Forget it, Jake

September 28, 2009

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
–W.H. Auden, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”

Noah Cross: ” ‘Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” — Roman Polanski, “Chinatown”

The arrest of Roman Polanski has already brought all manner of supporters out of the woodwork to argue in his defense. It’s total bullshit, of course, intended to obscure the facts of the case: Polanski drugged and sodomized a 13-year-old girl. The fact that it happened three decades ago, or that he happens to be an Oscar-winning director, is beside the point.

Nonetheless, we can expect to hear quite a bit about how his genius, his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, or the murder of his wife have somehow rendered him not responsible for his actions. The egregious Anne Applebaum goes for the hat trick in a recent column, with a scoop of conflict of interest on top.

Which is interesting, because anyone who truly admires Polanski’s movies should realize that the man himself has already forestalled any such defense, and done so out of his own mouth — in his best-known movie, “Chinatown.” Spoilers following, in case you’ve never seen it.

It’s fairly obvious on a first viewing how Noah Cross’ molestation of Evelyn Mulwray is a metaphor for the wide-scale theft of water rights — based on historic events — inasmuch as both crimes represent the corruption of institutions (government, the family) to victimize those whom they were intended to protect. Moreover, the repercussions of both crimes will permanently alter the course of others’ lives — indeed, both crimes seem to have been undertaken primarily in order to exert that kind of power, rather than for any mundane reward. “The future, Mr. Gittes, the future …”

And that’s a valid reading, so far as it goes, but let’s reflect for a moment on the back-story of Noah Cross, as told by Evelyn to Jake Gittes. Cross is respected, influential … and traumatized by a violent event, which leads him to sexually victimize a young woman, then use his status to escape punishment. The details are different (home invasion and murder vs. collapse of a dam; incest vs. date rape) but the basic outline is the same as Polanski’s own crime.

Granted, this is a textbook example of biographical fallacy, especially since “Chinatown” came out several years before Polanski committed the rape … but while we can’t logically argue that the movie is actually “about” Polanski himself*, we can certainly use it as a reference point.

Noah Cross is seen as a villain, indeed as a monster, by audiences. Whatever trauma he may have suffered does not excuse his actions. Why, then, should others offer Polanski this type of excuse for a real-life crime when he, as the director, cannot bring himself to extend such benefit of the doubt, even in fiction?  

Leni Riefenstahl was a hell of a director too, and you don’t see people lining up to excuse her. Just let it go…

UPDATE: “The truth is, that if Roman Polanski had been a priest, there is very, very little chance that he ever would have been prosecuted in the first place. And that’s wrong—not for Polanski, who deserved prosecution, but for the thousands of victims of sexually predatory priests who had their complaints ignored for years.” (via Balloon Juice)

* In addition to the similarity of Cross’ abuse to Polanski’s own, note that Polanski himself appears onscreen in the movie (that’s him with the switchblade) and that the rape was committed at the home of Jack Nicholson, “Chinatown”‘s lead actor — like Fight Club and 9/11, it’s virtually impossible not to view the film in light of subsequent events.

UPDATE 2: Then again, on the other hand … “It’s interesting to contemplate why Polanski did Tess while on his champagne and caviar exile tour, since of course it’s based on Tess of the D’urbervilles, Thomas Hardy’s story of a woman whose entire life is ruined because she’s raped by….wait for it…..a rich, powerful, older man who is therefore shielded from justice while all the blame is shoved off on Tess. Is he mining his own life for inspiration while still refusing to submit to justice?” (H/T: Pandagon


Street knowledge quiz: The human seen below accosts you in your place of business.

Big Pimpin'

Big Pimpin'

Complete the following sentence:
“Get the fuck out, you _____”

A) Jive turkey
B) Cracker-ass cracker
C) Fratboy douchebag
D) Ofay mick
E) Honky sumbitch

ANSWER: None of the above. This is a trick question. The individual above is properly described as a “weaksauce GOP ratfucker-in-training”. Assuming you are not overcome with laughter, please attempt to document your sighting of the creature, as the species is known to erase its own tracks in an attempt to conceal itself from its natural enemies (Fortunately, some traces remain).

I could go on to discuss on how the honorable art of satire, once the last and best resort of the disenfranchised, is increasingly becoming a tool for the reinforcement of priviledge.

Alternatively, I might attempt to demonstrate how satire is supposed to operate, by indicating how the soft bigotry of low expectations has once again prevented the private sector from delivering a solution that would benefit society as a whole, and at minimum expense to the taxpayer.

But in the words of that modern-day master of satire, Hunter S. Thompson: res ipsa loquitor, “the thing speaks for itself.”


Way to be, playa…

May the Schwartz be with you

September 17, 2009

Someone alert Ta-Nehesi Coates:

A New Hope

A New Hope

(Also present: former VP Dick Cheney, just off camera to the viewer’s right.)

I’ve been saying since last October that GOP wingnuts were turning politics into a real-life reenactment of Blazing Saddles, but when this hits the AP wire, they’ll go to plaid.

Mark my words: even as you read this, Fox News producers are scouring the nation for an overweight, ungroomed cosplayer who will appear on TV and compare, with total seriousness, Obamacare to Senator Palpitane’s overthrow of the Old Republic. I give 2-1 odds it airs within the next 48 hours … and 15-1 that the words “No sir, I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again,” are heard from the vicinity of Glenn Beck’s dressing room.

H/t: Wonkette, more snark there and on Gawker, plus bonus Photoshop goodness.

UPDATE: Great minds think alike

Eargasm #002

September 15, 2009

Wow. Just wow. For best results, click on “full screen.”

More about the director here

Posted yesterday on a friend’s Facebook wall:

Random IM thoughts from this evening: [if I taught college English] I would just tell students that college English is the last bastion of Euro- and Brittano-Centrism in the academy And that it more or less attempts to perpetuate blue blood Yankee values and, accordingly, is bullshit. Charles Dickens?? Really?

To which my initial response is: You mean “Anglocentrism,” and so what? Any number of English profs have won critical acclaim and tenure by saying exactly that, and in so many words. But there’s a grain of truth here, in a “right for all the wrong reasons” sort of way.

The larger arguement here is about “the Canon,” or in layman’s terms “The X number of Greatest Books of All Time.” Rather than get into the weeds discussing deconstructionism and Harold Bloom’s School of Resentment and Chinhua Achebe’s epic misreading of Joseph Conrad and the ways in which the Modernist literary innovations of Joyce, Eliot and Pound may have created this debate in an attempt to prevent it — nah.

Instead, let’s replace “books” with “music” and summarize the debate as follows: In one corner, we have the sort of people who go around saying “Your favorite band used to be cool before they sold out/always sucked and couldn’t wait to sell out,” and in the other corner, the sort of people who (pace Homer Simpson) say: “What do you need new music for? Everone knows rock attained perfection in 1974 — it’s a scientific fact!” Now imagine these two sides assigned to come up with Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The Wikipedia article on “the Great Books” basically says that a capital-G “Great” book, of the sort you are forced to read in school, is one that has a) stood the test of time, and b) remained relevant. This would be acceptable for books and albums both, except that in both cases, it’s mostly a bunch of Dead White European Males who have made the cut so far.

So the your-band-sucks crowd says: “Fuckin’ hippy music ain’t relevant to me, maaan,” and become more and more obscure in an attempt to one-up each other’s indie cred; while the rock-achieved-perfection crowd says: “You’re just jealous because we had real music to listen to when we were your age,” and stagnates.

Aside from the fact that I didn’t find that to be true in my own experience when I was an undergrad, choosing Charles Dickens as the epitome of bullshit blue-blood values, Anglocentrism, etc. may explain where my pal has jumped the track.

I’m not going to defend Dickens as a writer per se– he was paid by the word and it shows. On the other hand, he was also an outspoken opponent of the social and economic exploitation of his era and therefore antithetical to “blueblood values” then and now.

As for the bullshit, in Dickens’ case it’s because he realized that social commentary has to be entertaining to be effective — and 100 years on, the entertainment value has endured while the commentary is forgotten. When people hear “Dickens” they think of Scrooge and Tiny Tim and a chorus line of plucky, cheerful urchins. This bears about as much relation to his actual message as “West Side Story” does to “The Wire.”

In fact, let’s compare Charles Dickens to David Simon, producer of “The Wire”: Both journalists who turned to fiction; both focusing on poverty, crime and corruption in their work, out of firsthand knowledge and a desire for social reform; both producing their work in regular weekly (or monthly) installments to popular and critical acclaim. The only major difference is that Dickens’ audience believed in sentimentality, that good guys stay good and live happily ever after, whereas Simon’s audience expects a good deal more cynicism.

Will “The Wire” be considered a beloved classic a century from now? Very possibly it will, but I’d be damn surprised if they re-make it as a Broadway musical, a la Oliver Twist. The real question is, given the choice between novels and TV, which would Dickens choose today? Which did David Simon choose to tell a story “Dickensian” in its breadth and subject?

College English is not bullshit because it’s infested with Dead White Males and their attitudes, it’s bullshit because the cash and the eyeballs of society as a whole are elsewhere, because the true test of contemporary fiction’s popularity is whether it gets made into a movie, and because print media is no longer the place for “serious, socially relevant” tales written by people who want to make the world a better place, not if they ever want anyone else to hear what they have to say.

These are all facts David Simon can attest to, and complaining about Eurocentrism in the English department today is like complaining about the vinyl hiss from your Stones LP’s in an era of Napster and MTV. Nobody cares except us few geeks who never left, and we’ve learned to tune it out. We put up with the annoyance because we’re too lazy or stupid or set in our ways to get with it — or maybe just because we don’t want to let go of the past.