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Archive for November 21st, 2004

The Incredibles

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Hard not to notice a strange ramping up in the terms of attack egalitarianism and education swirling around the Randian kids flick The Incredibles. See, for instance, John Tierney’s article in the Week in Review today.

It feels as if the release of this movie has opened the door for folks to tell us how they really feel, stop speaking in euphemisms and keywords and cut right to the point. Here’s the opening of the article…

The Incredibles is not just an animated adventure for children, at
least not to the parents and teachers who have been passionately
deconstructing the story of a family of superheroes trapped in
suburbia. The movie has reignited one of the oldest debates about
child-rearing and society: competition versus coddling, excellence
versus egalitarianism.

Is Dash, the supersonic third-grader
forbidden from racing on the track team, a gifted child held back by
the educational philosophy that "everybody is special"? Or is he an
overprivileged elitist being forced to take into account the feelings
of others?

Is his father, Mr. Incredible, who complains that the
schools "keep inventing new ways to celebrate mediocrity," a visionary
reformer committed to pushing children to excel? Or is he a reactionary
in red tights who’s been reading too much Nietzsche and Ayn Rand?

And take a look at the end as well, where we turn to the director Brian Bird:

The movie never quite resolves the issue. In the end, Dash is
allowed to race but is coached not to get too far ahead of the pack.
The writer and director, Brad Bird, offered a less ambiguous answer in
an interview. "Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to
everyone just for existing," he said. "It seems to render achievement
meaningless. That’s a weird goal."

He sounded very much like
Professor Colangelo, who says that children want to compete and can
cope with defeat a lot better than adults imagine. "Life hurts your
feelings," Mr. Bird said. "I think people whine about stuff too much.
C’mon, man, just get up and do it."

At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, let’s just turn for comparison’s sake to a document that Atrios linked to yesterday (if a very different context) – a pamphlet that "seems to have been intended primarily for members of the SS, though the copy I am working from carries the stamp of a school library."

The most dangerous opponent of our worldview at present is Marxism, and its offspring Bolshevism. It is a product of the destructive Jewish spirit, and it is primarily Jews who have transformed this destructive idea into reality. Marxism teaches that there are only two classes: the owners and the property-less. Each must be destroyed and all differences between people must
be abolished; a single human soup must result. That which formerly
was holy is held in contempt. Every connection to family, clan
and people was dissolved. Marxism appeals to humanity’s basest
     drives; it is an appeal to subhumans.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned. The interest of a movie like the Incredibles is that it seems to legitimize a certain line of discourse – a seemingly "innocuous" object (a cartoon for god’s sake) that tints the slippage into another level of critique of egalitarianism with the hue of banality, ordinariness…

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November 21, 2004 at 11:26 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Lucky Jim / Confession

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Lucky_jimAnyone else feel it’s vastly overrated?

(Felt like I should stick one up that’s on topic, my topic, for once).

(But here’s the thing. The business of being a young academic, finishing a Ph.d., on the job market for the first time, links up with blogging only awkwardly, guardedly, half-heartedly. For a few reasons. First of all – there’s the anonymity thing. I used to have a site that wasn’t anonymous, but then I pretty much panicked for fear that one of the places I’m applying to for a job would see my posts. Not that anything’s too controversial – but being almost hard-left, resolutely anti-Christian in my web persona might give the impression (the wrong impression, I guess) that I’m a polemicist in the classroom, intolerant, brow-beating the younguns into the one, true, holy, and apostolic church of secular socialism when I’m supposed to be teaching them Yeats or Shakespeare or how to come up with a "true but arguable" thesis. Secondly, there’s the intellectual property thing. My sole commodity for sale are the ideas that I produce about literature. Rather good ones from time to time, I’d like to think. And even to give the faintest hint of what I’m on to would send me into spirals of paranoia that someone else would pick up on it, type up the very article that I’m working on, and submit it to ELH, PMLA, Critical Inquiry… Maybe one day, when I’m well tenured, tired of writing out these rather good thoughts, I’ll drop them into the ether stream for popular consumption and reuse. But I just can’t afford it right now. So I keep my ideas to myself – and post of Frank Rich, the Marine killing the "insurgent," and Carol Lin…)

Back to Amis, now that I’ve got that out of my system. Interesting look, I guess, at British academia circa-1950. Things haven’t changed in some ways – in other ways the world’s been turned upside down. (First of all, no one could get a job who’s completely incompetent. Jim does and is. It’s utterly impossible nowadays. Just degrees of over-competancy, all the way down the line. And I guess I’m mildly interested which girl he ends up with – I’ve got 30 or so pages left. But otherwise, the humor no longer works… And it’s built on the humor, doncha think?

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November 21, 2004 at 1:26 am

Posted in literature

Rich Back in Form

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Frank Rich appears to be back in form as of today – was getting a little worried about him for a few weeks. Seems to me that his job is – and he’s the only one doing it (well) – is to sketch out the eerie parallelisms that exist between the (il)logic of American entertainment and the (il)logic of American politics.

Today: Just as "family values" driven, FCC enacted mass panic attack about our decadent media seems to be turning the corner from sex (Janet’s boob, DHW miscegenation, etc) to violence (Saving Private Ryan was booted off 66 affiliates on Veterans’ Day), the news media is practicing its own form of fear-driven self-censorship, "protecting" the American public from the gruesome images currently damned up in Iraq, sluicing only onto European networks, Al Jazeera, and the like.

What makes the "Ryan" case both chilling and a harbinger of what’s to
come is that it isn’t about Janet Jackson and sex but about the
presentation of war at a time when we are fighting one. That some of
the companies whose stations refused to broadcast "Saving Private Ryan"
also own major American newspapers in cities as various as Providence
and Atlanta leaves you wondering what other kind of self-censorship
will be practiced next. If these media outlets are afraid to show a
graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year-old war starring the beloved
Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses or
deny them permission to expand their empires, might they defensively
soften their news divisions’ efforts to present the graphic truth of an
ongoing war? The pressure groups that are exercised by Bono and "Saving
Private Ryan" are often the same ones who are campaigning to derail any
news organization that’s not towing the administration line in lockstep
with Fox.

Even without being threatened, American news media at first sanitized
the current war, whether through carelessness or jingoism, proving too
credulous about everything from weapons of mass destruction to "Saving
Private Lynch" to "Mission Accomplished." During the early weeks of the
invasion, carnage of any kind was kept off TV screens, as if war could
be cost-free. Once the press did get its act together and exercised
skepticism, it came under siege. News organizations that report facts
challenging the administration’s version of events risk being called
traitors. As with "Saving Private Ryan," the aim of the news censors is
to bleach out any ugliness or violence. But because the war in Iraq,
unlike World War II, is increasingly unpopular and doesn’t have an
assured triumphant ending, it must also be scrubbed of any bad news
that might undermine its support among the administration’s base. Thus
the censors argue that Abu Ghraib, and now a marine’s shooting of a
wounded Iraqi prisoner in a Falluja mosque, are vastly "overplayed" by
the so-called elite media.

I think there really is something to Rich’s claim – this rising tide of bad-faith disgust at the nipple, the nudity, then the blood and guts, screaming at the tv set as you tivo the stupid moment over and over again – "I can’t believe she – they – did that! My kids are watching!" meets and matches something else, an ever more shrill insistance that we’re different from them, that the deaths we bring are just and/or "collateral," and thus the representation of them is a crime against the cause itself. As if the images themselves form a fifth column, slipping into each American home like the virus we’ve been warned is on its way.

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November 21, 2004 at 12:51 am

Posted in Politics