- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Loving ‘Borat’

“For better or worse, today, thanks to ‘Borat,’ Kazakhstan is on the map. There’s lots of buzz about the movie, and Kazakh officials are eagerly anticipating a boon to the tourist industry akin to what happened in New Zealand after the release of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.

“A Kazakh journalist echoed the now-official government line that ‘Borat’ has been a boon for his country. ‘Any press is good press,’ he said. … He dismissed criticisms by some that the film promoted a negative image of Kazakhstan. ‘Jews, Kazakhs and Russians always tell jokes about each other,’ he said. ‘ “Borat” is a continuation of this tradition.’ ”

— David Schenker writing on “In the Land of Borat,” Monday in National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com

Generic greetings

“[T]he secular and commercial character of Christmas was solidly established … by the 1920s. … Confronted with traditionalists’ fears that the Santa Claus obsession — and holiday shopping in general — were violating the Christmas spirit, department-store mogul John Wannamaker maintained that ‘Young people very early grow to understand that it is a mere pleasantry and tradition. I do not believe that it detracts from the story of the coming of Christ.’ Most Americans had made peace with Christmas’ new commercial spirit.

“The gripes against inclusive seasonal displays and yuletide capitalism found new expression in the sudden outrage over the president’s generic holiday cards. Last year, many conservatives were furious that George W. Bush omitted the word Christmas from his wintertime mailings. …

” ‘Season’s Greetings’ was used on White House holiday correspondence by no less than Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. Likewise, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan and Clinton all took care, as well, not to alienate non-Christian recipients of holiday mail.”

— David Greenberg, writing on “A Very Ecumenical Christmas,” Friday in Slate at www.slate.com

‘Artistic naif’

“When he first burst on the national scene as the creator of Mickey Mouse in the late 1920s, [Walt Disney] was widely regarded as an artistic naif — young (he was only 26 at Mickey’s inception), uneducated (he had only a year of high school), informal, plain-spoken and unpretentious.

“Though Mickey made his claim on the public’s heart as a winning rascal who seemed blithe to the anxieties of the Depression, intellectuals embraced him too, much as they had embraced Charlie Chaplin a decade earlier. Thornton Wilder went so far as to call Chaplin and Disney the only true geniuses the movies had produced. …

“It was Disney’s naivete the intellectuals loved, his lack of affectation. Disney, they thought, was too plebeian to have ever regarded himself as an artist, which is what made him one in their eyes.

“The problem with this interpretation was that the intellectuals were wrong. Disney wasn’t completely without affectation or pretense, and he certainly hoped that what he was making was art. By the time he released ‘Fantasia’ late in 1940, combining the music of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Beethoven and others with animation — and some of it abstract animation at that — the cat was out of the bag.

“The reviews were generally positive, but there was now for the first time some griping about Disney among the intelligentsia, not least from Igor Stravinsky, who would later insist that Disney had butchered his ‘Rite of Spring’ because, he said, Disney’s sensibility was too coarse to appreciate the finer things.’ ”

— Neal Gabler, writing on “Walt Disney: man or mouse?” Sunday in the Los Angeles Times

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