- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who cared?

“The [Shakespeare] authorship controversy turns on two things: snobbery and the assumption that, in a literal way, you are what you write. How could an untutored, untraveled glovers son from hickville, the argument goes, understand kings and courtiers, affairs of state, philosophy, law, music — let alone the noble art of falconry? Worse still, how could the business-minded, property-owning, moneylending materialist that emerges from the documentary scraps, be the same man as the poet of the plays? Many have shaken their heads at the sheer vulgarity of it all, among them Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Henry James, his brother William, and Sigmund Freud.

“[Author James] Shapiro teases out the cultural prejudices, the historical blind spots, and above all the anachronism inherent in these questions. No one before the late 18th century had ever asked them, or thought to read the plays or sonnets for biographical insights. No one had even bothered to work out a chronology for them. The idea that works of literature hold personal clues, or that — more grandly — writing is an expression and exploration of the self, is a relatively recent phenomenon.”

From “Hero or hoax: The man and his pen,” in the March 25 issue of the Economist

No stripping

“This week, the Guardian bestowed Iceland with the title of ‘the world’s most feminist country’ and declared it a top contender for ‘the most female-friendly country on the planet.’ The entire planet. This high praise was inspired by the economically devastated country’s passage of a law banning businesses from making money off employee nudity. So, it’s buh-bye, strip clubs.

“Just last year, Iceland outlawed prostitution, and now it’s squelching ‘adult entertainment’ entirely. (Apparently the near-bankrupt country isn’t buying the pop wisdom that the sex industry is recession-proof.) The politician behind the bill, Kolbrun Halldorsdottir, explained: ‘It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.’

“Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland’s prime minister — an openly gay politician, which is a first for a head of government — added: ‘The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.’”

Tracy Clark-Flory, writing on “Iceland’s stripping ban,” on March 26 at the Salon blog Broadsheet

Rohmer vs. Avatar

“Eric Rohmer, to my mind one of the three or four greatest geniuses of the cinema there has ever been, died in the same week that James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ rocketed past ‘Star Wars’ to become the third highest grossing picture, domestically, in the history of the American movie industry. … Nor, of course, is there any news in the fact that none of the late Mr. Rohmer’s films ever pulled down so much as a thousandth part of the American box office of these comic book movies.

“Yet it is worth pointing out that this embarrassing contrast is not simply a matter of the difference between popular and elite tastes. In the golden age of Hollywood between 1930 and 1960 there was also a gap between the most popular and the best movies, but it was nothing like as wide as it is today, either on the artistic or on the financial side.

“The former box office champ, ‘Gone With the Wind,’ wasn’t the best that Hollywood could produce, even in the same year — which also saw the release of ‘Ninotchka,’ ‘Stagecoach,’ and ‘Drums Along the Mohawk,’ not to mention ‘La Regle du Jeu’ and ‘Le Jour Se Leve’ from the land of Eric Rohmer — but it wasn’t a bad movie and certainly not abysmally bad in the way that ‘Avatar’ is for anyone who, like me, still has any residual expectation that movies will, or at least ought to, look a bit like real life.”

James Bowman, writing on “Reality without Rohmer,” in the March issue of the American Spectator

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