Rightwing Film Geek

Passionate fiskings

gibsonfiskings.jpgIn the truest of mutual back-scratches (and maybe more), Salon interviewed (link requires that you look at an ad) an Episcopal clergyman from San Francisco who wrings his hands over how “an unsophisticated audience” might take THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

Or as Dale Price put it: “At this point, your septum should start deviating as a result of the derisive snorting. This is what the hoi polloi think of you, folks. They’re the sophisticates, you’re the extra y-chromosome types who blather on endlessly about your Bronze Age Palestinian sky god.”

For a sense of the article’s flavor (and a superhuman test of endurance), try to read this sentence from the Salon interviewer while holding down your last meal:

“Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, an offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy and the reforms of the Vatican II in 1965, which, among other things, repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews.”

Let me count the mistakes and irrelevancies. 1) Gibson’s own affiliation is not definitively known, unlike his father’s; 2) no anti-V2 Catholic Traditionalist groups of my acquaintance “reject the papacy,” though some (but not all) reject the last several popes and believe Peter’s Seat is vacant; 3) V-2 did not repudiate the deicide charge in any sense that would necessarily bind a Gospel period piece; 4) in my experience of Catholic Tradionalism (which is limited, but I’m guessing is a bit greater than the Salon interviewer’s and interviewee’s put together), the Jewish deicide issue is about #186 in their list of (often reasonable) complaints, which much more commonly focus on liturgical issues, ecumenism, and authority within the Church. And that’s just one sentence.

I have a year-end ballot to finish filling out, so I can’t give this any more time than I already have. More-thorough dismantlings of this ridiculous love-in can be found here from Dale Price and here from Christopher Johnson. But the mother of all fiskings, as said by even Messrs. Price and Johnson, is by Secret Agent Man.

January 31, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

1492: Conquest of Islamic Paradise

Ridley Scott’s upcoming film on the Crusades will probably not get 1/10th the criticism as anti-Christian that Mel Gibson’s got as anti-Semitic, but some British historians are at least fighting the good fight in warning that the film, at the basic plot level, is “rubbish”, “ridiculous”, “complete fiction” and a pander to Muslim self-glorification. And some Christians are refusing for whatever reason to cooperate with Scott in his effort to “hope that the Muslim world sees the rectification of history.”

osamabinladen.jpgObviously “panders to Osama bin Laden” in the first Telegraph piece is a crude bit of oversimplification, but as crude bits of oversimplification go, it’s not inaccurate. Scott’s movie seems to accept the basic narrative of the jihadis (and much of Islam) about the Crusades — namely that they were an act of Christian aggression and a humiliation of Islam.

I wonder whether Scott will ever ask how the Muslims came to be in control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the first place (hint: Muhammad wasn’t born in Nazareth). Although the specific timing issues are more complex, in the broadest sweep of history, the Crusades were basically counterattacks against an Islam that had been expanding for 400 years, not Christian aggression — unless you subscribe to some al-Brezhnev Doctrine of permanent Muslim expansion and fated dhimmitude. And although the Christians were sometimes successful for a time, Islam emerged victorious in the end. It wasn’t for 300 or 400 years after the final Crusade (Lepanto 1571 and Vienna 1683) that Christendom no longer had to seriously fear conquest by Islam. The Holy Land itself was ruled by one or another Muslim group until the 20th century; the narrative of all-conquering Christian bullies and weak, peaceful Muslim victims only reaches the level of laughable in the past 200 years.

But as long as artists from the nations of Christendom present the Muslim view of history and show positive images of warriors for Islam, said artistes will be the happiest heathen Crusaders in the grave.

January 19, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The master-slave dialectic

I am not making this up. Los Angeles County wants computer and video companies not to use the terms “master” and “slave” to describe interfaces between two machines in which one tells the other what to do. This insane e-mail cites concerns “based on cultural diversity and sensitivity.” I wonder whether the use of the terms “male” and “female” for plugs that fit together reinforces patriarchal notions of heteronormativity and oppress the LGBTQ Community?

In the guts of the story it says “a black employee of the Probation Department filed a discrimination complaint.” Why didn’t his boss laugh in his face and tell him to get a clue? While the county said it wasn’t “workplace discrimination,” why did the Affirmative Action Office “take seriously this person’s concern” and cite any “(constant) need to be conscious of these issues.” Remember: this is what discrimination laws now mean; this is what “sensitivity” and “cultural diversity” now means; this is how affirmative-action offices think; and the fact this worker was taken seriously tells us what public standards now are (fear of the most paranoid idiot drives people’s actions).

November 29, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

Some people in the town of Corleone, Sicily want to change its name to remove the Mafia taint. If you remember the plot of GODFATHER 2, Vito gave the name “Corleone” to US authorities at Ellis Island purely because that was his hometown.

Makes sense. After all, cities in Sicily not named Corleone have no Mafia reputation at all, do they?

November 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Howard Dean wusses out

howiegrits.jpgAs I predicted, only even faster, Howard Dean was forced back inside the PC box. The Vermont governor’s remarks about the Democrats’ need to appeal to the kind of Southern white who has a Confederate flag on his pickup truck came up in the *very next* debate. During the event itself, Dean gave an admirably peppery defense, and the early versions of the Associated Press account said he refused to apologize.I’ve already said my $.02 about why there is nothing objectionable about Dean’s remarks in the first place and I compared the other candidates’ reactions to Pavlov’s dogs slobbering on cue to a bell, just from habit even though there’s no food there. Dean got “good for him” kudos from such commentators as Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher (these are words to similar effect Rod wrote later, as the original links I used then are dead; VJM 5 Oct. 07).

But in between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, something happened. Maybe those cajones that Sullivan and Dreher so admired had to be surrendered and put into a blind trust for the duration of the campaign. In Wednesday’s later versions of that AP story, Dean *does* apologize, and a close look at the wording of the story makes it clear just how abject he had become. Here are the money grafs (I can’t find this online now, Lexis could confirm if needed; VJM 5 Oct. 07):

Later, he called the AP to clarify the comments in his speech.
“That was an apology. You heard it from me,” Dean said. “It was a remark that inflicted a lot of pain on people for whom the flag of the Confederacy is a painful symbol of racism and slavery.”
Still defensive, Dean said he stood by his broader point that Democrats must court Southern whites who have voted for Republicans and received nothing in return.
“My remarks were misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues” in the race, he told the AP. Dean called and apologized to rival Al Sharpton, who had challenged Dean on the debate stage.

Note the wording: *he* called the AP. It’s possible there was some maneuvering by handlers beforehand, but front-running candidates just don’t, as a matter of routine, solicit interviews with news outlets, particularly one as ubiquitous and anonymous as the Associated Press. He emphasized that it *was* an apology: “You heard it from me.” This was a major act of damage control.

It’s not from the candidate, but we also get this lovely bit from a South Carolina DNC member: “My God. Couldn’t he have simply said we need to appeal to the ‘Bubba vote’ or ‘good ol’ boy vote’?” But just calling them “Bubbas” or “good ol’ boys” doesn’t change anything about them — they’re presumably the same people who (tend to) put Rebel flags on their pickups.

All right, lemme see if I’ve got this straight: It’s OK to solicit the votes of Southern whites who have Rebel iconography. But it’s not OK to note that they sport such symbols, even for the purposes of saying “back us over other matters and put down your offensive symbol.” It is not OK to use that brandished Confederate flag as a short-hand way of referring to those working-class and poor Southern whites, because that’s hayseed stereotyping, according to Southern Democrats as conservative as Zell Miller or as (relatively) liberal as 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,” he said at the weekend. But “Bubba” and “good ol’ boy” are acceptable ways to refer to the *exact* *same* *people* who are sporting those symbols. *Now* their support has been ritually purified, like a Temple priest, I guess. And of course, in today’s apology-sodden climate, you beg forgiveness for your comments, which you maintain are not racist and were “misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues.” But you still must personally solicit pardon from one of those colleagues who distorted your remarks. Is it because that candidate is black (three guesses, “yes” or no”), even though the icon is supposedly offensive to *all*, white and black alike. And actually you only solicit one of the two black candidates — doesn’t Carol Moseley-Braun count as black (like Clarence Thomas)? Doesn’t NOW’s endorsement make her a major player?

I’m confused.

southerncross.jpgActually, I’m not confused about one thing. The way this contretemps played out over the past three days — the innocence of Dean’s original remark, the speed with which the others piled on, and the even greater speed with which Dean then backed off — is one more nail in the Democratic coffin in the South as the party of South-hating liberals. Both an Orlando Sentinel columnist and Sen. Edwards know how this will play out. In Tuesday’s debate, the senator told Dean: “The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.” Confederate symbology is generally not an issue in Southern politics, but when it gets made into one, Southern whites tend to close ranks. It’s not 6th century Sparta, but the South is as close as America gets to an honor-based culture. Most Southerners (including myself during the 5 years I lived in Georgia) don’t fly the Confederate flag for a variety of reasons, but they have an acute nose for realizing when they are being dissed and held at contemptuous arm’s length over it. That’s all an honor-based culture needs to hear, and no Deanesque talk about health insurance for your kids is gonna matter at that point.

November 6, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrity Politics Update (Today’s Guest Star: Minnie Driver)


Dumb Celebs Web site picks up on this stunt by Minnie Driver to work at a Cambodian garment maker to raise awareness of sweatshop issue and shock the world’s conscience into … blah, blah, blah. I wonder which sweatshop is gonna cooperate with this plan to drive them out of business? Just asking.

Anthony makes some fine points about what these Cambodians would be doing if we didn’t buy clothes from their factories and how economics is more complicated than egalitarianist outrage allows. Some *other* points he didn’t make but could have. It’s an embarrassment of riches dealing with these artistes, frankly:

First, we need to get some scientists to test just how dangerously-potent is the form of crack Minnie is smoking if she thinks that this issue is something that she needs to “raise awareness of.” What person who is sufficiently culturally awake to learn about Min’s efforts at consciousness-raising doesn’t already know about the garment industry in the Third World and the issue of working conditions in those places? This is the cause du jour on college campuses and the Protest Movement. When I went to college in the late 80s, it was Apartheid, and one would be as likely not to know about Apartheid then as someone today would not know about sweatshops.

Second, Miss Driver wants clothing makers to raise the wages of their Cambodian workers to Western standards (presumably with no regard to the inflationary effects on the Cambodian economy … it’s needed to make *Minnie* and *Us* feel good). More likely, this would switch production back to the United States. But in either case, the manufacturers’ labor costs are gonna go up dramatically, and this will then be reflected in the prices of their clothes. At Miss Driver’s level of income, the extra few dollars will mean nothing. But for working-class or poor people in the United States and (even more so) for Third World *consumers* … who have been known to buy these clothes, I hear, that price premium (we’ll call it the Guilty Liberal Conscience Tax) would be a deal-breaker for buying the clothes at all. And they’ll do without or with less. But we’ll feel good, having Done Our Part.

November 5, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ataaaaaaaaack of the Papistrightwingers

I was gonna say something about a truly vile article in Sunday’s Boston Globe magazine, but really, I can’t do better than this by Catholic blogger Dale Price.

November 4, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dirty white boys (apologies to Lou Gramm)

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.


vickygene.jpgWhat 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.

November 3, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

“Look away, look away …”


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.”

kerrysnob.jpgSen. 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:

roosevelt.jpg“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.

sticker.jpgIt’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.”

November 3, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

And now Weekend Update …

Breaking news on several fronts over the last few days (when I was away for a film festival) and on which I have posted here before:

First, Mel Gibson landed a distributor, Newmarket Films, and confirmed the planned release date for the newly titled THE PASSION OF CHRIST as Ash Wednesday. I’ve already made my predictions — a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges (the Lent opening will give another excuse … er … news peg to accuse the Church of anti-Semitism and assorted other bestialities), and a negative critical reception since some critics already have their leads written, and I refuse to believe this is an isolated attitude. Box office, we’ll have to wait and see, but subtitled films just don’t do well in the United States. I think only two, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and CROUCHING TIGER, have ever even broken $50 million. (And if it’s not two, it’s no more than three.) Any good? I’ll get back to you.

Second, the screener issue was “solved,” with the MPAA agreeing to lift the ban, but only for Academy members. This solves some of the problems, but leaves critics groups, primarily those for critics working in smaller markets, out in the cold.

Third, Michael “Killer” Schiavo is starting his Public Redemption Tour facing the tough, incisive questioning of Larry King. “My girlfriend supports my stance on Terri because the kind of care I want to give her will remove Terri as an obstacle and we’ll be free to marry.” Or something like that. And of course, the Atheist Press is spinning this story as a “right-to-die” case, when curiously, the person who will die never herself asserted that right.

Finally, on the Canadian tolerance beat, theological liberals in the Episcopal Church prove their open-mindedness, Celebrate Diversity and fight the forces of inquisitorial reaction by threatening heresy trials for those who repudiate the One Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant Of Mine Approved Groups.

October 28, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What liberal media?

CBS News has, for the last two nights, sullied its newscasts (if that were possible) with reports on child abuse among home schoolers. Yet, if you actually listen to or read the transcripts of the two-part series, available here (Day 1) and here (Day 2).

The teaser at the top of the Web site home page, next to D-n R—-r’s mug shot breathlessly blurts out: “Abusive parents sometimes hide in our unregulated home schooling system.” Well, yes, I suppose. And they also hide in our unregulated housing system. And travel on our unregulated highway system.

Now, it is certainly theoretically possible that there is a higher rate of child abuse or child murder in home-schooling families. And if there were figures suggesting or proving such a correlation, that would obviously be a legitimate news story. But you will comb these pieces of CBS “journalism” in vain for any such figures, even bogus advocacy numbers, that could even begin to suggest it. In fact, near the end of part 2, we get this: “But it’s hard to know how widespread abuse might be because the government doesn’t keep track. It doesn’t even know how many children are taught at home in this country.”

cbs.jpgWell, whoop-de-doo. In other words, we don’t even know if there’s a story here, but we’re still gonna report it anyway.

This is pure, undiluted journalism-by-anecdote and journalism-as-prejudice-stoking and audience-stroking — the liberal equivalent of conservative tales about welfare queens driving Cadillacs. It’s like Tales from the Crypt, only not as campy. See the Manhattan and Georgetown cocktail partiers scare each other (booga, booga) with dark stories on Halloween night of the “unregulated” things they hear go on in the red states, and what you can learn if you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park.

Just for fun, let’s try this method of “journalism” with … hmmm … the Springfield, Ore., school shooting. Kip Kinkel killed two classmates and wounded 25 others after murdering his parents, both schoolteachers. Would focusing on that angle (the killer’s home situation and his being raised by two schoolteachers) ever be done, well, actually … PBS did focus on this shooting in a Frontline episode here. There is even a section called “blame” section here focuses on video games, music and guns (all perfectly plausible contributing factors), but couldn’t it have centered around his family situation and how schoolteachers raise children to become killers? In fact, I’ll bet it’s hard to know how widespread children of teachers becoming killers might be because the government doesn’t keep track. It doesn’t even know how many children schoolteachers have in this country.

The ugliest part of these reports comes in part 2’s bid to blame home schooling for the Andrea Yates murders. Exqueeze me? Baking powder? Of the five children she drowned (Noah 7, John 5, Luke 3, Paul 2, and Mary, 6 months), only one was definitely school-aged, so her family’s home-schooling decision could have burdened her only slightly beyond what a woman with that many children would have if the family choose public-schooling. And how many other contributing factors *were* there in her case — post-partum depression, living in a trailer with that many children, being on powerful prescription drugs, only just out of a mental hospital. All this was widely reported at the time, and led to quite a bit of “I can see how all that would drive her to this” sympathy on her behalf (rightly or wrongly). But we’re now supposed to believe that this is an example of Home Schooling Syndrome. Puh-frickin-leez.

I carry no brief for home-schoolers — I am single with no children and am a product myself of public and Catholic schools. A few are a bit fruity in that “Protect Our Children From The Atheist ATF And Their Black Helicopters” way. But those CBS pieces were so sloppily done, such a failure measured by the basic canons of journalism, that the only way a prestigious news network could publish them would be an expression of naked prejudice. Just because they’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not persecuted.

I deliberately didn’t address the substance of the charges, the details of the cases, and the home-school regulation schemas in the states in question because all that is simply beyond my knowledge. Further, I didn’t need to know them to realize how slipshod the smear-by-anecdote story was. Well, there are now some rebuttals on the merits here and here, although you need to go down a little to get to the meat of the latter article’s details. Also near the end of this article, columnist Zan Tyler quotes a 1979 Supreme Court decision that already rejects the implicit reasoning in the CBS piece — that state regulations on all parents are justified merely on the basis that some abuse their children.

October 15, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Amazing Chan and the Fox Klan

It was set to be a good summer for mystery buffs who get the Fox Movie Channel (both of them). The cable-movies network had planned the Charlie Chan Mystery Tour, a scheduled double feature of Chan films every Monday in June, July and August. But then the Fox got chicken. They got some letters from Asian pressure groups and cancelled the series, with a explanatory note on their Web site. Some uproar and letter-writing campaigns ensued on movies-discussion groups and the network kinda-sorta took it back later, changing the verb on the pop-up from “cancelled” to “suspended.”

In some ways, it would have been difficult to get very upset about the lack of a Charlie Chan movie marathon a couple of months ago. We are NOT talking about BIRTH OF A NATION, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL or BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN — films whose historical significance and dazzling artistry make them far too important to hold their repugnant (and explicit) politics too heavily against them. But we’re also not talking about agitprop here. The Charlie Chan movies are not the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF SIAM — they’re a B-program series of mystery stories, of which, full disclosure, I have seen only one (I actually saw more often the early 70s cartoon “The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan” and can still hum the chorus to its Archies-style pop song “No. 1 Son.”) Still, the Chan films’ general reputation is sufficiently low, though like everything it has its fans, that I am confident in saying that world is hardly much the poorer for their relative lack of prominence.

But everything changed once Fox programmed the marathon — in a way similar to how, in the field of employment law, a decision to fire (or revoke tenure) is reviewed by a different set of standards than a decision not to hire (or give tenure). It’s easy (too easy, in fact) to mock the Asian pressure groups for their basic cinematic and dramatic illiteracy, like seeing Chan’s meek and subservient demeanor as an Asian stereotype, when any fan of detective shows or stories knows that this is a common detective mask, playing “dumb like a fox” (oops!) to lure the quarry into giving himself away. You can see it in Columbo, in Hercule Poirot, in Father Brown, in DIABOLIQUE.

But I want to be harder on Fox Movie Channel for their pussilanimity. Is this kind of weakness and toeing the ethnic-lobby line that people expect from *Fox* — The Conservative Tool Of Rupert Murdoch’s Plan For World Domination? If *they* are not gonna tell some ethnic Jacobins to go stuff themselves, who will? The sentence in the statement on their Web site that most beggars belief is this one: “In the hope that this action will evoke discussion about the progress made in our modern, multicultural society, we invite you to please click CONTACT US to send us your thoughts on the matter.”

I guess I don’t see what kind of discussion one can have in “our modern, multicultural society” (good gawd … *this* is the language of The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy) when Fox has pulled an example of something made in “their premodern unicultural” society. If you never see anything from outside your own cave, how can even know that you are even *in* a cave much less know its contours, i.e. its virtue and vice (yes … that *is* a Plato reference … get used to them.) The only discussion I see being provoked by this action would be plenty of self-congratulation about how “modern” and “multicultural” we all are, patting ourselves on the back for all our “progress” (good gawd … *this* is the language of The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy).

I may have to take all of that back however, because I must say that I have some serious doubts about Fox’s honesty. The statement announcing the cancellation of the Chan marathon said that Fox “has been made aware that the Charlie Chan films may contain situations or depictions that are sensitive to some viewers.” Huh? Forget *may contain* (there’s no “may” about it … they do). What does *has been made aware* mean? Is there anybody alive and culturally awake who doesn’t know that many Asians, however rightly or wrongly, see Charlie Chan as an offensive stereotype. Or that the term “Charlie Chan” has been used a disparaging common noun or moniker for Asians in general — at the level of “chink” or “gook.” (truth be told, I think the experience of being disparagingly called a “charlie chan,” not the actual content of the films, is why Asians see these particular movies as a special red flag). Program the films ordon’t program them — but don’t pretend that their perceived offensiveness is something that Fox just “has been made aware of.”

So unbelievable is that particular construction that I’m tempted to agree with a silent-film scholar who said at a rountable discussion at a film convention in Arlington, Va., this weekend that he thinks that Fox might have planned on caving in upon the first receipt of protest letters and then planned the tentative reversal once the publicity had been generated. The use of the letters and the cave-in were just a way of ginning up publicity for their Charlie Chan series — a group of movies for which the public is not exactly beating down the door.

I suppose I should make clear that when I called the Asian groups Jacobins, I mean that in the cultural rather than head-chopping variety (a more-recent analogy would be the Taliban’s destroying the Buddha statues in the name of Islam — hey, let’s discuss the progress Islam has made over paganism). For one thing, these low-rent Robespierres have an one-dimensional, essentially propagandistic and self-centered approach to art. In his letter to Fox, Eddie Wong, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association executive director, explicitly set up this standard for representations in the following phrase — “humanistic, historically accurate, and empowering images.” Yikes. Doesn’t this “humanistic … empowering” talk sound like a schoolmarm addressing her charges? Anybody who uses the term “empowering” should be “empowered” all right — by the attachment of some jumper cables.

And then he complains that Chan’s behavior “did not resemble my parents, friends or any Chinese person I knew.” Double yikes. Can a human being be that narcissistic or is this “I don’t know anybody like this” seriously meant as an argument? Who started these humorless nursery games of “I have to see myself on the screen” and “Characters of my ethnicity have to resemble my life-memories.” I can recall seeing only one Scottish-born American resident in a noncomic U.S.-made movie — Ted Danson’s cop in THE ONION FIELD, and look what happened to him (but he wasn’t Catholic, so maybe he doesn’t count). Isn’t the point of art to see something other than yourself, or has reality TV changed all that?

While it is true that the Asian pressure groups are not calling for censorship in the formal sense, their efforts, if successful, would destroy the Charlie Chan movies just as effectively as (if more slowly and less self-consciously than) any fire lit in the name of destroying the offensive past that The New Revolutions (Revelations) Hath Made Obsolete. If the films’ are offensive, inaccurate, stereotypical and whatnot now — they will be that way forever. And if the Charlie Chan movies should not be shown now on those grounds, that argument will be just as persuasive until the lion lie down with the lamb. And there could never be any historical revisionism or rethinking about them — on two grounds.

First, because these ethnic pressure groups prevent them from being shown, they’ll eventually go down the flusher of social amnesia as they never get a chance to make the case for themselves. Second, film is fragile. Decent preservation costs money, and whoever owns the rights to the Charlie Chan series (or any other movie) needs to have some way of recouping the cost. A red-headed stepchild movie that essentially cannot be shown for any reason (ethnic protests in this case, but the point is generalizable) cannot recoup its preservation costs. The films will eventually fall apart, evaporate, explode, fade away, get lost or any of a number of other fates. Yes, the Charlie Chan movies also are readily available on tape now, but tape falls apart and fades as well.

One can say “no great loss” and he may very well be right. But let’s not kid ourselves about what the Asian groups want. They may not be government censors (and so the First Amendment Fundamentalists breathe easier) — but they will destroy these movies just as surely as any “censorship.”

July 15, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Fox hears “yellowface” and turns yellow

There’s one other point that deserves some elaboration in the Charlie Chan controversy — and that centers on the Asian critics’ frequent use of the term “yellowface.”

Eddie Wong, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association executive director, wrote in his letter to Fox Movie Channel that “Asian Americans feel that Charlie Chan is a demeaning portrayal that is culturally inaccurate and ‘entertaining’ at our expense. Add to it the insult of ‘yellowface’.” The Asian lobby group’s release says an early 80s Chan film “featured Peter Ustinov in yellowface” and asked its recipients whether they were “offended by yellowface …”

Now, naive person that I am, I actually assumed that “yellowface” meant, by analogy with “blackface,” a kind of grossly-exaggerated skin-tone makeup used by a European to play an Asian. But on reflection, that didn’t make sense. Whatever the morality of “blackface,” if a white person is going to play a black person in a black-and-white film, he clearly has to use some kind of skin-tone makeup.

There also existed in the era of Charlie Chan other kinds of pancake makeup used to blanche actors’ faces, although often by a white actor for purposes other than racial identification (e.g. silent comedian Harry Langdon’s baby-face clown). Ironically, that same whitening makeup is widely used in Japanese period films (e.g., KWAIDAN and UGETSU MONOGATARI) to signify ghosts. And contemporary latex-prosthetic makeup allows any actor to play any skin tone (e.g. the memorable barber-shop scene between Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in COMING TO AMERICA).

But “yellowface”? In real life, Asians run along a similar pale-swarthy spectrum as whites (e.g., Ang Lee is very pale; Wong Kar-wai very swarthy). And I have seen enough Asian-made movies to know that the range of Asian skin tones — as captured by black-and-white film — isn’t *that* different from the range of European skin tones. Obviously things were done around a white actor’s eyes to make them look slanted and such costuming effects as mustaches, hairdos and clothes can be used to make a white person look “more Asian.” But “yellowface”? In films like Charlie Chan that weren’t in color? I solicited on a silent-movies newsgroup, where numerous historians and collectors post, for anyone to tell me whether there was such a thing as “yellowface” makeup. One person defended the Asian protests, but said the term “yellowface” was not strictly accurate, but merely an analogy (which he thought defensible in service of the larger point). The LA Times article, if one read carefully with this particular fact in mind, also showed that this wasn’t what the Asian groups meant. It uses the phrase “what they have dubbed ‘yellowface’ — Caucasian actors playing Asian characters.”

There is a question here of intellectual honesty and rhetorical probity. I’d hazard that 95 percent of the population, when asked to define “blackface” would say “a type of acting makeup and/or its use” rather than “any and every casting of a white actor in a black role.” And therefore, upon reading the NAATA statement and other quotes, think the Charlie Chan movies are like a Spike Lee fantasy, which isn’t only not true, but false in a particular way. To put it bluntly, whatever private language the Asian groups might think they’re using, they made-believe a lie for the purposes of producing a particular reaction in the ignorant. I include myself in the term “the ignorant” … while I never really believed there *was* such a thing as “yellowface” (and the NAATA press release’s inaccurate descriptions of the Charlie Chan character made me doubt their cinematic knowledge from the beginning), I felt sufficiently unsure to ask about it in public.

The LA Times article provides the key to understanding why make-believe *this* lie. It cites Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, as calling such images “no less hurtful and dehumanizing for us than blackface has been to African Americans.” And this is why I think this minor point about the term “yellowface” is worth chewing over. It is symptomatic of one of the laziest rhetorical tropes in political discourse, and one that pretty quickly causes me to lose regard for its maker. If SOUTH PARK’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone were to write a script about this brouhaha, they might call it “Operation Get Behind The Darkies.”

The rhetorical trope, an analogy with the black civil-rights movement, is common to many people other than the ethnic-grievance groups (or even to liberals). Homosexual advocates, especially Andrew Sullivan, campaign for homosexual “marriage” by trying to analogize the status quo to anti-miscenegation laws; for Jesse Jackson, everything, from the Juliette Binoche movie CHOCOLAT to the hiring of football coaches, is always “Selma”; even right-wing groups critical of affirmative action and abortion argue that they are upholding the civil-rights movement’s ideals of a color-blind society and equal protection.

People will find these various named causes’ similarity to the civil-rights moments varyingly persuasive (and I’ve named only a tiny sample). But what interests me here is why everything in American life has to find its comparison to the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, no matter how strained. It’s as if that’s the only way to get any moral traction with the broader public is to wrap yourself, not in the flag, but in “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” This law, we might call it the Godwin’s Law of the Pre-Internet, may have something to do with the civil-rights movement being the last successful moral crusade before the 60s generation smashed the existing moral language and social structures and planted a global suspicion toward those very concepts.

But, regardless of its cause, this trope is intellectually impoverishing and lazy, the contemporary Political Cartesianism — “I’m offended, therefore I am.” Politics and cultural life get reduced to “my offense” and/or “your guilt.” It’s also false to the civil-rights movement, whose leaders become secular saints and objects of quasi-religious veneration rather than the complex and vibrant human beings they were.

No thanks to any of this.

Here are the links to the information cited in these Charlie Chan articles:
The LA Times news article

The discussions on the controversy among film buffs:

The leading Asian lobby group:

Fox Movie Channel:

July 15, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment