Books & Culture

Resisting the Totalitarian Power of Politicization

The child who reads and cherishes The Lord of the Rings will have more of substance to say about how we should live than will the child brought up on political doggerel.

People who live in the post-totalitarian system,” wrote Vaclav Havel in The Power of the Powerless, “know only too well that the question of whether one or several political parties are in power, and how these parties define and label themselves, is of far less importance than the question of whether or not it is possible to live like a human being.”

Far be it from me to suggest, in this presidential election year, that it is of little importance which man is elected, or whether a party comes to full power with the proud intention of raising temples everywhere to the great god of Sex, rather than merely worshiping it furtively and still somewhat guiltily, as their opponents do. And I am aware, and I have written elsewhere, that those who want to enshrine the unnatural must have recourse to the full force of a state tending toward the totalitarian, lest people clear their heads and return to the natural. So we have no choice but to fight the political fight.

Yet we should remember why it must be fought, and this is hard to do when all things, including the relations of man and woman, are subsumed under the political.

Havel asks us to consider a greengrocer who one day decides not to hang a Communist propaganda sign in his window. He does not replace it with a different sign; he does not trade one ideology for another. Ideology, says Havel, “is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality,” and life in its system is “permeated with hypocrisy and lies.” It absorbs man into “a mere ritual.” It gives him nothing to think with but “a formalized language deprived of semantic contact with reality and transformed into a system of ritual signs that replace reality with pseudo-reality.”

To break with that system is to reject the “logic of its automatism.” You attempt instead “to live within the truth.” But where is such a life to be found?

Havel says that it lies latent, dormant, half-smothered within each individual: “Under the orderly surface of the life of lies, therefore, there slumbers the hidden sphere of life in its real aims, of its hidden openness to truth.” Therefore we must appeal to that life, he says, in “the area of the existential and the pre-political.”

He insists upon this, recalling the 1969 trial of musicians in a rock and roll band. “These people had no past history of political activity,” he says. They “had been given every opportunity to adapt to the status quo, to accept the principles of living within a lie and thus to enjoy life undisturbed by the authorities. Yet they decided on a different course.” They were like the Christian baker in Colorado who has gently declined to contribute his work to affirm same-sex pseudogamy; or like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who decline to pay for their employees’ contraception and abortion. None of these people wanted to make a political point. They wanted to decline to make a political point; even to decline to be political at all.

Since “every free human act or expression, every attempt to live within the truth, must necessarily appear as a threat to the system,” the system must see them as things that are “political par excellence.” And so they unwittingly are. From the pre-political, says Havel, must come the first stirrings against the totalitarian world, the world of ideology.

He recalls a foreman at the brewery where he once worked. “He was proud of his profession,” says Havel, “and he wanted our brewery to brew good beer.” He was always at work, thinking of improvements, but that meant he was a nuisance to “the slovenly indifference to work that socialism encourages.” The brewery’s managers did not care for the work and were ruining the place, so the foreman complained to his superiors, and for his pains he was “labeled a ‘political saboteur.’” He lost his job. His attempt to live within the truth came not from politics but from a fundamental human aim—to do good work and to behold its fruits.

The United States, still more than nominally a democratic republic, shows many signs of the post-totalitarian demoralization that Havel describes.

Consider a schoolteacher who will not bow to the ugly utilitarian aims of the Common Core, but who teaches great poetry for its own sake. The automatism of her fellow teachers and her superiors will move to crush her. Consider the secretary who declines to post a rainbow flag on the wall beside her. The machine lurches into action. Consider the curator of a small museum, who exhibits paintings he believes are beautiful and powerful, without regard to the sex or the race of the painters. Juggernaut comes a-rolling.

The system is perpetually hungry. It must be so because lies evacuate the soul. The more you feed, the emptier and hungrier you become. To the totalitarian mind, all things must be politicized; no region of life may remain untouched, unabsorbed, undevoured. Choirs, knitting groups, groceries, elementary schools, day-care centers, libraries, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, congregations, bowling leagues, fast-food joints, department stores, florist shops, delicatessens, marriages, flirtation, love poetry—all must go down the vast assimilating gullet of Jabba the State, who belches up emptiness and rages for more.

Havel suggests that at all costs we must protect regions of human life from politics, if we are ever to live within the truth again, and if we are to recover a healthy politics itself. The cure must come from without, not least because the political rebel plays the game by the assumptions of the politics he opposes. What are those seedbeds of health? I will name one here: the school.

I do not mean that children should be taught political truths rather than political lies. I mean that it is eminently desirable that they should not be immersed in politics at all.

Some engagement with the political is inevitable when you are talking about history, but even then it is best to teach about historical eras as you would teach about alien cultures, generously, on their own terms, with their own stories and songs, and not to sneer at them because they used outdoor privies and their women were not in Congress and they read the Bible a lot. School should be what its name suggests: a place of leisure, where you learn good things for the sake of their goodness, and not for mere utility, political or otherwise.

The child who reads and cherishes The Lord of the Rings will have, I believe, more of substance to say about how we should live than will the child brought up on political doggerel. He will have life to appeal to; he will have the humus of reality from which green things can spring. Learn from The Wind in the Willows about friendship and the hilarious folly of being human. Or just enter that world of Mr. Toad; play the music because you love it; be wise and childlike; you will be a rebel before you know it, and almost whether you know it or not.


Washington D.C. Replaces Columbus Day with ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’

The nation’s capital has passed a bill to rename the history holiday Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” ABC reports.

The legislation, named the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day Emergency Declaration Act of 2019,” was proposed by Councilman David Grosso (I-D.C.). The bill, which Grosso inaccurately described as “emergency legislation” on Twitter, is ostensibly for the purpose of “honoring Indigenous People and their rich history and cultural contributions,” without explaining what those alleged contributions are.

Grosso further attempted to justify the bill by falsely claiming that “Columbus enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas.”

If Mayor Muriel Bowser (D-D.C.) signs the bill in time, it will go into immediate effect for the upcoming Columbus Day on October 14th. But in order to become permanent law, it must be approved by Congress within 225 days of the bill’s signing.

D.C. is one of 130 cities around the country that is trying to eliminate Columbus Day and replace it with a day instead focusing on Native Americans. Grosso’s bill was supported by 9 of the 11 members of the D.C. Council who were present at the meeting; the only two who did not vote for the bill were Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-D.C.) and Jack Evans (D-D.C.), who both abstained.

Evans justified his abstention by saying that while he supported implementing an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, he did not support the elimination of Columbus Day in order to do so. He cited “a number of emails, a number of calls from constituents in my ward, largely of Italian descent,” who felt discriminated against by the bill.

The National Italian American Federation released a statement similarly voicing its opposition to the change, saying that the repeal of Columbus Day, “which is celebrated by over 20 million Italian Americans…would be culturally insensitive.”

Books & Culture

Canceling the Joker

The truth is the critics just don’t want the Joker to be a disenfranchised white guy. If the villain was a woman or belonged to a racial minority, the film would be celebrated.

Leftists and feminists fear the Joker. They claim the new Warner Bros. movie, Joker, will inspire mass shootings and “incel” violence. The Batman villain, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is seen as the ultimate angry white man. Critics shriek that no such character deserves fair representation—it’s just too dangerous for alienated white men to see a fellow alienated white man on the big screen.

The criticism against “Joker” shows campus insanity bleeding over into the rest of society. On college campuses, leftists try to shut down opposing viewpoints with ridiculous claims that these words and ideas “threaten their lives.” Similarly, leftists want to cancel “Joker” with dubious claims that the film threatens public safety—all because the film may paint a disenfranchised white guy in a sympathetic light.

Hollywood has a decades long tradition of making movies about disaffected white guys—”Taxi Driver,” “Falling Down,” “Fight Club,” etc.—all released without the eruption of mass violence. Plenty of other new films and TV shows depict graphic violence, but liberals don’t worry about their negative influence. Art, as leftists say they understand it, depicts life in all its glory and misery; a film about an alienated man who becomes a comic book super villain doesn’t seem like a threat to national security.

But leftists persist in this claim.

These arguments essentially amount to telling Hollywood it shouldn’t tell villains’ backstories or show them sympathetically. “I don’t want to watch a well-intentioned but unstable man get bullied until he turns into a mass murderer.” But that’s the story of the “Friday the 13th” horror franchise, which did not inspire any bullied young men to imitate Jason Voorhees.

Many films have told the backstories of unpleasant characters in a sympathetic light. Mob movies don’t show gangsters as one-dimensional thugs, they give them a human face. The 2003 film “Monster” thoughtfully portrayed a brutal female serial killer, but leftists did not claim it would inspire copycat killers. The new movie “Hustlers” celebrates strippers who drug and rob men. This is a serious crime that can result in the death of its victims, yet Hollywood sells it as female empowerment.

Somehow, “Joker”—a movie about a comic book character—is far more dangerous than “Hustlers”—a glorification of real-life criminals. Unlike the Jennifer Lopez vehicle, “Joker” doesn’t celebrate the villain’s crimes or turn him into a hero. It just explains why he became a villain.

If that is scary to leftists, then we had better cancel all films about gangsters, serial killers, and dictators. Some one may want to be Idi Amin after seeing “The Last King of Scotland!”

The critics don’t go this far, because they would make their point ridiculous. The truth is they just don’t want the Joker to be a disenfranchised white guy. If the villain was a woman or belonged to a racial minority, the film would be celebrated.

Writer Geraldine DeRuitter made this point in a viral tweet thread.

“Joker” isn’t viewed as bad because it’s violent and sympathizes with a villain—it’s called bad because it’s about a white guy.

There is also the strange obsession with incel violence. An incel is someone who is involuntarily celibate. Left-wing journos are frightened by these men and believe they are all terrorists. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker has a girlfriend, however, so he’s not an incel. But his anger at society is somehow too close to incel disenchantment for comfort and we now have incel terror hysteria.

The U.S. military warned troops about the supposed incel terror threat surrounding “Joker” and some police departments say they will maintain a theater presence during its opening week.

The makers of “Joker” are aware of the outrage and think it’s stupid. “I think it’s because outrage is a commodity,” director Todd Phillips said. “I think it’s something that has been a commodity for a while. What’s outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It’s really been eye opening for me.”

Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview after a reporter asked about its dangerous message.

“Joker” executive producer Michael Uslan offered a solid defense of the film. “Look at what I consider some of the most important films: What have they done? They’ve held up a mirror to our society, and there are times when people don’t want to see that reflection, they want to run from it,” he said last week. “They don’t want to acknowledge it because sometimes the reflection shows warts and all, whether it’s biases and prejudices or what’s happened to our society, reflecting the times.”

Leftists would rather have a film that confirms their biases and does not challenge any of their assumptions. Art is only supposed to convey the message they want. Alienated white men are too evil for sympathy and they must be demonized.

“Joker” will be a blockbuster and one can hope we can laugh off the hysteria when the incel violence never happens. But the backlash may prompt Hollywood to fear releasing another film like this. Only woke, “Captain Marvel”-like superhero movies will be tolerated. It’s just not safe to sympathize with a white male villain.

Books & Culture

The Cruel Joke of Hollywood’s Sanctimony is Seen in Reaction to ‘Joker’

Whether “Joker” is good art or not, few know at this point. But one thing is sure: whether it’s a flop or it outearns “The Avengers,” it’s still just a movie.

Hollywood loves four things: sex, guns, crazy, and money. Quentin Tarantino has made a career of amping up all four brilliantly in his movies. Have you seen “John Wick” 1-3? The entire entertainment industry feeds off them, and as the saying goes in local news, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But Hollywood and its media sycophants also love to criticize violence, men, and independent thinking while sexualizing everything including our children and castigating “the rich”—as long as those rich aren’t entertainers or their patrons. They orbit the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein and trash traditional values. Pretentious, preening Hollywood is the epicenter of #MeToo.

And Hollywood just loves mental illness and reveling in it. From “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to “Fight Club” to “Silver Linings Playbook,” exploiting mental illness is a constant Hollywood theme. Sometimes they even make it a superpower like on the FX show “Legion” or in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass Trilogy.”

But there’s nothing in Hollywood that is a bigger draw than a good guns blazing action flick. At the same time, however, throw a stick in any direction in Tinseltown and you’ll hit someone who criticizes guns, gun owners, the Second Amendment and the NRA.

They can’t have it both ways. Still, they try.

The True Tragedy of Horror Are the Lies About It

The madman who dyed his hair red and killed a dozen innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 never called himself “The Joker.” He didn’t color his hair red to emulate the Joker—whose hair is green. He didn’t mimic the Joker in any of his actions.

This fact doesn’t stop the New Republic from maintaining there is a direct link from reality to the comics in its hit on “The Joker,” a new film that debuts today. TNR warns darkly about the film:

The shooting was a national story, and at the time it was reported that Holmes had referred to himself as “Joker” and dyed his hair bright red to more closely resemble a cartoon villain. Officials later refused to confirm that report, but the association between Holmes and the Joker was drawn clearly on the news, adding another facet to the Joker’s political identity: this time as carnage- and chaos-inducing domestic mass shooter.

The Joker has no “political identity.” He is a fictional villain and nemesis to the fictional hero, Batman. If conservatives identify with anyone in this scenario, it’s Batman, the unappreciated shadow who patrols the night to take on criminals the system is too weak to handle. But neither character is inherently political. If anything one represents chaos and the other stands for order.

It’s a given that most of what’s reported as fact in the moment and the immediate aftermath of a breaking horror like a shooting is wrong. The news got the Joker link wrong in 2012 and never bothered to correct it with adequate force despite its duty to do so. Because the madman targeted people who happened to be watching a Batman film (“The Dark Knight Rises” which, by the way, posits Bane and not the Joker opposite Batman), and because speculative statements from people a thousand miles from the crime injected the Joker into the killing spree, this nut and that character have been indelibly linked.

Dredging Up Old Horrors and Lies

Now seven years later, Joaquin Phoenix stars as the comic villain in a new film directed by Todd Phillips. This rendition of “Joker” takes the villain out of the comics and places him in a much more realistic world, with realistic plot points such as his loss of access to medication speeding his descent into violent madness. If only the Joker had Liz Warren’s Medicare for all, we could avoid this tragedy!

Since the Christopher Nolan directed trilogy, the trend of comic book films—especially those related to Batman— has been to get more real. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker remains the most realistic to date. The erroneous yet ironclad popular link to Aurora, and the more recent spate of mass killings, has some in the media and even in the military on edge as the film lights up screens around the world.

Theaters are banning costumes and face paint—as if cosplay leads to violence. But is this concern justified, or are the media spewing selective fear ultimately rooted in old politics?

Did Julia Roberts inspire young women to all run out and become prostitutes by starring in Pretty Woman? No serious person would argue that she did.

“‘The Joker’ is a problem, and it’s on all of us,” writes Digital Trends. And we’ve all learned a new term of identity, “incels,” short for “involuntary celibates,” who we’re told are men who idolize the Aurora shooter (again, a non-Joker) and may be set off by Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker in the new movie.

It goes without saying that not all so-called “incels” are mentally ill, own guns, are sure to see “The Joker,” or are primed to go on a spree. It also goes without saying that the media, nevertheless, will use all of these non-links to question the movie—at least as it concerns guns and male violence, exposing its hypocrisy on the other point that bears examination with regard to mass shooters: mental illness. The argument seems to be that if the movie inspires even one violent act, society has a problem and the guns and movies are at fault.

By that logic, literally everything is up for hand-wringing and possible banning. Mentally ill people who are prone to violence—a very small percentage of the mentally ill, by the way—may be triggered by almost anything. It is impossible to predict or prevent it, of course, because they are mentally ill. The connections don’t make sense to any well person.

A book, a movie, a song, even a ham sandwich may trigger someone dealing with serious mental instability. The risk rises if, as was the case with John Lennon’s murderer, strong drugs are involved. On the eve of “The Joker,” people who consider themselves serious are prepared to blame a movie that is not yet out for crimes that have not yet occurred and may never occur—over a falsely cherished connection to a past crime and movie. And get ready: they’re always ready to blame guns.

Blaming Everybody but Themselves

The media always want someone and something to blame—in this case as in most it will be guns and men—the fictional man in the movie, and the men Phoenix and Phillips who made it, and the men who are most likely to see it because of its comic book origins. And of course guns.

What Hollywood and the media are not willing to do is look at themselves and their own role in profiting from and glorifying violence and division, sowing frustration, and stigmatizing mental illness. For anyone who pushes back, the media have rigged the argument so that you can’t win. If it looks like you could win—that is if your jabs, to use a metaphor, draw blood—odds are they’ll just doxx you.

The answer here is not attacking art which, after all, is made both for its own sake and for the livelihoods of the artists. The answer is realistically to examine both guns and mental illness. The examination of mental illness must come before the guns, though, for the obvious reason that it seems likely one must be in the throes of some kind of mental illness or evil delusion in order to be inspired to take a gun or any other weapon for the purpose of committing mass slaughter of innocents who have done one no wrong. While one mentally ill person does this, millions more own guns and never ever harm a single soul. We cannot anticipate what will trigger people inclined to commit these horrors.

As for guns, more than 2 million Americans use firearms for legitimate self-defense every year. The media must surely educate itself on guns before offering opinions about them. Semi-automatic guns are not more powerful than other types of weapons, a “clip” is not a magazine, and actual automatic weapons have been severely restricted from civilian ownership for decades. Let’s start there and work forward. Media, do your homework.

None of this is to question whether art or the media have the power to influence through imagery and portrayals. Unquestionably, they do. From the kids who will dress as Batman for Halloween this year to the grown men who wear the jersey of their favorite football player, to the girls and women who have cut their hair to style themselves after Megan Rapinoe or Alex Morgan or JLo, image is one of the most powerful beacons on earth. As Andre Agassi famously said, image is everything. And we all want to belong to something.

Hollywood profits from this power. The media both siphons and amplifies this power. Whomever they glorify receives glory; whomever they scorn is cast out.

If there is a responsibility among the critics with regard to “The Joker,” it’s to be fair, un-rig the game they have rigged, and stop the incessant drive to curb the rights of the law-abiding. As for the artists, their responsibility is to make good art and make a living. Whether “Joker” is good art or not, few know at this point. But one thing is sure: whether it’s a flop or it outearns “The Avengers,” it’s still just a movie.