Thursday, October 12, 2017

On Weinstein

The marketing campaign behind Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997) was amazing. It relied on the slippery definition between "independent," as in movie-mogul "independent producer" or shoestring-make-this-thing-on-my-mom's-video-camera "indie." Harvey Weinstein considered himself an independent producer and Van Sant gave the film indie cred. Anyone who understands the economics of Hollywood in the 1990s knows that "independent movie" is a myth. At very least, the term is usually misapplied. Blue-state liberals can make fun of those dumb Midwesterners who thought the office on The Apprentice (2004-) was where Donald Trump conducted his real estate transactions, but blue-state liberals are just as gullible. As late as 2010, a well-educated lawyer friend of mine -- as sharp, funny, and knowledgable as anyone I know -- called The King's Speech (Tom Hooper) an indie.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were marketed as underdog, lovable, good-looking prodigies in a movie about an underdog, lovable, good-looking prodigy. As someone who has been around many geniuses since I was in elementary school, I can tell you the movie had no concept of genius, how it is lived and how it is understood. Most geniuses are not good at everything and being able to recite facts about history does not make you a savant. The movie was watchable, but next to impossible to listen to. The second most famous line -- "It's not your fault" -- is unintentionally hilarious.

An advertisement on the eve of the Oscars said something like "the only special effects here are human emotions," which would be true if the movie had emotions that made any sense. In the late 1990s, real cultural underdogs were fighting to fund ballet in regional theaters. They weren't talking about how Damon was some sort of outsider.

There was one true genius in this story: the confidence man Weinstein.

We may never know just how many women Weinstein sexually assaulted, and of those, how many he raped. We may never know how many women Affleck groped. Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale made it, but there are others whose careers and maybe entire lives were destroyed.

Underdog status gives its holders the right to abuse the power they pretend they don't have.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

On Fuck Anita Bryant

When it comes to the debates about our politically correct campus culture, I don't think the kids are alright. Following the lead of a few too many young academics, undergraduates are taught not to look at works of art in historical context. They declare works of art ideologically good or ideologically bad, using a dead, empty language made up of terms like "cultural appropriation" and "privilege."

I just heard about this song from an interview on NPR. David Allan Coe released it in 1978 in order to condemn professional hate-monger Anita Bryant. The song is a celebration of the gay men he knew in prison. It suggests that Coe himself has had gay experiences. He doesn't ennoble gay men. He celebrates hyper-sexuality and indulges feminine stereotypes. He's comfortable with the terms "homosexual" and "faggot." I fear too many young men would be taught to hate this song. 

The song made me cry. If I could I would blast it in every fraternity and every gay rights meeting on every campus in America.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Shooter

Don't assume you know the shooter. Don't assume you know everything you need to know about him because his father was a former bank robber, because he was rich, or because he was a white male who liked to gamble. You don't know.  

Maybe a good, enterprising journalist will spend months on the ground in Las Vegas learning as much as he or she can learn about the shooter. We may get something like the Rolling Stone's profile of one of the Boston marathon bombers, the New Yorker's profile of the father of the Sandy Hook shooter, or Esquire's profile of the shooter of the black church in South Carolina. Even if we get such a profile, we still won't know.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Radio

Radio used to be ephemeral. Evidence: The Donald Trump/Howard Stern interviews.

These interviews had been broadcast to millions of people. And yet, years later, those interviews were hard to find. These interviews went from highly accessible to completely inaccessible in less than a day.

Now everything is archived instantly on the Internet.


Monday, September 25, 2017

On Liberals

North American and West European liberals romanticize dissidents who speak excellent English and read good books.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On Student Protesters

Every now and then a student emails a professor for permission to skip a class so they can take part in a protest. This protest could be against police violence or for more ethnic studies programs.

I haven't gotten these emails. If I ever do, here is my response:

"As you care very much about social justice issues, you have probably read about a football player named Colin Kaepernick. He has been 'taking a knee' during the singing of our National Anthem before football games in order to protest our country's systemic racism and its continuing history of violence towards people of color. Kaepernick has already taken an enormous risk in his protest and he is suffering. His career is in serious jeopardy. He stands to lose many millions of dollars. Like many NFL players, he probably has a large extended family who rely on him for support. So these millions of dollars are probably necessary for him to take care of his parents, siblings, distant cousins, friends, and neighbors. The power of his protest lies in his willingness to take this risk. If he had nothing to lose, his protest wouldn't be effective. I admire Kaepernick for his courage. I also admire the many athletes who have joined him.

"You have no doubt read about the many great protesters, most of them non-athletes, who have preceded Kaepernick. These were brave men and women who fought for the rights of black people, women, LGBT people, immigrants, and workers. They also took risks. Some of them risked their lives. Many of them died.

"You are welcome to skip any one of my classes. I'd be happy to go over material you missed during office hours, though I won't make anytime outside of office hours to help you. If there's a test on the day of the protest, I won't cancel the test. If you don't show up, you will fail the test.

"My policy does not reflect whether or not I believe your protest is worthwhile, whether or not I agree with your point of view, or whether or not I believe my class is more important than your protest. My policy is based on the belief that protest involves sacrifice and risk. It's up to you to decide how much you want to sacrifice and how much you want to risk."

Friday, September 22, 2017

On a Children's SWAT Team Costume

I saw this at Costco:

I don't like SWAT teams. I think we should put them on a moratorium while we examine their history of accidentally killing innocent people and their beloved dogs.  

Even if you're totally pro-SWAT team, I hope you can join me in condemning children's Halloween costumes that come with toy batons and handcuffs. Batons are weapons that should be employed -- if employed at all -- with the utmost seriousness and only when necessary. Handcuffs either restrain dangerous people or spice up sex lives. 

And then I'm left to wonder why I'm horrified by this SWAT team costume and not by Storm Trooper, red ninja, or Wolverine costumes. 

I guess I'm okay with channelling our violent urges in fiction. Quentin Tarantino is fond of saying that violence in movies is like dancing in movies. I agree with him. 

The simpler answer is that there's a difference between killing actual human beings and killing images of human beings on screen. But what about the American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014) hats I saw advertised at a store in Nowheresville, Oregon? The main character in American Sniper was a real-life person who bragged about killing people. Of course, to the average kid he's just an image on a screen pretend-killing other people.

Most of us, blue and red, are part of Wolverine America. A good size of us, red and plenty of blue, is also part of American Sniper America. If you're not part of either, well, good for you.