- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Learning to love

“Moral language in Britain today bears out this diagnosis. The old idiom of the virtues (‘honorable,’ ‘gentlemanly,’ ‘indecent’) has been replaced by the neutralized jargon of the social services (‘challenged,’ ‘vulnerable,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘disadvantaged’). Such moral language as does survive is crude and bullying. … Words such as ‘evil,’ ‘perverted’ and ‘racist’ have lost any exact meaning they once had and now serve simply to mesmerize and coerce. We have become a nation of relativists on the one side and ranters on the other. …

“Let me give a concrete example. ‘Big Brother’ is now in its eighth year. It panders to the greed and vanity of its participants and to the voyeurism of its viewers. It encourages scheming, backbiting and infidelity. It brings out the worst in everyone. Yet from a liberal standpoint, there is nothing to be said against it. The participants are there of their own accord and may leave any time they please. They are, to use [John Stuart] Mill’s words, ‘doing with their life for their own benefit what they choose to do with it.’ Who are we to criticize them?

“‘Big Brother’ illustrates, then, the way in which the liberal focus on rights shuts off a whole dimension of moral thought and feeling. On some level we know that it is vile, yet we lack the authority and words to say so. Hence the tone of evasive irony with which we (superior, educated people) greet such phenomena of popular culture.”

Edward Skidelsky, writing on “The Return of Goodness” in the September issue of Prospect magazine

Unlike life

“The owner of my local video-rental place puts it succinctly: ‘Most of our customers are under 30. The way they see it, life is in color, so why not movies? Which is why we stopped offering black-and-whites, except for the classics. You know, Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Schindler’s List, maybe a couple of Woody Allens.’

“If that’s the current standard, libraries will soon begin removing volumes of poetry from their shelves. After all, life is in prose, so why not books? Alas, what the customers don’t realize is that B&W cinema remains vital, and often beautiful, because it’s not a reflection of everyday existence.”

Stefan Kanfer, writing on “In Living Black-and-White,” in the summer issue of the City Journal

Wrong for the right

“I won’t argue with the notion that liberal political ideas dominate Hollywood - they do. But obvious, obnoxious fare [like ‘An American Carol’] that openly targets - or let’s be honest, panders to - an aggrieved political niche is hardly the right response, and it certainly won’t help conservatives make inroads in the culture industry.

“At best, with some luck and financial success, this approach might help the right carve out a small, separate space in which a few films a year are targeted toward their interests but are largely ignored or even ridiculed by the mainstream - call it the Tyler Perry strategy. That might satisfy a small band of activists and partisans who’re mainly concerned with liberal bashing and promoting a particular political agenda, but it won’t substitute for the sort of large-scale cultural influence the right’s been chasing for decades.

“Over the years, conservatives have proven remarkably adept at confining themselves to cultural ghettos; it’s almost as if the right courts ridicule and marginalization. Yes! That’s it! Let’s make a film making fun of Michael Moore! Fine, he’s a blowhard - that’s not in question. But for Hollywood conservatism to work, it’s going to need a unifying idea a lot more powerful - and a lot more positive - than a tired hatred of some dumb schlub documentarian.”

Peter Suderman, writing on “HollywoodCons?” on Aug. 15 at the American Scene site

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