- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

American icon

“Of all the famous images in the history of art, only a handful have risen (or some might say sunk) to the status of cultural icons. At the top of this list are Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa,’ Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream,’ and Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic.’ These images have been relentlessly copied, parodied and reproduced in every conceivable form — from posters to neckties to life-sized inflatable dolls. …

“But how and why does an image become an icon? In his new book, ‘American Gothic,’ published to coincide with the painting’s 75th anniversary, Harvard historian Steven Biel traces the cultural history of Wood’s famous portrait of a dour Iowa farmer and his stiff-necked wife (or daughter). …

“The critics who admired the painting in the early ‘30s … assumed it was a satire about the rigidity of American rural or small-town life, lampooning the people H.L. Mencken called the ‘booboisie’ of the ‘Bible Belt.’ …

“But a few years later, as the nation sank into the Great Depression, people started to see Wood’s painting in a different light. ‘American Gothic’ was no longer understood as satirical, but as a celebratory expression of populist nationalism. Critics extolled the farmer and his wife as steadfast embodiments of American virtue and the pioneer spirit.”

Mia Fineman, writing on “The Most Famous Farm Couple in the World,” Wednesday in Slate at www.slate.com

Charity cases

“Once again, the hungry, terrorized children of Africa are pooling their efforts to help others.

“They will, once more, perform on our TV screens to help rescue the sagging reputations of that needy and deprived group of balding, clapped-out rock stars who still long for the crowds that once listened to them.

“This is the last time that the Africans should do this.

“There is some doubt about whether their original efforts, all those years ago, really did any good.

“A sudden boost to reputations is all very well. But wouldn’t it have been better if they’d taught [rock singer Bob] Geldof and his friends how to cope permanently with their loss of fame?”

Peter Hitchens, writing on “Can the starving children of Africa save our has-been pop stars yet again?” June 5 in the London Daily Mail

Movie reality

“To those of us who care about more than partisan politics … the Hollywood of 2005 in some ways confirms historian Robert Conquest’s first law: Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. The mainstream audience restrains Hollywood’s leftist affectations, and the vicissitudes of making movies teach filmmakers hard-headed lessons in how the world really works, making the actual politics in the movies closer to Tom Hank’s than to Michael Moore’s.

“Contemporary Hollywood movies approve of manly men and womanly women, guns, violence in self-defense, anti-drug laws, true love, marriage, big weddings, big houses, and moms and dads spending time with their kids. The worst sin is parental adultery, because Hollywood’s target audience of teens dreads anything that could break up their homes. And film heroines don’t have abortions.”

Steve Sailer, writing on “Left Coast’s Right Turn,” in the June 20 issue of the American Conservative

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