I’ve refrained from saying anything about the Episcopal Church’s elevation of an open, practicing homosexual to the post of bishop. Partly because others are saying what I would quite nicely. Also, part of me is reluctant to comment on the internal doings of a church I’m not a member of, for reasons of both etiquette and triumphalism (“after all, the other ones aren’t bishops any more than Gene Robinson is”).
But this bit of idiocy was too interesting to pass up and deals with a broader topic near and dear to me, the absolute irrationality of some liberals on the subject of race and an inability even to see the nose in front of their faces. Or the skin.
Episcopal Bishopess Barbara Harris is quoted as saying:
This is a power struggle as to who is going to run the church, the white boys who have always run it, or some different kinds of people. White men see their church being changed and they don’t like it.
What the colorful is she babbling about? Bishop Robinson, the last I looked, was white and a boy/man, which I think makes him a “white boy/man” … although one can never be too sure in these interesting times for pomo theology. The opposition to Bishop Robinson was most vocal among the Episcopal Churches of such “white boy” nations as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, and others are from Asia and South America. (The money articles are here in the New York Times, and here in the Daily Telegraph). The Advocate’s news article mentions opposition from US conservatives, of which there is plainly a lot and perfectly fairly noted. But there being a worldwide issue here and the threats of schism coming from The Dark Continent are facts that this article does not tell you. At least one of the overseas Anglican bishops who have taken to consecrating bishops to lead orthodox parishes in the United States came from Singapore. Now, regardless of the merits of Bishop Robinson’s elevation, can liberals even imagine disagreement through any prism or template other than white racism? Even … especially … when it manifestly isn’t.
This is an old habit of racial condescension among progressive Episcopalians — Bishop John Spong dismissed his African brethren as having “moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity,” being ignorant of scientific advances, and not yet facing “the intellectual revolution of Copernicus and Einstein.” And damn them, he would think like a 20th century American. Fold in the venom that secular liberals regularly heap on Clarence Thomas (and lately Janice Rogers Brown), and let’s not forget Donna Brazile‘s use of “white boy” as an epithet (Larry Elder has a good roundup of all of it here), and it’s hard to avoid thoughts that, when dealing with black people who don’t agree with them, liberals can be just as racist as they imagine others are.
These are the grafs that started a weekend of posturing … buried in the middle of a Des Moines Register story (no longer even online as itself, best I can tell, in October 2007; here is AP story from later) about the gun issue.
“Dean has said 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore lost the election because he failed to win Southern states, where disaffected Democrats who favor gun owners’ rights were reluctant to support him.
” ‘I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,’ Dean said Friday in a telephone interview from New Hampshire. ‘We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats’.”
From the reaction to this quote, you’d think Howard Dean had called for the return of slavery or at least the repeal of the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action program. These are the reaction comments from the other candidates Saturday:
Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri: This is a blatant move to win the votes of people “who disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights” and “I don’t want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. I will win the Democratic nomination because I will be the candidate for guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.”
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts: Dean’s “pandering” to the National Rifle Association gave him an inroad to “pander to lovers of the Confederate flag” and “I would rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton of New York: he was “surprised and disturbed” by the remark. “If I said I wanted to be the candidate for people that ride around with helmets and swastikas, I would be asked to leave.”
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: “Some of the greatest civil rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South. To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive.”
Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas: “Every Democratic candidate for president needs to condemn the divisiveness the Confederate flag represents.”
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign director: “Governor Dean ought to be more careful about what he says. It is irresponsible and reckless to loosely talk about one of the most divisive, hurtful symbols in American history.” Lieberman himself said Sunday while campaigning in South Carolina: “The way he said it was just plain wrong, divisive, hurtful. I’m troubled that he didn’t just admit he made a mistake in his follow-up statement.”
Leaving aside the even-more-incoherent-than-usual Sharpton, the two comments that were absolutely the weakest were those by Clark and Gephardt. Contra the general, Dean said nothing about the Confederate flag’s divisiveness (rather it was, at a bare minimum “I want those people’s votes,” the thing one would think politicians seek). And Gephardt is just being a snob (more anon). The rest is just silly. It’s like these Democrats are hearing the words “Confederate flag” and slobbering on cue like Pavlov’s dogs.
Dean didn’t back off in a statement Saturday, when everybody was piling on, but added context, and the point he was making is exactly what I took him to have been saying all along:
“I want people with Confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic – because the need for quality health care, jobs and a good education knows no racial boundaries. We have working white families in the south voting for tax cuts for the richest 1 percent while their children remain with no health care. The dividing of working people by race has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for the last three decades – starting with Richard Nixon. … The only way we’re going to beat George Bush is if southern white working families and African-American working families come together under the Democratic tent, as they did under FDR.”
How is what Dean is saying anything different from the standard Democratic narrative and critique of the Republican “Southern strategy” — meaning the GOP use of race and cultural issues such as prayer, busing and gun rights to wean Southern whites away from their historic allegiance to the Democrats? The liberal, and even radical, pedigree of the idea is impeccable. It’s what Lyndon Johnson meant by saying that by signing the civil rights acts he had handed the South to the GOP for decades. It’s what Marxists mean when they say that racial division is a ruling class tool designed to divert people’s attention away from their class interests. The only apparent difference is that Dean thinks that he can *do something* about that loss of voters — again, one would think most politicians would desire the votes of as many people as possible, rather than write off a priori a large segment of the populace out of moral condescension. And that is what makes the other candidates’ reactions so interesting to me.
It’s one thing to say displaying the Confederate flag is racist or offensive and we (Democrats) oppose that. It’s another thing altogether to say, “we don’t want the votes of people who display it, *even when* based on appeals to and common ground on other issues.” And that’s unmistakably what the other candidates’ knee-jerkings are. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Dean is right that Democrats can win the votes of the Southern white working class on the basis of economic populism (I think he’s wrong). But to say that no such effort should be made, or that such an effort to woo those voters is offensive or racist in itself is crazy. Nuts. Self-destructive. Politics as exclusionary snobbery. Politics as running against a certain segment of the populace constructed as demon Other (which in a certain sense is inevitable, but it’s hard in a stable democracy to win when running against one-third of the country). Dean was making the sensible point that Democrats seeking the White House can’t afford to write off the Southern states … heck, if Al Gore could have won his Southern home state (or his boss Bill Clinton’s for that matter), we’d all have been spared the Long Election of 2000 because Florida’s electoral votes wouldn’t have affected the outcome.
I carry no brief for Confederate nostalgia, which for some people (though not all) is clearly just sublimated racism or an excuse for prettifying or intellectualizing a prejudice. Still, though it probably ranks about 165th in my political priorities, I don’t care for PC attempts to erase honors, memorials and namings of All Things Confederate from the public sphere. And as a Republican, I have to admit that I probably want Dean to win the Democratic nomination because I think Bush-Dean would be a rerun of Nixon-McGovern and Reagan-Mondale (actually in that sense, the Democrat I’d *most* like to win would be Al Sharpton, but I realize that’s not in the cards). All that said though, I’d really hate for the front-runner for one of the two major parties to suffer badly and have his chances for the nomination hurt over this. It’s discouraging that the other candidates (one of whom I guarantee is gonna say during one of the debates before a black audience “Dean praised the Confederate flag”) are so eager to pander, and have constituencies so used to being pandered to, that they can say things so manifestly stupid merely on the basis of a knee-jerk, “stop all rational thought” association with three words “the Confederate flag.”
These are the other films that I saw last weekend at the Charlottesville fest:
It’s marvelous just how simple and elemental some of the great silent comedies are. This short has Stan and Ollie as salesmen trying to sell Christmas trees door-to-door. It starts out as Simple Stan vs. Know-It-All Ollie and their not quite being on the same page, particularly vis-a-vis what went wrong last time. But then things change when they try to sell to an aggressively uninterested James Finlayson … now it’s Stan-and-Ollie united against Finlayson in a destructive game of one-upmanship. BIG BUSINESS quickly becomes very funny for two reasons: 1) the totally civilized nature of the destruction for a very long time — each party waits his turn to destroy something of the other’s; and then 2) the thorough, obsessive nature of the destruction when it becomes simultaneous — it’s not enough for Finlayson to put a dent in the boys’ car, no … he has to rip it apart piece by piece until it’s just a hunk of scrap. And he does. While Stan & Ollie are destroying his home. One thing though — a commercial DVD projected onto a big, auditorium-size screen looks like crap.
SEVEN CHANCES (Buster Keaton, USA, 1925, 9)
I saw this silent masterpiece, about Buster’s efforts to get married by 7 pm lest he lose a million-dollar inheritance, for the first time in a theater. But, like with FOOLISH WIVES, it had a musical accompaniment about which I wasn’t crazy going in. The “avant-cabaret band” Anne Watts and Boister played some very anachronistic music (e.g. a rearrangement of the main hook from Pink Floyd’s “Money” when the will is discussed) and did quite a bit of sound effects. But again, like with FOOLISH WIVES, I found myself increasingly not caring as the film progressed. If a silent film is great, and SEVEN CHANCES is, it absorbs and recodes the score rather than being absorbed and recoded by it. I stopped hearing the anachronisms and heard only the band’s jaunty, lilting beat, underlining the film. Which is wonderful as ever. Keaton’s creative visual sense (the framing of the opening sequence of shots; the automobile dissolves); the way he shades gags as the plot moves along, like a musician developing variations on a theme (we get nearly every variation possible on the ‘impossible proposal’ theme); there’s the great chase scene (one of the most images in silent-film history is the Great Stoneface avoiding the boulders), but just as good is … uh, a football field; plus, there’s Snitz Edwards, one of the great silent-film supporting characters. Simply one of the greats.
A terrific premise squandered by self-indulgence. The director’s grandmother was one of a gang of about a half-dozen who committed the only bank robbery in Communist Romanian history. After catching the robbers, the dictatorship made a 1961 police procedural film called RECONSTRUCTION that forced the robbers to re-enact their crime for the benefit of the film. After the film was over, all the men were executed and the grandmother’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Now, Lusztig has the 1961 film, which begins this current movie of the same title, and returns to present-day Romania to discover all about the crime and her grandmother — an unspeakable subject in her Jewish family while she was being raised in the West. It’s a terrific premise, full of historical, personal, political and cinematic-critical places to go, but Lusztig concentrates on the least interesting angle — the relationship between her, her mother and her grandmother and other family issues. It’s not that the resulting film is actively or aggressively bad (it’s sometimes affecting, particularly involving the resentments the mother had toward the grandmother); it’s just so personal and hermetic that it’s hard to see why anyone outside Lusztig’s family should care about it. That’s what’s self-indulgent about RECONSTRUCTION — it’s not arty or rambling or bombastic (though there is way too much lumpy metaphor early on in the voiceover — try “our family was like Japan, an island fallen in upon itself” or “I must start this story from somewhere. But that ‘somewhere’ would have a background too” as a bar pickup line sometime). It’s like somebody inviting you over to see his home movies from his Paris trip and it’s all pictures of himself and his friends, and imprints of the Sylvia Plath poems he wrote in his journal. With subject matter this good, that’s not good enough.
THE KILLING (Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1956, 8 )
First time I saw this film, the earliest film Stanley Kubrick owned up to (his third overall), on a big screen. Compared to the kind of visual wonders that Kubrick made late in his career — 2001, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or EYES WIDE SHUT — THE KILLING doesn’t really gains very much on a theater screen over TV and video. It’s a clever heist film, set at a racetrack and shot cheaply with lots of voiceover, and works mostly as an intellectual puzzle (note: hint of later tendencies). Kubrick juggles the time sequence around, and used the same shots of the start of the seventh race in about five different places and shows the same scene (e.g. the fight at the bar) shot from a different character’s POV to enhance the film’s fated, ritualistic, incantatory quality (note: hint of later tendencies) and to comment on perspective (note: hint of later tendencies). Contributing to the terrible overlay of fate, the omniscient narrator explains or shows at several points how things might have worked out a difference of one minute here or a few steps there (note: hint of later tendencies). But things of course don’t work out because of a fluke (note: hint of later tendencies). The finest moment in THE KILLING though is all its own — the shot of the loot from the heist being blown to the wind, to the noise, as the camera holds obsessively on the money stack until the last bill blows away. Every. Last. One.
HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (Jean Negulesco, USA, 1953, 6)
Pleasurable comedy once it gets started after an unforgivably long orchestral overture, with shots of the orchestra filling up every damn inch of the “V i s t a V i s i o N” screen. I’ll leave it to the feminists to actively complain about a film about three models (Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall) setting themselves up in a fancy Manhattan pad they can’t afford in order to nab a millionaire for marriage, and soon. (Though when you think about it, it does play like a comic version of the radical feminist argument that marriage is a form of prostitution.) But this flaming reactionary will admit that he found the premise of blatant Material Girl-ism and men as prey to be kinda dumb and discomforting, like a distaff MAN SHOW. And the filmmakers know it; the plot plays out as if already rebutting charges of being an apologia for gold-digging — the only one to marry a millionaire does so unintentionally. Don’t even think about what Lubitsch could have done with this cast and story — you’ll only drive yourself to tears. Still the film has Marilyn’s face, Bacall’s legs and Grable’s voice. And Grable, rather than Marilyn plays the dumb role. And you see Marilyn wearing glasses. And you see Bacall flaunt her calves. And you get the 1950s-movie version of the maxim about what men don’t do to girls who wear glasses (and no … that’s NOT it).
Before I actually say anything about this movie proper, let me to rant about the title the English-language distributors have given it. The film’s title in Russian is “OLIGARKH” according to both the IMDb and my viewing notes (I can read the Cyrillic alphabet, though I know the language not at all). So why translate that title into English as “TYCOON,” since the cognate “Oligarch” is a perfectly good English word that would have fitted this movie just fine? Plainly … to give Western art-house audiences a socialist warm fuzzy (“this is what a ‘tycoon’ is … boooooo”), despite the events in this movie having nothing to do with capitalism as practiced in the West (though it’s clearly how Russians see the system they have that goes by the name “capitalism”). And that is precisely what makes OLIGARKH interesting as a film. It invites comparison to CITIZEN KANE in terms of its structure (an investigator tries to learn about a newly dead man through his friends, which become flashbacks in the movie), and that’s not a good comparison to invite … Newsflash: This movie is *not* as good as CITIZEN KANE. OLIGARKH, a roman a clef supposedly based on the life of Kremlin power broker Boris Berezovsky, covers a lot of ground in 130 minutes, which is both its strength and its weakness. Its strength in the sense that it takes up the insane ambition of telling The Russian Story, trying to be the film that sums up its era, and OLIGARKH would be an important and interesting film almost for that reason alone. But it has some very funny scenes, my favorite being Viktor taking an economics oral in the days of Scientific Socialism, and Lounguine also has a knack for the iconic image (the yachting party and the Navy veterans being reduced to being a backing band for these Bright Young Things). However, the vice of this virtue is that the film feels rushed at times, as though it wants to tell us *everything,* and some of the Kremlin machinations late in the film left me a little confused. Maybe that was the point too.