Why would African Americans be willing to risk vandalism, cross burnings and violence, for the opportunity to live in these social wastelands?

The obvious retort is “one is far too many,” and obviously, I concur. But how many cross burnings actually occurred in postwar suburbia — or is this simply a case of the work of the Professor to keep everyone in the country from moving south finally achieving fruition?

To be honest, we’d rather word didn’t get out. Stay away! In fact, I need to point this out: The South is a cultural desert, across which ride Klansmen on horseback and NASCAR fans in F350 Dually pickups. The cultural center is Wal-Mart, and the occasional tailgater before a lynching. Gunshows are disdained as the domain of pointy-headed intellectuals, because they also sell books. No, really, that’s all true — stay away! For the love of God, stay away!

UPDATE: Reader Phil Manhard emails: “I wish to add that we have fire ants, sinkholes, red tide, shark attacks, huge and regular brush fires, sandspurs, sunburn, hurricanes (though, unexpectedly!, none in the last couple of years). Yes, for the love of God, stay far away!”

And the chiggers. Beastly critters you want no part of. Stay in Massachusetts!

Heh, indeed.™

Lights! Camera! Weimar!

March 7th, 2013 - 7:31 pm

“Hollywood’s German Influence” is explored by A.J. Goldmann in the Wall Street Journal:

They don’t make them like they used to. But while the most recent Berlin Film Festival was filled with largely mediocre competition fare, luckily one could seek refuge in the festival’s sidebar retrospective, “The Weimar Touch.” Co-curated by the Deutsche Kinematek and the Museum of Modern Art—it will be shown in New York with slight modifications from April 3 through May 6—the series used the works of such celebrated directors as Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder to make a compelling case for the lasting influence of Weimar-era cinema on Hollywood and beyond.

It is hard to overstate the amount of technical innovation and sheer talent that characterized the German film industry between 1918 and 1933. Today this golden age is best remembered for Expressionist masterpieces such as Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.” But Weimar filmmaking was much more than just sinister lighting and jagged camera angles. The industry also produced comedies, musicals, melodramas and thrillers that were among the most popular and inventive movies of the era.

When the Nazis took power in 1933, many of Germany’s most gifted directors, actors, cinematographers, production designers and composers were forced out of its film industry. All told, the country lost more than 2,000 professionals, many of Jewish descent. And Germany’s loss was Hollywood’s gain. The themes, techniques and sensibilities that a generation of émigré filmmakers carried with them to Hollywood brought a new degree of sophistication and know-how to American cinema.

But what corner of American life wasn’t shaped by the Weimar Republic? Last year, I did a Silicon Graffiti video titled, “Weimar? Because We Reich You,” which focused on the how ubiquitously Weimar-era ideas and concepts seeped into American culture (both high and low), politics, and science over the course of the 20th century.

In 1987’s The Closing of the American Mind, the late Alan Bloom wrote that by the middle of the 20th century, American universities had essentially become enclaves of German philosophy:

This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.

As I added in the conclusion of my script:

Which isn’t to say that German influences on America were all bad, or that this was some sort of sinister plot. Sigmund Freud’s efforts have been left in the dust by modern neuroscience, but research into the hidden caverns of the human brain had to start to somewhere.  Albert Einstein’s theories led to the splitting of the atom, which both won World War II and provided the basis of nuclear power, which has been remarkably safe in America and Europe. After the war, America’s jet aviation – first the Air Force, then commercial airlines – benefitted enormously from brilliant German engineering work even as America was, thankfully, destroying Nazi Germany’s ability to implement these designs. Similarly, America landed a man on the moon thanks to the efforts of Werner Von Braun, and other German émigrés.

On Park Avenue in 1966, a businessman could have lunch at the Four Seasons, a restaurant designed by Philip Johnson (who dug both Weimar and its successor culture…) in a building designed by Mies van der Rohe, he could then walk over to the Pan Am building, designed by Walter Gropius, to catch a helicopter to JFK Airport, and on the way, read about Werner Von Braun’s latest efforts to land a man on the moon. If he was worried that von Braun’s missiles could be used to deliver payloads designed by Albert Einstein and Edward Teller – well, his Freudian analyst would soon set him at ease. At least until he saw the April 8th 1966 cover of Time magazine, which echoed the words of Friedrich Nietzsche nearly a century earlier. And all the while, likely never thinking of where these additions to American life originated. The following decade, our businessman would struggle with Weimar-style risqué sexual mores, hyperinflation, and what the then-president’s administration ultimately termed a malaise and a crisis of confidence amongst his fellow liberal elites.

But to respond to the query by Thomas Friedman last year in the New York Times, ‘Can Greeks Become Germans?’

Well, 50 years ago, we did, didn’t we?

No reason why Hollywood should have been exempted from Weimar’s influence as well.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

‘I’m Going to Miss Shopping’

January 23rd, 2013 - 8:50 pm

I love the Internet and shopping online at Amazon, and while I’d prefer the aesthetics of the Mad Men era, technology-wise I’m very happy to be living in the 21st century.


On Monday, James Lileks visited his local Best Buy to purchase a low-end portable computer. Or as he put it, “My wife said she needed a laptop so she could work at home in the evening without bringing the office laptop The clerk asked if he could help, and I said I was looking for a cheap virus-magnet laptop loaded with crapware.”

Afterwards, Lileks visited a competing chain, Micro Center:

Drove on to MicroCenter, or whatever it’s called — a junky computer store in an old grocery-store building, aisles of geek detritus. Always packed. Good prices. A hard drive or a legacy cable. The internet won’t kill it because there are many of us who need these things now and like to go to a place where these things are.

The Internet couldn’t kill it, but the craptacular California economy could. From about 1998 or so, until last year, there was a Micro Center in Santa Clara, about 10 miles from my house. Its primary competition wasn’t really with Best Buy, but with Fry’s Electronics. Fry’s is a regional chain with Silicon Valley origins that has a huge selection of electronic products, giant big box stores with the overall room tone of a pachinko palace — and is notorious for the worst customer service around. If you’re a geek and really know what you’re doing, Fry’s is probably great – in the old days, you could pick up a new CPU, motherboard, computer case, hard drive, sticks of RAM, a case of Diet Coke, a box of Twinkies, the skin mag of your choice, and you were good to go for the weekend.

But, heaven forfend, as Lileks would say, if you need to return something. Fry’s salesmen seem like a cross between the Soup Nazi and ex-members of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Its customer service department was the likely inspiration for the TSA. You’ll need your driver’s license, social security card, high school diploma, and every scrap of paper that came with the product you purchased. If your router came with a subscription card for PC World, it had better be there, or NO REFUND FOR YOU. NEXT! (My wife’s theory, and I think she’s onto something, is that the worse the customer service, the better the bargain the customer think he’s receiving. Or as a 1997 Forbes article noted in its headline, “The customer is always right? Not at Fry’s.”)

In contrast, Micro Center’s clerks seemed surprisingly friendly and interactive; they knew their products, and their return policies were remarkably liberal, in the old sense of the word. Which encouraged a certain amount of experimentation: If you’re not sure which product you need, this was the place to go. And a result, our LAN hubs and cables, routers, RAM sticks, power filters, and all of the nuts and bolts products we needed to run two businesses out of our house and setup our home theater came from Micro Center. (Not to mention, the store stocked a number of the electronics and gadget magazines I wrote for during my pre-Blogosphere days.)

The local Micro Center was always crowded whenever I went in there, but evidently it wasn’t enough to sustain it. As the (former) store’s Webpage notes,  it is “very difficult to announce that our Santa Clara store closed for normal business on Monday, July 23rd [2012]. We are very disappointed with the unsuccessful attempts to negotiate an economically viable extension of our store lease, and we deeply regret not being able to fully serve you going forward.”

If you can’t sustain a computer store in the heart of Silicon Valley, where can you sustain it? As Lileks adds in his post, regarding Best Buy:

I’m going to miss shopping and looking and touching, I really am. I hope my daughter remembers running up and down the aisles, looking at movies and Nintendo games and marveling at the volume of things to see and hear and play. You never get that sense from internet shopping. On the internet everything is presented individually, a page at a time, like a clerk is bringing out a shoe for Madame to consider.

Whatever the future for America’s retail economy holds, it likely won’t resemble the one envisioned by the architect whose daughter’s documentary Lileks links to later in his post, an unbelievably depressing look at a guy who apparently thought that From Bauhaus to Our House was a how-to guide and not a warning, and missed every lesson about the organic nature of civilization, the culture, and the importance of the street, the sidewalk and the stoop taught by Jane Jacobs, and that it was his mission to hit the CTL-ALT-DLT keys on the way mankind lives. What could go wrong, this time?

Meanwhile, Back in Chicago

January 21st, 2013 - 1:56 pm

“Chicago’s $22.5 Million Payout To A Gang Rape Victim Is Probably A Bargain.” Doug Johnson of the Wizbang blog notes:

Chicago Alderman Edward Burke says the city could have lost $80 million or more had a jury learned of all that Eilman went through and the nine desperate calls her mother made to police in the 27 hours. She had begged officers not to release her daughter because her daughter was bipolar and having a breakdown, but to no avail.

…Despite doing things like babbling incoherently and smearing menstrual blood on the holding cell walls, and after her parents’ frantic calls, Eilman was released to fend for herself in a high-crime area. She ended up in a nearby public housing building, where a man raped her at knifepoint before she fell from a seventh-story window.

Read the whole thing; follow the link to this Chicago Tribune report from 2010 for the horrific backstory.

And speaking of Chicago, is a once-great town with some of America’s best architecture (both Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, and both architects’ talented acolytes worked there over the years) now on the road to Detroit? In a typically well-crafted essay at the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson tries to make sense of the 21st century Second City: “Whose Kind of Town?”

Notes from Atlantis

January 13th, 2013 - 11:59 pm

Last week, we linked to Sarah Hoyt’s essay on the resilience of cultural memes from the immediate aftermath of WWI that have stayed permanently entrenched in the left’s collective thinking. Since she wrote that she’s currently fascinated by the British interwar-era, I sent her a link to the episode of the early 1970s Thames television series The World At War that focused on the British home front during WWII. As I mentioned in a post from the day after Christmas, if you want to see Britain’s welfare state being formed, and its healthcare nationalized and socialized, even as England was busy pulverizing a giant welfare state with plenty of national socialism of its own, it’s an interesting segment — probably more so to an American viewer than a British one.

As I’ve written before, The World At War was made at the perfect time — television documentary techniques were sufficiently developed by 1969 when production on the series began to tell the story properly, and it was only a quarter century after WWII concluded, and enough survivors were still around, still sharp, and able to appear on camera. But of equal importance is that it was made before political correctness had sapped the cultural confidence of the West. If the BBC or Thames’ successor network were to remake the The World at War today, it would have a very different tone to it, probably far closer to Oliver Stone’s “Springtime for Hitler and Stalin” Showtime series than the BBC would care to admit.

Also, the interviews and the contemporary non-newsreel footage were shot in color. We take that entirely for granted now, but when the show first went into production, color TV was still a new phenomenon to many English viewers; BBC2 had only begun broadcasting in color in 1967, and BBC1 not until 1969. It’s tough to conceive of something like Monty Python‘s Flying Circus as being shot in black and white, but as late as 1967, its immediate predecessor, a show with the classic title of At Last, the 1948 Show, was a monochrome production.

Another influential British documentary series from that era, which may well have influenced the style and quality of The World at War, would also have a very different tone were it made today. In fact, it probably couldn’t be made today. To help promote the BBC’s embrace of color television, in 1968 the network commissioned a 13-part documentary series titled Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark — or simply Civilisation, as it’s almost universally called.

Civilisation debuted on February 23, 1969; to further advance the acceptance of color TV, each episode featured luscious cinema-quality photography of globe-hoping historical locations and numerous key pieces of art and sculpture, with all sorts of stately camera moves, all shot on 35mm film, rather than the cheaper-looking 16mm format or videotape.  (Many, perhaps all of the episodes, are currently available in full-length form at YouTube, but the series is available on Blu-Ray, and in terms of cinematography, it’s worth it.)

It’s fascinating, in 2013, witnessing the ongoing collapse of our own culture — and in particular, the complete collapse, decades ago, of what was once called “middlebrow culture” – to watch a show titled Civilisation  – that itself is from a civilization that effectively no longer exists. At the very least, the network that created the series no longer exists in the same form (QED).

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I’ve written several posts over the years noting that modern art — at least the “shocking the bourgeois” brand of modern art — is a genre permanently trapped in the 1920s. Modern architecture often seems similarly trapped in the same decade, endlessly recycling the forms and styles created by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Sarah Hoyt has an interesting post this weekend that describes much of today’s bourgeois intellectual life as permanently trapped in that decade as well, as a byproduct of WWI and its aftermath:

Like a child shocked by WWI and having both externalized the blame – Listen to a six year old, sometime “I didn’t break the vase.  It was the cat.”  Same thing “I didn’t cause death and carnage.  It was capitalism and old white men.” – and misattributed it – states looking for resources and expanding their power through bureaucratic means was more important than competition for raw materials, whatever you heard in school – the idiot child that is Western civ continues rampaging through her room, tearing everything that made it comfortable and useful and a good place, and throwing it out the window.


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It’s a Wonderful Fountainhead

December 24th, 2012 - 12:20 am

Joe Carter of the Catholic Education Resource Center explores “The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls.” As he writes, Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark and Frank Capra’s George Bailey aren’t often discussed in the same breath, but the two fictitious characters, immortalized by Hollywood via Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart, two legendary mid-century leading men, have a surprising amount in common.

“To anyone familiar with both works, it would seem the two characters could not be more different, ” Carter notes. “Unexpected similarities emerge, however, when one considers that Roark and Bailey are variations on a common archetype that has captured the American imagination for decades:”

Ayn-Rand-As-Che-10-3-09Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s book, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by conforming to the needs and demands of the community. In contrast, George Bailey, the hero of Capra’s film, is an idealistic young would-be architect who struggles in obscurity because he has chosen to conform to the needs and demands of the community rather than fulfill his artistic and personal vision. Howard Roark is essentially what George Bailey might have become had he left for college rather than stayed in his hometown of Bedford Falls.

Rand portrays Roark as a demigod-like hero who refuses to subordinate his self-centered ego to the demands of the community society. Capra, in stark contrast, portrays Bailey as an amiable but flawed man who becomes a hero precisely because he chooses to subordinate his self-centered ego for the greater good of the community.

Read the whole thing, found via Kathy Shaidle, who has her own thoughts on the comparison.

And for my video interview with Jennifer Burns, the historian and author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, in which we discuss The Fountainhead, along with other aspects of Rand in postwar America, just click here.

Incidentally, say what you will about Rand and Capra, Roark and Bailey, and Cooper and Stewart; the Hollywood of World War II and its immediate aftermath was undoubtedly made of sterner stuff than its current iteration.

Related: Since this is a movie-related post, I might as well hang this here: a movie Easter egg so cool, it goes to 11.

(Originally posted December 9, 2010.)

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers! When you’re done here, check out The View from Alexandria, which has some thoughts on “Politics without Foundations,” and why one Yale history professor believes that “there’s no liberal Ayn Rand.”

‘Blood, Poo, Sacrilege, and Porn’

November 30th, 2012 - 12:51 pm

Now that we have your attention, the above headline (wait, where else do headlines go?) comes from an article on the Washington Post’s Slate Website*, which focuses on eight theories on “Why the Art World Is So Loathsome.” The source of our headline is number two on their list, appropriately enough:

Old-school ’70s punk shock tactics are so widespread in today’s art world that they have lost any resonance. As a result, twee paintings like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Constable’s Hay Wain now appear mesmerizing, mysterious, and wildly transgressive. And, as Camille Paglia brilliantly argues in her must-read new book, Glittering Images, this torrent of penises, elephant dung, and smut has not served the broader interests of art. By providing fuel for the Rush Limbaugh-ish prejudice that the art world is full of people who are shoving yams up their bums and doing horrid things to the Virgin Mary, art has, quoting Camille again, “allowed itself to be defined in the public eye as an arrogant, insular fraternity with frivolous tastes and debased standards.” As a result, the funding of school and civic arts programs has screeched to a halt and “American schoolchildren are paying the price for the art world’s delusional sense of entitlement.” Thanks a bunch, Karen Finley, Chris Ofili, Andres Serrano, Damien Hirst, and the rest of you naughty pranksters!

But the first sentence of the above paragraph — “Old-school ’70s punk shock tactics are so widespread in today’s art world that they have lost any resonance” — is actually chronologically off by about five decades, and gets the source of the art world’s postmodern/reprimitivized games playing exactly backwards. Don’t blame the ’70s punks**; blame René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, and Dada of the 1920s, which pioneered exactly the sorts of stunts you see in a Piss Christ or the Virgin Mary depicted in elephant dung, even down the reminders of bodily waste. Like Ikea’s furniture, today’s examples of modern “art” are just merely cheap knock-offs of much older forms of modernism.

As with modern architecture remaining forever trapped in the 1920s, and much of culture in general trapped in the 1970s, if we’re going to remain in what Mark Steyn calls “present-tense culture,” for the first decades of the 21st century, why must it remain so permanently freeze-dried?

* I had originally planned to insert a crack at the start of this post about how Slate allows the Post to further left than its main namesake publication ordinarily can. But I’m not sure if there’s any territory further to the left remaining for the Post to go, post-JournoList. And speaking of both freeze-dried culture and the Washington Post’s leftward lurch, on PJM’s homepage, Bob Owens reminds us for the remarkably undiversified Post editorial board, it’s 1963 — and it always will be.

** Who could shock by being quite conservative — and occasionally still are.

From Bauhaus to Ed’s House

November 28th, 2012 - 1:25 pm

Looking for a lengthy review of Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, New and Revised Edition by Franz Schulze and Edward Windhorst? Of course you are!

Which is why, in addition to all of the usual political stuff here, I have just such a review over at the PJ Lifestyle blog. And yes, in case you’re wondering (and aren’t you astute for even pondering this topic!) there are plenty of comparisons to the original 1986 edition of the book.

(And yes, I am making up for my late 1980s obsession with modern art. I have to put those pretensions to work somewhere, right?)

Or: From Sea-Land to Our House.

In 1923, when modernists were obsessed with the machine (decades before their current rage against it), Le Corbusier put himself on the architectural map with his aphorism, “The house is a machine for living in.”  And as the years went on, plenty of other modern architects took this phrase to heart (to pacemaker?). In Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to House, Wolfe memorably described the ever-cheapening effect of modern on architecture:

Eventually, everyone gave up and learned, like the haute bourgeoisie above him, to take it like a man.

They even learned to accept the Mieslings’ two great pieces of circular reasoning. To those philistines who were still so gauche as to say that the new architecture lacked the richness of detail of the old Beaux-Arts architecture, the plasterwork, the metalwork, the masonry, and so on, the Mieslings would say with considerable condescension: “Fine. You produce the craftsmen who can do that kind of work, and then we’ll talk to you about it. They don’t exist anymore.” True enough. But why? Henry Hope Reed tells of riding across West Fifty-third Street in New York in the 1940s in a car with some employees of E. F. Caldwell & Co., a firm that specialized in bronze work and electrical fixtures. As the car passed the Museum of Modern Art building, the men began shaking their fists at it and shouting: “That goddamn place is destroying us! Those bastards are killing us!” In the palmy days of Beaux-Arts architecture, Caldwell had employed a thousand bronzeurs, marble workers, model makers, and designers. Now the company was sliding into insolvency, along with many similar firms. It was not that craftsmanship was dying. Rather, the International Style was finishing off the demand for it, particularly in commercial construction. By the same token, to those who complained that International Style buildings were cramped, had flimsy walls inside as well as out, and, in general, looked cheap, the knowing response was: “These days it’s too expensive to build in any other style.” But it was not too expensive, merely more expensive. The critical point was what people would or would not put up with aesthetically. It was possible to build in styles even cheaper than the International Style. For example, England began to experiment with schools and public housing constructed like airplane hangars, out of corrugated metal tethered by guy wires. Their architects also said: “These days it’s too expensive to build in any other style.” Perhaps one day soon everyone (tout le monde) would learn to take this, too, like a man.

And according to ABC News, they’re taking this like a man in the Motor City: “Shipping Containers to Become Condos in Detroit.” And of course, ABC describes it as “Exceptional Green Living on Rosa Parks, Detroit.” Exceptional!

This 20-unit, four-story condo complex consisting of 93 stacked cargo containers – the first U.S. multi-family residence to be built from these discarded vessels – has been in the works for four years. Tabled when the national real estate market shattered, the project is now scheduled to break ground early next year in midtown Detroit. The units will come rigged with ductless heating and air systems, tankless water heaters and other energy-saving systems. “We’re putting money into these energy efficiencies so that the tenant has reduced energy costs,” says Leslie Horn, CEO of Three Squared, the project’s developer. “And we can build in less than half the time.”

Wow, 30 years ago, when Chrissie Hynde sang about driving “Past corrugated tin shacks holed up with kids and man I don’t mean a Hampstead nursery,” she had no idea what was coming.

Incidentally, note that even more “exceptional” cases of “green living” have also been proposed for Detroit.

Whither the Arts?

October 8th, 2012 - 12:17 am

At Ricochet, Dave Carter links to Camille Paglia’s essay in the Wall Street Journal on the decline of the art world with a reminder of the wonders of the 700-year old Cologne Cathedral and writes:

To venture inside and see The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings (purported to hold the crowned skulls of the Three Wise Men), or the Gero Cross which dates back to 976, or the legions of statues, is to become virtually intoxicated with the divine devotion that conceived and constructed such a solemn place.

Where is there anything in modernity to compare?  Camille Paglia poses just such a question, asking (and answering) the question of why so much of our fine arts have devolved into a “wasteland.”  “Painting was the prestige genre in the fine arts from the Renaissance on.  But painting was dethroned by the brash multimedia revolution of the 1960s and ’70s,” writes Paglia, who then zeros in on a central point:  “What do contemporary artists have to say, and to whom are they saying it?  Unfortunately, too many artists have lost touch with the general audience and have retreated to an airless echo chamber.”

It’s a chamber where the avant-garde first yielded to iconoclasm, which in turn has yielded to unimaginative and vulgar conformity.  One need look no further than the artist who submerses a crucifix in urine, and then congratulates himself for bravely giving the finger to orthodoxy, all while carefully avoiding a cartoon of Mohammed so as to avoid getting his head chopped off.  So much for breaking new ground.

If I’m remembering the history of modernism correctly, as early as the 1960s, modernists were looking back nostalgically at Mondrian, Monet, and other pioneering modernists as a Heroic Era long since passed. In architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright, Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe would all be dead by the end of the decade. In pop culture, by the end of the 1960s, the “Easy Riders/Raging Bulls” crowd of Young Turks would slam the door shut on Hollywood’s golden era, cheered on by critics such as Pauline Kael.

About that last development, in 2008, Robert Fulford wrote in Canada’s National Post, in a description that was applicable to much of what was going on the rest of pop culture in the late 1960s, as liberals spontaneously declared the postwar Middlebrow era dead: 

[Kael] announced no less than a revolution in taste that she sensed in the air. Movie audiences, she said, were going beyond “good taste,” moving into a period of greater freedom and openness. Was it a violent film?

Well, Bonnie and Clyde needed violence. “Violence is its meaning.”

She hated earnest liberalism and critical snobbery. She liked the raw energy in the work of adventurous directors such as Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. She trusted her visceral reactions to movies.

When hired as a regular New Yorker movie critic, she took that doctrine to an audience that proved enthusiastic and loyal. She became the great star among New Yorker critics, then the most influential figure among critics in any field. Books of her reviews, bearing titles such as I Lost it at the Movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and When the Lights Go Down, sold in impressive numbers. Critics across the continent became her followers. Through the 1970s and ’80s, no one in films, except the actual moviemakers, was more often discussed.

It was only in the late stages of her New Yorker career (from which she retired in 1991) that some of her admirers began saying she had sold her point of view too effectively. A year after her death (in 2001) one formerly enthusiastic reader, Paul Schrader, a screenwriter of films such as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, wrote: “Cultural history has not been kind to Pauline.”

Kael assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding. Schrader argued that she and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film’s worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins. “It was fun watching the applecart being upset,” Schrader said, “but now where do we go for apples?”

And that’s the question modernists in general need to ask themselves. The other question that often remains unexplored in self-described “modern” art is in reality, how ancient it comparatively all is.

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“Is There a Limit to How Tall Buildings Can Get?”, the Atlantic asks.

With or with a space elevator on top?, we query in return.

Now is the time at Ed Driscoll.com when we juxtapose, Small Dead Animals style:

– Headline, TV Newser.com, June 21st.

– Ann Althouse, today, who adds that “The clip is hilarious.”

Unexpectedly! — to coin another Internet meme, as the network that brought you The Wright-Free Zone now brings its Saudi Arabian viewers a surfeit of Seurat.

Oh those crazy New Puritans — it’s enough to make you wish that the Impressionists had been dentists.

“The history of philosophy can be divided into two different periods. During the first, philosophers sought the truth; during the second, they fought against it.”

– Jean-François Revel (1924-2006), French journalist and philosopher, as quoted in The Fortunes of Permanence.

Roger Kimball, my fellow PJ Media columnist and publisher of the New Criterion magazine and Encounter Books, stopped by recently to discuss his latest book, The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia. During our interview, Roger expounds on:

  • Present-Tense Culture: What happens to a culture that has not only submerged its past, but is doing its damndest to bury it permanently?
  • The left-wing etymology of the word “ideology.”
    How postwar-American modern architecture was able to minimize its prewar socialist past.
  • How Rudyard Kipling and James Burnham became historical unpersons.
  • The progressive paradox of colonialism.
  • The future of socialism: Over 60 years ago, George Orwell responded to the horrors of socialism by asking, “where is the omelet?” Since, England, Greece and California are all in dire fiscal straits, and we know that there’s no omelet being cooked up, where does America go from here?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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(23 minutes long; 22 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 6.9 MB lo-fi edition.)

Since in the past, a few people have complained of difficulties with the Flash player above and/or downloading the audio, use the video player below, or click here to be taken to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.

For the rest of our podcasts, click here and just keep scrolling.

And from more from Roger, don’t miss his video interview with Glenn Reynolds on his new book.