- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

Trash and cheese

“Nobody feels guilty anymore about movie enthusiasm. The canon may warp and shift, but liking bad movies is an American (Hollywood) birthright.

“In 1994, ‘Pulp Fiction’ did not transform trash, it simply swept away people’s qualms about regarding trash as art: trash was now the fount of ‘hip.’ Rather than confront issues central to their lives, viewers could enjoy [Quentin Tarantinos] orgy of violence, racism, and drugs guilt-free. After all, what was ‘Pulp Fiction’ if not a blaxploitation movie with white heroes — sans the ethical and political challenges of the ‘70s. …

“All these pleasures are to be distinguished from the disreputable fun of a movie like ‘Caddyshack,’ which no one mistakes for quality. … As a film school colleague opined, ‘“Caddyshack” defends itself on its own terms. Its integrity is intact; its cheesiness is part of its weltanschauung.’

“A critic always wants to clarify the difference between good and bad filmmaking; I take this opportunity to salute the movies that give bad movies a good name.”

Armond White, writing on “Guilty Pleasures,” in the May/June issue of Film Comment

Guerrilla risks

“Between 1960 and 1999, there were 52 major civil wars for which comprehensive data is available on social, political, historical, economic, and geographic circumstances. …

“[I]ncome inequality and ethnic-religious diversity are frequently cited as causes for conflict. Yet surprisingly, inequality — either of household incomes or of land ownership — does not appear to increase systematically the risk of civil war. … And, in fact, ethnic and religious diversity actually reduces the risk of civil conflict. One important exception: Where the largest ethnic group constitutes a majority but lives alongside a substantial minority, such as in Sri Lanka or Rwanda, the risk of civil war roughly doubles. Once wars start, they also tend to last much longer if the nation in question displays two or three dominant ethnic groups. …

“[C]onflicts in the distant past are not generating civil wars in the present. The history that matters is recent history, not that of the 14th century. If a country recently experienced a civil war, it is much more likely to have another one.”

Paul Collier, writing on “The Market for Civil War,” in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy

Irrepressible memories

“In the 1890s, affluent Viennese families sent their daughters to Sigmund Freud to treat mysterious problems such as sleepwalking, paralysis, and fits of coughing. Freud took these afflictions to be stigmata of sexual experiences long submerged in the unconscious, and using hypnosis he tried to awaken the memories and release the painful childhood secrets.

“But it is unclear whether Freud actually cured any of these women. Scholars debate whether he even extracted more than a handful of stories of sexual abuse. By 1897, Freud began to doubt that repressed childhood traumas were the source of all adult hysteria and neuroses. …

“About a century later the search for buried secrets resumed in full force, and with devastating consequences. Unlike Freud, some overzealous 20th-century therapists had remarkable success in ‘finding’ memories. Not only did they uncover stories of parental violation, they also found tales of blood-soaked satanic worship, cannibalism, and alien abduction. …

“The conclusion of [author Richard] McNally’s research, and of the research of others, is that memories of horrible experiences are rarely, if ever, repressed — that is, exiled from consciousness without the victim knowing it and actively kept out of her awareness. On the contrary, those who endure shocking ordeals almost always remember them, even if they choose not to think about them or desperately wish to forget them.”

Sally Satel, writing on “The Trauma Society,” in today’s issue of the New Republic

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