- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Political authority

“There is an abiding alienation between … modern conservatism and formerly oppressed minorities. … I think it began in a very specific cultural circumstance: the dramatic loss of moral authority that America suffered in the 1960s after openly acknowledging its long mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. Societies have moral accountability, and they cannot admit to persecuting a race of people for four centuries without losing considerable moral legitimacy. Such a confession - honorable as it may be - virtually calls out challenges to authority.

“And in the 1960s, challenges emerged from everywhere - middle-class white kids rioted for ‘Free Speech’ at Berkeley, black riots decimated inner cities across the country, and violent antiwar protests were ubiquitous. America suddenly needed a conspicuous display of moral authority in order to defend the legitimacy of its institutions against relentless challenge.

“This was the circumstance that opened a new formula for power in American politics: redemption. If you could at least seem to redeem America of its past sins, you could win enough moral authority to claim real political power. Lyndon Johnson devastated Barry Goldwater because - among other reasons - he seemed bent on redeeming America of its shameful racist past, while Goldwater’s puritanical libertarianism precluded his even supporting the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Johnson’s Great Society grandly advertised a new American racial innocence. If it utterly failed to ‘end poverty in our time,’ it succeeded - through a great display of generosity toward minorities and the poor - in recovering enough moral authority to see the government through the inexorable challenges of the ‘60s.”

- Shelby Steele, writing on “Why the GOP Can’t Win With Minorities,” on March 16 at the Wall Street Journal

Henry, Henry, Henry

“Myths and half-truths have accrued around Henry VIII through the distorted pictures given by filmmakers. Each film makes its own Henry and tells us far more about the preoccupations of each generation of filmmakers than they do about the king’s character. Recent scholarship has shown that the Henrys of the 1930s, 1960s and 2000s differ wildly because they were designed to appeal to the different cultural imperatives of each era.

“Charles Laughton’s Henry of 1933 in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ was an immature, sexually coy, sympathetic victim of his wives’ machinations. Made for a culture that revered royalty, he is a comic, overly sentimental manchild, to be pitied and petted. By 1969, in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days,’ Richard Burton could play Henry as a good-looking, suave, alpha male. He may have been arrogant and self-centered, but this was the pre-feminist, James Bond era - such a macho, lovable rascal was an unproblematic hero.

“In the 21st century, Henry VIII changed again. Still an alpha male, this time Ray Winstone played him as a gangster-king, ‘the Godfather in tights,’ according to the television series’ director Peter Travis. Winstone’s Henry mixes sensitivity with aggression; he’s easily led, has temper tantrums; and can be brutally aggressive, as in the disturbingly fictitious rape scene that writer Peter Morgan also added to the more recent film, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl.’ ”

- Suzannah Lipscomb, writing on “Who Was Henry VIII,” in the April edition of History Today

Sci-fi Jesus

“There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life - an act that saves mankind from calamity - but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed.

“Tell this story to one of the world’s 2 billion Christians, and he’ll recognize it instantly. Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Superman Returns.’ For reasons that have as much to do with global politics as with our cultural moment, some of this generation’s most successful sci-fi and fantasy movie franchises follow an essentially Christian plot line.”

- Benjamin A. Plotinsky, writing on “How Science Fiction Found Religion,” in the winter issue of the City Journal

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