Big Media • Hollywood • Movies • Post • race • The Culture • The Media

Who Do You Think You Are, Black Panther?

Who . . . who are you?

This question reverberates throughout the blockbuster du jour,Black Panther,” and the answers provided by the King of Wakanda, T’Challa, are not satisfactory to me. To the contrary; they are depressingly naïve, heavy-handed, and presented in a very top-down kind of way. The early introduction of the question was also an immediate give-away that the social justice warriors had far too much sway with this script.

Before I get too involved with my criticisms, let me acknowledge that all things considered, I loved the film. But I also hated prominent aspects of it, hence the criticism below. Within the four corners of this Black Panther film, unlike what I suspect are most superhero constructs, we don’t have an individual who possesses superhuman abilities and is dedicated to applying those talents toward protecting the public.

No, no, no.

In “Black Panther” we have an entire human culture that possesses superhuman technology led by a king who possesses superhuman ability—however, both the culture and the king are desirous of protecting their culture and their culture alone.

Thus, the social-justice-warrior inspired dialectic: who are you?

Is “Black Panther” a magnificent superhero film? Yes, I think so. A trusted friend thoroughly invested in a love of both the movies and the realm of comic books believes it is one of the best films he has ever seen.

It certainly doesn’t rise to that level for me.

I’ve seen it twice and both audiences enjoyed the film, though not in a rousing way. When I asked her, my wife doesn’t see this as a superhero film and I suspect that is part of the problem for me. She loved the scenery, the costumes, the actors (and, they were an incredibly well cast: notably Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger; Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia; Danai Gurira as General Okoye; and Angela Bassett as Ramonda, among many others), and she loved the mythical kingdom.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—sure, OK. But . . . the storyline? The intellectual overlay? The oh-so-trapped-in-the-1960s mentality of it all? I found it stilted in the extreme. Not once do we see evidence of a technologically superior private sector in Wakanda. Not once do we see evidence of a technologically superior middle class. Not once do we see evidence of a technologically superior and elite university system. Hell, the Wakandans didn’t just hide spies in plain sight, they entirely hid the believability of their technological superiority from the viewing audience!

Admittedly there were indications of an elite research and development infrastructure in Wakanda but they were are all localized and run, oh by the way, by the family of the king!


Honestly, I found myself wondering how is this not a supremacist film?

The Wakandans don’t merely presume supremacy over all they encounter, they demonstrably prove it. Other Africans, Americans, Asians, Europeans . . . the Wakandans are superior to the whole damn world. So superior, in fact, they pull the ultimate privilege move to close out the film. They jet to the ’hood, show off their Bugatti of a spaceship, announce they have purchased some buildings, and will benevolently share how wonderful they are with their brothers and sisters in the ’hood.

Anyway, there were two iconic moments that captured my imagination in the film. Moments where time seemed to stand still. They may mean nothing at all to anyone else, especially younger viewers. For this Florida boy, however, I just wanted to freeze and dwell in the deliciousness of the visual moment.

The first occurred when T’Challa became king and as part of the ritual ascent into his position as monarch, he first drank some nectar from the “heart-shaped herb” that gives the Black Panther his superhuman abilities, was subsequently buried head to toe, and then entered a mystical state that allowed him to emerge on an African savanna. There, he saw a tree with multiple black panthers lounging among the branches. One of the panthers morphed into his deceased father.

It was an incredibly powerful moment for me. It still is: Father/son, black panther/black man, Africa/America; there was just so much captured by joining my imagination with that imagery, it’s practically impossible to describe.

The second moment occurred when the action switched to South Korea; Klaue, apparently an Afrikaaner (a brave choice /sarc) and highly sought after criminal to the Wakandans, along with his team of mercenaries have arranged for the sale of a prized Wakandan artifact to a CIA agent. Black Panther and his team desire to apprehend him. The three disparate groups discover one another, and all hell breaks loose, Klaue and his guys exit the place with a quickness. Okoye and Nakia give chase, leaving Black Panther behind. He then must call on Wakandan technology to join the chase. This is where he is seen prowling on top of a speeding car while the chase ensues. That was an overwhelming series of visuals for this black boy, especially because it was essentially Superhero 101 stuff.

Now, for the heavy sigh.

Did Wakanda have to be envisioned so off-the-charts advanced? Really? The presentation was not convincing at all and I think the writers missed an opportunity to make it much more believable in its “hidden” nature; in fact, the opportunity to hide it in plain sight, as with the “war dog” spies around the globe, should have been taken. Perhaps the writers and producers were trapped by a storyline generated in the 1960s featuring a people said to be East African, speaking a language that is South African, with fictionalized deities based on Northeastern African gods, and starring an American actor with West African roots. The same roots, by the way, of the language spoken by the outcast Jubari tribe.

Perhaps, but that’s still not an excuse.

I mean, is it too much for me as an American to gaze upon an American film derived from an American comic book series and raise an eyebrow while wondering why is my world-leading culture being subjugated to some worn out Pan-African foolishness?

Is it too much for me to have expected to see a storyline that embraced more of the Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions “Check out Your Mind” orientation? Or En Vogue’s Free Your Mind” approach?

Is it too much for me as an African American to do a slow burn as I realize African Americans – the richest black people on the planet, the most accomplished black people on the planet, and the most welcoming black people of other black cultures on the planet—are relegated to nothingness in this film? Relegated to nothing, rather, but for some kids playing basketball on a playground in freaking Oakland, California! Or, lest I forget, when being portrayed as a bitter, genocidal thug expertly trained in the art of killing by the United States government?


Who the hell signed off on this damn script?

After two viewings, all I can do is exhale while realizing this movie will be less historic for me than it obviously is for many in my circle. Indeed, as a moment in time it is somewhat reminiscent of my feelings on the two inauguration days for Barack Obama—absolutely immense pride in the actual historical moment but a deep, personal conviction that, well, how do I say it: he’s just not the right guy.

So, though “Black Panther” is objectively a good movie, this was not the right script.

Near the very end of the film, the African king and his wrongly abandoned first cousin are on a mountainous opening, looking out upon an African sunset, after T’Challa has ultimately (and surprisingly) defeated his challenge. Listening to the scripted dialogue here, I wanted to freeze things and have a private conversation with that first cousin. If I could have done so, the conversation would go something like this: my brother, you and I need to go find the writers of this damn script and beat their ever-loving ass!


Because that first cousin, the Killmonger character, was conceptualized entirely wrong but most of it could have been fairly easily fixed in the waning moments of the film.

He should not have been written as a Navy SEAL, his military lineage should have been Army Ranger / Special Forces Green Beret / Delta Force. If you’re grounded in Black American military culture, you know this. He absolutely should not have been written as a murderous thug but, even if so written, he absolutely should not have declined T’Challa’s offer at the end of the film to heal his wounds. Further, he absolutely should not have disrespected his American ancestors who made the Middle Passage and had faith in their progeny—faith strong enough to endure tremendous mental and physical predation.

Further, the script modification would have allowed these two black men, these two blood brothers fully representative of the African Diaspora, to reconcile and there would have been no need to do anything but allow that possibility to hang there.

Finally, after we beat the asses of these mistaken writers for the multiple wrongs they committed in “writing” this script, I’d tell Killmonger we need to go find your mother. Because for all of the pride and achievement on garish display in this film, it wasn’t enough that there was no redeemable African American man in the script. No, these bastards wrote a script where the African American woman who was also abandoned by Wakanda is rendered absolutely invisible. Never seen, never discussed.

Somewhere in a parallel universe, Zora Neale Hurston is doing her best Okoye imitation on these writers and fiercely lighting them up. In all of their political correctness, the textual treatment of the black American woman is exceedingly odd. I mean, who do you think you are, Black Panther?


America • Big Media • Hollywood • Movies • Post • Technology • Terrorism • The Culture • The Media

‘Black Panther’ and the American Dream

Marvel’s “Black Panther” is now the most successful movie to star black people and, not coincidentally, it’s an American movie full of Americans. The press, however, neglects everything worth noticing about the story, so I’d like to draw your attention to two things that go very well together: Alexis de Tocqueville’s teaching about American democracy and America’s foreign policy shocks and struggles in the post-Cold War era.

First, a brief overview of the plot: Somewhere in the middle of Africa exists a mythical kingdom that lives with incredibly powerful technology far more advanced than anything else on earth, but it also lives in fairly simple and simple-minded ways. The place has the weapons and medicine of the Space Age and the politics of the Bronze age. The new king has to defend his country and his throne from a usurper and decide how to bring his country back into the world from its long isolation.

Now, let’s get to the intriguing stuff. “Black Panther” is full of imagery and stories that recall one of the strangest things you learn from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, concerning the relations between the three races in America. Tocqueville says the red race, the Indians had freedom, but not civilization; the black race had civilization, but not freedom; and the whites had both.

The picture is more complicated, but it’s incredibly persuasive. Consider how Americans themselves believe the Indians embodied freedom. After Tocqueville’s death, and after the Civil War, America expanded westward. As a result, the wild west and the frontier became part of national mythology, culminating in the westerns of John Ford in the mid-20th century. His 1956 film, “The Searchers,” is as good a piece of evidence for Tocqueville’s claim as you can want.

Consider that Tocqueville saw immediately that Africans in America were fully persuaded by the civilization of the white majority, despite slavery—and this long before many American politicians themselves saw what Tocqueville described so readily. Instead, they spent considerable time in the first half of the 19th century trying to cook up colonization schemes to send America’s population of slaves to Central America or back to some part of Africa to be free.

In the vision of “Black Panther,” the equation is changed: Black equals red plus white. Back in their African setting, the different tribes that make up the strange nation of Wakanda, which seems to have little unity, can be as free as the Indians once were in America. At the same time, they enjoy all the technology and political sophistication of the whites. (The movie seems to want to have it both ways: some tribes live in relative simplicity, while others enjoy a high-tech economy.) There is no price to pay, and there are no tradeoffs to be made. This is what the story gets so badly wrong.

But why does the film get it so wrong? Well, you can rethink the African setting in the American terms of the filmmakers. Evidently, they didn’t think much about what life in Africa ever was or could be like. They deal with symbols, nothing else. The dream of Wakanda—that with sufficiently sophisticated or revolutionary technology you become invisible, or invulnerable, to the outside world you can then safely ignore—is an American dream. The problem is, this dream takes freedom for granted and thinks an abstract view of civilization is sufficient by itself.

This is the dream that shattered on September 11, 2001, when the greatest achievements of technical progress in a highly sophisticated commercial society, skyscrapers and airliners, were turned into weapons used by barbarians to murder thousands of people who had no idea they might ever find themselves on the frontlines of new forms of warfare.

The post-Cold War fantasy of the 1990s was shattered that day as well. No more waging war by bombing the Balkans or sending special forces to Somalia or assembling a coalition that fights a brief war against an enemy vastly their inferior in the Middle East, where airpower control the entire theater of war. Americans learned to fear that home was not safe, despite their technologically backed domination of the world.

The movie doesn’t do much with this, but it tries to show that this fantasy won’t work. It gives you a new version of the neoconservative dream, but with a liberal spin. You have to help democracy throughout the world, as one reads in George W.  Bush’s second inaugural address. Democracy in America is only safe is democracy everywhere is safe.

That sounds crazy, but it’s not entirely crazy. America is better off if Mexico is not going through civil war, or if Central American countries do not ship vast quantities of illegal drugs, or if foreign powers that might cut off the sea lanes of communication on which American commerce depends are cowed from doing so. These truths, unfortunately, are ignored in the story, which deals not with grand strategy, but liberal fantasies. It’s more on scientific education and youth outreach and less on undermining undemocratic regimes.

That’s naïve, of course, but even that naïveté is all-American. From beginning to end, we see Wakanda has tech-based superheroes of great martial discipline, including its version of the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and a sophisticated foreign intelligence operation. Americans don’t know where their soldiers die—they don’t know where they’re deployed at any given moment—it’s all done in secret. But it’s those heroes who actually keep America safe. Here, we see in a small self-chosen minority the apex of the combination of freedom and civilization.

So the movie is true to American life far more than we might first guess. It reproduces with startling fidelity most of the delusions of the post-Cold War era. Well, wouldn’t you agree that it makes perfect sense to do that in the context of a story of a noble nation trying to return from its vacation from history? That nation, you guessed, is America.

By the way, even rednecks have a place of pride in that story. The Wakandan version of the redneck is despised in the beginning, openly sneered at by sophisticated scientists, only to prove utterly indispensable and nobler than most others at the end. Why? Because of their twin virtues, self-reliance, and defiance. They’re not easily enslaved or defeated. There again, you see freedom without civilization.

In its strange way, “Black Panther” is trying to revive a confident America, where power and morality have at least some things in common and make for a good, improving influence in the rest of the world. But to be persuasive, it would have to be much better able to pierce the illusions it illustrates.

America • Big Media • Defense of the West • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Immigration • Movies • Post • The Culture

What ‘Black Panther’ Says About American Identity

With the release of Marvel’s “Black Panther,” featuring the fictional African nation of Wakanda, it’s vital to reiterate: it’s OK for America to have an Anglo-Protestant identity.

To say that this nation was cultivated and defined by Anglo-Protestant Westerners is no less true than to say it is exceptional, and neither is it harmful. To admit Anglo-Protestant Westerners furnished a value system that resulted in the abolition of slavery should be a source of pride for all its beneficiaries. Thomas Sowell argues this point in the affirmative:

Nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today’s intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world. And if it doesn’t fit their vision, it is the same to them as if it never happened.

The preeminence of this demographic in America and the West is a matter of historical record, but is it wrong for nations like America to preserve this identity? Marvel certainly doesn’t think so and their audience seems to agree, as evident by the success of “Black Panther.” In the film, Wakanda has a definitively African identity, which King T’Challa—the Black Panther of the title—fights to preserve for the welfare of his people. Moviegoers love it.

Perhaps the takeaway is that it is far more invidious to insinuate nations have no right to preserve or even acknowledge a definitive identity. In the case of America, it is an identity that provided the framework for the most prosperous and tolerant society in the world. America is, in fact, the least racist white-majority society, it affords people of color more legal protections and opportunities than any other nation today.

The strength of this nation rests in its unity, not in “diversity,” which really means tolerance for everything from the Left, and intolerance for everything from the Right. Unity in identity is the basis of E pluribus unum, and Marvel’s “Black Panther” gets it.

There was a time when intellectuals of color understood the salience of unity. Black patriots like Booker T. Washington and Zora Neale Hurston exonerated the speckled history of America with their moving prose. Washington, a man born into slavery before becoming a statesman and a preeminent American educator, once said:

Think about it: We went into slavery pagans; we came out Christians. We went into slavery pieces of property; we came out American citizens. We went into slavery with chains clanking about our wrists; we came out with the American ballot in our hands. . . . Notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, we are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe.

How did we stray so far from such an honest and grateful appraisal of America? We might see some parallels between Washington and his rival, W. E. B. Du Bois, with Black Panther and his rival, Killmonger. In both cases, the latter championed racial consciousness and Pan-Africanism, and in both cases, the former rejected such notions. But Washington wasn’t the first who called for embracing, rather than rejecting, Western values. Olaudah Equiano wrote of white Christian Westerners in his autobiography:

I no longer looked upon them as spirits, but as men superior to us; and therefore I had the stronger desire to resemble them; to imbibe their spirit, and imitate their manners; I therefore embraced every occasion of improvement; and every new thing that I observed I treasured up in my memory.

Equiano was a black man sold into slavery by his African countrymen to Europeans. Rather than feeling inferior or resenting Anglo-Protestant culture, Equiano embraced it and eventually converted to Protestantism. Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, went on to win his manumission and united with white Christians against the institution of slavery. This should be the cornerstone of race relations in America and the West, but of course, that would mean the “studies” departments might find themselves obsolete, so don’t count on truth and patriotism being back in vogue in academia any time soon.

Wakanda might be an exceptional fictional nation (one that enforces strict border control, to boot), but America is exceptional and real. That exceptionalism rests in an identity fostered by Anglo-Protestant Westerners, who happened to be the first people to unite against the institution of slavery, side by side with blacks. Now that is an identity worth affirming.

America • Big Media • Defense of the West • Hollywood • Movies • Post • Religion of Peace • Second Amendment • The Culture • The Media

The Train to Common Sense

Common observation and a plain understanding is the source of all art. Joshua Reynolds

I hope you haven’t let anyone talk you out of seeing Clint Eastwood’s new movie, “The 15:17 to Paris.” It tells the true story of the Americans who subdued a jihadist on a speeding train in Europe, saving hundreds of lives.

If you are a regular and sincere reader of American Greatness, and not just a troll, I am confident you will want to see the film.

Go for the entertainment, of course, but go also for Eastwood’s clarity of vision. “15:17” is perfectly free of political sermonizing. It simply tells the story. And it does so with the economy of words and absence of pretension we have come to expect from Eastwood’s films. Yet its plain understanding could not be more profoundly needed or more timely.

Like the people on the train, you and I now must live with the threat of Islamic jihad as we go about our daily lives. In America, the threat we face is increasing because our elite instituted what is perhaps the strangest immigration policy in American history; it responded to 9/11 by increasing Muslim immigration, and increasing it enormously.

Even more strangely, that same elite then did everything it possibly could to get a fellow elected president whose father and stepfather were Muslim, whose middle name was “Hussein,” and who pursued a foreign policy that bolstered the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.   

The strangeness did not stop there. That same elite now also wants to disarm Americans—for the sake of “public safety.”

Think about it: a disarmed citizenry is precisely what was offered to the jihadi on that train to Paris. But for the bravery of three Americans and a Brit who happened to be on the train, and the miraculous misfiring of the jihadi’s weapon at the critical moment, he might have slaughtered everyone on the train at his leisure.

Our elite in D.C., Hollywood, the media, and academia have, as we say, “taken leave of their senses.” This interesting expression does not mean that our elite can’t see, can’t hear, and can’t feel, but that they won’t let themselves see, or hear, or feel what is happening to us. Either that, or they know what they are doing and they are doing it to us on purpose.

Live this true story with Eastwood’s film and then consult your plain understanding, your common sense, when you are next pressed to accept unfettered Muslim immigration with the politically correct claim that “diversity is our strength” or that we must “celebrate diversity.” Consult it, too, when the media hit you with the emotion-backed demand that you must be disarmed because of what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

America • California • Hollywood • military • Movies • Post • Terrorism • The Culture • The Media

Adventures on a Bullet Train

The United States has had no military draft since 1973, so the armed forces have to recruit. One recent television ad showed troops rushing into action and asks potential recruits: “which way would you run?” That may have caught the attention of Spencer Stone of Sacramento, California.

He joined the U.S. Air Force but did not get the job he wanted because of poor depth perception. Still, he carried on and, along with military tactics, learned how to keep a wounded person alive.

In August 2015, Stone was vacationing in Europe with Sacramento friends Anthony Sadler and Alex Skarlatos, who was also in the military, with service in Afghanistan. The three friends were en route from Amsterdam to Paris, and at a stop in Belgium, Moroccan Ayoub El Khazzani boarded the train with a pistol, a box cutter, an AK-47 and more than 300 rounds of ammunition.

The terrorist El Khazzani sought to kill as many innocents and possible and after shooting one passenger, he moved into the Americans’ car with his AK-47 at the ready. Spencer Stone may have had poor depth perception, but he knew which way he would run. The unarmed American charged the terrorist, whose rifle had misfired, and took some wicked slashes in the ensuing struggle.

While Stone maintained the choke hold he had learned in the Air Force, Skarlatos and Sadler duly joined the fray and subdued the terrorist, trussing up the Moroccan like a hog. Then Stone deployed his Air Force medical training to save the wounded passenger. Nobody was going to die on this bullet train, and the French did more just than praise the three Americans as heroes. Indeed, President François Hollande presented the three Americans with the Légion D’honneur, France’s highest award.

As Michael Corleone would say, that’s a terrific story. In fact, it was so terrific that it caught the attention of Clint Eastwood, well into his 80s but not yet in his emeritus years. Eastwood duly produced and directed a movie of the train attack, “The 15:17 to Paris,” casting Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos as themselves in a new kind of cinéma vérité.

The backstories of the three in Sacramento gets bogged down, but viewers understand that these are three ordinary American guys, all with a mischievous side. In time they go their separate ways but manage to hook up for a trip around Europe. They have a good time in Italy, Germany, and Holland, all countries visited by many Americans back in those halcyon days of the mid-1940s.

Some critics called “The 15:17 to Paris” an experiment in “stunt casting,” and others charge that Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos, though clearly heroes, are out of their element as actors. That makes sense because, after all, the three had no previous experience on stage or screen. On the other hand, viewers might wonder if any movie star, such as “action hero” Arnold Schwarzenegger, has ever tackled a terrorist with a loaded AK-47 at the ready.

That sequence doesn’t come off like something in “True Lies,” but actual life seldom imitates the movies. The way viewers see it is the way it went down, a clear win for the good guys. That is doubtless what Clint Eastwood wanted to show, and why people have been clapping at the end.

Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler won’t win awards, but who needs an Oscar when you have a Légion d’Honneur? As Sadler said, in a situation like that you have to do something, and these days that applies just about anywhere.

Those out for a walk in New York City may encounter Uzbek Muslim Sayfullo Saipov running down people with a truck. Workers can attend an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, and find themselves facing Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who gunned down 14 innocents and wounded many others.

In a situation like that, to adapt Eastwood’s line from “Dirty Harry,” “you gotta ask yourself, which way would you run?” “The 15:17 to Paris” might provide some guidance.

2016 Election • Big Media • Donald Trump • feminists • Foreign Policy • Movies • Obama • Post • Progressivism • The Culture • The Media

‘The Final Year’ Is the Last Straw

The Final Year, a new documentary about President Obama’s foreign policy team during their last year in office, has a scene that is an apt metaphor for the administration in its entirety. There, seated behind his desk in the West Wing of the White House, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes introduces his nameless assistants to the faceless (to the viewer) crew filming this event, while the camera cuts to a dead cockroach on the floor—which looks like a size 11 D Milano Florsheim Loafer, an overturned, cognac-colored shoe, with a pair of burgundy wings.

The roach belies everything else. The pomp and circumstance, the access to power, never mind the fecklessness of U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, as well as the corruptive influences of youth and power—all of it blinds the oblivious to the obvious, that every reality distortion field eventually yields to reality itself.

The reality that confronts Power, who is the do-gooder to Rhodes’s good-for-nothing brand of do-nothing foreign policy, is twofold.

Start with the disconnect between the soft power of appearances and Power’s apparent disinterest in her own appearance. She knows that politics can be ugly, while politics itself is not show business for ugly people. But it is nonetheless a form of show business, which means a smart performance requires a smart appearance. Ambassador Power is either unaware of this truth, or unwilling to act on it, because she pays no attention to how she looks. (Before you heat your #MeToo branding irons and brandish your pink pussy hats—before you brand me with a series of scarlet hashtags and bombard me with charges of sexism—let me remind you that an acknowledgment of fact is not an admission of guilt.)

When a politician goes without makeup, and goes before a live television audience, how bad he looks will cause more shock than the most shocking thing he says. If you do not believe me, watch a clip from 1960 of that most feminine of creatures named Richard Nixon. He looks like a sweating, gaunt interloper—in a two-sizes-too-big suit, stolen from a mortuary—as he nods and walks to the lectern in his first presidential debate with John F. Kennedy. Or, look at Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III’s frothy rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address last week. This Kennedy is no Jack Kennedy, not when he is to Chapstick what mascara was to the late Tammy Faye Bakker: a sin.

The greater sin, however, is deceit. It is the false appearance of hope by a peddler of “Hope” and “Change.” It is the sight of Ambassador Power offering hugs in lieu of arms, of her talking about how her heart aches while she worsens the heartache of the people she visits. It is the sight of her emoting after a 6-year-old boy was struck and killed by her motorcade during a trip to Cameroon. It is the audacity of her hapless description of this death as the worst day of her professional life, as the dirt roads and dry creek beds recede from sight. It is her departing flight from a fight villagers must continue to wage alone, because Power is powerless to stop the forces of Islamic terror.

About those roads: Ben Rhodes takes a different path. He is the aide too arrogant to be anonymous, too contemptuous to be courteous, too pretentious to be plain. He is also too delusional to be deferential, what with his repeated references to “Obama,” as if the president is Rhodes’s mouthpiece; as if the president serves at the pleasure of this ventriloquist who tells him what to say, because Rhodes is too proud to say what he should have said at the start of this documentary: “No comment.”

Instead, he shows us what he plans to have the president say. He shows the world all he has to say about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidency by smirking at the impossibility of such an idea. Rhodes refuses to consider such a thing, which may explain his failure as a one-time aspiring novelist, whose only published work of (intentional) fiction is a short story, “The Goldfish Smiles, You Smile Back.”

Rhodes is too impatient—and impertinent—to try to imagine an outcome he does not like. He is, in the end, too ignorant of America to speak for his fellow Americans; because none of the members of his fellowship of the self-anointed and the self-impressed can foresee a future without themselves dictating what the future should be.

More than a year after the election of President Trump, Power and Rhodes still do not get it. Too stubborn to concede the need for new leaders, and too busy to bother themselves with whether they are the right leaders the country needs, they are as scornful as ever. Contrition is as foreign to them as their policies are foreign to the electorate they despise.

Their first year as private citizens should be the beginning of their permanent exile from public office. If you doubt my words, watch The Final Year at least once every year.

Hollywood • Movies • Post • The Culture

‘The Shape of Water’: So Many Beautiful Drops to Drink

Guillermo del Toro, the Academy Award-nominated director of The Shape of Water, should get an Oscar for the entertainment value alone. Even better, let him host this year’s Academy Awards and allow him to remake the show by recreating the nature of the award itself. He would transform that golden statuette into a flesh-and-blood Midas—a creature too marvelous to behold, with a monstrous streak too real not to believe—who grips a sword with otherworldly strength.

This Oscar would at once mesmerize and mortify us, turning 100 million TV screens from glass into a series of translucent amniotic sacs from which the creature would emerge, piercing this thin layer between fantasy and life.

Such is the genius of del Toro as a director. He is a cross between a magician and an artist who squeezes globs of oil paint onto each frame of film; who empties so many tubes of Technicolor; who casts the remains, folded and frayed, about his feet; who litters the floor with these cracked and creased containers; then tosses this trash like a billionaire throwing dollars every which way, as he runs through the streets with the joy of a Christian convert and the energy of his own euphoria.

The truly magical thing is that he does this, or so it seems, with every showing of his story. He brushes and scrapes swirls of cadmium red, rust, chrome, and cerulean blue. He mixes lemon, sunshine, topaz, and teal. He paints with a palette knife, shaping—and sharpening—his dream version of mid-century Baltimore.

Thus does The Shape of Water take shape as an allegory about a quintet of misfits who inherit the earth—and the sea. They include an orphaned mute who lives above a movie theater, her apartment as grand as the grandeur below, where, in a tracking shot that runs from the hallway outside her door to the inside of her home, we meet her neighbor, a gay illustrator; and watch her begin her day, walking from the bright lights that line the marquee into the promise of the dawn’s early light. Her friend and co-worker, a black cleaning woman, is her savior against the tyranny of the time clock and the tedium of their jobs. A scientist, who is a Communist spy with a crisis of faith about his faithless ideology, completes this quartet.

The fifth and final member is an amphibious demigod, a bioluminescent sea monster from South America known as “the Asset.”

Allow me, however, to go back that apartment, because it is the greatest example of excellence in production design since Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. I exaggerate not in the slightest, not when this set is as visually expressive as its resident is vocally silent. From its arched window and streaks of fog, which look like shades of frost, to its water-stained walls and hardwood floors, details abound in this weather-beaten wonderland. Del Toro furnishes the room with shabby chic style: a curio cabinet with a glass door, a dust-covered vacuum cleaner, a brass coat stand, an umbrella, tattered fringes of wallpaper, an aquamarine card table, a nautical-themed overhead light, and stacks of books, boxes, and bric-a-brac.

The entire film is a decorative feast. It shines like the tail fins and trim of a 1962 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. It is a land yacht of an automobile, cruising from the showroom to just outside the living room of its owner, a sadist played by Michael Shannon. The coldest of Cold Warriors, Shannon is a man in black. He is a humorless agent, dressed more like his coeval cousins in The Matrix than an icon of the New Frontier.

Shannon is the soulless counterweight to a film rich in spirituality. Therein lies the irony of this masterpiece: Guillermo del Toro is, to put it mildly, a very lapsed Catholic who nonetheless populates his movie with religious heroines and biblical references. He features a movie within a movie, where The Story of Ruth plays to an empty theater, while he gives his mute protagonist the name Eliza, which is a Hebrew variant of Aliza, meaning “God is my oath.”

She enlists her fellow lepers, the outcasts of their day, to save the day by saving the Asset’s life. They risk their lives, and the scientist loses his life, because of their faithful devotion to humanity.

The creature is their salvation, not because of his ability to heal the sick and rise from the dead (though he can do both), but because of his love for Eliza and of her love for him.

Though his vengeance may teach our hearts to fear, his grace relieves our fears. It is precious when his grace appears, marking the hour when all first believe.

He endures many dangers, toils, and snares. But grace brings him safely to the sea. And grace leads him home.

It is an amazing sight to see, and the sweetest sound to hear, when the grace of an outcast saves us from ourselves.

A picture of poetry, and a hymnal of hope, The Shape of Water is an instant classic. It deserves a place alongside the gods of film and a place in the hearts of every filmgoer who believes in God. It reminds us that the least among us often have the most to give. Their love is a gift that redeems us, renewing us with compassion and rewarding us with the radiance of more than 10,000 points of light.

America • Cultural Marxism • History • Hollywood • Movies • Post • Progressivism • The Culture

The Movie That Made Moral Idiocy Chic

Fifty years ago, the movie that changed the movies premiered. Anybody old enough to remember films before “Bonnie and Clyde” can testify to the jolting power of Arthur Penn’s kinetic blend of bluegrass slapstick, Depression-era nostalgia, and gruesome, stylized violence. But something else was revealed then, something that I, just 14 at the time, was too callow and ignorant to notice behind the movie’s aesthetic sheen—the moral idiocy that has since come to define so much of contemporary American popular culture.

“Bonnie and Clyde” staked a claim to a moral seriousness that supposedly validated the stylistic innovations and elevated the film beyond mere flashy entertainment. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, played with fashion-magazine glamour by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, are “just folks,” as Dunaway says in the movie, salt-of-the-earth Americans driven to crime by the machinations of the evil banks they rob for some justified payback, Texan Robin Hoods admired by the common-man victims of American capitalism. Yet “the Man,” embodied in the sadistic Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, wouldn’t let them be, hunting them down and slaughtering them in the film’s famous bloody climax, just after Bonnie and Clyde had finally found the soft-focus sexual fulfillment long a cliché of Hollywood romantic sentiment.

“Social Bandits” on Screen
The Marxist folk-tale underlying the movie’s otherwise conventional star-crossed-lovers plot was obvious, and as such the cinematic innovations accounted for the film’s popularity with many critics (The
New York Times’s Bosley Crowther was a noble exception). The movie was, in fact, a popularized version of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s 1959 “social bandit” thesis, a bit of communist agitprop arguing that robbers and thieves were really expressions of the “people’s” legitimate resistance to unjust economic and political structures. This notion helped to glorify and justify the violence against authority that exploded in the 1960s, from the bombing of college labs to the depredations of the Black Panthers, the Oakland street gang that was shrewd enough to exploit the delusions of privileged white kids in order to provide cover for the gang’s crimes.

The corollary to the “social bandit” idea was that those responsible for maintaining social order—particularly the police—were, in reality, the goons of an oppressive establishment, and as such legitimate targets of retributive violence. The “pigs” were now the enemy, at best oafish dupes of “the Man,” at worst sadistic crypto-fascists who delighted in inflicting pain on the “people”—the cultural infrastructure behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

This demonizing of legitimate authority is obvious in “Bonnie and Clyde,” where all the police are depicted as anonymous shock troops of capitalist oppression, genetically deprived hillbilly racists spraying bullets with moronic glee, as in the scene showing the capture of Clyde’s brother Buck. Frank Hamer is particularly creepy, obviously sexually oppressed and filled with vengeful rage over the gang’s playful kidnapping of him (which never actually happened). His sadistic nature is obvious in the film’s slow-motion climax, when he engineers the couple’s death with a fusillade of excessive force, repeatedly raking the bodies with machine-gun fire.

The Real Bonnie and Clyde
And here we come upon the monstrous lie at the heart of the film. The historical Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were not beautiful Robin Hoods but psychopathic killers—Clyde had jug-ears and a weak chin, Bonnie the mean mouth and ferret eyes of a white-trash skank. Their sexual proclivities, which perhaps included their younger male accomplices, were sordid, not romantic.

And their violence was usually an unprovoked sadistic indulgence, like their killing of two highway patrol officers on Easter Sunday in 1934. Their 12 victims were mostly police officers who, in accord with the laws Barrow and Parker scorned, announced themselves as such before they were gunned down in cold blood. Nor did the gang rob that many banks, their targets just as often being small mom-and-pop stores. As for distributing the money to the “people”—those scenes in the film were actually based on anecdotes about John Dillinger—there is no evidence that these predators ever gave a dime to the victims of the Depression, some of whom the pair robbed.

So, too, with the movie’s despicable portrayal of Frank Hamer, the Texas lawman who doggedly tracked the two and put an end to their murderous career. Hamer’s methods do not meet our modern standards of police work founded on solicitude for criminals and a fetishizing of process. He lived in a tougher world where such luxuries were fatal. In fact, the reason he and his fellow lawmen killed Bonnie and Clyde the way they did was because of Clyde’s long record of resisting arrest and shooting down police officers on sight. In life, Hamer, who once single-handedly faced down a lynch mob trying to murder a black man in his custody, was one of those grim, unpleasant men whose bravery makes it possible for spoiled plutocrats like Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn to make “mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.”

This distortion of historical truth has come to dominate American popular culture, which has made the leftist libretto its default narrative, one immune to the repeated demonstrations of its falseness and bloody failure. Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” a ludicrous valentine to John Reed, one of Lenin’s most useful of useful idiots, used the same technique of papering over historical lies with cinematic glamour and wide-screen flair. Just about every war movie made is pretty much a lie, depicting brave Americans as psychopathic killers, pathetic idealists, or drug-addled victims drafted into an unjust war to serve the capitalist Evil Empire. In fact, if I ever needed 10 good men, I’d take any 10 Vietnam vets picked at random over any 10 college professors or reporters or movie directors.

Fashion vs. Truth
Just as bad, “Bonnie and Clyde” also enshrined the wrapping of this Orwellian reversal of historical truth in the glamour of style—the essence of what Tom Wolfe called “radical chic.” Truth doesn’t matter, as long as you’re in fashion. Politics isn’t about coherent principle and the possible, it’s about stylistic display, sensibility, and politically correct sentiment, a way for the privileged to show how much better they are than everybody else. Worse, this attitude has legitimized a complete disconnect between word and deed, between what one says and how one lives. Privilege and power can now be enjoyed and indulged, as long as one mouths the proper progressive pieties: conspicuous consumption is OK if one agonizes over income inequality, and King Kong-sized carbon footprints accepted if one rails against global warming.

In short, “Bonnie and Clyde” is a milestone in the transformation of American culture from one that reflects the mentality of adults, to one that enshrines the mentality of teenagers; one that celebrated moral intelligence to one that revels in moral idiocy. Unfortunately, an adolescent disregard for reality and an obsession with fashion and feeling are dangerous indulgences in a world filled with ruthless enemies who see our cultural immaturity as the sign of our moral exhaustion and deserved extinction.

America • feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Movies • Post • The Culture

Chutzpah in Black: ‘Golden Globes’ Points its Finger the Wrong Way

Golden Globes: (L to R) Meryl Streep, National Domestic Workers Alliance director Ai-jen Poo, Michelle Williams, and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.

You have to hand it to Hollywood—it’s got chutzpah. The holier-than-thou instinct must truly overpower any sense of decency and morality among its luminaries as they mount their pulpits to lecture the world about the only recently discovered horrors of sexual inequality. Like the convict who finds religion after being sentenced and then proceeds to judge all the world around him, Hollywood now presents itself as some sort of vanguard in the fight against sexism.

Sorry, but America ain’t buying what you’re selling. And maybe that’s what’s really eating you.

For years, you’ve ordained yourselves the high priests of the culture. For years, you’ve sexualized our girls and created lower expectations for our boys and men. You’ve created an industry that we all now understand is awash with the decadence, moral rot, and a self-deception that can only come from years of arrogant self-righteousness that is immune to honest self-examination.

You’ve lived lives of hedonistic excess all the while sneering at those who attempted to live sincerely. You’ve spent years on the therapist’s couch convincing yourselves that you’re good people all the while mocking modestly lived lives and now you feel entitled to lecture the rest of America about . . . anything? Physician, heal thyself!  No amount of black cloth can cover your shame.

What Kind of Tent Revival is This?
True to Hollywood’s self-deceptive nature, the whole of the Golden Globes broadcast was presented as a solemn 
Confiteor, but its sole purpose, truly, was to attempt to confer self-absolution through the exercise of judging others. It was a giant revival tent with Elmer Gantry projecting his own moral failings onto his congregation. The Globes were a set piece designed to proclaim to the world Hollywood’s virtue all the while putting it above those poor rubes at home watching.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that the people on stage don’t actually care about those at whom their stylized sermons are directed but, instead, were engaging in a therapeutic tutorial on method acting. What’s amazing, however, is that I think Hollywood managed to convince itself of its own righteousness—the actor doing his own stunt work always imagines he’s the hero. With each subsequent philippic, the players protested a bit too much. The angry and rousing admonitions came across for what they were, the false pretense of morality under the guise of accusation.

Instead of finding a moment for penitence and self-reflection, Hollywood’s leading lights seized the stage and the occasion to project their tired screeches at us, as if from a megaphone, to let us know they are very, very disappointed in American society.

Yes, they all knew for years and let it happen, but now that we know, the players are trying to mask their shame, shift blame, and hide from responsibility by loudly pointing at everyone else. It’s our fault, I guess, that Weinstein hired a private security firm to cover up his messes. And it’s our fault that the industry kept quiet about it for so long. It’s surely society’s fault that pedophilia is an open industry secret, and It’s certainly our fault that they continue to support Roman Polanski and that Rape-Rape is different from just rape when it’s merely a drugged 13-year-old girl who’s been violated. Like Weinstein, who blamed the ’60s and ’70s, Hollywood can’t really accept culpability, but instead needs to indict society at large.

I guess it’s in the industry’s DNA. Instead of engaging in real and difficult internal change its members would rather lecture others. Priest, save thyself!

It’s All About Power
Hollywood’s moral self-assessment and sense of worth seem to be determined less by how its denizens act, than by its understanding of its power and perceived duty to convince the rest of us how we should act. Hollywood morality, such as it is, is guided above all else by the myth of its own virtue. That “virtue” is, of course, nothing more than power. It is measured by its perceived ability to change the behavior of others.

Hollywood’s luminaries seem to be extremely adept at telling people what to do, all the while being uniquely unable to do themselves what they insist ought to be done. They are expert at preaching tolerance out of one side of their mouths while being intolerant of even the slightest dissent. They cast stones (indeed, boulders) at the slightest appearance of sexual impropriety while winking and nodding in private as they live in expensive Baccarat and Lalique homes built on foundations of decades-old sexual excess and inequality and surrounded by high walls that keep out the stones and gazes of others.

They play at authenticity in order to convince everyone else to be authentic. The trouble is, most people who aren’t in Hollywood are already leading fairly authentic lives—the essential characteristic of which is to not spend much time fretting about authenticity. It’s the actors and would-be mythmakers—bereft of much that is real in their lives and divorced from the reality of a non-storied life—who must seek authenticity because everything around them is so plastic. It’s not just a first world problem they’re grappling with, it’s a First-World entitled-artist problem. It’s no surprise, therefore, that one of the biggest challenges an actor has is to play a regular person.

Put another way: Of course they don’t practice what they preach; they’re not the kind of people they’re preaching to.

The entertainment industry peddles a mythos but tends to confuse mythos for ethos and manages, like the method actor who can’t quite shed his last role, to believe that the façade it has just put on is the real thing. But for a town whose zeitgeist is so deeply defined by its ability to peddle the shallows as depth and the façade as the reality, it should come as no surprise that showbiz people would eventually come to believe in their own illusions. To wit: “Hollywood has the best moral compass.” And so, what we saw up there at the Golden Globes were people who honestly convinced each other to believe themselves to be an oppressed class speaking truth to power, and not what they really were; accessories and accomplices to a moral depravity the likes of which normal people can’t even begin to imagine without the help of a Hollywood movie.

The Audacity of These People! 
For an industry so rife with 
sexism, pedophilia and hedonism to hijack our time and the national discussion with long-winded admonitions and moralizing jeremiads about equality and propriety borders on psychopathy and speaks to a narcissism and lack of internal self-reflection that knows no bounds. An industry that can boast of more sexual assault and inequality than almost any other probably ought to have some shame in seeking to lecture the rest of the populace about these subjects. But it does not. The Audacity of Chutzpah indeed.

As long as Hollywood’s self-reflection is directed outward and places more value on external signals rather than actual virtue, it will never change. Instead, it will trade one vice for another as it continues to deceptively convince itself that the character it is playing for the cameras is actually its true self.

History • Hollywood • Movies • Post • The Culture

History, Cinema, and the Power of ‘Darkest Hour’

Some reviewers of “Darkest Hour” (for example, Kyle Smith and former U.S. Senator Jim Talent) have expressed disapproval at the film’s depiction of Winston Churchill, which they find historically inaccurate in details that seem to diminish the great man’s memory: in Gary Oldman’s vivid, Golden Globe-winning portrayal, Churchill enters 10 Downing Street as a mentally disorganized old man whose impulses drive his policies, and who lapses at times into self-doubt. The real Churchill, these critics point out, confronted the crisis of May 1940 with a far clearer mind and a steadier hand than the Churchill of the film.

Taken purely as factual propositions, these claims are accurate. But as criticisms of “Darkest Hour,” or even of just its Churchill character, they take no account of the film’s objectives and effects as a work of art.

In his own lifetime, Winston Churchill had entered the realm of art and legend as a crafted figure of wonder and inspiration, to no small extent through his own literary work. “Darkest Hour” belongs to this tradition, and nobody can doubt that its version of Churchill is meant to inspire. The legitimate question that the criticism of “Darkest Hour” suggests is how fictitious attributes of mental disorganization, impulsivity, and self-doubt were supposed to make Churchill more inspiring on screen rather than less. Here’s my attempt at an answer.

Chamberlain and Halifax, Elite Professionals
The story of “Darkest Hour” concerns a conspiracy by members of Churchill’s own war cabinet to have the new prime minister deposed and replaced within his first days of office, on the grounds that his uncompromising belligerence concerning Hitler was uninformed, irrational, and a threat to British security.

The conspirators, just-resigned Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Tory insiders’ preferred successor, Viscount Halifax, are not only elite professionals, their roles represent professionalism to the audience. They are manifestly respected, experienced officials with nothing impulsive or disorganized about them. Their Tory faction in Parliament is so well-controlled its MPs decide whether to applaud a speech or remain silent by watching how Chamberlain manipulates a handkerchief. Chamberlain’s forced resignation from 10 Downing Street is viewed as an unfair slight to a capable public servant. The two plotters discuss their plan to oust Churchill calmly and methodically. The film depicts no military or political professional who thinks their hopeless view of Britain’s chances is controversial. Except one: the new prime minister.

Everybody in government also agrees that Churchill is not merely wrong but wrongheaded, and lacking the mental and emotional equipment for his office. Here “Darkest Hour” throws its audience a bit of a curveball, for Oldman’s characterization does nothing to challenge this judgment on its own terms. We and Churchill’s enemies alike behold a prime minister who is absolutely not a professional, and this is the significance of the screen Churchill’s disorganization, impulsiveness, and insecurity. The 2018 audience knows with the benefit of hindsight that Churchill is somehow going to prove a great, great leader. But his quality of leadership is invisible to professionalism on the screen, while the theater audience beholds it as a thrilling but unpredictable and almost unaccountable marvel, something entirely personal to Churchill himself as a human being, a kind of genius.

Thus while the ministers on screen are debating whether or not to negotiate with Hitler, the film is challenging its audiences to ponder what kind of personnel should be entrusted with the reins of national leadership: elite professionals, or unorthodox genius? “Darkest Hour” can be usefully understood as a permutation of “Amadeus”: bizarre but inspired “Wolfie” figure becomes prime minister, faces (but here survives) the intrigues of political Salieris, and bequeaths to posterity blessings beyond the imagination of elite credentials and consensus certitudes.

Existential Anxiety
Churchill’s genius for leadership is also connected to his brief lapse of insecurity in “Darkest Hour.” The unique feature of Churchill’s leadership on the screen is that, unlike the elite professionals on his War Cabinet, he does not reflexively seek a position of security, and he understands that the security of the appeasers is merely an illusion.

The film’s Churchill has the fortitude—not the confidence, since he knows neither how his policy will end, nor how to avoid the terrible losses his nation will incur regardless—to confront the crossroads through which he must guide his country, and to gaze with open eyes upon the monumental risks that lie ahead, both for his people’s lives and for their way of life.

Without a solution to offer, he is a great leader, because he knows the price of giving up, and he finds the resources of survival where the professionals saw nothing, in the hearts of his people. Thus when Churchill wavers in his confidence it does not reveal weakness, but realism about the threat his political enemies pose. Like the threat posed by Hitler, he rises to deal with it.

The Myth of Democracy
The intrepid Churchill of “Darkest Hour” is not completely isolated, however. Some people come to trust him; but they, like Churchill himself, are not government professionals. While somberly dictating an order to a commander in France that is tantamount to a sentence of annihilation, Churchill observes his private secretary struggling with tears; he leads the young woman into the forbidden map room and personally (albeit testily) illuminates the blunt necessity of a strategy that offers the only hope of saving anybody. Later, Churchill learns how intimate the action in France is to his young employee; but when she acknowledges what is personally at stake for her, she does so with manifest recognition that her boss the prime minister bears the same intimate burden, multiplied by millions.

Churchill’s sovereign, King George VI, enters the story as a wooden puppet manipulated by Chamberlain and Halifax. He gets to know Winston Churchill as a person, and confesses to the old man’s face that he mistrusts and fears his temperament. But much later out of nowhere the monarch—a figurehead (i.e. nonprofessional) in government, but a human person who sincerely cares for and respects the British people—spontaneously shows up at Churchill’s residence and asks his wife to awaken him—when Churchill is told the King is at the door to see him he mumbles something like “which one?” George VI sits on the bed beside his groggy prime minister, who is in pajamas, and humbly shares his realization that the man whose temperament he fears also frightens Hitler, which makes him the right man to lead their country.

Finally, there is the flagrantly invented scene where Churchill impulsively ditches his limousine and goes down into the Underground, where a bunch of ordinary Londoners, awestruck at the sight of their prime minister, equipped with cigar, riding the train with them, find themselves consulted about whether negotiations with Hitler would be well-advised, and they all reply, “Never!” When moments later in speaking to the Outer Cabinet, Churchill in the film credits these people by individual name with intelligent observations that convinced him Hitler must be resisted to the last breath, the point is not to lessen Churchill’s credit for his own policy. It shows Churchill’s disdain for the advisors on his War Cabinet, who for all their professionalism lack the instinctive sense and courage of ordinary people like the men, women, and children he met and befriended on the London Underground.

This tale is the myth of democracy, now often derisively labeled populism. The elites of Washington, Westminster, Brussels, and academe everywhere, don’t believe this myth, and they don’t want others to believe it either. That is why Winston Churchill is so missed, and why “Darkest Hour” is so timely and compelling.

feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Movies • Post • The Culture

Feminism Ruined “The Last Jedi”

Beneath the orgiastic CGI spectacle, campy writing, and poor plotting in “The Last Jedi” is a mythological grotesquerie that fails to rise to the level of art and instead wallows in the realm of ideological fanaticism and propaganda.

Ideology corrupts art. Modern feminism, like the Marxism that preceded it, seeks a radical break from tradition to achieve “liberation” from “systems of oppression.”

In “The Last Jedi,” as in “The Force Awakens,” this feminist contempt for the past results in a spiritual rot in what ought the most crucial element of the story: the hero. Rey is a failure as the central character. She is, according to The Atlantic, not the first feminine “Star Wars” hero but the first feminist one. And because her creative foundation is ideological rather than mythological, she is inauthentic and unappealing.

As the feminist girl-power archetype, Rey is a strong empowered independent woman who doesn’t need a man. In fact, she doesn’t need anyone. When we first meet Rey, she’s a loner without friends, without family, and even without a last name. Yet she’s also somehow an expert fighter, mechanic, and pilot. The first time she picks up a lightsaber, she defeats a trained dark lord. She learns no lessons, needs no instruction, and never faces any real crisis, external or internal.

For Rey to truly struggle, to encounter an internal crisis that would develop her as a character, would be to make her vulnerable and thus more of a woman but less of a feminist hero. So screenwriter and director Rian Johnson purged her of weakness and dependency. In the filmmakers’ desire to paint her as a feminist badass and girl-power “boss bitch” who can take care of herself thank you very much, Johnson leaves us with a lonely and utterly rootless woman crammed into a hyper-masculine role.

This portrayal doesn’t work because men and women are not interchangeable. Neither are the masculine and feminine hero myths. The feminist effort to shove Rey into the masculine journey results in an essentially transgendered, unnatural, and corrupt character.

What the Original Trilogy Got Right
Compare Rey’s journey to Luke Skywalker’s in the original trilogy. Luke starts as an optimistic but immature farmhand thrust into an adventure far beyond his own horizon. He faces off against evil and wins, destroying the Death Star in the process but with plenty of help from his friends. He is not without flaws, however. In “The Empire Strikes Back” he goes to Yoda, the wise sage, who instructs and molds him, but he fails to heed this needed guidance and his impetuousness and immoderation nearly kills him. His defeat at the hands of Darth Vader, who reveals he is Luke’s father, confronts him with a new crisis. In “Return of the Jedi” Luke finally develops enough as a warrior and as a man that he can face the monster/father in order to redeem him.

Rey, on the other hand, never encounters failure. In “The Last Jedi,” instead of being instructed by a wise sage, Luke, in the tradition of the mythic hero, it is she who teaches him. Luke is thus deprived of the opportunity to pass from the warrior-hero into the mentor-teacher. At the end he is still impetuous, still myopic, still being lectured by Yoda. But Rey—she’s perfect. As Yoda tells Luke as the last Jedi archive burns, there is nothing in “those books that the girl does not already possess.”

In other words, she does not need the lessons of the past or a mentor to guide her. She already knows because she’s empowered. You go, girl! But beyond her inauthenticity as a masculine hero, Rey’s perfection and her cross-dressing deprive the film of another crucial element: a romance.

There are no princesses to rescue in the new “Star Wars.” There is no need for the traditional heroic story of the triumph of good over evil ending in love and children. It is in romance that the masculine and feminine hero journeys unify, resulting in new life. By making Rey a female character in a male role, the movie reveals its own contempt for life-giving femininity and its symbiotic relationship to strong masculinity.

Feminism All the Way Down
But Rey’s crisis of identity is not the only ideologically generated problem plaguing “The Last Jedi.” The ruin wrought by Leftist gender politics extends far beyond the central hero.

Men as a whole, have little role in the new film other than as villains (Kylo Ren and General Hux), dutiful side characters (Finn), or incompetent hot heads (Poe Dameron). On that last count, “The Last Jedi” goes to great lengths to shame and embarrass Dameron, the only token white male among the new batch of “good guys.”

Poe Dameron emerged in “The Force Awakens” as a gutsy rebel pilot in the spirit of Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles. But in “The Last Jedi” his plot to save the Resistance fleet is both mutinous and disastrous. It ends up leading to the deaths of nearly all of his fellow fighters.

Dameron hatches this plan behind the backs of Vice Admiral Holdo, a purple haired, LGBTQQIA, #WomensMarch, leader of #TheResistance who takes command when Princess Leia, excuse me, General Organa nearly dies. Holdo is as bitchy as she sounds. Instead of revealing her plan to Dameron when he first asks, she kicks him off her bridge, calling him a “trigger happy flyboy” that “we don’t need right now.”

Yaaaaassss! Slay, Queen! Bitter, blue-haired feminists everywhere stood up and cheered at her “savage clapback” to Dameron and his “mansplaining,” I’m sure. But the effect on the film is horrendous. This Hillary Clinton clone, complete with the shrill moral superiority, exists for no other reason than to provide a ham-handed moral lesson about the importance of female leadership.

But Holdo is seriously flawed in her own right. While the film wants us to blame Dameron’s toxic masculinity and inability to bend to strong female leadership for the fleet’s destruction, it is Holdo’s arrogance and petty desire to shield her plans for trivial reasons that leads the patriotic Dameron to come up with his own solution to save his friends from certain death.

A Waste of Character—and Warped Taste
Much like real life, the petty feminist desire to attack the “patriarchy” at every turn trumps basic human concerns. Here again ideology triumphs over art.

Holdo ultimately sacrifices herself to save the #Resistance from Donald Tru . . . er . . . the First Order. But once more, the gender politics of “Star Wars” subsumes tradition and meaning with political fanaticism. Admiral Ackbar, a character long beloved by fans, dies an ignominious and unmourned death in the film. Instead of placing him in the sacrificial role where his death might have an actual purpose, “The Last Jedi” chooses a purple-haired lesbian Tumblr meme to take his place.

The original trilogy captured the spirit of courage and optimism of the West in the face of the fascist and Communist totalitarians of the early 20th century. A stark contrast to the spiritual malaise and cynicism growing out of the late 1960s and 70s, Luke Skywalker was an epic hero that Western boys could look up to, much as I did.

“A New Hope” was an antidote to its time. “The Last Jedi” is a reflection of it. The feminism prevalent in the film perverts its artistic value, twisting the epic tale of good and evil into a two-and-a-half-hour diversity training video. For the creators of this bloated mess passing the Bechdel test was more important than writing a good story. Though, unfortunately, their failure won’t harm them much. Fealty to “correct” political causes ensures the good graces of critics. And despite rumblings from the fan base, “The Last Jedi” will certainly become another golden teat on Disney’s latest cash cow.

This is not proof of the film’s intrinsic value but of our own warped taste.

We in the West have lost the ability to distinguish between spiritually healthy and rotten art. That is a far greater tragedy than the ruin of “Star Wars.”

America • Hollywood • Movies • Post • The Culture

Why ‘Dunkirk’ is the Best Film of 2017

Let us begin at the end of the beginning: “Dunkirk” is the best film of 2017. It is an epic war movie, where names are neither memorable nor necessary because the scenes are unforgettable. And the suspense is almost unbearable, as the story is more about psychological terror than physical turmoil. The terror of aloneness. The terror of bombardment from air, land, and sea. The terror of abject failure, as the enemy attempts to destroy Europe’s only hope for freedom and drown England’s only chance to remain free. The terror of watching this epic unfold in record time (106 minutes), without having to hear the voice of Hitler or the shouting of the Nazi Hun.

“Dunkirk” uses minimalism to maximum effect. It shows us how inconsequential man is in the face of nature, while it proves how consequential men can be when they face—and overcome—the worst of human nature.

It shows us the actor Cillian Murphy as a shell-shocked soldier clinging to the propeller of a torpedoed ship, where each blade is as brown—and dead—as the petals of the biggest flower. He is a speck in the flotsam of the English Channel, impotent before the laws of physics and immobile before this unlawful attack of Nazi aggression. He is inseparable from that flower, which symbolizes his all-but-inevitable burial at sea. The terror of the sea is not its turbulence, but its totality: a seemingly endless expanse of water, unfit to drink and unrelenting in its drive to down whatever touches the surface.

Murphy is a tragic figure, as much a sign of God’s wrath as he is a reminder of what happens when men violate—and mock—the warnings of a prophet. That prophet is Winston Churchill. He speaks to us through Tommy, the everyman’s name of the British soldier from the Great War, when the boy reads the words of England’s greatest leader.

He reads them aloud, hearing for the first time what the audience listens to as the film’s final words; that “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Restraint strengthens those words, creating in every English breast “a soul beneath the ribs of death.” The mace of honor fills each soul with the prose of duty, complementing the poetry of Churchill with the bravery of countless civilians. These are the citizens who set sail from the beaches and the landing grounds, so they may rescue the defenders of the realm. They are the defenders for all that Britain is, and all that Britain means.

They are also the defenders of Western Civilization, where many mansions house a common faith in the civic fate of laws, language, literature, and tradition. They are, above all, free men.

There is a steadiness to their approach, save a roar of national pride when the captain of a private boat says to his son’s friend, after hearing a trio of Spitfires zoom overhead: “Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. Sweetest sound you could hear out here.”

Sweeter still is the sound of the pilots in those planes. They economize everything, so they may execute their commands and command the skies against German dive bombers. They do not weaken or tire, not even when they go from three to none; not even when one crashes into the sea and the other, with Tom Hardy at the stick, lands on the beach as the Wehrmacht closes in.

We see more than moments of sheer terror, without the briefest periods of boredom. We see how war punctuates the sight and sound of peace. It screams across the sky, echoing from eight days during World War II to the first eight hours of the War on Terror.

Read Ken Masugi’s review of “Dunkirk.”

 What we experience is not entertainment. It is something too primal to endure for too long. It is something too painful for too many to consider. It is the one thing we long to escape, because it is the only thing that belief can nullify and acts of goodwill can neutralize: death.

The choice is between entering the breach and walling up among the dead, because the time will come when we must stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood; when we must disguise our fair nature with hard-favored rage; when we must not dishonor our mothers; when we must attest to the worth of our fathers, and learn to wage war until victory is won.

Victory is never permanent, and peace without freedom must never be the price of victory. What is permanent is sinfulness—and evil. To defeat the latter we must be forever mindful of the former, so we will not be alone, outnumbered and outgunned, but never without hope.

Hope is its own victory. It can deliver us from costly errors and colossal military disasters. It can sustain us during our darkest days, so we may avoid an unbroken night of barbarism.

It is not the cheap rhetoric of the modern politician, whose record lacks moral health and martial vigor; whose legacy lacks distinction; whose sole distinction is the pursuit of power, while he is powerless to stop the most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history.

Hope lives on the beaches of Dunkirk.

civic culture/friendship • Defense of the West • Europe • History • Hollywood • Movies • political philosophy • Post • statesmanship • The Culture

The Churchill We Deserve

The scene: The light of a cathedral radio as regal as it is reverential, with its faceplate set aglow, while kith and kin listen to the crackle of a fireside chat instead of gathering before the crackle of an evening fire. They assemble before this cabinet of twisted columns and hand-carved slots, and a voice emerges from the arches and cloth of this product of industry and this fixture of hope in the darkness. Meanwhile, Nazis rally before an obscene cathedral of light.

In “Darkest Hour,” which is certain to be actor Gary Oldman’s finest hour, the contest is not between light and darkness; it is an attempt to free all Europe and move the life of the world forward into broad, sunlit uplands; it is a warning about the price of failure, of sinking into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

The film is a study of how an actor prepares. It is a performance by England’s greatest living actor on behalf of the greatest Englishman who ever lived. It is a story about Britain’s most important prime minister—and the 20th century’s most indispensable man—whose most decisive words were words of action, whose most dramatic deeds were declarations of resolution and defiance, whose most magnanimous honor was the honor he entrusted to the individuals and institutions of his island nation––that they would sooner die for king and country than surrender to slavery and torture; that the cross of Christendom would never fall to the crooked cross of Hitler and the SS.

Oldman gives us the definitive portrayal of Winston Churchill. He prepares for his role by showing us why a leader thinks before he speaks. He shows us how melodrama is the only way to dramatize a battle between a champion of freedom and a monstrous abortion of hatred and defeat. He shows us how one man, mocked and ridiculed by members of his own party, and disliked by his own sovereign, forgave the former and fortified the latter. He shows us how one man summoned the best from his people with the best selections from a common history of religion, laws, language, literature, and tradition.

Churchill steeled himself for this role by virtue of his intuitive sense of timing, of knowing when reason must yield to romance, when intellect must yield to instinct, when good men must do something—anything—to stop the triumph of evil. He spoke for a group of shattered states and bludgeoned races, whose conquest owed as much to the appeasement of Germany as it did to Nazi aggression. He sought to rescue them; to redeem them, too, not with the spoils of war, but with the swords of justice; to resurrect, in the end, a Teutonic race that would live to remember its crimes, including a crime with no name, that is the worst crime in history against the Jewish people. His words did much to remake West Germany with the plowshares of peace, as spears became pruning hooks—and the fascist work of Albert Speer was reduced to rubble.

This is the Churchill Oldman gives us. This is the Churchill we deserve, with this actor’s patented roar. This is the Churchill who fought the fire of the Reich with the fury of right. This is the Churchill who thwarted a thousand years of tyranny by bracing Englishmen to do their duties, and so bearing themselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

This was the only man who matched—and surpassed—the rhetorical power of Hitler. This was the man who had warned Britain about this enemy of all freedom-loving people; an enemy to whom millions had sworn their obedience, and their lives, to this supreme leader of the fatherland; an enemy for whom the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was dead and to whom the few of religious conscience were as good as dead; an enemy for whom there was a never-ending need for “living space,” but never any space for the least among them; an enemy for whom Jesus was the Son of God because He was not a son of Jews; an enemy for whom God was without any traces or taint of Jewish blood. Thus did this enemy grant himself an Aryan god’s blessing to murder the Jews.

Churchill refused to negotiate with this man. He rejected the very idea of coexistence with this disgrace to humanity; this human acolyte of Satan. He renounced the authority of a regime that many admired and that even more accepted as inevitable. To Churchill, this was unacceptable.

“Darkest Hour” is an homage to the art of performance. It reveals that great men make history, not because their actions are always right or good, but because they never waver from a just cause. They never doubt a fundamental truth—that if an evil as wrong as slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong; that if man does not fear evil, mankind should fear for its survival.

This truth is the product of an Anglo-American alliance. This fact is a universal truth of the history of the English-speaking peoples. It is a self-evident truth that marks the graves of patriots and graces the tombs of heroes. It is never free from the threat of extinction, not when each generation is an endangered species susceptible to lies.

Winston Churchill was the last lion and the defender of the realm. These titles were earned mightily and exercised modestly. They were the effect of an idealized version of all that Britain was, and all that Britain meant. They were the result of a policy to wage war until victory was won, because the alternative was a long nightmare of servitude and shame.

In that darkest hour, came Trinity Sunday. The light of Providence broke through the clouds of the gathering storm; the glory of God rang from every pulpit—and echoed from every pew—strengthening the will of Christian civilization.

Armed with truth, and awakened by the coming of the Lord, Englishmen chose to be men of valor.

America • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Hollywood • Movies • Post • the family

The Tension Between Family and Natural Rights in “Coco”

“Coco” is the kind of family film that ought to cause even Hollywood skeptics to fall in love with the movies again. It advertises that it’s a family movie from the trailer all the way to the conclusion—after a climax that will make more than a few people cry.

The animated feature is already a big hit and its commercial success is only growing. Its popularity probably speaks to certain anxieties and fantasies about the future of the family, which is endangered in ways we’re still not ready to acknowledge as a society. And that’s all to the good—the movies are our primary form of coming to grips with fears and ideas as a society.

We should praise the film, but in so doing, let us not forget to also examine its ideas. Let’s start with the obvious and the startling.

“Coco” is the adventure of one Mexican boy and his family on the feast of the Day of the Dead, when the the living are said to commune with their dead relatives. This emphasis on the pull of family extending over generations and even reaching back into a past before our birth, recalls an American innovation of Christianity, the Mormons. In both cases, family is said to be so important that it’s forever. The afterlife is family life. Is there something about a relatively rootless America that makes us yearn for some transcendental connection to our past?

This recalls another Christian idea, that marriage is, as the priest would say, “ ’til death do you part.” Today, in America as well as in other prosperous Western countries, that’s also becoming a thing of the past. Easy divorce is ubiquitous. But in “Coco” not even death can part the family. The film also boasts some heroism, and tenderness about marriage as the foundation of family. When it comes to extreme cures for loneliness, it’s hard to get more serious than this kind of permanent and timeless connection as expressed in “Coco.”

Even the title serendipitously furthers this end. Disney-Pixar must have known it could not trademark the Mexican feast of “the Day of the Dead,” so the megacorporation chose something else—the trademark being essential to its interest in making money from film merchandising until kingdom come. Hence the easily trademarkable “Coco,” which is also the name of our protagonist’s dying great-grandmother. The whole family has to learn about its past in order to stay together. And thereby the title emphasizes yet another urgent need in our increasingly rootless and transient society: the need to learn to come to terms with death.

As for the family itself, remember, folks, this is south of the border, where everyone seems to take a matriarch for granted. Multiple generations live together under one roof. Though uncommon in America, this speaks to an irrepressible human longing: to live in the element of love.

The plot of “Coco” is simple, but it presents the tension that besets our desire to live in the element of love in a free and open society. Miguel, the protagonist of this family of cobblers, wants to follow his own particular dream of becoming a music star against the strenuous and uncomprehending refusals of the family matriarch. Eventually he comes to appreciate her warnings as he comes to learn his dream is actually a nightmare. Unlike most Hollywood family comedies, this is not the predictable story of parents apologizing abjectly to their children for refusing to see the world as the young generation wants to change it. Nor is it about independence understood as abandoning family.

Instead in “Coco,” family is genuinely authoritative. The film depicts as dangerous the freedom to chase one’s dreams. This brings us to something obvious even in the trailers, but not readily noticed in most of the commentary: the American elements of the story come in for great criticism as hedonism. The boy gets himself into an adventure that threatens to kill him because he wants to imitate a music star, who also starred in movies, and who spends the afterlife in a very modern club, perpetually partying and doing concerts. This kind of immortality is shown to be specious and to advertise a paradise that does not exist except as death. When’s the last time a movie even suggested anything like that?

So far, so good, but in this process of making the family holy, what we used to call natural rights were forgotten. This is where we move from sociology to mythology. The moviemakers have stumbled onto something strange. Their political community functions as families who own their dead, such that anyone forgotten or without family is said to “die another death.” Suddenly, the immortality of the soul is lost and it’s not clear that all people are on an equal footing in terms of inherent dignity—dignity being something reserved or, even, “earned” only those who are not swallowed by oblivion because unloved.

That’s one form of justice. But is it a form of justice compatible with our own? This is a political understanding of the soul that cannot work within a modern society, but the moviemakers may be right that this is the extreme that our movement to another extreme has caused many people long for. The community gathers as a series of families, each caring for its own; whoever has been disowned or had no family is forgotten. The implications are not lost on the moviemakers, who include a joke about the problem of divorce—it will be embarrassing to the dead to visit several shrines for several families. American practice puts limits on this holiness of the family.

You might be asking: remembering the dead, souls in the afterlife, oblivion—where is God? That’s the other problem—this is an afterlife with no judgment. In a sense, that’s what we all want these days—not to be judged and found wanting, not to have to say the word “damned.” It’s hard to tell Christian stories—and it’s not much tried—but here we see the sociology and mythology clash in a failure of imagination. The afterlife is a resort, with some slums and some Vegas thrown in. Why bother dying?

Maybe this longing and this drive to make the family holy will lead us in a bad direction. This afterlife with no judgment leads us to learn some further things by implication. One is, this view of family belongs to a place with no civic culture; to a place where all you have, in Tom Wolfe’s phrase, is the call of family, of “going back to blood.” The writers seem acutely aware that in such a place artists, especially, would be punished—they’re naturally dubious inasmuch as they’re not primarily family men. That’s because myths as much as politics offer a public space away from the private space of the family. “Coco” glosses over and abstracts from that.

This exclusively private space where the adventure is set is also a place dominated by women. The musical and mythical parts of the story are dominated by men. Either way, the boy’s rebellion and his adventurous quest for music is insoluble in these terms. On the one hand, he voices an all-American opinion: family should support you. That’s love without conditions. Here the movie is quite astute about the real conditions of freedom. But is there really no limit to what family could plausibly support?

On the other hand, the family’s claim to being harmless and good, which we want to believe, leaves no room for human wickedness, except to blame male evil and disobedience. Notice that in the story females err only by loving and protecting too much; males, on the other hand, err only by rebelling against the women—rejecting home, ultimately. But the two things cannot be true at once. If a male must ever be obedient to the matriarch, what happens when she is in error through an excess of love? What can correct her?

The plot manages to save family, without damning unreliable men, by admitting that there is evil within family itself, in the form of forgotten secrets. What we get in disturbing the dead, so to speak, cannot be all good. We love our departed ones, but we cannot sanctify them. So this is the highest theme of the story, what the boy learns about his dead ancestors and therefore about how to become a man. It is woefully neglected, because it could not be solved in the terms of a love that is suffocating.

With “Coco,” Hollywood seems to have moved in a laudable direction, making it possible for a family film to have real depth and hold the attention of intelligent adults at the same time as they give pleasure to children. But it also reveals a radical problem. We love family and, in a regime whose institutions don’t seem to work, we ask too much of it. We’re tempted to abandon our natural rights and our immortal souls for a love that’s more visceral and more binding than the abstractions that fill up our public discourse.

We’re returning to an ancient warning, that love and law might turn out to be enemies, that family and citizenship are irreconcilable. Movies that show us these things are a public service—but only a first step. We need to figure out how to deal with these problems.

America • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Hollywood • Movies • Podcast • Section 2 • The Culture

Orson Bean and Chris Buskirk on Old Hollywood and Love for America

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Orson Bean, long time character actor and Hollywood personality, joined American Greatness publisher, Chris Buskirk on the Seth and Chris Show to discuss old Hollywood and love for America.  You can listen to their conversation below or read the transcript that follows.

Chris Buskirk:   I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn and this is ‘The Seth and Chris Show.’ Very, very happy to welcome to the show, Orson Bean. He is, boy, I say this all the time jokingly, but you actually are a star of stage and screen.

Orson Bean:   And radio.

Chris Buskirk:   And radio too. I love it. Orson, thanks so much for coming on the show. It really is a pleasure and an honor to have you on the show. I know a lot of our listeners know your work and have watched you for years. I mean, your history in Hollywood goes back to the time of being on “The Jack Paar Show,” then on Carson and “Twilight Zone” and still going strong today all these years later. You know, I’ll tell you something just so you can kind of get where we’re coming from on this show. Seth and I, my co-host, he’s out today but we grew up watching Johnny Carson.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   And part of the magic of that show, I know, we always say, was that he let the whole country in on a big inside joke. It was very warm. You watch that show and they’re on YouTube. I love them. I try to capture a little bit of that magic here. What was? This isn’t political but I just have to know, what was “The Carson Show” like in its glory days?

Orson Bean:   Well, Johnny was very smart and very interested in lots of things. Not like Jay Leno, it seemed to me was always just looking for something to set up his next joke. Johnny knew at least something about an awful lot of things, animal husbandry, astronomy, history, geography, so he would ask questions that were genuinely interesting because they interested him. I remember the biggest laugh I ever got from him. They were, I was sitting on the panel and they were talking about, would you, when you die would you leave your eyes, your liver, your kidney and I was in my thirties and better looking than I am now and he said, “How about you Orson, would you leave anything?” I said, “I intend to leave myself intact to a needy necrophiliac.” Carson fell out of his seat. There were no laughs from the studio audience. Nobody knew what the word meant.

Chris Buskirk:   But he thought it was funny. Right?

Orson Bean:   He thought it was.

Chris Buskirk:   And he was a pretty good judge of what was funny.

Orson Bean:   Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   I don’t know if you saw it at all. There was a, there’s a new series, I think, I guess it’s on Showtime called “I’m Dying Up Here.” It’s about the standup comedy scene in LA in the kind of early mid-seventies.

Orson Bean:  Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   There’s, have you seen it?

Orson Bean:   No. I have not. I don’t-

Chris Buskirk:   I think it’s very well done. It’s written by some comedians and one of the things that is kind of an undercurrent in the show is that everybody wants to A) get on Carson and B) if you get the couch. You go out and do your bit, you do your five, ten minutes, and if he invites you on the couch you know you’ve done well.

Orson Bean:  Not everybody wanted the couch. Rodney Dangerfield who wrote the tightest and best comedy monologues anybody ever did, but he couldn’t ad lib as the old joke goes a belt after a Hungarian dinner. I was on one time sitting on the panel. Rodney came out. Did a boffo five minutes and Johnny said, “Come on.” “No, that’s all right Johnny.” “No, come on.” He made him come over. He said, “So Rodney, how’s it going?” There was a long pause and Rodney said, “I got nothing.” Carson fell down, said, “Get off. Get out.”

Chris Buskirk:  Was that Rodney though? That’s interesting. Was he not a good improviser?

Orson Bean:    No. He only liked to talk if he’d prepared stuff and the stuff he prepared was the best. Like, you know “I’m so old I went to Mexico. I got the walks.” Or, “My wife says to me, “How come you never tell me when you have an orgasm?” She says, “I’m never near a phone.”” Or “My mother refused to nurse me. She thought of me as a friend.” He had the best self-deprecating jokes, but no he didn’t want to ad lib. He felt nervous. He’d sweat more than usual if he had to ad lib.

Chris Buskirk:   The man could sweat. Right?

Orson Bean:   Oh yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   Who was fun to be on … who was it fun to be on Carson with? I always liked Buddy Hackett. He was one of my favorites on Carson.

Orson Bean:   I loved Hackett. Hackett would always, if I ran into him on the street he wouldn’t say, “Hey, how you doing?” He’d say, “Two Jews walk into a restaurant,” or “A Catholic priest meets with …” You know, he would just start with a joke.

Chris Buskirk:   He’d just start with his shtick, right? He was always on.

Orson Bean:   Yeah. A funny guy.

Chris Buskirk:  Yeah. That’s fantastic. Orson, let me ask you this. You’ve been in Hollywood a long time and you’ve had a great career. Apparently, you have enjoyed doing it. What, how’s it changed?

Orson Bean:   Well, now, I mean, when I began there were three networks. I was a regular for quite a while on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the average viewership on a Sunday night was 70 million people.

Chris Buskirk:  Wow.

Orson Bean:   Now, shows are thrilled to get 12 or 13 million people.

Chris Buskirk:  Right.

Orson Bean:   But in those days, there weren’t all the choices there are now. Television brought families together. The whole family sat and watched “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Now, you know, dad is watching the game, the teenage girl’s in her room watching her stuff, the teenage boy’s in his room watching his stuff, mama’s watching her stuff and it separates families.

Chris Buskirk:   Yeah. It’s interesting. We were actually talking about that on the show a couple of weeks … We were talking about how that changes the culture. There really was a common culture because everybody watched the same things. If there was something on Ed Sullivan, everybody knew it.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   If there was something on Carson, everybody talked about it at the water cooler the next day. I went back and dug up the ratings. In the last, they don’t go, I couldn’t find them going back too far, but the last couple of years of “The Carson Show,” his ratings were higher, meaning he had more viewers. This is thirty years ago, right? He had more viewers on a given night than all of the late night shows today combined.

Orson Bean:   Yeah. It’s true, but the point is that the fact that there are so many of them means it’s split up.

Chris Buskirk:   Right.

Orson Bean:   There was Ted Koppel and the news or—

Chris Buskirk:   Right. He did, what was it “Dateline?” Was it “Dateline” or—?

Orson Bean:    Yeah. I mean those were the days when you believed people. When Walter Cronkite said something, you believed him. When Ted Koppel said something, you believed him. Now, it’s all, you know, if you watch CNN you get one point of view. If you watch Fox, you get another point of view, but there’s no place really to say, this is just what happened. The New York Times all my life was considered to be the paper of record. Now it’s all point of view. It’s all attitude. It’s all editorial masked as news.

Chris Buskirk:  You think that’s happened on the creative side too, with movies, television, that sort of thing?

Orson Bean:   Well, I read recently that China has cut way back on American movies. Now—

Chris Buskirk:  Meaning financing them or importing them for domestic consumption?

Orson Bean:   Importing them.

Chris Buskirk:   Okay.

Orson Bean:   I just read that and it’s having a huge effect in Hollywood because they were making movies to appeal to China and the Near East and the world, so it’s all exploding planets. I mean, I was sick of super heroes by the time I was 16, but now 50 year old men are lined up to go and see super heroes.

Chris Buskirk:   Orson, I am so with you on this. I mean, the super hero movies, maybe one was sort of interesting you know, fine, you’ve got nothing else to do on a Saturday night, you take your wife to see “Ironman” or something.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   Okay, but all this proliferation of the super hero movies. Enough. I mean, I just don’t even think they’re good or fun or interesting.

Orson Bean:   No. I mean, towards the end of the year, there’s a few character driven movies that hope for an Oscar, but by and large, it’s all just exploding buses or exploding planets and maybe, I think people are not going to the movies anywhere much as they used to. You know, whatever, if a writer wants to write character driven stuff, he goes to HBO these days or Showtime, where you can still … I myself don’t watch it. I don’t watch anything. The last thing I watched was “Downton Abbey.”

Chris Buskirk:    The first season was good. I think that went down too but the, you make a good point. The character driven stuff has moved to the small screen.

Orson Bean:    Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:    It’s not on the big screen so much anymore, which is a shame because I don’t know about you, I love the experience of going to the movies.

Orson Bean:    Yes.

Chris Buskirk:   It’s just hard to find something worth seeing.

Orson Bean:   Sharing a picture with a bunch of people is very different from watching it at home. It is more fun.

Chris Buskirk:    Yeah. No doubt. One of my complaints are, listeners to this show know because I give them my report almost every week and I keep dropping my standards every weekend when something comes out. Saying, “I just want to go. I just want something. It doesn’t even have to be good. I just want not bad.”

Orson Bean:   Yeah. I know. Well, lots of luck.

Chris Buskirk:   Thank you. Thanks. Do you think that this was, I guess as we look back on the history of Hollywood, I think of these sort of, what I think of as a golden era in Hollywood, maybe the forties and fifties. I think of the John Ford westerns. I think of a movie like “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” These were movies that were made by people who really, they really loved this country. They believed in what America was and they had a pretty common idea of what America was all about.

Orson Bean:   The Jews who left Russia or Germany or Europe—

Chris Buskirk:   Yes.

Orson Bean:   … and came over here loved America and when they really started the movie business, because it was all guys like Samuel Goldwyn and all of these-

Chris Buskirk:   Orson, can you hold that thought? We’ve got to go to a break, but I think—

Orson Bean:   Sure.

Chris Buskirk:   That is, it’s like you’re reading my mind. That is one of the points I wanted to make and I’m glad you’re making it. We’re going to go to a break.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   We’ll be right back with Orson Bean.

I am Chris Buskirk. He is Seth Leibsohn. My guest is Orson Bean. He has had an almost 70 year career in Hollywood. Has seen it at what I think was maybe one of its high points, maybe its high point in the fifties. Has seen it change over time.  Orson, when we were going to the break, we were talking about the love of and understanding of the appreciation of America that was evident in so many films that were made, really up until maybe the late sixties. That’s changed, but what drove it in the first place? You were just starting on that and I think it’s a fascinating story.

Orson Bean:   Well, the movie business was started by foreigners. They came over here and they got in on the very beginning with nickelodeons and little stereopticon viewers and then when the sound in movies became a possibility they did that. They started shooting them in New Jersey and when they really started making money on them, they moved out to LA because the weather was better. There was no big deal artificial lighting in those days, it was mostly done with the sun. Well, they, these people who had come from another country really appreciated the freedom that was here and they loved this country and they wanted to glorify it. They were happy to give the people what they wanted. A lot of them were Jews running the studio, happy to have a lot of pictures glorifying Catholic priests. Bing Crosby, “Going My Way.” Barry Fitzgerald. They said, “Sure, give the people what they want.”

There was such patriotism and under the much maligned studio system, so much was cranked out but so much of it wasn’t very good, but so much of it was wonderful. The year that “Casablanca” won the Oscar, seven or eight of the losers were memorable pictures that people still regard as classics.

Chris Buskirk:   Yeah. We talk about that sometimes. We here on the show will look back at some of the nominees. You look back at 19, gosh, I’m trying to think, it was ’60 or ’61. You have movies like “Lilies of the Fields,” “Days of Wine and Rose” being nominated and they didn’t even win. I don’t even think those were the high points in Hollywood’s, the high points of Hollywood’s years. I think that, I don’t know, I keep coming back to John Ford, but the movie that I love that I watch so many times over the years is “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” That is in such a way, that is the classic American movie.

Orson Bean:   Yes. “Stagecoach,” all of those westerns were wonderful. The thing, people wonder why the ratings for the Oscars, nobody’s seen the pictures. The pictures that are nominated appear in an art house in Duluth for one week and maybe people in Salt Lake City could see them for two weeks in an art house but most of them, the big, the last big really popular picture was “Titanic,” that people could root for. There are wonderful movies that are made towards the end of the year. I think “Silver Lining Playbook” is one of my favorite pictures in recent years, even though Harvey Weinstein produced it. “Shakespeare in Love” was another one he produced. Great movies but not an awful lot of people see them the way they saw the movies that won Oscars in the old days, because those were great popular pictures that were also excellent enough to deserve an Oscar.

Chris Buskirk:   Yeah. This I think is one of the keys, is that Hollywood at one time was able to speak to everyone at once.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   They did not try to be esoteric. It wasn’t like we’re going to make these esoteric movies to win an Oscar and then we’re going to make “Ironman” or “Spiderman” in order to make money.

Orson Bean:    Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   It was a different ethic.

Orson Bean:   That’s right.

Chris Buskirk:   Orson, we just have a couple of minutes left. I want to kind of switch gears on you, because I read something, I don’t know if it’s true, but I think it is. I read that you read C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity” and it had a profound effect on you.

Orson Bean:   It really tipped me over the edge to become a Christian. It’s so simple and it’s so brilliantly and simply written. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis began as a series of radio talks during World War II when the Germans were blitzing London and the BBC asked him to do a series of talks to boost people’s morale. In every pub in London, they’d say, “Shh, C.S. is on. Listen.” And people would put their pints down and listen to him talk about why you should love Jesus. Imagine a government asking for that. Nowadays, it’s inconceivable in England or America or anywhere else. But it’s so simple, that book, “Mere Christianity.” It’s my favorite of the books. I’ve read it two or three times.

Chris Buskirk:   It’s an amazing, it really is an amazing book because it is very clear. It’s very direct and yet it is profound.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   There is, he walks people through things kind of like the discussion we were just having of the great movies of the forties, fifties, sixties. It appealed to everyone, but there’s a lot in them.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   Everybody could get it.

Orson Bean:    Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   Mere Christianity was like that. It’s one of those books. I didn’t read it until about 15 years ago. It’s one of those books you hear about and I don’t know maybe it was my natural skeptic thinking it can’t be that good.

Orson Bean:   Yeah.

Chris Buskirk:   I was about two pages into it and I thought, “No. It’s not that good. It’s actually better than what everybody’s been saying.”

Orson Bean:  Right. Well, the first time I really became a Christian was I had met this guy and he always seemed so happy, I said, “Why are you always happy?” He said, “Well, I feel God has my back.” I said, “Well, I don’t know if I believe in God.” He laughed. He said, “Hit your knees and ask for a sign.” So I hit my knees over and over again and after a while I started getting a sign.

Chris Buskirk:   What made you read that book? What brought you to Mere Christianity?

Orson Bean:   Oh. I was interested in an intellect thing to back up faith. Faith is what you really have to have to develop a relationship with God, but it’s nice to have the faith backed up with logic. He shows how the intellect and faith aren’t necessarily separated from each other. He comes back logically again and again. Not, it isn’t just, you don’t have to believe in God because you want to, but because it makes sense.

Chris Buskirk:   Yeah. That’s right. I mean, that’s one of the things about that book that I think is powerful. Again, it’s simple. It’s straightforward. It’s clear and yet C.S. Lewis, who was himself brilliant and he was a wonderfully clear and beautiful writer, demonstrates that reason and revelation, that reason and faith can work together.

Orson Bean:   Absolutely.

Chris Buskirk:    You can use your reason to apprehend what God has revealed to his, to people.

Orson Bean:   Absolutely. I was working with some actors who were not believers. And they, “You really believe in Jesus?” I said, “Yeah. I don’t care. More Jesus to me. Have a good time.” I didn’t try to proselytize.

Chris Buskirk:     That’s funny. Orson, what are you working on now?

Orson Bean:   Well, I just went to Boston and shot five wonderful scenes with Denzel Washington for a movie that’s coming out next year called “Equalizer Two.” It’s the first time he’s ever done a sequel.

Chris Buskirk:   Oh. Good.

Orson Bean:   These, they were wonderful scenes that are in a way the heart of the picture. I play this old Jew who when he was 12 years old was sent to the camps and separated from his sister and Denzel, well, I don’t want to spoil it, but Denzel helps me recapture my happiness and faith.

Chris Buskirk:  All right. So now I know, now there’s a movie I can go and see with my wife but I’ve got to wait till next year.

Orson Bean:   You’ve got to wait till next year.

Chris Buskirk:   Orson, thanks so much for the time. I appreciate it. Will you come back?

Orson Bean:   Sure, Chris. Bless your heart. It was fun.

Chris Buskirk:   Same to you. Thanks a lot. Orson Bean’s been my guest. I appreciate it very much. That was a lot of fun. We’ll be right back with more of “The Seth and Chris Show.”


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America • Americanism • Cultural Marxism • Hollywood • Movies • Post • The Culture • The Left

Emasculating the God of War

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Sentimentality aside, what does it mean to be a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let’s start by looking at how men are portrayed. The only overtly “manly man” among the Avengers and their minions is the Norse/Viking god, Thor. In an America ripe with fear of war, the collapse of war efforts that apparently cannot achieve victory, and ongoing political anger between pseudo-ideological camps, this one-time “god of war” is transformed by Marvel into a cute and cuddly animal. What gives?

Public America is tackling “wars” on any number of abstract nouns. From cancer to bullying, to drugs and terrorism. Apparently we have a limitless use for the term “war” but we cannot find any good use for a god of war! Instead, our hero Thor screams like a girl (as we not yet “woke” souls used to say in the bad old days of the patriarchy) and for no reason but comic relief. In “Thor: Ragnarok”  the comic relief takes over the plot as the god of thunder—with lightning at his fingertips—turns out to be super-vulnerable to electricity. If you cut that out of the story, there is no plot. Really. Every time he gets rambunctious, Thor gets tazed. You see, he needs a re-education to keep his manliness in check.

To the audience he becomes something of e’s a pet. In short, this movie translates roughly into a predictable story about a proud, but loving dog who gets lost and, now chastened, has to find his way home. With that in mind, viewers will notice how much Thor is jerked around by “the smart guys” and how their virtues are shown to be more prized than the unusual and all too rare virtues of Thor. If they are necessary, it seems they must also be despised.

Thor’s much-maligned manliness is the only actual good thing in the movie. Thor’s opinion is that a man should stand his ground and be as good as his word. He’s a boaster, so that’s hard, but he does try extra hard. “Thor: Ragnarok,” behind all the fun stuff, is a movie about what the world looks like when such manly opinions are thrown out the window. It’s a horror show. Would that we were so lucky to have more such men around, whether in reality or in our fantasies! But instead of showing any admiration for that, Thor’s virtues are constantly demeaned for fake-political purposes.

The story starts with the third act of an action movie: Hero trapped by a contemptuous evildoer who’s about to be surprised and beaten—then the day is saved, a menace to mankind removed. But it turns out, that solves nothing.

Instead, a woman villain who can never make herself heard by men has to come up and, well, kill them all. This is one half of the chastisement the old and, apparently, “evil” patriarchy—the one in which there were actual heroes—suffers in this film. The weirdest thing about the female villain is that she calls herself the goddess of death. If you think about this as a send-up of a similarly weird liberal feminism, then it makes perfect sense. But that’s not what Marvel is selling. Her story is that she is the real power behind the patriarchy of Odin and the almost exclusively male army of the Viking gods. Those armies include East Asians and African blacks—but none of them will listen to a woman. They literally prefer dying. Come to think of it, this movie might all secretly be about Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat and endless subsequent blaming of the electorate!

The Viking/Norse nobility is organized around slaughter and pillaging, so this is a story where you cannot take any claim to right seriously. Maybe they deserve killing! You’re supposed to have fun with a comedy in the middle of chaos, but you cannot really sympathize with any faction, if you stop to think about it. You’re supposed to believe that the guys with funny lines have a right to kill all the other ones—that seems to be the only real Marvel ideology.

Thor is the only Marvel franchise where the villains made even a lick of sense, so you know everything’s about to be upturned. Loki was a younger brother dominated by Thor, who never felt he belonged: You can understand him. You can understand this new sister of theirs, too: she was the family workhorse and feels betrayed, rejected, merely for effectively carrying out her father Odin’s principles. No wonder they want to wreak havoc and loose hell. How does the story solve this problem?

It tells us hell is good for political Progress!

Thor is emasculated from the beginning. He’s a teenager—he’s a frat boy—he’s a hunk. Indeed, who else could believe in heroes, much less think he is one? His hammer is destroyed by a woman and then, as a slave, he has his hair cut, too. The proud must be humbled. This fits with the movie’s style and mood: Marvel is turning movies into a combination of computer games and musical comedy—just think of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s a lot of that in “Thor: Ragnarok.” In this show, manly pride is the only intolerable sentiment.

So it’s good that the old world is dying, because all these men were exploiters. You only see them as gullible audiences to propaganda and fearful victims of slaughter. And the few who get saved of course want to go to earth, the home of all immigrants in the universe. These poor peoples without land are portrayed as deserving help, and as the only legitimate object of worry, policy, and sacrifice. You’d have to be a monster not to help these refugees… Does that sound familiar?

But ideology is cheap in the Marvel universe. The feminism of Thor wanting to be a Valkyrie because they’re so cool is, like his awkwardness around a girl, neither true to character nor important to the plot. It’s just there for politically-correct laughs. The audience needs a pretty boy on screen looking relentlessly photoshopped in the middle of chaos, but it’s intolerable that anyone that good looking also be shown to be self-possessed.

The trans-racial multi-cultural politics of freedom that make the end of the world an opportunity for Progress is no more serious. It shows up as salvation from oppression for funny-looking creatures with cute Kiwi accents. Tyranny is a drag, but you can shake it off in a well-timed scene with fast editing, because we’re all different, but secretly we’re all good. There are no consequences and no downsides, because there’s no legitimate basis for conflict or war. It’s all a big hiccup, you just gotta get over it. It’ll be fine.

Ultimately, the woman villain has to die because she she’s too intolerant of funny-looking people made of various materials, coming in different shapes, sizes, and all equipped with funny voices. Diversity cannot tolerate disagreement and she just doesn’t get it. She’s a loud-and-proud imperialist, the one thing shown to be worse than being a man.

In its place, we get the imperialism of tolerance. The rock-revolution politics of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” which ironically juxtaposes the British Invasion with the Viking invasion, is transformed into a feel-good anthem for getting along and having fun while doing it. The power of rock music is enlisted to make flaccid ideologies look sexy. The breathtaking combination of angry electric instruments in the hands of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones and the shrieking and sometimes sexual moaning of Robert Plant—all that is now bought by a corporation to provide a soundtrack for the predestined victory of the oppressed. What formerly was rebellion, thereby becomes bubblegum.

This is all done for fun and the movie is bound to be the biggest success of the franchise. It also installs the most important form of inequality, the only one that matters in the future as Marvel conceives of it: Screen time. That’s the only immortality left and it’s guaranteed through corporation-based franchises. A warlike god is really one who mouths off all the pieties of getting along with creatures with whom he shares very little screen time. They’re all lovely, if they know their place. This hero needs not learn anything through the plot, or change at all. His warlike father is a life coach/corporation guru. Problem is, with such writing, you don’t need two hours of movie to get things done. The plot is really a 15 minute short. Add a few more shorts with fun antics in exotic places set to music because, why not? But it’s got all the substance of a YouTube series, not a movie—much less a blockbuster.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is an anti-epic. If it has any system or design, it is to take celebrity worship and a sense of wonder and anything else an audience might bring to the movies in search of more than just the boring stuff in our lives—and turn it into a cheap joke. We’re being sold our disappointments repackaged as moral and political correctness. And so long as we believe our disappointed hopes have no truer prophet than Marvel, it will keep happening—now with emasculated heroes, too!


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America • History • Hollywood • Movies • Post • The Culture • The Media

Life Is Rich: Filmmaker Michael Ritchie’s Portrait of America

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If you want to understand America, you need to understand Americans’ attitudes toward politics and baseball.

More to the point, you need to understand how Hollywood reveres the former and romanticizes the latter—one notable exception notwithstanding.

In the case of the late Michael Ritchie, director of “The Candidate” and “The Bad News Bears,” he is the exception that breaks the rules. His films are more relevant today than when they first premiered, respectively, in 1972 and 1976; revealing the truth about the cynicism that governs those who govern us, as the system—with its consultants, aides, groupies, and concubines—has more to do with the rights of primogeniture than with civil rights or the rights of man.

They also reveal the lamentable truth that there remains no innocence left to shatter, not when Little League Baseball is a corruption of children by coaches seeking to recapture their own elusive youth.

Each film is a warning, which rings louder with each passing election and season of the national pastime.

A Hollow Way
In “The Candidate,” warnings abound. Ritchie gives us 
Robert Redford as Bill McKay who, by way of artistic liberties, is a lawyer and the estranged son of the widowed or divorced former governor of California, played by Melvyn Douglas.

Douglas deserves a posthumous Oscar for his appearance in this film. With his black-rimmed glasses and gray mustache, in addition to his three-button tweed field jacket and tartan scarf, Douglas looks like a hunter’s version of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, holding a shotgun in his right hand. Thus does he honor Sophocles and Sigmund Freud, when he takes Redford into the woods for a father-son talk. That they return alive—and smiling—ruins any sense of tragedy or need for psychotherapy.

The true tragedy is how the Fates set upon this politician. From a one-room building, where he lawyers on behalf of minorities and the poor, to a seat within the office of the men who decide who will hold seats in the House and Senate, Bill McKay begins to decay.

He goes from participant to product, when he hears the order to “cut the hair and 86 the sideburns.”

He goes from husband to philanderer without knowing he is prey. We watch a woman whisper in his ear, as we see this huntress with glasses—and a gorgeous body—do nothing more than telling McKay where to be, so they may do the deed. We watch him leave her room, his shirt undone and his tie askew, as the sight renders Marvin (Peter Boyle), his campaign manager, speechless; as if some things are too unimaginable for this mercenary to see; as if, instead of being in Washington, D.C., Kennedy (take your pick) were, in fact, kissing Marilyn Monroe’s dead body goodbye before rendezvousing at a safe house prior to returning to the White House.

McKay is a candidate with a slogan, but no content. “For a better way,” his surrogates say, “Bill McKay.” Alternating between the indefinite article and the definite, “The Better Way,” McKay does not know the way, either. He is, instead, a vessel: He is a copy of a copy of Robert F. Kennedy, a character based on the real-life John Tunney, the one-term Democratic senator from California.

A Kennedy by politics and physical proximity, as well as physical appearance, Tunney was also Ted Kennedy’s former law school classmate and roommate.

Director Michael Ritchie

McKay, in turn, has the luck of the Irish: He is a Kennedy who speaks like McCarthy. Not that McCarthy, whom most Americans hate; this McCarthy, whom RFK hated.

The screenwriter of “The Candidate” is Jeremy Larner, whose credits include a stint as Eugene McCarthy’s chief speechwriter.

“The Candidate,” then, is The Candidate: A film that has that rarest of qualities—verisimilitude. It seems real; it is real, when McKay, with all the self-righteousness he can marshal and all the self-loathing he can muster, enters the Watts section of Los Angeles like the Great White Hope, recognizing later he is, from the perspective of the blacks he meets, yet another dope; a doll, with a pull string and an action grip, who breaks down from too much wear and tear.

And then, when he mistakes sincerity for profundity delivering his closing remarks in a televised debate against his opponent, the incumbent Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter), McKay, the Captain Renault of the obvious, discovers racism exists. He all but threatens to unleash his discovery not just on California but the entire nation, saying fear, hatred, and violence will send this country up in flames.

Thus does “The Better Way” become “The Only Way”: Elect Bill McKay, or suffer the consequences, because your refusal to vote makes you an accomplice to murder. Never mind the fact that the revolution McKay prophesies is one he wants, an expiation of Caucasian blood (except his own) for the crimes of slavery and segregation; for injustices his policies, to the extent he has any, would worsen; for the thrill he would experience looking into the eyepiece of his telescope, a trophy on a tripod, as this half-naked voyeur accelerates his eye-hand coordination to match the speed of the fire on the horizon.

McKay’s opponent, Jarmon, may as well be a stand-in for Spiro Agnew, though the comparison is superficial because Jarmon is less tame and more guarded than Agnew, a fighter who could land a punch and take one, too. The win against Jarmon is as empty as McKay’s campaign, ending with him asking Marvin: “What do we do now?” How fitting a conclusion for the story of a film within a film—for such campaigns are productions no less than films are.

Delusions About Winning
That false victory also applies to baseball in “The Bad News Bears.”

Billed and marketed as a comedy, that description is inaccurate and unfair. The classification owes more, I suspect, to the casting of Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, the manager of the Bears, as well this summation of the team by a fellow player.

The film is a 40-year-old time capsule sent by and to ourselves, whose lessons we have yet to learn, whose truths we have yet to teach, whose rules we have yet to respect.

Start with a lawsuit, which leads to the creation of a new Little League team, the Bears, whose players (because of their infelicity at the plate or in the field) no one wants. To repeat: It takes a court order to let children play baseball because Roy Turner (Vic Morrow) and his Yankees want nothing to do with these kids. Ditto for the other parents and their delusions about winning.

It is Turner who is the perfect foil for Buttermaker. One manages a team whose name alone connotes the most joyless kind of victory. (I tip my cap to Ritchie for casting the Yankees as the villains, because this team is wrong for all the right reasons. He gets right what makes any Yankee franchise wrong. In other words, he knows why it is right to hate the Yankees.)

Minus longevity, there is nothing conservative about the Yankees. They represent bigness. They institutionalize the individual, trading his name for a number, his prison stripes for pinstripes, his cuffs for golden handcuffs.

Buttermaker, in contrast, is a patriot but no Yankee. An ex-Minor League pitcher, he knows enough about baseball to know the difference between the big leagues and Little League. He is an alcoholic, but he is not drunk on power.

He is staff, hired by the city councilman who filed the lawsuit. He is, for all intents and purposes, the part-time father of the councilman’s son; because the councilman is a politician by nature and only a parent out of necessity. The councilman never attends the games until the Bears play the Yankees for the championship; until Turner renews our hatred for the Yankees.

In the film’s ultimate act of bad parenting, Turner strikes his own son. The boy falls onto the rubber of the pitcher’s mound, while Turner returns to the dugout.

The cheap and dirty win, Ritchie shows us, costs the world as much it costs a man’s soul; profiting the men on the sidelines—enriching others with power—while the man in the arena forfeits his integrity and loses his life of independence.

By making the major minor, and the minor major, by making a sport of politics—by having us root for teams based on letters—while we rob sports of sportsmanship, we have a government as heartless as the Yankees and as hapless as the Bears.

The bad news is very bad, indeed.

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America • Hollywood • Movies • Post • Satire • The Culture

Pod Person: Invading a Theater Near You

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As I think the “film critic” John Podhoretz would agree, a high-end Sunday brunch buffet can try even the most disciplined soul.

Between the automatic donut maker, which looks like a stainless steel version of a first-generation laser printer, what with its price and size, in addition to its motors, mixers and tracks, yielding trays of hot and high-fat delicacies in lieu of TPS reports; between this machine and the nearby carving station, where a chef uses a handsaw to cut thick slabs of prime rib, the kind a superintendent would throw to lions or tigers during feeding time at the San Diego Zoo; between the Willy Wonka-like display of pastries and palettes of Irish and French butter; between the pan of mashed potatoes, white as snow and as viscous as napalm; between all of this, one may experience the urge to consume everything.

A lesser buffet would be, like Podhoretz’s film reviews, the leftovers from a DMV worker’s retirement party—hardened crullers, Hostess Fruit Pies oozing their artificially colored versions of edible plasma, as well as assorted Ding Dongs, Zingers, Cupcakes, and (of course) Twinkies.

Let us now praise the Twinkie—stick with me here—that “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling” for what it is: Our very own madeleine, whose crumbs (when mixed with tea) are more potent than any tab of acid, whose taste touches the tongue and invades the body, whose exquisite pleasure reveals memories from long ago; of John Podhoretz as a VISTA volunteer, an anthropologist in training, who visits the shantytowns of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and the ghettos of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on behalf of his study of black families.

How else to explain Podhoretz’s review of “Jerry Maguire,” which he calls the best picture of 1996 (the same year as “Fargo,” “The English Patient,” “Secrets & Lies,” and “Shine”), citing its “astonishingly sensitive and unusually honest depiction of a black family”?

That would be the fictional family of a fictional wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, whose four-word catchphrase is a refrain worthy of the Scriptures and worth the entirety of the movie’s script: “Show me the money!”

Put aside, for a moment, that the average NFL salary is $1.9 million.

Put aside, too, that that figure is as honest a depiction of a black family as any episode of “Good Times,” the 1970s TV sitcom about a husband and wife and their three children, with an honorary fourth (played by Janet Jackson) across the hall from the doorway of their apartment in what is, ostensibly, Chicago’s Cabrini-Green; a since-demolished housing project of the worst form of Brutalist architecture. The show never refers to the 15,000 tenants living in squalid and segregated conditions, not when a fast-paced theme song is as good an anthem as any in the United States of Amnesia, while the only memorable thing the eldest child, James “J.J.” Evans, Jr., says is: “Dy-no-mite!”

Perhaps Podhoretz arrives at his conclusion from his study of the seminal tracts on race; chief among them, an essay whose commentary is as prescient as its prose is providential; a must-read piece that rivals the rhythms of a great king and exudes the righteous outrage of a democratic republican, because it reflects the content of the author’s character.

Such is the profundity ofMy Negro Problem–And Ours,” by Norman Podhoretz, father of our favorite film critic.

Thus does this rhetorician teach his son how to recognize the presence (or lack thereof) of the high art of criticism.

Which brings us to Podhoretz fils’s review ofBobby,” a story that begins and ends on the second-to-last day of Robert F. Kennedy’s life.

Podhoretz’s critique is fair–until he politicizes things.

By mocking RFK’s attempts to speak extemporaneously, Podhoretz says the late senator’s grammar is “poor enough to make George W. Bush seem like Strunk, or maybe even White.”

An interesting observation, given Podhoretz’s inclusion of Bush alongside FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan for “elevating a nation through the power of his discourse and the passion of his conviction.”

Compare that with RFK’s poverty of grammar, as he speaks without notes—as he makes note of one tragedy and does his best to maintain his composure, as the crowd notes where he speaks of a personal tragedy too heavy to bear—as all absorb the news about the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maybe that speech is an aberration, despite the stubbornness of facts and in spite of Senator Kennedy’s stubborn refusal to deliver prepared remarks, during his campaign to win the 1968 California Democratic presidential primary.

From an open car, with the sun shining on his face and the people cheering at his feet, RFK stands like an open target, speaking of a new America. We know what happens next.

We are the ones who lack the words, because we lack the grammar, to eulogize this man.

We can, however, join John Podhoretz in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.

We can guard the door, while he raids the freezer so he may grieve by bemoaning the loss (at his hand) of each gallon of 31 flavors, before he mourns the fate of his fellow tribesmen.

For omertà rules the movies, according to Podhoretz, forcing Gentiles—including the “very Italian” Robert De Niro and the “very WASPy” James Woods—to play Jews, while forbidding Jews from playing Jews.

As for those Jews, observant or otherwise, who get to play Jews, the list has fewer household names than any minyan from Schindler’s List.” Kirk Douglas inCast a Giant Shadow”; Paul Newman inExodus”; Richard Dreyfuss inThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”; Topol inFiddler on the Roof”—bums, the lot of them.

Here, again, is Podhoretz the anthropologist and ethnographer; separating the Italians from the very Italian Italians, save James Caan and Abe Vigoda, while Woods—a former altar boy—reads the Book of Common Prayer.

I leave it to the astronomers at MGM (“More Stars Than There Are in Heaven”) to explain the two TV docudramas about the Israeli rescue mission in Entebbe, Uganda, with Dreyfuss playing Colonel Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s older brother, inVictory at Entebbe”; and Woods playing Captain Sammy Berg inRaid on Entebbe,” which also stars Yaphet Kotto, a “Jewish Negro,” as Idi Amin.

From Israel to Little Italy, Podhoretz is on the case.

He sees plots and counterplots, politics everywhere.

Even “The Godfather,” by Podhoretz’s reckoning, has a single flaw: the anachronistic exchange between the newly minted Mafia chief Michael and his future wife in 1947 when she protests, “Senators and governors [sic] don’t have people killed,” and he responds, with Nixon-era cynicism, “Now who’s being naïve, Kay.”

By my reckoning, then, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” is a tragedy about a hazing gone horribly awry, while the crucifixion is an OSHA-inspired fable about the dangers of practicing unlicensed carpentry.

Before we fade to black, let us go back to the future.

In his recent review of “Blade Runner 2049,” Podhoretz calls the original “Blade Runner” confused, messy, and wrong in every particular.

“The world is not awash in acid rain (an environmentalist fad subject of the early 1980s),” he says.

It’s a theory, anyway. Ridley Scott, the director of “Blade Runner,” offers this weather report:

Well, the fact that we were shooting at night was certainly a helpful factor. But Warner’s backlot isn’t that big. So if we hadn’t filmed ‘Blade Runner’ at night, you would have been able to see beyond the margins of our sets to all those small hills which surround the Warner Brothers’ studio. That’s also the reason it’s raining all the time in ‘Blade Runner,’ you know. To disguise the fact that we were shooting on a back lot.

There you have it.

Or, as Dean Vernon Wormer might say: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go to the movies, Mr. Podhoretz.”

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America • civic culture/friendship • Cultural Marxism • feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Movies • Post • The Culture

Twilight of the Idols and the Idolaters

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Most of us spend our lives navigating an uneven path between the altar and the mall, neither irreproachable saints nor irredeemable sinners, neither Mother Teresa nor Adolf Hitler. We spend the greater part of our lives in the marketplace, hustling, making compromises with our better selves to close a deal. But we also light the occasional candle, say the occasional prayer, and find delight in our beloved’s smile.

In his poems, Leonard Cohen referred to the marketplace as “Boogie Street,” a scene not of prostitution necessarily, but of mutual sexual availability certainly. He identified Singapore as one such place, but he also might have tagged Hollywood, where young men and women parade their wares in hopes of being “discovered” by a big-shot producer.

If one is a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood, a meeting with Harvey Weinstein is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It’s not yet the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it’s the express train she needs to catch to get there. She is not unique, has no special talent. In fact, she’s interchangeable with the hundreds of other pretty young things prowling Hollywood. But Harvey can make her a star.

By the time a young woman lands a meeting with Harvey, she’s likely to have acquired a shocking degree of sophistication for someone her age. Zoë Brock, who was a 23-year-old-model when she met Harvey in 1998, is a good example. She describes a particularly wild time she’d had eight years earlier in the south of France. “I had watched helplessly as [Danish supermodel] Helena Christensen vomited all over the bathroom at Jimmy’s after doing too much blow with [dead rock superstar] Michael Hutchence and Jacques Chirac, who was in between his various Presidencies of France.” She was 15 at the time.

Zoë admits to having led Harvey on, telling him about her sexual exploits with famous people and how it was that she acquired a nickname associated with a popular sex toy. And that’s how she came to get what appears to be the standard Harvey Weinstein treatment. Harvey took her to his hotel room, got naked and asked for a massage. She refused. He started to cry. “You don’t like me because I’m fat.” The following day, he sent her his apologies and flowers. This is the routine. Other women have described it in similar terms.

Zoë felt “betrayed and used” and then “amused” though her amusement apparently disappeared once the other women Harvey had hit on in this way came out of the Hollywood mire and started to feed on his corpulent, carbuncled carcass with stories of their victimization. Then she signed on as well. “Me too” is the current Facebook meme.

Zoë’s story tells us something important about Hollywood’s Harvey Weinsteins. They are Robert B. Millman’s “acquired situational narcissists,” men whose latent tendencies might have worked themselves out as they matured, formed lasting relationships, focused on their families. But for the trigger and support of a celebrity worshipping culture, Harvey Weinstein might have turned out to be a fairly decent human being. His former company, Miramax, is a compound of his parents’ names.

Harvey’s “victims” come from a variety of backgrounds. Some, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, are the offspring of Hollywood royalty or, like Katherine Kendall, the children of Washington socialites. Others were anonymous and unpedigreed, like Zoë. What all of them wanted from Harvey—with a want that bordered on obsession–was celebrity.

Harvey didn’t want actual intercourse with these women. No relationships, either. He just needed to get off and he’d do it to himself as they watched. So great was this need for release that he’d humiliate and debase himself, throwing tantrums, begging and weeping, anything at all just so they’d let him.

In the marketplace called Hollywood, there is no respite from Boogie Street. Every minute, of every hour, of everyday, predator and prey feed upon each other in a painful, pathological dialectic that must end in tragedy for all. The Eagles describe it best in their 1979 hit, “The King of Hollywood”:

After ‘while nothin’ was pretty.
After ‘while everything got lost.
Still, his Jacuzzi runneth over.
Still he just couldn’t get off.
He’s just another power junky.
Just another silk scarf monkey.
You’d know it if you saw his stuff.
The man just isn’t big enough

To make it in Hollywood, one needs to be objectified as a sex symbol because sex is the summum bonum of our popular culture. We go to the movies so we can escape who we are for a while by identifying with the characters on the screen, and we want them to have, not great human relationships, not great families, but great sex. For 90 minutes, we are voyeurs, vicariously experiencing what’s happening to them on the screen. Hollywood didn’t create this culture. We did. But Hollywood does feed our narcissism, just as Harvey Weinstein’s “victims” fed his.

All the while that Hollywood was expressing horror at Donald Trump’s private “locker room talk,” it was witnessing Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior and keeping quiet about it. They all knew, even the ones that donned pussy hats and made orations on behalf of women’s rights in Washington. Even Barack and Michelle Obama who, along with Hillary Clinton, had to know. (Surely James Comey would have told them.) Yet the Obamas sent their daughter Malia to intern at the Weinstein Company. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

My prediction is that Hollywood will continue to support the Democrats, including those who abuse and even kill women. Democrats support abortion and for the folks in Hollywood, that’s all that matters. Democrat politicians will continue to value the support of celebrities, while the celebrities, for their part, pretend to introspect. And so, Hollywood will continue to be the cesspool that it is, though perhaps with a few more women in executive positions to put a band-aid on the wound.

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America • Big Media • civic culture/friendship • Cultural Marxism • Donald Trump • feminists • Hollywood • Identity Politics • Movies • Post • The Culture • The Left • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker)

Hey, Lefties: Where Are Your Pussyhats Now?

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Today is the one-year anniversary of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. (I know. It feels more like 10 years ago.)

For days, Americans were subjected to an ongoing audio loop of a private conversation in 2005 between Donald Trump and the show’s co-host, Billy Bush. I don’t need to remind you what Trump said because anyone with a pulse can probably recite it verbatim. Some gals even have hats to commemorate Trump’s secretly recorded, indecent remarks.

The ensuing outrage should have been a clue of how intense, consuming, and exhausting the daily political climate would be under a Trump presidency. When the story broke in the Washington Post that Friday afternoon, the paper’s servers crashed due to the massive traffic to the site. The reaction from Democrats, women’s groups, celebrities and many Republicans was harsh, swift, and in some cases, way over the top. The man who was running for president against a woman married to a man who was a serial sexual harasser and assaulter, who seduced a young intern in the Oval Office when he was president and left a little reminder of one tryst on her blue dress, who was impeached for lying about his predatory behavior under oath, was compelled to publicly address his comments and apologize for the vulgar remarks. Melania Trump spoke about it. Some demanded that Trump withdraw from the campaign and several Republican rescinded their endorsements.

No group was more offended by Trump’s remarks, or so it seemed, than the newly minted Puritans of Hollywood. Celebrities went ballistic, firing off furious and anguished tweets about the Republican presidential candidate. Film producers, television actors, movie stars: everyone had something to say about Trump and many equated his remarks to sexual assault. (There is a good round-up of celeb tweets here.) And it wasn’t just about his fitness for office. Trump was the poster boy of powerful, rich men using their position to exploit and abuse women. He symbolized everything that is wrong with our white, patriarchal society.

Now, here we are, one year later, and the New York Times just published a bombshell expose about one of Hollywood’s most powerful men, Harvey Weinstein. The lecherous behavior of this disgusting man is one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets; no doubt the Times could have an ongoing series of articles about this movie-making, sexual predator. Like many Hollywood moguls, Weinstein parlayed his fortune and influence into political power, becoming a major Democratic party donor and fundraiser. Since 1990, he has contributed more than $1 million to Democratic PACs, officeholders, and candidates, many of whom must have been aware of Weinstein’s reputation as a first-rate vulture.

So, let’s take a little trip down Social Media Lane and see how our virtuous, high-minded celebs who wanted Trump charged with rape a year ago have reacted to the Weinstein story.

Do you hear the crickets? I sure do.

Come along then, and let us look at the Twitter timelines of some of Trump’s most indignant celebrity agitators such as Debra Messing, Chelsea Handler, Bette Midler and Lena Dunham to see if any are despairing over Weinstein’s vile behavior and the victims left in his wake. Messing? No. Handler? No. Midler? No, but she did tweet about “the deceit!! The hypocrisy! The nerve!!” of Republican Congressman Tim Murphy for asking his girlfriend to have an abortion. Lena Dunham? Oh yes, here’s something! Dunham applauds the Times reporter for breaking the story then says this about Weinstein’s victims:

Wow, these people are good. Way to virtue-signal without alienating a potential boss. Very clever.

How about new Democratic activist and washed-up actress Alyssa Milano? Ah, I see a tweet. Nope, not about Weinstein. Milano retweeted this:

Good to know.

But surely our nation’s conscience, celebrity interviewer Jimmy Kimmel, has something to say about this. Hmmm, I don’t see anything on his Twitter page. Perhaps he mentioned it in his monologue last night? Nope, but he did rant on and on about Trump’s tweets on fake news. No tears, though.

And what to make of Ashley Judd? The actress was completely unhinged during her speech at the Women’s March in D.C. the day after the inauguration. She referred to herself as a nasty woman, despicably claiming Ivanka Trump was her father’s “favorite sex symbol, like your wet dreams infused with your own genes.” While she found time to vent about female celebrities getting paid less than their male counterparts, and questioned why tampons and maxi pads are still taxed, she failed to muster up the courage to tell the frenzied crowd about her encounters with Weinstein.

Judd is cited in the Times article and talks about some of the moves Weinstein put on her: “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.” If that’s true, why didn’t she say anything last January when she had a major public platform to do so. Nasty, yes. Brave, no.

Ashley Judd at the Women’s March on Washington, January 2017.

There could be an ulterior motive explaining why Judd is only now revealing her two-decade-old accusations against Weinstein. She is starring in a new Epix series after taking a long break from acting. The Times article gives her some much-needed publicity just before the season premiere on October 15. Also, she must be aware of the damage she did to her reputation after the Women’s March, so perhaps she is hoping to get some credibility with Republicans by going after Weinstein. (Yes, I am this cynical.)

Now, let’s check in on the political crowd. How about the what-do-we-tell-our daughters twosome of Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama? Nada. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact Weinstein raised money for Hillary as well as Michelle’s husband. One would think Obama would really be fuming at this news since her 18-year-old daughter just completed an internship for Weinstein. According to an article in Variety on Thursday, “the Obamas have not made any statement on Weinstein, and a spokesman for the Clintons did not return a request for comment.”

When they go low, we go . . . silent?

What about all the pols who have accepted money from Weinstein in the past? As of Friday afternoon, only four U.S. senators—Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—said they would donate the same amount Weinstein contributed to their campaigns. The always persistent, never silenced Warren oddly had nothing to say on her Twitter timeline or campaign website. Maybe Mitch McConnell told her to be quiet.

Once again, this episode exposes the gross hypocrisy of the American Left. Some will argue that the two are not comparable because Trump was running for president and Weinstein is just a movie producer. That’s obviously true, but don’t kid yourself. Weinstein has wielded immense power over American culture for decades. He has been a rainmaker for Democratic political candidates across the country. And despite this kerfuffle, he will be right back in business after a brief leave of absence from his company. All will be forgiven.

Moreover, there can be no doubt that if Weinstein ran for president against Trump, these folks would vote for him and sing his praises in a heartbeat. The ire about the p*ssy tape never was about sexual harassment or women’s empowerment. It’s just liberal politics as usual.

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