- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Are you persuaded?

“But ask yourself this: If we really know how to control people through the media, then why isn’t every advertising campaign a success? Why do advertisements sometimes backfire? If persuasive technique can be scientifically devised, then why do political campaigns pursue different strategies? Why does the candidate with the most media access sometimes lose? The answer is that humans are not automatons. …

“Many people, including scholars, will continue to believe something they intuitively suspect: that the media manipulate the great mass of the nation, transforming rational individuals into emotional mobs. But notice how those who believe this never include themselves in the mob. We are, as the Columbia University sociologist W. Phillips Davison once pointed out, very susceptible to the notion that others are more persuadable than ourselves.

“Would you have fallen for [Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’] broadcast? If not, why do you assume so many other people did?”

- Michael J. Socolow, writing on “The Hyped Panic Over ‘War of the Worlds’” on Oct. 24 at the Chronicle of Higher Education Review

Cinema verities

“It’s impossible to read [David Thomson’s ‘Have You Seen …?’] from cover to cover without being convinced that Hollywood’s greatest achievements are not the monotonously important dramas that so often sucker in Academy voters, but the stylish, highly polished entertainments, largely comedies, that endure even though they weren’t made to be lasting. Above all, Thomson prizes wit, charm, and good-natured ease. He’s reached an age, he notes in his appraisal of ‘North by Northwest,’ when he’d ‘rather have a great screwball comedy than a profound tragedy. After all, tragedy is all around us and screwball is something only the movies can do.’

“Thomson has never been backward-looking - he’s remarkably open and generous to contemporary talent, and has been particularly astute if exasperatingly partisan in his assessments of our current actors (witness his mad crush on Nicole Kidman). But this is an elegiac work. Even while his fine eye picks up the subtle, brilliant costuming in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (1995) and even while he neatly dissects the rigor and wit of ‘The Queen’ (2006) and praises mightily ‘Magnolia’ (a 1999 film that has grown even more in his estimation since the most recent edition of the Dictionary) and ‘You the Living’ (2007), the evidence is in the reader’s hands: ‘If you were to make a graph of when the films in this book were made, there is a great hump that stands for the thirties, the forties, the fifties. I can try to moderate it, but I do not apologize for it.’”

- Benjamin Schwarz, writing on “The Reel Thing” in the November issue of Atlantic Monthly

Football frustrations

“[Charles Schulz‘s] one regret, he said, was that he never once let Charlie Brown kick the football held out for him by Lucy: always she snatched it away and always he landed on his back.

“What private frustrations that unkicked football represents one can only guess at, so perhaps the last word should be left to Linus, Schulz’s [favorite] character to draw. In one strip, he is trying to wheedle Lucy into reading a story to him. Exasperated, she grabs a book at random from the shelf - ‘A man was born, he lived and he died. The End!’ she says and tosses the book aside. Linus picks it up reverently. ‘What a fascinating account,’ he says. ‘It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow.’”

- Tom Shone, writing on “Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis,” on Oct. 19 in the Sunday Times



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