- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Rejected dissident

“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the great souls of the age. He is also among its most maligned and misunderstood figures. It is hard to think of another prominent writer whose thought and character have been subjected to as many willful distortions and vilifications over the past 30 years. …

“Until the early 1970s, Solzhenitsyn was widely admired in the West as a dissident and as a critic of Communist totalitarianism. … But this antitotalitarian writer clearly did not believe that a free Russia should become a slavish imitator of the secular, postmodern West. It became increasingly clear that he was both an old-fashioned patriot and a committed Christian. …

“Some of his critics soon reasoned that if Solzhenitsyn was not a conventional liberal, then he must be an enemy of liberty. … Even those Western critics who admired Solzhenitsyn’s courage in confronting the Communist behemoth and who drew upon his dissections of ideological tyranny tended to slight his contribution to the renewal of the spiritual foundations of human liberty in a post-totalitarian world. …

“The same tiresome distortions are recycled ad nauseam and contribute to a willful refusal to consider Solzhenitsyn’s thinking about the political and spiritual condition of modern man.”

Daniel J. Mahoney, writing on “Traducing Solzhenitsyn,” in the August/September issue of First Things

Amish TV

“One might have expected the uproar that ensued last February when UPN unveiled plans for a reality show called ‘Amish in the City.’ The premise — five Old Order Amish teenagers move to Los Angeles to live with six of their non-Amish peers, confronting the seductive powers of technology and libertinage — instantly aroused opposition from a coalition of Amish advocates, rural-life preservationists and a majority of U.S. senators, who signed a letter accusing Viacom, UPN’s parent company, of bigotry.

” ‘Amish in the City,’ these guardians of good taste insisted … would hold the Amish up to ridicule. …

“True, ‘Amish in the City’ carries all the formulas of the strangers-in-house reality-show model. … But, with the exception of some dubious dental work among the women and some aggressively unstylish sartorial choices among the men, the show’s Amish characters don’t fare poorly at all.

“Indeed, rather than deride its protagonists, ‘Amish in the City’ does what Americans have always done: It admires the Amish. In fact, in the show, it is the caricatured representatives of urban, cosmopolitan America … who are the absurd figures, there for comic effect.”

Sasha Issenberg, writing on “The Simplest Life,” in the October issue of Washington Monthly

Brother Ray

“All of the conventions of the showbiz bio are in place in ‘Ray’: the early tragedy that both spurs and haunts the hero; the chance meetings that, as in Dickens, later prove fortuitous; the exhilaration and shock that the hero’s unique talents provoke; the personal turmoil that, in the genre, is always attendant upon professional success; the downward spiral that, in this case at least, presages redemption; even the montage of neon signs sliding across the screen to denote new cities, new clubs.

“And yet any viewers who look at ‘Ray’ and see only cliches are declaring themselves hopelessly lost to the real achievement of this picture, which is nothing less than a statement of faith in the inclusiveness of American culture.”

Charles Taylor, writing on “Ray,” Friday in Salon at www.salon.com

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