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Works and Days

From Obama to the Wild Bunch

April 25th, 2008 - 10:21 am

Paradoxes everywhere

What strange paradoxes: the more the Democrats tried to show their egalitarian fides, they more they crafted an undemocratic nominating process; the more Obama talked of transcending race, the more he appealed to racial solidarity; the more Bill Clinton stumped and shook hands, the more he threw away his legacy; and the more Hillary and Barack slurred McCain as a right-wing nut, the more they repaired his relations with the his conservative base. And all this is only half-way through…

Obama and race

Lately a number of Obama’s African-American supporters have taken the airways to make the argument that his astounding percentages of 90% and above among African-American voters are not racialist because the community would not vote in such numbers for a Clarence Thomas or Condoleezza Rice.

But that is a dangerous comparison that raises only more questions. So it’s politics, not race? Why then not a mere 60/40 margin over the ultra-liberal Hillary, wife of our first “black” President? The answer? Obama represents a certain racial chauvinism that neither a white liberal nor black conservative can convey. In other words, in the world of identity politics, he seems to reflect an authentic representation of grievance, and a perpetuation of the entire industry of racial reparations.

Most think the corpus of Rev. Wright’s sayings, comments like “typical white person”, and snotty condescension about white Middle American yokels were terrible gaffes. True, but such wedge politicking apparently ensures him the astounding margins in the African-American community that really are unprecedented—when not long ago there were concerns among his strategists that he might not capture the black vote in such numbers. That problem of authenticy was put to rest by his choice not to disown Rev. Wright.

Speaking of whom, the snippets from his interview with a fawning Bill Moyers were about as disingenuous as they come. He claimed they were out of context and his critics divisive, but never disowned what he said. He claimed he was a pastor outside of politics, but his attraction apparently hinges on his political views about everything from the AIDs conspiracy to apartheid. And on and on. The problem with Rev. Wright is, well, he loves the attention, makes a profit on it, and won’t shut up. And as long as he is not disowned by Obama, the more Obama has to explain why he continues to worship in that church, whether Wright is or is not really retired, and what exactly did Obama know and when did he know it. A fair reading of the Obama memoirs suggests he knew exactly what Wright was saying and heard a great deal of it.

It doesn’t help his cause that when CNN and Fox bring in analysts from the universities (e.g., African-American studies professors), they not only excuse Obama, but Wright too!—usually by the tactic of redefining a Martin Luther King not as a healer, but a proto-firebrand like Wright. That sounds catchy and may ooh and aah the white elite base, but in the general election the defense of Wright and what he stands for will prove catastrophic. To fathom the soul of the Obama campaign juxtapose Obama’s Pennsylvania comments alongside the recent Axelrod’s dismissal of the need to reach out to the white working class:

“The white working class has gone to the Republican nominee for many elections, going back even to the Clinton years. This is not new that Democratic candidates don’t rely solely on those votes.”

Now we wait to hear the “context” for “don’t rely”.

More on the Movies

I learned a great deal from the comments on the movie posting. I still maintain, as do many readers, that elements of physical ordeal and elemental challenges have vanished from the American middle-class lifestyle, and with their departure, the sort of actor who clawed his way up, and was familiar with the underbelly of the United States is disappearing as well.

Again, I sense the tell-tale difference is in the voices. Today’s male sounds metrosexual, ambiguous, nasal, sing-songy—feminized. Today’s Westerns are embarrassing, as Hollywood searches in vain for a southerner, or anyone who does sound like a Valley Boy from San Fernando. Sam Elliot made an entirely successful career out of having an authentic Western voice, or at least something that resonates experience outside the suburb.

In general, I don’t think we will ever see again the wide range of rich resonant and idiosyncratic voices of a Burt Lancaster, Frederic March, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, or Robert Mitchum, much less a Ben Johnson, L.Q. Jones, or Richard Boone (one of my favorite actors). The ability of today’s wild young actors to drink, snort, party, go on rampages, work as a bartender, drop out of high-school, provoke—part of the Sean Penn profile— is not comparable to the masculine world of the 1930s and 1940s, where there was a brutal honesty and hard decency utterly lacking today. That said, there is something in the eye and voice of a Robert Duvall, Christopher Walken, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, and a few others, which readers immediately noted, that reminds us at times of the old breed.

My interest in movies was inculcated by my father, who grew up outside of Kingsburg, California on a small farm in the Depression to Swedish parents, was a central fire control gunner on a B-29 for 40 missions over Japan, lost many of his teeth playing football for Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Pacific, and was never quite tame or predictable, despite his ability to both farm and become a successful junior college administrator—and remain gentle and gentlemanly at all times.

He took us to the movies quite often, roused us when a movie came on one of our three scratchy channels on a small black-and-white television in the kitchen, and shared with us his notion of the tragic hero, who either self-implodes as he eliminates the problem along with himself, or deals with an awful fate with a sort of resigned nobility. These are some of the great scenes I remember best—and I watched them all with my father from the 1950s to his death in 1998.

The Wild Bunch: The scene when Ernest Borgnine, Bill Holden, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates decide to give it all up, put on their guns, smile, and head off to take out the federales and meet their fate.

Shane: Brandon De Wilde yells “Shane” and runs after the gunslinger, who rides off into the sunset, leaving the viewer unsure whether his limp arm is a minor or fatal wound. The entire movie is one of unresolved tensions and a certain dignity shown in not giving into the temptations.

High Noon. A worried Gary Cooper accepts that his town has abandonded him, as he walks down main street, sweating and watching the clock as Tex Ritter sings ‘Do not forsake me…” Never understood Howard Hawks simplistic critique of this brilliant movie.

Breaker Morant: Breaker and Handcock sit waiting for their bullets in their head, and Morant yells, “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

Das Boot: The submarine somehow blasts to the surface of the Mediterranean, the crew opens the hatch, and races to the Atlantic, as the crew signs, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

The Magnificent Seven. Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner climb on the caisson to drive it up to boot hill—to the cut-in of the famous soundtrack.

Pat Garret and Bill the Kid: Katy Jurado watches Slim Pickens hold his guts in, sitting on the riverbank as he dies to “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.” Great cinematography. My paternal grandfather, a disabled WWI veteran and cowboy of sorts who spoke in a thick accent, once sold a horse to Slim Pickens in Traver, California (Frank Hanson broke them for a living), and claimed he was the most decent person he had encountered.

Twelve O’clock High: Dean Jagger snaps out of his long flashback of the awful B-17 missions, and rides off on his bike from the weed-filled airfield at Archbury.

The Vikings: the Viking music cuts in as the Norsemen send their fire arrows into the funeral ship taking Kirk Douglas’s body out to sea.

Hombre: Richard Boone shouts out to Paul Newman who has come down the hill on a suicide rescue mission, Mister, you have got a lot of hard bark on you coming’ down here like this.”

The Searchers: the loner John Wayne walks his walk out the door to shadows and music—and a solitary existence after his work is done.

Zulu: the survivors of Rorke’s Drift look up and suddenly see thousands of Zulus chanting on the hilltops—saluting their bravery and their survival.

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